The Bible is the most read book in the history of mankind and in 2 Timothy we are told that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Note that it said ALL Scripture. It is not hard for us to see the profitability of the gospels, the usefulness of the epistles, and the equipping that comes from books like Proverbs. But when we come to the middle of the Scriptures we come to what are likely the least understood and most skipped words ever written. Yes, I am talking about the prophets and especially the minor prophets. Though the word “minor” is in reference to the length of the books, I think it is easy to see these books as having minor relevance for our lives.
They have weird names, confusing and sometimes even disturbing imagery, and at face value we struggle to see their relevance to modern-day life. So why even try to read and understand these strange books? When we treat the minor prophets as of minor importance, we forfeit much wisdom and beauty. And though not an exhaustive list, I want to look at three of the prophets and the message that reoccurs throughout the rest.
God’s Justice in Nahum
One of the most repeated questions in the Bible is “how long, O Lord?” and perhaps you have joined in that cry. We do not have to look hard to find a world saturated with sin and suffering. Any time we hear the news there are examples of war, disaster, abuse, etc. If we worship a just God, “how long” will he seemingly do nothing about these headlines? The prophets do not give us a timeline, but they reveal to us the character of a God who takes into account the sins of his people and the sins against his people.
The book of Nahum’s focus is the city of Nineveh in the nation of Assyria, which was used by God as an instrument of discipline against Israel for their rebellion against him. Though an instrument of God, Nineveh was not innocent of sin in their treatment of the Jews. In response to the wickedness of Nineveh we are told “The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will never leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:3). This passage references God’s self-description of himself from the book of Exodus, but with slight differences. Hundreds of years prior, the Lord revealed himself to Moses as “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34).
So why does Nahum focus on God’s power and justice instead of his love? This is because God’s power and justice are not distinct from his love, they are aspects of it. If we worshiped a God who did not take evil and injustice into account, he would not be a God worth worshiping. If God was a capricious God who angrily annihilates his enemies, we would be hopeless. The prophet Nahum helps us see a God who perfectly holds justice and grace in balance, and therefore we have hope.
God’s Sovereignty in Habakkuk
Another question we have likely asked of God is “are you there? If you are, do you care?” Amidst our suffering we like to have an understanding of the reason for the pain we experience. We want a diagnosis so we can get a prognosis. Sometimes the answer is not always that clear. Sometimes when we get an answer it’s not the answer we expected or wanted. In these moments we are tempted to doubt that the Lord truly has things under control.
The prophet Habakkuk was weary of seeing the people of God engage in outright rebellion against their God, and he wants to know if God is going to hold them accountable. God’s response: “I am going to send Babylon as my tool of judgment.” Initially Habakkuk becomes even more enraged with this solution. Babylon? They are even more wicked than Israel! The Lord responds to the prophets’ understandable confusion with: “But the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Note that he does not say the righteous will live by knowing the time, place, and purpose of all things. No, he says they will live by faith. God will use Babylon to overthrow Judah but he will also hold Babylon accountable.
As the book comes to a conclusion, we find the prophet no longer lashing out at God but instead we see a resolute dependance: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though the flocks disappear from the pen and there are no herds in the stalls, yet I will celebrate in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). We have and will continue to see such times when there is “no fruit on the vine,” but when we look to the prophets we have the invitation to join in a long history of prayers of trust that come from confused and hurting hearts that find their peace in an all powerful, victorious God.
God’s Faithfulness in Micah
At other times, we are so humbled by the glory of God that we ask “how could God still want to do anything with a sinner like me?” Many have asked a similar question; upon approaching the throne room of God in a vision, Isaiah said “Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). After seeing a miracle of Jesus, the disciple Peter said to him “Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). How could God’s faithfulness endure my unfaithfulness?
In the book of Micah we are shown a holy God who appears in an unholy land and as a result, “The mountains will melt beneath him and the valleys will split apart, like wax near a fire, like water cascading down a mountainside.” (Micah 1:4). But in the “last days” it says that instead of a melting mountain, God will draw to himself those from many nations who will come to the mountain of the Lord where “He will teach us about his ways so we may walk in his paths” (Micah 4:2). And what are the ways of God? They are what God commands of his own people: “to act justly, to love faithfulness and to walk humbly with your God.” Throughout the prophets we see God enact perfect justice while maintaining faithfulness to his people. Therefore, we can come humbly to God because he “will vanquish our iniquities” and “will show loyalty to Jacob and faithful love to Abraham, as you swore to our ancestors from days long ago” (Micah 7:20). God has every right to hand us over to our sin but his faithful love overwhelms our rebellion.
God’s Justice, Sovereignty and Faithfulness Is For Us, Too
The prophets are difficult to understand, there is no getting around that, but that does not mean we should avoid digging for the gold that each book contains. We forfeit too much hope and comfort if we do. Each of the prophets reveal a God who has ordered history for his glory and deserves our reverence. I pray that as we enter this new year, intentional time spent in study of the prophets will lead to new and greater insights into the character of our great God. Let us not neglect the hope and awe that the prophets beckon us to.
Here are some helpful resources for reading the prophets: