STORIES OF THE PROPHETS
COMMISSION ON JEWISH EDUCATION
UNION OF AMERICAN HEBREW CONGREGATIONS
CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS
DAVID PHILIPSON, Chairman
JOSEPH L. BARON DAVID MARX EDWARD N. CALISCH S. FELIX MENDELSOHN H. G. ENELOW JULIAN MORGENSTERN HARRY W. ETTELSON JOSEPH RAUCH MAX HELLER WILLIAM ROSENAU SAMUEL KOCH SAMUEL SCHULMAN GERSON B. LEVI ABBA H. SILVER HARRY LEVI ABRAM SIMON LOUIS L. MANN LOUIS WITT LOUIS WOLSEY
GEORGE ZEPIN, Secretary
STORIES OF THE PROPHETS
(Before the Exile)
BY ISAAC LANDMAN
To My Parents
Who first introduced me to the Prophets, this book is dedicated with love and devotion.
I. THE SHEPHERD OF TEKOAH. 1. An End to War 2. In the Days of Prosperity 3. The Man Who Dared 4. Treason and a Fight 5. Priest Against Prophet 6. The Prophet in Tekoah
II. THE MAN WHO LEARNED HIS LESSON. 1. An Eventful Night 2. The Tragedy with a Purpose 3. The Repentant Returns
III. THE STATESMAN PROPHET. 1. The Vision in the Temple 2. The Parable of the Vineyard 3. A Coward on the Throne 4. On Deaf Ears 5. The Survival of the Fittest 6. Working with the Remnant 7. Like Father, Like Son 8. The Prophet Triumphs 9. The Fruit of His Labor
IV. THE COMMONER. 1. His Awakening 2. The Cause of the Common People 3. When Samaria Fell 4. Judah Learns Its Lesson
V. THE PROPHET OF WOE AND HOPE. 1. The Escape 2. The Boy King 3. Jeremiah's Call 4. The Seething Caldron 5. The Great Discovery 6. A New Covenant 7. To the Fore Again 8. The Shadow of a King 9. The Temple of the Lord 10. A Narrow Escape 11. A Taste of Martyrdom 12. The Woe of the Prophet 13. Teacher and Pupil 14. Baruch's First Venture 15. The King Hears and Acts 16. Beginning of the End 17. The First Deportation 18. In Exile and in the Homeland 19. A Friend in Need 20. In the Midst of Despair 21. Lamentations and a Vain Hope 22. Cowardice and Treachery 23. Jeremiah, the Martyred
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz."—Isaiah I, 1
"Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel."—Amos IV, 12
"Yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercy."—Hosea II, 21
"Here am I, send me."—Isaiah VI, 8
"And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks."—Isaiah II, 4
"For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel."—Micah I, 5
"I sat alone because of Thy hand."—Jeremiah XV, 17
"And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thy house shall go into captivity."—Jeremiah XX, 6
The company of inspired men, commonly known as the prophets of Israel, were the unique product of the Jewish religious genius. They were pre-eminently preachers of righteousness. Fearless and undaunted, they told the house of Israel their sins and the house of Jacob their transgressions. They contemplated the facts of life from the highest point of view. For them religion and morality were blended, ethics and politics were one. Theirs was peculiarly a social message; the demand for justice underlies all their thinking and speaking. They had a veritable passion for righteousness; through all the ages their words have been torches lighting the way of men struggling upward towards the truth.
Though living over twenty-six hundred years ago, these men are very modern. As a great thinker has well said, "The spirit of the prophets of Israel is in the modern soul." The foremost workers for the welfare of their fellowmen to-day posit social justice as the first article of their program. The world to-day, as never before, is filled with cries for social righteousness as the indispensable foundation for the structure of society. What is this but harking back to the eternal message of the ancient prophets? "Let justice flow as water" passionately and unreservedly demanded Amos of old; for him and his brother prophets this was the sine qua non for society's welfare; the same may be said of the thousands and tens of thousands to-day of every creed and every nation who are toiling for the social salvation of their fellowmen the world over. Ages meet; the words of the ancient preachers of righteousness are still the inspiration for the seekers after justice everywhere.
The story of the life work of these giants of the spirit has often been told, but it can be told none too often, particularly if the telling is well done, as is the case in the present volume. Each one of these men delivered the same message in his own individual and inimitable way. Yet their work was continuous and forms a consecutive tale. In the speeches and experiences of each one of them the eternal truths they present appears in differing light. The author of the present volume approaches his subject, one might say, from the dramatic standpoint, for, with fine insight, he has culled from the lives of the prophets those striking and intense experiences which illustrate most powerfully the indomitable spirit of these men who followed right in scorn of consequence, for were they not the messengers of the God of right whose demand upon men is, as told by one of them in imperishable words, to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God?
The author has succeeded well in his characterization of the various prophets. His pages glow with the vital spark of each prophet's flaming figure. He has named his book fittingly "Stories of the Prophets," and interesting stories has he told. He has brought to his task not only a sympathetic appreciation of his subject, but an imaginative faculty that has enabled him to supply links in the narrative suggested if not actually given in the incidents preserved in the recorded annals.
From the words of the prophets themselves he has, therefore, occasionally built up situations which if not strictly indicated in the original text may, at any rate, be imagined. Not as predictors of events in the far future, for this the prophets were not, despite frequent interpretations of their words along this line, but as bold speakers of the truth, as fiery preachers of the right, as intrepid champions of the poor and oppressed, as fearless denouncers of corruption and wrong in high places does our author present the leading figures in his book. As such, their words are as significant for us to-day as they were for the men of their generation, and their impassioned accents sound as forcefully now as they did then. This is brought out clearly and strikingly in the sketches of this volume, which without doubt will succeed in giving a vivid picture to the reader of these towering spirtual heroes who belong to the ages, speakers of the everlasting nays and yeas of the Everlasting God.
CINCINNATI, SEPTEMBER, 1912.
THE SHEPHERD OF TEKOA
An End to War.
"Damascus has fallen! Damascus has fallen!!"
The whole city of Samaria rang with the glad tidings. Fleet-footed runners, who had started with this precious news on the day of victory, covered more than one hundred and fifty miles to bring it to the capital of the Kingdom of Israel.
They crossed mountains and swam rivers, fairly flew over fertile plains and through busy cities, shouting, while there was breath in their bodies:
"Damascus has fallen!"
Many of the messengers fell exhausted on the way, but others took up the wonderful news from the front and carried it on, until the whole northern part of the kingdom knew of the king's victory.
Little by little the whole story was told to the eager Samarians—how the king, Jeroboam II, himself led the hosts of Israel; how attack followed attack upon the fortified Syrian capital; how the first breach was made in the outer wall; how the valiant Israelites rushed upon the enemy, and how the final victory was won for Israel's standard.
What a celebration was there in Samaria that long-to-be-remembered day!
Not since the days when the first Jeroboam led the rebellion of the ten tribes against King Solomon's weak son, Rehoboam, and established the independent kingdom of the Ten Tribes, with Samaria as the capital, was there such rejoicing in that city.
We can picture the celebration in our mind's eye; we cannot describe it in words.
Parents who had sent their sons to the war now laughed happily through their tears, because there would be an end to war.
Sisters whose brothers doubtless lay dead in and about the walls of the doomed city, now sang songs of joy in the midst of their weeping, because there would be an end to war.
The strongest and finest men of Israel had given their lives for their country, but now, thank God! there would be an end to war.
The fall of Damascus meant the end of a hundred and fifty years' war, commenced by Ben-hadad I, of Syria, against Israel, long before Jeroboam's great-grandfather established the dynasty of Jehu on the throne of Israel.
It meant even more than that; it meant the end of Syrian oppression, and, perhaps, a period of peace to the long-troubled and war-ridden kingdom of Israel.
No wonder, then, that there were feasts of rejoicing and full-throated cries:
"Damascus has fallen! Long live King Jeroboam!" "Damascus has fallen! Long life to the house of Jehu!"
All day and all night Samaria swarmed with people. The streets were thronged with shouting men and women who had come from Geba and Dothan, and even from Jezreel on the north, and from Schechem and Shiloh and Bethel on the south, to help celebrate the great victory.
Sacrifices were brought at all the sanctuaries of Israel—in Bethel, in Dan, in Gilgal, in Beersheba.
Priests and people brought thank-offerings, and, together, sang praises to God:
"God is my light and my salvation, Whom shall I fear? God is the strength of my life, Of whom shall I be afraid?"
Truly, God was on the side of Israel, or else the Syrians could not have been defeated. He was showing favor to the Northern Kingdom, and was pleased with Israel, for was not Judah, the Southern Kingdom, too, paying tribute to Jeroboam?
And so they recalled how Joash, the father of the great Jeroboam II, defeated Amaziah, king of Judah, took him captive, partially demolished the walls of Jerusalem, and looted the Temple in Jerusalem.
The older men of Samaria remembered the fine sarcasm with which Joash treated Amaziah's challenge to war, in his reply:
"The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, 'Give thy daughter to my son to wife,' and there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trod down the thistle."
How young and old laughed at the repetition of this clever little story that compared Israel to a cedar in its strength and to a wild beast in its fighting power, and Judah to a poor, little thistle to be tramped upon!
Jeroboam II was indeed a son of his father. Joash humbled Judah, Israel's enemy on the south; Jeroboam humbled Syria, Israel's enemy on the north.
Not satisfied with the fall of Damascus, however, Jeroboam pushed right ahead and captured Lodebar and Karnaim, which he turned over to Assur-dan, king of Assyria.
The fact is that Jeroboam had to do this. It was his end of a bargain made with Assur-dan. It was agreed between the two that the Assyrians would keep their hands off during the war between Israel and Syria.
As a reward for Assur-dan's non-interference, Jeroboam undertook to capture these two cities and turn them over to the Syrians to become part of his empire.
Having fulfilled his agreement, Jeroboam continued his victorious march further north, and never stopped until he had laid low the pride of Hamath, the prosperous city on the river Orontes.
Jeroboam II, thus had the great distinction of restoring the boundaries of the Kingdom of Israel to the proportions of the empire of David and Solomon, "from the entrance of Hamath unto the sea of Arabah," which is the Dead Sea.
Wonderful was the reception prepared for the king and his victorious army on their return to Samaria. More people had come to the city to join in the welcoming demonstration than had pilgrimed to Jerusalem on the Passover, in the days before the division of the kingdom.
The northern walls were massed with people, and the gates were decorated with flowers. Priests and elders, dressed in spotless white and led by the high priest, Amaziah, himself, awaited Jeroboam and his generals just outside of the city and preceded them to the gates. Such an acclamation of joy as greeted the king upon his entrance through the gates had never been heard in Samaria.
Passing through a triumphal arch of stone and marble, the procession was met by hundreds of maidens and children, clothed in linen and gold, who led the way, singing and strewing flowers in the path of the heroes.
A turn in the street led to the market-place. Here had been built a great triumphal arch of ivory and gold, beyond which was an altar, specially erected for the occasion.
Passing through the arch, Amaziah and Jeroboam mounted the steps that led to the altar. All the rest remained below. When the priest and the king faced the people the singing and the shouting ceased. With due ceremony, and according to the rites, the king brought a thanks-offering to God for his victories and his safe return. When Amaziah placed the sacrifice upon the altar a deep hush fell over the great assembly.
Slowly the smoke of the sacrifice rose to heaven, and the multitude of people, like one man, fell on their knees and worshiped.
Jeroboam was deeply moved. Solemnly he raised his right hand, and, from the depths of his grateful heart, he said:
"Peace to the house of Israel!"
Like the rumble of a mighty wave rolling toward the shore came the response from the sea of worshiping people:
"To the house of Israel, peace!"
For one whole week after Jeroboam's triumphant entry into the capital, Samaria was a place of feasting and rejoicing. When, by command of the king, the celebration came to an end and the people began to return to their homes, each one, on leaving the city's gates, repeated to himself the now answered prayer of over a century:
"Peace to the house of Israel! To the house of Israel, peace!"
In the Days of Prosperity.
It was market day in Samaria.
Great throngs of people crowded all the streets. They jostled each other good naturedly, traded, bargained, renewed acquaintanceship, spoke of their home towns and expressed the hope of meeting again.
The market place itself, where the many bazaars displayed wonderful merchandise from many cities and many lands, was an especially lively place. It was gay with life and color. Gilded chariots and ivory-bedecked litters passed to and fro. Heralds announced particularly important personages and escorts and cleared a way for them with whip or spear. Military men and merchant princes, with many followers, often scattered the smaller merchants and petty traders in their path through the market. Many were caught under the wheels of the vehicles of the rich when they did not get out of the way quickly enough. Others were purposely thrust aside by the wealthy aristocrats simply to show their disdain.
It was a typical Samarian market day—crowds and noise; buying and selling; idle rich and drudging poor; haughty military grandees, in their resplendent attires, and cowed, miserable beggars in their rags; color and laughter at the bazaars, and tears and sorrow at the auction block just across the way—always crowds and always noise.
The auctioneer was shouting above the general din the good points of a man who had just been placed on the block.
"To be sold till the Jubilee Year," he cried. "How much am I bid?"
A clerk read the court's decree that this man was to be sold for debt. It was signed by the judges, who sat in the East Gate of Samaria. The document was a cold, formal statement. It did not take into account the reason why this man, in the full vigor of manhood, had fallen into debt. His creditors had pushed the poor fellow hard for their money. He could not pay. He pleaded with the judges that the sickness of his wife and children had reduced him to direst need, but it was without avail. He could not pay his debts and must work them off as a slave for seven years; that was the decree of the court. After seven years he would be a free man again. Cases like this were very common.
The keen eye of the auctioneer noted a man at the far edge of the platform who had made several attempts as if to bid during the sale. He was a middle-aged man, tall and thin, but wiry. His face was bronzed from exposure to sun and wind. He wore a long woolen mantel that completely covered him, even to the sandals on his feet.
"How much am I bid?" The auctioneer spoke the question directly to this country yokel, while he winked at the crowd in front of him. He thought that the fellow who came to the market clad in such clothes, instead of his Sabbath best, had little money with him to buy a slave, and less use for one. So he spoke the question again to the "farmer," expecting an answer that would make the crowd laugh and put them in good humor.
The country yokel again made as if to speak but changed his mind and backed away, facing the auctioneer.
He had hardly backed three paces when he bumped into some one. He was pushed violently forward, and, before he could recover, winced under a stinging crack from a whip.
He turned quickly and faced two brutish looking men, swearing at his awkwardness and cursing his impudence for being in the way.
The "farmer" could have given a good account of himself in a square fight with these men, but he knew better than to start a fight with them. They were the foreguards to a splendid pleasure outfit—the outfit of a very rich Samarian merchant. A fight meant arrest and punishment at the hands of Samarian judges, whether he was in the right or not. The rich of Samaria had the judges under their thumbs. A stranger or a poor man, in fact, anyone who had no influence in Samaria, stood little chance of getting justice.
So the farmer cleared the way. Standing aside, he watched the chariot drawn by four Egyptian steeds, surrounded by guards, slaves and hangers-on, make its way through the crowded market place, paying no attention to the rights and privileges of any one. The wealthy merchant in the chariot held his head up proudly. He greeted only the prosperous looking; upon the curious crowds and small merchants, he looked down with contempt.
The merchant whose attendants had so grossly insulted the "farmer" drew up before a great palace. Rich carpets were spread from the chariot to the steps of the mansion. The rich man's followers bowed low as he passed up the steps and through the door held open by attendants. Some followed him into the house; others mingled with the people in the market place; the slaves went to their quarters by a rear entrance.
The stranger in the woolen robe was not as green as he looked. He had witnessed the growth and prosperity of Samaria during the last twenty years of Jeroboam II's reign until it became the busiest trade center in the Empire.
Leaning against the stone column, on which was graven the record of Jeroboam's victory over Damascus, and still smarting from the lash of the servant's whip, he recalled the story of Samaria's great strides to its present prosperous condition.
The subjugation of Judah on the south, which this farmer had good cause to remember; the conquest of Syria on the north and Jeroboam's peace compact with Assyria further east, assured a long period of peaceful development within the empire.
New highways were built, so that the farther ends of the country were brought close together for business purposes. Farmers could bring their crops to the cities easily. Many remained in the cities and engaged in business pursuits. Caravans traveled great distances, bringing precious luxuries from one part of the empire to another, and even from foreign countries.
Many thus became very wealthy. They built themselves palaces for winter residences in the cities and palaces for summer residences in the country. To get rich seemed to be the aim of everybody; and, with riches, came ostentation and luxuriant living.
The city of Samaria, especially, was the center for Israel's most wealthy men. Their homes were wonders of stone and ivory. The furnishings rivaled in beauty the splendor of the outside. The rooms were high and spacious. The beds and tables and chairs were of the finest wood of Lebanon, carved by the craftsmen of Tyre, and inlaid with ivory. The coverings were of the richest purple and gold from Egypt and the Indies. Wine cellars were a part of every house and feasts were spread whenever the occasion offered itself. Fatted lambs and calves were slaughtered daily to supply the tables, and new instruments were invented to furnish music at the feasts.
This, however, was only one side of the picture of Samaria in its days of greatest prosperity. The "farmer" knew that there was another, much less beautiful. While the rich were growing richer, the poor were growing poorer.
The rich, thinking only of themselves, their wealth, their power, their good times, cheated and oppressed the poor unmercifully. They gave false weights and short measure and sold at high prices, poor stuff at that. They would drive a poor man into debt and have him sold into slavery; so that human beings became a drug on the market, as it were. In fact, at the very auction which the "farmer" watched that day, one poor man was sold for the price of a pair of shoes. The poor had even no chance to get justice in the courts. The greed for money placed corrupt officials in office and the offenders bribed them to the undoing of the poor and needy.
Strange to say, the Israelites, in whose midst there were those who lived such scandalous lives and treated the poor people so outrageously—the Israelites—nevertheless, believed in their hearts that they had not forgotten God. They believed that God was with them; that He loved them above all other peoples; that He guarded and protected them; that He sent them all their blessings of prosperity and peace.
This is the way they reasoned it out: Had not God helped them to defeat Judah? Had not God been with them when they crushed their ancient foe, Syria? Did not God send them rain in season, so that crops were good and plentiful?
"Therefore," said they, "God is on our side. Let us go up to the sanctuaries and offer sacrifices upon His altars."
And so, at festival times, Bethel and Gilgal, and Dan and Beersheba were crowded with the rich, offering their sacrifices, feasting, drinking and rejoicing. It never entered their minds that God is the God of the poor, as well as of the rich. Though they continued to rob and oppress and enslave the poor and the needy and the helpless, they were perfectly satisfied with the idea that all God asked of them was to offer the prescribed sacrifices. If there were any who knew differently, or thought differently, they seemingly did not dare say so in anybody's hearing. For the poor, these were, indeed, evil times.
At this point in his musings, the "farmer" actually shuddered. He was not aware that his peculiar dress and his peculiar position at the moment had attracted attention. While he was contrasting in his mind the great difference between the rich and the poor in Samaria, several men, having nothing better to do, had stopped to stare at the yokel. As is always the case when people stand in the street and gawk, a large crowd soon assembled. A military chariot stopped near the group of curious gazers to see what was going on. Soon several others were halted there, including gilded and gaudy litters, in which fashionably dressed women were being conveyed. All stared, called each other's attention to the queerly garbed stranger, and finally laughed outright.
The man who was the center of attraction became aware of the crowd only when he had reached that point in his thoughts, the horrible picture of which had made him shudder. When he noticed the crowd, he gasped. He recovered from his astonishment quickly, however. He opened his mantle, showing his gaunt, powerful form. He raised his head and faced the crowd. His face, strong and sunburned, was tense and drawn for a moment; then it relaxed. Deep lines, expressing severe pain, were furrowed in his forehead.
The crowd, in turn, was astonished at the complete change that had come over the "yokel." Before they recovered from their mistaken opinion about the man, they saw him clinch his fists in determination and heard his voice ring out clearly and distinctly, above the din of the market place:
"Hear ye, Who turn justice to wormwood And cast down righteousness to the earth; Who trample upon the poor And afflict the just; Who take a bribe And thrust aside the needy in the gate: I know how manifold are your transgressions, Saith the Lord, God of hosts, And how mighty your sins, The end of my people Israel hath come, Saith the Lord, God of hosts, I can no longer forgive."
This outspoken attack upon Samaria, its rich, and its military nobles, was so extraordinary that it amazed the crowd. Having spoken, the "farmer" turned away and was soon lost among the bazaars. Some looked after him, astonished at his recklessness in laying himself open to the revenge of the powers that be. Others looked after him, amazed at his bravery and fearlessness.
That night many in Samaria had heard of the unknown stranger and his speech in the market place. At many dinner tables the question was asked:
"Who is this man who dares to lift his voice against the high and powerful in behalf of the poor and downtrodden?"
"Who is this man who dares to proclaim the doom of the Kingdom of Israel in the days of its greatest prosperity?"
The Man Who Dared.
There lived a man in the little town of Tekoah, in the Kingdom of Judah, twelve miles south of Jerusalem, who made a living from "dressing sycamore trees."
In ancient Palestine, the fruit of the sycamore that grew in Judah was dried, ground into flour and used for making coarse bread. This bread was eaten by the very poorest people, who could not afford to buy wheat.
Now, the man who lived from gathering poor fruit, out of which poor bread was made, for poor people, must, himself, have been very poor.
But a poor man may love his country as much as a rich man; and, when the foolish war between Amaziah of Judah and Joash of Israel broke out, this "dresser of sycamore trees," from Tekoah, followed his king on the battlefield.
At the battle in which Amaziah was defeated and Joash gained his greatest victory, leading to the destruction of part of the fortifications of Jerusalem, this man, fighting valiantly in the front ranks, with many other patriotic Judeans, laid down his life for his country. He was buried in the trenches, an unknown hero, whose name is not even in the records.
But history gives us the record of his son, named Amos. Left with his widowed mother, after the war, the burden of finding a living for the two was soon thrust upon him. There was only one thing that he knew by which he could earn money—"dressing sycamore trees."
He went at his work with a vim. As he grew up, and his and his mother's needs increased, his wits became sharpened. Why could he not dry and grind the sycamore fruit himself? This he did and increased his income. Then, his mother suggested that she would bake the flour into bread, if he would sell it. Amos agreed to that, and the little family thrived.
One day Amos brought the idea to his mother that their sycamore bread could be sold at a better price in Jerusalem. He asked for permission to go there and his mother, desiring more that her son should see the capital than that he should get higher prices for the bread, said:
"Go, my son, and God be with thee."
That trip to Jerusalem and the several trips that followed, made a great impression upon the young man and gave a remarkable turn to his whole life.
He saw Jerusalem, of whose beauty and glory his father had often told him, a fallen city. It had not yet recovered from the terrible results of the war with Amaziah of Israel; King Uzziah had not yet restored the treasures and vessels of which the temples had been looted; and, in the quarter of the city where Amos sold his bread, oh! such poverty, such wretchedness, such desolation!
His heart was filled with grief. He went to the trenches where he knew his father lay in an unmarked grave, and wept bitterly. There, at his father's grave, a wonderful thought came to him. A new light entered into his life and a great determination for his future career. His mind once made up, he soon outlined a plan for himself, and having the determination to carry the plan through, he made rapid progress.
With the additional profits that resulted from his business trips to Jerusalem, Amos bought sheep and goats and became a shepherd, as well as a gatherer of sycamore fruit.
The great rocky wilderness that slopes from the limestone hills of Tekoah down to the Dead Sea was just the place where sheep and goats could prosper.
So, in addition to the thriving business of his old trade, he dealt, also, in goat milk and wool and in the animals themselves.
Often, as he sat on the hillsides, in the cool of the sycamores, and watched his flocks, his mind would turn to the things he saw and heard in Jerusalem. He had heard there that Bethel, one of the sanctuaries of Israel, was always filled with pilgrims at festival time—and he determined upon a trip to Bethel, twenty-two miles north of Tekoah.
He returned greatly disheartened.
"Wealth and feasting saw I there," Amos told his mother, "and wine and song, and altars reeking with blood of fatted lambs and oxen; but God was not in the heart of the people of Israel."
His mother chided him gently. To say such things was blasphemy; for sacrifices were demanded of all the people by the religious laws of the state; and it was also commanded that a portion of the sacrifice should be consumed by him who brought it—therefore the feasting. As to the song and wine, did not the Sweet Singer say, "Serve the Lord with gladness?"
Amos did not reply. He knew that his good-hearted mother had given expression to the idea of God's worship as all the people, both of Israel and of Judah, at that time, understood it. They brought the sacrifices, as prescribed by the priests at the sanctuaries; a portion of the slaughtered animal was given to God on the altar, and the portion that was eaten by the sacrificer was looked upon as a meal—a banquet—participated in by him and God, together; such a meal soon became a feast, with wine and song. Unfortunately, these banquets often degenerated into drunkenness and revelry.
Amos felt that such worship of God was not right, but he had not yet discovered what was wrong.
When the period of prosperity opened up for Israel, with Jeroboam II's conquest of Damascus, Judah also felt the good times. Amos, now an experienced master herdsman, took the advantage afforded by the peace and improved business conditions. He traveled with his stock-in-trade to far northern markets, to Samaria, to Damascus, to Hamath, and, from there his caravans wended their way east, even as far as the City Asshur, the capital of Assyria.
He was not a mere trader, however. He was a close observer and a student of men and things wherever he led his caravans. He talked with strangers about other lands which he had not visited and became, therefore, well acquainted with political, religious and social conditions everywhere.
All this made no change in the outward circumstances of Amos. Success did not turn his head. He did not build himself a palace, but remained with his mother in the village of Tekoah, where he was born and raised. He did not indulge himself with fine clothes and high living, but continued to dress simply and live plainly.
His mother was often greatly worried about Amos. When he returned from a far northern and eastern trip he would betake himself to his beloved hills and sycamore groves and flocks. He would work with the most lowly of his sycamore fruit gatherers; but he would often spend hours by himself in the woods or in the wilderness.
It was during these lonesome hours that Amos added high thinking to his simple living. The grandeur of Samaria and the wealth he saw displayed in Bethel did not deceive him. Neither did the peace compact between Jeroboam II and Assur-dan III blind him to the exact state of affairs in the relationship between the two countries.
He knew that Tiglath-Pileser III, the successor of Assur-dan, had crushed all rebellions in Assyria, which Assur-dan III had failed to do, and was reorganizing the army of the great empire. He knew that Damascus, which had been weakened by Jeroboam II beyond hope of recovery, would be the first point of conquest for the young and energetic Pul, as Tiglath-Pileser was called. Next before him, to the south, lay the rich Kingdom of Israel, the booty from whose palaces and sanctuaries would be an enormous prize for the Assyrian emperor and his army. After Damascus, must come Samaria!
In other words, Amos saw distinctly that the time was near when Israel would have to fight again for its independence and its very life; and he asked himself, "Is Israel prepared?"
Clearly it was not. The rich had become unfit for war, because of their luxuriant living. The poor had become unfit for war, because of their oppression by the rich. Should the Assyrians invade the land, how could such a nation of weaklings defend its home and its liberty?
Israel must be warned! It must be awakened from its stupidity to a realization of the danger ahead! The rich must cease their extravagances and become manly men again! The poor must be given their rights, must be treated justly and righteously, that they may become manly men again! Only a nation of moral, upright, God-fearing men can hope for victory! If the Assyrians should defeat and crush Israel, it will be God's punishment visited upon Israel for its sins and crimes.
Amos had often discussed these things with his mother. She was not surprised, therefore, when, one day, upon his return from a long trip into Assyria, Amos said to her, "I am called to the cities of Israel. My mission will be prolonged many days."
The good woman knew and understood. Laying her hands upon his head, she repeated the blessing with which she had blessed him when, as a timid young man, he made his first trip to Jerusalem:
"Go, my son, and God be with thee."
And so it was that Amos, the herdsmen of Tekoah, had dared to speak for the poor people in Samaria, and to prophesy the fall of the Kingdom.
His first speech attracted little attention, but others, in various parts of the country, to the same effect, followed. Many laughed at them; few thought seriously about them.
But Amos was not so easily discouraged. He concluded that the wrong idea the people had about God, how to worship Him and what He demanded of them, was the cause of all the evil. Amos, therefore, selected the sanctuaries during festival season as the place where he must do his preaching.
He went especially to Bethel, the king's sanctuary, where Jeroboam brought his sacrifices and where the great nobles and soldiers and richest merchants gathered and reveled in their feasts.
One day Amos broke in upon a reveling group, with the unexpected call:
"Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!"
Such a call was, indeed, unexpected. The Israelites, assembled at the sanctuary, offering their sacrifices, believed that they were with their God. Some one told Amos as much, and the crowd jeered at the fool, who evidently did not understand his religion.
This laughter ceased suddenly, however, when Amos began to chant a mournful dirge:
"Hear ye this word which I take up for a lamentation over you, O house of Israel! Fallen, no more to rise, is the virgin Israel! Cast down upon her soil she lies, There is none to raise her up. The city that taketh the field with a thousand, Hath but a hundred left; And the one that taketh the field with a hundred, Hath but ten left."
A young officer, who felt that the army, the pride of the Kingdom, had been grossly insulted, rushed forth from the crowd and exclaimed, hotly: "Thou art a false prophet! Prophesy no more."
Then he continued, explaining to Amos and to the crowd, that God could not have sent such a message to the house of Israel. God was with them, he said, and was gracious to them. Israel was stronger, mightier than ever before and Israel was, that very day, at Bethel, at Gilgal, at Beersheba, bringing thanks-offerings to God.
Amos stood stolidly by and listened until the young man had finished. Then he replied:
"Thus saith God to the house of Israel: Ye that oppress the poor and crush the needy, That trample upon the just and cause the poor of the land to fail, Seek Me and live, But seek not Bethel, And Gilgal do not enter, To Beersheba go not over; For Gilgal shall surely go into captivity And Bethel shall come to naught. Seek God and not evil That ye may live And so God, the Lord of hosts, May be with you, as you say. Hate evil and love good, And establish justice in the gate. Perhaps God will be gracious, The God of hosts, to a remnant of Joseph."
The young officer shook his head in disgust and walked away. Others, however, remained awhile, meditating upon what Amos had said.
Amos, too, when he went his way, felt that his words had made an impression. He thought they had fallen, like seeds, upon fertile soil. Would these seeds take root? Would they grow and flourish? Would they bear fruit when the crisis for Israel came?
But first a crisis for Amos came, when he had to fight for his life.
Treason and a Fight.
For some time, now, Amos had been preaching his new and formerly unheard-of ideas, to the effect that God prefers rather that man be just to his fellowmen than that he offer sacrifices; that Israel had become weakened because of its indulgence in luxuriant living, on the one hand, and because of the oppression and ill treatment of the poor and needy, on the other; that God would be with the people against their enemies only when the people turned away from their idolatrous worship and sought God, by doing good and hating evil.
And he had been rewarded with laughter and jeers and derision on the part of the people he tried to save!
Any other man would have given up long ago; not so Amos. His rebuffs, however, made him somber and morose.
In his great address at Bethel he held out the hope to Israel that God might forgive His people for their crimes and sins if they began to lead godly lives. His continued failure to impress the people with this message, however, finally led him to the belief that God would measure out the severest justice to Israel, in accordance with their sins, and without mercy.
Amos had become a well-known figure at all the sanctuaries. Most of the people thought him to be one of those wandering dervishes, known as "Sons of the Prophets," who made their living by a kind of fortune telling, or forecasting the future, as did Samuel in the early days when he told Saul where the lost asses were; only, that Amos was one of the Sons of the Prophets run mad, judging from the way he talked and the strange things he said.
This did not trouble Amos. What worried him was the fact that the people would not listen to his addresses.
So, in the year 745, he journeyed again to Bethel, where a great festival was to be celebrated. He was determined that the people should hear. He was well prepared, too. Instead of beginning with a condemnation of Israel, he used new tactics:
"Thus saith God," he began. "For three transgressions of Damascus, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof."
That was interesting. We always like to hear about the punishments that others will receive for their misdeeds, even if we close our ears to those that threaten us.
And, as for Damascus, she was Israel's ancient foe, and the listeners rather liked the idea that God was to visit her with destruction.
When Amos had recounted the sins of Damascus and announced that "the people of Syria shall go into captivity into Kir," there was loud applause.
Some cried, "Let the Prophet speak!"
Amos continued. He mentioned the sins for which God would punish Gaza, Tyre, Idumia, Ammon, Moab, and each period was greeted with volleys of applause.
Amos paused for a moment. He swallowed a lump that had risen in his throat and lowered his voice. He spoke, sadly and regretfully:
"Thus saith God, For three transgressions of Judah, Yea, for four, I will not revoke its punishment. Because they reject God's law, And do not keep His statutes; Because their lies have caused them to err, (The lies) After which their fathers did walk. Therefore, I will send a fire upon Judah And it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem."
Poor, weak little Judah! The Prophet was declaring the doom of his own country! It was a thing to laugh at! And how they did laugh!
But it was no laughing matter for Amos. His heart was wrung with woe from his own people. He waited for the uproar to subside, and then went on to the very point which he had come to make:
"Thus saith God, For three transgressions of Israel, Yea, for four, I will not revoke its punishment. Because they sell the righteous for money, And the needy for a pair of shoes; Who trample on the head of the poor, And turn aside the way of the humble. Upon garments taken in pledge they stretch themselves beside every altar, And the wine of those who have been fined they drink in the house of their God."
Jeers and threatening cries were hurled at Amos from all directions, but he stood his ground.
With the art of a master orator he won back his displeased audience. Passionately he poured forth the story of Israel and its relationship to God—a story he knew so well—and brought the people back to breathless attention. He recounted the wonders God had done with and for Israel from the days when He brought them out of Egypt, poor, miserable slaves, until this day of their wealth and glory.
Here someone stepped out from the crowd and took up the argument for the people. If all this beautiful story is true, he claimed, then God may punish and destroy all the nations that Amos had mentioned; but Israel, to whom God had shown special favors, even up to this day, God will not destroy.
Quick as a flash the Prophet answered:
"Are ye not as the Cushites to me, O children of Israel? saith God. Did I not bring up Israel out of the land of Egypt And the Philistines from Caphtor And the Syrians from Kir? (But) you, especially, have I known of all the races of the earth, Therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities. Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, And I will destroy it from the face of the earth. An adversary shall surround the land, And shall strip from thee thy strength; And thy palaces shall be plundered. Verily, I am now raising up against you O house of Israel, a nation, And they shall oppress you From the entrance of Hamath Even to the brook of the Arabah, Saith the Lord, God of hosts."
"Treason! Treason!" rose up the cry from the several army men who had been listening.
"Treason! Treason!" was shouted immediately from many directions.
The army officers who had raised the cry now rushed toward Amos, threatening him with bodily harm.
"Treason! Treason!" was echoed by most of the crowd. Hundreds now surged forward and things looked bad for the Prophet.
To meet this danger, Amos brought into play all the strength and power that he had stored up during his shepherding days. Out in the wilderness near Tekoah he had often fought with robbers who had stolen his sheep, and, like David, even with wild beasts that had stolen his lambs.
Prepared just for this kind of an emergency, keen of eye and alert of mind, he met the leaders as they came on.
Unfortunately for Amos, there was nothing that could afford him protection from the rear. He could meet any number that might attack him face to face; but while he was guarding in front someone might strike him in the back—and he was surrounded by the mob.
"Traitor! Traitor!" they shouted.
His blood boiled with anger. He, a traitor! He, guilty of treason! Why, he was the only man who saw the danger of his people and had ventured to warn them!
"Seek God and ye shall live!" kept flashing through his mind. But this was no time for preaching, not even for thinking. It was time for action.
And act he did!
The weak, undergrown army officers were like men of straw before Amos and he disposed of them as easily. With the speed of lightning he turned face, fearing an attack from the rear. There, however, the people had not awakened to what was going on.
Facing front again, he saw that the army officers had not yet recovered from his blows. They were sprawled on the ground before him and a few of the people were laughing at their discomfiture.
Amos had no desire to continue the fight and started to help the officers up; but, at that moment, he felt two pairs of hands lay hold of his mantle at the neck.
A sudden turn, a quick stretching of his brawny arms, like a swimmer making for speed, and the two men, merchants, clad in their holiday finery, were pushed to either side into the crowd.
Now, as soon as the bystanders saw with what ease Amos was handling his opponents, they began to laugh and take sides. A crowd always does that. Some urged Amos to go on fighting; others urged the sprawling victims to attack.
Amos, however, was not there to fight, nor did his opponents fancy a good beating at his hands. In the meantime a small group of the king's guard came up, post haste, and began to disperse the crowd.
The crowd scattered, but gathered again in various streets, in small groups, discussing the unusual occurrences of the day.
They spoke, in whispers, overawed by the fearlessness of the Prophet—some by his ability in self-defense; some by the force of his speeches.
In the palaces of the rich and mighty, gathered in Bethel at that time, Amos—what he said and what he did—was the topic of conversation no less than he was in the streets, only in one of these palaces was hatched a clever scheme for the Prophet's undoing.
Priest Against Prophet.
That very night the most prominent people in Israel—military and civilian—assembled at Bethel, and decided that something must be done to get rid of the Prophet. They considered Amos crazy, and, therefore, dangerous. A little group of leaders gathered in the house of one of the merchant princes of Samaria to adopt a definite plan of action.
The High Priest, Amaziah, was called into consultation. He saw the seriousness of the matter, as they all did. Such preaching must be stopped!
"This man," spoke one of the priests, "is destroying the worship of God in Israel. If we are no longer to bring sacrifices on God's chosen altars, wherewith shall we worship him? Besides," he added very pointedly, "without sacrifices the income of the priesthood will be ruined, and the sons of Aaron will be reduced from their high and holy office to beggary."
"Nay, this is not the worst," began another priest, who did not think so much of his income from the sacrifices as the former speaker. "The sons of Aaron can work, as do other men."
"What is more serious," he continued, "is, that this Prophet proclaims all other people as equal in the sight of God with Israel; that God has performed wonders for them, as for us. I fear," he concluded solemnly and with bowed head, "that if such teaching will continue, Israel will lose faith in its God."
A captain of the host sprang to his feet. "You priests," he said, savagely, "worry about many minor things. This man is telling the people that God, Himself, is raising up a powerful nation to destroy our great empire. He is filling our peaceful people with dread and fear of the imagined enemy and will disturb the peace of our country."
"Yea," cried a wealthy merchant, "and its business prosperity."
"All of which," added another merchant and slave dealer, "is, as our friend has said," looking at the captain, "simply imagination. The actual danger lies in his arousing the common people. He tells the poor that they are not getting their rights; that they are not being judged honestly; that the weak and the needy ought to be protected and helped—by us, by us! As if we have anything to do with them! I tell you that it is here the danger lurks. If this crazy Prophet is not silenced immediately, the merchant and military classes will face open rebellion on the part of the common horde."
The last speaker seemed to have said the final word on the subject. All were silent, their eyes turned toward Amaziah. The aged priest had not yet ventured an opinion; but he had been thinking deeply on what was said by the others. He agreed, for the most part, with the speakers who had preceded him; but he counseled caution and delay. "Perhaps, now that the Prophet has seen opposition," Amaziah concluded, "he will quit and go home to Judah."
But Amos did not quit, nor did he go home. The fight, that morning, was a mere incident, to be forgotten; but his mission to his people burned deep in his soul, a flame that could not be quenched.
On the day of the conclusion of the great festival, Amos again appeared in the sanctuary. This time it did not take long for a crowd to gather. In fact, most of the people were looking for him to appear. Even the richest and most exclusive, who usually are not interested in such men, had heard about Amos and had come to see and hear him, expecting something unusual to occur.
Amos did not waste any time. Without preparatory remarks, he gave voice to his warning call:
"Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!"
Hardly had the words left the Prophet's lips, when a man stepped forward from the crowd, and facing Amos with threatening fists, exclaimed:
"Hold thy peace! Thou art a false Prophet. Who hath sent thee to prophesy?"
Here was a challenge to Amos. Who, indeed, had appointed him a Prophet? Who had set him up to judge the people's wrongdoing? Who had commanded him to declare Israel's doom? What entitled him to speak in the name of God?
This challenge, however, was just what Amos was looking for. He had wanted a number of times to correct the mistaken idea the people had of him.
There were, in the land, the long-established Schools of Prophets. These schools were under the protection of the king. At the head of each was a leader, like Samuel, Elijah and Elisha of the olden days. The leader was called "The Seer" and his pupils "Sons of the Prophets."
Now, the Seers and Sons of the Prophets, with the exception of such strong and powerful characters as the three great men mentioned, usually did the bidding of the king and his officers, and prophesied to please them.
Amos was not a member of any of these established schools. He was a free lance—in truth, the first of the independent Prophets, who cried out against the evils of their day and who, fearlessly and without favor, laid the blame where it belonged—on king, on priest, and on people.
Amos, therefore, grasped this opportunity to set himself aright. He answered his questioner with a series of beautiful similes:
"Do two walk together unless they be agreed? Does a lion roar in the forest when there is no prey for him? Does a young lion cry out in his den unless he has taken something? Can a trumpet be blown in a city and the people not tremble? Can calamity befall a city and God hath not sent it? Surely, the Lord doeth nothing, Unless He revealeth His purpose to His servants, the Prophets. The lion hath roared; who does not fear? The Lord God hath spoken; who can but prophesy?"
God, then, it was, not the head of a School of Prophets, or a king, or a priest, who had sent Amos to prophesy! He, himself, had no desire to speak these terrible things he was saying to his people. A force over which he had no control—God, had impelled him to his task. It was the still, small voice of which Elijah spoke. Though his heart bled, while delivering the message, Amos could not help himself. God had commanded him; he had but to obey!
Before the challenger could continue the argument, there was a disturbance on the outskirts of the crowd. A murmur arose and all craned their necks to see what was going on. The crowd opened, forming a wide aisle, through which there advanced a tall, majestic figure, with flowing robe and gray beard.
"The High Priest!"
"The High Priest!"
The people whispered to each other and an expectant silence followed, as the venerable priest walked through the row of bowed heads, toward the sanctuary. He stopped in front of Amos and looked at him curiously.
Amaziah was an old man, but as erect as a cedar in Lebanon. He was dressed in an ephod, the holy garment of his office. The robe was of fine twined linen, with threads of blue, scarlet and purple, embroidered in gold. Two shoulder pieces, fastened to the shoulders of the ephod with cords of "wreathed gold," came down the front of the garment to just above the girdle, where they were fastened with two golden rings. Held by these cords above, and by blue ribbons through the golden rings below, was the breastplate, the insignia of the High Priest. On the front of the breastplate, in gold settings, were twelve precious stones, four rows of three stones each, on each of which was engraved the name of one of the tribes of Israel. A mitre on his head completed the High Priest's holy vestments.
Thus brilliantly arrayed, "for glory and for beauty," Amaziah made a great contrast to the simply clad shepherd, robed in his woolen mantle, as they faced each other.
The splendor of Amaziah, his age and his authority, the tension caused by the struggle that was imminent between the Priest and the Prophet, overawed the assembly. There was a deep silence, like the calm before a heavy downpour.
Amos, cool and collected, always prepared for an emergency, bowed low to Amaziah out of respect to his gray head. Amaziah, who was equally prepared for an emergency, smiled at Amos, kindly, in greeting.
Amos, of course, did not know that Amaziah was working out a plan that had been outlined previous to his starting for the sanctuary. Only those who were in the Priest's confidence knew that he had sent a message to King Jeroboam, when it was reported that a crowd had gathered about Amos and that the Prophet would, no doubt, deliver another address. The message to Jeroboam read:
"Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear his words. For thus hath Amos said, 'Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of his land.'"
The messenger proceeded, post haste, to the palace of the king, and Amaziah, quietly and with dignity, went to the sanctuary.
Hardly had Amos lifted his head from his low salute, when Amaziah addressed him:
"O seer! Go, flee away to the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there; but prophesy not again any more in Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is the royal residence."
How the Priest misunderstood the Prophet! Just because Bethel was the king's sanctuary and the royal residence and the seat of all the mighty in the land of Israel, Amos had selected it, above all other places, to preach his message there.
But Amaziah's little speech contained something more important to Amos than this. Amaziah had addressed the Prophet as "seer," he had taken him for the leader of a "School of Prophets." Amos immediately disclaimed such a questionable distinction. He answered Amaziah:
"I am no Prophet, nor am I the son of a Prophet; but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees, when God took me from following the flock and God said to me, 'Go, prophesy against My people Israel.'"
Entirely unprepared for such an answer, and not quite certain whether he understood what Amos meant by his claim that he had taken his orders direct from God, Amaziah was disconcerted. Amos did not give the Priest a chance to recover from his surprise and continued:
"Now, therefore, hear thou the word of God: 'Thou sayest, "Prophesy not against Israel, nor preach against the house of Isaac."' Therefore, thus saith God, 'Thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shall die upon an unclean soil, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of this land.'"
The fearlessness of the Prophet in attacking the High Priest dismayed Amaziah and his followers greatly. The crowd, too, by its acclamations, was evidently siding with Amos. Amaziah was, therefore, placed on the defensive. In broken and halting sentences he defended himself and the people. The ancient laws of Israel, he pointed out, were being adhered to by all Israelites. He, for one, was not afraid, even if the Day of God, the judgment day, should come to-morrow.
Now, a man like Amaziah might not fear the strict judgment which, Amos said, God was to visit upon Israel; but, how about those who were guilty of the crimes of which God, through the Prophet, was accusing Israel? Amos understood this, though Amaziah did not. The Prophet was speaking to all the people and not to one man in particular. Therefore, he continued:
"Woe unto those that desire the Day of God! Wherefore would ye have the Day of God? It is darkness and not light. It is when one flees from a lion, And a bear meets him; Or goes into a house and leans his hand upon a wall, And a serpent bites him. Shall not the Day of God be darkness and not light, Yea, murky darkness, without a ray of light?"
That is why, retorted the High Priest, the people come to Bethel and Gilgal and the other sanctuaries. They bring their sacrifices to God, that He may forgive their sins, against the coming of the Day of God, when all the guilty shall be judged and punished.
Amos did not interrupt Amaziah because he was an old man, and Amos knew what courtesy was due the aged. But when the Priest had finished, the Prophet, with fine sarcasm, showed the uselessness and selfishness of the whole artificial scheme as practiced at the sanctuaries:
"Come to Bethel and transgress, At Gilgal increase your transgressions, And bring in the morning your sacrifices, And every third day your tithes! Burn some leaven bread as a thanks-offering, And proclaim aloud the voluntary offerings, For you love to do so, O Israelites!"
The sarcastic smile, however, suddenly faded from the speaker's lips, as he asked:
"Did ye bring me sacrifices and meal-offerings in the wilderness, forty years, O House of Israel?"
Then, with the power and fervor of the God-inspired man he was, Amos denounced bitterly the whole system of worshiping God by means of sacrifices, and delivered a message, new to his hearers, relating to what God really expected from Israel:
"I hate, I despise your feasts, And I will take no delight in your festivals; With your meal-offerings I will not be pleased, And the peace-offerings of your fattlings I will not regard with favor. Banish from me the noise of your songs; To the melody of your viols I will not listen. But let justice roll down as waters, And righteousness as a never-failing stream."
These concluding sentences literally stunned the crowd. Priest and people gasped at the Prophet's proclamation that God did not command the sacrifices at Sinai and did not care for them, but that, instead, He demanded justice and righteousness on the part of His people. The Prophet had upset all their ideas and traditions regarding their religious forms and practices, and he claimed God for his authority!
No one can tell just what might have happened, there and then, had not a company of the royal guard, in answer to Amaziah's note to the king, rushed upon the crowd and dispersed it "in the name of the king."
"In the name of the king," also, the leader of a small detachment of the guard made his way to Amos and placed him under arrest. Amos might have been successful in getting away, had he resisted; but, being a law-abiding man, he submitted to the authorities, and, long before the scattered crowd was aware of what had happened to the Prophet, he was whirled away in a chariot to the palace of the king.
The Prophet in Tekoah.
King Jeroboam II was now an old man. The vehemence and determination and aggressiveness that had made him a far-famed conqueror had been mellowed by the years and rarely, if ever, showed themselves.
The note he received from Amaziah regarding Amos, however, awoke the old spirit in him. The dispatch of the section of the royal guard with orders for the Prophet's immediate arrest was in line with the way Jeroboam did things during the days when he personally led his armies.
But instead of having Amos put in chains and thrown into a dungeon, Jeroboam had him brought into his presence. The king wanted to see and speak to the man who, according to Amaziah, had conspired against him and the God of Israel and was proclaiming the doom of his dynasty.
Amos, who had never seen the king face to face, who had never even been inside any of the royal palaces, was, nevertheless, calm and cool as usual. The splendor of the throne room and the crowd of officers and counselors did not in the least affright him. He made a low obeisance to his king and waited for the order to rise.
Jeroboam was a much keener man than Amaziah. When he saw Amos, studied his bearing, the seriousness of his face, the simplicity of his garb, he recognized at once that before him stood an uncommon man.
Amos neither smiled the smirky smile of him who is anxious to get into the king's good graces, nor did he tremble like a coward, who, being caught, feared the king. He waited for Jeroboam to speak.
From the messenger who brought Amaziah's note the king had learned something about Amos and about the things he was telling the people. Having supposed the Prophet to be either a traitor or a madman, but judging him now to be neither one nor the other, Jeroboam now was puzzled as to the manner in which to speak to him.
Jeroboam looked quizzically at Amos for a few moments and began:
"Thou, then, art the Prophet?"
"I am a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees," Amos replied.
"But thou speakest evil against the king and against the house of Israel," exclaimed Jeroboam.
"The Lord God hath commanded me," answered Amos, with deep humility.
"Thou art a traitor and thou shalt die," threatened the king.
"I can but speak," calmly replied Amos, "even if thou slay me."
Jeroboam made the threat to take the Prophet's life in order to test him. He figured that it would send Amos groveling to his knees, begging for mercy. The quiet manner in which he accepted the threat however, puzzled the king. He concluded that Amos must be either exceedingly brave or hopelessly crazy.
Now, a man who is not afraid to die, be he brave or crazy, is a very dangerous man to have around. It would have been easy enough to behead Amos and be done with him, but Jeroboam was not a king who took his subjects' lives ruthlessly—especially when it was so simple to get rid of an undesirable one in another way.
"Then go to thy flocks and sycamores," commanded Jeroboam, "and speak to them."
The king's humorous sally called forth a great shout of laughter from those who were present. Jeroboam, smiling, waved his hand, indicating that the interview was over. The guard closed around Amos and he was led into an outer hall. After a short wait he was informed that, by command of the king, he must leave Bethel on that very day and never set foot in the Kingdom of Israel again.
Had Jeroboam himself been a wicked man like King Ahab, Amos, no doubt, would have disregarded the threat against his life and would have confronted the king in his palace, as Elijah confronted Ahab in Naboth's vineyard. Jeroboam, as ruler, however, did not oppress or mistreat the people. Being an old man, resting on the laurels of his great victories and knowing from his friends and counselors and the size of the royal treasury that his empire was rich and the people peaceful, Jeroboam probably had no idea of the corruption and injustice that was rampant in the land. He would have laughed at the thought of it.
Besides, and this was the important thing with Amos, it would have been folly for him to sacrifice his life at this time. To die a martyr for a cause is a noble and beautiful thing—if martyrdom will in any way advance this cause. To have confronted Jeroboam or to have remained in Bethel would have meant certain death—and, to die then would have meant an end to the crusade that he was just beginning against the oppression of the poor, the denial of justice, the unrighteousness in business dealings and the misunderstanding of God and His worship: it would have meant an end to his set purpose to warn Israel against Assyria, the enemy approaching from the North, and against the inability to meet this enemy, because of the immorality that was weakening the nation.
He had plenty of time to think this over as he wended his way mournfully out of the busy and joyful thoroughfares of Bethel to his quiet, though beloved Tekoah.
Amos found to his great joy that he did not now stand alone. Many who had heard him, had understood him. When the news that he had been driven out of Israel spread, many followed him to Judah and accompanied him to his home in Tekoah.
As was always the case with Amos in a crisis, he thought quickly and arrived at a new plan of action speedily. On his way to Tekoah he selected from among his followers men who could write—scribes—and confided to them that from now on he must confine all his wealth to the spreading of his ideas throughout the empire by means of the written word.
After all, God had willed it that he should be driven back to Tekoah. Amos, as a speaker, could address a crowd only in one place at one time. In listening to a speech, too, much of what the speaker says is lost to his hearers. Therefore, Amos concluded, God had willed it that he should return to Tekoah, write out his speeches and his warnings, send them to the farthest ends of the land that all the people may read and study and understand in order that they may return speedily to God; seek good and not evil, that the nation may live.
By day, he and his followers tended the flocks and gathered the fruit of sycamore trees. All the products that were sent to market were sold by honest weight and measure and at honest prices.
By night, he and his scribes wrote out the speeches that he had delivered in Israel, and especially in Bethel, added new ones and sent them with trusted messengers to all parts of Judah and Israel.
Amos was thus probably the first prophet who wrote down his speeches. What we have of them, however, are only fragments. There is not one speech complete as it was originally written or delivered. The fragments are collected in the Biblical book, called "Amos." Through this book the name of the humble herdsmen of Tekoah is written large in the history of religion.
It was Amos who first conceived of God as the God, not of Israel alone, but of all peoples:
"Are you not as the Ethiopians to me, O Israel? saith God. Did I not bring Israel up out of the land of Egypt, And the Philistines from Caphtor, And the Syrians from Kir?"
It was Amos who first appeared as the public champion of the poor and downtrodden, who publicly denounced the greed of the rich and the corruption of the men in power:
"For I know how manifold are your transgressions, And how mighty are your sins— Ye, that trample upon the poor, That afflict the just, that take a bribe, And that turn away the needy in the gate."
It was Amos who first cried out against the mistaken idea that animal sacrifices were what God asked of His people:
"Did ye bring unto me sacrifices and meal-offerings In the wilderness, forty years, O house of Israel?"
It was Amos who first brought forward the great and universal truth that God judges every human being, no matter what the race or color, according to his or her acts:
"Seek good and not evil, That ye may live; Seek God and ye shall live."
It was Amos who first made clear, that God demands of men, above all things, justice and righteousness:
"Let justice roll down as a flood of water, And righteousness like a never-failing stream."
We do not know definitely what became of Amos.
One tradition has it that he came to Jerusalem and, while he was denouncing Uzziah, king of Judah, Uzziah struck him on the forehead with a piece of glowing iron. As a result of the blow, Amos died while preaching in the hope of saving his people in Jerusalem, as his father died while fighting in defense of Jerusalem, in the hope of saving his country.
The probabilities are, however, that Amos lived peacefully with his disciples among his sycamore trees near Tekoah, until he had completed the writing of his speeches and saw to their distribution all over Israel, believing that there was yet time for the people of Israel to return to God and to save the nation from the calamity that was threatening it.
THE MAN WHO LEARNED HIS LESSON
An Eventful Night.
Whenever Jezreel was sent early to bed, although he had been a good boy during the day, and, in addition, when his little sister and brother were ordered to go with him, he knew the evening would be another one of those that made his little heart ache.
Jezreel was only ten years old, but he was sharp and keen for his age. He understood that his parents wanted him out of reach and sound. Twice before, on similar occasions, after he had recited his night prayer and the maid-servant had tucked him in his bed, he lay with his eyes closed tight but wide awake, listening.
He knew that what he was doing was wrong, but he could not sleep. He heard his father and mother talking to each other loudly, but could not make out just what they were saying. Their voices, however, he felt, were not soft and sweet, as they usually were, when they addressed the children.
On this particular evening, as he went out of the dining-room with Lo-ruhamah, his seven-year-old sister, and Lo-ammi, his four-year-old brother, Jezreel made up his mind to do a very unusual thing. He determined not to sleep at all.
That afternoon, his father, Hosea, had returned from Bethel all out of sorts. The children had been expecting him, as they always did, when he came home from the sanctuary, to bring the usual little gifts; but the father seemed to have forgotten them. In fact, Hosea was quite irritated when, not understanding his father's mood, Lo-ammi cried for the expected sweets or trinkets.
In a little while, however, Hosea, calmed his youngest son and promised all three of the children that, in the morning, he would take them to the bazaars in the market place, to buy what they pleased.
Just then their mother, Gomer, came in. She was a beautiful woman, dressed in the latest fashions of the wealthy Samarians. Her robes were long and flowing. A veil, woven of golden threads and imported from Assyria, set off her jet-black hair. Her arms and fingers were adorned with jewel-studded bracelets and rings. She was accompanied by an Ethiopian slave.
Strange to say, the children did not rush to their mother, except little Lo-ammi, who was fond of the jeweled things she wore.
Gomer, on the other hand, did not seem to feel hurt that the children clung to their father and quite ignored her. After a formal greeting to her husband, and a pat of Lo-ammi's head, Gomer retired to her own room.
A little later the evening meal was announced, and, immediately after they had eaten, Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah and the baby were told to go to bed.
Their attendant, satisfied that the three children were fast asleep, left the room and went about her business. Thereupon Jezreel got out of bed, moved a chair near to the door, sat down and listened.
Below he heard his father's and mother's voices. Words were spoken in a high, shrill tone, loud and harsh, but indistinct. There were short periods of silence, followed by explosive sentences that sounded like threats. If he could only understand what it was all about! But he couldn't, until, finally all was silent in the room below.
Then Jezreel heard the street door close with a bang.
Going to the window that looked out into the street, Jezreel saw his mother standing alone in front of the house. It was an unusually moonlit night. Samaria, a beautiful city in the daytime, was a very dark and gloomy place at night, except when the moon and stars reigned in their glory in clear skies. This happened to be just such a night.
The yellow moon was reflected from the red-tiled housetops. In the distance were the famous Samarian houses of stone and marble, dark and foreboding against the moonlight. Above all the houses towered the royal palace—in which Zechariah, Jeroboam II's son, had been king since his father died, six months before—with its bright, gilded domes, like a sentinel wearing a brass helmet.
But the little boy, in his night clothes, looking out of the window of his room into the moonlit and shadowed street, saw only his mother standing there below.
His attention was called suddenly away from the window by loud sobbing. He hurried to the door, but did not dare open it. He listened until the sobbing ceased. Then he returned to the window, to find the street empty and deserted. His mother had evidently gone away.
He shivered. He folded his arms tightly, as if hugging himself to keep warm. Then he brought his chair from the door to the table, sat down and listened. In the room below he heard his father walking up and down with regular step. The house was completely silent but for Hosea's footfalls.
Jezreel drew his legs up under him on the chair. He was tired and rested his head upon his arms on the table. The silence and the monotony of the regular heavy walking in the room under him, made him drowsy. His little heart ached, though he could not explain why. He tried hard to keep awake, but finally fell asleep, there at the table. At one time he shivered, when the street door of the house shut again with a bang; but he did not wake up.
Below, a great big, powerful man had been keeping up a continuous march up and down the room. He was brooding over the events that had just preceded and thinking over the years of his married life.
When Hosea first met Gomer, she lived in her father's home in one of the poorest sections of Samaria. Diblaim, Gomer's father, was a poor man and could not give his daughter the advantages other girls in Samaria enjoyed. But Hosea loved Gomer most devotedly and he married her.
Son of the priest Beeri, Hosea inherited great wealth and a position among the priests at the Bethel sanctuary. He was thus able to give Gomer not only a beautiful home in one of the city's most beautiful suburbs, but also to introduce her to the royal and social leaders of Samaria.
After a few years, however, everything seemed to go wrong in the Hosea household. Gomer developed a weakness for luxury and jewels and fine clothes; she used to be away from the house and the children most of the time; she did not understand her husband, his desire for quiet evenings at home with the children and his dislike of the pomp and display at the court and in society. And that night, Hosea and Gomer parted, Gomer going home to her father.
Hosea felt very much oppressed. Walking up and down the room brought him no relief. So he rushed out of the house into the night, into the open, where he could breathe more freely—and think. It was the bang of the door behind him that disturbed Jezreel, asleep at the table.
But Hosea's brain was all clogged up. It could not dwell upon a single line of thought for five consecutive minutes. And yet he was so thoroughly absorbed in his thoughts, that he did not notice any number of people excitedly hurrying past him.
He walked on toward the center of the city in a daze. The first time he realized that he was not alone on the streets of Samaria was when he found himself being jostled in a wide thoroughfare leading to the market place.
Then he was awakened out of the stupor in which he had left his home by cries, coming from several directions:
"Long live the king!"
"Long life to Shallum!"
Shallum? Who was Shallum? Why was the name being shouted in the streets of Samaria?
Hosea, trying to find his bearings, was asking himself these questions when he arrived in the market place.
There an unusual and most unexpected sight met him. The place was filled with people. Troops were fighting in front of the royal palace. From the palace, which was brightly illuminated, soldiers and plain citizens were pouring forth in a stream. Above the shrieking of men and women and the clang of contending arms, he heard enthusiastic shouts:
"King Zechariah is dead! Long live King Shallum!"
What? Zechariah dead!
In a flash the whole situation was made clear to Hosea. Now he recalled that down at Bethel, the king's sanctuary, someone had spoken to him of a movement that was on foot to depose the king.
Hosea knew that Zechariah was unlike his great father, Jeroboam II, whom he succeeded in the year 742 B. C. E. The new king was a weakling. Upon his accession to the throne, Syria refused to pay the annual tribute, revolted, and Zechariah could not help himself. The wealth of the people, the luxury they lived in, the disorganization of the army by corruption, the oppression of the poor, the injustices practiced in business and in the courts of law, had unfitted Israel to wage war against Syria, or any other nation, for that matter.
Zechariah, in the six months that he ruled Samaria, therefore, lost all that had been gained by his illustrious father. Hosea, however, did not look for an insurrection in Samaria.
But here it was: Zechariah was dead and Shallum—yes, Shallum, the son of Jabesh, the one mentioned to Hosea as the probable successor—had been proclaimed king. When Shallum was spoken of, down at Bethel, Hosea had paid no particular attention. He was occupied with his own family troubles then, as he was in the presence of this history-making event. The threatened revolution was the farthest thought from his mind, at that time as it was at this moment.
Therefore, before Hosea had grasped the full significance of either of the two events that had occurred that night, he was jostled into a side street by the mob that now filled the market place.
Sick at heart, Hosea did not stop to see the bloodshed and the horror, nor to listen to the story of the revolt, but walked on to the outskirts of the city.
His head swam from the excitement. His temples pounded like sledge hammers. As he walked on, his feet grew heavy and dragged. Just how he got there Hosea did not know, but suddenly he found himself in front of his own home.
The day was now dawning. The first rays of the sun were shooting their way through the early morning mist and playing on the bedewed stones of the house. Hosea entered quietly, and walked up to the children's bed room. To his amazement he found Jezreel asleep on his arms at the table.
As he gazed for a moment upon the children, Hosea's heart was wrung with sorrow. He picked Jezreel up from the chair. The boy, asleep, clung tightly about his father's neck. Hosea laid him in his bed, covered him, kissed him and, with bowed head, went to his own room.
And while little Jezreel was dreaming that a great giant came to his home, picked up the house and shook it, carried it away to a beautiful valley and brought back his mother, Hosea sat at the window and watched and watched, until the morning's duties called him.
The Tragedy With a Purpose.
King Shallum soon discovered that a stolen throne is no sweeter than any other stolen thing. A palace is no more protection against conscience than a hovel; and Shallum passed miserable days of fear and nights of sleeplessness, because of his murder of Zechariah.
Smitten by his conscience and tortured in mind, Shallum was not able to collect a large force of followers to protect him or his ill-gotten throne. When, therefore, a plot was set on foot to dethrone him, Shallum was helpless.
Menahem, the son of Gadi, one of Jeroboam II's generals, organized an expedition against the usurper in Tirzah, the city that was the capital of Israel for fifty years after the Kingdom of Solomon was divided. Within a month after Shallum had proclaimed himself King of Israel, Menahem marched from Tirzah to Samaria, attacked Shallum, defeated him, and, in turn, mounted the throne of Jeroboam.
Instead of ruling peaceably in Samaria, however, Menahem started a reign of terror, until nobody in the country seemed safe in his home or in his possessions.
Trouble came for the new king thick and fast.
Tiglath-Pileser III, who had been ruling in Assyria since 745, and against whom Amos had warned the weakened Kingdom of Israel, had accomplished many conquests north of Israel, in Phoenicia and in the frontier lands of Damascus.
In the year 738, Tiglath-Pileser was knocking at the gates of Damascus and threatening Samaria. In order to keep the Assyrian conqueror off, and save their countries the spoliation and ruin that followed in the wake of the Assyrian armies, Menahem, together with Rezin, King of Damascus, the Kings of Tyre, Hamath, and other small states, agreed to pay him tribute.
Menahem's share was the enormous sum of one thousand talents of silver. To raise this amount, he levied a tax of fifty silver shekels each on "all the mighty men of wealth," both priests and merchants, in the kingdom.
Now, the lawlessness started by Shallum and the anarchy continued by Menahem had had their effect. The great sum of money needed for Tiglath-Pileser was raised by "all the mighty men of wealth;" but it was ground out of the poor by cheating, robbery and even murder.
The conditions against which the Prophet Amos cried out were now apparent to all observers. The final overthrow of the kingdom, which Amos declared to be but a matter of time, was now evident to all patriotic lovers of their country.
These conditions were clear as the light of day, especially to Hosea. Being a priest himself, he knew how the very priests at the sanctuaries had entered upon secret understandings with rebel associates of Menahem and the wealthy merchants to raise the Assyrian tribute at the expense of the people. Being a lover of his fatherland, he knew that these sins and crimes against God and men must react upon the nation as a whole and rush it on to destruction.
Hosea, like Amos, therefore, felt himself called upon by God to warn his people, and, if possible, to save his country. He could no longer stand aside and see rulers, priests and "all the mighty men of wealth" despoiling his well-beloved fatherland. He must speak words of reproach and warning. He must open the eyes of his people to the calamity that was ahead of them.
One night Hosea was at home brooding over his own family troubles and thinking of the future of his country. He had just seen the children to bed and his mind was dwelling on Gomer, their mother, from whom he had not heard a single word since she went away. As he came downstairs he heard shouting and screaming and hurrying footsteps. Going into the street, he learned that another of those attacks on peaceful people had been made by a company of Menahem's followers for the purpose of robbery.
This did not surprise Hosea in the least. What did chagrin and pain him was the discovery that the attacking party was under the direction of several priests whom, he knew personally.
All that night this phrase kept running through his mind—"Like people, like priest." And, strange to say, the thought of Gomer, his wife, whom he loved devotedly, whom he never ceased loving, kept on intruding itself into his thoughts about his country.
By morning, however, the whole situation had cleared up for him. Israel, its rulers and priests were like Gomer. God loved the whole people of Israel devotedly as Hosea loved Gomer, but Israel does not always understand what God desires of His people any more than Gomer understood what Hosea desired of her. If Gomer had continued loving her husband, as from the beginning, she would never have left him; if Israel had continued loving God, as from the beginning, Israel would never have strayed away from His law and commandments. What is to be done? Israel lacks knowledge of God and His will! Israel is being taught falsehoods by priests and prophets! Israel does not understand God's loving-kindness toward His people! Israel must be warned! Israel must be taught!
Hosea had determined what to do. His unhappiness at the departure of his wife was somewhat lightened now, because he read God's mission to him in the tragedy of his home. He felt himself ordained to be a preacher to Israel—and he went to work.
From that day on he traveled the wide land over, preaching to the people against the corrupt priesthood and against the usurpers of the throne of Samaria.
"Hear the word of God, ye children of Israel, For God hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, For there is no truth, nor loving-kindness, Nor knowledge of God in the land; There is naught but perjury and lying, Murder and stealing, Violence and bloodshed. Therefore doth the land mourn, And all its inhabitants languish.
"Yet, let none bring charges, And let none reprove, Since my people are but as their priestlings. My people are being destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because thou has rejected knowledge I will also reject thee, That thou shalt be no priest to me. Since thou hast forgotten the instruction of thy God, I will also forget thy children. I will change their glory into shame, And it shall be, like people, like priest. The people that doth not understand shall be overthrown!"
Hosea naturally, met opposition everywhere on the part of the priesthood and the hirelings of the king. Undaunted, he rebuked Menahem and the usurping rulers in Samaria, as well as the priests and the unrighteous people.
"Hear this, O ye priests! And hearken, O house of Israel, And give heed, O house of the king, Since for you is the judgment. They themselves have made kings, without my consent; They have made princes, but without my knowledge. For they commit falsehood; The thief entereth in and the troop of robbers ravageth without. And they consider not in their hearts That I remember all their wickedness."
Then, his heart aching with pain, and remembering the sorrow of his life, which led him to prophesy, he concludes:
"What shall I do unto you, O Ephraim! What shall I do unto you, O Israel— Since your love is like a morning cloud, Yea, like the dew which goes early away."
But the people as a whole, having been taught by the unworthy prients, still believed that, in offering sacrifices, all their sins and crimes were forgiven them by God. Amos had objected strenuously to this common belief. Hosea went a step further and decried the act of sacrificing as an act of idolatry.
Referring bitterly to Bethel as Bethaven (the House of Violence) Hosea replied:
"Come not ye into Gilgal, Neither go ye up to Beth-aven, Nor swear, 'As God liveth.' In Bethel I have seen a horrible thing; All their wickedness is in Gilgal; For there I hated them. Because of the wickedness of their doings, I will drive them out of my house; I will love them no more. They shall go with their flocks And with their herds to seek God; But they shall not find Him; He hath withdrawn Himself from them."
Every place where Hosea denounced the sacrifices, the people who heard him, but could not or would not understand, called him a fool and said that he was mad. "Yes," replied Hosea:
"The prophet is a fool, The man that hath the spirit is mad Because of the abundance of thine iniquity. They shall cry unto me, 'My God, we Israel know Thee.' (But) Israel hath cast off that which is good; Israel hath forgotten his Maker. And now they go on sinning, They make for themselves molten gods, From their silver, idols according to their own model, Smith's work, all of it! To such they speak! Men who sacrifice, kiss calves! They sow the wind and shall reap the whirlwind!"
After that Hosea followed up his rebuke and denunciation with most pathetic entreaties:
"Sow to yourselves righteousness, So shall ye reap loving-kindness. Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord, That the fruit of righteousness may come upon you. But ye have plowed wickedness, Ye have reaped disaster, Ye have eaten the fruit of lies. It is love I delight in, and not sacrifice, Knowledge of God and not burnt-offering."
When the time came for Menahem to send the tribute to Tiglath-Pileser, Hosea discovered that even here the king and his advisers were double-dealing with Assyria. The sending of the money to the great emperor was only a blind on the part of Menahem.
Secretly he was in communication with the King of Egypt, sending precious gifts to him. Menahem wanted to create an alliance between Israel and Egypt against Tiglath-Pileser.
Hosea saw the folly of it all. He knew that neither the tribute to Assyria nor the proposed alliance with Egypt could help the corrupt, degraded people. He compares Menahem's double-dealing to the action of a silly dove, and concludes:
"Samaria shall bear her guilt, For she has rebelled against her God. Shall I deliver them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? Come, on with thy plagues, O Death! On with thy pestilence, O Sheol! Repentance is forever hid from mine eyes."
This terrible pronouncement, almost a curse, brought Hosea back to his home all wrought up. Never had he spoken so harshly. Never had he felt so deeply the doom of Israel.
He found his children in the playroom, playing an old game called "Mother." After watching them for a moment in silence and in thought, his heart was almost crushed by a question his little girl put to him:
"When is our real mother coming home?"
For answer he drew Lo-ruhamah close to his heart—and wept. Hosea did not know; only God knew.
All the love he bore for Gomer came back in an overwhelming flood. She had strayed from him, but his love had never lessened. Would that he could find her! With all her faults he would forgive her, if she would repent and return. And yet, that morning, he had been so harsh. He preached that Israel must bear its guilt and that God had forever hid repentance from before Him.
If he, a man, could love so deeply and could be willing to forgive, how much the more so does God love His people; how much the more so will God have compassion and forgive, if Israel will repent and return to Him?
And that very night it seemed that God had ordained an ordeal for Hosea to test him and inspire him in his further work as a prophet.
A message was brought to Hosea that his wife, Gomer, was to be sold as a slave at public auction, in the slave market of Samaria, on the morrow!
The Repentant Returns.
With a bowed head, though with a stout heart, Hosea went to the market place on the following morning. He mingled with the people in the vicinity of the slave auction district, watching particularly a certain block, on which, he was told, Gomer was to be offered for sale.
He studied carefully every woman that was put upon the block. At last he recognized her. But how changed she seemed. Her beauty, for which she had been famous, was gone. Her straight erect form was stooped. Her eyes, once proud, were cast down. She had a forlorn, hopeless look, as if she didn't care what happened to her. Evidently she had suffered greatly.
Where had she been during the past four years? What hardships had she been through that she was so changed? Why did she fall so low that she had to be sold into slavery?
The answers to these questions would have made no difference in the plan Hosea had determined to follow with Gomer. Standing on the outskirts of the crowd, he raised bid after bid, until he bought her for "fifteen pieces of silver and a homer of barley and a half-homer of barley."
Gomer was not at all concerned about the one who had purchased her. She did not take a single glance in the direction of those who were bidding for her. When sold, she stepped wearily down from the block and waited listlessly to be claimed by the owner and taken away.
Hosea approached her, stepped to her side and spoke her name in a low voice: "Gomer!"
She raised her eyes and looked at him as through a haze. Hosea, too, had changed much during the past four years. His love for Gomer, the uncertainty of her whereabouts, his grief, his constant preaching to Israel that fell on deaf ears, had made deep furrows in his face and brought wrinkles to his forehead.
"Come with me," he said softly to her.
For a moment Gomer stared at him; then she fell in a dead faint at his feet.
It was a long time before she revived. Sorrow and repentance for her foolishness in leaving a home where her husband loved her and where her children would have worshiped her, had she permitted them to do so, had sapped all her strength. The sudden shock of seeing Hosea and the knowledge that he had bought her as a slave nearly killed her.
But Hosea had no thought of revenge. In his great heart there was naught but love for Gomer.
On their way home Gomer began:
"I regret," she said, "I am sorry—"
But Hosea stopped her. He would not even listen to words of explanation from her whom he loved. He knew that she must have suffered much, that she was unhappy. It was sufficient now that she was sorry, that she had repented. Hosea did not want to cause her the pain of a recital of her sorrows.
That is the way people who love truly do. They forgive and forget, quickly and without causing pain.
Hosea had the children removed to the home of a friend for several months. During that time Gomer quickly recovered from her trials and returned to health and beauty. Then he brought the children back and restored them to their real mother.
Once, after the reunited family had spent a very happy evening, a tremendous truth came home to Hosea. Here they were all happy, as if trouble had never entered to disturb the sweetness and beauty of their lives! Why had sorrow and suffering come upon them at all?
Then and there Hosea realized that there was a purpose in his home tragedy. He understood better than ever before that God had selected him to be a prophet to his people; that God had taught him through sorrow and suffering, the lesson he was to teach to Israel.
Israel had become faithless to God and had left His law; even as Gomer had left her husband. God grieved for the sins of Israel; even as he had grieved for Gomer who had strayed from him. God loved His people, nevertheless; even as he loved Gomer, continually. God was prepared to take Israel back under His guiding and loving care, when Israel would repent of its backsliding and sinning; even as he did with Gomer.
From that day on Hosea's preaching took on a different form. He no longer scolded and condemned, but entreated and pleaded with his people:
"Return, O Israel, to the Lord thy God, For thou hast stumbled through thine iniquity. Take words with thee And return to God. Say to Him, 'Pardon Thou wholly iniquity And receive (us) with favor. Assyria will not save us, We will not ride upon horses (to Egypt); We will no more say to the work of our hands, "Ye are our god."'"
And, in the fervor of his poetic soul, the prophet hears God's answer to repenting and returning Israel:
"I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, For my anger is turned away from them. I will be as dew to Israel; He shall blossom as the lily And strike his roots deep as Lebanon. His saplings shall spread out, And his beauty shall be as the olive tree. They shall return and dwell in my shadow, They shall live well-watered like a garden, They shall flourish like a vine, Their renown shall be like that of the wine of Lebanon."
But such hopefulness and promise of divine love had no more effect upon the doomed people than did the attacks upon their sinfulness and wrongdoing.
The Judean prophet, Amos, it will be remembered, drew a picture of God as a stern judge and Israel as the criminal. Israel is proved guilty of all the prophet's accusations, and the Judge pronounces sentence.
The experiences that led the Samarian, Hosea, to prophesy were different than those of the Tekoan. Understanding the lasting love that dwelt within him for Gomer, and how he yearned for her return to him, he cried out to his people, from the depths of a wounded heart, speaking through the inspiration of a loving and merciful God:
"O my people! How can I give thee up, O Ephraim! How can I surrender thee, O Israel! How can I give thee up as Admah! Or make thee as Zeboim! My heart asserts itself: My sympathies are all aglow. I will not carry into effect the fierceness of my anger; I will not turn to destroy Ephraim. For God am I, and not man, Holy in the midst of thee; Therefore I will not utterly consume. Turn thou to thy God, Keep kindness and justice, And wait for thy God continually."
Although Hosea saw that he was laboring to no good effect, he did not for an instant give up. Time and again he recalled the early days of love and devotion between God and Israel. He recounted the times when Israel deserted God, from the Exodus on, but God always received Israel back, when the people repented of their sins and returned to acts of justice, righteousness and love.