Our new Bible study series on three of the minor prophets – Jonah, Joel and Amos – began last night. We talked generally about the role of prophets and prophecy in the Old Testament and New Testament, and saw that prophets can be both male and female (Exodus 15:20, Judges 4:4, Acts 21:18-19) and are those people who speak forth the word of God: ‘this is what the Lord says’ is a common phrase found in the mouths of all prophets. We often see the prophets as speaking about future events, and there are often ‘layers’ in prophecy, where they speak directly to people about specific events happening at the time, but their words can often be applied to future events as well. ‘Forth-telling’ and ‘fore-telling’ are words we use to distinguish between these layers in prophecy.
Deut 13:1-5 and Deut 18:14-22 give instructions about how to recognise prophets and prophecy, and it was acknowledged that prophets are not infallible and we bear a responsibility for weighing and testing their words against all we know of God (see 1 Thess 5:21). Prophets are those whose encounter with God and calling give them the impetus to speak His words; a prophet’s calling is often one which engenders fierce opposition and they need this life-changing encounter with the Holy One to carry them through the opposition they face.
The minor prophets are so-called because their prophecies are shorter than the major prophets (Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah), not because they are less important! Their prophecies may well speak to particular events at a particular time, but we should not treat them simply as historical records, for the themes they address – the rebellious nature of people, their tendency to substitute other things for God, their reluctance to embrace God’s ways in the faith journey of life – continue to apply to us all.