Biblical Prophets and Their Ministry Today

Prophets in the Bible are men and women who operate in certain gifts of the Holy Spirit to represent God to mankind, particularly to His people. The prophetic ministry is not just an Old Testament thing. Paul tells us that Jesus gave us prophets in the New Testament (along with four other gift ministries) so we would “grow up into a mature man” (or mature woman) in God.

Eph 4:11-16 And He (Jesus) gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. NASB

One of the reasons modern western Christians lack biblical power and maturity is because we fail to receive the ministers of God as emissaries from God. We critique our pastor rather than honor him or her as God’s shepherd over us. We do not seek out classes on the scriptures where God’s teachers can help us learn maturity. And we reject the message of the prophet, both from the past and those that prophesy for God still today. We do not realize or accept that the prophets, pastors and teachers represent the Holy Spirit of God to us.

It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, according to Jesus, to convict us of sin and to “teach you of Me.”

John 14:25-26 “These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. 26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. NASB

Bob Mumford used to say that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is “to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted.” When we grow cold to the Lord and become comfortable in our sin, the Holy Spirit confronts us, and afflicts us in our conscience and circumstances to motivate us to seek God and repent. When we are oppressed but are humbly seeking the face of God, the Holy Spirit comforts us in our tribulation and empowers us to go through it with “a peace that surpasses understanding.”

When the Holy Spirit wants to speak to the church or to the people of God as a group, He sends prophets who speak in His behalf. To reject the prophet is to reject the Holy Spirit. The only unpardonable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit; i.e., to reject the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Put another way, the only unpardonable sin is to be unwilling to repent. We cannot be forgiven if we will not repent. As long as we are able and willing to repent, we can be forgiven at any time, including at the hour of our death if our repentance is genuine; e.g., the good thief on the cross.

Mark 3:28-29 “Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin ” NASB

So even though the message of the prophet may make us uncomfortable, it is imperative that we invite and receive it if we are to enter into or remain in God’s kingdom. Once again, to reject the prophet is to reject God and His Holy Spirit. Central to our relationship with God is to receive His messengers.

The Latin word for messenger is “angelos” the Greek is “aggelos”) from which we get the word “angel.” We need to receive our pastors, our teachers and our prophets (if they are godly) as special messengers (angelos), emissaries sent from God. (To blaspheme is to rail or revile against someone. It is forceful, disrespectful rejection.).)

Matt 10:40-41 “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. NASB

Because the town Nazareth did not receive Jesus as a messenger from God but chose to view Him as only the local carpenter’s son, even Jesus was unable to do the works of God in their midst. Even God cannot save us if we do not receive Him and His Holy Spirit. All the work of salvation is done in us by the Holy Spirit. Only He can change our nature through the process of re-creation. None of us can change ourselves.

Mark 6:1-6 And He went out from there, and He came into His home town; and His disciples followed Him. 2 And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? 3 “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his own relatives and in his own household.” 5 And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands upon a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He wondered at their unbelief. NASB

The Holy Spirit is like water, someone said. He flows down from above,
takes the path of least resistance and freezes when He meets a cold reception. Jerusalem also came under special criticism for failing to receive Jesus as a prophet or messenger from God and it cost them dearly. It will keep on costing them until they repent and say “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Israel will not find God’s salvation again as a people until they “look upon Him whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10) and mourn for Him as one mourns for a lost son.

Matt 23:37-39 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39 “For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘ Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'” NASB

Zech 12:10″And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born. NASB

Jesus came down strongly on the side of the prophets and their message. He reserved some of His harshest criticisms for those religious people who had rejected the message of the prophets.

Matt 5:17-18 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. NASB

Matt 23:29-36 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say,’ If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 “Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? 34 “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 “Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. NASB

This has broad implications about how we receive the men and women of God who pastor us, teach us, and speak God’s truth to us. It is spiritually dangerous to criticize the pastor whom God has sent. They, like all the prophets that have gone before them, are never perfect, but they do come representing God to us and speaking to us in His name.

If we are receptive, the Holy Spirit will speak to us through them. If we reject them, not even Jesus could teach us anything. We may say that this one or that one is more gifted in some areas than in others, but we must always remember that regardless of their gifts and skills, they are gifts given us from God by the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind that prophets are always human, and there is never a perfect husband, a perfect wife or a perfect parent either. Men will persecute the prophets and messengers of God, but let it not be us.

Matt 5:12 “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. NASB

Isa 52:7 How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” NASB

Prophets in the Bible come in several varieties. Anyone who speaks for God can be called prophetic (including Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Charles Colson, C.S. Lewis, etc.). Some men and women were so often operating in this ministry that they were called prophets, even though they had other more central roles and ministries. This includes such men as Moses, David, Samuel, etc. Moses was a divinely appointed leader. David was a king and a psalmist. Samuel was a judge.

Other men actually operated in the office of the prophet as the main ministry in their life. Of these men, there are two types as well; i.e., those who wrote and those who did not. Among the prophets who did not write are: Elijah, Elisha, Nathan and Samuel. Samuel was the last of the judges and the first of the Old Testament prophets as defined by office.

Then in the 8th century BC, God began to send men to us whose message was so important for future generations, that He inspired them to write it down, provided a mechanism for it to survive them in writing and caused the forefathers to include them in the canon of the scripture. They must, therefore, be important messages to which we must incline our ears and hearts.

There are Two Great Commandments according to both the Old and New Testaments. They are that we must Love God and Love People.

Matt 22:35-40 And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” NASB

The non-writing prophets from Samuel through Elisha focused on the first Great Commandment. The thrust of their prophetic message was against idolatry, the violation of the “Love God First” rule. The penalty they decreed for this violation was that the people would develop “eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear.” Paul calls this condition “a depraved mind.” Art Linkletter referred to it as “stinkin’ thinkin’.” People who gave themselves to idolatry and put anything ahead of their relationship with God would sin freely and insist that it was okay.

Rom 1:18-23 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Rom 1:24-25 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Rom 1:26-27 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Rom 1:28-32 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. NASB

The non-writing prophets who spoke against man’s idolatry from the 12th to the 9th centuries BC allowed their messages to be recorded in the historical writings of the Old Testament, namely, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. Their message is there for all to see as they study the written biblical history of God’s relationship with His people.

Then in the 9th and 8th centuries BC, a set of circumstances occurred that was so onerous to God that He sent prophets to speak against it and to record these messages for future understanding; i.e., for our understanding. It is this commissioning by God for written prophecy that underlines and emphasizes the importance of these messages for our day.

The message of the 8th century written prophets was against the violation of the Second Great Commandment; i.e., “Love People.” And the penalty for this violation, especially a repetitive violation in the face of many warnings and a system-wide violation infecting the entire culture of Israel, was that “whatever we do unto others will be done unto us,” aka the Golden Rule. After repeated warnings, pleadings and lesser penalties, the unrepentant people of Israel were hauled off into exile for this sin. The same messages can be heard in our culture today. Will we listen?

The message of 8th century BC written prophets was about social justice. God intended for His people to prosper at some level. He means for us to have all we need and enough left over for good works (2 Cor 9:8). The Bible supports a compassionate capitalism. In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus tells us that we all have different capacities and resources. We are all expected to multiply the resources that God gives us to steward. We will all be rewarded and punished based on our faithfulness or lack of it. We are meant to feed our families, support the work of the ministry and assist the poor, the orphan, the widow and the least of these, My brethren.

1 Tim 6:17-19 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. NASB

Matt 5:16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. NASB

Eph 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. NASB

2 Cor 9:7-12 Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; 9 as it is written, “He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness abides forever.” 10 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11 you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. NASB

God has no bank account, and yet all resources under Heaven belong to Him. God “banks” His money in our accounts along with the money He gives us to manage our own lives. When He needs to assist someone, He comes to us and directs us to redirect some of His funds stored in our accounts to the assistance of others. As stewards, we just need to comply and administrate His funds faithfully as directed.

God gives some, but not all people, the power to make wealth (Dt 8:18). He gives other gifts to other people. Those to whom God gives the power to make wealth have a special responsibility to care for others with that wealth as God directs. The problem begins when we think that our wealth is “our” wealth rather than “God’s” wealth. The problem grows as we redirect funds intended to care for others to our own personal usage. In civil law, we call that embezzlement, and God does not like it any more than we do when someone steals our identity and/or embezzles our money.

The Torah Law of Moses contained a number of regulations designed to ensure that there was no permanent underclass in Israel. Land was initially given to everyone and they were meant to steward it for the benefit of their succeeding generations. The loss of land was injurious to succeeding generations, so the Torah Law made provision for it to be returned to the family after some time.

If a man lost his land, he could also go to his Kinsman-Redeemer, the head of his tribal unit, the pater familias, to enlist his help in getting his land back. If the Kinsman-Redeemer was of sufficient strength to recover the land, he would do so and work out an internal arrangement with the one who lost it.

Women in Israel could inherit land (Num 27:1-8). If so, they were encouraged to marry within the tribe so the land would not be lost to the tribal unit. God meant for everyone in Israel to have their own land either individually or as a family.

The Torah Law allowed the poor to work for their relief by gleaning the edges of the harvest. The land owner harvested the bulk of his crop, but he left the edges for the poor to glean. The poor could eat the grain they gleaned or sell it for cash.

Beginning in the 9th century and on into the 8th century BC, corrupt business men colluded with unjust judges and wicked kings to change the Torah Laws allowing them to capture large land tracks for their permanent use. Kings and judges would scheme to steal land from the poor and powerless. Large agribusinesses emerged that pushed the small farmer off the land and into the cities to work for little or nothing creating a permanent underclass for the first time in Israel’s history, a situation that was neither pleasing to God nor economically or culturally healthy for Israel.

A classic example is told in the twenty-first chapter of First Kings. It is the story of King Ahab’s theft of a vineyard that belonged to Naboth of Jezreel. Ahab wanted it for a vegetable garden (in which he was probably never going to lift a finger). Naboth refused to sell on the basis that is was family land. Ahab pouted over Naboth’s refusal until his Sidonian witch-wife, Jezebel, told him how to falsely accuse Naboth of a crime, get a crooked judge to execute him and take over the property upon his death. This act so angered God that He sent the prophet Elijah to tell Ahab that God would strike him down in battle and the dogs would lick up his blood in that same vineyard.

Ahab’s behavior only encouraged worse behaviors in other godless men in the kingdom. Soon the gleaning of the fields by the poor became a thing of the past, leaving families, widows and orphans without a place in which to live or a means to earn a living. This injustice became so widespread and pervasive that God decided to send the nations of Assyria and Babylon to capture the people of Israel and then Judah and to haul them into exile as slaves. “You have enslaved your neighbors and stolen the property of your fellow man, so that will be done unto you, in spades,” God said.

The driving force behind all of this corruption was coveting and greed. It was not enough to be well off. People began to covet more wealth and seek to become ever richer at the expense of the poor and the powerless. Like the man who Jesus spoke of in Luke 12:16-21, the wealthy people of the 9th and 8th centuries BC thought only of hoarding their excess and not of caring for their neighbor.

Luke 12:16-21 And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a certain rich man was very productive. 17 “And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 “And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19’ And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21 “So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” NASB

After the prophets rebuked this behavior for decades with no resulting repentance, they began to do the thing for which prophets are most famous. They began to foretell the future. First, they foretold whether or not repentance could still be found and judgment avoided. Then, when the answer was “No,” which it often was, they would foretell about short term punishment and restoration. Usually they would also foretell about long term repentance and final restoration under the kingship of the coming Messianic King.

There are 16 written prophets in the Old Testament. Four are classified as Major Prophets. They are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. The other 12 are classified as Minor Prophets. They are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. They are considered minor only because of the length of their messages, not because of its content. The Minor Prophets pack a wallop and are as important for us to hear as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.

The prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel are widely known and frequently studied and quoted. The scope of their prophecies are wide and they were active in prophetic ministry over many decades of their lives. That is why they are known as “Major Prophets.”

Isaiah prophesied for about 64 years from about 742-648. His ministry lasted through the reign of four Judean kings; i.e., Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Isaiah was a member of the royal family which explains his unusual access to the royal courts. He was the designated tutor of young King Hezekiah and remained his mentor until his death. Isaiah’s major focus was the judgment of God upon Judah and the restorations of Israel down through time but especially in the Eschaton (the last days).

The first 39 chapters of Isaiah are largely speeches of judgment with some occasional references to redemption. The last 27 chapters of Isiah are largely oracles of promised redemption with some occasional references to why judgment originally fell. Interestingly, this corresponds exactly with the structure of the Bible in which the first 39 books (the Old Testament) are focused on judgment and why it came upon Israel and the last 27 books (the New Testament) are focused on redemption.

Isaiah was the most developed of all the prophets and his prophecies are so specific and accurate that he is regarded by general consent to be the foremost prophet of God in the Bible. So evangelical are his prophecies that the book of Isaiah since the time of Jerome has often been referred to as the “fifth Gospel.”

Jeremiah was the son of a priest in Anathoth, a Levitical village about 3 miles northeast of Jerusalem. He prophesied from the 13th year of Josiah’s reign (627 BC) to the final fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Because of the negative nature of Jeremiah’s ministry, judgmental texts abound in his book. Jeremiah was destined from the very beginning to be a prophet of doom. He was even forbidden to marry so he could devote himself fully to the task of preaching God’s judgment (Jer 16:1-13).

Jeremiah is often called “the weeping prophet” because he wept openly about the sins of his nation (Jer 9:1). He was also depressed at times about the futility of his message. As the years passed and his words of judgment went unheeded, he lamented his unfortunate state: “O Lord, You induced me, and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed over me. I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me” (Jer 20:7).

At times Jeremiah tried to hold back from his prophetic proclamation. But he found that the word of the Lord was “like a burning fire shut up in my bones” (Jer 20:9). He had no choice but to proclaim the harsh message of God’s judgment. Jeremiah found himself in the unenviable position of having to persuade the people to surrender to and submit to their captors as the appointed judgment of God upon them. Jeremiah lived throughout his life and ministry in Judah and died, probably in Egypt, in 586 or 587 BC. The Book of Lamentations is a second volume of woe authored by Jeremiah.

Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, was tasked with persuading the people to accept their punishment and submit to their captors, but Ezekiel had to do it in exile in Babylon. Ezekiel was taken captive in the second wave of captivity along King Jehoiachin in 597, eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:12-15). He was a member of a community of Jewish exiles who settled on the banks of the Chebar, a “river” or canal of Babylonia. His ministry lasted from 592 until about 570 BC.

In his book, Ezekiel identifies himself as a priest, the son of Buzi (1:3). He was married to a woman who was “the desire of his eyes” (24:16). One of the saddest notes of his life was the death of his wife. In Ezek 24:1-2, the prophet was told that on the very day he received this revelation, his wife would die as the armies of Babylon laid siege against the holy city of Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s sadness at the death of his wife was to match the grief of God at the sin of Jerusalem. Ezekiel was commanded not to grieve her death; he was to steel himself for this tragedy even as God had prepared Himself for the death of His beloved city (24:15-22).

Daniel was a prophet during Babylonian and Persian captivities of Israel (Dan 1:6-12:9; Ezek 14:14; Matt 24:15). An upper-class boy of a noble family, he was taken to Babylon while yet a boy, together with three other Hebrew youths of rank, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. This occurred at the first deportation of the people of Judah in (605 BC). He and his companions were obliged to enter the service of the royal court of Babylon after having been castrated and made into eunuchs, a traditional practice in the ancient world.

Daniel, like Joseph, gained the favor of his overseer and was allowed by him to abstain from unclean food and idolatrous ceremonies (Dan 1:8-16). His prudent conduct and absolute refusal to comply with such customs were rewarded with the divine blessing and had important results.

After three years of discipline Daniel was presented to the king, and shortly afterward he had an opportunity to exercise his peculiar gift (2 Kings 1:17) of interpreting dreams, not only calling up the details of the king’s vision, but also revealing its meaning (2:14-45). As a reward, he was made “ruler over the whole province of Babylon” and “chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (2:48). He served as an advisor in the courts through the reigns of the kings of Babylon and into the reign of Cyrus of Persia (aka Darius, the Mede,) after the Persians became the dominant world power (Dan 1:21; 10:1).

Daniel also wrote the book in the Old Testament that bears his name. His book is characterized not only by prophecies of the distant future but also by a sense of wonder at the presence of God, even in times of great difficulty and personal persecution. He was in his 80 s when he received the prophecy of the 70 weeks (Dan 9).

The Bible, in several places, indicates that Daniel was a person of extraordinary abilities and deep personal piety. From his youth, Daniel was determined to live by God’s law in a distant land (see Dan 1). In moments of crisis, Daniel turned first to God in prayer before turning to the affairs of state (2:14-23). His prophetic ministry lasted almost 70 years.

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The messages of the “Minor Prophets” were smaller in scope but not in importance. A brief summary of their ministries follows here.

Hosea prophesied between 755-715 BC addressing his message to the northern kingdom of Israel. He was a righteous young rabbi who was directed by God to marry Gomer, the town prostitute, scandalizing all who heard of it. Having gotten the attention of the people by this most unusual alliance, Hosea began to tell Israel that God considers them to be unto to Him like Gomer, a wife of whoredom. Ultimately, Hosea is a story of redemption of Gomer and God’s compassion for his wayward people.

Joel prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah sometime between 835-796 BC. Using the backdrop of a recent devastating locust infestation, Joel warns Judah of the coming exile to Babylon if the people will not repent. This exile does indeed occur between 605 and 587 BC. Joel calls this judgment on the people of Judah “the Day of the Lord,” a term of judgment that becomes popular with many of the succeeding prophets. Joel also speaks of the last days, the Eschaton. Peter quotes Joel on Pentecost Sunday to say that the coming of the Holy Spirit is a pre-cursor to those “last days.”

Amos is a shepherd and a fig farmer, and a businessman who prophesies to the northern kingdom of Israel circa 760 BC about their spiritual condition warning them of the coming exile into Assyria. He speaks against the hypocritical, ritualistic religion of the people and their violation of the social justice requirements of the Torah. He also pronounces judgment on the gentile nations immediately surrounding Israel for the same abuse of the poor, the orphan, and the widow. Amos promises that a remnant of Israel will survive and that ultimately a Messiah would come and restore Israel in the Eschaton (last days).

Obadiah prophesies against the nation of Edom, the descendants of Esau, and tells us that we must support Israel. His message is the shortest of the prophets and the dating of it is in dispute, except that it fits in the timeframe of the 8th or 7th century BC. That Obadiah’s message is important can be seen in the fact that much of it was echoed by Jeremiah almost word for word (Jer 49:7-22). Obadiah has implications for how families were supposed to get along.

Jonah is famous, of course, for being swallowed up by a big fish. Jonah prophesied (contrary to his will) in about 760 BC against Nineveh, the capital city of Israel’s worst enemy, Assyria. His reticence to prophesy to them was caused by his fear that Nineveh would repent and God would relent and spare them from judgment. Nineveh did indeed repent and was spared, showing that when we repent, God relents from judgment. Jonah shows us that God has love for all people, even the worst of sinners.

Micah prophesied in about 760 BC and focused on the issues of social justice. He condemned the greedy rich who failed to care for the poor in their day. Micah is known for his succinct summary in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

His predictions of judgment and other details showed remarkable specificity, including his prediction that the Messiah would be born in the unlikely little town of Bethlehem. It was Micah the scholars of King Herod researched in order to inform the Magi concerning the Messiah’s birthplace. Micah also prophesies the eschatological reign of the Messiah in some detail.

Nahum prophesies God’s judgment on Assyria for its abuse of Israel demonstrating once again His commitment (and, therefore, hopefully ours) to the support of Israel.

Habakkuk prophesies in about 607-605 concerning the fall of Judah to the evil empire of Babylon. He complains to God that Babylon who is being used to chastise Judah is more evil than Judah, a charge that God does not deny.

The first two chapters are a dialogue between God and the prophet on this subject. The third and last chapter is a psalm of praise to God in which the chastened prophet acknowledges God’s historic faithfulness to Israel and foresees its continuance. Its most famous revelation is that “the righteous are justified by faith and not by works.”

Zephaniah who prophesied from 630-625 BC reiterates “the Day of the Lord” theme of judgment. Zephaniah who addresses his message to Judah foretells of two “Days of the Lord,” one near term with Babylon as the agent of judgment and the other one in the Eschaton. In the end times, the Messianic King will bring judgment upon the eschatological descendants of the same Babylonian empire.

Haggai and his disciple Zechariah were 6th century prophets who addressed the Jews coming back to Jerusalem from the Babylonian Captivity. Haggai’s message focused on motivating the returnees to be about the business of rebuilding the temple, an exercise that had stalled due to political opposition and too much focus on caring for themselves. He challenges all who live in “paneled houses” to make sure God’s temple has all it needs to do the Lord’s work in his day (and in ours as well).

Zechariah continues the theme of sanctification and calls the people to a real relationship with the Lord as opposed to a religiosity so common to man. Zechariah also has the most developed eschatology among the prophets, with the possible exception of Isaiah. In fact, Zechariah is sometimes thought of as “Isaiah Lite.”

Malachi is the last written prophet of the Old Testament. He prophesies in 432 BC and after he speaks, the Lord does not say another word to Israel until John the Baptist comes out of the Judean desert with his call for scriptural holiness in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

Malachi brings a scathing word of rebuke upon the worthless religiosity of Israel and a call to righteousness; i.e., right relationship with God and with our neighbor. Malachi announces the comings of both the Messiah and His forerunner, John the Baptist, who can be considered the last prophet of the Old Testament.

The fact that God made sure the prophetic message was written down and preserved is proof positive that its message is meant for us today and that we will be held accountable for it when we stand before Him in judgment. It behooves us then to read it, study it, understand it and obey it in our day.