Yahweh is back, and this time it’s not personal. Instead, the God of the Minor Prophets is in the business of building a nation, even if he has to destroy it first.
God makes his priorities clear from the opening of the book of Hosea, when he tells the prophet to wed a devotee of open marriage named Gomer as a symbol of how Israel has been violating its covenant with God. The rest of the book lays out God’s qualities that will resurface in various ways throughout the other books.
In almost every book, God makes it known that he’s in absolute control. He makes it clear that he intervenes in human history when necessary to punish evil and protect his people.
In fury you trod the earth, in anger you trampled nations. You came forth to save your people, to save your anointed. (NRSV Habakkuk 3:12-13)
Images of his awesome power permeate the verses:
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near-- 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. (NRSV Joel 4:12)
Hear, you peoples, all of you; listen, O earth, and all that is in it; and let the Lord GOD be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. 3 For lo, the LORD is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. 4 Then the mountains will melt under him and the valleys will burst open, like wax near the fire, like waters poured down a steep place. (NRSV Micah 1:3)
He’s created everything:
For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals, makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth-- the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!
The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name. (NRSV Amos 4:13; 5:8)
His rulership extends over the entire world, even though it’s Israel and Judah he’s most concerned about. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon—nothing’s out of his strike zone. He’s sending down pain to all the nations of the world, particularly the ones who have messed with Israel and Judah.
Let the nations rouse themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the neighboring nations. (NRSV Joel 3:12)
Just in case Israel thinks they’re the only nation on earth, he puts them in their place:
Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the LORD. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? (NRSV Amos 9:7)
Eventually, the other nations will realize who’s in charge and acknowledge Yahweh.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, 2 and many nations shall come and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” (NRSV Micah 4:1-2)
And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one. (NRSV Zechariah 14:9)
Nothing upsets God more than his people worshipping other gods. Here he is, saving his people from Egypt, establishing them in their own land, destroying their enemies, giving them all the figs they can eat, and what happens? He turns his back for two seconds and already they’re worshipping foreign gods, building altars to hills and trees, and kissing calves.
When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel; but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. And now they keep on sinning and make a cast image for themselves, idols of silver made according to their understanding, all of them the work of artisans. "Sacrifice to these," they say. People are kissing calves! Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes away early, like chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window. Yet I have been the LORD your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who fed you in the wilderness, in the land of drought. (NRSV Hosea 1:5)
What use is an idol once its maker has shaped it-- a cast image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in what has been made, though the product is only an idol that cannot speak! Alas for you who say to the wood, "Wake up!" to silent stone, "Rouse yourself!" Can it teach? See, it is gold and silver plated, and there is no breath in it at all. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him! (NRSV Habakkuk 2:18-20)
None of the Minor Prophets arrange anything as dramatic and convincing as Elijah’s Yahweh vs. Baal smackdown, but they make their point anyway.
You might think it’s overkill for God to threaten to destroy every living thing on the planet just because a few business men have overcharged their customers or people haven’t been praying with the right amount of open-heartedness. You’d be wrong. God lets everyone know that his judgments are never without a darn good reason, and he usually lays out those reasons.
You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your power and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle when mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great wickedness. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off. (NRSV Hosea 10:13-15)
But they refused to listen, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears in order not to hear. They made their hearts adamant in order not to hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts. Just as, when I called, they would not hear, so, when they called, I would not hear, says the LORD of hosts, and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and a pleasant land was made desolate. (NRSV Zechariah 7:11-14)
When false prophets complain that Amos is preaching doom for the city, the retribution is pretty complete:
Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” Therefore thus says the LORD: Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land. (NRSV Amos 7:16-17)
How do we know these judgments are fair? Well, as soon as Israel shapes up, the evil decree is rescinded:
Take words with you and return to the LORD; say to him, "Take away all guilt; accept that which is good, and we will offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; we will say no more, 'Our God,' to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy." I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. (NRSV Hosea 14:2-4)
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. (NRSV Malachi 3:10)
Even that evil alien city of Nineveh is spared the rod when they repent:
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. (Jonah 3:10 NRSV)
See? How hard is that?
While the Temple was standing, it was the center of Jewish life, and the Torah devotes endless chapters to the minute details of the different types of sacrifices. Proper sacrifices were pleasing to God, but prior to the Babylonian captivity, God thought that people were just going through the motions of ritual sacrifice without much thought to the reasons for them. They handed off their animals or grain or oil to the priests and went about their business. Most of the Minors describe God as ultimately being concerned with fair and just behavior—he hasn’t got time to deal with sacrifices that aren’t from the heart. This represented a major shift in religious practice. Of course, after the destruction of the first temple and exile to Babylon, it was impossible to maintain the sacrificial practices anyway.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (NRSV Hosea 6:16)
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (NRSV Amos 21-24)
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. (NRSV Joel 2:12-13)
Rend your hearts and not your clothing. That’s poetry.
And he’s angry much of the time.
Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and by him the rocks are broken in pieces. (NRSV Nahum 1:6)
And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance on the nations that did not obey. (NRSV Micah 5:15)
Throughout the Bible, prophets have to occasionally talk God down during the moments of wrath and appeal to his compassionate side to save their people.
As much as God dislikes faithlessness on the part of Israel and Judah, he has a special place in his heart for the rulers, priests, and prophets who lead them astray by corruption, false prophecy, and sloppy priestly practices. He excoriates them for having influence over the people and misusing it for their own purposes. When the wrath comes down, it comes down especially hard on those guys. Micah Chapter 3 says it best, so here’s the whole enchilada:
And I said: Listen, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Should you not know justice?-- you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones; who eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin off them, break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron. Then they will cry to the LORD, but he will not answer them; he will hide his face from them at that time, because they have acted wickedly. Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry "Peace" when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths. Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without revelation. The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God. But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the LORD and say, "Surely the LORD is with us! No harm shall come upon us." Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.
After this speech, the High Priest decided not to run for a third term.
After all the judgment and wrath, God and Otis Redding just suggest that all the people have to do is try a little tenderness.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (NRSV Micah 6:8)
These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, 17 do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the LORD.(NRSV Zechariah 8:16-17)
These kinds of statements have endeared the Minors to social activists, civil rights pioneers, and labor advocates: take care of the needy, don’t cheat your workers, be a mensch.
Sure, God and Israel have their ups and downs, like any couple. And like any marital spat, there’s the occasional annihilation of everyone and everything, hiding the figs, etc. Scientists have recently discovered the reason for these divine mood swings. Regardless, one thing we learn about God in The Dozen is that he’s faithful to the covenant with Israel even if he gets mad sometimes, threatens to destroy creation, and leaves the room. Throughout everything, he still calls them “my people.” Israel and Judah are supposed to be keeping this in mind during all those fearsome Day of the Lord scenarios where they’re being slaughtered and humiliated, but we’re guessing that’s a bit difficult. Except maybe for Habakkuk. He’s got perspective.
I hear, and I tremble within; my lips quiver at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones, and my steps tremble beneath me. I wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us. Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. (NRSV Habakkuk 16-18)
Everyone else needs a little reassurance:
For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. (NRSV Malachi 6-7)
God’s always had a soft spot for Israel; he can’t find it in him to turn his back forever:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. (NRSV Hosea 11:1-4)
So he’s a sucker for forgiveness and remembering his original promises.
There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. On that day, says the LORD, you will call me, "My husband," and no longer will you call me, "My Baal.” And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. (NRSV Hosea 2:16; 19)
And all this punishment? He’s just doing it because he loves them. I’m sure none of you kids have ever heard that.
You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment? (NRSV Amos 3:1-3)
The remnant of my people shall plunder them, and the survivors of my nation shall possess them. This shall be their lot in return for their pride, because they scoffed and boasted against the people of the LORD of hosts. (NRSV Zephaniah 2:9-10)
Just in case God forgets his promises in the heat of the moment, Micah reminds him:
You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old. (NRSV Micah 7:20)
God doesn’t really enjoy punishing his first-born. He’s happiest when they can reconcile:
The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD. (NRSV Zephaniah 3:17-2)
All’s well that ends well.
He’s willing to let a few wordy prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah hog the spotlight while the twelve hardest working men in the showbread business get passed over due to their superior self-editing skills. That’s divine gratitude for ya.