1, 2. How have some sought hidden treasures, but what can help you to find enjoyment in life?
OVER the years, many people have dreamed of finding buried treasures. Have you read historical accounts about explorers, archaeologists, and others who actually searched for treasures of that sort? While you might not personally go on such a search, what if you did find some treasure? How rewarding it would be if that treasure could improve your life or make it more enjoyable and successful!
2 Most people never go on literal treasure hunts, but their quest for happiness may be in striving for money, good health, and a good marriage, treasures not found by digging in the earth. Nor is there any literal map showing the way to those treasures. As you know, effort is needed to attain them. That is why many are grateful for sound advice on how to reach their goals and make their life more enjoyable and successful.
3, 4. Where can you find practical advice on how to live?
3 You actually have at hand useful advice, guidance that has already helped others to be happy. The Bible offers the best advice on living, as many have realized. English author Charles Dickens noted about the Bible: “It is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world . . . because it teaches you the best lessons by which any human creature . . . can possibly be guided.”
4 That observation comes as no surprise to all who view the Bible as inspired of God. You likely accept the assurance that we read at 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” In other words, the Bible contains very helpful information that can show people how to live amid the complexities of the world today. Those who guide their steps by the Bible can come to have a life that truly is more enjoyable and successful.
5-7. To what parts of the Bible might you turn for beneficial guidance?
5 Yet, what parts of the Bible come to your mind as those where you can find that advice? Some may think of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus offered effective counsel on aspects of daily life. Others will call to mind the apostle Paul’s writings. And anyone can find helpful counsel in Psalms and Proverbs—books full of wisdom. In reality, depending on your situation or the challenges you face, any book of the Bible can prove useful, even Bible books that are mainly historical, such as the books from Joshua to Esther. The history found there contains warning lessons for everyone seeking to be happy in serving God. (1 Corinthians 10:11) Yes, those books offer advice that you can use in guiding your steps, in making your life successful. Recall this truth: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.”—Romans 15:4; Joshua 1:8; 1 Chronicles 28:8, 9.
6 There is, though, a section of the Bible that for many is virtually unexplored territory where treasures may be found. This is the group of 12 books often called the Minor Prophets. These are usually found after the larger Bible books of Ezekiel and Daniel but before Matthew’s Gospel. (Most Bibles have the 12 books in this order: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.) As we have seen, the Bible is inspired of God, and it is useful for teaching and for showing people how to live. Does that include these books?
7 It certainly does! In fact, the so-called Minor Prophets contain riches that are really useful for showing us how to live today. For insight into why some people overlook these books, give thought to what the 12 are called in many languages: the Minor Prophets. Could that term in itself affect how people view these books? Might it have to some extent even affected your thinking?
ARE THE “MINOR PROPHETS” REALLY MINOR?
8. (a) What is an important means by which God has provided direction? (b) What are the 12 books in question often called, but what is the sense of the term?
8 The apostle Paul began his letter to the Hebrews: “God, who long ago spoke on many occasions and in many ways to our forefathers by means of the prophets, has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son.” (Hebrews 1:1, 2) Since God was using human prophets to convey his messages, we should hardly view as “minor” any of those messengers or what they wrote. Nonetheless, the designation “Minor Prophets” has led some to view the books’ contents as minor and thus as less important. Others have concluded that the messages in these books have less authority than other Bible books. In reality, though, the name “Minor Prophets”* as used in many languages relates simply to the fact that these 12 books are shorter than some others.
9. Why is the length of a Bible book no indication of its relative value?
9 That a Bible book is short is no indication of its importance or value to you. The book of Ruth is much shorter than the books before and after it, yet what touching information you can find in it! That short book stresses the attachment we should have to true worship, illustrates how highly God values women, and provides vital details about Jesus’ lineage. (Ruth 4:17-22) As another example, near the end of the Bible, you will find the book of Jude. It is so short that in some printed Bibles, it does not fill one page. Still, what priceless information and guidance you find in it: God’s dealings with wicked angels, warnings about corrupt men infiltrating the congregation, and urgings to put up a hard fight for the faith! You can be just as sure that the books of the so-called Minor Prophets, while short, are neither minor in content nor minor in value for you.
PROPHETIC IN WHAT SENSE?
10, 11. (a) How might some react to the term “prophets”? (b) Biblically, who were the prophets, and what did they do?
10 Another aspect to consider involves the terms “prophets” and “prophetic.” These words may bring to mind the foretelling of the future. Many people think of a prophet just as one who predicts—perhaps with mysterious wording open to interpretation—what the future holds. This affects how some view these 12 books.
11 Granted, as you read these 12 books, you quickly see that they abound in predictions, many of them about the coming of the great day of Jehovah. That accords with the basic sense of the word “prophet.” A prophet was one who had an intimate relationship with God and who was often used to reveal what would come to pass. Starting with Enoch, many Bible prophets did foretell the future.—1 Samuel 3:1, 11-14; 1 Kings 17:1; Jeremiah 23:18; Acts 3:18; Jude 14, 15.
12. How could you show that being a prophet meant more than foretelling matters?
12 We need to bear in mind, though, that the role of Jehovah’s prophets was not exclusively that of uttering divine predictions. God often used prophets as spokesmen to tell others what his will was. For instance, we may not think of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as ones who foretold the future, yet Psalm 105:9-15 classifies them as prophets. At times, God used them to reveal something future, such as when Jacob blessed his sons. But those patriarchs were also prophets in that they told their family what Jehovah said about their having a role in God’s purpose. (Genesis 20:7; 49:1-28) Another indication of the scope of the Biblical term “prophet” is the fact that Aaron served as a prophet for Moses. Aaron carried out the role of prophet by being a spokesman, or “mouth,” for Moses.—Exodus 4:16; 7:1, 2; Luke 1:17, 76.
13, 14. (a) Illustrate that the prophets did more than make predictions. (b) How can you benefit from knowing that the prophets offered more than predictions?
13 Think, too, of the prophets Samuel and Nathan. (2 Samuel 12:25; Acts 3:24; 13:20) Jehovah used both of them to declare what would occur in the future, but he also had them serve as prophets in other ways. As a prophet, Samuel urged the Israelites to turn from idol worship and resume pure worship. And he declared God’s judgment against King Saul, from which we can learn that Jehovah values obedience more than material sacrifices. Yes, Samuel’s being a prophet included his expressing God’s views about the right way to live. (1 Samuel 7:3, 4; 15:22) The prophet Nathan foretold that Solomon would build the temple and that his kingdom would be firmly established. (2 Samuel 7:2, 11-16) But Nathan was also acting as a prophet when he pointed out David’s sin with Bath-sheba and against Uriah. Who can forget how Nathan exposed David’s adultery—the illustration of a rich man who took a poor man’s beloved and only lamb? Nathan also had a role in arranging true worship at God’s sanctuary.—2 Samuel 12:1-7; 2 Chronicles 29:25.
14 The point is that we should not think of the messages in these prophetic books as only predictive—foretelling the future. They contain divine expressions about many other things, including excellent insights into how God’s people back then were supposed to live and how we today should live. In fact, we are assured that what we find in the Bible, including these 12 books, is very useful and practical, helping people to see the best way to live. These inspired books offer us valuable guidance that can help us “to live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things.”—Titus 2:12.
HOW TO BENEFIT
15, 16. (a) What figurative element can be found in the “Minor Prophets”? (b) What prophetic pictures are contained in those books?
15 There are many ways in which we can benefit from reading God’s inspired Word. Some Bible books tell us what occurred at a certain time, and others are poetic, each with unique value. In still others, the figurative, or symbolic, element comes to the fore, as is so with these 12 books. For example, Jesus was drawing on the book of Jonah when He said: “A wicked and adulterous generation keeps on seeking for a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. Men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it; because they repented at what Jonah preached, but, look! something more than Jonah is here.”—Matthew 12:39-41.
16 Clearly, Jesus saw in the book of Jonah much more than a historical record of God’s dealings with Jonah, the prophet’s activity in Nineveh, and the result when Jonah proclaimed God’s warning message. Jesus realized that the prophet Jonah served in a figurative role, pointing to Jesus Christ, to his dying and then being raised on the third day. Furthermore, the Ninevites’ reaction offered a contrast—a contrast to how most Jews responded to Jesus’ preaching and works. (Matthew 16:4) Accordingly, we understand that these 12 books contain prophetic pictures, or correspondencies, of God’s dealings with his people in modern times. Such studies are fascinating and valuable.*
17. This volume takes what approach to the 12 books?
17 However, the approach of the volume you have in your hands is not a study of the figurative, or symbolic, meaning of the book of Jonah nor of the other 11 books. Neither is the approach that of a verse-by-verse analysis. Rather, the focus is primarily on information in these books that we can apply in our daily life. Ask yourself: ‘In these 12 books, what useful advice or divine counsel does Jehovah provide for me? How can these books help me to “live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things”? What do they tell me about Christian living, morality, family life, and attitudes in these critical days, since “the day of Jehovah is coming, for it is near”?’ (Titus 2:12; Joel 2:1; 2 Timothy 3:1) As you find satisfying answers, you will likely discover verses that you will treasure, verses that you have not heretofore employed when sharing Bible counsel with others. In this way, your storehouse of valuable Bible passages is certain to grow.—Luke 24:45.
18. What is the arrangement of this volume, and how can you benefit from this?
18 The chapters of this volume are grouped into four sections. Try to get an overview of each section as you begin it. In each of the following 13 chapters, you will find two boxes designed to help you fix in mind what you have covered. The questions in those boxes will allow you to go over in your mind what you have read and to reflect on its value and application. The first box is located about halfway through the chapter. When you reach that box, consider the questions therein. Doing so will help you to implant deeply in your heart what you have just studied. (Matthew 13:8, 9, 23; 15:10; Luke 2:19; 8:15) The second box will allow you to reflect on what you have read in the final part of that chapter and to secure it in your store of knowledge. So take time to study these boxes. They can truly be tools to reveal practical ways that you can benefit from what you are considering.
19. What should you first fix in mind about the 12 books?
19 To set the stage, so to speak, for what will follow, ask yourself what you know about the contents of each of these 12 books. Through whom did God provide these messages, and what kind of men were they? In what time periods did they live, and in what situations did they serve? (The time line on pages 20 and 21 will prove to be very helpful; consult it often as you study the subsequent chapters.) What was the immediate message or application, and how can knowing this help you to see the material in context? The following chapter will help you to answer these key questions.
The Encyclopaedia Judaica observes that this term “seems to be rooted in the Latin designation of the Vulgate (Prophetae Minores). The adjective ‘minor’ in the title ‘Minor Prophets’ does not reflect upon the relative importance of the 12 prophets in comparison to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, but rather upon their much smaller size.”—Volume 12, page 49.
See, for example, the treatment of Haggai and Zechariah in Paradise Restored to Mankind—By Theocracy! published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.