August 3, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: The books of Amos and Hosea

John F. FinkFor the next two weeks, the biblical readings in the Office of Readings are taken from three of the 12 minor prophets—Amos, Hosea and Micah. I will discuss only the first two in this column.

Amos and Hosea were prophets in the northern Kingdom of Israel, although Amos was a native of the southern Kingdom of Judah. They lived in the eighth century B.C., and were the earliest prophets who have books named after them.

Amos was a shepherd who prophesied in Bethel near the border of the two kingdoms. At that time, Israel was prosperous. People built large homes and sometimes two homes—one for the summer and one for the winter—and decorated them luxuriously.

Amos recognized social injustice in the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor. (Sound familiar? Some things never change.) As a shepherd, he also was astonished by the corruption in the marketplace.

His prophecies began with descriptions of God’s justice that would be sent on the countries surrounding Israel—Aram, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab and Judah. His audience undoubtedly nodded in approval. But then, Amos reserved God’s harshest judgment for Israel and his hearers’ attitude changed.

While proclaiming the woes that would come upon Israel, Amos also told of his visions in which he foresaw the threat to Israel that would come from Assyria. Israel would be destroyed as a divine judgment on the injustices rampant in the country.

But a remnant, those who persevered in justice, would be preserved. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15:15-18), St. James quotes the end of this book as a prophecy that the Gentiles would be converted to the Lord.

Hosea came along a few years after Amos during a war between Israel and Judah followed by the occupation of Galilee by Assyria in 732 B.C. However, Hosea probably did not witness the fall of Israel in 721 B.C.

Hosea had a terrible marriage. His wife, Gomer, was unfaithful to him, either before or after the wedding, and she might even have been a temple prostitute as was not uncommon in Israel at that time although the Lord, through Moses, had earlier banned such a practice. Hosea and Gomer also had rebellious children.

Hosea uses his marriage as an analogy for God’s relationship to Israel. The kingdom of Israel had been unfaithful to God in their practice of injustice.

Furthermore, Canaanite practices had become part of Israel’s worship as the people prayed to Baal as the god of fertility.

“It is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts,” Hosea quotes God as saying (Hos 6:6).

Despite Gomer’s unfaithfulness, God demanded that Hosea renew his marriage to her. Likewise, Hosea said, God was willing to take Israel back. His chastisement, Israel’s destruction by Assyria, would be the punishment of a jealous lover. But God would win Israel back during their exile.

The New Testament often uses marriage as a symbol to describe the relationship of God to his people. Jesus referred to himself as the bridegroom, and St. Paul used the symbol of marriage to describe the union of Christ with his Church. †

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