Lecture 24: Hosea, Amos, and Jonah
Course: Old Testament Survey
Lecture: Hosea, Amos, & Jonah
The three prophets. I would like to look at Amos, Hosea, and Jonah. These are all contemporaries. Amos probably 760, Hosea right around that time, maybe 758 or something. But he is preaching; you can prove he is preaching as an essential contemporary. Then Jonah, sometime closely around this point as well. Jonah was a prophet who has this kind of special situation. We read more about Jonah than we read of what he preached. In his case, the narrative about him is the primary thing that is employed. About some prophets, you have no narrative at all, not a word. We just do not know anything about what Malachi looked like or where he ever went or what he ever felt or thought. Nothing, he is not mentioned, whereas about other prophets you have both. Jeremiah, some narrative, some of what they said. The smaller the book, sometimes you get one extreme or the other. You get, like Malachi, only their words; strictly the speech, the typed up sermons. About other prophets, just the narrative part. Jonah has a little of each but it is primarily narrative.
Let me back up and go to Amos. Here is a very, very simple and quick overview. Those oracles against foreign nations including Judah and Israel; we saw that, we read through much of that just a few moments ago. Then four chapters of judgment against Judah. Then five visions and some narrative about him; some biography about him.
A. Not a professional prophet
He says, when questioned in this narrative section, “I wasn’t a professional, I didn’t train as a prophet, I didn’t set out to be one. I wasn’t discipled by anybody. I was a professional sheep breeder and a fig cultivator.” Presumably he would travel up into the north, up into Israel, on his agribusiness. He had stud sheep and he had also workers who knew how to cultivate the figs. He did this as a job and saw the conditions in the north and God’s spirit lead him to prophesy and he was very effective, but he never went to seminary and he did not have a M. Div. or anything, he just did it. He did it because the gift was there. Notice that finally there is a restoration promise.
B. Restoration Promise
You will see that everything up through 9:10 is all basically bad. Judgment is coming, gloom, darkness, no good news for you; I am sorry, you are all going down hill. But, he does have a restoration promise at the end. Here is a prophet who refers occasionally to the good old days of blessing but most of his emphasis is on the coming curse and then a brief concluding section just to remind people it is not all bad in the long run. “Yes, in our lifetime things may be bad.” Three decades later the nation was not in existence; it was destroyed. But he is saying, “In our lifetimes we may not have anything to look forward to that is very positive, but if you want to know the big picture, if you want to identify as one of God’s people, if you have got God’s interests at heart and you can see the wonderful plan of redemption unfolding, take heart, you won’t see it in your life time on earth but it is certainly coming.” That sense of promise is a wonderful thing that all the prophets tend to have.
Hosea is a little bit later, a bigger book and covering a much bigger block of time. Hosea preaches all the way from possibly as early as 760 way down to about 720 BC, because he even talks about the days when the Assyrians have won and there is no longer a king in Israel. They have deposed the king and annexed the country. In the first three chapters of this book there is a very strong and interesting kind of emphasis on husbands and wives. Hosea’s own family is used as a backdrop for what God is doing through Israel and doing to Israel. Then there are some sections that are not about Hosea and his wife but all about God and his. That is, Israel as God’s wife. Israel is often envisioned that way, as the bride of God in the same way that in the New Testament the church is the bride of Christ. This analogy is not new; it is an Old Testament theme simply brought up-to-date in the New Testament. There is a long section on judgment for the various sins of the people and how these end up breaking the covenant. There is a long section on the certainty of divine judgment but then there is a conclusion on in chapter 14 on the mercy of God. “I won’t allow this forever; it won’t always be that case. My people will be able to come back to Me.” Then beautifully in chapter 14 there is an invitation not to bring lambs to sacrifice or the fruit of the field or the vine of the tree but to come with the fruit of your lips with your words of contrition. “Talk to me says the Lord. That’s what I want to hear. I want to hear you confess and accept and so on. I don’t want to hear you anymore think that you go through these rituals.” It is a beautiful kind of prediction of what the future will really represent and how the sacrificial system will one day be done away with.
Then quickly moving to Jonah. A student here some years ago had a way of characterizing Jonah. He said chapter one was “sea action”. Then chapter 2, where Jonah prays from inside the fish, was “knee action”. Then chapter 3, where Jonah finally gets God’s commission and has to carry it out, is “reaction”. Then chapter 4, where Jonah is selfishly hoping that his preaching hurt the Assyrians rather than helped them, is “me action”. You might just appreciate that when some exam comes and Jonah is on there. Sea action, knee action, reaction, and me action. Anyway, what he starts out to do is to try to flee from God. Why? I think because most of the translations do not do justice to the Hebrew. Turn with me to that, because I am going to wrap this up before we go back and talk a little bit more about Amos and Hosea. When we talk about these prophetical books we will be sampling almost always. There are so many of them that it is simpler and more effective, I think, to sample from various ways from them and you will get the full picture rather than to just exhaustively work through each one. By the time we have looked at all sixteen, most of the themes will come out. As you have read them and these things have been brought to your attention, you will read them with a better and better sense of what is happening.
A. Go to Nineveh--A Hated Enemy
Here is what I think should be the translation of Jonah 1:2. God says to Jonah, “Go to the great city Nineveh and preach to it because its trouble has come to my attention.” The word that is translated “wickedness” much more often means “trouble” in Hebrew. The word that is translated “preach against it” can definitely mean “preach to it”. In other words, I think Jonah hears that God is concerned about Nineveh. Just as he is says in the last chapter. He hears concern and he does not like it. Why doesn’t he like it? Jonah is a prophet that we know about from 2 Kings 14. Jonah has preached the destruction of Israel’s enemies. He has preached hard in favor of the expansion of Israel’s borders. He is out there against those foreign nations. He loves God’s people and he does not want them to be hurt, and they are being hurt, and they are threatened more by a huge power like the Assyrians far more than they are by some of the people Jonah preached against like the Syrians or Damascus. So he does not want to hear that God is now calling him to go and have a ministry of compassion to people that he hates. This might be like having some deep resentment for, I do not know, the Russians or something or maybe the Germans. Let’s say your father or grandfather was killed in World War II by the Germans and you just hate these Germans. And then of all things, God wants you to go as a missionary to Germany. That is not fun to contemplate. You were enjoying hating them and there is no reason to have to like them now. So Jonah runs away.
B. Trying to Flee From God
How can a prophet run away from God? Really, does he not get it? No, I would suggest to you that Jonah had an imperfect theology. Can God use a prophet with an imperfect theology? Of course He can use imperfect theology. The disciples have imperfect theology up until and even after the resurrection. After the ascension they finally get it. At Pentecost they have got the Holy Spirit and Jesus says he will make you remember it right. They were still confused. Even after the resurrection they say, “Now you’re going to restore the kingdom?” and they laugh. They are just dense even with all the teaching He has given. If the disciples can do it, sure a prophet can do it. Many people had imperfect theology, doubted, and had questions of all kinds. Jonah appears to be typical of the ancient near eastern individual who believed that gods had primary influence and power where they were worshipped, that is where they were fed. Ancient people believed that the one power humans had over the gods was that the gods needed to be fed; the gods could not feed themselves. So the theory was, because you never worshipped without sacrificing to the gods, if you worship a given god you will sacrifice to him. If you therefore could go to some place where nobody had ever sacrificed to that god, chances are the god was not so stupid as to hang around that place because he cannot ever eat. So gods only go, only have power, only circulate where they are worshipped.
So Jonah, thinking that way, assumes that God is localized. He finds out better, obviously, that he cannot get away from God. What Jonah does then is to cause God to bring up a terrible storm on this boat that he is on. It is, by the way, a boat out of Joppa. In those days Joppa was a Philistine port city. Jonah is with foreign sailors. They row like crazy to try to get back to land when this storm comes up that God causes. But Jonah says, “I’m the reason.” He says, “You’re going to have to throw me overboard or you will lose your own life.” So finally, reluctantly they do; they throw him overboard. As he goes down into the depths of the Mediterranean, he says, “God, I really made a big mistake. I deserve this, I guess, and now my life is at an end.” All of sudden something swallows him. After some time goes by he realizes I am not dead, I am alive; God has preserved my life.
C. Thanksgiving Inside a Fish
Drowning was what he expected; he did not drown. He prays out of the belly of the fish a psalm. Introduction, misery, appeal, rescue, testimonial; it is a thanksgiving psalm. It is not a psalm about punishment; it is a psalm about deliverance. He knows he has been rescued. “I’m alive, it’s kind of dark, but I’m alive.” Then the fish actually spits him up on dry land and that time he does go to Nineveh; that is chapter 3.
D. Repentance of Nineveh
He goes to Nineveh and he preaches God’s warning, “Yet forty days and I will destroy this city says the Lord,” meaning you have got forty days to repent and the people, of all things, repent. They actually do. Do they convert to Christ? No. Do they convert to Judaism? No, it does not say that they converted, it just says they repented. They did what they knew how to do. You put on sackcloth and ashes, you say you are sorry, you humble yourselves and there is this guy who came out of the blue and preached this stuff and they went for it.
E. No Thanksgiving Outside the City
Then in the last part of the book we see what we would call a flashback, we see Jonah waiting out in a little shelter that he has built. The building of his little shelter is described starting in chapter 4:5. Now, all of Mesopotamia, certainly all around Nineveh, had been for many centuries deforested. That means that he had to build his little shelter out of stone. There are lots of stones. He had a stone shelter but, of course, unless you are really skillful he is not going to have an arch and a stone roof and all. No, he has got a shelter but he has no roof on it. So it protects him a little bit in the early day when the sun is slanting and late. Then God causes this leafy gourd to grow up very quickly and suddenly he has got a roof. Now that is not bad. Breeze comes through and you have got shade and it is not bad. He kind of likes that gourd; it is a nice gourd. God then causes a worm to chew the roots and kill the gourd. Then hot weather comes. Jonah is out there, the sun beating on him. All the while he is hoping that he is going to see fire and brimstone come down on the city of Nineveh and he can go home and say, “Boy, was that good to see. Oh man, there must have been 600,000 people killed,” actually there was 120,000, but that is what he is hoping, that there was a massive destruction of all these people.
F. God's Love and Concern for All Peoples
Then God says to him, “Hey, Jonah.” He says, “Yes.” “Are you bothered about the fact that that leafy gourd died?” and Jonah says, “I am!. I am angry enough to die. I liked that gourd. It was great. How come the gourd died?” God says, “You’ve been concerned about this vine, or this gourd, though you didn’t make it grow, it just happened. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left,” that is a way of saying they do not know anything about My truth, “and I’m caring about them and also about the cattle as well. Shouldn’t I be concerned about them?” Here is the picture. In everybody’s sense of value you have human life at the top, then you have animal life, and then you have plant life. That is the way it is. In every culture it has always been that way; the highest level, middle level, lowest level, in terms of the value of life. And God says to Jonah, “You were all worked up over a plant weren’t you?” “Yes, I loved it! It was a good plant. I’m sorry it’s gone.” So God says, “You’re down here worrying about a plant, shouldn’t I worry about the humans or even just the animals? Shouldn’t I?”
It is a wonderful, wonderful lesson about God’s compassion for unsaved people. It is a fabulous story. These people do not necessarily get converted in the sense of going on to eternal life, you cannot prove that from the story, but you can show that God has a concern for people “who don’t know their right hand from their left”. In fact, many of the other prophets are going to reflect that. Do not miss it that there are various subtle ways in which the prophets, other than Jonah, also are addressing this kind of interest and concern and it ought to be important to us. We ought not to miss it and think that these prophets are just self-centered in that manner. I just want to talk a little bit about orienting data for Amos and for Hosea and then we are done. We have done enough to get ourselves started in dealing with these prophetical books.
IV. Orienting Data for Amos
First of all with regard to Amos, predictions of doom followed by a brief reminder of blessing. He is a southerner preaching in the north about 760, we have said that. But then let me dwell on the emphases for just a couple of minutes, how a people’s morality effects what will happen to them in the future.
A. The Problem Is Moral
That is a very important lesson. This morality is a great concern of God. Most people in modern times tend to think, What is the problem? Well the problem is education. We have got to give our kids more testing. We have got to do this or that.” “I am going to be the education president,” says every president. The problem is education. You can solve everything by education. For some people the problem is the economy. For some people it is technology. For some people it is better health care. The problem says God is “moral”. That is where the problem lies. Everything else is secondary to your moral condition and that is where we come in. We know something that God knows, we know something that the rest of the world does not know; that the real problem is moral. So that a person that is technologically in great shape, economically fine, fabulously well-educated, and has good health care still is just going to go to hell. But the person who may lack all of these, but is morally right because his sins are forgiven, that is a person whose future is far brighter even if by some worldly standards his present is less bright. It is a whole different way of looking at the world and Amos will help you see it; the problem is moral.
B. Judah and Israel No Better Than Enemies
Then why are Judah and Israel no better than enemies in God’s sight; no better than their enemies or no better than enemies. That is really a theme of this book and it is a remarkable thing to see that God’s own covenant people should now be in a state where they are being rejected by Him. That is a great concept to get across; a person’s sin as well as social injustice; both of them bad. Many people tend to think that one or the other is the big thing. If you are a liberal these days it is social injustice—people are good but in a bad world, a bad society, or are badly influenced by republicans who are wrecking everything. It depends on liberal you are.
On the other hand, some Evangelicals have no sense of social injustice. I cannot imagine that there is any such thing. It is all personal to them. A book like Amos will help you help people understand that there is both the personal and the social and there must be righteousness in both areas; righteousness in the individual heart, in the family, in the community, in the state, in the nation, in the world society as a whole and a believer wants to have both. A good believer ought to pray for the United Nations and its work, they ought to pray about conflicts in various parts of the world. When you have a pastoral prayer, do not only pray for personal things; also, do not just pray for the world and not pray for Ralph who is in the hospital. We need to have a balanced picture in our prayer life and in our thinking about the world and what its needs are. Then, finally, remember God’s coming judgment because He is going to spare and eventually restore the remnant by his mercy. You appreciate the coming judgment, but you also appreciate the balance of the remnant that God has in mind.
V. Orienting Data for Hosea
This is the last with regards to Hosea. If there is anything here in the way I word something that helps you, fine. But I just want to talk about the Hosea part of this. Here is a prophet from northern Israel condemning northern Israel. What have they done? They have done what all the prophets condemn people for, that is abandoning God’s punishment. So he predicts doom, conquest and exile but also future restoration. He preaches for a long time, a four-decade ministry. His emphases 1) The way that things are so corrupt that the corruption is virtually universal.
A. Israel Guilty of Prostitution
Let me read from the beginning of Hosea, as what He says has often been misunderstood. “Go get yourself a wife of prostitution, have children of prostitution because the land is totally prostituting itself away from the Lord.” People have thought, “Oh gee, that is Hosea 1:2, that means God told him to marry a prostitute.” No, it is simply the metaphor “prostitution” commonly used fourteen times in Hosea, dozens of times in Ezekiel, all over other places in the prophets and other places as a metaphor for infidelity to the covenant. Remember God is the husband of Israel, Israel is His bride so when she forsakes Him and goes after the other gods and goddesses it is like adultery, extreme adultery where you get something for selling yourself to the others, that is what the Israelites thought they were doing. They were gaining, which is prostitution, where you sell it instead of just do it. This is metaphorical. We do not know what his wife actually did for a living; there is no indication that she was anything other than a typical Israelite woman who did all the usual things that Israelite women did, but not that she had been working as a prostitute. If you want more data on that, my commentary on Hosea in the word biblical commentary series go through and gives you all the grammatical Hebrew reasons why it does not say he married a prostitute. The word that is used is not even the typical word for prostitute. Just so you will know. He does say, “The whole nation guilty of the vilest prostitution in departing from Me says the Lord,” universal corruption. So God ends up divorcing His people.
B. Sin Permeates Culture, Judgment Follows, Then Restoration
Then there are examples of how sin permeates the culture, thus the judgment that follows is well-deserved but there is also held out always the opportunity of restoration after the exile. These prophets, even the earliest ones, the beginning prophets, are thinking of the big distant picture. We are going to see as we go along the closer you go in time toward the New Testament, the more and more vivid become their predictions of the great things that God has in store for those who will know him in the New Covenant. There is nothing like the New Covenant; get in on that as soon as you can. When it comes it is going to be wonderful, say the prophets.