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Hosea, Joel, & Amos

Reading # | July 4, 2021

Hosea, Joel, and Amos, the first three of the so-called “Minor Prophets,” are imposing works full of judgment and terror. While these works make abundantly clear the consequences of Israel’s evils, it can be difficult indeed to see God’s mercy amongst their incessant declarations of God’s wrath. But mercy is far from absent.

Hosea marries a prostitute to symbolize God’s marriage to Israel, the unfaithful bride. Using the metaphor of divorce—the statement “she is not my wife, and I am not her husband” (2:2) is language drawn directly from legal procedure—God hurls brutal humiliations on Israel. Yet for all the prophet’s vitriol, verses 14-23 recall Israel’s roots in the wilderness, returning to this “courtship” period in search of renewal and reconciliation. Brokenness is not the end: this theme should permeate our reading of the rest of the book.

Full of dread images, Joel describes Israel’s impending destruction as an all-consuming swarm of locusts. Yet one of the Bible’s greatest images of restoration and plenty is to be found beginning in 2:18. As the wave of destruction is lifted, a new order emerges: earth, animals, and humans shall experience abundance (2:21-24). Devastation is not the end: God looks beyond suffering to the healing that follows.

Amos targets the elites, particularly the vaunted religious leaders of the day. His condemnations are crushing: God spurns song and sacrifice alike, declaring, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” (5:21). Yet an alternative emerges: “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24). Condemnation is not the end: it is the flipside of Amos’s advocacy for the abused and downtrodden in society.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel beautifully captured this perspective on God’s wrath as expressed in the prophets: “The wrath of God is a lamentation. All prophecy is one great exclamation: God is not indifferent to evil! He is always concerned. He is personally affected by what man does to man. He is a God of pathos. This is one of the meanings of the anger of God: the end of indifference!”

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Dr. Clinton J. Moyer is a scholar of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. He specializes in the literary aspects of the Bible and has particular interest in prophecy as a social phenomenon. His 2009 dissertation focused on the foreign prophet Balaam (Numbers 22–24). Currently, he is working on a book entitled The Unwritten Bible and Other Holy Heresies, which seeks to inform readers about the mechanics of biblical literature, neutralize toxic theologies that have gained a foothold within American Christianity, and spark greater interest in deep, thoughtful, ongoing engagement with our sacred texts.

To Consider

1. What does Hosea’s metaphorical use of marriage, divorce, and prostitution say about gender roles and relationships?
2. What about sex workers?
3. What does Amos teach us about the place of wrath in the context of social action?

Prayer

Holy God, even as we are deserving recipients of condemnation, help us to be agents of reconciliation. As we wrestle with your anger, show us your presence with those who suffer; as we are solemnly reminded of our own evil, help us to recognize and realize our potential for good. Amen.

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