The Theological Message of the Twelve

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In his book The Unity of the TwelvePaul House argues that sin, judgment, and restoration are three themes extant in each prophet. He argues these themes also organize the Twelve (i.e., the Minor Prophets), where the first six books stress sin, the next three judgment, and the last three judgment. For him, this is the plot line that puts the Twelve together.

Complementing that vision, while not completely affirming, Richard Alan Fuhr and Gary E. Yates, in The Message of the Twelvepresent four themes that repeat through the Twelve: (1) repentance and return, (2) the Day of the Lord, (3) a new covenant, and (4) the coming messiah can be found in the Twelve. I will outline these below.

Repentance and Return

First, as the Minor Prophets address the sinfulness of Israel, they stress the need for Israel’s (and all nations) repentance and “return.” From Hosea 6:1 (“Come, let us return to the Lord) to Malachi 3:7 (“Return to me, and I will return to you”), we discover that the word “return” (shuv) is used over eighty times in the Twelve (48). From the high volume of this word and its correlates, we discover a key theme, if not the key theme (see Jason LeCureux, The Thematic of the Book of Twelve), in the Twelve.

This theme or repentance and return displays some interesting features. As Fuhr and Yates highlight (48–49), there are only four positive responses to the call for repentance (Joel 2:12–17; Jonah 3:1–10; Haggai 1:12–14 and Zechariah 1:3–6; Malachi 3:16). Thus, the overwhelming “feel” of the Twelve is the disobedience and un-repentance of Israel inviting God’s judgment. This is made visible in a helpful chart provided in The Message of the Twelve (49).

The Pattern of Repentance and Relapse

In the Book of the Twelve[1]

Israel Nineveh Postexilic Community [in Jerusalem]

Narrative of Repentance:

 

Israel repents and God spares from judgment (Joel 2:12–17)

Narrative of Repentance:

 

The people and king of Nineveh repent and God spares from judgment. (Jonah 3)

 

Narrative of Repentance:

 

Postexilic Israel obeys calls to rebuild temple and ‘returns to the LORD’ (Haggai 1; Zechariah 1)

 

 

Relapse and Warning:

 

. . . for Israel (Amos) and Judah (Micah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah)

 

Relapse and Warning:

 

. . . for Nineveh (Nahum)

 

Relapse and Warning:

 

. . . for postexilic Jerusalem (Malachi)

 

Narrative of partial repentance . . . with a warning of final judgment on wicked (Mal. 3:16–18)

[1] Richard Alan Fuhr and Gary E. Yates, The Message of the Twelve, 49. Chart reformatted.

At the same time, the latter books of the Twelve promise a spirit of repentance (see Zechariah 12:10) that will come on the other side of judgment. This can be seen in the chart, in the bottom right square. Thus, mirroring Paul House’s plot line, we find in the Twelve a story of repentance sought, repentance rejected, and repentance granted.

The Day of the Lord

Second, and closely associated with repentance, is the Day of the Lord. In the Twelve, the Lord’s climactic judgment and salvation is mentioned in multiple places and in multiple ways. In list form “Day of the Lord” occurs in:

  • Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14;
  • Amos 5:18, 20;
  • Obadiah 15;
  • Zephaniah 1:7, 14.

The “Day” also occurs in:

  • Hosea 1:5: 2:16, 18; 5:9;
  • Amos 2:16; 3:14;
  • Obadiah 1:12–14;
  • Micah 7:12;
  • Zephaniah 1:9–10;
  • Zechariah 9:16; 14:13, 20–21.

Fuhr and Yates dissuade readers from understanding the monochrome vision of the Day of the Lord as only God’s final and futuristic judgment (51). Rightly, they suggest the Day of the Lord repeats in history. It repeated in Israel, on the cross, and it awaits all creation on the last day.

In the Twelve, we are introduced to this key idea as related to the action of God as a Divine Warrior (52). Therefore, the Twelve gives us more than signs and predictions of judgment; it introduces us to the God who destroys evil (see Nahum and Habakkuk), while saving those who take refuge in him (Nahum 1:7; Habakkuk 2:4). This is something proven in Israel’s history, until God turned his attention to the wickedness of God’s covenant people. Ultimately, the resolution to Israel’s sin is found in Jesus Christ, the savior of Jews and Gentile alike.

A New Covenant

In addition to the Day of the Lord, and perhaps antecedent to it, the Minor Prophets also carry forth a message of a “broken and restored covenant” (52–56). Like Jeremiah (31:31–34), Isaiah (ch. 53–55), and Ezekiel (36:25–27) speak of a new covenant, so too the Minor Prophets promise a new covenant through a variety of glorious images.

For instance, Hosea and Malachi begin and end the Twelve with a mention of God’s covenant love (Hosea 3:1; 9:15; 11:1; 14:3–4; Malachi 1:2–3). Whereas, the beginning of the Twelve shows how Israel’s broke covenant with God, spurning his love; the end of the Twelve shows how God’s faithfulness will secure the love of his people (53). Likewise, the promise of the Holy Spirit, a gift of the new covenant, is described in Joel 2:28–32. Moreover, multiple books speak of Israel’s restoration (Nahum 2:2) and a return to the land (Haggai 2:20–23; Zechariah 9:14–16).

Still, these promises are more than just a national return. The cosmic scope of the restoration is seen in the way Haggai speaks of Yahweh shaking heaven earth. Then, even after Israel has re-entered the land, the people are still called to return to God (Zechariah 1:3 and Malachi 3:7). In these ways, the Twelve mirrors the message of the other Prophets, that God will return his people to the land, but more than just giving them physical deliverance, the latter glory will be far more than can be seen now (Haggai 2:9; cf. 2:3; Zechariah 4:10). In this way, the Twelve follows a trajectory that keeps the eyes on the Lord and to the One whom the Lord is sending.

The Coming Messiah

The last theme proffered in The Message of the Twelve is the promised Messiah. While the Twelve finishes with the historical restoration of the temple (in Haggai and Zechariah), there remains a day when the messenger of the covenant will come (Mal. 3:1). This is what the whole Old Testament anticipated, the arrival of God’s promised Messiah. And in the Twelve this is a recurring theme.

Cast as a New David, Hosea 3:5; Amos 9:11–15; Micah 5:2–6; Haggai 2:20–23; and Zechariah 3:8–10; 6:10–15; 9:9–10; 12:8–14 all promise a king who will usher in the new covenant (56–58). In this way, the Twelve is more than collection of historical prophets calling Israel to repent. And they are not just futuristic messengers, foretelling the end times. Rather, they are messengers of God who foretell the coming Son of David who bring salvation.

Their message is both contemporary to those who heard them before Christ and it continues to have relevance today, as their inspired words identify the Christ in whom we trust (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10–12). For this reason, there is great reason for Christians to study the Twelve today as we understand their unified and Christ-centered message.

Even more, there is reason to study the Twelve together, because together they weave a gospel tapestry that calls us to see Christ and his new covenant. They plead for hearers to the Lord before the final Day of the Lord. In this way, the Twelve have an eternal message and one that we should continue to study.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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