How to Preach from the Minor Prophets
Sharing the important truths of these Old Testament books
Tucked away at the end of the Old Testament is a collection of 12 books called the Minor Prophets. Covering a period of hundreds of years and addressing several different nations and people, they are anything but minor. But they are often overlooked by preachers today.
Why do these books end up being pushed into the background? One reason may be the notion that they don’t really matter. The adjective “minor” has to do with their length — since they’re shorter than the so-called Major Prophets — not their content, though.
Perhaps it’s due to unfamiliarity. Many pastors focus on the books in the Bible everyone recognizes. They may go years without even referencing some of these lesser-known works. Besides, the storylines can be confusing, and some of the names are difficult to pronounce.
But these 12 books offer a treasure of proclamation from the Lord. He offers warnings against wickedness and blessings for faithfulness. God shines a light in a very dark world, offering lessons that are applicable to the world in which we live today. In fact, preaching from the Minor Prophets has never been more relevant.
Finding Their Place
The Minor Prophets make up nearly one-fifth of the entire Bible, and still they occupy a place in biblical history that is kind of murky. The stories of Genesis and Exodus are well known. Tales of David and the early kingdom are quite popular. The Gospels are widely studied, as are the New Testament epistles. But what about this slice of prophecy at the end of the Old Testament? Most churchgoers will admit they know little about them.
To begin clarifying them, find the place the Minor Prophets take up in Scripture and biblical history. At first, that may seem simple enough. The 12 books are right in the middle of your copy of the Bible, after all. But it can get complicated.
Which comes first, Zechariah or Zephaniah? Does Habakkuk come before or after Hosea? I will admit that years ago I learned a jingle to remember the order of these books, a song I still sing in my head today to keep my place in the Minor Prophets.
More important than their canonical order is their place in history. Jonah is likely the first book written, occurring during the crucial period just before the exile. Jonah is also unique among the Minor Prophets since it’s a story rather than a collection of oracles. But it is similar in theme to the other books, hinting at justice and repentance, for instance.
These books are not only well written, with deep theological insights, but they also offer hope for a bright future.
Locating the rest of the Minor Prophets historically can be either quite simple or nearly impossible. Amos and Hosea ministered in the northern kingdom of Israel prior to the exile, just like Jonah. And Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah ministered in the southern kingdom of Judah. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi are the lone post-exilic prophets, contemporaneous with Nehemiah and Ezra.
But what of Obadiah and Joel? Trying to find dates for these books is pretty difficult. Although some date them as the earliest of the 12, they may have been written as late as Malachi, traditionally the final Minor Prophet.
This may not seem important, but laying out how the Bible unfolds from start to finish and the stops along the way will help your audience understand the context of what they’re reading. And that translates into spiritual growth for all your listeners.
Teach Biblical Literacy
Teaching from the Minor Prophets is a great way to encourage biblical literacy. As you unpack any of these books, take a look at where they sit historically and point that out to your audience. It takes a lot less time than you may think, but it can have a huge impact on their understanding. Think about using graphics such as maps or timelines to help.
Biblical literacy is declining in America. This is not just a history lesson, though. Leverage the content to explain the developing history of Israel throughout the Old Testament, especially the exile and return. And then relate these movements to spiritual equivalents in the New Testament.
Focus on Themes
Another way to go deep in the Minor Prophets is to focus on the major themes of each book. While teaching the intricacies of the historical setting and oracles can be tedious, finding a theme and elevating it can help your audience focus.
Each book has at least one major theme, and many of them share the same ones. Passages like Amos 5:24 and Micah 6:8 teach us about the justice of God that is required of each believer. Zechariah 1:3 calls God’s people to repentance. Joel 2 foresees the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Find a theme, and go all in.
Another way to use the Minor Prophets is as a platform to explain prophecy. In a New Testament context, prophecy is a word of God delivered to His congregation. That reflects the understanding in Old Testament days as well.
While many of the Minor Prophets speak of a future time of judgment and blessing, that’s not all prophecy is. There may be a predictive aspect, but there is also a proclamation being made. Avoid focusing too much on what is to come one day, and center the messages on how to respond now.
Find Christ Between the Lines
Finally, look for how and where Jesus shows up. It is a standard approach to biblical interpretation to find Christ within all of the Bible, and the Minor Prophets are no exception.
In Hosea, we are Christ’s bride, and He is our Husband. In Joel, Jesus bears the name upon which we call and are saved. In Amos, He baptizes in fire and judgment. In Obadiah, the Lord is a refugee for those returning to Him. And on it goes.
These books are not only well written, with deep theological insights, but they also offer hope for a bright future. The outlook may be dim at times, but God always offers a way out. No matter how you plan on preaching from the Minor Prophets, make sure you end on a note of salvation from our Lord.