Prophetical Books

(Arthur T. Pierson, D.D.)

The Prophetical books follow, and complete the Old Testament. The prophets include seventeen books, the first five known as “major,” the other twelve as “minor,” prophecies. The period covered is over four centuries, from about 870 to 440 B.C. The divisions of this period are three: before, during and after the Exile, and the prophets themselves are distinguished from each other, according as their services were rendered to one or the other of the two divisions of the Kingdom, Judah and Israel, and according to the subject matter of their utterances.


Isaiah, who stands first, is called “the Evangelical prophet,” because of the prominence of gospel truth in his writings. Chapters xl to lxvi form one great poem of the Messiah, the middle chapter of this section—the liii—presenting Christ as the Sin Bearer. Probably more distinctive redemptive truth is found in this prophecy than in all the rest put together.


Jeremiah, whose ministry covered forty years, sounds the note of rebuke and warning against Judah, and utters prophecies against ten Gentile nations. He was a reformer appealing to a perverse people, that allowed the worship of the Queen of Heaven and rites of Moloch to corrupt Jehovah’s worship.

Lamentations, ascribed to the same author, is a kind of funeral song or dirge. The weeping prophet bewails the sins and chastisements of his people as Christ wept over Jerusalem.


Ezekiel, the Prophet of the Captivity, is a seer, who has visions of the glory of the Lord, which is seen departing from the Holy City and Temple because of idolatry and iniquity, and returning at the Latter Day. This book is especially rich in teachings about the Holy Spirit’s power, as Isaiah is as to the Scheme of Salvation by Atonement.


Daniel is in two parts: six chapters of history and six of prophecy. The first and narrative portion shows six successive conflicts between God’s followers and the worshippers of false gods, with as many victories for Jehovah. The prophetic half contains an unveiling of the history of world empires and the Times before the End. The time of Messiah’s appearing is exactly foretold in chapter ix, as seventy times seven years after the decree for Jerusalem’s rebuilding. Dating this at 457 B.C., and adding the thirty-three years of Christ’s life, it just gives the full period, 490 years.


Hosea, first of the minor prophets, rebukes Israel’s Sin and urges return from backslidings. Here Jehovah is seen entreating unfaithful believers to return to a forgiving God. It is the book for backsliders. Hosea prophesied under Jeroboam II, and down to Hoshea, last of the kings of the Northern Kingdom.


Joel is the prophet of Judgment. Locusts and Drought are used as symbols of invading foes, sent to punish erring Judah. He calls a fast to promote and express repentance, and foretells the future descent of the Holy Spirit, as at Pentecost.


Amos wrote for Israel, denouncing like evils with Joel, and foretelling punishment through foreign invaders. He utters threats against six nations of the heathen, but promises final deliverance for Israel, after judgment, discipline and desolation.


Obadiah, briefest of all prophetic books, *is directed against Edom or Idumea. The Edomites sprang from Esau and were, to the last, foes to the descendants of Jacob. They had helped to desolate Judah and rejoiced in the ruin of Jerusalem. God’s people are encouraged by the promise that they shall he saved and Edom destroyed. This latter prediction was fulfilled under John Hyrcanus, 135 B.C.


Jonah prophesies against Nineveh. Sent there by Jehovah, he fled to Tarshish, bat was thrown overboard by his fellow-voyagers, and swallowed by a great fish. In chapter ii we have his prayer in the fish’s belly, and his deliverance; and the last two chapters record his visit to Nineveh and the repentance of its people. This book is the first in the Bible containing a distinct foreign mission, and Jonah presents a singular example of a missionary unfit for his great commission. He first tries to evade it altogether, and when he fulfills it, is unmoved by Love, and impelled only by Wrath.


Micah speaks to Judah mainly, though also to Samaria. He shows how the Lord has a controversy with His rebellious people, yet is full of compassion. Bethlehem is foretold as the cradle of Messiah.


Nahum is the companion book to Jonah, and is directed against Nineveh, whose repentance deferred but did not avert judgment, because not followed by reformation. Now the full end of the doomed capital is at hand.


Habakkuk is the prophet of Faith. Judah will be invaded and destroyed by the Chaldeans, but God wills that the “just shall live by His faith.” This sentence strikes the keynote of three Epistles: Romans, Galatians and Hebrews.


Zephaniah, though addressing Judah, surveys the universal government of Jehovah. The whole earth is the theatre for displaying His law and love, and the Latter Day is the chosen time for the consummation, when all nations shall be joined in His worship in consequence of the glorification of Israel.


Haggai, who heads the post-exile prophets, urges the returned captives to rebuild the ruined Temple. He rebukes their idleness, selfishness and apathy, and encourages them by promising greater glory for the latter than for the former house, and prophesying that the Desire of All Nations shall tread its courts.


Zechariah, Haggai’s companion, second of the Prophets of the Restoration, prophesies the Advent of Christ. The foes of Jerusalem are to be destroyed, her idols abolished and her Messiah revealed.


Malachi, third and last of the Restoration Prophets, utters the message which closes the Old Testament. He belongs to Nehemiah’s day. Robbery of God is the keynote. Idolatry had been cured by the Captivity, but formality and hypocrisy had taken its place. God was defrauded of His dues and His poor of their rights. The people here appear as in constant controversy, with God, disputing even the reasonableness of His Rebukes, and the book significantly ends with the word, Curse.