Amos Hosea exploring ways message prophets rooted theological narrative traditions Israel. What light texts shed modern-day readers question God's objectives church human society
Amos and Hosea -- a contemporary understanding of prophets during eight-century B.C.'s Israel
While the contemporary society is accustomed to associating the concept of religion with prophets living in the a.D. era, Old Testament is actually particularly influential when considering present day religious ideas. Amos and Hosea were both prophets in Israel in the eight-century, a period when the state experienced a variety of more or less fortunate events. These two are considered Minor Prophets because of the short length of their books, given that their works are much shorter in comparison to the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah. They focused on putting across a traditional view in regard to the Empire of Israel and they emphasized the fact that one of the principal reasons for its fall was the fact that people had abandoned God and spirituality.
Amos and Hosea were interested in providing their people and the world as a whole with an explanation regarding suffering experienced by Israel and its people. They acknowledged the fact that individuals had lost their interest in religious matters and embraced sinful lifestyles. As a consequence, God was no longer willing to support them in their dealings with neighboring states and they would end up being persecuted by these respective nations.
In order to have a better understanding of the attitudes that Amos and Hosea employed in their attempt to present people with God's interests, one would have to be presented with the social, economic, and political factors related to Israel during the eight-century B.C. Amos and Hosea focused on providing the public with a moral message and they did not necessarily relate to the supernatural aspect of being a prophet.
Amos did not consider himself to be an actual prophet because most prophets were believed to be educated at the time. Moreover, they would normally be seen around influential people and they would stay near the king's court, as kings apparently considered their advice to be particularly important. From a modern perspective, one might regard Amos as being a moral commentator of affairs occurring in his vicinity. He was concerned about having people understand the importance of spirituality and of believing in God. He was particularly disturbed with people's behavior and considered that something needed to be done in order for the people of Israel to experience as little suffering as possible in the near future.
Amos used drama with the purpose of emphasizing the wrongness in the behavior of Israelites and his work represented a shift from typical prophetic works written before him. In spite of his later tendencies, he initially followed tradition in writing, as "the early Amos already exhibits both simplicity and intensity in his utterances, and he may be singled out in his bold outlines to exemplify the activity of the prophet in general" (Cook, 1996, p. 16). It is very probable that his interest in detaching himself from typical prophets is not actually an attempt to have people perceive him as being inferior to these respective individuals. It is likely that he intended his personality and his works to be distinguished from mainstream prophecies and thus focused on highlighting his background, his thinking, and his perspective in regard to the world. While many people living contemporary to him believed that only a true prophet could receive word from God, Amos wanted to change their opinion and to simply provide them with his theories (Koch, 1983, p. 9).
Laws were particularly harsh to prophets who were found to put across false prophecies and this was probably a reason for which Amos managed to express his thinking without being criticized, as he and his community did not consider him to be a prophet. Amos seemed unconcerned about how people would see him, as he principally wanted them to understand his teachings and focus on leading more spiritual lifestyles (Koch, 1983, p. 9).
Amos presented the world with a new kind of prophecy and with a new kind of prophet. The fact that he was different from other prophets apparently made it possible for him to see things from an objective point-of-view. "Moving from South to North, he is a native Hebrew but also something of a stranger, which suggests that he occupies the formal status of the ger, the "resident alien," a regular role in the society" (Cook, 1996, p. 17). As a consequence, Amos was not only different from prophets, as he was also different from the people of Israel. While this influenced Israelites in discriminating him, it also provided him with a general image of Israelite behavior and tendencies. He was practically enabled to see that Israel did not treat all of its inhabitants equally and that particular groups were inclined to persecute others. Amos considered that the job of a true prophet was not necessarily related to him prophesying the future, as he also needed to understand events happening contemporary to him and the effect that these respective events will have on the future. "A prophet deserves honor not because he foresees the coming event but because he sees the meaning within the current event. It is the prophet's gift of insight, not his foresight, that sets him apart" (Blank, 1961, p. 4).
Amos practically understood the political and economic context that made it possible for Israelites to experience a period of prosperity and realized that they were wrong because they did not focus on maintaining it. By simply enjoying life to the fullest these people ignored imminent threats and were unable to respond effectively when neighboring nations rose against them. Amos perceived his society as a building that was standing on unstable pillars represented by Israelites. The fact that these people were reluctant to appreciate spiritual values made it difficult for them to foresee threats. They virtually took advantage of the time they spent without being persecuted to exploit resources in their territory. It is not necessarily that Amos was angry with Israelites for their behavior, as he was disappointed and realized that there was little that he could do to help them, considering that they were determined to go on with their self-destructive lifestyle (Sawyer, 1993, p. 124).
Amos was also infuriated with the behavior of religious people living contemporary to him. He blamed them because they did not support him in criticizing immoral behavior and because many of them actually contributed to making Israel a sinful place. There were priests at the time who promoted pagan rituals and who believed that sacrifice was the only way to please the gods. Amos knew that this was wrong but he could not intervene because of his social status. Both Amos and Hosea trusted that Israelites would eventually be able to recover from the dark period that they were experiencing because they were familiar with Jewish tradition. They knew that most pagan rituals and the inclination to appreciate material values more than spiritual ones resulted from the fact that Israelites had been influenced by Canaanite tradition. By worshipping Canaanite gods, priests and people in general had rebelled against what Amos and Hosea considered to be the true God (Barstad 1984, p. 5).
While Israelites were prosperous during the reign of Jeroboam, they were reluctant to divide power equally in the state and were determined to create upper and lower castes with the purpose of having particular individuals superior to others. Upper class individuals expressed no interest in the needs of the poor and primarily focused on exploiting them as much as possible. Amos was disturbed with their attitude and did not hesitate to criticize them for their behavior. "You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine" (Amos 5:11). He was well aware of the fact that people were blinded by material values and that they could not see that they were in danger of falling victim to society's pressures.
Israelites believed that God favored them and that they could do anything that they wanted and God would not be mad in regard to their behavior. The early decades of the eight-century B.C. saw a flourishing Israel and an Israelite public that had access to more and more resources. While Israelites considered that this was a sign that they were truly appreciated by a divine force, the truth was that neighboring nations were weakened by internal conflicts and could not afford the luxury of attacking Israel. The Assyrians were too busy to control conditions on other fronts and did not consider Israel to be particularly important for them during the first half of the eight-century B.C. King Jeroboam II took advantage of this and expanded the nation's borders while people were becoming more and more prosperous. Israel's suffering did not necessarily…