Prophetic Justice: Amos, Hosea, and Micah

Many think of prophecy in terms of telling the future. This isn’t an accurate definition. We could look at it in two different ways instead, as I talked about in the post Nathan and the Prophet/King Relationship: theologically as the speaking of God’s will to other people, or sociologically as the challenging of harmful power structures. As with the Law and really all through Scripture, to see social justice in opposition to religion would be foolish as the prophets show that God is very concerned with speaking about our daily lives.

In this post, we’ll take a look at three of the minor prophets and some of the blatant social-justice statements that they made.

Amos

Amos is typically thought to be the earliest of the writing prophets, after the non-writing prophets like Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha and after the shift away from prophets being trusted advisors of the King to being outcasts. He prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE) in the northern kingdom (Israel) which had split with the southern kingdom (Judah) due to another social justice issue: Solomon’s and Rehoboam’s excessive taxation for their own gain.

Amos spoke to those who saw themselves as devoutly religious. These people held to all the right festivals and offerings, but they were creating an incredibly unjust society that kept them rich and the poor poor:

21 I, the Lord, hate and despise
your religious celebrations
    and your times of worship.
22 I won’t accept your offerings
or animal sacrifices—
    not even your very best.
23 No more of your noisy songs!
I won’t listen
    when you play your harps.
24 But let justice and fairness
flow like a river
    that never runs dry. (Amos 5:21-24 CEV)

That gives me the excuse to share a favourite song based on this text (I wonder why this is never sung in churches?):

Right before that text, Amos warns that when the Day of the Lord comes, it won’t be in their favour as they presuppose:

18 You look forward to the day
when the Lord comes to judge.
    But you are in for trouble!
It won’t be a time of sunshine;
    all will be darkness.
19 You will run from a lion,
    only to meet a bear.
You will escape to your house,
rest your hand on the wall,
    and be bitten by a snake.
20 The day when the Lord judges
will be dark, very dark,
    without a ray of light. (5:18-20)

Hosea

Like Amos, Hosea prophesied in the northern Kingdom, but in its later days before it was conquered. Hosea used the language of the covenant: since Israel was not faithful to their end of the covenant, God is upset with them and they are facing consequences for their actions:

Israel, listen
as the Lord accuses
    everyone in the land!
No one is faithful or loyal
    or truly cares about God.
Cursing, dishonesty, murder,
    robbery, unfaithfulness—
these happen all the time.
    Violence is everywhere.
And so your land is a desert.
Every living creature is dying—
    people and wild animals,
    birds and fish. (Hosea 4:1-3 CEV)

Micah

Micah prophesied in the southern Kingdom in the latter half of the 8th Century B.C.E. and said some things like this:

2 Doomed! You’re doomed!
At night you lie in bed,
making evil plans.
And when morning comes,
you do what you’ve planned
because you have the power.
2 You grab any field or house
that you want;
you cheat families
out of homes and land. (Micah 2:1-2)

And compares how the rich are treating the poor to cannibalism:

2 but you prefer to do evil
instead of what is right.
You skin my people alive.
You strip off their flesh,
3     break their bones,
cook it all in a pot,
and gulp it down. (Micah 3:2-3)

The most famous text of Micah sums up the theme of these prophets:

6 What offering should I bring
when I bow down to worship
the Lord God Most High?
Should I try to please him
by sacrificing
calves a year old?
7 Will thousands of sheep
or rivers of olive oil
make God satisfied with me?
Should I sacrifice to the Lord
my first-born child
as payment
for my terrible sins?
8 The Lord God has told us
what is right
and what he demands:
See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
    and humbly obey your God.” (Micah 6:6-8 CEV)

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.