Tucked away at the end of the Old Testament are a dozen books of “minor prophets” who really aren’t so minor — it’s just that the books themselves are short.
For those who are so inclined, Calvin Theological Seminary’s Old Testament professor Michael Williams invites readers to take a scenic and explanatory tour of these books in his recently released Hidden Prophets of the Bible.
Spanning from the Hosea, who “frequently uses wordplay to make his prophecy unforgettable,” to Malachi, who “spoke to a spiritually dry and struggling people,” the book especially focuses on what each of these prophets have to tell us about the ministry of Christ.
“The prophets represent God’s words, actions, and emotions — and in this we see Jesus. They are a primer on what is coming,” said Williams.
Too often these books are hidden in the shadows of the giants on both sides — Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel in the Old Testament and the four gospel accounts that start off the New Testament.
But for the willing, for those who want to delve more deeply into the ministries of Jonah, Joel, Nahum, and Micah, there is great profit — historically, culturally, theologically, and spiritually. Explore the settings, take in the sights, and appreciate what these books have to offer.
“We’re going to motor right in, park the car, and look around for a while to make sure that we give ourselves the opportunity to see all the amazing things these books have to offer,” writes Williams in the introduction, who succeeds in making this survey a very accessible read for the everyday biblical tourist.
Take Habakkuk, for instance, the prophet who piercingly puts into words the anguish we sometimes feel over who God is and how God acts (or doesn’t act) in our lives. Habakkuk is the prophet of direct honesty.
The book of Habakkuk opens with a question and declaration: “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?”
“Many of us have Habakkuk moments” — times when we are troubled and wonder about God, said Williams. “I had mine when I was going to Bible college after being in the Navy.”
It was a small thing — someone took the last glass in the cafeteria line — and it upset him until, said Williams, a friend reminded him that his strength and stability came not from what other people did, but from God.
“We need to remember that God is in control, and he has never failed his people in the past,” he writes in the book.
Hosea presents kind of a soap opera, showing through the actions of his unfaithful wife, Gomer, the infidelity of Israel to God’s commands and wishes, said Williams.
“By reading this, we see how Israel is unfaithful to God, and we also see that we are that unfaithful wife and that Christ becomes the faithful, loving wife for us,” he said.
Then there is Amos, who may have been a stammerer, who, says Williams in the book, speaks powerfully about “our lack of and need for justice and righteousness, both in our relationship with God and our relationship with one another.”
Micah, the powerful prophet who calls us to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8), prophesied around the same time “the rock star” Isaiah was at work. So Micah was overshadowed.
Pay attention, though, because Micah has a lot to say. Woven into his pronouncements of God’s wrath visiting the people of Israel are words of hope and promises of future restoration for all of God’s people, said Williams.
“We are told ‘many nations’ would come to the Lord to learn his ways (4:2) and that they would live securely, without fear, ‘for ever and ever’ (4:4-5). This will be achieved, we are told, by an eternal, caring shepherd who will ensure their peace and safety (5:2-5).”
Then there is Jonah, the wayward prophet whose book, likely not written by him, is a case study in God’s mercy. Besides being swallowed up and praying in the belly of “a huge fish,” an ordeal that Jesus references (Matt. 12:40), Jonah finally obeys God and makes it to Nineveh, where he calls people to repentance.
The prophet does this, though, assuming that the Ninevites wouldn’t repent and God would wipe them out for their sinfulness. When God spares them, Jonah slumps down in the desert in a fit of self-pity.
It’s not the self-pity, of course, that means anything to us — it is the fact that God shows such mercy to a rebellious, warring people.
The book ends by God leaving Jonah with an open-ended question: “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh . . . ?”
In this way the book of Jonah gives us a look at the saving grace, the “expansive love” of God in Christ — a love, writes Williams, “that dares to blanket even those who by all human measure do not deserve to experience its warmth.”
Taking a trip through the minor prophets, seemingly secreted out of the way, reveals vistas and essential scenes that offer us a deep look at the many aspects revealed in the life and ministry of Christ.
While these prophets cry out, they also speak tenderly; while they chastise God’s people for their failures, they also point readers in important directions, reflecting God’s light and God’s words to God people.
“Who knew that such fascinating characters existed just beyond the awareness of most biblical tourists?” says Williams.
“As is usually the case when we visit foreign lands, we soon become aware that the joys, concerns, hopes, and struggles of the people we meet are really not that much different from our own.”