The Minor Prophets cried out for repentance of sins directly against God. But they also decried social sins of injustice and lack of love for others.
The law and the prophets
God’s great summary law of liberty—the 10 Commandments—provides spiritual guidance for mankind from its Creator (Romans 7:14-16; James 1:25).
These commandments reveal the sorts of behaviors, motivations and thoughts that are consistent with God’s holiness and love. They show which actions please Him and lead to His favor and blessings for people, and which do not.
Indeed, as the inspired apostle Paul put it, “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).
Warnings about law breaking were a major part of the message of all of the prophets—especially the Minor Prophets. And these messages have never been more applicable than today. Our news headlines and even our entertainment are full of stories of injustice, cruelty, oppression, greed, violence and other sins that the prophets warned against.
The great commandment
The first four of the 10 Commandments deal with people’s relationship directly with their Creator. They enjoin love and respect for His holiness and His sovereignty over their lives and destinies.
Jesus made clear the spiritual significance of these four commandments. When questioned about the law of God, He explained that willing obedience to the law of God expresses love for God and is of supreme importance.
“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment’” (Matthew 22:35-38).
In this article, we will refer to violations of these first four of the 10 Commandments as “religious” sins—sins against God directly.
For the roughly 6,000 years since God created Adam and Eve, mankind in general, including the covenant people of God, has departed from God and violated the first four commandments. At various times, God sent His prophets to witness against these sins and to urge the people to repent.
The message of the prophets
The prophets repeatedly cried out against worshipping false gods, against idolatry and Sabbath breaking, against defiling and disrespecting God’s name and against other refusals of people to yield to the guidance and authority of the Creator God over their lives.
This was especially true of the prophets’ messages to the covenant people—Israel and Judah—because they knew better. God had revealed Himself to them in ways that other nations had not experienced (Deuteronomy 4:7-8).
The sins that transgress these first four commandments were surely at the heart of the message of many of the prophets God sent to call His covenant people back to Him.
This was certainly true of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. And it was true to some extent of the prophets who wrote the last 12 books of the Old Testament—the Minor Prophets (so called because their writings contain fewer words than the longer prophetic books of the Bible). They also at times focused attention on religious sins.
The prophet Joel
For example, consider the prophet Joel. He spoke forcefully about the religious sins of the covenant people—the house of Judah.
Here is the briefest summary of the book of the prophet Joel.
- Unprecedented, almost unbelievable curses came upon the people of God and on the Promised Land. God permitted it. But why?
- Answer: they departed from God—they broke their covenant with God and needed to return to Him (Joel 2:13).
But there are also social sins
A study of the Minor Prophets reveals also God’s displeasure with people for their social sins—a term we will use in this article to mean the unloving and abusive treatment of their fellow man.
It is contrary to the will of God that we should claim to love Him, but at the same time refuse to love our fellow man, made in His image (see James 3:9).
Social sins are the sins that violate the last six of the 10 Commandments. Jesus taught that these commandments of God are also very important. “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:39-40).
God judges gentiles too
And it is not just the covenant people who must answer to God for mistreating fellow human beings. Indeed, God sent some of these Minor Prophets to declare His message to gentile nations. The judgment of God against social sins is relevant to both Israelites and gentiles—both then and now.
Therefore the words of the Minor Prophets, under inspiration from God, are warnings for us today and not just ancient documents of history.
No people and no nations can claim innocence and spiritual purity before God, nor can they complain with justification of His judgment and chastisement for their sins. Let’s understand why.
Over the millennia since our first parents were evicted from the Garden of Eden, and thus denied direct communication with their Creator, countless peoples and nations have drifted far from God and become ignorant of the details of His person and character. They long ago lost knowledge of His name, His Sabbath and His holiness. They have lived in a world nearly totally deceived in spiritual matters by Satan (Revelation 12:9).
As a result, when judged by God, they might even try to argue with Him for holding them to account for their sins, claiming innocence by virtue of ignorance or deception.
But, aside from the issue of whether God would give full credence to their argument (He won’t; see, for example, Romans 1:20-21), they are still completely accountable to Him for their social sins, wherein they have violated His will in the ways they have treated each other.
All people—of all nations who have ever lived—are accountable to God for their social sins (see, for example, Psalm 14:2-3 and Romans 3:9-10).
God’s law and human conscience
These offenses have occurred in the context of warfare, certainly, but also in individual acts of violence, jealousy, unfaithfulness, dishonesty, dishonor and hatred toward fellow man.
A review of the books of the Minor Prophets reveals how often those prophets recorded God’s displeasure with social sins.All peoples are accountable to their Creator for their sins against their fellow human beings. And they know it, at least to some degree, because of the consciences God created within them (Romans 2:14-16). All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
The Minor Prophets decried social sins
A review of the books of the Minor Prophets reveals how often those prophets recorded God’s displeasure with social sins. This is true, whether God sent the prophet to testify to Israel and Judah or to gentile nations.
Study our article “The Messages of the Minor Prophets” to see how the condemnation of the sins of hatred, cruelty, dishonesty, dishonor, lust and covetousness—and the threat of God’s just chastisement of those sins—is prominent in these prophets’ messages and applies to everyone in all times, including today.
The major message of the Minor Prophets
God wants human beings, made in His own image, to love, respect and obey Him—of course. Only then will they be able to share a peaceful and wondrous eternity with Him.
But He also wants them to learn to love and respect each other.
An important part of the Minor Prophets’ message, to Israel and Judah and to other nations, was to love one’s fellow man—to love one’s neighbor as oneself. It was the message of the Minor Prophets in ancient times, and it is equally applicable to those of us in modern times who read their books.
May we heed their cry, repent and learn “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly” with our God (Micah 6:8).