Hosea & Amos: Prophets to the North

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

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In the closing scene of this section, the prophet is told to love an adulteress, just as God loves Israel. Once acquired, she is to be placed in solitary confinement without a husband, so mirroring the desolate Israel, alone with no leader or cult. Yet desolation will be followed by restoration.

Israel as Unfaithful Wife; Idolatry as Harlotry

This language and themes of the opening chapters thread their way through the remainder of the book. In the early chapters, the keywords are "harlot" and "harlotry"--Israel chases after false lovers rather than remaining faithful to her God. The love which God has for Israel is contrasted with Israel's futile actions. Clearly a major factor in God's complaint against his people is their continuing belief in the efficacy of their sacrifices to the ba'alim (Canaanite gods) : "Ephraim is joined to idols" (4:17). They sacrifice on hilltops and under trees (certainly proscribed in Deuteronomy). They are so deeply imbued with the spirit of harlotry that they will be unable to find God even when they seek Him.

The idea of repentance and return does occur throughout the book, but largely in the context of Israel's unwillingness or inability to do so. Nevertheless, the oracles of doom are interspersed with messages of hope: "Come let us return unto God ... (6:1 )...he will surely come and bind up our wounds?" Later God declares, "I will not execute the fierceness of my anger? (11:9).

Concern with the cult is not the whole story for Hosea. Ethical failings are not ignored: "swearing and lying. and killing and committing adultery ? blood leads to blood" (4:2). Echoing Amos he declares, "For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice?"(6:6). Political considerations are also evident. As Ephraim chases after foreign alliances, he is characterized as "a silly dove, without understanding. They call unto Egypt, they go to Assyria?." (7:11).

Wilderness and Agriculture; Violence and Tenderness

The wilderness wanderings are an important element in the book of Hosea. The wilderness provides an instrument of punishment, but it also represents the first encounter between God and His people and the place where their relationship will be renewed:

Behold, I will bring her into the wilderness

And speak tenderly unto her

And she shall respond there, as in the days of her youth. (2:16-17)

Also striking is the pervasiveness of agricultural imagery and the passionate, sometimes violent, tenor of the language. Israel is a "luxuriant vine" (10:1), the people "sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" (8:7). Ephraim has no future, its roots shriveled, it bears no fruit. The encroachment of thorns and thistles is indicative of the road to destruction and exile. God their savior will become as a lion or an enraged she-bear and will "devour them like a lioness" (13:8). As Samaria falls, "their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child ripped open" (14:1). The final chapter returns to the fields and images of fertility as God tenderly revives and restores his people.

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