Lesson 5: Old Testament Organization (Part 2)
1. For students to comprehend the organization and content of the Old Testament Major and Minor Prophets
2. For students to be able to recite those books in the order in which they appear
3. For students to enjoy learning the Truth about the Bible
Word of God
The books of the Old Testament in order from Isaiah through Malachi.
OPENING PRAYER (5 to 10 minutes)
GROUP BUILDING (5 minutes)
What's My Fancy? (Game/Icebreaker) Click here
GETTING STARTED (10 minutes)
(To begin today’s study, have the students take the short pop quiz found in their workbooks. The questions and answers are repeated below. Encourage everyone to try the best they can to complete the quiz from memory and to avoid using their Bibles, or looking beyond the quiz in their workbooks.)
1. How many books of the law are there? (5)
How’d you do? Good job. That covers over half the Old Testament. Today, we finish up the Old Testament by talking about the prophets.
• How many books are in the Old Testament, total? (39)
• And if we covered 22 books last week, how many books are prophets? (17—5 major and 12 minor)
(Again, be sure everyone has a Bible, and encourage them to flip through the books together with you.)
DIGGING IN (30 minutes)
• When we talk about prophets, what exactly are we talking about? (Help them understand that prophetic books are not just about the telling of the future. The prophets were those who spoke for God—whether the events of which they spoke were future or present.)
THE MAJOR PROPHETS
Turn to the book of Isaiah. Look it up in the table of contents if you have to.
The first prophet is the first of the five Major Prophets, Isaiah. Isaiah is considered the greatest writing prophet. His book has 66 chapters. These chapters are divided into two main sections.
The first section, chapters 1-39, deals with the coming judgment. Most prophets, as we will see, spoke to a specific group of people. This may be Judah, Israel, or foreign nations. Isaiah actually spoke to all three. Chapters 40-66 deal with the theme of redemption through the Messiah. It is in this section, particularly Isaiah 53, that we have Messianic prophecies about the Christ, which come true in the person of Jesus.
Most of the prophets we’ll cover today have both judgment and redemption themes, like Isaiah.
We don’t know a ton about the man Isaiah, but we do know that he wrote the first half of this book around 700 BC. The latter half might have been written toward the end of his ministry some 20 years later, or around 680 BC.
Isaiah was married and had at least 2 sons.
Have someone turn read the following key verse: Isaiah 53:5
Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet.” In fact, we’ll cover another book by him next, and the title of it is “Lamentations.” To lament something means to mourn over it, and Jeremiah was a sad character.
He prophesied and wrote between 627 and 586 BC directly to the people of Judah, urging them to turn from sin and embrace the Lord. Jeremiah is the longest of all the Major Prophets. In fact, it’s the longest book in the entire Bible.
Despite his weariness and sadness from prophesying to a stubborn group of people, Jeremiah could not keep quiet about the Lord and His Words.
Read Jeremiah 20:9
1. How hard do you think it would’ve been for Jeremiah to keep preaching to people who weren’t listening to him?
2. Do you think it’s hard to tell people about God today? For the same reason or different ones?
Again, this next book was also written by the depressed Jeremiah. He had prophesied for years about the coming destruction, and this work was composed after Jerusalem was ransacked and defeated. The Jews were being carried off into Babylonian captivity, and this book tells the story of Jeremiah’s weeping.
Even though it is only 5 chapters long (the shortest of the major prophets), it is placed amongst the Major Prophets because of its author, Jeremiah.
Have someone turn to and read the following key verse: Lamentations 2:11
Find Ezekiel, the fourth of the Major Prophets. While Isaiah and Jeremiah wrote preceding captivity, Ezekiel writes during captivity. His message is to those who are displaced in exile in Babylon. He himself was captive, taken from his homeland in about 597 BC. He writes this around 571 BC after 20 plus years in slavery.
His message is pretty simple: God will restore His people. He will save them from captivity. In fact, He will return them to their homeland.
Have someone find and read the following key verse: Ezekiel 36:24-26
The fifth and last of the Major Prophets is Daniel. This is one of the more familiar prophets.
• Who knows a story from Daniel? (Daniel in the Lions' Den; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; etc.)
Daniel was in captivity just like Ezekiel, but wrote a little later, around 535 BC according to events that took place between 605 and 535 BC, which would have been just after the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland, as Ezekiel had prophesied.
Though Daniel speaks on various topics, it is unique that he writes about those who were faithful in captivity and did not forsake the Lord.
Have someone read the following key verse: Daniel 2:22
That's the Magor Prophets. Let's recite them together in order. (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel)
THE MINOR PROPHETS
Hosea is the first of 12 Minor Prophets. Though considered “minor,” this book is longer than both Daniel and Lamentations.
Prophesying from about 753 to 729 BC, Hosea was one of the earliest of the prophets. He prophesied to the people of the northern Kingdom of Israel, which was filled with corruption at every level. His message is plain, and it’s wrapped in a true-to-life metaphor.
You see, Hosea was called by God to marry a woman named Gomer, a prostitute. He was to do this because Israel, like Gomer, had been unfaithful, and Hosea needed to understand how God felt to be able to preach effectively. So time after time, Gomer left Hosea and returned to prostitution, despite the love he showed her.
Have someone read: Hosea 3:1
Next is Joel. Joel is the second of the Minor Prophets. The theme of the book of Joel is “The Day of the Lord.” This is a phrase used frequently in Scripture. It is a reference to any time of judgment that foreshadows the final judgment of God. In Joel’s case, it is in reference to a locust plague that would come over the people of Judah, his audience.
The events of Joel occurred between 835 and 796 BC, making him also one of the earliest prophetic writers, less than 20 years after the prophet Elijah ministered.
Read Joel 2:12-13
Next is Amos. Amos was a man of low position, a shepherd, but he began to prophecy in Israel around the same time as Hosea—750 BC.
His focus, and the theme of his writing, is social justice. He talks a lot about the poor being oppressed. He is concerned with fairness for all people, as God is.
• Do you think people are still treated unfairly because of their position? Are poor people oppressed? Do rich people have advantages that they take for granted? (Just trying to get them involved here, but they could potentially come up with some great insights.)
Well Amos speaks for God on that very issue, the way people were treated. In fact, the key verse sums it up like this. Have someone turn to and read Amos 5:24
• What’s the next Minor Prophet in line? (Obadiah)
Obadiah is the shortest by far of the prophets. There’s only one chapter, consisting of only 21 verses. It’s an ominous book though, foretelling the doom of an enemy of Judah’s, Edom. Edom was a foreign nation that took advantage of Judah’s misfortune, which made God angry. Their pride would lead to their downfall.
• Does anyone know where Edom is now? (This is a trick question. In fact, Edom never recovered from the judgment it faced, as Obadiah prophesied see verses 19-21 “Edom will vanish.” The last great Edomite we know of was Herod.)
The dates of Obadiah’s prophesies are debatable, but it’s likely he prophesied early, around 848-841 BC. The other possibility is as a peer of Jeremiah, around the 580 BC.
Jonah is the next Minor Prophet, and probably the most popular.
• Who can tell us the story of Jonah?
Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, telling us he ministered around 790-750 BC. His audience was the Assyrians, a rebellious people who he feared wouldn’t listen, and might kill him, so he ran away. That’s when the whole belly of the whale thing happened.
The astounding thing is that Jonah recorded these events when they put him in such a poor light. The book ends with him pouting that a nation had repented and turned to God, which really speaks to the theme of the book—God is willing to forgive anybody.
Read the following key verse: Jonah 4:11
• What’s the next minor prophet we come to? (Micah)
Micah probably became a prophet just a couple of years before Isaiah. He also would have been a contemporary of Hosea. He was from Moresheth, about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem. He was a small-town boy. He prophesied to both Israel and Judah around the 740 and 730 BC.
One interesting and important prophecy that Micah makes is in the fifth chapter. Have someone read Micah 5:2.
• Who do you think that prophesy is about. (Jesus)
Also read the following key verse: Micah 6:8
The next prophet we come to is Nahum. Nahum prophesied to the people of Nineveh.
• Which other prophet did that? (Jonah)
Nahum is God’s voice to the Assyrians, announcing their destruction. Incidentally, Judah is also part of his audience. They are comforted by this fact.
This all takes place about 100 years after the ministry of Jonah. At the end of the book of Jonah, Nineveh is repentant of their sin, but it must not have lasted long. Nahum condemns them and tells them their judgment is certain.
Key Verse: Nahum 1:7-9
• Who is the next prophet? Who thinks they can pronounce it? (Ha-back-uck.)
Habakkuk, in addition to having one of the weirdest names, is one of the most impassioned of the prophets. His opening cry is “How long, O Lord!” He prophesied to Judah just before it was taken into captivity by Babylon. He became a prophet just 7 years before Daniel was carried into exile.
Read the following key verse: Habakkuk 2:4
Paul quotes this verse in Romans. It becomes the thesis for Martin Luther’s theology and the springboard of the Reformation movement.
The next prophet is Zephaniah. A prophet during the time of King Josiah (see 2 Kings 22:1-23:25), Zephaniah’s message is to the southern Kingdom of Judah. It may have spurred one of the reforms by King Josiah. As the great-grandson of a king (King Hezekiah), Zephaniah was King Josiah’s cousin. In that way, Zephaniah is a unique and rather high-profile prophet.
Key Verse: Zephaniah 2:3
The next prophet in the Old Testament is Haggai. He is what we call a post-exilic prophet, or after the exile. This means that he prophesied to the people living in Jerusalem when they returned from captivity.
This puts his prophetic ministry at about 520 BC. His message is simple and to the point; they need to finish building the temple of God. The tendency for those returning was to build up fine houses for themselves, while the temple was in ruins. This key verse of Haggai stands in contradiction to that practice.
Turn to and read Haggai 1:4
• Who is the next minor prophet? (Zechariah.)
Zechariah prophesied from about 520 to 480 BC. It seems like his book is split into two sections, with the first half being written in about 518 and the second half being written around 480. Zechariah is unique in that much of his writing, especially chapters 9 through 14 are apocalyptic in nature.
• Do any of you know what I mean by apocalyptic? (Using symbolic language to describe ultimate destruction.)
He refers to the coming Messiah often, inspiring hope amongst the people.
Read Zechariah 9:9-10
• Do you know anyone in the New Testament who fits that description? (Jesus)
Malachi is the last of our prophets, and the last book in the Old Testament. He wrote very late, around 430 BC to the people in Jerusalem. His purpose was to confront their sin and inspire them in their faith in God.
He was the last of the prophets until the time of Christ.
Key Verse: Malachi 4:1-2
We made it. Let's recite the Minor Prophets in order together. (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
MAKING IT REAL (10 minutes)
Okay, let’s try getting all 17 prophets in order. To make it easier, we’ll recite the 5 major prophets. Then we'll recite the 12 minor prophets in groups of four.
Major: (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel)
Minor: (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah)
(Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk)
(Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
(repeat a couple times)
Good job, guys! You’re going to get it. Next week we’ll take a quiz, and all I want you to know is how many major prophets there are and how many minor prophets there are. Tell me who they are in order. Just be happy I’m not making you spell them correctly!