Study Guide

The Twelve Minor Prophets Wealth and Power

Wealth and Power

A trader, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppress. Ephraim has said, “Ah, I am rich, I have gained wealth for myself; in all of my gain no offense has been found in me that would be sin.” (NRSV Hosea 12:7-8)

He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress. And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin. (KJV Hosea 12:7-8)

In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trailblazing sociologist Max Weber describes how business success came to be seen as a sign that a person has been following God’s will. The Minor Prophets have a different point of view. In this passage, Ephraim’s just asking for it.

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. (NRSV Joel 2:28-29)

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see
visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. (KJV Joel 2:28-29)

Disguised as an ordinary end times prophecy, this passage from Joel actually has a radical egalitarian message. Priests? Pfah. Kings? No big. The real expression of God’s justice on earth is for his spirit to speak through everyone regardless of the gender, age or status.

Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. (NRSV Amos 2:6)

Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes. (KJV Amos 2:6)

In today’s terms, God’s mad because people are getting paid far less than they’re worth while executives are buying BMWs and Blahniks. Some commentators see this passage as referring to judges who take bribes to hand out verdicts against the poor. Others think it refers to poor debtors who are forced to sell themselves into slavery over a small debt. Regardless, it’s all a perversion of justice.

Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. (NRSV Amos 5:11-12)

Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them. For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right. (KJV Amos 5:11-12)

Karma has a way of catching up. God will get the wealthy oppressors where they live—take away all the trappings of wealth like big houses and wine cellars. The problem with the wealthy and powerful in Israel, Amos says, is that they have no sense of social responsibility—there’s no regard for fairness or concern for those who are less fortunate.

It’s a good thing people don’t act like that today.

Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance. (NRSV Micah 2:1-2)

Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! When the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage. (KJV Micah 2:1-2)

In ancient Israel and Judah, a house is more than a home. It’s a family’s birthright—it gives them food to live, things to sell and security for future generations. That’s why taking a person’s land is so bad—it’s like you’re wiping out the whole family. Also worth noting: the bad guys here are piling up wealth but not doing any physical labor. Yahweh isn’t sold on the whole “Greed is good” shtick. Wealth and power are seen as addictive.

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. (NRSV Micah 3:9-12)

Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity. The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, Is not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us. Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest. (KJV Micah 3:9-12)

Everyone’s in on the prophecy and priesthood racket. The interesting twist here is that these guys are oblivious as well as corrupt; they’ve convinced themselves that God’s on their side. And as we see, this is another dramatic setup for the punishment to come. Anytime you see complacency in the Minor Prophets, you know that smelting time is around the corner.

The officials within it are roaring lions; its judges are evening wolves that leave nothing until the morning. Its prophets are reckless, faithless persons; its priests have profaned what is sacred, they have done violence to the law. (NRSV Zephaniah 3:3-4)

Her princes within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones till the morrow. Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law. (KJV Zephaniah 3:3-4)

In the immortal words of Lord Acton that you’ve probably included in half a dozen history term papers, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” These themes echo throughout the Christian scriptures also: the first shall be last, the rich having difficulty sneaking into Heaven, the meek inheriting the earth.

For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD—the remnant of Israel; they shall do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths. Then they will pasture and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid. (NRSV Zephaniah 3:12-13)

I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid. (KJV Zephaniah 3:12-13)

The Minor Prophets love honesty—there aren’t that many people who say what they mean and do what they say, but the few folks who do will get what they deserve. After they’ve been roughed up a bit, of course, ‘cuz that’s how God rolls. The “none shall make them afraid” is a pretty powerful statement, since these are people who’ve been living in terror for centuries about being slaughtered by one or another of the major world powers.

Thus says the LORD of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. (NRSV Zechariah 7:9-10)

Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. (KJV Zechariah 7:9-10)

Building the temple and rebooting the government are fine, says Zechariah, but the community will be strong if everyone looks out for each other. Up till this time, the people in power have misused that power for their own gain. As he implies in one of his more graphic visions, the person who only looks out for #1 is full of #2.

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)

Thus saith the LORD my God; Feed the flock of the slaughter; Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the LORD; for I am rich: and their own shepherds pity them not. (KJV Zechariah 11:4-5)

Centuries after Amos the leaders of God’s people are still exploiting their position, so it’s only appropriate for a prophet of Occupy Judah to do what protesters do best: put on a show! Zechariah acts out this Tale of Two Shepherds to make a point about corruption.

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