SPECIAL TOPIC: HISTORICAL SETTING OF EIGHTH CENTURY PROPHETS

A. The biblical material is found in

1. 2 Kings 14:3-17:6 

2. 2 Chronicles 25-28 

3. Amos  (Israel)

4.  Jonah (Israel)

5. Hosea  (Israel)

6. Isaiah (Judah)

7. Micah (Judah)

B. A good summary of the idolatry (see Special Topic: Fertility Worship of the ANE) among God's people can be seen in Hosea.

1. 2:16, "will no longer call Me Baali"  (called Ba'al husband)

2. 4:12-14, " . . . daughters play the harlot . . ." (fertility worship)

3. 4:17, "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone" (no hope of repentance)

4. 13:2 "men kiss calves!" (ritual of the golden calf worship at Bethel and Dan)

C. Social setting

1. It was a time of economic prosperity and military expansion for both Israel and Judah.  However, this prosperity was beneficial only to the wealthy class. The poor were exploited and abused. It almost seems that "the buck and the gun" became idols!

2. The social stability and property of both Israel and Judah are related to several causes.

a. the long and prosperous reigns of Jeroboam II (786-746 b.c.) in the North and Uzziah (783-742 b.c.) in the South

b. Assyrians' defeat of Syria by Adad-Nirari III in 802 b.c.

c. the lack of conflict between Israel and Judah

d. the taxation and exploitation of the trade routes from north to south through the land bridge of Palestine caused rapid economic growth, even extravagance for the wealthy class

3. The "Ostraca of Samaria," which are dated during the reign of Jeroboam II, seem to indicate an administrative organization much like Solomon's. This seems to confirm the widening gap between the "haves" and "have nots."

4. The dishonesty of the wealthy is clearly depicted in Amos, who is called "the prophet of social justice."  The bribery of the judiciary and the falsification of commercial weights are two clear examples of the abuse that was common apparently in both Israel and Judah.

D. Religious Setting

1. It was a time of much outward religious activity, but very little true faith. The fertility cults of Canaan had been amalgamated into Israel's religion. The people were idolaters but they called it YHWHism.  The trend of God's people toward political alliances had involved them in pagan worship and practices.

2. The idolatry of Israel is spelled out in 2 Kgs. 17:7-18.

a. In 2 Kgs. 17:8 they followed the worship practices of the Canaanites.

(1) fertility worship (cf. Lev. 18:22-23)

(a) high places, 2 Kgs. 17:9, 10, 11

(b) sacred pillars (Ba'al), 2 Kgs. 17:10, 16 

(c) Asherim, 2 Kgs. 17:16, these were wooden symbols of the female consort of Ba'al.  They were either carved stakes or live trees.

(2) divination, 2 Kgs. 17:17. This was condemned in Leviticus 19-20 and Deuteronomy 18.

b. In 2 Kgs. 17:16 they continued the worship of the two golden calves, symbolizing YHWH, set up at Dan and Bethel by Jeroboam I (1 Kgs. 12:28-29).

c. In 2 Kgs. 17:16 they worshiped the astral deities of Babylon: sun, moon, stars, and constellations.

d. In 2 Kgs. 17:18 they worshiped the Phoenician fertility fire god, Molech, by sacrificing their children (cf. Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5). This practice is called molech; it was not the name of the god.

3. Ba'alism (cf. W. F. Albright's Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, p. 82ff)

a. Our best archaeological source is "Ba'al Epic from Ugarit."

(1) It depicts Ba'al as a seasonal dying and rising god.  He was defeated by Mot and confined to the underworld.  All life on earth ceased. But, helped by the female goddess (Anat), he rises and defeats Mot each spring.  He was a fertility deity who was worshiped by imitation magic.

(2) He was also known as Hadad.

b. El is the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon, but Ba'al's popularity usurped his place.

c. Israel was most influenced by Tyrian Ba'alism through Jezebel who was the King of Tyre's daughter. She was chosen by Omri for his son, Ahab, to marry.

d. In Israel Ba'al was worshiped at local high places.  He was symbolized by an uplifted stone.  His consort, Asherah, is symbolized by a carved stake symbolizing the tree of life.

4. Several sources and types of idolatry are mentioned.

a. the golden calves at Bethel and Dan set up by Jeroboam I, to worship YHWH.

b. the worship of the Tyrian fertility god and goddess at local high places

c. the necessary idolatry involved in political alliances of that day

E. Brief summary of the invasions of Assyria and Babylon during the eighth century which affected Palestine.

1. The four eighth-century prophets were active during the rise of the Tigris-Euphrates empire of Assyria.  God would use this cruel nation to judge His people, particularly Israel.

a. The specific incident was the formation of a transJordan political and military alliance known as the "Syro-Ephramatic League" (735 b.c.).  Syria and Israel tried to force Judah to join them against Assyria. I nstead Ahaz sent a letter to Assyria for help.  The first powerful empire-minded Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 b.c.), responded to the military challenge and invaded Syria.

b. Later, Assyria's puppet king, Hoshea (732-722 b.c.), in Israel also rebelled, appealing to Egypt. Shalmaneser V (727-722 b.c.) invaded Israel again.  He died before Israel was subdued but his successor, Sargon II (722-705 b.c.), captured Israel's capital of Samaria in 722 b.c. Assyria deported over 27,000 Israelites on this occasion as Tiglath-Pileser had exiled thousands earlier in 732 b.c. 

2. After Ahaz's death (735-715 b.c.) another military coalition was formed by the trans-Jordan countries and Egypt against Assyria (714-711 b.c.).  It is known as the "Ashdod Rebellion."  Many Judean cities were destroyed when Assyria invaded again. Initially Hezekiah supported this coalition, but later withdrew his support.

3. However, another coalition again tried to take advantage of the death of Assyria's powerful king, Sargon II, in 705 b.c., along with the many other rebellions which occurred throughout the Assyrian empire.

a. Hezekiah fully participated in this rebellion.  In light of this challenge Sennacherib (705-681 b.c.) invaded (701 b.c.)  Palestine and camped near the city of Jerusalem (2 Kings 18-19; Isaiah 36-39), but his army was miraculously destroyed by God.

b. There is some question among scholars as to how many times Sennacherib invaded Palestine (e.g., John Bright has one invasion in 701 b.c. and another possible one in 688 b.c., cf. The History of Israel, p. 270).

c. Hezekiah was spared an Assyrian takeover, but because of his prideful exhibition of the treasures of Judah to the Babylonian delegation, Isaiah predicted Judah's fall to Babylon (39:1-8).  Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 587-586 b.c.

4. Isaiah specifically predicted the restoration of God's people under Cyrus II, the Medo-Persian ruler (41:2-4; 44:28; 45:1; 56:11).  Nineveh (capital of Assyria) fell in 612 b.c. to Babylon, but the city of Babylon fell in 539 b.c. to Cyrus' army. In 538 b.c.  Cyrus issued a decree that all exiled people, including the Jews, could return home.  He even provided funds from his treasury for the rebuilding of the national temples.  He was a superstitious person and wanted all the gods to favor him. 

 

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