Earlier in this tour of the Bible, we saw how people — even a people who were given much by a patient and generous God — failed to honor God in their worship and in the way they lived. If that were the whole story, the Bible would end on a dismal note. But there is much more.
We come now to the last major section of the Old Testament — the prophets. As Israel and Judah departed from their covenant relationship with God, God sent prophets to warn them of the consequences.
Seventeen books make up this section of the Old Testament. The longest of these are Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the “major prophets.” They are followed by Daniel and the 12 “minor prophets.” There is also the short book of Lamentations, which follows Jeremiah.
The prophets warned the nations to mend their ways to avert disaster (Isaiah 1:16-17). But they proclaimed hope beyond the dark clouds on the horizon. They proclaimed that the entire human family would one day live in harmony and accept God.
The prophets showed that God would send a Deliverer, not a fallible human deliverer like Samson or Gideon, but a descendant of David with divine honors (Isaiah 9:6-7). He would come to rule all people and nations.
Through the prophets, God showed that his love and mercy were not reduced by his people’s unfaithfulness. Though Israel and Judah seemed determined to destroy themselves, God would save them and all mankind from the wreckage of human failures.
Jeremiah, for example, did not mince words when chastising the people (Jeremiah 2:4-7). They had mocked the covenant and would suffer the consequences (Jeremiah 18:15-17). But, said Jeremiah, God would forgive them and cleanse them from their sins (Jeremiah 33:7-8).
God also inspired Jeremiah to write the book of Lamentations. In an elegant and poetic style, he lamented the awful consequences of Israel’s sins.
No one more sternly criticized the people’s behavior than Ezekiel (Ezekiel 7:5-9). Yet he also confidently predicted the restoration of Israel’s fortunes (Ezekiel 36:24-28).
The prophetic period
In most Bibles the book of Daniel appears next. For the purposes of this tour, however, we will first look at the group of books known as the minor prophets. These books are not minor because they are unimportant, but because they are short. When the Bible was written on scrolls, these 12 short books were grouped together as one unit on one scroll.
Hosea is the first of the “minor prophets.” His message underscored God’s love for Israel in spite of their unfaithfulness. He pleaded with them to return to God (Hosea 14:1-3).
Joel graphically described the “Day of the Lord,” a time of judgment on the whole world.
Amos spoke out strongly against corruption and social injustice.
Not all the prophets spoke to Israel. The one-chapter prophecy of Obadiah addressed Israel’s neighbor Edom.
Jonah is perhaps most famous for being swallowed by a great fish. He warned Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, to repent. Jonah’s mission showed that Israel’s enemies were also worthy of God’s mercy and compassion.
Micah spoke of the coming Messiah and even announced the town where he would be born (Micah 5:2).
About 150 years after Jonah, Nahum predicted the fall of the Assyrian empire, which occurred in 612 B.C.
Habakkuk wrote just before the Babylonians invaded Judah. He urged his people to turn to God in faith for deliverance (Habakkuk 2:2-4).
Zephaniah saw beyond international turmoil to a world at peace under the Messiah’s rule.
Haggai and Zechariah lived at about the same time as Zerubbabel, a leader of the Jews who returned from Persia to rebuild the temple. They encouraged the people to remain faithful and continue their work. Zechariah had a profound impact on the teachings of the New Testament, especially in foretelling the coming of the Messiah.
Malachi was the last of the minor prophets. He reminded the returned exiles about the coming Day of the Lord and about their ongoing responsibility to be ready for it (Malachi 3:1).
|“I see four men in the midst of the fire” – Daniel 3:25|
Now let’s turn our attention to the book of Daniel, an important link between the Old Testament and the New.
Young Daniel was taken captive when Babylon attacked Judah. Through miraculous circumstances, he came to the attention of the Babylonian emperor, Nebuchadnezzar. When Nebuchadnezzar had a series of strange dreams, only Daniel, with God’s help, could interpret them. Daniel showed that Nebuchadnezzar’s mighty empire would fall. In its place a succession of other empires would rise to dominate the world. Then God would intervene to deliver his people and establish a kingdom that would bring world peace (Daniel 2:44).
After this, when we next meet the Jews in the Bible, in the New Testament, the Jews are a subject people of Rome. In 537 B.C., the Babylonian Empire was crushed by the Persians under Cyrus. The Persians subsequently fell to the Greek armies of Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. In turn, the Greeks succumbed two centuries later to the rising power of Rome.
As the book of Daniel had described, the Babylonian, Persian and Greek empires came and went. Rome was the fourth and last in the sequence. The Jews began to ask themselves: Was it time for the Messiah to come and lead his people to victory? This was the world into which Jesus Christ was born.
Some versions of the Bible include a number of books often called the Apocrypha or the Deuterocanonical books. These books are accepted as Scripture by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, but not by Jews or Protestants. They are well worth reading for their wisdom and historical information. Here are the names of the books as listed in the New Revised Standard Version:
The NRSV also includes these books, which are accepted by some Eastern churches but not the Roman Catholic Church:
This article was written in 1991, and updated in 2001.
Next chapter: Jesus the Messiah
Author: John Halford