Who were the Twelve Messengers commonly referred to as the Minor Prophets?
The Minor Prophets reveal that God uses a diverse group of individuals to communicate His promises. These messengers come from different backgrounds and employ a variety of styles to declare God’s Word. However different they may be, the prophets demonstrate a unity in both their message and their audience. This unity is an important factor to be considered when evaluating the differences between them. For example, the reader may be tempted to interpret Edom as the primary audience of Obadiah’s preaching. However, Obadiah like the other prophets is declaring a message of hope to Israel. Likewise, Nahum’s description of Nineveh’s destruction was not primarily meant for the Assyrians, but as a divinely inspired reminder that God will free His people from foreign oppression. The twelve messengers were united in communicating that God is absolutely sovereign over all nations, that sin has drastic and widespread consequences, that God preserves a remnant, and He redeems unworthy sinners–all for His glory.
- Hosea: Very little is known about Hosea and his family. Although the book gives a few details about his life, they are so inextricably linked with Yahweh’s message that it is difficult to distinguish between what is metaphorical and what is biographical. A cursory reading of Hosea reveals a series of questions: Was Gomer a prostitute when Hosea married her, or did she become one later? Did Hosea divorce her or was it allegorical? The book is likely a combination of narrative (Hosea’s life) and allegory wherein Hosea represents God who is faithful, and Gomer represents Israel who pursues extramarital affairs.
- Joel: Although the Apostles were familiar with Joel’s writings, little is known about the author. The book only identifies him as the son of Pethuel (1:1a). Joel is recognized for his prophetic focus on the “Day of the LORD” and the future democratic outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
- Amos: Although Amos was a shepherd and farmer from Tekoa, he is likely the first of the writing prophets. God instructed Amos to travel from his native home in Judah to the northern tribes of Israel. Amos was an outsider (a common man) preaching to the social elites and religious establishment. This preaching eventually brought him opposition from King Jeroboam (7:10-13).
- Obadiah: As the author of the shortest book in the Old Testament, it should come as no surprise that very little is known about Obadiah, whose name means either “servant” or “worshiper” of Yahweh. Like Jonah and Nahum, Obadiah’s message is focused on God’s judgment of a foreign nation. Although no other biblical writer refers to Obadiah, the book serves an important role in announcing that God is the sovereign of the nations.
- Jonah: Jonah son of Amittai, is the most famous of the minor prophets. Yet, no biblical author quotes the book bearing his name. Matthew does, however, record Jesus referring to Jonah’s ordeal with the great fish (12:40), and 2 Kings summarizes his prophecy concerning Northern Israel (14:25). His popularity is likely related to the nature and structure of the book. Among the minor prophets, the Book of Jonah is unique because it is not a collection of the messenger’s oracles, but instead an account of an episode in the prophet’s life. Surprisingly, only one sentence of Jonah’s preaching is recorded (cf. Jonah 3:4).
- Micah: Like many of his contemporaries, very little is known about Micah outside of the book that bears his name. However, a remarkable reference to Micah’s ministry and writings (preaching) was made by Jeremiah (26:18-19). This reference is remarkable among the prophets and demonstrates that some of the prophets were familiar with and influenced by other writing prophets. Micah’s name means “Who is like God?” and is part of a wordplay in 7:18.
- Nahum: Nahum is the second of The Twelve commissioned with prophesying against Nineveh (the capital of Assyria). Nineveh, however, was not the primary audience of Nahum’s prophetic preaching. Instead, his oracles were likely directed to Judah to encourage the people with a message of hope; that is, God will rescue them from foreign oppressors.
- Habakkuk: Rabbinic tradition ascribed a Hebrew meaning to the author’s name, which allegedly meant “embrace.” However, a number of modern scholars believe the prophet’s name is from a foreign language (Akkadian, for a type of plant). Although the meaning of the prophet’s name may be of little value, it may demonstrate the level of foreign influence on Israel, which had risen to new heights by influencing language and names. Several interesting Jewish traditions surrounding the origins and identity of Habakkuk have been recorded. In the Apocrypha, he is described as bringing food to Daniel who was held captive in the Lion’s den. Moreover, Rabbinic traditions identified him as the son of the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4:16, as the watchman referred to by Isaiah in 21:6, or as a Levitical priest. While these traditions are intriguing, there is not enough information about the author to definitively establish any of these theories.
- Zephaniah: The prophet Zephaniah may have been a member of a royal line. That is, if the Hezekiah listed in his genealogy was King Hezekiah (1:1). Ironically, some scholars have suggested that the prophet’s name is the combination of two words: “Zaphon” (a Canaanite deity) and “Yah” (an abbreviation for Yahweh), and could be translated “Zaphon is Yahweh.” Zephaniah was likely born during the reign of King Manasseh; a dark period when Israel was under the influence of the Assyrians. If so, that circumstance may explain what influenced the choice of his name. However, Zephaniah can also mean “Yahweh hides” and would be fitting considering the coming judgment that the prophet announces.
- Haggai: Haggai is referenced twice in Ezra (5:1, 6:14). These references coupled with Haggai’s appeal to the priests to answer a question (2:11), his interest in the rebuilding of the temple, and his name being associated with some of the Psalms (LXX 87, 145-148, etc.) have caused speculation that he was both a prophet and a priest. Nothing is known, however, about his age or his ancestry.
- Zechariah: Who was Zechariah’s father? The opening of the book bearing his name is not clear and has created speculation through the centuries. Is he the son of Berechiah of the son of Iddo (Zechariah 1:1; cf. Ezra 5:1, 6:14)? It is possible that the two names listed are his father and his grandfather. Some have speculated that there were two Zechariahs (one being the trusted witness of Isaiah and the other the priest of the post-exilic period) and that their writings were combined into one book (Chapters 1-8 & 9-14). Because of the obscure nature of much of the book, it is difficult to accurately date the material, which makes it even more difficult to definitively say who composed the material. Nonetheless, it is possible that Zechariah was either a priest or born to a priestly family and called to be a prophet. Regardless of the author’s actual identity, according to Paul Lamarche, Zechariah 9-14 is the most quoted section of the prophets in the passion narrative of the Gospels and other than Ezekiel, Zechariah has influenced the author of the book of Revelation more than any other Old Testament book.
- Malachi: Although the book may bear the name of the prophet, it is more likely that the author is unknown. If the phrase “Malachi” (my messenger or my angel) designates an official, then the book is likely anonymous. No personal information is provided about the author, which creates additional speculation about his identity. Conversely, the Jewish writers of the intertestamental period (between the Old & New Testaments) suggested that Ezra was the author and “messenger” of Yahweh who both proclaimed the oracle and penned the book (Talmud, Meg. 15a). This position was acknowledged by Jerome, who made the connection between Ezra’s role as a priest and Malachi’s condemnation of the priestly abuses and apathy. Although there is no consensus on the identity of the prophet (or priest) who wrote the book of Malachi, it is widely accepted that whoever wrote it wanted the emphasis to be on the message and not the messenger.
Throughout this study, the terms “Yahweh, Jehovah, LORD, and God” are used interchangeably to refer to the Triune God, who is one being (One God) and three persons (Father, Son, and Spirit).