Introduction to the Study of the Minor Prophets

March 30, 2013

Introduction to the Study of the Minor Prophets

The twelve small books at the end of our English Bibles are known as the “minor” prophets simply because they are so much smaller than the “major” ones (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). Several of them contain almost no indications of historical context and thus are like parts of the book of Isaiah (e.g. 40 – 66). Some are more like the book of Jeremiah, the best model for providing historical context. Right up front (Jer. 1:1-3) the book tells us that Jeremiah ministered during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah, continuing right up to the exile. Elsewhere Jeremiah tells us that he continued his ministery after Jerusalem was taken into exile.

Also, the book of Jeremiah itself clearly marks the last chapter (Jer. 52) as being separate from the rest of the book for Jeremiah 51 closes with these words: “The words of Jeremiah end here.” The last chapter is almost a carbon copy of the last chapter of 2 Kings 25where the fall of Jerusalem is recorded. Since Jeremiah’s ministry was consistently resisted by the Jerusalem authorities, the editors of the “Jeremiah Estate” decided that the extra chapter was needed to confirm that Jeremiah, the rejected prophet, actually got it right.

Some of the minor prophets give us specific information just as Jeremiah did. Hosea, Amos, and Micah come closest to the Jeremiah model, clearly dating their ministries to the last years of the northern kingdom of Israel before the Assyrians overran the land in 722.

Similarly, Zephaniah is explicitly dated to the last days of the southern king of Judah that was destroyed by Babylon in 586. Finally, Zechariah and Haggai are dated with exactness to the 2nd year of the reign of Darius the Great who commanded that the Jerusalem temple be rebuilt in 522, a task that was finally completed in 515.

Other books, like Joel, Habakkuk, and Malachi, require us to read between the lines to discover when they were written, though the indirect markers are often quite clear.

In general, we can cluster the minor prophets around three major events in the history of God’s people: the fall of Samaria and the Northen Kingdom in 722, the fall of Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom in 586, and the completion of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem in 515. Here is a chronological list of all twelve with a general indication of their time of ministry. A general historical outline of major Old Testament events follows, then a clustering of the prophets according to the major events in their ministry and the available sources for filling out the rest of the picture.

Prophet Time of ministry Place of ministry
Jonah 790? Israel, Ninevah
Amos 767 – 753 Israel, time of Jeroboam II (Israel), Uzziah (Judah)
Hosea 755 – 725 Israel, a contemporary of Amos
Micah 740 – 700 Judah and Israel (a contemporary of Isaiah)
Nahum 660 – 612 Judah
Habakkuk 630 Judah
Joel 635? In Judah, late monarchy or early post-exilic period
Zephaniah 640 – 612 Judah, reign of Josiah
Obadiah after 586? Judah, probably after destruction of Jerusalem (586)
Haggai 520 Judah, among the returned exiles in Jerusalem
Zechariah 520 Judah, among the returned exiles in Jerusale
Malachi 425? Judah, probably after Nehemiah’s second return

Key Old Testament Events

1875 BCE Call of Abraham
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
Slavery in Egypt
1445 BCE Exodus from Egypt
[1290] Forty Years of Wilderness Wandering
Invasion of Canaan (1405 BCE)
Joshua and the Judges
1050 BCE United Monarchy Established
Saul, David, Solomon
931 BCE Division of the Kingdom
Kingdom of Judah in the South: Rehoboam and Successors
Kingdom of Israel in the North: Jeroboam and Successors
722 BCE Fall of Northern Kingdom (Samaria/Israel)
Selective Deportation of the Ten Tribes by Assyria
Sennacherib’s Attack on Jerusalem
621 BCE Josiah’s Reform and Discovery of the Law
586 [587] BCE Fall of Sourthern Kingdom (Jerusalem/Judah)
Exile and Deportation by Babylon
Babylon Falls to Medes and Persians (538 BCE)
536 BCE Return from Exile in Babylon
Cyrus’ Decree Sends First Captives Back under Zerubbabel
Temple Rebuilt under Darius the Great (520-515 BCE)
457 BCE Ezra Arrives in Jerusalem
444 BCE Walls of Jerusalem Rebuilt (Nehemiah)

Biblical Material relating to the Minor Prophets: (Dates from SDABC)

 Prophets to Israel, prior to the fall of Samaria and the North in 722

Jonah: (cf. 2 Kings 14:25, reign of Rehoboam II): (790?)
Amos: (1:1): Uzziah and Jeroboam II (767 – 753)
Hosea: (1:1): Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah; Jeroboam II (755 – 725)
Micah: (1:1): Jotham. Ahaz, and Hezekiah (740 – 700)

Kings of Judah:

Uzziah/Amaziah (790-739)
Jotham (750-731)
Ahaz (735-715)
Hezekiah (729-686)

King of Israel:

Jeroboam II (793-753)
Zachariah (753-52)
Shallum (752)
Menahem (752-742)
Pekahiah (742-740)
Pekah (740-732?  – see SDABC)
Hoshea (732-722)


1 Kings 14:21 – 20:21
2 Chron. 26 :1– 32:33
Isaiah 36:1 – 39:8

Prophets to Judah in Connection with the Fall of Jerusalem in 586

Nahum: (cf. 3:8-10, after the fall of Thebes in Egypt in 663)
Habakkuk: (cf. 1:5-11, warning of the on-coming Babylonians)
Joel:– no precise historical information in the book, apparently during the last days of Jerusalem
Zephaniah: (1:1): Josiah, but before fall of Ninevah (cf. 2:13)
Obadiah: possibly after Jerusalem fell in 586; 2:10-14 (cf. Ps. 137:7-9)

Kings of Judah:

Josiah (639-608)
Jehoahaz (608)
Jehoiakim (608-598)
Jehoiachin (598-597)
Zedekiah (597-586)

History: from Josiah to the Exile: (639 – 586)

2 Kings 22:1 – 25:30
Jeremiah 39:1-10; 52:1– 34; 40:5 – 41:3
2 Chronicles 34:1 – 36:23

Prophets of the Exile and Restoration

Haggai: (1:1) second year of Darius (520)
Zechariah: (1:1) second year of Darius (520)
Malachi: no precise dating, but the sins were those faced by Nehemiah after his return (ca. 425?)

Leaders and Governors:

Cyrus (Persian)
Darius (Persian)
Artaxerxes (Persian)

History and theology of Exilic and Post-exilic period (586 – ca. 400)

1 and 2 Chronicles (for the theology of the late post-exilic period)

Comments are closed.