The Minor Prophets: An Overview

The Greek title “Book of the Twelve” (dodekapropheton) describes [the last twelve] of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew canon. Jesus son of Sirach perhaps referred to this title when he provided the earliest known description of the collection: “May the bones of the twelve prophets revive from where they lie, for they comforted the people of Jacob and delivered them with confident hope” (Ecclesiasticus [a book of the Apocrypha] 49:10; early second century BC). The title “Book of the Twelve” is also better than our familiar translation of the Latin title, “Minor Prophets.” In some cases, it does seem that these prophets were “one-theme” prophets or nearly so, in contrast to the many themes covered by the longer Prophetic Books. However, the Latin title makes it sound as though these prophets were less important, which is not the case.

This blog post is adapted from Lutheran Bible Companion Volume 1: Introduction and Old Testament.

Jump to: 


Overview of Hosea

Hosea means “Yahweh saves.” He was the son of Beeri (Hosea 1:1) and was apparently married to the prostitute Gomer, daughter of Diblaim. Gomer bore him three children: two sons, Jezreel and Lo-Ammi (“Not My People”), and a daughter, Lo-Ruhamah (“No Mercy”). Hosea’s unusual family circumstances were central to his message as a prophet. In chapter 3, God commanded him to love an immoral woman (presumably Gomer). Hosea bought her (redeemed her from slavery?) and kept her secluded from her former associates. Scholars debate whether the passage about marrying a prostitute was historical reality or an example of symbolism. Because the topic is sexual, some scholars have even attempted to psychoanalyze Hosea, though removed from him historically by thousands of years! Such approaches are best avoided. The simplest explanation for the family drama that Hosea describes would be that it reflects real experiences. This interpretation yields a superb basis for the theological application to Israel’s history—the nation deserved exile but the Lord eventually restored a remnant (Hosea 1–3).

Purpose of Hosea 

Hosea reminds Israel of the Lord’s loving faithfulness and calls them away 
from unfaithfulness to a new life. He focuses his prophecies on the people of 
the Northern Kingdom, Israel, whom he compares with an unfaithful bride.


Overview of Joel

Apart from references to the temple in Jerusalem, the prophet Joel gives us very little information about the setting of his work. He describes a great locust plague; however, in Judah and throughout the ancient Near East, locust plagues were recurring events, which makes it difficult to locate the events of Joel in history. As a result, less is known about Joel’s historical situation and personal circumstance than for any other prophet. Where facts are lacking, theories and opinions rush to fill in the gap. Guesses as to Joel’s date range over more than half a millennium, through the entire history of the Latter Prophets, describing him as one of the earliest prophets to one of the latest. 

Purpose of Joel 

Joel’s purpose was to call the people of Judah for fasting and repentance before the day of the Lord, which is depicted by a plague of locusts and a coming battle. A key verse states, “ ‘Rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the LORD your God” (Joel 2:13).


Overview of Amos 

Near Tekoa, Amos’s home, rounded hilltops suddenly give way to steep valleys, creating an undulating landscape. The ancient town is situated some twelve miles south of Jerusalem on the edge of the wilderness of Judea where today stands acres of Byzantine rubble. Although Amos was a native of Judah, he directed nearly all of his preaching against the Northern Kingdom of Israel and perhaps also delivered a good share of his prophecies there. Why Amos’s activity was so one-sidedly northern is not clear. However, his prophecies show that the idea of “all Israel” was never abandoned. Theologically, as well as politically, the Southern Kingdom of Judah continued its claim on the northern tribes.

Purpose of Amos 

Amos wrote stringent rebukes of ritualism and temple abuses in Israel and Judah. He likewise sharply attacked the social abuses that prevailed in an era
of prosperity in order to warn the people and call them to repentance. His 
prophecies are almost totally about judgment with the exception of his sparkling conclusion, which caps the prophecies with hope in God’s Messiah.


Overview of Obadiah 

Edom embraced a tract of very mountainous country about 110 miles long and 30 miles wide. It was bounded on the north by the land of Moab and the southern shore of the Dead Sea; on the east by the Midianites; and on the south by the Gulf of Aqaba, an arm of the Red Sea on the east side of the Sinai Peninsula. From the southern shore of the Dead Sea (about 1,275 feet below sea level), the Arabah depression slowly rises to sea level at the Gulf of Aqaba. The descendants of Esau who inhabited this rugged country were often at odds with Israel and the later kingdom of Judah. Obadiah’s prophecy refers to one such occasion, when the sons of Edom attacked refugees from Jerusalem and Judah.

Purpose of Obadiah

Obadiah decries the abuses of Edom against fugitives from Judah, warning them before the ultimate judgment of “the day of the Lord” against all nations. He announces to the Judeans that God will restore His people and have victory over Edom.


Overview of Jonah 

The Galilean hills encircle the town of Gath-hepher, located in the traditional territory of Zebulun in northern Israel, about four miles north of Nazareth. Second Kings 14:25 describes this town as the home of the prophet Jonah, and locals today can point to a tomb in the region that is thought to belong to him. What is more, modern Muslim popular piety has shrines dedicated to the prophet Jonah not only in Galilee but also in the regions of Joppa and Nineveh.

Jonah had predicted the victories of Jeroboam II in restoring “the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah” (2 Kings 14:25). Since Jeroboam II reigned from about 786 to 746 BC, that means Jonah was active in the first half of the eighth century BC, making him an early contemporary of Amos. That the reports in Kings and the Book of Jonah have no contact beyond the prophet’s name is scarcely surprising in and of itself; not even the names of many “writing prophets” with far larger books are so much as mentioned in the books focused on Israel’s kings.

Purpose of Jonah 

Jonah critiques Israel’s view of itself as God’s specially chosen people while affirming the surpassing mercy of God for other nations—even nations hostile 
to His chosen people. The book applies the theme of repentance both to the 
prophet and to the people of Nineveh. The events related in the book explore 
the boundaries of God’s mercy and patience as well as the role of mankind in 
God’s mission. It is a story of both personal and national repentance.


Overview of Micah

From the rounded Shephelah hills of Judah, villagers looked eastward over the valleys leading to the plains of Philistia. The eighth-century BC prophet Micah hailed from the village of Moresheth (Micah 1:1), located not far from the Philistine city of Gath (Micah 1:14). This was frontier territory for Israel in the days of their first kings when young David slew Goliath of Gath. The site of Moresheth is likely the largely unexcavated Tell-ej-Judeideh, a few miles north of Lachish.

In the eighth century BC, about 250 years after David, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were mature monarchies. The visions the Lord gave Micah looked northward to Jerusalem and Samaria where dynasties ruled. (In the region of Moresheth, archaeologists have found numerous jar handles stamped as belonging to the king of Judah, showing that the area was specially tied to the
ruler at Jerusalem.) The Lord showed Micah how abusive leaders exploited their privileges over God’s people. He likewise showed Micah the distant empire of Assyria preparing for invasion.

Purpose of Micah

Micah’s preaching against Samaria seems clearest in the opening oracle, predicting its fall (Micah 1:2–7), and in Micah 6:9–16, where “the statutes of Omri, and all the works of the house of Ahab” are denounced.

Micah called out against the leaders of Judah and Israel (Micah 1:2), who indulged themselves. They did not see the problems that threatened their subjects, including the threat of exile for the daughters of Zion (Micah 1:16; 4:10; 5:7). 

Yet Micah also prophesied the coming of a faithful Shepherd, who would stand guard over His people and spring to their defense with the strength of a young lion. This Ruler would come from a shepherd’s town (Bethlehem), ascend to the “tower of the flock” (Micah 4:8; David’s palace/throne), and renew the kingdom. Micah’s Shepherd is Jesus (Micah 5:2, 4; Matthew 2:6).


Overview of Nahum

In many ways, the Book of Nahum is similar to Obadiah, which also lacks personal information. The superscription tells us that this seventh-century BC prophet Nahum was from Elkosh, but that helps little because of its uncertain location. Among the suggested locations of Elkosh are (1) northern Galilee; (2) southwestern Judah, near Micah’s home; (3) Capernaum (which means, “village of Nahum”); and (4) near Nineveh (where some claim to have discovered Nahum’s tomb), perhaps because the vivid description of Nineveh’s fall was thought to require an eyewitness. The most likely location is Judah, since the prophet addresses the people of that region.

Purpose of Nahum

This short book communicates a message of comfort to God’s people in Judah: the dreaded Assyrian Empire is about to come to an end. For the people of Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, Nahum’s warning of impending destruction should have brought them to repentance. But they did not repent, and Nineveh was destroyed.


Overview of Habakkuk

In 612 BC, the Chaldeans besieged Nineveh, which fell after only three months. After absorbing the Assyrian Empire, Babylonian troops headed southward toward Judea. Jerusalem’s outer walls, built by Manasseh at the beginning of the seventh century BC (2 Chronicles 33:14), could not withhold the approaching Babylonians when Judean rulers rebelled against them at the end of the seventh century BC.

Habakkuk probably served as a prophet during the last days of King Josiah’s reign and the first days of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah sometime around 605 BC. When he delivered his prophetic message, the predicted Chaldean invasion of Judah was close at hand, so close that the people of Habakkuk’s time would live to see it. He was a contemporary of other prophets active in Judea and Jerusalem, such as Zephaniah and Jeremiah.

Purpose of Habakkuk

The prophet opened the book with a complaint against God. But the ultimate target of Habakkuk’s message was the people of Judah and Jerusalem who would face the Babylonian threat. Habakkuk is unique among the Prophetic Books of the Old Testament in that he never directly addressed God’s people, who would read his message. Yet, by making his message plain (Habakkuk 2:2), he enabled people to understand who the Lord is and what He will be doing for them (Habakkuk 2:20).


Overview of Zephaniah 

Zephaniah’s superscription says only “in the days of Josiah.” Since Josiah 
reigned over thirty years (640–609 BC), the dating is not precise. Majority opinion, probably correctly, favors the period before Josiah’s reformation (circa 625) when the dire religious situation described in the book seems most likely to have existed. Usually, however, the date is not put much before 625 BC, because of possible problems with the prophet’s youth. He was a contemporary of Habakkuk and Jeremiah, who also prophesied in Jerusalem and Judah.

Purpose of Zephaniah 

Zephaniah proclaimed God’s wrath against Judah and the Gentile nations because of their shamelessness. He described the coming day of the Lord, which would affect all people. Finally, he celebrated how the Lord would restore the remnant of Israel.


Overview of Haggai

When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 587 BC, they left the temple of the Lord in utter ruin. About fifty years later, when the first Judeans returned from exile in Babylon, they dreamt of restoring the temple. Haggai, along with Zechariah and Malachi, was a “postexilic” prophet who urged the restoration of the temple and faithful sacrifices. These three prophets proclaimed God’s message after the people of Judah began to return to their homeland from exile. In many respects, we enter a different world with the three postexilic prophets.

Purpose of Haggai

Haggai’s book is very short, containing only thirty-eight verses. The objective of Haggai’s messages was primarily practical: to urge the Judeans to resume and complete the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem that had been interrupted earlier (circa 530 BC) by the opposition of the people who were occupying the land when the Judeans returned from exile.


Overview of Zechariah

The rubble of Jerusalem’s former glory surrounded Zechariah as the Word of the Lord came to him. Zechariah began to record his visions about two months after the prophet Haggai in 520 BC. But unlike his fellow prophet who recorded only a handful of oracles, Zechariah continued to write, sharing unique insights from the Lord about the hope of Israel and the coming kingdom of God. The result is the longest book of the Minor Prophets.

Purpose of Zechariah 

In the face of the disillusioning realities of continuing foreign rule, economic 
uncertainty, and internal apathy, Zechariah sustained the faith of the congregation in the divine promises. By his concentration on the temple—and 
the theology of purification or sanctification accompanying it—Zechariah played a major role, under God, in the preservation of Israel until the new 
kingdom dawned with Christ.


Overview of Malachi

Traditionally, Malachi has been regarded as the last of the Old Testament prophets, corresponding to his book’s position in the English Bible and similar versions. It must be stressed, however, that even by conservative reckoning, Malachi is not the latest book in the Old Testament. The latest book is Chronicles, which appears last in the Hebrew order of books. Chronicles is probably to be dated around 400 BC, perhaps a generation after Malachi.

Purpose of Malachi

Malachi’s predominant concern was with the purity and correct execution of the temple worship. The three main abuses that concern Malachi are (1) the degeneracy and lassitude of the priesthood; (2) intermarriage with pagan women and often heartless divorce of their first partners; and (3) the congregation’s failure to pay the sacred dues, to the detriment of especially the Levites. The first three oracles (chapters 1–2) concentrate more exclusively on current problems in the community, while the remainder of the book looks forward to future events and the end times. 

Blog post adapted from Lutheran Bible Companion Volume 1: Introduction and Old Testament, © 2014 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture: ESV®.

012093-Jan-26-2024-04-28-49-5355-PMExplore the other sections of the Old Testament in Lutheran Bible Companion, Volume 1, the first comprehensive guide to the Bible featuring commentary that reflects Lutheran theology.

Order Now

Subscribe to all CPH Blog topics (Worship, Read, Study, Teach, and Serve)