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The Minor Prophets: No.2 Hosea

How would you feel, if as a faithful prophet of the Lord you heard Him commanding you to seek out a prostitute, marry her and have children by her? Incredible. But you will find this described in the book of Hosea (chapter 1).

You can imagine how Hosea might have felt. Such a thing being asked of a holy man?

However being a committed servant Hosea did just that.

He sought out such a prostitute, named Gomer, married her and she bore him a son (Jezreel) and a daughter, named “not pitied” for the Lord would have no pity on Israel, because of their forsaking the Lord their God.

These were all part of a sign that He would have no pity on the people of Israel, for their abandonment of the Lord, worshipping pagan idols, yet the Lord had done so much for them over the centuries. It was a kind of adultery for they had abandoned the One who cared for them and loved them.

Gomer left the prophet to go off with other men, receiving gifts from them, until they tired of her and sent her away.

What should she do, but to seek refuge with her husband and contrary to every rule, instead of repelling her, Hosea took her back and forgave her.

This led to Hosea pondering over these strange events and realised that it was an acted message from the Lord that the reason that he had taken her back, not once but several times, was that he LOVED her; despite all she had done there was a bond between them.

Hosea must have pondered over this, for often prophets used simple illustrations like this to proclaim their message.

If I, a mere sinful mortal, have been able to accept Gomer back despite all her failings, then God must be a loving Being and will forgive returning penitents for surely I cannot be holier than God?”

A great deal of the prophecies that follow, warn of the disasters that will come to various nations and groups that continuing in their godless ways will bring nothing but disaster.

There is an indication of this especially in chapter 11, when after all these warnings, there was a love from the first:

“When Israel was a child I loved him and called him out of Egypt.

The more I called them the more they went from me; yet it was I who taught them how to walk”

What a lovely thought; God taking the hand of humanity to lead His Chosen People along the right path.

There is another lovely passage (chapter 14), where the Lord promises that despite their constant back-sliding, returning to their pagan gods, that all that is needed is to reassume the previous harmonious relationship, the covenant (agreement) made so many centuries ago with Abraham will be renewed.

The bond is Love, and this is Hosea’s great break-through and why he so important to successive generations.

Remember that amid all these marital tensions, there is the constant prophesying against Israel’s enemies, especially Assyria who later invaded Israel. For most of the prophet’s ministry the leading members of Society were taken to Babylon, where they remained for 40 years, before returning when Cyrus as Governor instructed Nehemia (chapter 2) to return to Jerusalem and start repairing the shattered walls of the city and the exiles could return home.

Hosea is significant, for he was prophesying between 760-720 BC; it is the oldest of all the Hebrew scriptures using his own words. He seems to have accepted the doctrine of monotheism (only one God) as did his contemporaries Amos and Isaiah.

GCR

Next week: “A Fishy story; Jonah”

18 October 2020

Enter our “Minor Prophets: 1. Amos

To suggest that our next two prophets are “minor” is extremely inaccurate, for while they don’t leave behind long messages, despite Amos not being an accepted member of a prophetic group, they should be reckoned as “very important” characters. Amos and others brought to their ministry a great and important (and generally accepted) awareness of God laying the foundation of two important aspects of God.

This week we are looking at the first of these two, Amos who was not a member of any prophetic school, and living in Judea was an alien voice (the Kingdom had been divided into two separate states, Israel and Judea).

Bethel in Israel was the site of its royal sanctuary and Amos having travelled over the border from Judea, was very unwelcome.

It is interesting that he is the first prophet who sought to present his own approach personally, and his preaching was direct and bound to annoy the rich and powerful. So much so, that he was thrown out of the royal sanctuary at Bethel.

He was basically a tender of vines, a “Vine Dresser” and also a shepherd,  of rustic stock, who as a result had long periods watching over the sheep, enabling him to think of what was happening around him and probably contemplating the vastness of the Universe. He was obviously intelligent and literate.

His chief contribution was his contention that there weren’t lots of Gods as the contemporary world believed, but only one who was ordering the whole of Creation.

The Hebrew God was master of the Universe and nothing occurred without the will of the one great God.

This was the moment when we find that Monotheism (that is, “One only God”) took a tremendous step forward theologically. Scholarship shows that far from being an ignorant rustic, Amos had a deep and rich awareness of the nature of God, with an ability to think deeply.

Amos, being from Judah, found himself in Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and by his preaching, upset many (including the King) by his frank description of the debased Society of the day.

His description of the rich ladies, describing them as “fat cows” did little to endear him to the ruling classes, nor his condemnation of the state of the poor (who could be sold into slavery, for the price of a pair of sandals).

This “social” criticism becomes a continuing theme which, on examination of Deuteronomy indicates that it was God’s will that the poor should be housed, fed, and cared for including “strangers” (refugees). Our present government might take note of this, an attitude that Isaiah condemned (as noted previously).

Amos’ preaching contains various condemnations of other nations, whom the Sovereign Lord will punish for their disobedience. Which eventually He did, as a reading of the prophecy will show.

This “Social Gospel” theme runs throughout the Old Testament.

Spend an hour or two reading the whole prophecy; you will not find it dull, but it will give insight into the Society of 750 BC.

Next week; Hosea “A God of love?”

GCR

11 October 2020

"THE PROPHET"

“THE PROPHET” was the name given to Isaiah as he dominates the prophetic scene; some calculate that his prophetic ministry spanned some 64 years.

This covered the period before the Exile that followed the Invasion for nearly 40 years. His early prophecies were directed towards the poor obedience of the people of Judea to the Covenant agreed with God long ago and that their behaviour towards the poor and disadvantaged fell far short of that required by God. In the early chapters, Isaiah was pointing out that worship. however grand it might be was no substitute for social justice. This Divine imperative has already been foreshadowed in the early writings of Genesis and much later in Deuteronomy.

The Exile took place after the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (560 BC approx..) when all but the working class, slaves, etc. had left. This Exile lasted until when under the Persians (more invaders) Cyrus the Great restored the Jews to their earlier positions, even providing the material resources and labour to rebuild the ruined Temple with foundations laid in 537 BC.

Isaiah was a prominent voice during that period, urging the people to look ahead to a new and brighter period, when we get all those references to the future joys.

Instead he gravitated between threatening by God for the Jews’ disloyalty, with idols and numerous doubtful pagan  gods. directing them to a pathway of social justice, where the hungry were to be fed, the homeless to be housed, even Gentile strangers were to be welcomed. Between Isaiah and other contemporary prophets such as Hosea and Amos, this was a period something like that which accompanied the Victorian Oxford Movement revival, in the Church of England which set out to follow similar social reforms, something that was the theme of St. James (1 James, chapter 2).

Isaiah comes to the fore when we come to his vision of the future during the period of the Exile. With the recovery of their holy city, better things lay ahead. Above all, his description of the “Suffering Servant” prefiguring the Passion of Our Saviour and much of his poetry that emerges throughout his writing is prophecy at its best.

Useful Bible references: Isaiah 1 Idolatry; 12-13 future hope; 47-48 Israel rebuked; 53-54 The suffering servant; 55-56 God’s mercy for all; The teaching of the prophet offers new hope for Israel.

Much written as beautiful poetry and worth studying when there’s nothing on the TV! Encouraging as to the future, (suitable for meditating in these difficult times).

Next week: Amos (a true Socialist) and Hosea (discovers the caring God of love).

GCR

4 October 2020

Here Come the "Big Guns"!

Sorry, but we need to set the stage for what was a traumatic time for the Israelites.

King Solomon managed to trouble the people before he relinquished the throne, and his two sons disputed who should be king, which led to the formation of Israel as a separate state, with Samaria as its capital, to be joined by 10 of the 12 tribes of the Jews; only 2 tribes remained within Judea, its capital Jerusalem. Both the people of Israel and Judea became enemies and eventually the Assyrians launched an invasion of Israel, destroying Samaria (hence the hatred between the two countries)

True prophecy begins with a trio of prophets, operating around the ministries of Isaiah, Hosea and Amos; and their role, is not so much to foretell the future; but looking at the political scene around them and the various alliances, can see what the consequences will be for the “Chosen People”.

Isaiah whose life and prophecies lasted for some 40-60 years, began with the reign of King Uzziah around 740 BC,

Uzziah (who was one of the good monarchs of Judah) was desperately ill, but Isaiah encouraged him to trust in God,  giving him extra years to live.

God’s call to the prophet happened in the year that King Uzziah died (see Isaiah chapter 6) giving him the task of warning the people of Judea (centred on Jerusalem  under now King Ahaz) that they were to listen to the word of God warning them to change their ways, obeying the true God rather than the  idolatrous Gods to whom the people had turned.

A joint invasion of Judah by Syria and Ephraim failed to capture Judea and so, although when the Assyrians entered the fray, Jerusalem was saved until with the final victory, when the Babylonians there began the exile in Babylon of the ruling classes which lasted for 40 years.

The Judean exiles were enabled to return under the reign of King Cyrus (the Great) to rebuild the shattered Jerusalem under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. He provided all the building materials to rebuild the Temple. Ezrah’s task was to recall the Judeans to a new relationship with God, whilst Nehemiah oversaw the building work.

Isaiah’s ministry began in 698 BC and his opening message was that God abhorred the present sacrificial worship, exhorting the people that the sacrifice that God required was that of obedience to a concern for the outcasts, the poor, the homeless and the hungry. What was required was social concern.

This was a message that other contemporary prophets such as Amos preached .

It may raise the question as to how much of the book of Isaiah  was written by him.

The general opinion of scholars is that chapters 1-39 are the work of Isaiah himself; the remainder that of prophets who reiterated his basic teaching, but whose vocabulary and style was markedly different.

 Isaiah presents us with beautiful and telling poetry, and so we will leave an expansion of that with Amos until next week (if you can stand it).

GCR

27 September 2020

Bring on the Prophets

Now, there are prophets and “prophets” and not all of them are the same.

There are the Major prophets and the Minor prophets; the first group are people like Moses and Joshua, who were great leaders in the battle to take over the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants.

But there are the Major prophets like Elijah. Elisha, Jeremiah, Amos and Hosea, who, whilst condemning the disobedience of the Jews, threatening Divine punishment, also importantly gave us insights into another, compassionate side of God.

Reading the earlier chapters at the beginning of the Old Testament, one is horrified, not only at the slaughter of the pagan nations, but also of the numbers of creatures that were part of the vast sacrificial system, where, if it is correct saw every living creature (except fish), offered under the great panoply of sacrificial ceremonies.

Elijah and Elisha who both had to contend with the growth of pagan gods with their mixture of offences (mainly sexual) attracted the populace, and both of these prophets were condemned by the King and his cohorts (not least the Queen) seeking their deaths.

It isn’t generally realised that what had been a United Kingdom became divided.  King Solomon had fallen out of favour with God and the people. There was a rebellion and Solomon’s successor (Rehoboam) became King of Judah which only comprised 2 of the twelve tribes of Israel with its capital at Jerusalem whilst his cousin Jeroboam became King of Israel, based around the capital Samaria (922 BC) supported by 10 of the 12 tribes.

Both kings were enemies and so we find the two kingdoms opposed to each other (hence the enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews).

It was during this period that the prophets took on a different task, namely, to declare what God wanted in social reform, and indeed, His very nature.

It is interesting that the prophets Isaiah, Amos and Hosea were in action defining that God was on the side of the poor and disadvantaged and there are foretastes of this in sections of Deuteronomy.

Isaiah (who lived throughout King Uzziah’s reign (740 – 700 BC) began his attack on the religious scene by condemning the sacrifices offered as being not what God desired (Isaiah chap. 1 & 58, vv1-9).

Rather, all the current worship of burnt sacrifices (including their children) was abhorrent. The only sacrifices were those of the heart; “fasting” was only relevant if it was accompanied by social reforms.

This to some extent was echoing the teaching of Deuteronomy, which demanded that the needs of the under-privileged, widows, orphans, strangers (ie. “immigrants”) were to be priorities for any worshipper.

Elijah and Elisha succeeded in stemming the tide of idolatry, but their role was different from that of their successors, particularly those who were living through the tumult of the Exile of Judah for another 40 years.

GCR

13 September 2020

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