Hosea & Amos: Prophets to the North

Hosea and Amos share prophetic concern for a nation in turmoil.

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Can doom be averted? Amos calls on the people to "Seek God and live" (3:5), and this is later echoed in the exhortation "Seek good and not evil that you may live" (5:14). Nevertheless, early in this section Amos describes an adversary who will surround and despoil the land leaving nothing but a small remnant. He quotes a list of chastisements--famine, drought, locusts, blight and violent death--none of which have brought Yosef back to God. At the end of the section, judgment is declared on both great and small.

The Day of the Lord

As part of his social critique, Amos radically reinterprets the concepts of Israel's election and the "Day of the Lord". God's special relationship with his people will bring punishment, not divine favor (3:2). The Day of the Lord, eagerly anticipated by the people as a time of rejoicing, will on the contrary be a day to be feared. It will bring darkness, not light; death not refuge. In addition, the prophet rejects the cult as practiced "I hate, I despise your feasts ?. I will not smell the sacrifices of your solemn assemblies, But let justice rain down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream." (5:21, 24)

Chapters 7-9:6 include five visions. After each of the first two visions of destruction, God relents from his judgment following special pleading from Amos. But after the third vision there is no pardon. The confrontation with the prophet Amaziah interrupts the sequence. Amos prophesies the end of the Jehu dynasty, the destruction of the sanctuaries and the demise of Amaziah himself. The fourth vision turns on a word play: Amos sees a basket of summer (kayitz) fruit and God declares the end (keitz) of His people. In the final vision, the Lord stands beside an altar and commands destruction and death.

The final section of the book has been the subject of some debate. The first oracle is again one of destruction, but beginning with verse 9:11, Amos prophesies the restoration of "the Tabernacle of David" and the return of Israel from captivity. (Some see this as a later addition to the text.)

Hosea's Marriage Metaphor

We know even less about Hosea ben Beeri than we do about Amos. He apparently operated in the Northern kingdom, and his target was predominantly, but not exclusively, Ephraim. The book can be divided into three parts: Chapters 1-3 deal with Hosea's "marriage"; 4-13 comprise a series of oracles for the most part prophesying doom; and finally in chapter 14, there is the promise of restoration.

The book opens with what might be considered "performance" prophecy. Hosea is commanded to act out through his marriage the coming judgment on Israel. His marriage will dramatize the breakdown in the relationship between God and His people Israel. Hosea's wife will be a harlot, and her children's names will represent God's estrangement from Israel. Nevertheless, the scene closes with God exercising compassion. The second scene passionately, even violently, portrays God's rejection of the wayward Israel the harlot. But the chapter closes in the wilderness with beautiful words of betrothal.

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Anne-Marie Belinfante is a specialist in Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library.