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14

Hosea

Hosea was roughly contemporary with Isaiah, but living in Israel, the northern kingdom. He is the only native of the northern kingdom whose writing survives in scripture[6 p.5]. He felt that God was calling him to marry a prostitute, have children with her, and give them strange names. She continued to work as a prostitute, and his pain was a sign of God's pain when his people worship other gods. His insistence that God experiences pain and anger refutes the idea that God is impassive[7 p.50]. This is consistent with Hosea's prophetic focus on relationship with God and fidelity, unlike Amos who focuses on righteousness and justice[6 p.12].

Hosea uses a number of analogies from human relationships to illustrate God's relationship with his people: a couple (chapters 1–3), a father and son (11:1–4), and a mother and her child (11:8).[7 p.52]

Hosea's prophecy is about God's mercy and is characterised by acting out the message. The text shifts frequently between first and third person[6 p.6]. Compare Hosea 3 with Hosea 1:2. Some commentators say that Chapter 3 looks like an editorial addition, both in content and style: it uses different vocabulary—​"gods" rather than "Baalim"; also the phrase "David their king" is like other "D" interjections promoting the Southern kingdom, as is the phrase "seek the Lord their God". However, Gottwald[1 p.359] says the text is "mostly written down by the prophet or at his dictation". Unfortunately for those not reading the original text, the prophecy uses a lot of puns and word-play which are lost in translation[6 p.7].

The first verse tells us that the prophecy began in the reign of Uzziah, cf. Isaiah 1:1. The prophet foretold (1:4) and then experienced the imposition of direct rule from Assyria of most of the Northern kingdom (Samaria escaped) under Tiglath-Pilezer III in the years 734–732 BCE[2 p.16f].

Commentary

1:1

The book is roughly contemporary with the span indicated by Isaiah 1:1. Hosea set the precedent for Isaiah and Jesus to describe God as his people's betrothed or spouse[7 p.50].

1:2

See comments on chapter 3. The analogy between prostitution and apostasy was not new; see Exodus 34:15.

1:8–9

The names Hosea gave to his children are the opposites of those of his brother and sister (2:1), which is surely no accident. The negativity is only for a limited time (2:23).

1:10

cf. 2:23 indicating a limited time. This verse is much alluded to in the New Testament, e.g. 1 Peter 2:10. Romans 9:25 indicates that this verse is fulfilled in Christ.

2

See comment on Hosea 1:8–9. This chapter is a picture of Israel returning to God, as indicated by the fact that they are addressed to the "mother" of all his hearers. The Lord's strategy for restoring Israel is being spelled out.

2:7

cf. the words of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:18.

2:14

Many people have found the experience of wilderness a profound and healing one.

2:15

Achor: see Joshua 7:24–26, and cf. Isaiah 65:10. God destroys in order to rebuild.

2:16

See comments on John 2:1–11.

2:19

cf. Revelation 19:7.

2:23

cf. 1:10. The negativity of verses 8–9 is ended. Romans 9:25 indicates that these verses are fulfilled in Christ.

3

The Hebrew of this chapter does not refer to Hosea's "wife" (as some modern translations put it), that is, Gomer, but to "a woman".[2 p.85] A different woman is plausible because chapter 3 occurred around 730–720 BCE, 20–30 years later than chapter 2 in around 750 BCE.[2 p.88]

Hosea 1:2, the Hebrew of which does not clearly fit the usual translation, does not mean that Hosea was to marry but to lie with a whore so that she bore illegitimate children. Hosea's relationship to her then represented Baal's illegitimate relationship with God's people. The reference to paying money in verse 2 then refers to the bride-price.[2 p.90]

3:5

The reference to David is odd in a book from the Northern Kingdom; some scholars regard it as an essential part of the message of full restoration, while others think it was an addition made after the Southern Kingdom adopted the book for its own purposes, which is how it came to be available to us.[2 p.65]

4:4–6

"There is wide agreement that passages like Hos. 4.4–6 and 9.1–9 make best sense on the assumption that they were spoken at a temple during the celebration of one of the great festivals".[2 p.55]

6:2

This verse is reminiscent of Jesus's time in the tomb. This is a subtle reference to God's saving work.[3nbsp;p.41]

6:6

cf. Psalm 40:6–8, Isaiah 1:11–15, Amos 5:22–23, Micah 6:6–7, Hebrews 10:5–9. Jesus quoted this verse in Matthew 9:13. A practical example is seen in 2 Kings 4:42–44.

8:2

The term transalted "know" is one apparently used by Israel in Baal worship, which Hosea turns against them.[2 p.71] This verse is reminiscent of Jesus's words in Matthew 7:23.

9:1–9

"There is wide agreement that passages like Hos. 4.4–6 and 9.1–9 make best sense on the assumption that they were spoken at a temple during the celebration of one of the great festivals".[2 p.55]

10:82

cf. Luke 23:30.

10:12

The command to plough ground that has not been attended to implies that righteousness involves doing things we wouldn't do ordinarily. It also speaks of hope for a fruitful future.

11:1

This chapter reviews Israel's past (verses 1–4), present situation (verses 5–7) and future prospects (verses 8–11), including the offer of mercy (verses 10–11)[6 p.151–152].

The words "child...son" introduce the use of parental imagery in this passage, cf. Deuteronomy 1:31. Jesus adopted this parental image when he taught the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13). "Out of Egypt I called my son" is ambiguous: it could mean "I called my son to leave Egypt" or "I issued from Egypt a call to my son"; since God is not generally thought of as inhabiting Egypt or using it to prophesy to Israel the first version makes better sense.

"Egypt" refers to God's command for the Exodus from Eqypt.[4nbsp;p.576] Presumably the significance was that as God had brought his people back to the Promised Land after 400 years in Egypt, he could be trusted to bring them back eventually from exile in Assyria. This has been fulfilled twice: the Israelites did return from Exile in Babylon, and the Holy Family were told to go to Egypt (Matthew 2:13) and later they were called back to Palestine (Matthew 2:20). That such metaphors could be used indicates that the nation had not totally forgotten its roots in the Exodus.

11:2

"I called" is the LXX reading; MT reads "they called" which would presumably mean that the gods of other nations were a temptation.[5 p.226] The extent of worship of Baal is shown in 1 Kings 19:18. Evidence for worship of idols is given in 2 Kings 17:12 and there is plentiful archaeological evidence for it.[2 p.42f] Various prophets and seers (2 Kings 17:13) had called the people to continue to follow the Law given at Sinai. The call to repent is summarized in Hosea 12:6.

11:3

God provided parental care for his people, but it was not recognized as such. They attributed their healing (and probably other types of blessing also) to other sources.

11:4

Various Old Testament verses (e.g. Job 36:8, Psalm 129:4) use "cords" to represent some inescapable fate, but the image drawn by "cords" and "bands" here fits better an animal being led on a halter. The parental care of :3 should have kept them faithful to God.

11:5

"Return to the land of Egypt" may mean a return not literally to Egypt but to bondage, this time in Babylon. It was a shocking threat to undo the whole Exodus and everything that went with it.[2 p.27] But the alternative to Egypt, given Israel's weakness and apostasy, is not independence but domination by Assyria.

11:6

Brown p.226[5] said that from this verse to the end of the chapter the text is too corrupt for detailed analysis, but more recently Barton p.572[4] says further study of the text allows more of it to be read without emendation. "The sword rages in their cities" might refer to events like Judges 2:13–14, but it seems possible that the present tense is actually prophetic and means that the oracle-priests (false prophets of some sort, one assumes) will be consumed by the sword.

11:7

This verse reads oddly; it sounds as if "the Most High" (God?) is not the speaker, yet :9 says that God is the speaker. Presumably their prayers name "the Most High" but he does not respond. Even those who were nominally loyal to God had got the idea that he should be worshipped as the Baals were, even using ritual prostitution.[5 p.218] No wonder their prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling. "The Most High" might refer to Baal, to whom the people pray though he cannot save them.[4nbsp;p.577]

11:8–9

Ephraim is the strongest of the Northern Tribes; their sins are so bad that they justify drastic action. Admah and Zeboim are unfamiliar, and that is precisely the point: they illustrate an A to Z of lost places, no longer on any map and all but erased from history. Should Ephraim suffer the same fate?

These two verses are the central "pivot" of the prophecy, and perhaps of the entire Old Testament[2 p.29]. The Almighty is portrayed as having the characteristics of both love and justice, and these are in this case in conflict. Deuteronomy 29:23 says that Admah and Zeboim shared the total destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Should God do the same to his backsliding people? A similar question is asked in Isaiah 10:12, and the question is valid: can a holy God treat one group of people differently from another? The answer, given three times in verse 9, is that God cannot totally destroy his people, but will moderate his anger. This is consistent with holiness and justice because he can see whether or not each group of people has the potential for repentance.

11:10

In 1 Kings 13 a lion was present when God cleansed the land of a false prophet, but though it frightened everybody it did no harm; it may even have defended the false prophet's body so that it could be buried decently. The mention of a lion may also be ironic, because Jacob's dying blessing proclaimed Judah to be like a lion (Genesis 49:9) but the next verse shows he will be timid.

Amos 3:4 shows that a lion (God?) roars when he has caught prey. See 13:8–9 where Israel is the prey. No wonder there will be trembling: the time for gentleness has passed, and there will be "blood on the carpet" as we say.

The discovery of ancient records of the Caananite religion at Ugarit in 1923 shed light on this passage. Baal was god of storms and his voice, the thunder, was said to make creation tremble. This verse seems to contrast that story with the voice at which creation really ought to tremble, the one true God.[2 p.42]

11:11

The mention of "Egypt" and "Assyria" parallels verse 5, indicating that the sentence of exile is only for a limited time.

11:12

The Southern Kingdom, represented by Judah, the strongest of its tribes, had not (yet) followed the Northern, represented by Ephraim, into apostasy and wrongdoing. That is why only the Northern Kingdom was under God's judgment at that time.

12:6

This verse summarizes the entire call to repentance. The language echoes Psalm 101:1, and may also call to mind Genesis 28:15 (which would be particularly significant to hearers at Bethel) apparently to make the relevance clear to the original hearers, and to claim that God was still speaking (through Hosea) to his people there.[2 p.72]

13:8–9

Here the lion that appeared in Hosea 11:10 will destroy Israel, which happened in 722 BCE.[2 p.73]

References:

  1. Gottwald, Norman The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction paperback edition 1987, Fortress, Philadelphia
  2. Davies, Graham Hosea Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press "Old Testament Guides" 1993, 1998 edition
  3. Ord D. and Coote R. Is the Bible true? New York: Orbis, 1994
  4. Barton, J et al (eds) The Oxford Bible Commentary Oxford: OUP 2001
  5. Brown, R et al (eds) New Jerome Biblical Commentary New Saddle River: Prentice-Hall 1990
  6. Mays, J Hosea London: SCM, 1969
  7. Prevost, Jean-Pierre (tr. J Bowden) How to Read the Prophets London: SCM, 1995

© David Billin 2002–2021