Song of the Vineyard by B. Davie Napier
B. Davie Napier, at the time of this writing was Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Intepretation at Yale Divinity School. He later became President of Pacific School of Religion. He is a minister of the United Church of Christ and an author of several books on the Old Testament. Song of the Vineyard was published in 1962 by Harper & Row, Publishers. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.
Chapter 7: Anticipated Judgment: The Eighth Century
PROPHETISM AND THE EIGHTH-CENTURY INDICTMENT:
The New in Prophetism
There are elements in classical prophetism which are distinctly new. There is the new that is external: a new situation which emerges out of pragmatic history, out of the actual course of real events and which could not have been anticipated. It is a new epoch, which develops out of the wide range of possibilities determined by the past. And in eighth-century Israel it was a new epoch charged with tragedy.
There are, of course also the new internal elements, but the internal is inseparable from the external. The classical prophets now see Israel’s historical existence, first brought into being out of Egypt, turning back again into that same essential abyss, chaos, and unendurable meaninglessness. For the prophets from Moses to Elijah and Elisha, Egypt lay in the past, however wide of Yahweh’s mark Israel’s performance might be. But now, Egypt, or what Egypt represented, lay in the future as well. Out of the Egyptian existence of formlessness and void Yahweh had created for Israel a life relatively formed and ordered; certainly in the popular mind this definition of existence continued to be valid and to provide meaning enough for historical consciousness, however strong the opposing judgment from core Yahwism, from prophetic Yahwism.
Here, of course, in Israel’s core of Yahweh loyalists, the meaning of the present was not so superficially determined. The present was appraised and its meaning apprehended in terms of Yahweh’s participation in Israel’s past; and his ultimate purpose in the future. But until the eighth century the future could be seen in continuum with the present, holding in prospect essentially more of the same, or even, in the prophetic view, the restoration of Yahweh’s lost order. Now prophetism envisages discontinuity between the present and the future, the catastrophic imposition from without of disorder and chaos, the abrupt and violent termination of Israel past and present.
The Historical Context
The new aspects of external history and the related internal prophetic mind were initially produced in the middle of the eighth century simply by the aggressive ambition of Assyria backed, for the first time in several centuries, with the leadership and power to implement ambition. Tiglath-pileser III assumed the throne of Assyria in 745 B.C., "the first of an uninterrupted series of great soldiers on the throne of Assyria, who quickly brought the Neo-Assyrian Empire to the zenith of its power and created an empire in the ancient Orient which for the first time united almost the whole of the ancient Orient under Assyrian rule."1 Indeed, within a single decade of the accession of Tiglath-pileser all of the oriental world that he wanted was clearly either in fact or potentially his. By 721, when the Northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria, any hopes of political existence independent of Assyria entertained by smaller neighboring states were simply fatuous. From Tiglath-pileser’s days (745-727), through the successive reigns of Shalmaneser V (727-722), Sargon II (to 705), Sennacherib (to 681), and Essarhaddon (to 669), Assyria’s position of world domination was beyond serious challenge.
The succeeding reign of Asshurbanipal (669-632), unlike his predecessors a patron of the arts rather than of war, was the beginning of the undoing of Assyrian world rule. Assyria slowly succumbed to the vicious powers of the Chaldeans of Babylon, the Medes of the mountains of Iran, and the bands of Umman-manda (apparently Scythians) from the steppes of Russia; and the long death-agony of Assyria was finally ended in decisive battles of 612 and 610 B.C. But unhappily, Assyria’s collapse provided only a brief respite for the barely surviving Israelite kingdom of Judah. For now Assyria’s position in the world was appropriated by Neo-Babylonian power. The political center of the ancient Middle East was moved from Nineveh to Babylon. The sentence of political death was imposed on Judah in the first quarter of the sixth century. The cycle was complete. Israel became once more void and without form. She was once more swallowed up in the chaos of captivity. From uncreation to creation, she was now relegated again to the uncreated. The symbolic word of the eighth-century prophet Hosea (11:5) was fulfilled: "They shall return to the land of Egypt!"
Classical prophetism rises, then, first in the consciousness that Israel now stands between Egypts, that what she was she will be again. Heretofore in Israelite Yahwism the meaning of the present was taken primarily from the understanding and interpretation of the past (see Deut. 6:20 ff.; cf. 26:5-9). So it is in the old cultic credos:
We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt; and Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand . . . that he might bring us in and give us the land which he swore to give to our fathers.
This confession of faith addresses the future, if at all, only implicitly, for the future is of a piece with the present. "Now" embraces tomorrow and tomorrow.2 The appropriate response to the confessional knowledge of meaning in history is, of course, faithful participation in the Yahweh cultus. Such is the sense of Deuteronomy 6:24 (cf. 26:10, the similar conclusion of a variant of the same basic cultic confession):
And Yahweh commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear Yahweh our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as at this day.
Yahwism before the eighth century understood the past and the present chiefly in terms of Yahweh’s positive action on behalf of Israel. If the future is addressed, it is in the confident expectation that it will be in predictable conformity with the past. One sees this in the preclassical prophets. Elijah, for example, believes this, even though he knows full well that Israel’s unfaith has already reduced to disorder the order which Yahweh purposed in Israel. But the classical prophets, from Amos on, are forced to reinterpret the meaning of the present not only in terms of a heightened sense of Israel’s failure to maintain Yahweh’s true order in the present, but also in overwhelming awareness of an immediate future charged with tragedy. This imminent tragedy is deemed to be no less Yahweh’s doing than the great formative event of redemption from Egypt, or political self-fulfillment under the David-Zion covenant. For the classical prophet the old two-member scheme, "out of Egypt, into this land," has become a three-member scheme — "out of Egypt, into this land, back to Egypt again."
Yahweh who redeemed the nation for his own purposes now finds those purposes thwarted by the unfaith and unrighteousness of Israel. Therefore, he will now commit the nation to its preredeerned status of chaos for the same essential purposes. Why? What lies beyond the second Egypt? Is there, in other words, a fourth member to be added to the three-member scheme. Above all, how does all this qualify the nature of existence under Yahweh in the present time?
These questions and their answers are the essence of classical prophetism. They are the context of Israelite prophetism in the eighth to the sixth centuries.3
Amos: Book and Prophet
The literary-critical problems are few and small. The book is substantially a unit. Some of the woes pronounced upon small neighboring states in chapters 1-2 have commonly been regarded as secondary, particularly the condemnation of Judah, 2:4-5. The superbly articulated doxologies of 4:13, 5:8-10, and 9:5-6 may be later editorial insertions. The ending of Amos, from 9: 8b, has often been regarded as an appendix on the grounds that it represents too radical a change of mood to be a part of the original unit. Now these may be good guesses, but it is important to recognize that this remains a guessing game. We do not even know how the writing first came into existence — whether by the prophet’s own hand (unlikely) or at his dictation (possible); or, with greater possibility, from a circle of prophets-disciples among whom the words of Amos were first "recorded" in memory.
The contents of Amos may be surveyed in this fashion:
1-2 A series of oracular indictments (of Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, and Israel) climaxed in the final oracle against Israel.
3-6 The condition of Israel’s present unsatisfying, rebellious existence.
7 The three visions of locust, fire, and plumbline.
8-9 The vision of summer fruit; the pronouncement of Israel’s final and irremediable doom; and (whether secondary or not) the proclamation of hope in Israel’s future beyond the catastrophe of historical judgment.
One may interpret the astonishing phenomenon of classical Israelite prophetism in two ways. It emerges among the ancient Israelites, one may insist, as a kind of mechanical achievement wrought by the accidents of history. It is, as such, a product of Interaction between history and human genius. Now, it is a perennial problem in the life of faith that this remains a possible and credible explanation.
The prophets themselves would, of course, resoundingly repudiate this interpretation of prophetism. They would insist, as the Bible insists, as the life of faith continues to insist, that this epoch in Israelite history witnessed an intense series of divine-human encounters, initiated by God himself and effected by his Word. In this view the phrase, the Word of Yahweh, represents no courteous condescension to religion or piety, no innocent lie thoroughly conventionalized to mean in fact the word of man. It means the Word of God, initiated by God, irresistibly breaking into the life and work of men from Moses’ time on and with peculiar, sustained potency in the classical prophets. In all of these we cannot fail to note — whatever else is the work of the Word — the sharp, specific references to the throbbing life of contemporary human history.
If King Ahab, more than a century earlier, had characterized Elijah in the phrase, "You troubler of Israel" (I Kings 18:17), how much more fervently might Jeroboam II have thrown that epithet at Amos. Amos not only condemned the prostitution of Yahwism in Israel and unethical behavior in the king. He heartily damned the whole fabric of society; he repudiated with violence and contempt all of Israel’s life and thought and practice, including even its worship of Yahweh (e.g., 5:21-23).
Although a native of the Southern kingdom from the little village of Tekoa, about seven miles southeast of Bethlehem, his one recorded public appearance was at Bethel, the official Southern sanctuary of the Northern kingdom. In appreciation of his efforts here, the local authorities cordially expelled him, with the firm invitation for the future to do his preaching at home — or anywhere but Bethel. "It is," said Amaziah, the presiding priest of Bethel, "the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom" (7:13). Amos’ only trouble — it is always the prophets’ trouble — was his insistence that sanctuary, temple, and kingdom all are Yahweh’s!
It would appear from this same exchange between Amaziah and Amos that the term prophet still commonly denoted a certain official status, or some professional affiliation with organized prophetism. We observe that thus far in Old Testament history, professional prophetism has been both of Yahweh and Baal. The professional prophetism of Yahweh appears neutral in quality as associated with Saul, "good" as associated with Obadiah (I Kings 18:13; cf. 19:14) and Elisha, and on the whole "had" as associated with Ahab’s court as we see the court prophets contrasted with one of their number, Micaiah (II Kings 22).
Amos denies unequivocally any professional status (7:14): "I am not a prophet, and I am not a son of a prophet" (that is, I belong to no guild, no band, no association of prophets). It is, of course, possible to translate "was" rather than "am." The verb "to be" is commonly supplied in translation since it does not appear in Hebrew. Grammatically the imperfect may even be "equally possible" as some have insisted.4 But in context it does not appear to be natural. Amos is denying, not necessarily in heat and certainly not necessarily in repudiation of the institution of prophetism, that he does not himself represent what Amaziah has just imputed to him. He has had no contact with the professional, associated prophets: "Yahweh took me from following the flock, and Yahweh said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel!’" (7:15). His action here at Bethel is inspired by this personal confrontation with Yahweh, not by any group apprehension. Not that institutional prophetism may not and does not have this valid, authentic apprehension; nor that Amos is unwilling to be cast in a prophetic role (3:3-8 indicates the contrary!), but simply and exclusively that neither the group phenomenon nor any other official connection happens to be his origin, as charged by Amaziah. Something new comes into the term prophet with Amos. Even Elijah is recognized from the beginning as fulfilling the role of prophet, man of God. Amos is freshly created and validated a prophet only and directly by the Word.
He speaks in passionate and apparently unrelieved condemnation. He excoriates the social structure and practice of the entire nation, in which increasingly during the reign of Jeroboam II wealth was extorted from the poor, in which deceit and dishonesty were the rule; in which great masses of the poor, the dispossessed, the powerless were crushed under the weight of an easy discrimination, a rank and complacent injustice.
He damns the religious structure in which the fervent hymns of praise and the devout symbols of dedication were matched by a fervent immorality and a devout pursuit of vanity; in which Yahwism was enthusiastically endorsed at the sanctuaries but — as Amos saw the Yahweh faith — blatantly violated in business, domestic, and personal relationships. Yahweh was acknowledged with the lips, but denied in the total performance of Israel’s life.
We first learn from Amos of the popularly expected Day of Yahweh. Nothing more brilliantly illustrates the polar disparity between prophetic and popular expectations for the future. Amos declares Israel’s certain doom. The jig is up. Time and Yahweh’s patience have run out. What Israel calls and anticipates as the Day of Yahweh is imminent, but let no one be so foolish as to long for the Day’s coming. It will be darkness and not light. It will be gloom, with no brightness at all (5:18-20).
Israel has brought upon herself the sentence of death which Amos proclaims with bitter fury and passion. He is at pains to let Israel know the magnitude of her rejection of role as Yahweh’s people. We read, then, with wonder and appreciation. Here is an incomparably intimate, partisan interpretation of the life of a little Near Eastern state in the second quarter of the eighth century, the words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. . . (1:1)
CONTINGENCY AND COMPASSION:
AMOS AND HOSEA 1-14
How can I give you up, O Ephraim!
The Positive in Amos
It would be woefully wrong to interpret Amos as an exponent of moral law. Israel’s doom is for Amos no mechanical, impersonal, and automatically invoked judgment. For Amos, as for all prophetism, justice and righteousness (5:24) are not abstractions or in any sense absolutes. They have no independent meaning. These are terms which have meaning only in specific, familiar relationships, and the particular meaning is determined by the particular relationship. When Amos cries, "Let justice roll along [RSV, roll down] like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream!" (5:24), he means specifically justice and righteousness in the Yahweh-Israel relationship, the justice and righteousness in human relationships which honor Yahweh, by which the life of Yahweh’s people is fulfilled, and in adherence to which Yahweh’s purposes in Israel may be consummated. Morality and ethics subsist only in theology. Justice and righteousness in prophetism are derivatives of faith. Israel’s violation is not of principles but of persons, and ultimately the person of Yahweh. The judgment is not a result of the automatic action of some mechanism built into the moral structure of things, but comes directly and personally from Yahweh himself, whose life and power are thus apprehended primarily in history.
Now, if this is true, it is also wrong to read Amos as a prophet of unqualified, unrelieved negation. Contingency and hope are here. The fierce indictment and the proclamation of cataclysmic judgment are predicated on Israel’s persistent repudiation of Yahweh, and are implicitly contingent upon her refusal to turn back again. But Amos knows Yahweh’s love and patience (see 4:6-11, with the essentially tender refrain, "Yet you did not return to me"; but especially 7:2,5); and when he speaks the apparently immutable sentence of death upon Israel (4:12; 7:9; 9: l-8a) it is surely motivated (as the articulation of despair is of necessity always motivated) by hope, indomitable hope, that the pronouncement of judgment will effect decisive change in the conditions which invoked the judgment.
The quality of contingency in prophetism is more marked in other prophets, but it is implicit in Amos; and no prophet, not even Amos, can be interpreted as holding Yahweh’s judgment upon Israel as the last word. The ending of the book of Amos may be secondary (although this proposition is by no means unassailable), but it remains in a profound sense authentic. The man Amos, the prophet Amos, could not have spoken with such passion on behalf of Yahweh except in the faith that the very historical judgment which he proclaimed was itself ultimately positive and redemptive in divine purpose. If Amos had deemed Israel’s sentence of execution to be the end, he would never have spoken at all!
Hosea: The Time and the Book
Hosea’s role of prophet is played out some ten to twenty-five years after Amos. From a number of allusions in the text of Hosea, it appears rather certain that the prophet’s career began after the reign of Jeroboam 11(786-746) and probably after 740 (despite the reference to Jeroboam in 1:1). Since there is no mention of the fall of Damascus to Assyria in 732, it is possible that his active career ended prior to that date. It is certain that it did not extend beyond the fall of Samaria in
The last generation of the Northern kingdom, to which Hosea belonged, was a period of hectic, brutal confusion. Jeroboam II’s reign may have been superficially brilliant but it apparently lacked any fundamental, enduring strength. His son, Zechariah, after a very brief reign (746-745), was assassinated by Shallum, who was himself rather promptly dispatched by Menahem. Menahem (745-738) bought an uneasy security from Assyria in the last year of his reign with the payment of a handsome tribute to Tiglath-pileser, whose annals declare:
As for Menahem I overwhelmed him like a snowstorm and he. . . fled like a bird, alone, and bowed to my feet [?]. I returned him to his place and imposed tribute upon him, to wit: gold, silver, linen garments with multicolored trimmings, . . . great . . . I received from him. Israel [the text reads literally, "Omri-Land," testifying to the power of that reign a century and a half earlier]. . . all its inhabitants and their possessions I led to Assyria. They overthrew their king Pekah and I placed Hoshea as king over them.5
Menahem’s son, Pekahiah, not mentioned in the Assyrian record, reigned for a couple of years (738-732), to meet a violent end at another assassin’s hands, Pekah, who led an anti-Assyrian party in Israel. Pekah (737-732) was rejected by his own people following a pathetic attempt to stop a westward Assyrian advance, and was murdered by Hoshea (II Kings 15:30), who reigned as a vassal of Assyria. Hoshea (732-724) subsequently revolted and was executed by the Assyrian monarch, Shalmaneser V (727-722). Samaria was besieged for three years, and fell to Shalmaneser’s successor, Sargon II, in 721.
The Hebrew text of Hosea is as difficult and confused as the epoch in which it originated. One hesitates to propose anything as definite as an "outline." The present structure does appear to fall into the two divisions:
1-3 The theme, throughout apparent, is Hosea’s anguished relationship to Gomer and the tightly analogous relationship of Yahweh and Israel.
4-14 There is nothing here to give form or provide unity. The character of the section is, however, typically prophetic: the broad range of the types of prophetic utterance is embraced, from indictment and judgment to some of the most tender expressions of the compassion in which Yahweh holds Israel.
The more severe textual critics have reduced Hosea largely to a name under which a broad assortment of prophetic oracles from widely varied sources and times has been collected. Preponderant critical opinion has been much more conservative and withholds from Hosea (or the immediate Hosea-circle of prophetism) chiefly two kinds of material (and not all examples of these two kinds): (1) the utterance which favorably contrasts Judah with condemned Israel (e.g., 1:7), and (2) the prediction of an unqualified bright future, usually falling at the end of an oracle of doom. For the rest, the substantial eighth-century figure of the prophet Hosea is directly or indirectly responsible. This is for the most part "the Word of Yahweh that came to Hosea the son of Beeri" (1:1) in the years shortly before the fall of Samaria and the extinction of the political entity of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
The Major Problems of Hosea
Two problems promise to remain problems and may well be ultimately insoluble. One is the relationship between chapters 1 and 3. The other, not unrelated, has to do with the interpretation of the personality of Hosea.
According to chapter 1, in which Hosea appears in the third person, the prophet is commanded by Yahweh to marry a prostitute and to accept offspring of this union whose paternal status must in fact remain in doubt. This Hosea does; and to the three children now born to Gomer he gives symbolic names, making them living oracles of indictment in the community:
Jezreel — for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel (1:4; cf. II Kings 9-10)
Lo’-Ruhamah ("Not Pitied") — for I will no more have pity on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. (1:6)
Lo’-’Ammi ("Not My People") — for you are not my people and I am not your God
(1:9, with the Septuagint and the RSV.)
Chapter 3 is a narrative in the first person: the prophet is himself the narrator. The Yahweh Word to the prophet is essentially the same: "Go again [a great deal hangs on this word: is it original or secondary?]; love a woman who is beloved of a paramour [anyone who loves or is loved illicitly] and is an adulteress — even as Yahweh loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins [denoting idolatrous rites] ."
The first problem, then, concerns the relationship between the two accounts. There are three possible answers:
1. Since chapter 1 is an account in the third person, and chapter 3 in the first person, the two accounts are parallel — descriptions in different terms of the same thing. The word "again" in 3:1 is an editorial insertion.
2. Chapter 3 preserves Hosea’s own view of the matter preceding the actual marriage which is narrated in chapter 1.
3. Chapter 3 is a sequel to chapter 1. It is the same woman in both chapters. After the birth of the children in chapter 1, Gomer leaves Hosea; and he, later, buys her back, he redeems her from the life of prostitution to which she has returned.
The second problem arises out of the repeated statement that Hosea knowingly married a prostitute (1:2 and 3:1). For one whose moral constitution was as acutely sensitive as Hosea’s, no undertaking could be more bitter. If in fact, then, Hosea married Gomer in the full knowledge of her previous professional standing either as an independent prostitute or as a sacred prostitute attached to one of the still-flourishing fertility cults (see for example Hosea 4:14), several interpretations are proposed:
1. Some, intrigued with the (dubious) game of fitting ancient figures into compartments of modern psychoanalysis, would see Hosea’s act as symptomatic of a profound sickness. Hosea is a masochist: he takes upon himself the fullest possible measure of abuse in committing himself to sexual partnership with a confirmed whore.
This is masochism in its original sense. The term has come into common use for that personality sickness in which one derives perverted pleasure from the endurance of pain. The term originally derives, however, from the title of an Austrian Novel, Masoch, written in the nineteenth century by von Sacher, and describing in detail the case of one whose abnormal sexual appetite and passion find satisfaction in exquisite abuse by his partner.
It is unnecessary to say that this view of a severely psychotic prophet has little to recommend it.
2. Others give a high religious interpretation to the reported fact of Hosea’s foreknowledge of Gomer’s unchaste status. This act — of all acts most repugnant to him — is one of supreme surrender to divine will. In this view, Hosea conforms to the not uncommon figure in the history of religions of the flagellant who, as a (perverted) act of service to or contrition before the deity, heaps abuse upon himself. But this strictly "hair-shirt" explanation of Hosea is only a variant of, and no more satisfying than, the interpretation of masochism.
3. The simplest view — on the assumption still that Hosea did know the qualities of Gomer before their marriage — is that he loved her; that he believed this marriage to be according to the Word of Yahweh; and that he hoped, at least, that his love, like Yahweh’s love for Israel, would ultimately bring a satisfying response and a fulfilled relationship.
It may be, of course, in spite of the statement of 1:2 ("Yahweh said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry’"), that Hosea did not in fact knowingly marry a prostitute. Someone has suggested that the implication of "And the Lord said to Hosea" is simply that looking back on his life, Hosea realized that God had enabled him to turn his sorrow to the service of truth, and therefore he could feel that the good hand of God had been with him from the start, despite the personal tragedy for Gomer and for him.6
On any view of either problem, the central facts are unaltered. Whatever the relationship between chapters 1 and 3, and whatever the interpretation of Hosea’s personality, the prophet was in marriage covenant with an unfaithful woman; and in his own anguish and love for his wife, he believed Yahweh had revealed the nature of the relationship between Yahweh and unfaithful Israel, the specific character of the divine compassion, and the precise quality of Israel’s violation of covenant.
Is it possible that Hosea is fictional allegory? This suggestion has appeared with some persistence in modern interpretations of the book. It seems unlikely on a number of counts, and especially in view of the authentic appeal and the emotional intensity of the central analogy that as Gomer is to Hosea, so Israel is to Yahweh. In 2:2-7, for example, it is improbable, to say the least, that we are reading a theoretical, fictionalized allegory. In this brief section, and in others, the mingled fury, anguish, love, and hope tend to confirm the dual historical, existential reference — Israel and Gomer. In prophetic faith, this is revelation, this is Yahweh’s self-disclosure, with double intensity. He makes himself known in the most intimate and bitter relationship of Hosea’s private life, in the prophet’s personal history; and Hosea, recipient of the Word of Yahweh, is called to be the interpreter of that segment of history in which he is himself the center. His own agony is the key to the meaning of that history.
The intensity of the castigation in 2: 2-5a (cf. 9:10-17) is derived from the same dual historical reference. So, too, is derived the pathos in the portrayal of a lack of knowledge in 2: 5b and 8. >From the same double reference comes the tender hope of a voluntary return in 2:7.
As Gomer is to Hosea, so Israel is to Yahweh. The wife is unfaithful. The husband’s love is rejected. The marriage covenant is shattered. The most common Hebrew term for the sex act in marriage is the verb "to know." The phrase occurs again and again in the Old Testament: "and so-and-so knew his wife, and she conceived and bore . . ." The book of Hosea repeatedly sets the appropriate Yahweh-Israel relationship in terms of "knowledge" or "knowing" and of course this conveys implicitly far more than the narrow analogue of contractual obligation. The knowledge of Yahweh embraces also the cognizance that in Israel and Israel’s world there is no other; that in her history and the broad history which she shares, Yahweh rules (see 13:4 f.). But in the context of Hosea we cannot escape the inference of the intimate and the particular. The lament that there is no knowledge of God in the land (4:1,6) and the plea for the restoration of that knowledge (6:6; cf. 2:20; 6:3; 8:2) imply so strong a relationship between Israel and Yahweh that the profound effect of its violation can be conveyed only by comparing it to the violation of the marital relationship when a wife wantonly offers a husband’s sexual prerogatives to other men (10:11). Incidentally, in all of this Hosea merits a standing ovation for his unqualified assertion of a single standard in sex morality (4:14).
As Hosea is to Gomer, so Yahweh is to Israel. "How can I give you up, O Ephraim!" cries Yahweh (11:8), whose love and compassion are made known in one who has himself cried, night after lonely night, "How can I give you up, O Gomer!" Hosea knows that the unfaithfulness of the covenant partner invokes wrath, discipline, judgment; and that as Gomer must suffer, so also must Israel (see, e.g., 2:10-14; 4:9-10; 7:11-13; 9: 3,10-17; 11:5; 13:16). But Hosea also knows that unfaithfulness, even at its most lewd and shameless, does not stop the flow of love or assuage the anguish of woefully injured affection. His hopes and purposes for his life with Gomer, as Yahweh’s with Israel, cannot be permanently frustrated. Compassion is of stronger, more enduring stuff than wrath. Discipline becomes only the necessity by which the relationship may be restored and redeemed.
These comments touch but lightly on this rich product of classical prophetism. Read Hosea again — and again. The theme of impending catastrophe is sounded no less forthrightly than in Amos. But the dominant theme is Yahweh’s compassion for Israel and Yahweh’s unimpedable purpose to produce out of Israel his own people in a fulfilled covenant relationship.
In that day, says Yahweh.
THE THEOLOGICAL ETHIC AND HISTORY:
ISAIAH 1-23, 28-33; MICAH 1-77
Yahweh alone ‘will be exalted.
Assyria, Israel, and Judah
Tiglath-pileser (745-727) first consolidated his eastern territories before turning west; but in 738 Rezin of Damascus and Menahem of Israel render the tribute of vassals, and other small western states capitulate. Pekah in Samaria and Rezin later conspire to throw off the Assyrian yoke, but needing the support of Judah, and finding Ahaz (735-715?) unwilling to join, they lay siege to Jerusalem in the hope of deposing Ahaz. In extreme straits, Ahaz reverts to the crude rite, persistently condemned in prophetic Yahwism, of child sacrifice, and offers up his own son as a burnt offering (I Kings 16:3). He also appeals to Tiglath-pileser, against Isaiah’s advice (II Kings 16:7; Isa. 7) which was certainly prudentially given: since the Assyrian king would not in any case tolerate for long such independent and insurrectionist action on the part of vassals, Ahaz obligated himself unnecessarily.
In 734, then, the Assyrians campaign in the west with bitter vengeance. Damascus and Northern Israel are mercilessly plundered and for the first time Assyria invokes in this area the policy of deportation, the removal to other parts of the empire of appreciable numbers of the population and particularly the real or potential leaders around whom subsequent rebellion might form. Judah is not molested at this time, but she remains in diminished circumstances from the occupation of Rezin’s and Pekah’s armies. And Ahaz the king is summoned peremptorily to Damascus where, in partial token of his subservience to Assyria, he arranges for the erection of an altar in the Temple in Jerusalem copied from an imported Assyrian altar in Damascus. This we suspect underlies the account of II Kings 16:10 ff. Ahaz hardly went to such pains and expense in the midst of his humiliation simply to satisfy his aesthetic delight in some Syrian altar he chanced to see in Damascus! Commonly in the ancient East political dependence required formal recognition of the victor’s gods, a fact explaining in part the common prophetic protest against any and all kinds of "alliances" with superior powers.
By 732 Tiglath-pileser had efficiently organized and consolidated his western territories north of Samaria into Assyrian provinces. It is important to remember that Hoshea of Samaria (732-724) owed his throne to Tiglath-pileser, a fact which made his subsequent rebellion all the more odious to Assyria. Early in the reign of Shalmaneser of Assyria (727-722) Hoshea begins a series of politically unfaithful flirtations with Egypt. II Kings 17:4 puts it succinctly: "Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea." The prophet Hosea speaks of the ultimate folly of this kind of action when he characterized the pro-Egypt party as silly doves without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria (Hosea 7:11, cf. 8:9). King Hoshea in Samaria openly declares his intentions to divorce Assyria in 724 (II Kings 17:4). Assyrian forces are able to imprison Hoshea; but probably to their surprise and dismay, Samaria does not surrender and Assyria is put to the effort of a three-year siege before the capital and kingdom of North Israel falls in 722-21, never again to be so reconstituted. Sargon II (722-705) had succeeded Shalmaneser before the fall of Samaria. In Sargon’s own annals, the conquest is claimed several times. And again, Assyria follows its policy of shifting the best classes of populations, deporting thousands of Israelites eastward, and importing thousands from Aramaic-speaking countries, who in time lose their identity among the inhabitants of Palestine. The subsequent attitude of the Judean Jew toward the Samaritan (cf. in the New Testament John 4) draws from the memory of this fusion of population elements. The immediate problems of the North are described in II Kings 17:29 ff.
The history of surviving Judah is resumed in II Kings 18. Hezekiah (715-687?) had come to the throne in Jerusalem a few years after Samaria’s fall (perhaps a few years before; his dates present particularly difficult problems). He defies Assyria in two ways: he institutes elaborate religious reforms, always in the ancient East a gesture of independence; and even more brazenly, he undertakes extensive defense measures. The outer fortifications of Jerusalem are strengthened, an act of military strategy against which the prophet Isaiah speaks a devastating theological word: it is right and good that this be done, he says in effect to the king, but you and your action are condemned in this kingdom of Yahweh unless it be done for Yahweh’s sake and to his honor and glory (see Isa. 22:8b-11). The same critical prophetic word appears in the same passage applied to Hezekiah’s attention to the acute problem of the city’s water supply in time of siege. The Gihon spring, outside the city wall — ancient Jerusalem’s only unfailing source of water — is made inaccessible to attackers, and its waters channeled through a tunnel cut through the rock, into the city, for a distance of about 1700 feet. The spring, the tunnel, and the terminal pool of Siloam are still in use today. In the tunnel’s construction, workmen began at opposite ends.
At the point of meeting someone inscribed a brief account of this remarkable feat of ancient engineering in the limestone wall — soft when first exposed to air. It is one of our oldest and best Hebrew inscriptions, even though the first half is unfortunately missing:
[. . . when] (the tunnel) was driven through. And this was the way in which it was cut through: — While . . . (were) still. . .axe(s), each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, [there was heard] the voice of a man calling to his fellow, for there was an overlap in the rock on the right [and on the left]. And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed (the rock), each man toward his fellow, axe against axe; and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1200 cubits, and the height of the rock above the head(s) of the quarrymen was 100 cubits.8
It is remarkable that Hezekiah got by for so long a time without a spanking from Assyria. In 711 he is party to a rebellious coalition of western states inspired by Egypt or Babylon, or both; yet he appears to escape the punishment which they receive. But in 701 Sennacherib (705-681) moves in to pour the wrath of Assyria on all the small western states, as well as Egypt. Jerusalem, besieged by Assyria, escapes destruction. Why and how? Why was the siege lifted?
II Kings 18-19 lists three reasons:
1. Hezekiah’s payment of tribute (18:14-16), a prodigious sum then — the equivalent of at least ten to fifteen million dollars. Assyrian records indicate a more critical tribute including some of Hezekiah’s daughters, his "concubines, male and female musicians."9
2. Urgent military business elsewhere — rumor of trouble (19:7).
3. Plague (the angel of Yahweh, 19:35).
Some believe that three separate, conflicting accounts of the same episode are combined in the present Kings narrative — Tribute, 18:14-16; Rumor, 18: l7-19:9a; and Plague, 19:9b-35. Not uncommonly this kind of explanation has been offered:
"If I were Sennacherib [quite a stretch, even for the most elastic Old Testament man!] the first two reasons would be enough — tribute paid and insurrection in the east. Since from my point of view the third is unnecessary, we will throw it out. Besides, we must remember the great Old Testament axiom that where two or three accounts of one episode are gathered together somebody lied." This kind of argument is dubiously climaxed with the assertion that Hezekiah’s prayer in 19:14-19 is theologically incompatible with the eighth century (true enough of the prayer in its present form), and that therefore the whole account is obviously late and, of course, spurious.
Happily this point of view even in the FBI itself — the Federated Biblical Investigators — is on the wane. It is clear that the payment of tribute alone was not enough. After receipt of it, and before joining battle with the Egyptians at Eltekeh in the Philistine plain region, Sennacherib expressed his continuing distrust of Hezekiah in a note of sharp warning which Hezekiah took as more than warning; he took it as a threat to return and demolish the city of Jerusalem. If such was, in fact, the Assyrian plan, as both Hezekiah and Isaiah believed, the deed of destruction could have been accomplished then as easily as at any time in the period of Assyrian ascendancy. Morale in Jerusalem was at a record low. On every hand, surrounding nation-states were prostrate. In Judah, forty-six cities had been destroyed. Sennacherib boasts, "As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke; I laid siege to forty-six of his strong cities, walled forts, and to countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered them. . ."10 No pride remained in Jerusalem. Hezekiah had stripped the temple, exhausted all wealth, and even surrendered members of his own family in tribute. The three practical explanations for Assyria’s withdrawal seem probable, but we must examine the explanation in terms of Israel’s history. For, as we have seen, the Old Testament sets down history as it has been interpreted by faith.
In accordance with the faith that Yahweh is effectively involved with Israel’s history, Northern Israel does not perish accidentally by the impersonal exigencies of history. Destruction is not seen in the Old Testament as the inevitable culmination of a series of events. On the contrary, the catastrophe is explicitly the judgment of Yahweh. Now, the question arises: Is the interpretation, indigenous to the narrative and inextricable therefrom, right or wrong? The answer depends, does it not, upon each interpreter’s response to the ultimate validity of the claims of faith. No one may determine another’s answer. Every reader must answer for himself the ultimate question of the validity of Israel’s historical faith.
But on this all can agree. The Assyrian forces made a sudden, totally unexpected withdrawal, sparing Jerusalem from what had appeared to be certain doom. In the biblical perspective of faith it is a minor consideration indeed whether Assyrian forces were hastily moved for strategic reasons, or were driven back east by a devastating wave of virulent infection, or by severe food or water poisoning, or even by bubonic plague. It could well have been a withdrawal impelled both by the threat of serious trouble elsewhere in the empire and the ravages of epidemic illness or disease. In the faith of Israel and in the kingdom of Judah it was in either case, or both cases, another of Yahweh’s redeeming acts. It was the power of his Word fulfilling itself in history. This kind of repeated application of the proposition that Yahweh’s dominant sphere of self-disclosure is history rather than nature is responsible for the persistent biblical address to human history and the full range of human life and human existence.
Isaiah: Book, Man, and Prophet
Of the sixty-six chapters in the present book of Isaiah the final block, chapters 40-66, is demonstrably from the sixth century; and it is highly probable that chapters 34-35 date from the same century. Chapters 36-39 are narrative rather than oracular material, paralleled in II Kings 18-20. We look for the eighth-century prophet Isaiah, then, in chapters 1-33.
In this block, four units appear:
1-12 In large part authentically Isaianic; and mainly from the prophet’s earlier ministry.
13-23 Oracles for the most part against foreign nations with nonIsaianic material predominating.
24-27 An apocalyptic section, later even than any thing in 40-66.
28-33 Isaianic material again predominating; and mainly from Isaiah’s later years.
By Isaianic, we do not mean necessarily that which comes unmediated, directly from the lips or "pen" of the prophet, but that which is substantially his, some of it no doubt committed to memory in the circle of his disciples (see, now, Isa. 8: 16). The present book is the product of a number of "Isaiahs" but the first Isaiah is prominently, authentically represented, and as we shall see, strikingly influential in the utterances of subsequent prophets who are known by his name.
Of the man himself, several details are clear. His orientation is that of an urbanite. He is a man of Jerusalem to whom the covenant is the David-Zion covenant. His language, his politics, and even his theology are impressively shaped by his urban existence.
He is a man highly placed in Jerusalem either by virtue of professional status or possibly by royal birth or by both. King Ahaz listens to him, if he does not heed him; and Hezekiah, by any standards one of Judah’s most distinguished kings (see the deuteronomic estimate of him, II Kings 16:1-8, matched only by the Josiah formula, 22: 1-2), not only listens and heeds, but is strongly dependent on the prophet. Moreover, Isaiah moves and speaks, despite occasional public ridicule (28:9 f.), with the assurance of one who knows his position is fundamentally secure.
Isaiah is married and sufficiently content with the title "prophet" to refer to his wife simply as the "prophetess" (8: 3). To our knowledge they have two sons, both named, as were Hosea’s children, symbolically: Shear-Jashub, "a remnant shall return," 7:3, obviously predicating the tragedy that will leave only a remnant, but at the same time affirming the expectation of productive survival; and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, "The spoil speeds, the prey hastes," 8:1-3, with initial reference to the imminent collapse of the Rezin-Pekah alliance against Jerusalem in 734, but perhaps later with reference to Judah herself as the soon-to-be spoil and prey of Assyria.
No prophet is "typical." But no prophet more forcefully, comprehensively, and eloquently represents classical Israelite prophetism than Isaiah. His force, comprehensiveness, and almost unmatched eloquence are, of course, factors in his great stature. But it is his own honest, unneurotic, thoroughly realistic appraisal of himself and his generation together with his historical and existential knowledge of the Word of Yahweh that create the essence of his distinction.
Now let me speak directly. Neither I, who write these present words, nor anyone else can convey to you in words about Isaiah what is so powerfully articulated in the Isaianic oracles themselves. Indirectly, and occasionally directly, I have tried to say all along: Let no one else do your reading of the Old Testament for you! In another text I have presumed (admitting there the presumption) to discuss the content of Isaiah’s prophetism under the seven headings of Covenant, Yahweh’s Holiness, Judah’s Pride, Judgment, Redemption, The Messianic Hope, The Quality of Faith.11 It is presumption because neither Isaiah’s prophetism nor that of any other prophet may be thus categorized. These are in no sense separable concepts. Any one is of an inextricable piece with all the others. Nevertheless, these categories point to the major emphases not only of Isaiah but of classical prophetism as a whole, and I will later attempt a somewhat similar summary view of all of prophetism (chapter 10).
Let me now indicate briefly some of the lines, paragraphs, chapters that for varying reasons always stand out in my own perusal of Isaiah — and around these you may direct your own conversations with the prophet.
The account of his call, chapter 6, no doubt now colored by his post-call career, is unquestionably the most intimately revealing single chapter in Isaiah, embracing explicitly or implicitly all the persistently sounded notes of his prophetic voice.
Mark the moving, empathic indictment of chapter 1; the knowing ox and ass contrasted with unknowing Israel; the awful totality of the Yahweh-Israel alienation — all this with the key to Yahweh’s controversy with Israel (v. 13), "1 cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly!" (cf. Amos 5:21b).
Observe the strange and stirring, but characteristic, alternation between oracles of wrath and compassion (seen also in Hosea and Amos), illustrated in the "floating oracle" (because it also appears in Micah 4) at the beginning of chapter 2, in which is envisaged the redemption which the very catastrophe of judgment makes possible.
The merciless castigation of human pride, repeatedly and brilliantly articulate and everywhere presupposed, even in the prophet himself in his own call, is characteristic of Isaiah:
They bow down to the work of their hands (2:8) . . . [they] carry out a plan, but not mine (30:1) . . . are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight (5:21) . . . whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?" [29:15; its Isaianic authenticity doubted by some]. . . who say to the seers, "See not"; and to the prophets, "Prophesy not to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions" (30:10).
Now read that sweeping condemnation of human pride in 2:12-17 where, on wings of furious prophetic indignation, Isaiah moves north to Lebanon, east across the Jordan to Bashan, on somewhere, anywhere to the mountains — and then to the symbols of human pride, the high towers, the fortified cities, and the proud, frail craft that sail the seas. The pride that renders Judah sick unto dying is the more critical because it is shared — by all men!"
The powerful prophetic Word to Assyria in chapter 10 is one of Isaiah’s most notable passages.
The Song of the Vineyard, 5:1-7, with its devastating conclusion, is the more intense for its play on words:
He [Yahweh] looked for justice [mishpat],
Isaiah offers prophetic encouragement under siege, both in 734 and 701 (see 7:7 and 37:29; II Kings 19:28), with the plea for a very different kind of response to Jerusalem’s release from siege in 22:12-14 (here, as occasionally elsewhere, we cannot surely tell whether the reference is to 734 or 701).
Yet he persists in the prophetic conviction of cataclysmic judgment based on the proposition that "If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established" (7:9b):
Consider the unequivocal language of judgment earlier in chapter 30 (vv. 12-14); and these words, more bitter than anything else in Isaiah if intended (as may well be the case) as irony and not (as most translations) as a compassionate "evangelistic" invitation:
Come now, let us reason together,
"Egypt" again, certainly! But beyond?
The fire will burn but its ultimate function is to purify. A remnant, and the tragic conditions to produce it, will be — but that remnant will return (Shear-Jashub, 7:3). The fire from the altar of Yahweh by which Isaiah himself is cleansed for Yahweh’s service (6:6 f.) symbolizes the nature and function of judgment and points beyond judgment to Yahweh’s purposive redemption.
Finally, observe the two remarkable passages, 9:2-7 and 11:1-9 (which very well may be Isaianic, despite considerable adverse critical judgment), looking forward to the ultimate fulfillment of the David-Zion covenant (for Isaiah, the covenant) in a Messiah, an "anointed one," in and through whose rule "the zeal of Yahweh of hosts" (9:7) will effect justice and righteousness (in the theologically dependent sense) not only in Israel but in all the earth (11:4-9).
This is Isaiah. He knows himself to be a man of unclean lips, dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips. He knows this because he knows and "sees" the holiness of Yahweh, the quality without which Yahweh would not be Yahweh, that by which Yahweh is Yahweh, the justice and righteousness which are Yahweh, which may be appropriated as light is appropriated from the sun — and must be appropriated if covenant life is to continue at all, if covenant purpose is to be fulfilled.
All that is truly Isaianic derives from this dialogue between human uncleanness which is pride and Yahweh’s holiness which is the ultimate prophetic assertion of faith.
Micah — and Isaiah
Micah, youngest of the four great eighth-century prophets, is a man from the country, as much shaped by his orientation there as Isaiah by the city of Jerusalem. His home is Moresheth, probably Moresheth-Gath, near the old Philistine city of Gath. We can imagine what his town and area suffered from every invading or even passing army in the last four decades of the eighth century; and we can better understand the intensity of his prophetic wrath especially when the high fortress-city of Jerusalem is his target. Look at 3:2 f. Has any government seat, have any government personnel, ever been so bitterly castigated?
The present book and the relationship of its parts to the prophet himself may be thus briefly indicated:
1-3 With the possible exception of 2:12 ff., this may with confidence be assigned to Micah.
4-5 Here 4:6-7 and 5:7-8 presuppose knowledge of the fall of Jerusalem and Judah. The rest would appear to be, if not from Micah, then from his time or from the reign of Manasseh (from c. 687) shortly after.
6:1-7:7 It is impossible to say whether this is or is not from Micah; but one can say that in time and perspective it is removed from the prophet only a little, if at all.
7:8-20 This is certainly not from Micah. It reads like a cultic psalm and is patently post-fall in origin. Its prophetic reaffirmation of the covenant, verse 20, is marred by a bitter, narrow nationalism.
Especially in the sections chapters 4-5 and 6-7, we sense an affinity with Isaiah and the circles of his disciples:
We further note the strong anti-Assyrianism of 5:10 11., reminiscent even in language of the Isaianic circle. If some of this material in chapters 4-7 is from Micah, or if it fairly represents what was in fact the prophetic mind of Micah, then it may be that we will have to predicate a relationship, if indirect, between Isaiah and Micah; and so see Micah, even as we see Isaiah. as holding in faith the prophetic expectation of redemption beyond judgment.
The affinity between the book of Micah and the Isaiah circle is further marked by the presence in both books of the floating oracle (Isa. 2:2-4 and Mic. 4:1-3). Whether it is the original utterance of one or neither of these eighth-century prophets, it is one of prophetism’s finest and most lyrical expressions of the hope for covenant fulfillment. Mic. 4:4 adds the verse:
They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid;
The book of Micah includes that matchless summary of the theological ethic:
He [Yahweh] has showed you, O man, what is good;16 and what does Yahweh require of you but to do justice and to love kindness17 and to walk humbly with thy God. (Mic. 6:8)
The essence of prophetism is never merely the moral and the ethical. Micah 6:8 does not, as is sometimes loosely claimed, constitute a summary of classical prophetism. Prophetism is always theological-historical. The theological ethic is never an end in itself, but only the necessary condition for the historical fulfillment of the Yahweh-Israel covenant. This full prophetic faith is given climactic summary in the floating oracle; and even more eloquently, movingly, in this phenomenal utterance originating probably in circles of prophetism subsequent to Isaiah, but, perhaps not without some justification in view of his tremendous influence, attributed to him in Isaiah 19:23 f.
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom Yahweh of hosts has blessed, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.
1. M. Noth, History of Israel, trans. S. Godman (from Geschichte Israels, 2nd ed.), New York, 1958, p. 253.
2. Cf. S. Mowinckel, Psalmenstudien, Kristiania, 1922, vol. II, pp. 315 ff., who argues that the cult embraces the future: "Der Kult, das Fest ist in erster Linie Vorwartsschauend."
3. On the foregoing discussion, see G. von Rad, Theologie des Alten Testaments, Munich, 1957, vol. 1, pp. 72-76.
4. See H. H. Rowley, The Servant of the Lord and Other Essays on the Old Testament, London, 1952, p. 114, n. 2.
5. As the damaged Assyrian text is reconstructed and translated in James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 2nd ed., Princeton, 1955.
6. W. A. L. Elmsie, How Came Our Faith, New York, 1948, p. 269 n. For a superb and completely documented discussion of the Hosea-Gomer problem, see H. H. Rowley, "The Marriage of Hosea," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, XXXIX, no. 1 (September, 1956).
7. Also read II Kings 15; II Chron. 26; II Kings 16; 11 Chron. 28-30; II Kings 17-21 (compare 18-20 with Isa. 36-39); cf. Ps. 46.
8. Pritchard, op. cit., p. 321.
9. Ibid., p.288.
11. B. D. Napier, From Faith to Faith, New York, 1955, chap. IV.
12. Ibid., pp. 182f.
13. Reference is to the Davidic line; Bethlehem Ephrathah is the birthplace of David.
14. Cf. Isa. 9, 11,40:11.
15. Cf. Isa. 8:17.
16. Or, Man has showed you what is good, but what does Yahweh require of you.
17. Hesed, a covenant term denoting loyalty, faithfulness, and even something akin to the New Testament concept of grace, the giving of more than the relationship may properly demand.