Posted by: religionthink | December 7, 2006

The Sword Rages in Their Cities: The Role of the P…

The Sword Rages in Their Cities: The Role of the Prophet Part V

We come to another complex setting, when viewing the events in which Hosea wrote. Also, worth mentioning here, the prophet Amos and Hosea were counterparts and wrote almost at the same time period. So far we have discussed the different views of the prophets Isaiah and Mica and their roles. As with Amos, Hosea also will rail against corruption and the influence that the cult of Baal had of the worshipers of Yahweh; and both believe that the coming destruction is due to the broken convent. In the text of Hosea, Yahweh is the holy warrior, but this time is comes to make war with his chosen people. We find one text that also shows the responsibility of the real prophet. At times like Amos, Jonah, Moses, Isaiah, and others found the task daunting and under the stress they felt inadequate to present the message given. Especially, if it is unwelcome chastisement of a nation, but as Amos puts it: The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy? (Amo 3:8 NRSV) Below, we will discuss the role of Hosea and the political and religious background under which he wrote his oracles.

Hosea’s writing come to us at a time when there was great turmoil in the political landscape of the Israeli government structure. It is believed that the oracles of Hosea were written between 750-732 B.C. After the successful reign and death of Jeroboam II (786-746 B.C.), Israel started to deteriorate and its influence politically started to waver. Jeroboam II was able to have prosperity because at this time Assyria had its own problems at home, with weak rulers and enemies. However, in the next 20 years after the death of Jeroboam II, the ambitious king Tiglathpileser III came to power and pressure mounted. In Israel, the nation fell to assassinations, revolutions, and social upheaval. Within 20 years after Jeroboam II’s death, as many as six kings would rule Israel. These accounts can be read in the text of II Kings 14-17.

In the end, King Hosea, who was appointed by Assyria as a vassal, joined a coalition against Assyria and was taken captive after a siege and the capital of Samaria was destroyed and Israel was led into exile. It is in this climate that Hosea gets the calling:

The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri, in the days of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah, and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel. When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” (Hos 1:1-2 NRSV)

Hosea is from the northern kingdom of Israel and he shares his theology with Jeremiah and the texts of Deuteronomy. Due to this possibility, it is believed by some, the Hosea may be the most edited book, because the writings in the north were filtered and rewritten by the southern scribes after the fall. The texts start out as chapters 1-3 being an allegoric marriage to a harlot. There is debate on whether the marriage that Hosea is commanded to make with a harlot was actually played out or if it was written as a metaphor. Regardless if the actual marriage happened or not, the allegory message of Yahweh to Israel as a form of prophetic technique is seen in other texts. Yahweh tells the prophet to act out a certain scenario as an allegory to the message given. We see this happen in Ezekiel, as one eaxmple.

In the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, write down the name of this day, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day. And utter an allegory to the rebellious house and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Set on the pot, set it on, pour in water also; put in it the pieces, all the good pieces, the thigh and the shoulder; fill it with choice bones. Take the choicest one of the flock, pile the logs under it; boil its pieces, seethe also its bones in it. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Woe to the bloody city, the pot whose rust is in it, whose rust has not gone out of it! Empty it piece by piece, making no choice at all. (Eze 24:1-6 NRSV)

The next section of writings, chapters 4:1 -9:9 are oracles against the people, priests, and kings. It is within this time that Yahweh expands from being a tribal god to a universal god. In the past, the admission of other gods were present however in these such oracles, as with Isaiah, Yahweh, now a universal god, distains the practices what have been integrated into his ceremonial, and temple rites. The Asherahs, Anats, Astartes and Baals of the people and house of Yahweh would have to be cleansed. It is in these texts that Yahweh becomes so offended at the practice that he devalues the temple and sacrifices because they have become saturated with the rites and elements of the Baal cults. As mentioned in Isaiah, in Hosea we read of this also:

Though they offer choice sacrifices, though they eat flesh, the Lord does not accept them. Now he will remember their iniquity, and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt. (Hos 8:13 NRSV)

Lastly we come to the poems accounting Israel’s history of sinfulness in chapters 9:10-14:10. Here it seems that the case for judgment and exile is laid out, and the offences are brought to light. Yahweh, the holy warrior of Israel is now set to wage war against Israel and Baal once again. Due to the violation of the covenant Israel will be scattered and strangers will occupy her land. Many modern day “prophets” try to fulfill the same role. Today many things may be metaphorically attributed to Baal. And any time there is turmoil, war political unrest prophets come out by the droves. It seems that more and more they are there to cash in or the misery of the people. They preach it everyday, and not just when doom and gloom are in the air. They may not write books or novels, rent convention halls, and prey on the emotions of the masses for their own agenda. We may take a lesson from Hosea’s writings about the saturation of idolatry in the rituals, rites, and worship of our own time.

We need to ask ourselves are the sacrifices more important then justice or the covenant? Also, is prophesy for the sake of prophesying doing our society good? And how many “prophets” experience a catharsis, and are overcome by the great commission? How many can say as Isaiah, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”, before we start writing books and talking? In our next essay we will discuss the book of Daniel and highlight some misconceptions about the revelations, using the texts of the intertestamental period. In the texts of Maccabees I and II we will see how the writings correspond to the time of Greek occupation of the Jews.

Armstrong Karen, A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, NY: Ballantine Books, 1993.

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990.

Oden Robert, The Old Testament: An Introduction [sixteen lectures on eight audiocassettes] (Springfield, VA 22150: SuperStar Teachers/The Teaching Company, second edition, 1995), Lecture 12: “Amos and Hosea.”

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. Illinois 2000.

Quoted biblical texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

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