Making a Prophet

Just gimme that old time religion. I mean really old time religion. Like Old Testament old time religion.  I really do like the Old Testament prophets. I like them because they are obscure and subversive and eccentric, and anything or anyone who is obscure, subversive and eccentric is immediately in my good books.

Here is the reading from the prophet Hosea for today:

…With their silver and gold they made
idols for themselves, to their own destruction.
Cast away your calf, O Samaria!
my wrath is kindled against them;
How long will they be unable to attain
innocence in Israel?

The work of an artisan,
no god at all,
Destined for the flames?
such is the calf of Samaria!

When they sow the wind,
they shall reap the whirlwind;
The stalk of grain that forms no ear
can yield no flour;
Even if it could,
strangers would swallow it.

To understand this passage you have to understand the religion of the pagan cultures surrounding the Hebrews. Theirs was an agrarian, herding culture. Their livestock was therefore the measure of their wealth. If you were a farmer ok. If you had sheep and goats even better. If you had cattle you were on top of the food chain. You were the wealthy ones. This explains why they made a golden calf to worship. They were worshipping the gods who promised them all the words that begin with “P”: prosperity, power, protection, pride, and pleasure. This is what the “calf of Samaria” represents.

Furthermore, the Samaritans–as you’ll remember from the parable of the Good Samaritan–were despised by the orthodox Jews. The Samaritans were considered a breakaway Jewish group–a group of heretics and schismatics. Remember the quarrel the Samaritan woman at the well tried to pick with Jesus? “We worship God on this mountain, but you worship him in Jerusalem…” So, they weren’t terribly wicked people. They were religious people. Probably nice, decent respectable people–people who decided they would make up their own religion.

The Samaritans, with their golden calf therefore represent the false religions who follow the way of the world and the god of this world. Now what I like about the prophets is that once you understand what they were really getting down on you see that their message is just as relevant as it has ever been.

If only I could pick up the prophet Hosea and transport him to our time. He’d have the same message still: We don’t worship golden calves…or do we? If you consider that the calf was the currency of it’s day and the golden calf was the epitome of wealth and all that goes with wealth, why we’re just the same. We worship wealth. We’ll sacrifice everything (our souls included) in order to get rich and stay rich. Think how we bow down in worship of gold, investments, property, security, prosperity and power. It’s just the same, and where do you find fine temples built to the gods of America? Where do you find gold fittings and marble walls, great towers of wealth and magnificence and power? These kind of buildings used to be churches and cathedrals. Now in America they are the offices of banks, brokerage firms and insurance companies.

How curious a co-incidence that when the stock market is good we call it a “bull market”–and in front of the New York Stock Exchange is errr…the bull pictured above.

  • Patrick

    Why was it a calf, though, instead of a fully grown bull? When you’re thinking of making an idol of power, prosperity, etc., why did the Samaritans make it a harmless baby cow instead of something more like your picture? I don’t mean to be obtuse: it’s just something in the analogy that doesn’t quite fit, and I think it might be a clue to understanding our day.

    • Gregg the Obscure

      The ancients still appreciated biology. A calf is closer to its birth than to its death and still has plenty of growth ahead. Those who worshipped the calf wanted longevity for themselves and growth of their assets, which aren’t as directly connected with an adult bull. Having a calf also implies that one has fertile adult female cattle and can hope for more calves and plenty of milk. A bull by itself doesn’t produce anything — well anything you’d want much of.

  • Brian Sullivan

    When I was in college and an Evangelical (nee Catholic), I remember a book by John White, “Money Isn’t God, So Why Is the Church Worshiping It?” (IVP) and ion the cover? A golden cow!

  • Larry

    If the samaritians made up their own religion what does that make christians?

  • Joseph

    The Samaritians were separated from Judea because of the invading armies of the surrounding lands. And they were not able to fulfil their annual pilgrimage to the temple in Iseral. And the King of Samaria at one point or another had some Golden Bulls (or Calves – I am not sure) made for some reason. It eventually went from one purpose to become the center of focus of people.

    @ Larry
    Christians are different then Samaritians in that the original Christians, the Apostles and other disciples of Christ were worshiping Christ as the Son of God. So they didn’t make up their own religion. It was given to them and it grew out of the Jewish faith as its fulfillment and completion.

  • bill bannon

    Alert…alert. Check the NAB Bible on Hosea 8 and the footnotes. The Samaritans are not to blame. The northern kingdom of the ten tribes of Israel was at times called “Samaria” as in Micah 1:1 and in Isaiah 10:11…. and the Southern Kingdom of two tribes was called Jerusalem in those passages. In other words both kingdoms were called by the name of their main city. Calf worship referred to in Hosea was started in the northern kingdom not by Samaritans but by Jeroboam at Dan and at Bethel in an effort to distinguish his northern tribes from the southern kingdom. All or most northern kings who followed him kept up this calf worship which is the reason God eventually destroyed and exiled the Jews of the northern kingdom permanently. Even Jehu who uprooted Baal worship in the north and killed Jezebel and was praised by God for destroying the House if Ahab….even Jehu continued the calf worship in the northern kingdom. It is always referred to as the sin of Jeroboam because he introduced the calf worship in the north.
    2 kings 17:22
    “The Israelites imitated Jeroboam in all the sins he committed; they would not depart from them. 23 Finally, the LORD removed Israel from his presence, just as he had declared through all his servants, the prophets.” 

  • Tomtom

    Please allow two comments:
    a) unless the bull statue has moved, it’s at the foot of Broadway, where Broadway branches into Whitehall St. and Bowling Green. The Stock Exchange is at Broad and Wall, several blocks north, and a bit to the east, down Wall St. from Trinity Church;
    b) which brings us to the “stock chart” of Joshua, Judges and Kings: when Israel follows the Teaching, its stock rises; when it falls away from G-d, its “stock” of faith and security declines.

  • Dorothy

    One finds marble and other rich materials in government buildings as well as banks & insurance companies. And some “non-profits” have pretty fancy buildings, too. Greed is not limited to the 1%.

  • Christian

    “security”- uhh, guilty.

  • Julianne Wiley

    What I want to comment on is Hosea Chapter 9, the chapter that is — as far as I know — never chosen for the Lectionary. (I wonder why?)

    Hosea castigates Ephraim for vile observances at the pagan shrine of Baal Peor,
    a place associzted with lewd conduct with sacred whores, obscene rites whih were part of the sexual festivities associated with the fertility cult. Ealier in the Book, Hosea talks about everybody’s daughter and daughter-in-law loving to play the prostitute on the threshing floor.

    Then Hosea says their sins have brought the doom of God on them, and what does his doom consist of? Reproductive failure:

    11 “No birth! No pregnancy,! No conception!”

    12 Even if they rear children,
    I will bereave them of every one.
    Woe to them
    when I turn away from them!
    13 I have seen Ephraim, like Tyre,
    planted in a pleasant place.
    But Ephraim will bring out
    their children to the slayer.”
    14 Give them, Lord—
    what will you give them?
    Give them wombs that miscarry
    and breasts that are dry.”


    I just want to obsere that the judgments of a just God are just — often the strict natural and logical consequences of the sin. And if people are sexually promiscuous, they will bring upon themselves plagues of STD’s (plague is also mentioned in Hosea) and — in a time when there wee no sulfa drugs, no antibiotics, no antivirals — that meant death, sterility, and the transmission of disease to the surviving children, in the course of childbirth itself.

    No birth: and if they do give birth, “they bring forth children to the slayer.”

    Think about it. Look around.

    I vote for including this in the Lectionary.

  • Annie Hall

    Just read a really plausible novel called The Prophesy Gene. In the story the author makes a compelling argument that the biblical prophets weren’t people anointed by god, but they were simply people with a rare gene that allowed them to share the memories of everyone whoever lived and also shared the gene. He didn’t come right out and say that there is no such thing as God, but he suggested that the collection of all of these memories might be what God really is. The author is Stuart Schooler and his website is There is a link to a blog and a YouTube video (

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      When people cease to believe in God they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.