It is not known exactly when the prophet Joel began his work as a prophet. However, it is known that during his life a terrible catastrophe befell the land. A swarm of locusts, surpassed only by the plague of locusts in Egypt during the days of Moses, descended upon the fields and vineyards and devoured everything green. This is how the prophet describes the dreadful devastation of the land: "The word of the L-rd that came to Joel the son of Pethuel: Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land I Did ever such a thing as this come to pass in your days, or ever in the days of your fathers?... It (the locust) has laid my vine waste, and barked my fig-tree; it has peeled it bare and cast it down; made white are its light branches... Wasted is the field; the land mourns; for wasted is the corn, dried up is the new vine, and withered is the oil... Joy has ceased from the children of men."
The prophet sees in this calamity a severe punishment from G‑d for Israel's faithlessness in Him and His laws, and he calls to his brethren to return. "Yet even now, saith the L-rd, turn ye unto Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with lamentation; rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn. unto the L-rd your G‑d; for He is gracious and compassionate, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy, and relenteth of the evil... Blow the shofar in Zion, sanctify a fast, and proclaim a solemn assembly! Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, and gather the children and babies... let them say, 'Spare, O L-rd, Thy people, and give not Thy heritage to shame, for nations to rule over them! Why should they say among the people. 'Where is their G‑d?'"
But almost in the same breath the prophet predicts wonderful things for his people; G‑d will repay them for their suffering manifold. "And ye shall eat and be satisfied, and praise the Name of G‑d, your L-rd, Who has dealt wondrously with you; and my people shall not be made ashamed unto eternity. And you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am G‑d, your L-rd, and none else; and My people shall not be ashamed unto eternity."
After Israel's triumph, Joel foresees the day when all mankind, even men and women of the lowest station in life, shall have the knowledge and vision of G‑d: "And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions; and also upon the servants and upon the handmaidens in those days will I pour out My spirit."
The prophet Nahum lived about this time. Nahum's prophecy centered upon the hostile city of Nineveh, where cruelty and oppression reigned supreme.
The prophet pictures with horror the chariots of the rich and the horsemen rushing through the streets of the city, leaving a trail of death behind them. Denouncing the tyranny and bloodshed so rampant in Nineveh, the prophet foretells its complete annihilation; "Woe to the bloody city! It is full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not. Hark! the whip, and hark! the rattling of wheels, and prancing horses, and bounding chariots; the horsemen charging, and the flashing sword, and the glittering spear; and a multitude of slain, and a heap of carcasses; and there is no end of the corpses... Behold, I will be against thee, saith the L-rd of Hosts... and it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee and say, 'Nineveh is laid waste; who will bemoan her?' ...All that hear the report of thee will clap hands over thee; for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?"
Habakkuk's chief message was a sad prophecy of the triumph of the Chaldeans (Babylonians) over Israel. He warns his people of the Divine retribution which would come swiftly and overwhelmingly; "How long, O L-rd, shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear? I cry out unto Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save..." G‑d's answer follows: "Behold, I will raise the Chaldeans, that bitter and impetuous nation, that march to the wide spaces of the earth to conquer dwelling-places that are not theirs. Terrible and dreadful are they; from them alone go forth their laws and dignity. Swifter than leopards are their horses, and fiercer than wolves at night. And their horses come riding on, arriving from afar. They ny like eagles, hastening to eat. They all come for violence; their faces are like the east wind, and they gather captives as the sand. And they will make sport with kings, and princes will be a play to them. At every stronghold will they laugh… they make their power their god..."
Seeing how the wicked and arrogant Chaldeans will trample upon Israel, Habakkuk cries out to G‑d with pain: "Thou art of eyes too pure to behold evil, and canst not look upon mischief, wherefore lookest Thou, when they deal treacherously, and boldest Thy peace, when the wicked swalloweth up the man that is more righteous than he?"
But the prophet receives the answer that justice and righteousness shall triumph and that Israel shall survive. "And the L-rd answered me and said: Write the vision, and make it plain upon the tables, that a man may read swiftly... Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay... The righteous shall live by his faith.'"
The prophet Zephaniah proclaimed his prophecy to the people of Judah during the reign of King Josiah. Little is known of his background except that he was a descendant of King Hezekiah. Coming of such noble stock, he must have been familiar with the life of the nobility in the capital and of the royal house.
Seeing the idolatry that had spread in the holy city during the reign of King Manasseh, Zephaniah denounces the "rebellious and polluted city," and her princes who are like "roaring lions," and her judges who are "like evening wolves, they leave not a bone for the morning." He also denounces the false prophets whom he calls "men of treachery," and the priests "who have profaned the sanctuary."
But after G‑d will have chastised Israel, there will be true rejoicing in Zion, where a purified and restored nation shall dwell in peace and security: "In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against Me; for then I will take away out of the midst of thee, thy proudly exalting ones, and thou shalt no more be haughty in My holy mountain... the remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; therefore they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.
"Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all thy heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem. The L-rd hath taken away thy punishments; He hath cast out thine enemy. The King of Israel, the L-rd, is in the midst of thee; thou shalt not fear evil any more... At that time will I bring you back; in that time I will gather you; for I will give you a name and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I will return your captives before your eyes, saith the L-rd."