Study Guide

The Twelve Minor Prophets Wordplay

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You wouldn’t know it from the English translation, but the Minor Prophets love puns, puzzles and other forms of wordplay. For example:

Amos Chapter 8 opens with God showing Amos a basket of figs. In Hebrew, figs are “fruits of summer” (qayis), a close approximation of the Hebrew word for “doom”, qes. We’re sure you caught that hilarious one. Sometimes a fig is not just a fig.

In Hebrew, the first chapter of Nahum is an acrostic hymn—the first letters of the opening stanzas go up through the first half of the Hebrew alphabet, while the rest spell out D-R-I-N-K-M-O-R-E-O-V-A-L-T-I-N-E.

Micah’s name in Hebrew means, “Who is like Yahweh?” In chapter 7, verse 18 Micah asks, “Who is a God like you?” You can bet the folks who edited this text had a good chuckle over that.

In Hosea 4:15, God tells the people of Judah not to go to the city of Beth-aven. That’s a knee-slapper in Hebrew—the prophet is calling the city of Beth-el, the “House of God,” by a punny name that means the “House of Idols.” As Old Testament professor Harold Shank notes on his commentary on the Minor Prophets, this would be like calling New York City “New York Sinner,” which, come to think of it, is probably what a lot of people call it anyway.

What more puns? Just learn Hebrew and Ugaritic! All this wordplay and embedded meaning might have a larger symbolic connotation—the human inability to really grasp the complexity of God’s words, our tendency to take things at face value when there are deeper truths at work.

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