The Book of the Twelve consists of the rudely called “Minor Prophets.” I say rude because these small works contain some of the most challenging and profound things in the Bible. The canonical arrangement of our English Bible has the “Old Testament” ending with these books (Malachi) but the Hebrew Bible arrangement ends with Chronicles. Thus the Book opens with the heartbreaking love story of Hosea/Gomer and ends with the promise that God is turning the hearts of the people and protection of the land from the curse. Each of the Twelve (except Nahum) speaks powerfully of the faithlessness of God’s people. Who can forget Gomer? Amos’ denunciations? Jonah’s folly? Habakkuk’s lament?

But have you noticed that the Book seems to have a progression of thought? Nearly hopelessness as the Book opens in Hosea and Amos to dreams and visions of hope in Haggai through Malachi? Further have you noticed that at the conclusion of ALL the Twelve – regardless of how harsh the previous material of the book has been – end with the message of Exodus 34.6-7? That is the message of Hesed (steadfast love), mercy and grace. The only exception to this is Jonah where Ex 34.6-7 appears explicitly but not as Good News but scandal. I want to actually show you this stunning and overlooked fact. This will take more than 148 characters but I hope it will be worth your time to see this grace structure in the Hebrew Bible.

Hosea opens the Book of the Twelve. There is no shortage of images of Yahweh’s hesed, mercy and grace in the face of the outrageous unfaithfulness of God’s people. Indeed the SUFFERING of God on account of the people comes to the forefront so powerfully that H. Wheeler Robinson years ago could speak of Hosea’s Cross! The pain caused Yahweh by our unfaithfulness is as stunning and gripping as anything in the “New Testament.” Judgment is promised here in Hosea but at great cost to GOD (see Hosea 11.1-11). But the last words for Hosea are not judgment but grace …

I will heal their [the disobedient people of God] disloyalty;
I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily,
he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon …
They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall
flourish like a garden; they shall blossom like a vine,
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon
(14.4-7)

Joel is next in the Twelve. Who can forget the image of the locusts consuming everything like a wild fire as the army of God’s judgment? Like Hosea, however, it has wonderful images of divine hesed, mercy and grace especially in chapter 2 where Yahweh actually promises to pay his people back for having to punish them as they justly deserved (cf. 2.25)! And as frightening as the “day of the Lord” may be the last word from the prophet is not judgment but the spirit of Exodus 34.6-7 (which is quoted explicitly in 2.13). Joel’s last words are …

In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
the hills shall flow with milk, and the stream beds of Judah
shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house
of the LORD and water the Wadi Shittim … for the LORD
dwells there

(Joel 3.18-21)

Amos was bitter for religion that reduced faith to form while neglecting how we live. Amos the champion of the poor and powerless (biblical faith is all about faithfulness and justice). Amos who so impolitely calls the the rich, “cows of Bashan” for their excessive lifestyle at the expense of the poor. He receives a series of visions (ch. 7) that the die is cast and judgment will fall. But as sure as judgment will come and God’s people will pass thru the valley of the shadow of death, God will not abandon his people. His grace is greater than their sin! Think of it as a resurrection!! Thus the last word from Amos to the condemned people of God is not judgment but the spirit of Ex 34.6-7 … hesed, mercy and grace are given. In fact the shift is so radical in Amos that many older liberal scholars did not believe these words were actually part of Amos but attached later. The last words are beautiful words of grace …

On that day I will raise up the booth [house] of David that is fallen,
and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the
days of old … The time is coming, says the LORD, when the one who
plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of of grapes
the one who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my
people Israel …”

(Amos 9.11-15)

Even little bitty Obadiah, that book that that scarcely takes a page in our Bible and most have to go to the table of contents to even find, follows this “grace pattern.” What a powerful voice against international violence in Obadiah. Edom participates in, and enables, the destruction of Jerusalem. But though Obadiah preaches to the same folks that Hosea and Amos does, he promises the people of God that mercy, grace, hesed and the Lord’s blessed Presence shall be theirs. Obadiah ends with these wonderful words of coming back out of Exile (v. 17).

Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau, and those of the
Shephelah the land of the Philistines; they shall possess the land
of Ephraim … Those who have been saved shall go up to Mount Zion
to rule Mount Esau and the kingdom shall be the LORD’s

(1.19-21)

Micah extends Amos’ treatment of the northern kingdom to Jerusalem. God’s people find it easier to sing songs of praise than to live mercifully and justly with those created in the divine image. Like Jonah, God’s people often think that faithfulness is determined simply by orthodoxy. So Micah scolds the people for lack of covenantal faithfulness. But Micah’s last words are so unbelievably gracious. They are the words of life. Truly Exodus 34.6-7 (which is echoed in following words) is how biblical preaching should follow the divine pattern …

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing
over transgression {that is our Ex 34 zinger!} of the
remnant of your possession. He does not retain his anger
forever {another Ex 34 zinger} because he DELIGHTS
in showing mercy {and another zinger!}. He will again
have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities
under foot, You will cast our sins into the depths of the sea

(Micah 7.18-20)

Poor Nahum, next in the Twelve, is nearly as neglected as Obadiah. If there ever was a case of not having “ears to hear” among modern Restorationist Christians then Nahum is it. Near the midpoint of the Book of the Twelve, Nahum is in its entirety the Good News of hesed, mercy and grace TO the people of God.

The message of Nahum is two fold: 1) God is Slow to Anger 2) but Evil will not win out over God’s creation and his people. The book opens with a quotation from … Exodus 34.6-7!! (1.2-3). Yahweh is not flying off the handle here in Nahum even against the most heinous of evil. Because Ex 34 is true God will DELIVER his people from the Evil or Evil One. Yahweh is “good, a stronghold in a day of trouble; he protects those who take refuge in him” (1.7). We have the beautiful image of shalom proclaimed in 1.15. Because Assyria will be brought low God’s people shall be able to worship because “peace” has been proclaimed (you may want to compare the words of 1.15 with Romans 10.15, just saying). Nahum as a whole is Good News to the oppressed. Nahum reminds us, powerfully so, of the words stated in Zechariah 4.6, “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” that deliverance comes. Israel never lifts a hand against Assyria and this is no personal vendetta … it is the Exodus happening all over again but instead of Pharaoh as the enemy it is the “Shatterer” of Assyria.

Habakkuk follows Nahum, and a more profound work is hard to find in the Bible. The same text, 2.4, is quoted three times in the “New Testament.” In the tradition of Hosea, Amos and Micah this prophet laments the injustice of the people of God. In fact the book is unique in that it takes the form of a dialogue between Yahweh and his prophet. Habakkuk laments in prayer TO God about the decay of equity among our ancestors. He wants to know what God is going to do about it. The answer is the Babylonians!! This does not sit well with Habakkuk and in the tradition of Job he challenges God. Now Habakkuk finally receives a vision that God will destroy evil (as just happened in Nahum btw). But Judah will have to pass thru that valley of the shadow of death. God has not and will not cast off his people. BUT we must have faith and trust even when we do not quite understand his ways. So Habakkuk ends with our response to Exodus 34.6-7 with one of the most amazing statements of faith recorded anywhere in Scripture …

I hear, and I tremble within; my lips quiver at the sound.
Rottenness enters into my bones and my steps tremble beneath me. I wait
Quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us.
Though the fig tree does no blossom, and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the
stalls, YET I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my
Salvation. God the LORD is my strength …
(Hab 3.16-19)

Zephaniah, the great great great grandson of Hezekiah. Like Amos and Micah he knows the decadent selfishness that continues to plague God’s people. Living alongside Habakkuk, Jeremiah and the great Huldah, he knows doom judgment is coming. But like Joel he tell the people that hope remains! “Seek the LORD … Seek righteousness, seek humility” (2.3, cf. Joel 2.12-14). It is in seeking Yahweh that we find shalom. But Zephaniah’s last words are not judgment but Exodus that 34.6-7 applied not only to the people of God but to the nations! So Zephaniah promises the nations will come worship Yahweh and serve him alongside Israel “with one accord” (3.9-10). Indeed nearly half of chapter 3 (the last chapter) is taken up with not a word of judgment but of God’s incredible hesed, mercy and grace that is breathtaking …

“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies [echoes of both Hosea 11 and Nahum].
The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear no disaster …

The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival
…”
(Zephaniah 3.14-20)

Haggai ministers after the return from Exile. But once again the people of God are less than faithful. But just as Zephaniah ends on that note of grace of God being in the midst of the people we have a now impoverished people building a rather plain Jane kind of temple. But no matter for “I am with you” ” My Spirit abides among you” (Hag 1.13; 2.4; 2.5). The little book ends with “from this day on I will bless you” (2.19) and the promises of grace to Zerubbabel.

Zechariah is next among the Twelve. He too knows, like Hosea, that God’s people are perpetually unfaithful. If we are going to be God’s “bride” then it will not be because we deserve that honor any more than the pagans do (maybe Jonah reminds us of this). It is not because we are worshiping by the book that our worship is acceptable to the Holy One of Israel. The High Priest that would minister in that puny temple built under Haggai’s direction are as “dirty” as the people they represent. Nothing makes this clearer than Zechariah’s vision of Satan charging Joshua before Yahweh himself (see chapter 3). But Yahweh, the God of Ex 34.6-7, refuses to reject Joshua (and thus the people) even though guilty as charged!

So we see the wonderful words “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” (echoes of Hosea!!) Zech 10.6. Zechariah warns the people that idolatry will be judged. But his final words are like Zephaniah’s, the promise of the nations coming to Jerusalem to worship and grace to the people of God. Echoing the Exodus narrative we hear the promises hesed, mercy and grace …

“Then all who survive of the nations that have come up against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths.

(Zechariah 14.16-21)

Malachi brings the Book of the Twelve to a close. The faithlessness of the people of God is never lost from sight in this book. Yahweh’s faithfulness, however, is proclaimed on every page. Malachi knows that the people and the priests are far from perfection – precision obedience is something they never once even come close to. In Malachi we learn that the people have even “spoken harsh words against me” (3.13). God’s people are not God’s people because they do the right things, say the right things, obey precisely or even believe the right things. God’s people are God’s people because of his hesed, his mercy and his grace. Yahweh declares baldly “I have loved you” (1.2) but the people say “how?” Not only is the book of Malachi an answer to that question but so is the previous eleven books! God reminds the people “I the LORD do not change, THEREFORE you, O Children of Jacob have not perished” (3.6). They have not only lived but been blessed because of the truth of Ex 34.6-7.  So the Book of the Twelve closes with the full knowledge that God’s people are pretty much in the same place – even thought traveling thru exile and return – as we found them in centuries before with Hosea. We are Gomer!! If God’s people are going to love him as he loves us then divine intervention must happen. This is in fact the messianic consciousness of the Hebrew Bible! And that is what Malachi promises. God, the speaker of Exodus 34.6-7, will act and turn the “hearts” of his people, just as promised in Hosea, back to him …

He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, SO that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

Something powerful emerges from this over view of the Book of the Twelve regarding preaching and the identity of the people of God. Preaching, to be biblical preaching, must in the final analysis be true to the nature and character of God. When we enter into the pulpit or other means of proclaiming God’s word we do it as ONE of the people (i.e. Hosea, Amos, Habakkuk and Joshua). We share their failures precisely because theirs are ours. We preach grace out of an awareness of our own utter dependency upon grace. Preaching, even to the worst of congregation in the world, is not truly preaching “the truth” if it ends with the condemnation of God’s people. We must call sin sin, as long as we remember that we share in that sin. But all the preachers in Book of the Twelve end in hope, not doom. They end with the promise of astonishing resurrecting Grace. They are fully aware that we deserve condemnation but they understand Exodus 34 and that our relationship with God is based in HIS GRACE and not our obedience no matter how good or bad. When we preach we need to remember that the folks we address are God’s people and if we do not love them as Hosea did we may not be fit to preach anything much less a word of judgment.

The Book of the Twelve, which spans centuries in time, reminds us both by its content and its structure that God is slooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow to anger and he is infinite in hesed, mercy and grace. When we preach our final word must be the same as the Hebrew Bible … Grace! Even if we are so bad that we are good as dead, God will find a way to raise us from the dead! His grace, his mercy, his HESED will never give up. Indeed it occurred to me around 2 am that the “thought flow” of the Book of the Twelve is basically like reading Psalm 105, 106 and 107 together at the same time: God’s faithfulness; Israel’s sin; God’s Hesed! Go read. That is the message of the Book of the Twelve. I hope you have noticed deeply embedded God’s grace is as the final word of the “Old Testament.” No wonder Jesus loved and preached the Hebrew Bible.