Reviewed by Cooper Smith
The Minor Prophets can intimidate both pastors and scholars alike due to their strange metaphors, dense poetry, difficult messages, and varied contexts. Perhaps it is not surprising then that the Minor Prophets are often ignored in spite of their theological import and combined size (together, they contain more chapters than any book except Psalms). Richard Alan Fuhr, Jr. and Gary E. Yates hope to reduce the intimidation readers may have in approaching this corpus in their book, The Message of the Twelve: Hearing the Voice of the Minor Prophets. Fuhr and Yates write primarily to pastors and students in order to provide an interpretive handbook for the Minor Prophets, a handbook that consists of a framework for how to interpret the Minor Prophets as a whole, overviews of each prophetic book, and reflections on each prophet’s theological and practical implications.
The two authors are well-suited for the task of writing this particular book. Both Fuhr and Yates are professors at Liberty University. Yates is Professor of Old Testament who has published extensively on the prophetic corpus, especially the Minor Prophets and Jeremiah. Fuhr is an Assistant Professor with previous publications on interpretive method. This combined expertise in the Minor Prophets and hermeneutics positions this book as helpful for both interpretation and application.
The book is divided into two main parts and concludes with a consideration of the significance of the Minor Prophets for the church today. The first part consists of four chapters that each cover a topic intended to equip readers with the information and tools necessary to interpret the Minor Prophets as a whole. The opening chapter provides a historical survey of the time of Israel from 930 BC (just after the reign of Solomon) through 445 BC (the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah) with special attention given to the probable time periods of each prophet.
Chapter two considers the primary role of the Minor Prophets as “forthellers” who “preach the heart of God to his people” rather than as “foretellers” prognosticating about the future like divine seers (20). Also in chapter two, Fuhr and Yates suggest that the historical prophets are the source—but not necessarily the author of every word—of the books that bear their name.
The third chapter considers both genre and literary devices relevant to the Minor Prophets. Regarding genre, Fuhr and Yates introduce readers to three important types of prophetic oracles: announcements of judgment, oracles of salvation, and calls to repentance. Regarding literary devices, this chapter includes an introduction to metaphor, irony, symbolism, and poetic parallelism.
Closing part one of the book, chapter four considers the unity of the Minor Prophets and the reason for their order. Fuhr and Yates conclude the chapter by considering four themes that unite the Minor Prophets:
- Israel’s Failure to Repent in Response to the Prophetic Word
- The Day of the Lord
- The Broken and Restored Covenant
- The Promise of a New David
The Minor Prophets explore these pervasive themes from various vantage points so that the collection continually emphasizes God’s grace (through his offer and promise of restoration), human sinfulness (through Israel’s and the nations’ rebellion), and God’s sovereignty (in judgment and forgiveness). Rather than twelve distinct and independent prophecies, the Minor Prophets demonstrate a profound unity in their form and message.
The second, and much larger, part of the book contains twelve chapters of approximately twenty pages each in which every Minor Prophet is discussed individually. These chapters follow the same pattern. The chapters open with an introduction that positions the book historically and addresses any large-scale issues with the book. The next section includes a structural analysis and paragraph-level explanation of the book’s message. Paragraphs of the biblical text (approximately six to twenty verses) are analyzed in roughly one-half to one full page. The chapter concludes with one to two pages in which Fuhr and Yates articulate the key theological messages of the book as well as some potential avenues for application. While this concluding section does not try to exhaust either the theological or applicational possibilities, it provides a solid starting point for such reflections.
Using the discussion of Joel as an example, the chapter opens with the usual details regarding probable dating (Fuhr and Yates advocate for approximately 500 BC) and potential reasons for its location so early in the book of the twelve (its similar keywords with Hosea and Amos as well as its thematic emphasis on the Day of the Lord). Also included is an extended discussion considering whether the armies in Joel are metaphorical or literal as well as an in-depth treatment of the many resonances from other Minor Prophets found in the book. In the exposition section of the chapter, Joel’s three chapters are divided into two main parts with nine total paragraphs. The final section explicitly notes four theological emphases of the book: 1) the importance of obedience, 2) the mercy and compassion of God, 3) the eschatological restoration of Israel, and 4) the eschatological defeat of Israel’s enemies. The discussion of the eleven other prophets follows this same template.
When evaluating The Message of the Twelve, the book ably succeeds in guiding readers to understand and appreciate the Minor Prophets as a unified corpus and as individual voices. The opening four chapters alone justify the value of the book as they provide an accessible and condensed introduction to interpreting biblical prophecy in general and the Minor Prophets specifically. The quantity of the material means it may not all be grasped by all readers in one pass (especially those unfamiliar with principles of biblical interpretation), but the clarity of the presentation and the quality of the content makes this a valuable resource for those beginning to wade into the Minor Prophets.
Further, the discussion on the level of the paragraph provides sufficient depth for an introductory guide that remains focused on the overarching prophetic message without becoming atomistic. Since each chapter on the individual prophets is generally 20–30 pages, the exposition section provides more coverage than would be found in an Old Testament survey but significantly less than would be found in a commentary.
Finally, the themes outlined in the fourth chapter that unite the twelve prophets are adequately reinforced in the analysis of each book so that the unity of the Minor Prophets is clearly articulated.
In spite of this overall praise, a few limitations of the book deserve mention. The book includes several maps that are seemingly reprinted from the Holman Bible Atlas, but the detail is obscured due to issues of scaling and color. For example, the map on page 7 includes some tiny fonts due to its compressed size, and the various arrows and regions supposed to be indicated are indiscernible due to limitations in shading. This is not an isolated problem, but rather recurs with such frequency that the usefulness of these resources is compromised (see also maps on 12, 136, 149, 228).
Further, there is minimal integration of the Minor Prophets with the New Testament. This may be by design since such an approach reinforces the value of the Minor Prophets as speaking theologically timeless truths in their own contexts. At the same time, this also has the unfortunate side-effect of minimizing the opportunity to show how these books are related to the larger canon. The treatment of Joel 2:28 is illustrative of this criticism. Joel 2 is explained solely in consideration of the book’s message. The quotation of Joel 2:28 in the Pentecost sermon of Acts 2:17 is not even mentioned, let alone used as an opportunity to show the coherence of the biblical message across the cannon. While some New Testament integration does occur (e.g., there is an extended discussion on the “sign of Jonah” (175) and Paul’s use of Habakkuk (231)), the relationship between the prophetic messages and relevant New Testament texts is neither consistently discussed nor lengthily developed.
Finally, there is a lack of precision in defining the Day of the Lord. Fuhr and Yates provide a basic definition in chapter four, “The Day of the Lord is both near and far and refers to any time Yahweh dramatically intervenes in human history” (51). Such a description is overly broad without providing sufficient depth to understand how the prophets appropriate this concept. As a result, later discussions of the Day of the Lord in the analyses of individual prophetic books do not bring clarity but rather frustration as the reader understands this is an important concept with nuance and complexity but is left without a sufficient framework to understand its essentially unifying features present throughout the prophets.
At 325 pages (not including indices and bibliography), The Message of the Twelve is long enough to provide adequate guidance for interpretation and short enough to be manageable. This book is intended to be an introductory handbook to the Minor Prophets, as such it is not appropriate for academic contexts needing rigorous engagement with secondary sources and scholarly concerns. However, this book is well-suited for those looking for a theologically conservative introduction to the Minor Prophets that focuses on a big-picture explanation of each book’s message and the corresponding theological implications. As such, I highly recommend this book as a supplement to an extended study on the Minor Prophets in a small group or English-based Bible class. As a handbook, The Message of the Twelve ably succeeds in making this enigmatic section of Scripture understandable and applicable for those uninitiated with the richness and complexity of the Minor Prophets.
Cooper Smith is a PhD student in Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College.
Buy the books
The Message of the Twelve: Hearing the Voice of the Minor Prophets