« Prev Chapter XVIII. Amos, Hosea, and the Kingdom of… Next »




2 Kings xiv. 23-29; xv. 8-12

"In them is plainest taught and easiest learnt
What makes a nation happy and keeps it so,
What ruins kingdoms and lays cities flat."
Milton, Paradise Regained.

"We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great,
Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of Fate:
But the soul is still oracular: amid the market's din
List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,
'They enslave their children's children who make compromise with sin.'"

Amos and Hosea are the two earliest prophets whose "burdens" have come down to us. From them we gain a near insight into the internal condition of Israel in this day of her prosperity.

We see, first, that the prosperity was not unbroken. Though peace reigned, the people were not left to lapse unwarned into sloth and godlessness. The land had suffered from the horrible scourge of locusts, until every carmel—every garden of God on hill and plain—withered before them.312312   Amos vii. 1. Famine (iv. 6); drought (iv. 7, 8); yellow blight and locusts (iv. 9); pestilence (iv. 10); earthquake and burning (iv. 11). There had been widespread conflagrations;313313   Amos vii. 4. there had been a visitation of pestilence; and, finally, there had been an earthquake so194 violent that it constituted an epoch from which dates were reckoned.314314   Amos i. 1, iii. 14, iv. 11, viii 8; Zech. xiv. 5: "Ye shall flee like as ye fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah." Josephus says that in an earthquake a little before the birth of Christ ten thousand were buried under the ruined houses (Antt., XV. v. 2), and he has many Rabbinic haggadoth to tell us about the earthquake, which, he says, happened at the moment when Uzziah burnt incense in the Temple (Antt., IX. x. 4). There were also two eclipses of the sun, which darkened with fear the minds of the superstitious.315315   According to Hind, they took place on June 15th, b.c. 763, and February 9th, b.c. 784. Amos alludes to the capture of Gath by Uzziah, of Calneh (Ktesiphon), and of Hamath (vi. 2; 2 Chron. xxvi. 6). Gath henceforth disappears from the Philistian Pentapolis (Amos i. 7, 8; Zeph. ii. 4; Zech. ix. 5).

Nor was this the worst. Civilisation and commerce had brought luxury in their train, and all the bonds of morality had been relaxed. The country began to be comparatively depleted, and the innocent regularity of agricultural pursuits palled upon the young, who were seduced by the glittering excitement of the growing towns. All zeal for religion was looked on as archaic, and the splendour of formal services was regarded as a sufficient recognition of such gods as there were. As a natural consequence, the nobles and the wealthy classes were more and more infected with a gross materialism, which displayed itself in ostentatious furniture, and sumptuous palaces of precious marbles inlaid with ivory. The desire for such vanities increased the thirst for gold, and avarice replenished its exhausted coffers by grinding the faces of the poor, by defrauding the hireling of his wages, by selling the righteous for silver, the needy for handfuls of barley, and the poor for a pair of shoes. The degrading vice of intoxication acquired fresh vogue, and the gorgeous gluttonies of the rich were further disgraced by the shameful spectacle195 of drunkards, who lolled for hours over the revelries which were inflamed by voluptuous music. Worst of all, the purity of family life was invaded and broken down. Throwing aside the old veiled seclusion of women in Oriental life, the ladies of Israel showed themselves in the streets in all "the bravery of their tinkling ornaments of gold," and sank into the adulterous courses stimulated by their pampered effrontery.

Such is the picture which we draw from the burning denunciations of the peasant-prophet of Tekoa. He was no prophet nor prophet's son, but a humble gatherer of sycomore-fruit, a toil which only fell to the humblest of the people.316316   Or "dresser of sycomore-trees" (R.V.). LXX., κνίζων συκάμινα; Vulg., vellicans sycomoros. The sycomore-fruit (fruit of the Ficus sycomorus, or wild fig) is ripened by puncturing it (Theoph., H. Plant., iv. 2; Pliny, H. N., xiii. 14). Who is not afraid, he asks, when a lion roars? and how can a prophet be silent when the Lord God has spoken? Indignation had transformed and dilated him from a labourer into a seer, and had summoned him from the pastoral shades of his native village—whether in Judah or in Israel is uncertain—to denounce the more flagrant iniquities of the Northern capital.317317   The well-known town of Tekoa had been Solomon's horse-fair, and had been fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chron. xi. 6). It lay in a wild country six miles south of Bethlehem (2 Chron. xx. 20; 1 Macc. ix. 33; Robinson, Bibl. Res., i. 486). For a fuller account of these prophets, I must refer to my book on The Minor Prophets in the "Men of the Bible" Series. It has always been assumed that Amos belonged to the well-known Tekoa, and was therefore a subject of the Southern Kingdom. In recent days this has become uncertain. No sycomores grow or can grow on the bleak uplands of Tekoa (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 397); so that Jerome, in his preface to Amos, thinks that "brambles" are intended. Even Kimchi conjectured that Tekoa was an unknown town in the tribe of Asher. Amos's allusions to scenery are all applicable to the Northern landscape. First he proclaims196 the vengeance of Jehovah upon the transgressions of the Philistines, of Tyre, of Edom, of Ammon, of Moab, and even of Judah; and then he turns with a crash upon apostatising Israel.318318   Amos i. 1-ii. 5. He speaks with unsparing plainness of their pitiless greed, their shameless debauchery, their exacting usury, their attempts to pervert even the abstinent Nazarites into intemperance, and to silence the prophets by opposition and obloquy. Jehovah was crushed under their violence.319319   Amos ii. 6-13. And did they think to go unscathed after such black ingratitude? Nay! their mightiest should flee away naked in the day of defeat. Robbery was in their houses of ivory, and the few of them who should escape the spoiler should only be as when a shepherd tears out of the mouth of a lion two legs and a piece of an ear?320320   Amos iii. 9-15. As for Bethel, their shrine—which he calls Bethaven, "House of Vanity," not Bethel, "House of God"—the horns of its altars should be cut off. Should oppression and licentiousness flourish? Jehovah would take them with hooks, and their children with fish-hooks, and their sacrifices at Bethel and Gilgal should be utterly unavailing. Drought, and blasting, and mildew, and wasting plague, and earth-convulsions like those which had swallowed Sodom and Gomorrha, from which they should only be plucked as a "firebrand out of the burning," should warn them that they must prepare to meet their God.321321   Amos iv. 1-13. It was lamentable; but lamentation was vain, unless they would return to Jehovah, Lord of hosts,322322   This title, "Jehovah-Tsebaoth," now begins to occur. It is not found in the Hexateuch. It probably means "Lord of the starry hosts." Contact with Assyria first made the Israelites acquainted with star-worship. Amos alludes to the Pleiades and Orion (v. 8: comp. Job ix. 9, xxxviii. 31). Star-worship is forbidden in Deuteronomy. In Amos v. 26 the true meaning is that the Israelites would take with them, on their road to exile, Sakkuth (Moloch?) and Kewan (the god-star Saturn). and abandon the false worship197 of Bethel, Beersheba, and Gilgal, and listen to the voice of the righteous, whom they now abhorred for his rebukes. They talked hypocritically about "the day of the Lord," but to them it should be blackness. They relied on feast days, and services, and sacrifices; but since they would not give the sacrifice of judgment and righteousness, for which alone God cared, they should be carried into captivity beyond Damascus: yes! even to that terrible Assyria with whose king they now were on friendly terms. They lay at ease on their carved couches at their delicate feasts, draining the wine-bowls, and glistering with fragrant oils, heedless of the impending doom which would smite the great house with breaches and the little house with clefts, and which should bring upon them an avenger who should afflict them from their conquered Hamath southwards even to the wady of the wilderness.323323   Amos vi. 1-14. The threatened judgments of locusts and fire had been mitigated at the prophet's prayer, but nothing could avert the plumb-line of destruction which Jehovah held over them, and He would rise against the House of Jeroboam with His sword.324324   Amos vii. 1-9. We infer from all that Amos and Hosea say that the calf-worship at Bethel (for Dan is not mentioned in this connexion325325   Strange as it may seem, the early authority for the existence of any calf at Dan is very slight, and the extreme uncertainty of the reading and interpretation in one main passage (1 Kings xii. 32) makes it at least possible that there were two calves at Bethel, and that at Dan there was no calf, but only the old idolatrous ephod of Micah, still served by the servant of Moses. See additional note at the end of the volume.) had198 degenerated into an idolatry far more abject than it originally was. The familiarity of such multitudes of the people with Baal-worship and Asherah-worship had tended to obliterate the sense that the "calves" were cherubic emblems of Jehovah; and were it not for some confusions of this kind, it is inconceivable that Jehoram ben-Jehu should have restored the Asherah which his father had removed. Be that as it may, Bethel and Gilgal seem to have become centres of corruption. Dan is scarcely once alluded to as a scene of the calf-worship.

Others, then, might be deceived by the surface-glitter of extended empire in the days of Jeroboam II. Not so the true prophets. It has often happened—as to Persia, when, in b.c. 388, she dictated the Peace of Antalcidas, and to Papal Rome in the days of the Jubilee of 1300, and to Philip II. of Spain in the year of the Armada, and to Louis XIV. in 1667—that a nation has seemed to be at its zenith of pomp and power on the very eve of some tremendous catastrophe. Amos and Hosea saw that such a catastrophe was at hand for Israel, because they knew that Divine punishment inevitably dogs the heels of insolence and crime. The loftiness of Israel's privilege involved the utterness of her ruin. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities."326326   Amos iii. 2.

Such prophecies, so eloquent, so uncompromising, so varied, and so constantly disseminated among the people, first by public harangues, then in writing, could199 no longer be neglected. Amos, with his natural culture, his rhythmic utterances, and his inextinguishable fire, was far different from the wild fanatics, with their hairy garments, and sudden movements, and long locks, and cries, and self-inflicted wounds, with whom Israel had been familiar since the days of Elijah whom they all imitated. So long as this inspired peasant confined himself to moral denunciations the aristocracy and priesthood of Samaria could afford comfortably to despise him. What were moral denunciations to them? What harm was there in ivory palaces and refined feasts? This man was a mere red socialist who tried to undermine the customs of society. The hold of the upper classes on the people, whom their exactions had burdened with hopeless debt, and whom they could with impunity crush into slavery, was too strong to be shaken by the "hysteric gush" of a philanthropic faddist and temperance fanatic like this. But when he had the enormous presumption to mention publicly the name of their victorious king, and to say that Jehovah would rise against him with the sword, it was time for the clergy to interfere, and to send the intruder back to his native obscurity.

So Amaziah, the priest of Bethel,327327   That the chief priest of Bethel bore the name "Jehovah is strong" shows once more that "calf-worship" was in no sense a substitute for the worship of Jehovah. invoked the king's authority. "Amos," he said to the king, "hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel." The charge was grossly false, but it did well enough to serve the priest's purpose. "The land is not able to bear all his words."

That was true; for when nations have chosen to abide by their own vicious courses, and refuse to listen200 to the voice of warning, they are impatient of rebuke. They refuse to hear when God calls to them.

"For when we in our viciousness grow hard,

Oh misery on it! the wise gods seal our eyes;

In our own filth drop our clear judgments; make us

Adore our errors; laugh at us while we strut

To our confusion."

The priest tried further to inflame the king's anger by telling him two more of Amos's supposed predictions. He had prophesied (which was a false inference) that Israel should be led away captive out of their own land,328328   This was not quite accurate; he had rather prophesied the devastation of the high places (vii. 9). In fact, his words had often been very vague. "Thus will I do unto thee" (iv. 12). and had also prophesied (which was a perversion of the fact) "that Jeroboam should die by the sword."

At the first prophecy Jeroboam probably smiled. It might indeed come true in the long-run. If he was a man of prescience as well as of prowess, he probably foresaw that the elements of ruin lurked in his transient success, and that though, for the present, Assyria was occupied in other directions, it was unlikely that the weaker Israel would escape the fate of the far more powerful Syria. As for the personal prophecy, he was strong, and was honoured, and had his army and his guards. He would take his chance. Nor does it seem to have troubled any one that Amos looked for the ultimate union of Israel with Judah. Since the time of Joash the inheritance of David had been but as "a ruined booth" (ix. 11); but Amos prophesied its restoration. This touch may have been added later, when he wrote and published his "burdens"; but he201 did not hesitate to speak as if the two kingdoms were really and properly one.329329   Amos ix. 11-15. Comp. Hos. iii. 5.

We are not told that Jeroboam II. interfered with the prophet in any way.330330   The exaggerated haggadoth of later days say that Amaziah had Amos beaten with leaded thongs, and that he was carried home in a dying state (Epiphan., Opp., ii. 145), to which there is a supposed allusion in Heb. xi. 35: ἄλλοι δὲ ἐτυμπανίσθησαν. Had he done so, he would have been rebuked and denounced for it. He probably went no further than to allow the priest and the prophet to settle the matter between themselves. Perhaps he gave a contemptuous permission that, if Amaziah thought it worth while to send the prophet back into Judah, he might do so.

Armed with this nonchalant mandate, Amaziah, with more mildness and good-humour than might have been expected from one of his class, said to Amos, "O Seer,331331   We cannot be sure that the term "Seer" was meant to be contemptuous, although from 1 Sam. ix. 9 we should infer that the title had become somewhat obsolete. Further, we must bear in mind that it may not have been always easy for worldlings to distinguish between true prophets and the unprincipled pretenders who, about this time, succeeded in making the name and aspect of a prophet so complete a disgrace that men had carefully to disclaim it (Zech. xiii. 2-6). It is true that the heading of Amos (i. 1), which may not, however, be by the prophet himself, tells us of "the words which he saw" (i.e., spoke as a seer), and he also disclaims the name of prophet (vii. 14). go home, and eat thy bread, and prophesy to thy heart's content at home; but do not prophesy any more at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary and the king's court."

Amos obeyed perforce, but stopped to say that he had not prophesied out of his own mouth, but by Jehovah's bidding. He then hurled at the priest a message of doom as frightful as that which Jeremiah202 pronounced upon Pashur, when that priest smote him on the face. His wife should be a harlot in the city; his sons and daughters should be slain; his inheritance should be divided; he should die in a polluted land; and Israel should go into captivity. And as for his mission, he justified it by the fact that he was not one of an hereditary or a professional community; he was no prophet or prophet's son. Such men might—like Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah, and his four hundred abettors—be led into mere function and professionalism, into manufactured enthusiasm and simulated inspiration. From such communities freshness, unconventionality, courage, were hardly to be expected. They would philippise at times; they would get to love their order and their privileges better than their message, and themselves best of all. It is the tendency of organised bodies to be tempted into conventionality, and to sink into banded unions chiefly concerned in the protection of their own prestige. Not such was Amos. He was a peasant herdsman in whose heart had burned the inspiration of Jehovah and the wrath against moral misdoing till they had burst into flame. It was indignation against iniquity which had called Amos from the flocks and the sycomores to launch against an apostatising people the menace of doom. In that grief and indignation he heard the voice and received the mandate of the Lord of hosts. He heads the long line of literary prophets whose priceless utterances are preserved in the Old Testament. The inestimable value of their teaching lies most of all in the fact that they were—like Moses—preachers of the moral law; and that, like the Book of the Covenant, which is the most ancient and the most valuable part of the Laws203 of the Pentateuch, they count external service as no better than the small dust of the balance in comparison with righteousness and true holiness.

The rest of the predictions of Amos were added at a later date. They dwelt on the certainty and the awful details of the coming overthrow; the doom of the idolaters of Gilgal and Beersheba; the inevitable swiftness of the catastrophe in which Samaria should be sifted like corn in a sieve in spite of her incorrigible security.332332   Amos viii. 1-ix. 9, 10. Yet the ruin should not be absolute. "Thus saith Jehovah: As the shepherd teareth out of the mouth of the lion two legs and the piece of an ear, so shall the children of Israel be rescued, that sit in Samaria on the corner of a couch, and on the damask of a bed."

The Hebrew Prophets almost invariably weave together the triple strands of warning, exhortation, and hope. Hitherto Amos has not had a word of hope to utter. At last, however, he lets a glimpse of the rainbow irradiate the gloom. The overthrow of Israel should be accompanied by the restoration of the fallen booth of David, and, under the rule of a scion of that house, Israel should return from captivity to enjoy days of peaceful happiness, and to be rooted up no more.333333   Amos ix. 11-15.

Hosea, the son of Beeri, was of a somewhat later date than Amos. He, too, "became electric," to flash into meaner and corrupted minds the conviction that formalism is nothing, and that moral sincerity is all in all. That which God requires is not ritual service, but truth in the inward parts. He is one of the204 saddest of the prophets; but though he mingles prophecies of mercy with his menaces of wrath, the general tenor of his oracles is the same. He pictures the crimes of Ephraim by the image of domestic unfaithfulness, and bids Judah to take warning from the curse involved in her apostasy.334334   Hos. iv. 15-19. Many of his allusions touch upon the days of that deluge of anarchy which followed the death of Jeroboam II. (iv.-vi. 3). That he was a Northerner appears from the fact that he speaks of the King of Israel as "our king" (vii. 5). Yet he seems to blame the revolt of Jeroboam I. (i. 11, viii. 4), although a prophet had originated it, and he openly aspires after the reunion of the Twelve Tribes under a king of the House of David (iii. 5). He points more distinctly to Assyria, which he frequently names as the scourge of the Divine vengeance, and indicates how vain is the hope of the party which relied on the alliance of Egypt.335335   Hos. v. 13, vii. 11, viii. 9, ix. 3-6, xi. 5, xii. 1, xiv. 3. It must be borne in mind that the cuneiform inscriptions prove that Assyria had burst into sight like a lurid comet on the horizon far earlier than we had supposed. Jehu had paid tribute to Shalmaneser as far back as b.c. 842, more than a century before Menahem's tribute in 738. The destruction which Hosea prophesied took place within thirty-one years of his prophecies—probably in b.c. 722, when Sargon finished the siege of Samaria begun by Shalmaneser. The king Hoshea was perhaps taken captive before the siege. He speaks with far more distinct contempt of the cherub at Bethel and the shrine at Gilgal, and says scornfully, "Thy calf, O Samaria, has cast thee off."336336   Hos. viii. 5, ix. 15. Shalmaneser had taken Beth-Arbel, and dashed to pieces mother and children. Such would be the fate of the cities of Israel.337337   Hos. x. 13, 14. Yet Hosea, like Amos, cannot conclude with words of205 wrath and woe, and he ends with a lovely song of the days when Ephraim should be restored, after her true repentance, by the loving tenderness of God.

Jeroboam II. must have been aware of some at least of these prophecies. Those of Hosea must have impressed him all the more because Hosea was a prophet of his own kingdom, and all of his allusions were to such ancient and famous shrines of Ephraim as Mizpeh, Tabor, Bethel, Gilgal, Shechem,338338   Hos. vi. 9: for "by consent" read "towards Shechem." Jezreel, and Lebanon. He was the Jeremiah of the North, and a passionate patriotism breathes through his melancholy strains. Yet in the powerful rule of Jeroboam II. he can only see a godless militarism founded upon massacre (i. 4), and he felt himself to be the prophet of decadence. Page after page rings with wailing, and with denunciations of drunkenness, robbery, and whoredom—"swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and adultery" (iv. 2).

If Jeroboam was as wise and great as he seemed to have been, he must have seen with his own eyes the ominous clouds on the far horizon, and the deep-seated corruption which was eating like a cancer into the heart of his people. Probably, like many another great sovereign—like Marcus Aurelius when he noted the worthlessness of his son Commodus, like Charlemagne when he burst into tears at the sight of the ships of the Vikings—his thoughts were like those of the ancient and modern proverbs—"When I am dead, let earth be mixed with fire." We have no trace that Jeroboam treated Hosea as did those guilty priests to whom he was a rebuke, and who called him "a fool" and "mad" (ix. 7, 8, iv. 6-8, v. 2). Yet the aged king—he must have reached the unusual age206 of seventy-three at least, before he ended the longest and most successful reign in the annals of Israel—could hardly have anticipated that within half a year of his death his secure throne would be shaken to its foundation, his dynasty be hurled into oblivion, and that Israel, to whom, as long as he lived, mighty kingdoms had curtsied, should,

"Like a forlorn and desperate castaway,

Do shameful execution on herself."

Yet so it was. Jeroboam II. was succeeded by no less than six other kings, but he was the last who died a natural death. Every one of his successors fell a victim to the assassin or the conqueror. His son Zachariah ("Remembered by Jehovah") succeeded him (b.c. 740), the fourth in descent from Jehu. Considering the long reign of his father, he must have ascended the throne at a mature age. But he was the child of evil times. That he should not interrupt the "calf"-worship was a matter of course; but if he be the king of whom we catch a glimpse in Hos. vii. 2-7, we see that he partook deeply of the depravity of his day. We are there presented with a deplorable picture. There was thievishness at home, and bands of marauding bandits began to appear from abroad. The king was surrounded by a desperate knot of wicked counsellors, who fooled him to the top of his bent, and corrupted him to the utmost of his capacity. They were all scorners and adulterers, whose furious passions the prophet compares to the glowing heat of an oven heated by the baker. They made the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with lying flatteries. On the royal birthday, apparently at some public feast, this band of infamous revellers, who were the boon207 companions of Zachariah, first made him sick with bottles of wine, and then having set an ambush in waiting, murdered the effeminate and self-indulgent debauchee before all the people.339339   Hos. vii. 3-7. The allusions are vague, but we see a drunken king among his drunken princes, surrounded by wicked plotters who have flattered his vices. He is ignorant of his peril. The subjects aid the rulers in these abominations. All are blazing, like an oven, with passion and infamy, and only rest (as the baker does) to acquire new strength for inflaming their burning desires. At the dawn their treachery blazes into the crime of murder, and in the wine-sick fever-heat of the banquet the king is murdered by his corrupt intimates (see my Minor Prophets, p. 78). The scene reads like the assassination of a Commodus or an Elagabalus. No one was likely to raise a hand in his favour. Like our Edward II., he was a weakling who followed a great and warlike father. It was evident that troublous times were near at hand, and nothing but the worst disasters could ensue if there was no one better than such a drunkard as Zachariah to stand at the helm of state.

So did the dynasty of the mighty Jehu expire like a torch blown out in stench and smoke.

Its close is memorable most of all because it evoked the magnificent moral and spiritual teaching of Hebrew prophecy. The ideal prophet and the ordinary priest are as necessarily opposed to each other as the saint and the formalist. The glory of prophecy lies in its recognition that right is always right, and wrong always wrong, apart from all expediency and all casuistry, apart from "all prejudices, private interests, and partial affections." "What Jehovah demands," they taught, "is righteousness—neither more nor less; what He hates is injustice. Sin or offence to the Deity is a thing of purely moral character. Morality is that for208 the sake of which all other things exist; it is the most essential element of all sincere religion. It is no postulate, no idea, but a necessity and a fact; the most intensely living of human powers—Jehovah, the God of hosts. In wrath, in ruin, this holy reality makes its existence known; it annihilates all that is hollow and false."340340   Wellhausen, Isr. and Jud., 85.

« Prev Chapter XVIII. Amos, Hosea, and the Kingdom of… Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |