Study Guide

The Twelve Minor Prophets Compassion and Forgiveness

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Compassion and Forgiveness

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (NRSV Hosea 6:6]

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (KJV Hosea 6:6)

The revolution begins. The idea of mercy in this passage is more than just taking pity on someone—it speaks to a broader ethic of mutual responsibility coupled with obedience to the commands in Yahweh’s covenant. Ritual is nice and all, but the important thing is that folks look out for each other.

They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon. O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; your faithfulness comes from me. Those who are wise understand these things; those who are discerning know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them. (NRSV Hosea 14:7-9)

They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found. Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein. (KJV Hosea 14:6-9)

Repentance. Living beneath God’s shadow. Knowing and following the ways of Yahweh. If this doesn’t sound familiar, make like an ancient scribe and keep scrolling. God uses all these nature metaphors to demonstrates his careful tending to Ephraim (Israel)

“Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” 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. But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” (NRSV 3:9-4:2)

Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. (KJV 3:9-4:2)

Nineveh repents and God changes his mind about destroying the city, which just happens to be the Assyrian capital. Jonah, however, would rather see Nineveh blasted into oblivion, which is understandable given the likelihood that this book was written after Assyria had invaded Israel and cast the ten tribes to the four winds. This is one of the few times that we get a report of God’s compassion and forgiveness against a foreign power, even one who’s been a sworn enemy of Israel.

The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. …Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (NRSV Jonah 4:6-7, 10-11)

And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.… Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in
a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more then six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle? (KJV Jonah 4:6-7, 10-11)

Jonah feels bad about the death of the plant that’s been shading him, but we doubt it has anything to do with compassion for the plant. Although God is drawing that comparison, so who are we to argue? Anyway, God’s trying to get it through Jonah’s dense skull that he had his reasons for saving Nineveh—all those clueless people and helpless animals. This is a pretty intimate statement by God in this passage. He feels their pain. God is kind of role-modeling compassion for Jonah here.

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
(NRSV Micah 7:18-19)

Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. (KJV Micah 7:18-19)

This is a common Hebrew Scriptures convention: reciting to God his mercy and compassion so that he has no choice but to live up to his reputation. Kind of like thanking someone in advance for their help. We have to say that God falls for this at times and relents when he’s reminded of the covenant. We think that’s a great strategy for resolving family conflict—remember the good times when everyone was on speaking terms.

The LORD has commanded concerning you: “Your name shall be perpetuated no longer; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the cast image. I will make your grave, for you are worthless.” Look! On the mountains the feet of one who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! Celebrate your festivals, O Judah, fulfill your vows, for never again shall the wicked invade you; they are utterly cut off. (NRSV Nahum 1:14-15)

And the LORD hath given a commandment concerning thee, that no more of thy name be sown: out of the house of thy gods will I cut off the graven image and the molten image: I will make thy grave; for thou art vile. Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts,
perform thy vows: for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off. (KJV Nahum 1:14-15)

Compassion for Israel involves destruction of other nations. This passage underscores the complex nature of peace and other squishy hippie notions in the Minor Prophets. For Nahum, peace means years of bloody warfare that result in vicarious vengeance on an old enemy. Give the man a Nobel!

A prayer of the prophet Habakkuk according to Shigionoth. O LORD, I have heard of your renown, and I stand in awe, O LORD, of your work. In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known; in wrath may you remember mercy. (NRSV Habakkuk 3:1-2)

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth. O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy. (KJV Habakkuk 3:1-2)

Habakkuk is the master of supplication. “God, I saw what you did there and I have to say that I am seriously impressed. Y’know, it would be great if you could do the same thing now.” Like we said, God actually responds to this kind of appeal. Sometimes he has to be reminded of how merciful he’s been in other situations, because he’s in the midst of a divine meltdown because of his people’s failure to act like decent human beings.

Then the angel of the LORD said, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, with which you have been angry these seventy years?” Then the LORD replied with gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. …Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with compassion; my house shall be built in it, says the LORD of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.
(NRSV Zechariah 1:12-13, 16)

Then the angel of the LORD answered and said, O LORD of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years? And the LORD answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words. … Therefore thus saith the LORD; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the LORD of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem. (KJV Zechariah 1:12-13, 16)

So now the angels are getting involved; typically, angels just function as messengers and don’t try to influence the Divine Decider. But the angel of the LORD has a point—when God’s been mad with his people so long that the babies from day 1 are now card-carrying members of the AARP, maybe it’s time to give it a rest. God responds by demonstrating his compassion by returning to Jerusalem and residing in the temple, so the angel’s plea was successful.

Together they shall be like warriors in battle, trampling the foe in the mud of the streets; they shall fight, for the LORD is with them, and they shall put to shame the riders on horses. I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them back because I have compassion on them, and they shall be as though I had not rejected them; for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them. (NRSV Zechariah 10:5-6)

And they shall be as mighty men, which tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle: and they shall fight, because the LORD is with them, and the riders on horses shall be confounded. And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the LORD their God, and will hear them. (KJV Zechariah 10:5-6)

“They shall be as though I had not rejected them”—well, except for all the people who were raped, maimed, killed, financially ruined, or still suffer from PTSD. But other than that, it’s like the whole Babylonian captivity never happened! This pattern of a relationship that’s been damaged but then restored describes most of the history of the Israelites and God.

For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. (NRSV Malachi 3:6)

For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. (KJV Malachi 3:6)

“You, you will survive …”  God’s saying here that the reason he’s reconciled with Israel is that he hasn’t changed his original intent of his covenant with Jacob. If he had changed his mind, there wouldn’t be anyone left to discuss it with. He’ll ultimately keep those promises even though he’s had to punish the nation for its iniquity. Israel gets a lot of mileage out of the merit of their ancestors. God remembers Jacob and decides to forgive.

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