Week 4, and it will take all the weekdays to finish reading Hosea, only the second of the Twelve. You know that the books have to get shorter, if we are to read 10 more by Epiphany. Sure enough Saturday we meet Micah.
This first lunar month is not a waste, if it has oriented you again in whatever you once knew about the 8th century before the Common Era, the 700’s BCE: Little more than a century of David and Solomon’s ‘United Monarchy’ cobbled together from 12 tribes, and centralized in Jerusalem, succession and civil war split the people into the ‘Divided Kingdoms’ of Israel in the north, and Judah in the south. They in turn don’t last too long, before Israel falls to the Assyrians in the second half of the century, and the elite of Judah are exiled to Babylon at the end of the next century. We know how the story plays out. They don’t yet.
You remember that the ‘voice of the prophetic tradition of the north, Israel’ is recognized in the ‘Elohist’ voice in our readings of Torah. You know there is a long story of which shrines are northern, which tribes claim patrimony there. You know that the ‘Former Prophets’ or history books spin the stories with varying agendas from Judges and Joshua through Samuels and Kings (and in turn to Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah). The Twelve, or ‘Minor Prophets’ along with the ‘Major Prophets’ add voices and a faces on the tradition rooted in key individuals in context of specific places and times – but their diction is taken from their predecessors, and the editorial hands of their successors sorted out which of their many words should be preserved and repeated.
Amos and Hosea are echoed because they warned Israel in the 8th century of the signs of their times, and the shape of things to come. Once the Assyrians ‘swept down like a wolf on the fold’ in mid 700’s and exiled the people to mixed labour camps across their empire in 721BCE, it was easy to say ‘they told us so’. The value of the prophets is not in predicting 721BCE, or even in how it might have been a cautionary tale for Judah as it approached 597BCE exile. The value of the prophets is for every time and place, including ours, in learning the patterns and shapes of how the divine and the human have been experienced by the people of God, and words have expressed and informed our lives ‘here and now’ for a couple of millennia since. We can say: ‘this reminds me of…’
On Saturday, we start hearing from Micah, identified with Moresheth in Judah, and the reign of Jotham. This voice is roughly contemporary in time with Amos and Hosea, maybe a few years younger, and from closer to Isaiah’s home turf in overlapping decades. Samaria hasn’t fallen yet, affluence is still good given the foreign policy of Judah as a client state of Assyria, but the end is clear enough.
When I allude to the connections I’m making with our time and place, nobody agrees with me, nor do I think Hosea predicted Kitchener 2018. It does mean that I am provoked to think beyond my own cultural captivity in late capitalism, in a ‘liberal democracy’ in the ‘First World’. What will you recognize?
Ever heard of a smaller country riding the coat-tails of one empire after another – like Canada, once an imperial colony, now more of a NAFTA state flirting with ambitions back in Europe and forward in the Pacific? Risky strategy, eh?