AMOS AND HOSEA
Historical Background: Amos and Hosea worked in the Northern Palestine during the 8th Century B.C. The country where they lived in was called the Kingdom of Israel (Israel); the South was called the Kingdom of Judah (Judah). They were divided Jewish kingdoms. Jerusalem is situated on the border. King David lived in Judah during the 11 Century B.C., and King Saul in Israel. David united the two kingdoms of Abraham’s offspring, and designated Jerusalem as the capital. His son by Bathsheba, Solomon, succeeded the throne and finished building the temple in Jerusalem where the Covenant Box, that contained the two stone tablets Moses was said to have been given on which Ten Commandments were chiseled , was enshrined. Solomon expanded the kingdom beyond Palestine, and made it into an empire that was made up of the present day Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and a part of Egypt and Ethiopia. It was the most glorious time for the twelve tribes of the sons and daughters of Abraham. He married a few hundred wives including the queen of Ethiopia and kept hundreds more concubines. His united kingdom was the most powerful and richest in the region. But it didn’t last long. As soon as Solomon died in 931 B.C., the kingdom split up into Israel and Judah again.
For about two centuries, Israel and Judah fought each other on and off, during which time many books of the present day Old Testament were written including the most of the prophets like Elijah and Isaiah, and Ezekiel known as major prophets. There were also so-called minor prophets like Amos and Hosea. “Minor” here does not mean less important. Their writings are simply shorter than major prophets like Isaiah, which are longer.
Israel, where Amos and Hosea preached, was richer than Judah, because of its abundant natural resources and fertile land. Neither Amos nor Hosea belonged to the established order of prophets (like our Order of Ministry): they were freelance preachers, so to speak. Soon after Amos and Hosea died, Israel would be attacked by Assyrians and the kingdom vanished in 721 B.C. Many foreigners moved in and the land became the land of mixed race known at the time of Jesus as “Samaritans.” Thus ten tribes who had lived in the North became known today as “Ten lost tribes of Israel.”
One hundred forty years later, Judah also was defeated by Babylonians and utterly destroyed in 581 B.C. The leadership of the nation was taken prisoners and were moved to Babylon (today’s Iraq), where they lived for a few centuries in captivity until Persian (Iranian) emperor Cyrus freed them and allowed them to return home to Palestine. It is interesting that because of his act of liberating Hebrews, Persian Emperor Cyrus was called “the anointed one” – Messiah in Hebrew, and Christ in Greek, even though he did not know YHWH. (Isaiah 45:1)
Amos and Hosea: Amos was a herder who lived in poverty near Bethlehem and supplemented his income by growing sycamore figs in the desert. He migrated to more fertile and wealthy land of Israel. He became angry when he saw moral decay of the rich country. He became a self-appointed prickly street preacher. He denounced the rich for not caring about the poor and for exploiting them. He exposed merchants who cheated the poor for using incorrect scales, for example. Their religious practices were insincere, and often practiced idol worship. He predicted the destruction of the kingdom as the punishment from God, which proved to be right. His cry for justice became in recent years, for people like Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, and Oscar Romero, a battle cry of the justice seekers. Of course, Amos was expelled from Israel and returned to the land of Judah.
Hosea had a sad marriage. He was a cuckold: his wife Gomer ran away with another man, who quickly betrayed her and sold her to a brothel. But Hosea never gave up on her. He looked for her everywhere in the red-light district, and tried to bring her back to him. People mocked him saying Hosea was a fool going after such a stupid woman. Hosea told his own sad story as a metaphor, as a story of God who never gives up on unfaithful people, and never stops loving them. Though it is a story of the faithful and loving God, it is so vividly told that you know it is Hosea’s own personal experience. It is a powerful story about the love of God.
When you reach the books of prophets, you realize that the progress of a search for the true God, or the pursuit of the ultimate truth, has reached its highest level. A jealous and murderous God of the tribal kings has transformed into a loving and justice seeking God of Hosea and Amos. When you reach the second Isaiah (Isaiah chapters 44 and following), you will find a model of our Lord Jesus Christ in the notion of the suffering servant for the sins of others. One might think that Jesus had the image of God in mind described by prophets like Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah when he acted as he did? God is just, loving to the point of sacrificing himself for those he loved? It’s a shocking discovery, the most unorthodox among religions. No other religion has a god who suffers and dies. God is almighty and powerful, a victor, that is the norm. But God of the Bible is so weak to be crucified for the sake of love. Therein is the ultimate victory: Easter.
The Old Testament is a history of the Hebrew people’s search for the true God. Hence, it is wrong to pick just one part of it to form the whole notion of God like fundamentalists do. You are quite right to be appalled by the terrible image of an inhuman and cruel god in the book of Samuel. Of course, you must reject such a god. You have to read the whole Bible to appreciate the progression of the search for God. You will appreciate how far the Jews progressed in their search once you reach the prophets. We inherited the heritage of that progress.