Cross References: Jer 49:7-22; Joel 3:19
Author: Obadiah (little known, except name means “servant of the Lord”)
Date: 845 BC (oldest of prophetic books)
Keyword: God’s Retributive Justice
Audience: Edom – descendants of Esau, brother to Jacob (Israel)
This pronouncement of judgement by Obadiah was for two sins of Edom:
(1) Pride – because Edom thought that living in the natural fortification of the canyons and cliffs protected them from invasion, but God would bring destruction upon them (1:3, 5-7).
(2) Injury to Judah – because Edom attacked her brother Israelites and so would incur the judgment of God (1:10-14) even though Judah was being judged by God for the sins of Jehoram (cf. 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron 21:1-8).
The Message of Joel
Cross References: Amos 1:2 (cf. Joel 3:16); Amos 9:13 (cf. Joel 3:18)
Author: Joel (1:1, name means “Yahweh is god”)
Date: 830 B.C.
Joel ministered during the reign of Joash, who was a good king in Judah. He was good primarily because of the guidance of Jehoiada, the priest (cf. 2 Chron 23:1-24:14). However, when Jehoiada died, Joash and Judah began to lose devotion to the Lord, thus, precipitating this prophecy from Joel (cf. 2 Chron 24:15-22).
Joel’s message concerned “the day of the Lord,” which had a near and far prophetic view. On the near term, Joel warned of judgment on the heals of a locust plague and drought (1:2-4, 15-20), which were indications of God’s discipline (cf. Deut 11:10-17; 28:15, 23-24; Lev. 26:14-21). Instead of locusts, foreign armies of men would come to bring God’s judgment (2:1-11) unless the people would repent (1:5-12; 2:12-17; cf. Ex 34:6-7). Peter, in the NT makes reference to Joel 2:28-32 as being partially fulfilled in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2.
Joel’s “day of the Lord” looks also to a far future date that is referenced in Revelation as “Armageddon” (Rev 14; 3:12-13) and God’s intense judgement of the nations for their sins (e.g. Joel 3:8 and Isa 34:2), called the Tribulation, leading up to this great battle of Armageddon. After judgment, blessing would come (3:16-18; cf. Isa 35:1-5; Joel 2:32-3:1; Zeph 3:12-13; 2 Peter 3:10-13). But concerning the “day of the Lord” see also Obadiah 15, Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18.
The Message of Jonah
Author: Jonah (1:1)
Date: 780 B.C.
Audience: Northern Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 14:25), during reign of Jeroboam II
Summary: The Lord sends Jonah to preach judgment on Nineveh, but Jonah resists because he suspects that God may show compassion at their repentance. Though Jonah tries to run from God, God uses a storm and a great fish to get Jonah back on track. And Jonah’s suspicions are confirmed as his message of judgment is received by Nineveh with repentance, and God does relent. In fact, Nineveh would be spared 200 years from judgment, when the prophet Nahum would pronounce final judgment for Nineveh’s sins. The reason for Nineveh’s repentance may be that they were prepared for it after God had sent them several plagues already, and the city had been hit by a total eclipse of the sun. Jonah’s reluctance in seeing God’s mercy (cf. 4:2; Ex 34:6-7) may be understandable because Nineveh (cf. 4:11), the capital city of Assyria, was a brutal empire and a great war machine, hated and feared by many nations, including Israel. The message of Jonah is God’s mercy and patience, not only toward the Gentiles, but also toward his servant Jonah. It is also to be noted that Israel also had a mission to be a light to Gentile nations – a mission that they seemed to have forgotten.
The Message of Amos
Author: Amos, a humble shepherd and farmer, an untrained prophet (cf. Amos 1:1; 7:14-15) from a town in Judah
Date: 760 B.C. (Reign of Uzziah 787-735 BC and Jeroboam II 790-749 BC)
Audience: Northern Kingdom of Israel
Summary: Israel was worshipping golden calves (cf. 7:10-17) in a period of prosperity. Moral laxity and religious indifference was prevalent. Amos pronounces judgment on the nations surrounding Israel (1:1-2:16), including Judah (2:4-5), and then Israel herself (2:6-16) for her many sins, especially her oppression of the righteous. Amos calls on Israel to “hear” (3:1; 4:1; 5:1) because Israel has been ignoring God’s discipline. Because of her lack of repentance Amos tells Israel to “prepare to meet your God” (4:12), which would entail a severe judgment where only ten percent of the population would be left (5:1-3; 6:1-14). In a series of five visions, Amos describes the nature of God’s judgment and the depth of Israel’s sin (locust, fire, plumbline, fruit basket, “smitten capitals”) which would leave Israel destroyed. However, as other prophets, Amos offers an encouraging word of future hope in the Day of the Lord in the restoration of the Davidic dynasty (9:11-15).
Message of Hosea
Author: Hosea (fairly unknown, but likely came from the Northern Kingdom)
Date: 750 BC (reigns of S. Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah & Jeroboam II of N.)
Audience: Northern Kingdom of Israel before its destruction
SpecialConsiderations: Hosea refers to the Northern Kingdom by several names: Israel (usual designation), Ephraim (most powerful of the tribes), and Samaria (capital city) (4:16-17; 5:9-13; 7:1; 10:6-7). Israel was as at the bottom morally. Out of the six kings, only one died a natural death (cf. 2 Kings 15:10-30). Israel had degenerated to the level of the nations Joshua drove out centuries before. Hosea was the last prophet to them.
Summary: Extreme times call for extreme measures. God uses Hosea’s relationship to his wife to illustrate God’s love for unfaithful Israel (1:1-3:5; cf. Dan 9:6, 10). God commanded Hosea to marry a woman who would prove unfaithful to him. Her name was Gomer, who may have been a prostitute (1:2). The picture of prostitution is prevalent throughout the book and was an appropriate representation of Israel (2:2-5; 3:3; 4:10-19; 5:3-4; 6:10; 9:1). Hosea’s children would also be representative (1:4, 6, 9). The firstborn Jezreel carried the idea of judgment. The second Lo-ruhamah meant “no pity,” indicating that God would no longer show mercy to Israel. Finally Lo-ammi meant “not my people,” indicating God was distancing himself from his people. There is some suggestion that while the first was clearly Hosea’s, the latter two may not have been. Gomer leaves her husband and leads a life of harlotry. Initially she enjoyed prosperity. Hosea may even have supported her still (cf. 2:8). This may picture God supporting Israel under the wicked reign of Jeroboam II. This soon ended and she was enslaved. God commands Hosea to buy her back and restore her as his wife (3:1-3). This pictures the depth of God’s love. In the second part of the book, Hosea speaks of Israel’s multitude of sins for which she will certainly be judged as a nation: unfaithfulness, swearing, deception, murder, stealing, adultery, rebellion, idolatry, disobedience, pride, stubbornness, and spiritism (4:1-2, 10-14, 16; 5:5; 6:8-10). The leaders were just as sinful (4:9, 18; 5:1; 7:5; 9:15). However, even though the nation would certainly be judged (cf. 5:4), individuals could repent and Hosea, like the other prophets, writes of a future restoration (14:4-9).
Message of Micah
Author: Micah (name means “who is like Jehovah”)
Date: Around 735 B.C. (contemporary of Hosea in the North and Isaiah in the Southern court)
Audience: Primarily Judah during the reigns of 3 Southern kings – Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah but some of Israel (cf. 1:1)
Summary: Micah’s message primarily dealt with Judah’s oppression of the poor. Being a contemporary of Isaiah, there are a number of points where their messages are the same (cf. Mic 4:1-3 and 5:2-4 with Isa 2:2-4 and 9:6-7). However, while Isaiah was ministering in the court of the king, Micah ministered to the common people. There are three discourses in Micah, each beginning with “Hear ye” (1:1; 3:1; 6:1). The first message is one of judgment on Samaria and Judah (1:1-2:13), the second one of hope and comfort, and the third one of pardon. Micah prophesies Assyria’s invasion and destruction of Israel (1:5-7; cf. 2 Ki 17:1-18) but is grieved because he knows this would also be the fate of Judah (1:8-16) because of her crimes against her fellow citizens (cf. 2:1-13). She is pictured as lying awake at night thinking up evil and doing it the next morning. God too had plans of judgment for Judah (2:3-6). In the 2nd section Micah speaks of God as judge but also as the One who keeps His covenants. He speaks of judgment coming on the rulers (3:1-4), the false prophets (3:5-8) and the city and the Temple (3:9-12; cf. Jer 26:16-19). But God would fulfill his covenant in the future (4:1-5) and send the Messiah (5:2-15). In Micah, we learn that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Finally, Micah reminds the people of God’s faithfulness (6:1-5). And what does He want from them? Obedience, love and humility (6:6-8). Even though Judah’s unrighteousness will reap judgment (7:1-20), even so, God’s wonderful character and faithfulness to keep his covenant to Abraham are extolled (7:18-20 with Jonah 4:2 and Joel 2:13).
Message of Nahum
Author: Nahum (means “comforter”)
Date: Around 650 B.C. because illustrates with the destruction of Thebes (or No-amon) in 661 BC, so after this date, and because he speaks of the destruction of Nineveh, which took place in 612 B.C., so before this date.
Summary: Nahum pronounced judgment on Assyrians (1:1; 2:8; 3:18) because although they heard about the true God from Jonah more than a century before (780 B.C.), they continued to sin in spite of this. In fact, since then, Assyria brutally crushed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C. and while this was by God’s design, Assyria herself would be judged in view of the covenant with Abraham, where God would curse all that cursed Israel (Gen 12:3). Nahum indicates that the judgment against Nineveh was well-deserved because of their brutality, immorality and idolatry. He says Nineveh’s “wound is incurable” (3:19) indicating God’s sure judgment. God was “against” them (2:13). And while Israel and Judah had an unconditional covenant to ensure a future, Nineveh had none, so would be utterly and forever destroyed.
Message of Zephaniah
Author: Zephaniah is of the royal line, tracing his lineage back to Hezekiah and being a relative of the reigning king Josiah
Date: 635 B.C. during the reign of King Josiah; contemporary of Habakkuk and Jeremiah
SpecialConsiderations: Zephaniah ministered during the reign of a godly king, but this was after the reign of Manasseh. He reigned the longest (55 years) and was the most wicked king of Israel (cf. 2 Ki 21:1-18). His wickedness was so great that judgment was irreversible even though in Josiah’s reign there was revival and perhaps the greatest reform of all their history (cf. 2 Ki 21:10-12; 23:26-27; 24:3). The three prophets of this time could not change the fate that would befall Judah; however, individuals could be rescued (2:1-3). Zephaniah may have played a significant role in the revival of Josiah’s reign.
Summary: The theme of Zephaniah is the “Day of the Lord,” which had a near and far referent. On the near-term, Babylon was in view. On the far-term, the Tribulation was in view. The major sin of Judah, for which judgment was coming, is the sin of idolatry (1:4-6). In the second section, Zephaniah speaks of the judgment on the nations (Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Ethiopia, and Assyria), particularly for their mistreatment of God’s people, but even some of these will turn to God. In the third section, Judah’s judgment again is addressed, this time with respect to her leaders being greedy, unholy, treacherous and wicked, learning nothing from God’s judgments of the other nations. Finally, in the fourth section, Zephaniah notes a message of salvation and blessing through the Messiah (3:9-20).
Message of Habakkuk
Author: Habakkuk does not identify himself as a prophet but may have been recognized as such (2:2). He may have been a member of the Temple choir, thus, a Levite, due to the musical notations (cf. 3:1, 19).
Date: 609 B.C. based on his reference to the Chaldeans (Babylonians), so perhaps a time just before Babylon’s invasion. This would be in the reign of Jehoiakim and shortly after the death of Josiah.
Summary: God had fulfilled the prophecy of Nahum and Jeremiah by bringing Babylon to destroy Assyria and Egypt with her in the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. Now, Babylon was making its route to Jerusalem. Habakkuk is a series of three dialogues between the prophet and God. In the first part, Habakkuk questions the holiness of God for not judging sinful Judah, even though he has long been decrying the sins of Judah (1:5-11). God says that judgment will come in the form of Babylon. In the second dialogue, Habakkuk is even more distressed because it appears that God is using a nation more wicked than Judah to judge Judah. This may send the wrong message. However, God responds that He will also judge Babylon in view of her pride, ambition, greed, cruelty, debauchery, and idolatry (2:5-19). In the third dialogue, Habakkuk, once distressed with God’s seeming laxity in judgment, is not overwhelmed and distressed by the ferocity of judgement and pleads for mercy on Judah. God responds by reminding Habakkuk of his faithfulness in the days of Moses and Joshua (3:5-15), and this brings peace to the prophet to trust in God’s wise and just discipline (3:16-19).
Message of Haggai
Author: Haggai – 1st post-exilic prophet to minister to the remnant of Israel. Part of 1st group to return from Babylon. He is identified as a prophet (1:1; Ezra 5:1; 6:14) and is closely linked to the prophet Zechariah.
Date: 520 B.C., fifteen years after their return (cf. 1:1, 15; 2:1, 10, 18, 20)
Summary: Cyrus, king of Persia, had allowed the people to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:1-4) and some 50,000 people responded. However, hampered by the enemies of Israel, the project came to a halt. At this point, Haggai spoke to the leaders and the people to remind them of their primary task of rebuilding the Temple and to warn them of the consequence of disobedience. Note this chronology as to the timeliness and effectiveness of this message:
538 – Cyrus issued a decree allowing the people to return
536 – Upon their return, the people build the altar and begin work on rebuilding the Temple
535 – Threats and a legal suit cause the people to stop work on the Temple. Only the foundation has been laid.
520 – Fifteen years later, Haggai rebukes the people for this inactivity on the Temple
516 – Four years later, the Temple is completed
Haggai rebukes them for indulging in their personal affairs (cf. 1:4 “paneled houses”, 9 (“runs to his own house”) to the neglect of God’s House. God notes that his disfavor has been felt by the people without response (cf. 1:9, 11; 2:17). The people repent (1:12-15) and begin work on the temple three weeks later. God’s response to the people is that he would be with them (2:1-23; cf. Ezra 5, 6). Two important truths here are (1) when God’s priorities are not shared by us, we will experience discontent, and (2) when we obey the Lord, He is free to work on our behalf.
Message of Zechariah
Author: Zechariah, a priest (cf. 1:1 with Neh 12:4, 16) called to the prophetic office.
Date: Contemporary of Haggai and 1st group of returning exiles (Ezra 5:1; 6:14). Dated 520-518 B.C. (cf. 1:1; 7:1); He ministered about 2 months after Haggai spoke to the people about neglecting the Temple.
Summary: Zechariah’s prophecy is one of encouragement. He begins with a history lesson recounting Israel’s punishment in exile because of disobedience. Zechariah has eight visions (“night visions” 1:7-6:8) in one night. With the help of an angel, he interprets them with respect to Israel’s future. He speaks of their subjection to the Gentile nations but domination over them in the future. His second vision (1:18-21) is like that of Daniel in chapters 2 and 7. The third vision (2:1-13) looks ahead to the Messiah and the forthcoming blessings. In the fourth vision (3:1-10), the high priest Joshua is pictured in filthy garments standing before God (3:1-10). This represents Israel in her sin. The question of what God will do – the answer is that one day God will give clean robes of righteousness. The fifth vision is of a candlestick and olive trees representing God as the continual fountain of oil to empower their ministry (compare with 2 witnesses of Rev 11:4). The final vision has Israel being sacked by Gentile invasion that will wake the nation (6:1-8). At the end of this series, Joshua is coronated high priest, looking forward to the final coronation of the Messiah (6:9-15). The second major division arises from questions from the people. One of the questions was about fasting non-required fasts, which Zechariah corrects by directing them to fast over the sin rather than the judgment. The final section deals with “two burdens (9:1-14:21) and address the first and second advent of the Messiah.
Message of Malachi
Author: Malachi (“my messenger”; no other information except tradition says that he was a member of the Great Synagogue organized by Nehemiah)
Date: Last of the prophets but no date is given. But internal evidence points to 430 B.C. Probably a contemporary of Nehemiah. They addressed similar issues (e.g. Temple, Mal 1:7-10 with Neh 3:10; corruption in priesthood, Mal 1:7-2:9 with Neh 13:1-9; intermarriage with heathen, Mal 2:11-16 with Neh 13:23-28; neglect of the offerings of God, Mal 3:8-12 with Neh 13:10-13). Malachi’s ministry falls just past Nehemiah, or perhaps during Nehemiah’s absence (cf. Neh 13:6).
Summary: About a hundred years had passed for the post-exilic people of God. The people had begun to backslide again. Outwardly, they seemed spiritual, but inwardly they were drifting away. The first section deals with God’s love for Israel (1:1-5) shown in His preserving her for Himself. The second section is a rebuke of the priests (1:6-2:9), who were offering blemished sacrifices (1:6-9, with Deut 15:21), kindling strange fire (1:10), defiling the name of Yahweh before the Gentiles (1:11-14) and disregarding the law of God (2:1-9). In the third section, Malachi looks at the people’s backsliding (2:10-4:3), divorcing their Jewish wives to marry foreign women and refusing to pay the tithe. Underlying Israel’s sins was that she had lost her fear and reverence of God (cf. Ex 20:20; Prov 16:6; Mal 1:6; 2:5; 3:5; 4:2). Before concluding his message, Malachi informs Israel that God will be sending His messenger, who will prepare for the coming of the Messiah (3:1-3; 4:4-6). With the promise of this coming messenger, the Old Testament closes and the voice of God is silent for some four hundred years. The silence would not be broken until the angel Gabriel announced to the old priest Zacharias that he would father a son – a son who would fulfill the promise of Malachi (cf. Luke 1:13-16).
Intertestamental Period (from the Quest Study Bible)
Between the last writings of the Old Testament and the appearance of Christ, several major developments set the stage for the Gospel story. The political, religious, and social atmosphere of Palestine changed significantly during what some refer to as the “400 silent years”. Much of what happened was predicted by the prophet Daniel. See Daniel Chapters 2, 7, 8, and 11 and compare to historical events.
Israel was under the control of the Persian Empire from about 532-332 B.C. The Persians allowed the Jews to practice their religion with little interference. They were even allowed to rebuild and worship at the temple (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4). This period included the last 100 or so years of the Old Testament period and about the first 100 years of the intertestamental period. This relatively peaceful and content time was just the calm before the storm.
Alexander the Great defeated Darius of Persia, bringing Greek rule to the world. Alexander was a student of Aristotle, and so was well educated in Greek philosophy and politics. He required that Greek culture be promoted in every land that he conquered. As a result, the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, becoming the translation known as the Septuagint. Most of the New Testament references to Old Testament scripture use the Septuagint phrasing. Alexander did allow the Jews religious freedom, though he still strongly promoted Greek lifestyles. This was not a good turn of events for Israel, since the Greek culture was very worldly, humanistic and ungodly. Greek culture was a threat to their religion.
Alexander’s Successors (Ptolemies in Egypt and Seleucids in Syria)
After Alexander died, Judea was ruled by a series of successors, culminating in Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus did far more than refuse religious freedom for the Jews. Around 167 BC, he overthrew the rightful line of the priesthood and desecrated the temple, defiling it with unclean animals and a pagan altar (see Mark 13:14). This was the religious equivalent of rape. Eventually, Jewish resistance to Antiochus restored the rightful priests and rescued the temple. The period that followed was still one of war, violence and infighting.
Around 63 BC, Pompey of Rome conquered Palestine, putting all of Judea under control of the Caesars. This eventually led to Herod being made King of Judea by the Roman emperor and senate. This would be the nation that taxed and controlled the Jews, and eventually executed the Messiah on a Roman cross. Roman, Greek, and Hebrew cultures were now mixed together in Judea, with all three languages spoken commonly.
Pharisees and Sadducees
During the span of the Greek and Roman occupations, two important political/religious groups emerged in Palestine. The Pharisees added to the Law of Moses, through oral tradition, and eventually considered their own laws more important (see Mark 7:1-23). While Christ’s teachings often actually agreed with the Pharisees, he railed against their hollow legalism and lack of compassion. The Sadducees represented the aristocrats and the wealthy. The Sadducees, who wielded power through the Supreme-Court-like Sanhedrin, rejected all but the Mosaic books of the Old Testament. They refused to believe in resurrection, and were generally shadows of the Greeks, whom they greatly admired.
Period of Religious Dissatisfaction
This rush of events that set the stage for Christ had a profound impact on the Jewish people. Both Jews and pagans from other nations were becoming dissatisfied with religion. The pagans were beginning to question the validity of polytheism. Romans and Greeks were drawn from their mythologies towards Hebrew Scriptures, now easily readable in Greek or Latin. The Jews, however, were despondent. Once again, they were conquered, oppressed, and polluted. Hope was running low, faith was even lower. They were convinced that now the only thing that could save them and their faith was the appearance of the Messiah.
The New Testament tells the story of how hope came, not only for the Jews, but for the entire world. Christ’s fulfillment of prophecy was anticipated and recognized by many, who sought Him out. The stories of the Roman Centurion, the wise men, and the Pharisee Nicodemus show how Jesus was recognized as the Messiah by those who lived in His day. The “400 years of silence” were broken by the greatest story ever told – the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Non-Canonical Literature of the Intertestamental Period (OT Apocrypha)