Hosea 6 – Israel’s unfaithfulness & Babylonian Empire:From Hammurabi to Nebuchadnezzar II

I don’t understand why You allowed Bush or Obama to become president, when they are so evil and wicked.  Yet, You let Saul be the first king they ever had and You knew he was going to become evil.

I’m not questioning why You allowed it,but I have to wonder why.  I never doubt if what You what or why You do the things I do.  You were real clear with Job when he questioned You:

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Declare, if thou hast understanding” (Job 38:4).

Plus Jesus said:

“…It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:7).

So let’s now look at the…

Hosea 6
Israel’s unfaithfulness

1 Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.

The Merneptah stele.
While alternative translations exist, the majority of biblical archeologists translate a set of hieroglyphs as “Israel”, representing the first instance of the name Israel in the historical record.

2 After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.

“Two days…third day” – a brief time.  Israel supposed that God’s wrath would only be temporary.

3 Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.

“As the latter and former rain” – Israel’s believed that, as surely as seasonal rains fell, reviving the earth, God’s favor would return and restore her.

4 O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.

“Ephraim” – Israel, the northern kingdom.

“What shall I do…?” – God saw through Israel’s superficial repentance.

5 Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.

6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

7 But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.

“Like men” – the allusion is uncertain, since scripture records no covenant with Adam.  Two other possibilities exist.  “Adam” could be a reference to the place named Adam (see Josh 3:16), as suggested by ‘There” in the verse.  Or “Adam” could be a reference to making in general rather than the man Adam

Tell Deir Alla excavations and mountains of Gilead, 1965.

8 Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity, and is polluted with blood.

“Polluted with blood” – the allusion is unclear but Hosea may have been referring to a more recent event than the bloodbath of Jud 12:1-6 – such as Pekah’s rebellion against Pekahiah (2 Kgs 15-25).

9 And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent: for they commit lewdness.

10 I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled.

11 Also, O Judah, he hath set a harvest for thee, when I returned the captivity of my people..

Babylonian Empire:
From Hammurabi to Nebuchadnezzar II

Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as a major power when Hammurabi (1792 – 1750 BC or fl. ca. 1696 – 1654 BC, short chronology) created an empire out of the territories of the former Akkadian Empire.

The wealth and splendor of Mesopotamia made it an irresistible target for nomadic groups living at its margins, including Elamites to the east and Amorites to the west. By 1800 B.C., Amorites from the Syrian desert had infiltrated much of Mesopotamia, including Akkad and the fast-rising city-state of Babylon, located on the Euphrates River near Kish.

Amorites spoke a Semitic language related to Akkadian and were quick to embrace Akkadian and Sumerian culture. The Amorite ruler Hammurabi, crowned king of Babylon in 1792, was both an avid warrior and a shrewd administrator who honored the traditions of Sumer, Akkad, and other lands he brought under his authority.

A figure dedicated to Hammurabi.

Like Sargon, Hammurabi first moved south and conquered Sumer before seizing control of northern Mesopotamia. He could be merciless to enemies, destroying cities that defied him. But he also provided unity and stability to his newly founded empire by compiling a code of laws, or legal precedents that applied to all his subjects.

Inscribed in stone on a monument (above) showing Hammurabi being blessed by the sun god Shama, code governed domestic disputes as well as crimes committed outside the home. Its purpose, he declared, was to cause justice “to rise like the sun over the people, and to light up the land.”

The Code of Hammurabi

Hammurabi’s Code was based partly on Sumerian laws but prescribed harsher penalties than were custom in Sumer for some offenses, including death or mutilation for crimes by commoners resulting in bodily injury.

Like the ancient Israelites, who traced their origins to Mesopotamia, the desert-dwelling Amorite may once have applied the principle of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” to all those who harmed others.

By Hammurabi’s time, however, the law favored people of wealth and rank (they still do), who were required only to pay a fine if they injured commoners.

Babylon regained glory under Nebuchadnezzar II, whose throne room was adorned with strutting lions.

Hammurabi’s Code also favored men over women. Adultery by a husband might go unpunished, but an unfaithful wife would be sentenced to execution by drowning.

Despite such inequities, the laws promulgated by Hammurabi offered some protections to women, commoners, and slaves.  For example, wives abused by their husbands could sue for divorce, and all defendants were at least somewhat shielded from false testimony by a law prescribing the death penalty for witnesses who committed perjury.

Setting laws down in writing discouraged judges from ruling arbitrarily and promoted the idea of justice as universal and enduring.  Many emperors throughout history, from Hammurabi to Napoleon Bonaparte, issued law codes in an effort to unite realms that contained people of many different customs and conceptions of justice, and to discourage them from taking the law into their own hands.

Hammurabi’s Code did not allow for personal acts of vengeance, and that alone was a significant contribution to law and order.  However accomplished they were as lawgivers, Hammurabi and other ancient conquerors lived by the sword and often died by the sword.

An Assyrian artist versed in Babylonian and Sumerian lore carved this image of the mythic hero Gilgamesh taming a lion.

Just as Jesus had said:

“…Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matt 26:53).

Yet, kings and emperors, such as Hammurabi, were not bound by any concept of international law, and there were no rules restraining them from attacking each other, even when they had formed alliances and pledged eternal friendship.

Wars

For instance, Hammurabi turned against his ally the king of Mari, a flourishing city on the upper Euphrates River, and destroyed his palace and a temple to Shamash, which was inscribed with curses on anyone who desecrated the shrine, asking the gods to cut the offender’s throat and annihilate his offspring.

In strife torn Mesopotamia, such curses were often fulfilled. Hammurabi’s dynasty lasted only a few generations before it was undermined by rebels and toppled by conquerors as ruthless as he had been.

In 1595 B.C., Babylon was sacked by Hittites who swept down from Asia Minor, the area known in ancient times as Anatolia and in recent times as Turkey.

The Hittites were one of many groups of Indo-Europeans who spoke related languages and migrated in waves from the Eurasian steppes above the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, where they domesticated horses and harnessed them to war chariots.

Another branch of Indo-Europeans called Aryans gave their name to Iran, where many settled while others advanced into Afghanistan and India. The Hittites who stormed Babylon soon withdrew to Asia Minor with their booty, leaving Mesopotamia prey to other invaders.

Babylonian power revived briefly around 1100 B.C. under King Nebuchadnezzar I and his successors. In centuries to come, however, the region was dominated by their northern rivals, the Assyrians – a warlike people who embarked on far-ranging conquests.

The sun god Shamash hands the scepter of authority to Hammurabi on this stele inscribed with his code.

By the seventh century B.C., their domain extended all the way from Mesopotamia to Egypt, but Assyrian rulers such as King Sennacherib were unable to maintain so vast an empire for long. To compel obedience, they relied mainly on intimidation, which cowed some subjects but drove others to rebel.

That included the resurgent Babylonians, who rebuilt their city after it was destroyed by Sennacherib in 689 B.C. and toppled their Assyrian masters in 612. They, too, faced rebellions such as that mounted in Judah, which was all that remained of the former kingdom of Israel after earlier Assyrian conquests.

Troops sent by King Nebuchadnezzar II to put down that uprising stormed Jerusalem and carried captives to Babylon, characterized in the Bible as a land of oppression:

“O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!” (Ps 137:8).

Babylonian Mathematics

Babylonians developed a method of computation based on the number of 60 that served as the basis for the 60-second minute, the 60-minute hour, and the 360-degree circle.  

Fractions were denoted as portions of 60, with 30 representing one-half, 20 one-third, 15 one-forth, 12 one-fifth, and 10 one-sixth.  Babylonian students could easily calculate that one-sixth plus one-third equals one-half.  

A clay tablet inscribed around the time of Hammurabi shows calculations of the sort Babylonians made to arrive at a version of the Pythagorean Theorem.

Babylonian numerals were superior to Roman numerals for math because all numbers from one to ten were designated by a different numeral and numbers above ten were designated by compound numerals whose value depended on their position from left to right.

That facilitated addition, subtraction, and other operations.  Babylonians solved problems such as determining the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle – a solution that anticipated the Pythagorean theorem (credited to the Greek Pythagoras) by more than a thousand years.

Conclusion

Neither the Babylonians nor the Assyrians were as barbaric as their victims made them out to be. They were creators and builders as well as destroyers,  drawing on the cultural and artistic traditions of Mesopotamian to promote literature and learning and embellish their cities with monuments and gardens.

Some Jewish exiles who settled in Babylon found it to their liking and chose to remain there even after they were allowed to return to their homeland. Beyond Mesopotamia, however, few subjects of the Assyrians or Babylonians relished living under their punishing regimes or regretted their downfall.

To control diverse lands and peoples without resorting repeatedly to armed force required a ruler as skilled at governing as he was at waging war. Such was the king who founded the Persian Empire and surpassed the Babylonians.

As I’ve said before, those in authority today are just as ruthless as the rulers back in ancient time.  Yet, there is a slight difference because the kings back then, to some degree, actually cared about the people in their kingdom.

..Persian Empire.