Reading the Prophets (1)

Today we begin a short series on reading the Old Testament prophets. The prophets are perhaps the least read and understood of all the books in the Bible, and yet they contain twenty-two percent of the Bible’s message, over one-fifth of the Bible as a whole. I would like to explore two questions about these books over the next few days.

  1. Why are we so unfamiliar with them?
  2. Why are they important for us to study and learn?

There are 17 prophetical books in the Bible. The first five, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel, we call the Major Prophets, and the final twelve from Hosea to Malachi we call the Minor Prophets. The words major and minor do not refer to importance or lack of importance. It does not mean that the Major Prophets like Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel are more important than any of the Minor Prophets. Rather it refers to length. The Major Prophets tend to be longer books than the books of the Minor Prophets, and that’s why we call them major and minor.

Why are we so unfamiliar with the prophetical books? Let me offer several reasons:

1) Placement: at the end of the Old Testament

First of all, their placement in the Bible. They are in the Old Testament, and let’s face it, more people are familiar with the New Testament than with the Old. Some people get the idea that we no longer need the Old Testament now that Jesus has come, but that’s not true. It’s not that we no longer need the Old Testament. It’s that we read the Old Testament in a new way now that Jesus has come. The Old Testament still contains three-fourths of the revelation God wants us to know. But most people do not read the Old Testament, and many pastors do not preach from it.

Not only are the prophetical books in the Old Testament, but they are also at the end of the Old Testament. So, if a person does start reading the Old Testament, they usually start at the beginning, which means they will get to the prophetical books last if they get there at all. So placement is one reason why we are so unfamiliar with the prophetical books. They are at the end of the Old Testament.

2) Language: poetry rather than prose

A second reason has to do with language. The prophetical books are mainly written in poetry. Most of us do not read poetry today. We are far more familiar with prose. And not only are the prophets written in poetry, they are written in Hebrew poetry, which even when translated is different from the English poetry we are used to. So we may find the language and the imagery of the prophets difficult to understand.

However, the Psalms are also written in Hebrew poetry, and for many people the Psalms are their favorite part of Scripture. So there must be some other reasons why we do not read the prophets as much. We will look at two more reasons tomorrow.


  1. Kathryn Post says:

    While I agree in part with the two reasons you listed, I believe there is more to it than that. I think we have to examine Christian education as a whole. Far too many Christians today know little beyond the basics of their faith. Pastors are afraid of making sermons too complicated for first time visitors to understand. Sunday school lessons now come in neatly printed easy-follow booklets. Christian devotions have all but gone by the wayside. A lack of understanding the prophets, to me, signals a deeper problem. How much don’t we know about our faith? And where can we go to learn? Most of my knowledge comes from my time at a private, Christian school and a Christian university where I was afforded the opportunity to study under well versed biblical scholars. I am an exception. What of students in public schools and universities? I look forward to your series on the prophets. This website is one of few remaining attempts to educate Christians in the Word. Thank you!

  2. Sharon Gamble says:

    I love the prophet Zephaniah! Zephaniah 3:17 is an amazing verse that always makes me feel incredibly loved by God. I am looking forward to the series. (and please include my favorite verse when you get there.)

  3. Margaret says:

    I am one of those who know very little about the minor prophets. Example: After reading Sharon’s comment, I went to look up Zephaniah 3:17, and had a hard time finding Zephaniah!! It was worth the search, – a beautiful verse. Thanks.

  4. Ray Fowler says:


    I agree that Christian Education is vital. The church has a big responsibility here, but the Christian family also has a huge role in the educating of their children. Not just to teach them about God and Christ, but also to teach them the importance of continual learning.

    What should a person do who has not had the benefit of a Christian family or Christian schooling? There are so many opportunities today to learn and grow in this area – adult education at church, Bible studies and classes, home groups, Christian books and radio, online resources, etc. (There is a tab at the top of my blog labelled Resources that lists all sorts of online reources to help a person grow in their knowledge of God’s Word.)

  5. Ray Fowler says:

    Sharon and Margaret,

    I agree – Zephaniah 3:17 is a great verse. Here it is for those of you who may not have a Bible handy:

    “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Reading the Prophets (2) at Ray Fowler .org
  2. Reading the Prophets (3) at Ray Fowler .org
  3. Blogging with Habakkuk (1) at Ray Fowler .org
  4. Some Links to the Minor Prophets at Ray Fowler .org
  5. Top 20 Posts for 2007 - Year in Review at Ray Fowler .org

Leave a Reply