Rose E Selfe.

The Work of the prophets online

. (page 2 of 10)
Online LibraryRose E SelfeThe Work of the prophets → online text (page 2 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

worship at Bethel was not pure or free from
idolatry. The Lord was adored there under the
form of a golden calf.

When the call of God came to Amos to go
and prophesy to His people Israel, the herds-
man could not resist that voice ; and it was
natural that he should go straight to Bethel,

Amos the Herdsman 23

where he knew that he should find people
gathered together, and priests ministering in
the sanctuary, to whom he could address his


It must have been a strange interruption to
the joy of the worshippers, to hear, breaking
into their music and feasting, the solemn
voice of this unknown countryman, who did
not belong to the sons of the prophets, and
was not even a native of Israel. What did he
say at Bethel ? One terrible prophecy we know
must have alarmed his hearers : " Jeroboam shall
die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led
away captive out of his land " (vii. 1 1). But these
words were probably only a small part of the ad-
dresses he gave at Bethel. No doubt most of the
other prophecies of the book, which were written
on rolls of parchment after his return from the
sanctuary, had been first delivered there by word
of mouth. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, was so
much disturbed by the words of Amos, and by
the effect that they had upon those who heard
them, that he sent to Jeroboam, king of Israel, an

24 The Work of the Prophets

alarming message. He told the king that " Amos
had conspired against him, in the midst of the
land of Israel, and that the land was not able to
bear all his words " (vii. 10). We are not told if
Jeroboam took any notice of this message. Possibly
he did not think the humble prophet likely to do
any serious harm.

Amaziah himself urged Amos to go back to
Judaea, and earn his living by prophesying there
in his own country. He charged him to prophesy
no more at Bethel, " for it is the king's sanctuary,
and a royal house." Amos solemnly assured him
that it was God's message which he had delivered,
and that the future would shew the truth ; and he
added that Amaziah and his family would have
much sorrow and suffering because he had tried
to silence the voice of God speaking through His
prophet (vii. 12-17).

After this Amos does not seem to have
prophesied any more at Bethel, but he wrote
his prophecies in the book which has come down
to us as the first written prophecy.

The beginnings of things have often a special

Amos the Herdsman 25

meaning and interest for us. The first great ruler
in a country, for instance, like our own King
Alfred, leaves his mark on all the history that
follows. The first great national poet, like Chaucer
in England, or Dante in Italy, influences the writers
of after times. It seems as if a door were opened
into new thoughts and new ways of looking at
life. And this is specially the case with the written
prophecy of the Hebrews. The great lessons which
" the Holy Ghost spake by " Amos contain fresh
truth about God, about what religion is, and what
our lives are meant to be. Many of these truths
were quite new to those who first heard them.
They are not, of course, new to us, who are living
two thousand six hundred and fiftyyears after Amos,
but we can still go back to his words, and find in
them fresh strength and inspiration. For truth
is eternal, and the words of God never pass away.
If you open the book of Amos, and begin to
read it for yourselves, you may find some of it
rather difficult to understand. But there are
simple passages in it too which it is worth while
to learn by heart. As he is the first of the written

26 The Work of the Prophets

prophets, it will be well to set down quite clearly
the chief lessons he can teach us. In that way,
we shall have a key not only to this book, but to
many of the later prophets.

The first and second chapters contain a number
of stern rebukes against the different nations who
lived near Israel and Judah. God's voice comes
loud and indignant from Jerusalem, His own
central city, against the Syrians, the Philistines,
the Phoenicians, the Edomites, the Ammonites,
the Moabites, announcing punishment which must
follow their wrong-doing. These prophecies must
have seemed strange to the Israelites, who did not
realize that their God took any heed of the heathen
nations, except to destroy them before the face of
His own people. This is the beginning of a
lesson which it took them a long time to learn,
that the Lord is the God of all nations, not of the
Hebrews only. And why were these nations to be
punished, when they had never been taught of
God ? Because they had been cruel and inhuman,
had killed innocent women, and insulted dead
bodies. They had sinned against the natural

Amos the Herdsman 27

feelings of humanity, which, as Amos teaches
us, God has implanted in the hearts of all men.
Their barbarous cruelty had been the conduct
of wild animals, and not of human beings.

But if the wrong-doings of the heathen had
provoked God's wrath, how much more must
punishment fall upon His own people ? So
Amos goes on to speak of the transgressions
of Judah, and then more fully of Israel. You
know how happily and easily the people of Israel
had been living, quite unconscious of the righteous
judgment which was hanging over them. And
now Amos, inspired by God, pours forth a torrent
of indignant words against their cruelty and selfish-
ness to the poor, their irreverence in the house of
their God, their forgetfulness of all that He had
done for them (ii. 9, 10)

" Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them,
Whose height was like the height of the cedars,
And he was strong as the oaks ;
Yet I destroyed his fruits from above.
And his roots from beneath.
And I brought you up out of the land of Egypt,
And led you forty years in the wilderness,
To possess the land of the Amorite."

28 The Work of the Prophets

And He had not left them without messengers,
and examples of a self-controlled and temperate
life (ii. 1 1 )

" And I raised up of your sons for prophets,
And of your young men for Nazirites."

But the people had silenced the prophets, and
tempted the Nazirites to break their vows. They
would not be reminded of their duty to God, but
went on still in their wickedness.

Then God sent them different troubles and
sorrows : famine and drought, the failure of their
crops, pestilence, war. Amos goes through the
whole list, and after describing each affliction, he
repeats the same sad sentence (iv. 6, 8, 9, 10, 1 1)

"Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord."

Neither warning nor example nor suffering
had awakened them to a sense of their sins.
They had gone on hating those who had reproved
them, and abhorring those that spoke uprightly.
They had trampled upon the poor, and taken
exactions of wheat ; they had taken bribes from
those who were able to afford them, and given

Amos the Herdsman 29

unjust sentences against the needy who had no
money with which to buy justice.

We seem to hear the voice of God through
Amos growing more and more indignant, as the
long list of charges against the sinful people goes
on. And then, as if the thought of the suffering
and injured poor comes in sharp contrast with the
outward worship offered by the oppressors, He
cries out (v. 21-23)

" I hate, I despise your feasts,

And I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Yea, though ye offer Me your burnt offerings and meal offerings,
I will not accept them :

Neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.
Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs 5
For I will not hear the melody of thy viols."

So God's people have been mistaken all this
time as to what He expects from them. He is a
God of righteousness, and what He demands is
justice and mercy. This is true religion, to obey
God's laws, to listen to His voice in all the affairs
of everyday life. Those who are His faithful
servants will be faithful in prayer and worship
also. But the outward ceremonial, accompanied

30 The Work of the Prophets

by the selfish, unjust life is only displeasing to
God. Do you remember Samuel's words to

" To obey is better than sacrifice,
And to hearken than the fat of rams " ?

Does the thought of these sins of the Israelites
seem too far away from us to be of any interest ?
Are we inclined to feel that it is such a long-ago
story that it has no meaning for us to-day ? But
the wonderful thing about the Bible stories is,
that the same things which happened in Israel
hundreds or thousands of years ago, are happening
now in our own times, and what God taught the
people then is just what He would have us learn
now. He is the same, His years shall not fail.

Try to picture some of the scenes which Amos
describes. Suppose a poor widow woman with an
only son, to whom she looks for support, has him
suddenly taken away from her and sold for a
slave. She goes up in her distress to the gate of
the city, the place where justice is administered in
Eastern towns. She pleads for her son to be
restored to her. She has no money to bribe the

Amos the Herdsman 31

judge with. The master of her son slips some-
thing into the judge's hand, and he " turns aside
the needy from her right," and she goes back to
poverty and loneliness. It is acts like these
which move the Lord to anger.

Then, again, Amos says much against the
self-indulgence of those who are well off how
they eat and drink, and rest and play, and sing,
without a thought of those who have not enough
to eat and drink, and who toil all day, and have
no pleasures. This is a sinful waste of life in
God's sight, and He would have us begin early to
deny ourselves some of the things we like and
enjoy, in order to be able to do something for
those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

We must now turn to a passage in our prophet,
which contains a very deep truth, both for the
Israelites and for us all.

You know that the people prided themselves
very much on having had a different history from
that of any other nation. Ever since the call of
Abraham, God had shewn special favour to the
Hebrews, and had made them into a great nation

32 The Work of the Prophets

under His own guidance and protection. This
was quite true, but in return for all His great
goodness they had continually grieved Him by
their wickedness. He had meant them to be " a
peculiar people," not only in their fortunes, but
in their goodness. Because "much had been
given to them, of them much was required " (St.
Luke xii. 48).

And because they had not remembered this,
therefore their punishment was to be heavier.
So Amos says, speaking for God (iii. 2)

"You only have I known of all the families of the earth :
therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities."

"You only have I known." This does not
mean that God had not created and controlled all
the other nations of the earth, but to the Hebrews
alone had He shewn Himself their intimate friend
and guide, because of the great work that He had
appointed them to do.

It is an old lesson to us, though new to Israel ;
the more privileges we have, the more is expected
of us. The gifts and advantages bestowed upon
us are no causes of pride, but great opportunities

Amos the Herdsman 33

for service. How ought the Israelites to have
responded to God's special favour ? This is what
Amos now urges upon them not to increase the
number of their sacrifices and offerings, not to
seek the different sanctuaries, at Bethel and Gilgal
and Beersheba, but (v. 6, 14, 15)

" Seek the Lord, and ye shall live. . . .
Seek good, and not evil. . . .

Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the
gate. . . ."

And then, as if the thought came over him of what
it would mean if all the people turned from their
evil ways, and set themselves to keep God's laws,
he cries out with passionate earnestness (v. 24)

" Let judgment roll down as waters,
And righteousness as an ever-flowing stream."

It is to these words of Amos that our minds
go back again and again. Have you seen any
great river flowing on with its resistless power, or
sat beside a mountain waterfall watching the
ceaseless rush of the water as if from an inex-
haustible spring ? These are parables of the
stream of righteousness which Amos pictured


34 The Work of the Prophets

flowing through the land, fertilizing, refreshing,
blessing all things. But, alas ! most of those
who heard or read the words paid no heed to
them, and before forty years had passed the
judgment had descended, and the Israelites were
carried away as captives far from their own land,
among the heathen Assyrians.



WHAT lessons have we learned from the prophecies
of Amos ?

That God is the God of all nations ; that much
is expected from those to whom much has been
given ; that true religion means devotion to God,
which leads us to obey His will, and is not content
with outward worship only ; that God is a God
of righteousness, and that judgment must follow
wilful wrong-doing.

It is very sad to think that the people to whom
such messages were sent went on still in their
wickedness. But so it was. A few years later
than Amos, another prophet, named Hosea, was
sent to the people of Israel, and from his book we
find that the sins which had grieved God were


36 The Work of the Prophets

grieving Him still. The great stream of righteous-
ness had not begun to flow through the land.

Hosea was a native of the northern kingdom.
He did not come, like Amos, from Judah to rebuke
the sinful people. And like all true patriots he
felt with special keenness the wrong-doing of his
fellow-countrymen. Some of his prophecies may
have been written while Jeroboam II. was still
king of Israel. Others were no doubt written
later, when there were sore troubles in the land :
one king murdering another and usurping the
throne, and perhaps calling in the aid of Egypt
or Assyria to keep him on his throne.

We do not know anything about Hosea's
occupation in life, as we do about Amos. But we
know a great deal about his personal life, which
had much sorrow in it. It seems as if this sorrow
was really what made him a prophet. God pre-
pared him by love and suffering to be the prophet
of love to His people.

Hosea had married a woman named Gomer,
whom he loved very dearly. Three little children
were born in their home, two boys and a girl.

Hosea the Sorrowful 37

And then a most sad thing happened. Gomer
grew tired of her home and her husband, and
went away from him and her children, to find a
life of more excitement and pleasure. We can
imagine what a terrible sorrow this was to Hosea,
to be left alone by the wife whom he loved, and
to whom he had given all he could to make her
happy. The story of Gomer reminds us in some
ways of the story of the Prodigal Son. She, like
him, found that her life of pleasure did not make
her really happy. She fell so low that she was sold
as a slave. And then her husband, who had loved
her all the time, went after her, and paid down
fifteen pieces of silver, and brought her back again.
Of course she could not expect to have the same
place in her home as before, and be the honoured
wife of the prophet. She had to live a secluded
life, and learn to do without the pleasures which
she had cared for so much. And then Hosea
hoped that by-and-by she would be very sorry for
all.her disloyalty and selfish wrong-doing, and come
back to her love for him, and for the rest of her
days would live a godly, righteous, and sober life.

38 The Work of the Prophets

Do you wonder why Hosea had such a
sorrowful history, so much harder to bear than
losing his wife by death would have been ? He
tells us himself why God so afflicted him : out of
his own love for his erring wife he learned the
lesson of God's faithful love towards the people
of Israel. Out of his own sorrow for her wrong-
doing he learned God's sorrow for sin ; and by
what he felt was God's message to him, to take
his wife from her slavery, and by stern yet loving
discipline to try to win her back to love and good-
ness, he learned what was God's loving purpose
for Israel.

This is the meaning of the book of Hosea.
It is even more difficult to understand than the
book of Amos. The prophet is so sad, and his
mind is so filled with the thought of the wicked-
ness of Israel, and their unfaithfulness to God,
that the words follow one another too quickly to
be at all simple or easy to grasp. This is one of
the books which you will understand better when
you have had more experience of life. But there
are beautiful passages too, and we must quote

Hosea the Sorrowful 39

some of them, because they teach us so much of
the " loving-kindness " of God.

Hosea writes quite as strongly about the
wickedness of Israel as Amos does, and about the
punishment that must fall upon them unless they
repent. But there is much more about love and
mercy and hope in this book, than in that of Amos.

In the second chapter God says

" Behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfortably to her.
And I will give her her vineyards from thence,
And the valley of Achor for a door of hope :
And she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth,
And as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt."

Part of their great wickedness was that they
had departed from the pure worship of the only
God, and had worshipped some of the Baals, the
other gods of the land. Now God, speaking by
Hosea, says

" And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord,
That thou shall call Me Ishi (that is, my Husband) j
And shalt call Me no more Baali (that is, my Lord).
And I will betroth thee unto Me for ever ;
Yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness,
And in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies.
I will even betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness."

4o The Work of the Prophets

It is very beautiful to come upon such words
as these, in the midst of all the severe indignation
and rebukes with which so much of the book is
filled. It is as if the prophet, inspired by God,
saw sometimes, as light breaking through dark
clouds, the hope of a penitent and purified Israel.
God was revealing Himself as love as well as
righteousness to these sinful, ungrateful people.
Hosea knew, by his own experience, how we go
on loving those who have grieved and deserted
us. And if human love can be so patient and
forbearing, how much more must God's love be ?
Yet the prophet was to " set the trumpet to his
mouth," he was to be "as an eagle against the
house of the Lord." The judgment must come,
before the forgiveness and restoration were possible.
How entirely they had forgotten what God had
been to them in the past ! (xi. i, 3.)

" When Israel was a child, then I loved him,
And called My son out of Egypt. . . .
I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms ;
But they knew not that I healed them."

Is not this a tender picture of a loving father,

Hosea the Sorrowful 41

gently guiding the tottering feet of the little
one, and supporting him till he can go alone?
Perhaps Hosea remembered how he had taught
and led his own little children in the home
that had been left so desolate. And then
another image comes to his mind, of a kind
and compassionate driver, at the end of a long
journey, taking the yoke from his tired beasts,
and feeding them before thinking of his own

" I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws,
And I laid meat before them."

A kind and faithful husband, a tender patient
father, a merciful drover under all these figures
does Hosea set the love of God to His people
before us.

But this love does not shield them from
punishment. Their idolatry, their selfishness, their
cruelty, all the many sins by which they had
destroyed themselves will meet with their just
reward. The great Assyrian power will come
down upon the land, Samaria, the capital city, will

42 The Work of the Prophets

be besieged, and the people will be carried away
captive. Nothing can avert this judgment. Yet
the book of Hosea ends with hope. God calls
upon Israel to repent, to return to the Lord, with
words of sorrow and penitence. And if this comes
to pass, if the erring wife comes back to her loving
husband, then these beautiful promises will be
fulfilled (xiv. 4-7)

" I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely :
For Mine anger is turned away from him.
I will be as the dew unto Israel :

He shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon,
His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree,
And his smell as Lebanon.
They that dwell under his shadow shall return ;
They shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine :
The scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. ..."

And in the last verse of the book we read

"The ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them."

God is righteous, and requires His people to
walk in His ways.

God is loving, and will receive in the arms of
His mercy all who will return to Him.

Hosea the Sorrowful 43

Is it not wonderful that these great truths
should have been revealed to the prophet seven
hundred years before Christ came on earth, and
gave us the parable of the Prodigal Son, and
received the penitent thief on the Cross ?



AMOS and Hosea were the only two of the writing
prophets whose message was addressed specially
to the northern kingdom. In the year 725 B.C.,
Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, the great country
to the east of Palestine, set siege to Samaria, the
capital city of Israel. The siege lasted three
years, and then the people had to give in. Most
of them were carried away by their victorious
enemies to exile in that far-off land, and never
returned to their own country. We wonder if
they ever thought of the words of Amos and
Hosea, of which they took so little heed at the
time. Perhaps some of them did, and realized
that their exile was the due reward of their deeds.
If so, they may have turned back to the true


46 The Work of the Prophets

God in their hearts, and striven to serve Him
more faithfully among their heathen conquerors,
than they had in their own land. After their
captivity we hear no more of them in the Bible,
and we now turn all our attention to the land of

Here, in the southern kingdom, there had
always been a king descended from David. About
the time that Hosea was prophesying in Israel,
a prophet received a call from God, to go to the
people of Judah, with a message from Him.

This prophet was Isaiah, who gives his name to
one of the longer books in our Bible. There are
sixty-six chapters in this book, but the last twenty-
seven were not written by Isaiah. Later on, we
must consider the second part of the book. We
know a good deal about Isaiah's own life, and this
adds to the interest of reading his prophecies.
He lived in Jerusalem, and was probably of high
station. He was a statesman, as well as a prophet,
and lived in intercourse with the successive kings
of Judah, and was consulted by them as to their
actions, and he did not hesitate to give them the

Isaiah the Statesman 47

counsel with which he was inspired by God. It
would be well for all rulers and governments to
have such an adviser as the prophet Isaiah, and
to listen to his words. The call of Isaiah is
described to us in the sixth chapter of his book.
In the year that a king of Judah, called Uzziah,
or Azariah, had died, Isaiah was in the Temple
at Jerusalem, perhaps musing upon the state of
the nation, and the work that lay before the
new king. It seemed to him that the roof
and walls expanded, and he saw the true King
(vi. 1-8)

" sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the
temple. Above Him stood the seraphim ; each one had six wings ;
with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet,
and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said

" Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts :
The whole earth is full of His glory."

And it seemed to Isaiah that the foundations of
the temple were moved " at the voice of Him
that cried." At this great vision of the majesty
of God, he was overcome by the sense of his own
unworthiness, and of the sin of the people among

48 The Work of the Prophets

whom he dwelt. He cries out that he is a man
of unclean lips.

"Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in
his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar : and
he touched my mouth with it, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryRose E SelfeThe Work of the prophets → online text (page 2 of 10)