The Prophets (Hebrew, nebi’ im) are the second section or “book” in the three sections of the Old Testament canon. Though we may be unfamiliar with the shape of the OT canon, a quick look at the NT will show us that this division was well known to the later authors of the NT. The three-fold division of the OT can be clearly seen in Luke 24:44:
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.
The Law of Moses or Book of Moses is the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, the Prophets were the middle section of the canon, and the Psalms, or writings were the third division of the canon.
The books in the Hebrew canon are in a different order than what we currently have in our Old Testaments. This may not seem important, but actually I would argue that the intentional placing of the books in the order they were in taught a theological message, one that is harder to see in the now disjointed form of our current OT canonical order. The Prophets were reckoned as eight books in the following order:
3. I & II Samuel
4. I & II Kings
8. The Twelve (the minor prophets taken as one book)
The hand of a later editor or editors at work in the shaping of the Prophets and the canon as a whole is wonderful to behold. Stephen Dempster has admirably demonstrated the thematic unity is this section of the canon , he writes:
Joshua 1:1-9 functions as an introduction to the book of Joshua but also to this section of the canon. The two-fold reference to the death of Moses (1:1, 2) not only continues Deuteronomy but also signifies the end of an era. The expression ‘Moses, my servant’ occurs twice in this text (1:2, 7). The only other time this expression is used in the entire TaNaK is at the end of this section of the canon (Mal. 4:4).
In other words, at the very beginning of this “book” of the Prophets in Joshua and at the very end in Malachi are references to “Moses, my servant” included with a call to observe the Torah he had given. The success or failure of Israel would be only judged by its following the Torah of Moses. And just as the land of Canaan was put under “the ban” in Joshua’s day (Joshua 6:18) so the Lord threatens to come to Israel and smite the land with a “ban of destruction” (Malachi 4:6).
Malachi in ending the Prophets and transitioning to the Writings (which begin with the book of Psalms) asks about distinguishing between “the righteous and the wicked” (Heb. rashaim and zedekim) in Malachi 3:18. This question is immediately picked up in the next section of the canon, Psalm 1, which distinguishes the righteous from the wicked once more in terms of meditation on the Torah. Thematic unity overarches the entire canon, what a glorious book we have in our possession!