Study Guide

Politicians and Priests in The Twelve Minor Prophets

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Politicians and Priests

The Minor Prophets have a lot to say about religious and government leaders. Seldom is heard an encouraging word when it comes to having positive things to say about them, but there are at least a few good men.

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The most important political leaders are kings—in particular, the kings of Israel, Judah and foreign nations. Kings in the Minor Prophets don’t show up in person, but they are, with the prophets, among the first people mentioned in several of the books. Because, y’know, it’s good to be the king.

The primary role of the kings is ostensibly to tell time. Biblical events are often dated according to their occurrence in the particular year of the reign of a particular king. For instance, if stories about Edward Snowden, the guy who leaked the classified data about how the government collects all of our selfies in the interests of national security, kept time in the same way, they’d say he expressed his burden about half past Obama.

However, words in the Minor Prophets sometimes have two meanings, and that’s particularly true when it comes to mentioning political leaders by name. Leaders are the ILYs and LOLs of the prophetic texts, quick ways to cue readers in on whether a country is doing right or breaking bad. For example, Hosea is set during the time of one seriously messed up king of Israel but a series of kings in Judah who go from GG to OMG to Yahweh’s BFF.

The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri, in the days of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah, and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel. (NRSV Hosea 1:1)

Corrupt kings are God’s pet peeve, since they have enormous power over the people. Most of the kings in the Minor Prophets are getting called on the carpet for leading people astray and neglecting their responsibilities. God lets them know that they serve at his pleasure and he can dethrone them whenever he feels like it.

More Priests, More Problems

The priests get the textbook divine brush off. The Minor Prophets never tire of telling the world how the priests have broken God’s covenant by leading his people to worship idols, botch rituals and act like total jerks, but these priests do not get mentioned by name. They are Anonymous, but not by choice and because they hide the truth instead of revealing it. For instance,

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.” (NRSV Micah 3:11)

I will stretch out my hand against Judah, and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests; those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens; those who bow down and swear to the LORD, but also swear by Milcom; those who have turned back from following the LORD, who have not sought the LORD or inquired of him. (NRSV Zephaniah 1:4-6)

Its prophets are reckless, faithless persons; its priests have profaned what is sacred, they have done violence to the law. (NRSV Zephaniah 3:4)

The only priest who gets a prophetic shout-out is Joshua, the high priest at the time of the return of Judah’s exiles from the Babylonian captivity. Joshua and the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, are Haggai’s and Zechariah’s heroes of the beach, at least until the book of Zechariah goes off on a fight-the-power jag in the last six chapters.

In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest: (NRSV Haggai 1:1)

Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of the prophet Haggai, as the LORD their God had sent him; and the people feared the LORD. Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD’s message, saying, I am with you, says the LORD. And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month. (NRSV Haggai 1:12-15)

And a second time I said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which pour out the oil through the two golden pipes?” He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” (NRSV Zechariah 4:12-14)

Thus said the LORD my God: Be a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter. Those who buy them kill them and go unpunished; and those who sell them say, “Blessed be the LORD, for I have become rich”; and their own shepherds have no pity on them. (NRSV Zechariah 11:4-5)

For those Shmoopers who are keeping score at home, here’s a checklist of the leaders and the Minor Prophets who love or hate them:

Kings of Israel:

Jeroboam, son of Joash: Hosea, Amos

Kings of Judah:

Uzziah: Hosea, Amos
Jotham: Hosea, Micah
Ahaz: Hosea, Micah
Hezekiah: Hosea?
Josiah: Zephaniah

Leaders after the Babylonian Exile:

Darius (King of Persia and co-founder of Hootie and the Blowfish): Haggai (2nd year, sixth month), Zechariah (2nd year, eighth month)
Zerubbabel (Governor of Judah) / Joshua (High Priest): Haggai, Zechariah

As for the rest of the Minor Prophets, YMMV.

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