Recurring Themes in the Book of the Twelve: Creating Points of Contact for a Theological Reading

By Nogalski, James D. | Interpretation, April 2007 | Go to article overview
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Recurring Themes in the Book of the Twelve: Creating Points of Contact for a Theological Reading


Nogalski, James D., Interpretation


Four themes in the Book of the Twelve (the Day of YHWH, fertility of the land, the fate of God's people, and theodicy) have surfaced in the discussion of editorial activity, literary development, and theological perspectives. These themes deserve exploration for the role they play as a lens for reading the Book of the Twelve as a composite unity.

Four themes have surfaced in the discussion of the Book of the Twelve as deserving of exploration for the role they play in providing a lens for reading the Book of the Twelve as a composite unity. ' These four themes (the Day of YHWH, fertility of the land, the fate of God's people, and the theodicy problem) show signs of editorial activity, literary development, and/or diverse theological perspectives. These themes intersect with one another in places, but they also each tell portions of a story on their own. As such, they deserve to be heard.

THE DAY OF YHWH

The Day of YHWH functions as a recurring concept in the Book of the Twelve more prominently than in any other prophetic corpus.2 However, two caveats require comment. First, the Day of YHWH in the Book of the Twelve is not a single, final judgment as one finds in later apocalyptic writings. second, the Day of YHWH in the Book of the Twelve does not fall neatly into a single, systematic view of this concept. Writings in the Twelve conceptualize "the day" differently, and in fact, more than one event may be classified as the "day" in the same writing. For example, both Joel and Obadiah envision a Day of YHWH's intervention first as the day of judgment against YHWH's own people, and as a broader day of recompense for the surrounding nations, particularly those who have taken advantage of Judah during its time of punishment.

When dealing with the recurrence of the Day of YHWH in the Book of the Twelve, three issues require evaluation: the target, the time frame, and the means. The Day of YHWH describes a dramatic point of YHWH's intervention in the affairs of this world. The target of this intervention may be YHWH's people or foreign nations. The time frame of the day can refer to some point in the immediate future that is soon to be actualized; or, it can refer to a point in the more distant future. For example, the target of the impending Day of YHWH in Joel 2:1-11 is Judah and Jerusalem and the time frame is imminent, unless the people's repentance can persuade YHWH to change course. The means of judgment on this day is an attacking army led by YHWH himself ( 2:11 ). By contrast, Joel 4 depicts the Day of YHWH in more distant temporal terms (see 3:1; 4:1 [Eng 2:28; 3:1]) as a day of judgment on the (surrounding) nations whom YHWH will judge as a means of restoring Judah and Jerusalem. The change between these two days in Joel 2 and 4 presumes the promise of restoration based upon the positive response to a call to repent (Joel 1; 2:12-17). In other words, if the people repent, YHWH will restore the fertility of their land and remove the foreigners from the land so that Jerusalem will once again serve as the center of YHWH's created world. While one can debate whether to read the people's response as having occurred or whether Joel leaves the response hanging, one thing is certain: the Day of YHWH in Joel 4 has not materialized by the end of Joel.

By contrast, the effects of the Day of YHWH anticipated in the distant future in Joel 4 largely serve as a backdrop for im minent action in Zech 1. Zechariah 1:2-6 confronts the people who have returned from exile with the need for repentance, and it narrates that repentance (1:6). Thereafter, Zechariah's first vision announces that YHWH has become "very jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion" (1:14), phraseology that is quite similar to the pivotal verse in Joel (2:18) that begins YHWH's extended response to the repentance. This vision focuses upon the impending wrath of YHWH toward the nations (1:15) and his compassion toward Jerusalem and Judah (1:17): "My cities shall again overflow with prosperity; the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.

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