The Prophetic Books of the Bible

There are several different types of books in the Jewish Bible. Some books are primarily historical. Other books contain words of inspiration and philosophy. This article identifies the prophetic books of the Bible.

Prophetic Books of the Bible – Definition

Let’s use this as our main definition of a prophetic book: A book of the Bible that was written by a prophet and mostly contains his prophetic statements.

A prophetic book may contain some narrative sections, but the narrative will be a small part of the total content.

Based on this definition, here are the prophetic books in the order they appear in the Jewish Bible:

  1. Isaiah
  2. Jeremiah
  3. Ezekiel
  4. The Twelve Prophets
    1. Hosea
    2. Joel
    3. Amos
    4. Obadiah
    5. Jonah
    6. Micah
    7. Nahum
    8. Habakkuk
    9. Zephaniah
    10. Haggai
    11. Zechariah
    12. Malachi
  5. Daniel

Not so long ago all Bibles were handwritten on parchment scrolls. The Twelve Prophets are all rather short and were written on one scroll so that none of them would be lost. Hence, they count as only 1 book.

The Twelve Prophets are also called the “Minor Prophets.” In this case, “minor” is just another way of saying, “short, not long.”

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How Many Prophetic Books in the Bible?

It seems that many “simple” questions about Judaism don’t have simple answers.

It’s only natural to wonder how many prophetic books there are. Well, it all depends on how you count them.

Based on the above list, we can say that there are 5 prophetic books:

  1. Isaiah
  2. Jeremiah
  3. Ezekiel
  4. The Twelve Prophets
  5. Daniel

If we want to give a bit more detail, then we can say there are 16 prophetic books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, plus the other 12 “shorter” prophets.

Prophetic Books of the Bible – Alternate Definition

Prophecy in the Bible is not only about the future. Many, perhaps even most, prophetic messages are meant to help a person or a group grow spiritually.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Handbook of Jewish Thought

8:43 The main message of all the prophets was that we keep the commandments as presented in the Torah. …

8:52 The most usual reason that God sends a prophet is to admonish the people to keep the Torah. A prophet may also reveal God’s will regarding questions not involving Torah law, such as waging a war or building a city.

Based on these ideas, I suggest that nearly every book of the Bible is a prophetic book.

The Jewish Bible contains 24 books. We’ve already determined that 5 of them are clearly prophetic books. Let’s look at some prophetic messages contained in the remaining 19 books.

prophetic books Jewish Bible

Genesis

It is always difficult for us to know why history has unfolded in a particular way. However, it seems clear that the message of Genesis 12:3 has been fulfilled many times over the centuries.

Genesis Chapter 12

1. And the Lord had said to Abram, Get out from your country, and from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you;
2. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing;
3. And I will bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you; and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.

Later God told Abraham:

Genesis Chapter 17

4. As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.
5. Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made you.
6. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come out of you.

Besides the Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham include: Ishmael and the Arab people, Edom (often identified as Rome and what we know as Western Civilization), Moab, and Midian.

Exodus

God used 10 plagues to punish the Egyptians and to convince them to free their Jewish slaves. Most of the plagues were introduced with a prophetic statement of what was about to occur.

Exodus Chapter 11

4. And Moses said, Thus said the Lord, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt;
5. And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the maidservant who is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.

The 10 plagues demonstrate God’s control over all aspects of nature. But verse 4 says “about midnight.” Maybe God’s timing is imprecise?

Rashi explains that this plague happened exactly at midnight. The imprecise phrase was used so that the Egyptians could not claim that the plague struck at the “wrong” time.

Leviticus

Near the end of Leviticus (Chapter 26) the Jewish people are urged to keep God’s commandments.

Leviticus Chapter 26

3. If you walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them;
4. Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. …

14. But if you will not listen to me, and will not do all these commandments; …

The dire consequences of not following the Torah have been seen in the course of Jewish history.

Numbers

Moses sent 12 spies into the Land of Israel. Ten of them brought back a negative report about the Land.

This is one of those instances where we know without a doubt that the prophecy has been fulfilled.

Numbers Chapter 14

28. Say to them [the Jewish people], As truly as I live, said the Lord, as you have spoken in My ears, so will I do to you;
29. Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all who were counted of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, who have murmured against me,
30. Shall by no means come into the land, concerning which I swore to make you live in it, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.

Near the end of the 40 years, God ordered Moses to do another census of the Jewish people. Here is the summary of that census:

Numbers Chapter 26

63. These are those who were counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who counted the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan near Jericho.
64. But among these there was not a man of them whom Moses and Aaron the priest counted, when they counted the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai.
65. For the Lord had said of them, They shall surely die in the wilderness. And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.

Deuteronomy

Moses spent the last weeks of his life trying to prepare the people for their entry into the Land of Israel. He assured them of the blessings they would experience for obeying God. He also warned about the consequences for disobeying.

Deuteronomy Chapter 28

1. And it shall come to pass, if you shall give heed diligently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command you this day, that the Lord your God will set you on high above all nations of the earth;
2. And all these blessings shall come on you …

In Deuteronomy 28, the first 15 verses are the promised blessings for fulfilling the Torah. The rest of the chapter, until verse 69, are the warnings for disobeying. Jewish history contains too many instances of these warnings becoming reality.

Joshua

Joshua was chosen by God to succeed Moses and lead the Jewish people into the Land.

Near the end of his life of spoke to assembled people.

Joshua Chapter 23

15. Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things have come upon you, which the Lord your God promised you; so shall the Lord bring upon you all evil things, until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you.
16. When you have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land which He has given to you.

He shared with them a prophecy of what will happen if they worship idols.

Judges

After the death of Joshua, the Jewish people would at times fail to obey God’s commandments. Then God would allow one of the nearby tribes to oppress them.

During one of these periods, an angel delivered a prophetic message to a barren woman:

Judges Chapter 13

3. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman, and said to her, Behold now, you are barren, and bear not; but you shall conceive, and bear a son.
4. Now therefore beware, I beseech you, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing;
5. For, behold, you shall conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head; for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.

This unnamed woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson. His deeds are recorded in Judges 13 – 16.

Samuel

According to Jewish tradition, 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel are one book. The division into two books was done by non-Jews but has been adapted for the sake of convenience.

The Jewish people approached Samuel and asked him to appoint a king.

1 Samuel Chapter 8

10. And Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king.
11. And he said, This will be the customary practice of the king who shall reign over you; He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. …

Samuel goes on for a total of 9 verses detailing the ways a king will abuse his power.

Kings

According to Jewish tradition, 1 Kings and 2 Kings are one book.

King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. After its dedication, God appeared to Solomon and told him:

1 Kings Chapter 9

6. But if you shall turn from following Me, you or your children, and will not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them;
7. Then will I cut off Israel from the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for My name, will I cast from my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people;

This is another prophetic statement about the results of failing to observe God’s commandments.

Psalms

Many Psalms speak in prophetic terms of Jewish exile, the Messiah, the future redemption of the Jewish people. The prophetic statements in Psalms are not always obvious, but they are pointed by the sages and commentators.

See, for example, Psalms 2, 10, 13, 43, 92, and 93.

Job

God permitted Job to suffer the loss of his children, his property, and his health. Job and his friends struggled to understand God’s ways.

Near the end of the book, God appears to Job and “explains” the world to him:

Job Chapter 38

1. Then the Lord answered Job from the stormy wind, and said,
2. Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3. Gird up now your loins like a man; for I will demand of you, and you will answer Me.
4. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding. …

Job chapters 38 – 41 continue in this way until chapter 42 when Job accepts what God is telling him.

These chapters of Job are not about future events but an example of a prophetic message meant to elevate a person spiritually.

Song of Songs

King Solomon wrote this book as an allegory of the relationship between God and Israel and the other nations.

Here is part of what Rashi writes in his introduction to the book: “I say that King Solomon saw prophetically that in the future, Israel will undergo exile after exile, destruction after destruction, and they will mourn in exile for their original glory, remembering the original love by which they were chosen by Him and separated from all other peoples …”

Lamentations

These days we read Lamentations to help us remember the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. We often overlook that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations as a prophecy many years before the destruction.

The writing and first public reading of Lamentations are recorded in Jeremiah 36.

Esther

Mordechai told Esther about Haman’s plot to destroy the Jewish people. Esther at first expressed some hesitation about acting too quickly. Mordechai rebuked her with these prophetic words:

Esther Chapter 4

13. Then Mordechai commanded to answer Esther, Think not yourself that in the king’s palace you shall escape, any more than all the Jews.
14. For if you remain silent at this time, then shall relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but you and your father’s house shall be destroyed. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Mordechai is convinced that God will save His people. The only question is exactly how the salvation will occur.

Ezra – Nehemiah

According to Jewish tradition, Ezra and Nehemiah are one book.

The Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon had started to build the new Temple. They were forced to stop. Some years later, the prophets told them it was time to build, even though the king had not yet granted permission.

Ezra Chapter 5

1. Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even to them.
2. Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and with them were the prophets of God helping them.

Chronicles

According to Jewish tradition, 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles are one book.

David wanted to build the Temple. God told him that his son would be the one to build it.

1 Chronicles Chapter 17

3. And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying,
4. Go and tell David My servant, Thus said the Lord, You shall not build Me a house to dwell in; …

11. And it shall come to pass, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will raise up your seed after you, who shall be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom.
12. He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever.

Books Without Prophetic Sections

At the beginning of this article, I listed the 5 prophetic books:

  1. Isaiah
  2. Jeremiah
  3. Ezekiel
  4. The Twelve Prophets
  5. Daniel

The previous section shows that nearly every book included in the Bible is a prophetic book. I’ve indicated prophetic sections in these 16 books:

  1. Genesis
  2. Exodus
  3. Leviticus
  4. Numbers
  5. Deuteronomy
  6. Joshua
  7. Judges
  8. Samuel
  9. Kings
  10. Psalms
  11. Job
  12. Song of Songs
  13. Lamentations
  14. Esther
  15. Ezra – Nehemiah
  16. Chronicles

That leaves just 3 books unaccounted for: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Ruth.

Proverbs and Ecclesiastes do not seem to have any prophetic sections. They certainly inform people of the proper path and the consequences of obeying or disobeying.

The book of Ruth tells about Boaz and Ruth who are the great grandparents of King David. The book ends with the genealogy of King David, but presents it as a fact, not as a prophecy.

There are many valuable lessons to be learned from the book of Ruth, but there do not appear to be any prophetic sections.

Further Reading

This article is part of a series on the subject of prophecy. A good place to start is with the article What is Prophecy – A Jewish Perspective.

At the end of that article you will find links to all of the other articles.


A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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