Old Testament Life and Literature (1968)
Chapter 17 - Amos and Hosea
NORTHERN prophecy was revived by two prophets whose oracles are included in the biblical collection often referred to as "The Minor Prophets," a reference to the length rather than the importance of their utterances. Amos was a Judaean who believed he was commissioned by Yahweh to address his words to Israel, but Hosea was a native Israelite. With these two men the custom of recording oracles appears to have begun, for if the words of their prophetic predecessors were preserved in written form they have long since been lost to us. Within a few years prophets sharing similar concerns with Amos and Hosea were active in Judah and their words too, were preserved.
Read II Kings 15 and Amos 1-9
Precisely when Amos prophesied is not specified. The editorial superscription places him in the time of Uzziah of Judah (783-742) and Jeroboam II of Israel (786-742), an age of affluence and security. According to 7:10 he was in Bethel during Jeroboam's reign. Some effort has been made to discover the date implied in the enigmatic reference to "two years before the earthquake" and what appear to be references to an earthquake within the text (4:11; 6:11; 8:8; 9:1-5). Dr. Julian Morgenstern's studies have led him to date this catastrophe on New Year's Day, 749 B.C., so that Amos' visit to Bethel took place exactly two years earlier, on New Year's Day in 751 B.C.3 On that occasion, Dr. Morgenstern believes, Amos made a single prophetic speech. Other scholars argue for a series of oracular utterances over a wider period of time, and some suggest that Amos may have spoken at several shrines-Samaria (3:9-12; 4:1 ff.), Gilgal (4:4; 5:4), and Carmel (1:2; 9:3).4 Some prefer a more general date of around 750 B.C. Other references within the book have been explored as clues for dating. An eclipse of the sun seems to be mentioned in 5:8 and 8:9, and such an eclipse is known to have taken place in June, 763. Amos records the names of two Aramaean kings, Hazael and Ben Hadad, but only approximate dates are available for these monarchs. Hazael's reign is roughly between 842 and 806, and Ben Hadad's between 860 and 740 B.C. Either Morgenstern's precise date of New Year's Day 751, or the general date of 750 B.C. may be accepted.5
There can be no doubt that Amos believed himself commissioned by Yahweh to proclaim a message (7:14), but his apparent disassociation with the title "prophet" and with the prophetic movement-"I am no nabi', nor a son of a nabi'"-has been a problem to scholars. It has been suggested that Amos was at Bethel for some time working with the temple staff. Amaziah's advice that he go to Judah and earn his keep implies that he was doing just that at Bethel. Amos' refusal to be identified with any specific prophetic group, no matter where located, was, perhaps, a rejection of the implication that he prophesied for remuneration.6 Other solutions propose a re-translation of the verse to read "I was no prophet, nor a prophet's son . . . and Yahweh said to me . . ." suggesting that Amos' prophetic activity began in response to a divine call,7 or "Am I not a prophet? a son of a prophet? . . . and Yahweh said to me . . ."8 implying that Amos was defending his prophetic status. That Amos did not oppose prophecy as such is clear from 3:8 and 7:15.
Read Amos 7-9
There is a progression within the visionary series leading to a powerful prediction of doom. The opening vision, the horde of locusts (7:1-3), occurs in the spring at a critical moment so far as the crops were concerned. It is not clear whether Amos actually saw a swarm of insects and, in concentrating upon them, interpreted their significance symbolically, or whether his vision was of an hallucinatory type in which the locusts were products of his imagination. He was convinced that the locusts came as divine punishment, and the prophet called upon Yahweh to remit the penalty, and the calamity was averted. Amos' role as lone intercessor for the people is similar to that of Abraham in the J account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:22 ff.).
The second vision of destructive fire (7:4-6) may reflect the drought or aridity of summer during which the earth was seared, or may refer to supernatural fire such as lightning, or may indicate a scorched earth policy practiced by an enemy. Again, Amos intervened and the penalty did not come. In the third vision (7:7-9), a man testing a wall for perpendicularity is seen to be Yahweh testing the nation. This time Amos did not intervene for there was a note of finality in Yahweh's words "never again": the holy places of Israel and the royal palaces are doomed. The fourth vision (8:1-3) occurs in the late summer when the last fruit had been gathered, and the proximity of divine judgment is suggested. In the final vision (9:1-4), Yahweh is standing upon the altar at Bethel ready to strike.
If, as some have suggested, Amos' visions are associated with the New Year festival which would occur in the fall of the year at the time of the autumnal equinox and just prior to the commencement of the rainy season, the visions and words would have had particular significance. Although it cannot be proven conclusively that a New Year ritual was enacted in Israel and while no detail of the cultic rite is set forth in the Old Testament, there are indications that on the basis of analogy with known Babylonian rites such a festival may have occurred. Part of this festival would have included a prophetic oracle of the future, a prediction of the national destiny for the coming year, a forecast of the Day of Yahweh. Obviously, it was hoped and expected that the prediction would be of blessing. Amos, led by his visions, was compelled to pronounce doom, and gave as a reason for Yahweh's destructive intent religious and social misbehavior within the nation. In the setting of the New Year festival, the pronouncement of dread judgment could only have a disruptive effect; even without this setting, the oracles would be disturbing.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
The book of Amos can be conveniently divided into four sections:
Within this broad outline smaller units may be isolated: the biographical section at 7:10-17 and the doxologies at 4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6.
The extent to which the book reflects the actual words of Amos has been a matter of some scholarly debate. The authenticity of the anti-Philistine oracle (1:6-8) has been challenged because the Philistine city of Gath, destroyed in 711 by Sargon II,9 is not mentioned and the reference to the "remnant of the Philistines" may reflect the Exile period. However, in predicting the doom of Philistia, the reference to the remnant would be most apropos, and if the record in II Chron. 26:6 is correct, Gath had suffered at least partial demolition by Uzziah of Judah. The oracle against Tyre (1:9-10) has been questioned because it is almost an exact replica of that against Philistia and, so far as it is known, the Israelites were at this time on good terms with Tyre. What "covenant of brotherhood" (treaty) Tyre is supposed to have violated is unknown. The oracle against Edom may refer to the Edomitic refusal to give sanctuary to the Judaeans during the Babylonian invasion and would therefore come from the Exile; it could also refer to some situation in Amos' day with which we are unacquainted.
Whether or not Amos would have lashed out against Judah (2:4-5) is debatable. He might wish to warn his countrymen of their danger, so that the oracle could have been added by the prophet at a later time. He may have listed Judah in his denunciations because he believed Judah had merited inclusion. Certain characteristics of style, reflecting the Deuteronomists, have led to the suggestion that this oracle was added at a much later date by those interested in adapting Amos' words to the southern kingdom.10
The account of Amos' clash with Amaziah, priest of Bethel (7:10-17), is a descriptive incident in a biographical prose style which may contain Amos' words but refers to the prophet in the third person, indicating that the account was not composed by him.
The final chapter, the oracle of hope (9:11-15) which stands in sharp contradiction to the harsh message of doom found elsewhere in the book, may be the work of Amos but fits best into the time of, and is stylistically close to, similar oracles found in Deutero-Isaiah. The reference to the fallen "booth of David," which might be interpreted as a Judaean's reaction to the separation of the Israelite kingship from the Davidic line, is better recognized as an Exilic lament over the fall of Judah. The hope for the re-inhabitation of ruined cities (9:14) also reflects the mood and spirit of the Exile.
Read Amos 1-2
The prophet next lashed out at the northern kingdom and Israel is admonished for judicial dishonesty, apostasy and willful violation of religious obligations. Justice was perverted and those in the right ("righteous") in a legal suit were judged guilty by officials so greedy for gain that they would accept almost any sort of bribe. The poor had become the pawns of the wealthy. The apostate people practiced sacred prostitution at cult shrines, drinking wine purchased with monies from unjust fines. All that Yahweh had done to bring the nation to its present affluence had been forgotten. Nazirites, men under a religious vow of abstinence (see Num. 6:2-8), were compelled to drink wine, and prophets were forbidden to speak Yahweh's word. Yahweh's verdict promised doom from which there would be no refuge, and should a man escape, those possessions he held so dear would be lost to him (2:13-16).
A literary pattern or form has been recognized in these oracles:11
Read Amos 3-6
The pattern here is not as neat as a literary analyst might desire, for a secondary pattern appears in 4:4-13 where a series of complaints introduced by "I gave" "I withheld," "I smote," "I slew," etc., concluding with "Yet you did not return to me," and signed with "says Yahweh," serve to expand the statement found in 4:4-5. Another pattern occurs in Chapters 5 and 6 with a collection of oracles introduced by "woe."13 The relationship between these patterns is not clear. They may represent oracles delivered at different times or may simply be stylistic variations employed by the prophet to accent oracles of diverse nature.
A RED BURNISHED JUGLET FROM THE IRON AGE. Some Iron Age artifacts are made with rounded bases which required stands to keep them upright. This practical, flat-bottomed juglet is typical of items used in average households-perhaps to hold milk or water or grape juice or oil. The burnishing, which is a smoothing of the clay before firing with a bone or stick or even with the pottees wet hands, produces a smoother, harder and shinier surface less impervious to liquids and often quite decorative.
Although Amos tends to ignore secondary causes, he is convinced that events do not occur without reason and argues that when a prophet is compelled to speak it is because Yahweh has given an oracle (3:3-8). The threat of punishment for Israel results from Yahweh's close identification with these people (3:2), for they alone, of all peoples of the earth have had close, intimate associations with the deity (note the use of the verb "to know" in much the same sense that J has used it to portray personal bonds of kinship or belonging or perhaps in a covenantal sense).14 In this claim Amos sets forth the concept of election, the free choice of Israel by Yahweh, a theme greatly expanded and developed by subsequent prophets. Because these ties have been violated, Israel must suffer: the pampered women of Samaria, like prize cows from the fertile area of Bashan to the east of Lake Galilee, greedily demand more and more from their avaricious husbands (4:1). They are promised enslavement, with the victorious enemy dragging them with war hooks through breached walls. The religious activities by which the people sought to please Yahweh provoked only scorn from the prophet, for the festal and cultic activities obscured Yahweh's real nature and activity (4:4-5). Famine (v. 6), drought (v. 7-8), crop failure (v. 9), disease (v. 10) and earthquake (possibly v. 11) went unrecognized as warnings from Yahweh. The complaint "yet you did not return to me . . ." may imply that the people continued to devote themselves to Ba'al, attributing these natural disasters to the fertility god. Amos was now prepared to present Yahweh: "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!"
Verse 4:13, together with 5:8 and 9:5-6, has been interpreted as a "liturgical appendage," added, possibly, when the book of Amos was employed in liturgy. The similarity of thought and style to the work of II Isaiah suggests an Exilic provenance. On the other hand, the passages may represent a cultic hymn from Amos' day,15 and although 5:8 and 9:5-6 do cut across the thought patterns of the sections of which they are a part, 4:13 is not out of place as part of the presentation of Yahweh in his true colors.
The introduction of Yahweh continued with an ironical funereal lament for Israel written in "qinah" or limping meter, possibly because a limping walk or dance accompanied the dirge.16 The will of Yahweh had been declared; Israel's fate was assured; the nation was as if dead. Still, a conditional element appears in the next verses, a promise that if Israel would seek Yahweh the nation would live or escape destruction. Worship at Bethel and Gilgal in Israel and at Beersheba in Judah is rejected, for Yahweh was not to be found in these places. Presumably not only the place but the method of seeking Yahweh was wrong, and in expounding this concept Amos castigates the people for social injustice and moral indifference, providing an intimate picture of Israelite business ethics and practice. The accusations are climaxed with a plea to "seek good" which is what Yahweh demands.
The thrust of Amos' condemnation is against the division of life into compartments. He argues for unity. What a man does in the market place, in the law court, in his dealings with others cannot be walled off from worship. Yahweh is a God of all people; therefore the dealings of man with man are directly related to the dealings of God with man. His is a cry for the recognition of man's moral responsibility before God.
THE DAY OF YAHWEH
The "woe" oracles begin in 5:18 and introduce the "Day of Yahweh" concept. The precise meaning of this term is not known. It may have had a futuristic significance pointing to a "day" that was to come. It is quite clear that "that day" was, in the hopes of the public, to be a time of joy and blessing. Amos spoke of doom from which there was no escape. It is also possible that "Yahweh's Day" was New Year's Day, the time of new beginnings, of purgation of past sins and evils, and the day when Yahweh, personified by the cultic symbol, the ark, or by the king, was enthroned. Each New Year's Day was Yahweh's Day when it was expected that the new and hoped for future would begin. The prophetic oracle would announce the nature of that day. The people looked for a favorable oracle, but Amos spoke of judgment.
The condemnation of cultic rites introduced in 4:4 f. and 5:4 f. is picked up again with new vehemence. It has been argued that Amos was not opposed to cultic ritual per se but condemned the mind set of the people by which responsibility to Yahweh was performed perfunctorily and without relationship to daily life and society. If we take Amos' words as they stand, there seems to be little doubt that he condemned the entire religious pattern-feasts, sacrifices, ritual music, offerings, tithes-everything. Yahweh refused to accept gifts or listen to prayers or to judge the nation by these. Yahweh heeded only the cries of the oppressed and mistreated which stood between the religiosity of the people and their God. If Amos was not actually opposed to the cult, then it is clear that he set ethical and moral behavior before observance of cultic rites, what man did in his relationships to his fellow man above that which the men of Israel performed in religious duties. It is possible that he was implying that the latter were not efficacious without the former. His closing cry is, perhaps, a summation of his message:
The prose verse that follows (5:25), perhaps expanded by later editors with the addition of verses 26-27, may provide further insight into Amos' attitude toward ritual: "Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?" Amos appears as a conservative, in the best sense of this term, resenting elements of Canaanite worship that had become part of Yahwism, and the reference to the nomadic ideal dramatizes this conflict. In nomadic tribal society, responsibility for human welfare within the group rested with each member. It was the duty of each to care for others because the group was a totality, bound by hesed-the unwritten bond of loyalty uniting those who belong together.17 Yahweh was bound to the group by this intimate tie in such a way that injustice and social disorder within the group demanded that divine power be exercised to correct the wrong. City life and Ba'alism had brought new concepts. Canaanite life was business-centered: the religion was one of fertility, growth, productivity and increase, and ethics were, apparently, adapted to these concepts. Yahwism had absorbed the patterns of Ba'alism. When the nation prospered and the rich became richer, all was well. Good crops, large flocks and herds and good business were symbols of divine approval and blessing. What happened to the individual within this pattern was secondary. There was a general pervasive feeling of well-being, security and contentment within the nation. Against this mood of smug complacency Amos launched his next "woe" (6:1-7), climaxing his attack with the promise of destruction with Yahweh as enemy rather than protector (6:11-14). The attack is expanded in 8:4-14 and 9:2-4.
AMOS' RELIGIOUS CONCEPTS
Amos' beliefs concerning Yahweh and divine-human relationships were similar to those held by the J compilers. Yahweh the creator, the "God of hosts" (Amos never speaks of Yahweh as "God of Israel"), possessed power over nature and nations. Despite the universalistic emphasis, Yahweh's particular concern was Israel, the chosen or elected people. Like J and E, Amos emphasized Yahweh's action in history in bringing the Hebrews to nationhood and greatness, and pointed out that the continuance of power and security rested in Yahweh.
But the election idea had become to the people a guarantee of divine security,18 and under this protective cloak moral and ethical abuses developed without restraint. Their God was too small. They limited his interests and powers to subservience to their own personal concerns. Amos sought to expand their concepts. Yahweh was the God who had been involved in the salvation history of the people. The welfare of all was his concern. He could not be limited by popular religious sentiment. Yahweh, who, according to J, had in time past visited judgment upon sinful mankind (Eden, the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah), now, according to Amos, had judged those whom he had chosen and was about to execute judgment by destruction. The close and deep relationship between Yahweh and Israel (implied by the verb "to know") had been destroyed. The possibility of the survival of a remnant, an idea previously introduced by J (cf. Noah), is only touched upon by Amos (5:15).19
The "Day of Yahweh," popularly accepted as a day of darkness for Israel's enemies (already implied in Amos' oracles against foreign nations), was to include the destruction of Israel. The reason for destruction was not lack of ritual observance-there was plenty of that-but the abundance of social evil. Election, according to Amos, implied social responsibilities: justice, mercy, decency; and the smoke of sacrifice could not obscure the evil deed, nor the chanting of hymns obliterate the cry of the wronged. Amos' religious concepts embraced ethics and morals.
Whether or not Amos was a monotheist is a debatable question. It is quite possible that Amos' statement recorded at 9:7 may have come as a distinct shock to his listeners:
Israel and Judah accepted Yahweh as their deity. When the kingdom separated, Jeroboam I had demonstrated, in the erection of two shrines to Yahweh, that Yahweh was equally the god of Israel and Judah. The quarrel was not Yahweh on one side against the other, but Yahweh with a separation within the family of those who worshipped him. Heretofore, there has been no indication that the Hebrew people conceived of Yahweh as planning the welfare and destinies of other peoples. In fact there is substantial evidence, both prior and subsequent to Amos, that other gods were believed to be responsible for the welfare of the peoples where they were worshipped. Amos moved Hebrew theological speculation from local to international levels. His claim in 9:7, echoed in 6:14 and in the pronouncements of Chapters 1 and 2, that Yahweh was active in the affairs of other peoples has been interpreted as monotheism. Monotheism may be defined loosely as belief in a supreme god, but to be precise, the definition needs to include the rejection or denial of the reality or existence of other gods. Such a denial does not occur in Hebrew literature until the Exile, so that Amos' concept of God is best labeled "monolatry, the worship of one god without a denial of the existence of other gods. The other gods may not be worshipped or believed to be part of the divine hierarchy as in henotheism,20 but their reality is not contested. To some, such precise definitions are scholarly hair-splitting, but without them the varieties of religious expression within Israel cannot be discerned.
Amos' utterances resulted from deep personal religious experiences which were not, apparently, shared by everyone. His oracles, prefaced or terminated by "Yahweh says," are to be compared to those of a herald or messenger who speaks what he has been given to say, words, which, as we have noted, burn within demanding utterance. For Amos and for his listeners, the words were the words of God.21
What happened to Amos after his Bethel visit and who preserved his oracles are questions without answers. Amos may have had disciples who recorded and pondered his words.22 He may have written them down himself.23 It cannot be assumed that two years later when the earthquake came someone remembered Amos' words; human memory is not that good. The preservation of his words must have occurred at the time of, or soon after, their utterance. If these words were part of the cultic New Year, they may have been officially recorded. Certainly the Assyrian conquest must have given them the authority necessary for their ultimate preservation. Amos drops out of known history after the Bethel appearance. The puzzling tale in I Kings 13:1-11 (cf. II Kings 23:16-18) may be, as Wellhausen suggested, a reference to Amos that was displaced from the reign of Jeroboam II to the reign of Jeroboam I. If this is so, Amos was killed by a lion on his return from Judah. The story, edited in its present form by Deuteronomists, may represent an ancient tale, but whether it is to be associated with Amos is questionable.
Read II Kings 15; Hosea 1-14
External events are also reflected. Assyria, always a menacing power, was directly affecting Israelite politics (7:11; 8:9; 9:3, 6; 10:6; 12:1). The precise length of Hosea's ministry must remain uncertain, but from the evidence, it would appear that he was most active between 746 and 735, although a date extending beyond the collapse of Israel cannot be ruled out.
The general prosperity noted in Amos' time continued and with the same inequities, but it was not only social injustice that troubled Hosea; the psychic illness of the nation, the infidelity and apostasy, the hollowness of the relationships between Yahweh and his people stirred him far more. if the central stress of Amos' writings can be said to be a concern for justice and ethics (Amos 5:24), the major emphasis of Hosea's work is on the steadfast, reliable, continuing loyalty and love ( hesed) of Yahweh for his wayward, unfaithful people (Hos. 6:6)-an emphasis that appears to have deep roots in the prophet's bitter marital experiences. Hosea's image of Israel as an unfaithful wife who forsakes Yahweh for Ba'al is adopted by subsequent prophets.
The book of Hosea can be divided into two segments: a short introductory section (chs. 1-3) concerned with the prophet's marriage to Gomer, and their three children-Jezreel, Not-pitied and Not-my-people-and a larger collection of oracles (chs. 4-14) dealing with Israel.24 There is no clear-cut grouping of materials within the second part and in some places there is a confusion of ideas. Some statements are little more than mutilated fragments requiring textual emendations for intelligible translation.25 For these reasons the book of Hosea has often been labeled "disorderly," and there have been those who have suggested that perhaps there is a reflection of a disturbed, disorderly personality in the work. It is more probable that because Hosea's work was preserved in Judah after the fall of Israel-possibly having been taken there by disciples fleeing Assyrian armies-the lack of order and the poor text might reflect the confused historical situation, rather than the man. Some additions have been made to the original text, the most obvious of which are aimed at Judah, seeking to exempt that kingdom from the prophetic indictment (cf. 1:7; 4:15; 6:11; 11:12). Other additions include 1:10-2:1 which may have been added during the Exile when hopes of restoration were strong,26 and 14:9 which is in the style of wisdom literature (cf. Proverbs). Passages that have been challenged but which must remain sub judice include 2:18, 21-23, and 14:5-7.
Despite the disturbed condition of the text, much of Hosea's descriptive skill can be discerned. At times he employs a direct style as when he scoffs at those seeking oracles from wooden idols, "their staff gives them oracles" (4:12); or in his rejection of the golden calf symbol, "a workman made it, it is not God" (8:5); or as he mocks the stupidity of a ritual act, "Men kiss calves!" (13:2). On other occasions he uses metaphors: "Ephraim is a cake not turned" (that is, half-baked! 7:8), and like "a wild ass wandering alone" or "like a dove, silly and without sense" (7:11). With striking imagery he portrays the manner of Israel's folly, "For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" (8:7). The power of the prophet's message rests in no small part in his magnificent figures of speech.
Chapters 1-3. Practically all that we know of Hosea's personal life comes from these chapters, but numerous problems have been raised concerning proper interpretation. The opening oracles, in biographical prose, state that in response to Yahweh's command to marry a "wife of harlotry" Hosea married Gomer, daughter of Diblaim (unknown). Three children were born and to each the prophet gave a symbolic name: Jezreel, a son, called after the place where Jehu's dynasty came to power (II Kings 10:11), served as a warning that Yahweh was going to punish Jehu's line; Lo'-ruhamah or "Not-pitied," a daughter, signified that Yahweh had no more pity for his people; and Lo'-ammi or "Not-my-people," a son, symbolized the broken relationships between Yahweh and Israel.
By modern western ethical standards and in view of the condemnation of harlotry throughout Hosea's writings, the divine command to marry a "wife of harlotry" has seemed incredible to many writers. Some have treated the account as allegory-without foundation in fact, but designed to teach-but this thesis has had no supporters in recent years.27 There is no hint of allegorical interpretation in the account; the name "Gomer" has no real symbolic significances and allegorical interpretation tends to destroy the power of the symbol. Others have suggested that Yahweh's command is to be understood in a proleptic sense, in which the writer looked back over what had taken place viewing Gomer in the light of what she had become. According to this interpretation, Gomer was not a harlot at the time of marriage.29 A contradictory argument suggests that it was only after the marriage that the prophet realized what Gomer really was.30 In his awareness that he had married a harlot, Hosea understood how Yahweh felt about Israel. Still others believe that Hosea deliberately married a harlot because he believed he had been ordered to do so31 or because a sublimated sex drive drove him to take a woman from a social level he abhorred.32 Gomer has been classified as a worshiper of Ba'al participating as a cult prostitute in sexual rituals,33 and she has been defended as an innocent woman, the victim of "slanderous insinuations" of modern critics, with the references to "adultery" signifying spiritual apostasy.34
Nor have the children been spared. Some think all three were Hosea's and that only later, after the birth of the third, was Gomer's adultery recognized by the prophet;35 others think that the first child, Jezreel, was Hosea's and the two whose names symbolize rejection were children of adultery.36 Hosea begged the children to plead with their mother to change her ways but to no avail, and the prophet divorced her with terms used for disestablishment of marriage, "she is not my wife and I am not her husband."37
In Chapter 3, an autobiographical section, the prophet states, "And Yahweh said to me, 'Go again, love a woman who is beloved of a paramour38 and is an adulteress'", or, in another translation, "And again Yahweh said to me, 'Go love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress'"-the text can support either. Much debate centers in the identification of this woman. Is she Gomer whom Hosea again takes as his wife by paying the marriage price, placing her on probation because of his conviction that Yahweh still loves Israel despite the apostasy of the people?39 Is this story a legendary or allegorical addition?40 Is the story an autobiographical duplicate of the biography given in the first chapter, with differences explained by different time of writing and perhaps a different mind set?41
It has been argued that the symbolism of the marriage demands that Gomer be the woman in both stories and that they must be seen in sequence: as Hosea loved Gomer, so Yahweh loved Israel; as Gomer became a harlot and sought other men, so Israel became apostate in the pursuit of Ba'al; as Hosea divorced Gomer, so Yahweh abandoned Israel; but as Hosea discovered his love for Gomer, so he recognized that Yahweh still loved Israel and would receive the nation back or, in another interpretation, as Hosea recognized Yahweh's continuing love for Israel, he took Gomer back.42
With equally rational arguments it is proposed that Chapters 1 and 3 are parallel accounts: Hosea was ordered by Yahweh to love a woman who had a predisposition to harlotry; according to marriage patterns, he purchased the woman but, knowing of her ways, he placed her on probation, prohibiting at first all sexual relationships; later, having become the mother of his child Jezreel, she was found to be an adulteress, as the names of the two younger children make clear, and was divorced, symbolizing Yahweh's rejection of his people and the punishment that was to come.43 According to this interpretation there is no forgiveness and restoration in Hosea.
Quite obviously one can become lost in diverse opinions and theories. Actually, only the barest outline of Hosea's marriage can be discerned; the details are hypotheses and no single hypothesis completely satisfies. What is significant is the impact upon the prophet of his experience with the harlotrous woman, whether she was Gomer or another, for Hosea's oracles are interspersed with references to the adultery and harlotry of Israel as symbols of apostasy.44 Of equal importance is Hosea's recognition of the tenaciousness of love, and Yahweh's love for his people is described in terms of a compassion and loyalty that will not let go despite the disloyalty of the people. The degree to which Hosea identified his own experience with that of Yahweh is quite clear in Chapter 2 where the opening remarks are apparently addressed to Hosea's children, but as the statement expands, Gomer becomes Israel and Hosea's complaint becomes Yahweh's indictment. Returns from the worship of Ba'al listed as bread, water, wool, flax, oil and drink, were gifts of Yahweh, unrecognized by the wayward woman or nation. Only by punishment could the nation be brought to an awakening, after which the honeymoon days of the desert, when Yahweh and Israel were alone following the flight from Egypt, could be relived. The extent to which Canaanite forms and terminology had been taken into popular Yahwism is clear from 2:16 where the prophet indicates that Yahweh is called "My Ba'al." The oracle of hope in 2:19 looks to a new marriage relationship for the old had been violated and terminated by divorce.
Chapters 4-14. Attempts to organize the materials in these chapters usually result in a listing of topics touched upon by the prophet.45 There is no order and one idea stumbles over the next. Authenticating statements such as "Thus says Yahweh" or "says Yahweh" which neatly open and close Amos' pronouncements are absent here, and one oracle merges into the next. Echoes of literary forms employed by Hosea remain. For example, the opening oracle of Chapter 4 uses a law court pattern and begins with Yahweh's statement of complaint (4:1-2). In 4:2 a heraldic or messenger style is introduced in which the prophet, as God's messenger, repeats the words of condemnation and punishment (see also 5:1 ff.; 5:8 ff.; 8:1 ff.). Unfortunately, the recognition of forms does not help us very much.
What are far more important are the underlying themes that provide the basis for the prophet's indictments: election, the history of apostasy, Yahweh's loyal love and compassion, and the threat of punishment tempered with the possibility of redemption. Election, the miracle of God's choice of Israel, runs like a leitmotif through Hosea's oracles, underlying all other themes and appearing uniquely in varied similes, now as love of a father for a son (11:1), now as care employed in cultivating a vineyard (9:10). The illustrations are strong and warm. Israel is a wayward youth testing Yahweh's love by rebellion, forgetful of the patience and love given by Yahweh during the tender growing years. Israel is like grapes growing in the wilderness (9:10), becoming a lush vineyard under Yahweh's care (10:1). Israel is a favorite heifer spared hard labor by a kind master (10:11). Each image reveals the special place the nation held in Yahweh's love and each picture is darkened by Israel's behavior.
The national history is sketched (possibly on the basis of the E tradition), and despite its foundation in Yahweh's election, the record is stained by greed, indifference and apostasy (12:2-14; 13:5 f.) and the relegating of Yahweh to a subordinate role in Israel's religion (4:17; 5:4; 7:15). Yahweh, ready to punish but moved by the compelling power of election ties, withheld his anger (11:8 ff.). But the time for compassion had passed and punishment was at hand. In a series of startling descriptions, the prophet portrays Yahweh as the enemy, as a lurking lion or leopard or bear (5:14; 13:7 f.), as a moth and dry rot (5:12), as the slayer of children (9:16) and as the destructive east wind (13:15).
A SEAL IMPRESSION FROM THE HANDLE OF A TAX JAR. Taxes were collected in kind and that portion of grain or oil or other produce destined for the royal coffers was stored in large jars bearing the royal insignia: a handle stamped with the winged symbol and the name of the tax district. This seal reads "Belonging to the King" in the top line and "Hebron" in the second. It comes from the eighth or seventh centuries.
As election was the basis for expressions of relationship between Yahweh and Israel, apostasy, or harlotry as Hosea prefers to call it, formed the basis for estrangement and social evils. There can be no question that Hosea believed that as Yahweh's influence became second to that of Ba'al, moral and ethical standards declined. It has often been noted that Hosea's list of social evils (4:1-2) parallels the prohibitions in Yahweh's decalogue. Religion or "knowledge of God" could not guide when priests and prophets (the ordinary channels for transmitting Yahweh's will) were incapable (4:4-6). The perfunctory "turning to Yahweh" was a mockery (5:4; 6:1-4; 7:14; 8:2, 3a, 13). It was to Ba'al and wooden idols that men turned for guidance, and to participation in the sexual rites and sacrifices at the high places for religious expression (4:12-14a). Even kings betrayed their calling, were drunken on feast days (7:5), and were little more than noncharismatic individuals of short tenure (7:7; 8:4; 10:7), who in confusion sought alliances with Egypt or Assyria (5:13; 7:11; 12:1), ignoring Yahweh, the one source of national salvation and deliverance (7:10; 13:4).
The national way of life pictured by Hosea is Canaanite. The waves of emphasis on sexual rituals, idol worship, and meaningless cultic rites, and the frantic search for meaning and security that rise and fall throughout the book, leave the impression of a nation gone mad, whirling aimlessly and precariously on the brink of disaster. The picture is extreme, echoing the prophet's emotions.
Hosea's portrayal of Yahweh is more anthropopathic than anthropomorphic.46 Yahweh's love is like that of a husband for a wife or a parent for a child. His anger grows from outrage and frustration as he struggles with Israel's fate (7:13; 11:8 ff.) calling for return and reconciliation (14:1 ff.). Harsh, destructive punishment is promised, tempered with the hope of future restoration (14:4 ff.). Despite the anthropopathisms, Hosea never demeans Yahweh: Yahweh is God, reacting on a divine plane, "For I am God not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not destroy" (11:9). The term "Holy One," used for the first time in the Bible, marks the separation between the divine and the common, between the sacred and the profane. Yahweh is "other" than man, separated by majesty, purity and power.47 For Hosea, the deity is the saving God of Israel, "I am Yahweh, your God from the land of Egypt, you know no God but me and besides me there is no savior" (13:4). Attempts to maintain national safety and welfare through Ba'al or by human means were doomed, for Yahweh controlled the forces of nature and the life-power of Israel. Yahweh requested not sacrifice but fidelity, not empty forms but a religion of meaning, "For I desire hesed, not sacrifice, knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (6:6). Following the punishment, Yahweh would bring about a new Exodus and once again lead his people into deep, meaningful relationships. The old bond was canceled; a new relationship would have to emerge.
Old Testament Life and Literature is copyright © 1968, 1997 by Gerald A. Larue. All rights reserved.
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Last updated: Saturday, 22-Jan-2011 20:03:15 CST