READING THE BIBLE:The Old Testament Prophets

Prophet Definition:

“Prophets are the mouthpiece of God, conveying God’s opinions, reactions, intentions, and very words. In short, God’s agenda, or program is announced through the words of the prophets. Each prophet came with a message from God and his job was to communicate that message.”

from “A Survey of the Old Testament,” Walton & Hill.

“Remember the former things long past,

  For I am God, and there is no other;

  I am God, and there is no one like Me,

 Declaring the end from the beginning,

 And from ancient times things which have not been done,

  Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,

  And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;

 Calling a bird of prey from the east,

  The man of My purpose from a far country.

  Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass.

  I have planned it, surely I will do it.”

Isaiah 46:9–11

Reader Insight

As a reader of the Bible who is unfamiliar with the various books, genres, and themes of scripture; you would probably want to know what knowledge and wisdom is to be gained from reading the books of the Prophets. The books of the Old Testament point to Christ as the coming Messiah (Saviour) who will deliver mankind from the penalty of sin. The events written about in the Old Testament help to explain the evil and rebellion against God that took place which not only required a means of salvation, but also brought God’s wrath down on the Israelites by bringing conquering nations against them and destroying their nation. Before God released His judgment on the Israelites, He sent His prophets to warn them and to try to get them to repent. He was patient in delivering judgment as He desired them to return to the loving relationship that they had enjoyed. The book of Jonah describes this aspect of God’s nature as He sends Jonah to warn the Ninevites to repent or judgment would fall on them. The theme of the book of Jonah is that God is merciful and loving as Jonah quotes, “For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” The Ninevites repented and God relented from judgement on them. In contrast, the Israelites did not repent and continued their idolatry and breaking of the covenant which brought God’s wrath on them. These events display God’s character where His love is balanced with His justice. Obedience is contrasted with rebellion. One brings blessing, while the other brings judgment. Even in disobedience God’s love is patient as He relents from judgment by offering repentance. However, judgment is unavoidable unless there is repentance. The books of the Prophets give warning to all readers of this truth and the example of the fall of ancient Israel testifies to us today.

Another aspect for the reader to consider is that Jesus declared that these books referred to Him. In the Gospel of Luke there is the story of two men walking on the road to Emmaus after the cruxificion and death of Jesus when they meet a man that unknown to them is the risen Christ. He gives them the following words:

And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!

           “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”

           Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”

Luke 24:25–27

This helps to give insight into the books of the Prophets and what they offer to the reader. There are many riches to be found in these books such as; “Jonah and the whale,” “the writing on the wall,” “Daniel in the lions den,” “the sign of Immanuel,” “the angel who kills 185,000 Assyrians in one night,” “the seven night visions of Zechariah,” and many future prophecies concerning the end times. Before you go headlong into your reading, the following information will help you navigate your way through the books. The background information and timeline give context and meaning to the reader which help them understand the Prophets and their writings, and there are references displayed for further study.

Background Information

The books of the Prophets were written between the 8th and 5th centuries BC. They were written to address the situation occuring during these times among the Israelites and the Jewish nation concerning their apostasy and God’s coming judgment. A brief lesson on the history of ancient Israel before and during this time is needed in order to understand the writings and prophecies of the Prophets. We begin with the exodus of the Jews from Egypt when they cross the Red Sea as they escape from the Pharoah. Moses leads them to the promised land which is a Caananite territory. They proceed to conquer the nations there and make it their land. An important point to remember concerning the land of Israel is that it was promised to them by God through a covenant agreement with Abraham where God agreed to the promise with the stipulation that Abraham and his descendants agreed to worship only Him and to obey His commandments. This covenant agreement was repeated to the people by Moses and again by Joshua as they took control of the land with the help of God. This covenant agreement is central to the books of the Prophets because the Israelites continually break the covenant by worshipping foreign Gods, and disobeying God’s commands by engaging in evil acts.

Israel becomes a nation of twelve separate areas representing each of the twelve Jewish tribes. In 1000 BC, Israel was united under the leadership of King David who founded the nations capitol in Jerusalem. David’s son, King Solomon would rule after David and would build God’s temple in the capitol city. This time under the rule of these kings would be the high point in Israels history before its fall, and it is known as Israel’s golden age. The fall begins with King Solomon who late in life turns from God and worships foreign Gods through the coaxing of many of his foreign wives, he had 700 wives and 300 concubines, (1Kings 11:1-8). Despite God’s warning, Solomon continued his rebellion against God by worshipping and building altars for the foreign Gods, Astoreth, Chemosh, Milcom, and Molech. In judgment God removed the kingdom from Solomon’s descendants and gave it to his adversaries. The nation was split into two, a northern and a southern kingdom each with their own king. This two nation arrangement would continue until both nations are destroyed by conquering nations which were raised by God for this purpose. This is the situation of the nation and its people as the prophets are called by God to warn them before His judgment falls on them. The rebellious people ignore the warnings and even kill some of the prophets. The northern kingdom is the first to fall with the invasion of the Assyrians in 722 BC, who conquer the nation and take the people of the ten Jewish tribes that inhabited the northern kingdom into captivity to Assyria. These ten tribes never return and are referred to as the lost tribes of Israel. The remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, reside in the southern kingdom until they are conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and taken into captivity in Babylon. The temple of Solomon is destroyed and its contents looted by the Babylonians. The prophets Daniel and Ezekiel are taken at a young age in this captivity and their books were written during their life in Babylon. The remaining captives and their descendents from the southern kingdom were allowed to return from captivity after seventy years, and the final books of the prophets would record the events during this time. The book of Malachi ended the the Old Testament scriptures creating a 400 year gap until the time of Christ and the New Testament scriptures.

The time of the Prophets is considered to be one of the most impressive periods of prophetism in Israel. In these books we are witness to the fall of the Israelites, who were God’s chosen people to be a model to all the other nations. They were given a nation that was abundant in resources which is why it was referred to as the land of milk and honey. We see a total abandonment of the God who delivered them and gave them this land. The people engaged in wickedness even as they were given warning after warning by God’s prophets. They worshipped the foreign gods of their neighbors and willingly broke their covenant with God. Judgment was slow in coming but God’s wrath was harsh as it is recorded by the prophets. The accounts of those events give us insight into the nature of God’s warnings and His judgments. God continues His rule today over the world and He does not change. Are we as a nation or as a people subject to judgment just as the Israelites were? Are we also guilty of turning against God and His commands? If the answer to these questions are yes, then there is much that we can learn about the nature of judgments in these books. While we may not be guilty on a personal level for disobedience we will still suffer as judgment falls upon our nation.

The Prophets

The books of the Prophets are divided onto two categories, the Major Prophets and the Minor Prophets. These categories are based on the length of the books and not on the importance of the prophet. There are four Major Prophets and twelve Minor Prophets for a total of sixteen books.

Major Prophets

  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Ezekiel
  • Daniel

Minor Prophets

  • Hosea *Jonah *Zephaniah
  • Joel *Micah *Haggai
  • Amos *Nahum *Zechariah
  • Obadiah *Habakkak *Malachi

Four prophets prophesized to the northern kingdom concerning the coming Assyrian invasion; Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. Nahum, Habakkak, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah had their ministries in the southern kingdom and warned of the Babylonian invasion. Ezekiel and Daniel prophesized during the Babylonian captivity. While Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were prophets after the return to Jerusalem during the restoration of the nation and the rebuilding of the temple. The books of Obadiah and Joel are primarily prophecies concerning the future Day of the Lord. Jonah is dated prior to any of these books and it concerns the judgment of the people of Ninevah, (a city in Assyria).

The Theme of Each Book of the Prophets:

Isaiah-God’s plans for judgment and deliverance through Messiah in the near and distant future.

Jeremiah-Impending judgment on Jerusalem and the necessity of repentance.

Ezekiel-Judgment on Judah and the nations, and the future restoration of God’s presence.

Daniel-Stories and visions from the Babylonian captivity about God’s sovereignty over His people, and over kings and nations.

Hosea-God’s judgment and loyal love for adulterous Israel.

Joel-Call for Judah’s repentance following a locust plague and future judgment, and blessing in the day of the Lord.

Amos-God’s coming judgment on Israel for moral corruption and social injustice.

Obadiah-Judgment on Edom.

Jonah-God’s compassion for the undeserving contrasted to the lack of compassion for Jonah and for Israel.

Micah-God’s coming judgment on Judah’s injustice.

Nahum-Judgment on Assyria.

Habakkak-God’s justice with the nations and living by faith.

Zephaniah-Coming judgment on Judah prefiguring the day of the Lord.

Haggai-Call to Israel’s returned exiles to complete the rebuilding of the temple.

Zechariah-Call to repentance among the returned exiles and the comfort of Messiah’s future restoration.

Malachi-Call to repentance in light of God’s covenant love for Israel.

Final Comments

While this article may seem a bit lengthy, it contains necessary information that will give the reader a foundation that will help to understand the historical background of the books of the Prophets and put in the proper context. This will help reduce the need to interrupt the reading and refer back to other sources in order to understand the passages in the books. For those readers who have made it this far in this article, may you be blessed with the wisdom that comes from reading the word of God. May you be encouraged to take time to study the scriptures so that you can become a knowledgeable servant of the Lord during these times of increasing spiritual darkness. Stand firm in the faith and may your endeavor be fruitful for the Kingdom of God.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

1 Corinthians 15:58

References for Further Study

This text is an overview of the Old Testament and is intended for the more serious student. It contains detailed explanations of each book of the Old Testament and is filled with charts and maps. This is a college level text and is used in seminary courses. It is available at Amazon and at Christian Book Distributors, (CBD).

This is a perfect companion for the beginner and intermediate student. It contains a brief two-page description of each book of the Bible. It gives the reader a fingernail sketch of the content of the books. The book is filled with photos and charts. It is inexpensive and used copies can be found on Amazon.

For those readers who have no budget then this 65 page booklet is for you, since it is free from World Missionary Press. It is comparable to the Essential Bible Companion but with only a one page description of each book. It also does not contain any photos, maps, and charts. It is intended for new believers to give a brief overview of the Bible. You can read or download the booklet for free at

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