Study Guide

The Twelve Minor Prophets Justice and Judgment

Justice and Judgment

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. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD. (NRSV Hosea 2:19-20)

And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD. (KJV Hosea 2:19-20)

Cut through all the gush and this is about remaining loyal to the obligations in a marriage contract, another metaphor for relationship between God and his people.

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 5:22-24)

Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. (KJV Amos 5:20-24)

Actions speak louder than worship. This is one of the more famous statements of the many in the Minors about the importance of social justice and ethical behavior.

The faithful have disappeared from the land, and there is no one left who is upright; they all lie in wait for blood, and they hunt each other with nets. Their hands are skilled to do evil; the official and the judge ask for a bribe, and the powerful dictate what they desire; thus they pervert justice. (NRSV Micah 7:2-3)

The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net. That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up. (KJV Micah 7:2-3)

Justice involves giving people what they deserve, not taking whatever you want. Money talks, but the Minor Prophets don’t like what it says. The corruption of the officials, God believes, sets the tone for a general “every man for himself” ethic.

Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing; why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they? (NRSV Habakkuk 1:13)

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? (KJV Habakkuk 1:13)

When Habakkuk says that God is so holy that he can’t even look at injustice, that’s not exactly a compliment. “Thou talkest a big game,” Habakkuk says, “but everywhere thou dost look things are pretty messed up.” Burn. God just got served. Maybe it’s because Habakkuk recognizes and condemns injustice when he sees it that God doesn’t smelt him for questioning his motives.

Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith. (NRSV Habakkuk 2:4)

Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. (KJV Habakkuk 2:4)

The verse that launched the Protestant Reformation. But what does it mean? For Martin Luther, believers become righteous in the eyes of God through their faith in Christ, not their own good works. However, the original Hebrew word for faith in this verse can refer to a person’s trustworthiness and fair dealing—in other words, righteous behavior. Uh oh.

Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the LORD’s wrath. (NRSV Zephaniah 2:3)

Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD's anger. (KJV Zephaniah 2:3)

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) — you didn’t think Jesus thought that up all by himself, did you?

You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the LORD of hosts. Because my house lies in ruins, while all of you hurry off to your own houses. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. (NRSV Haggai 1:9-10)

Ye looked for much, and, lo it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. (KJV Haggai 1:9-10)

After nine Minor Prophets have schooled Israel and Judah on how God really cares more about doing good than killing bulls, Haggai says the real problem is their failure to rebuild the temple so they can get back to sacrificing without delay. We’ll give him a pass because he was preaching during the time that the new Temple was being built so he couldn’t really avoid discussing it.

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. (NRSV Malachi 3:2-4)

But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. (KJV Malachi 3:2-4)

It’s been a hard knock life for the priests in Jerusalem, but no worries: God makes them endure unspeakable suffering so they can be pure when they offer sacrifices at the temple. Gee, thanks. Is there another way to get people to act justly other than making them suffer first? Did he try other ways that didn’t work? (Hint: yes, like rescuing them from Egypt, giving them the Torah, giving them the promised land, killing their enemies.) Do you sometimes have to be harsh to get someone to change? This brings up a cascade of issues beyond the scope of this humble discussion: corporal punishment and domestic violence, for starters.

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