International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. THE PROPHET
2. Native Place
4. Personal History (Marriage)
(1) Allegorical View
(2) Literal View
II. THE BOOK
1. Style and Scope
2. Historical Background
3. Contents and Divisions
(1) Hosea 1-3
(2) Hosea 4-14
4. Testimony to Earlier History
5. Testimony to Law
6. Affinity with Deuteronomy
I. The Prophet.
The name (hoshea Septuagint Osee-; for other forms see note in DB), probably meaning "help," seems to have been not uncommon, being derived from the auspicious verb from which we have the frequently recurring word "salvation." It may be a contraction of a larger form of which the Divine name or its abbreviation formed a part, so as to signify "God is help," or "Help, God." according to Numbers 13:8, 16 that was the original name of Joshua son of Nun, till Moses gave him the longer name (compounded with the name of Yahweh) which he continued to bear (yehoshua`), "Yahweh is salvation." The last king of the Northern Kingdom was also named Hosea (2 Kings 15:30), and we find the same name borne by a chief of the tribe of Ephraim under David (1 Chronicles 27:20) and by a chief under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:23).
2. Native Place:
Although it is not directly stated in the book, there can be little doubt that he exercised his ministry in the kingdom of the Ten Tribes. Whereas his references to Judah are of a general kind, Ephraim or Samaria being sometimes mentioned in the same connection or more frequently alone, the situation implied throughout and the whole tone of the addresses agree with what we know of the Northern Kingdom at the time, and his references to places and events in that kingdom are so numerous and minute as to lead to the conclusion that he not only prophesied there, but that he was a native of that part of the country. Gilead, e.g. a district little named in the prophets, is twice mentioned in Hosea (6:8; 12:11) and in such a manner as to suggest that he knew it by personal observation; and Mizpah (mentioned in 5:1) is no doubt the Mizpah in Gilead (Judges 10:17). Then we find Tabor (Hosea 5:1), Shechem (Hosea 6:9 the Revised Version (British and American)), Gilgal and Bethel (Hosea 4:15; Hosea 9:15; Hosea 10:5, 8, 15; 12:11). Even Lebanon in the distant North is spoken of with a minuteness of detail which could be expected only from one very familiar with Northern Palestine (Hosea 14:5-8). In a stricter sense, therefore, than amos who, though a native of Tekoah, had a prophetic mission to the North, Hosea may be called the prophet of Northern Israel, and his book, as Ewald has said, is the prophetic voice wrung from the bosom of the kingdom itself.
All that we are told directly as to the time when Hosea prophesied is the statement in the first verse that the word of the Lord came to him "in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel." It is quite evident that his ministry did not extend over the combined reigns of all these kings; for, from the beginning of the reign of Uzziah to the beginning of that of Hezekiah, according to the now usually received chronology (Kautzsch, Literature of the Old Testament, English Translation), there is a period of 52 years, and Jeroboam came to his throne a few years before the accession of Uzziah.
When we examine the book itself for more precise indications of date, we find that the prophet threatens in God's name that in "a little while" He will "avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu." Now Jeroboam was the great-grandson of Jehu, and his son Zechariah, who succeeded him, reigned only six months and was the last of the line of Jehu. We may, therefore, place the beginning of Hosea's ministry a short time before the death of Jeroboam which took place 743 B.C. as to the other limit, it is to be observed that, though the downfall of "the kingdom of the house of Israel" is threatened (Hosea 1:4), the catastrophe had not occurred when the prophet ceased his ministry. The date of that event is fixed in the year 722 B.C., and it is said to have happened in the 6th year of King Hezekiah. This does not give too long a time for Hosea's activity, and it leaves the accuracy of the superscription unchallenged, whoever may have written it. If it is the work of a later editor, it may be that Hosea's ministry ceased before the reign of Hezekiah, though he may have lived on into that king's reign. It should be added, however, that there seems to be no reference to another event which might have been expected to find an echo in the book, namely, the conspiracy in the reign of Ahaz (735 B.C.) by Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus against the kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 16:5 Isaiah 7:1).
Briefly we may say that, though there is uncertainty as to the precise dates of the beginning and end of his activity, he began his work before the middle of the 8th century, and that he saw the rise and fall of several kings. He would thus be a younger contemporary of amos whose activity seems to have been confined to the reign of Jeroboam.
4. Personal History (Marriage):
Hosea is described as the son of Beeri, who is otherwise unknown. Of his personal history we are told either absolutely nothing or else a very great deal, according as we interpret chapters 1 and 3 of his book. In ancient and in modern times, opinions have been divided as to whether in these chapters we have a recital of actual facts, or the presentation of prophetic teaching in the form of parable or allegory.
(1) Allegorical View.
The Jewish interpreters as a rule took the allegorical view, and Jerome, in the early Christian church, no doubt following Origen the great allegorizer, states it at length, and sees an intimation of the view in the closing words of Hosea's book: "Who is wise, that he may understand these things? prudent, that he may know them?" (Hosea 14:9).
It is a mystery, he says; for it is a scandal to think of Hosea being commanded to take an unchaste wife and without any reluctance obeying the command. It is a figure, like that of Jeremiah going to the Euphrates (when Jerusalem was closely besieged) and hiding a girdle in the bed of the river (Jeremiah 13). So Ezekiel is commanded to represent, by means of a tile, the siege of Jerusalem, and to lie 390 days on his side to indicate the years of their iniquity (Ezekiel 4); and there are other symbolical acts. Jerome then proceeds to apply the allegory first to Israel, which is the Gomer of chapter 1, and then to Judah, the wife in chapter 3, and finally to Christ and the church, the representations being types from beginning to end.
Calvin took the same view. Among modern commentators we find holding the allegorical view not only Hengstenberg, Havernick and Keil, but also Eichhorn, Rosenmuller and Hitzig. Reuss also (Das Altes Testament, II, 88) protests against the literal interpretation as impossible, and that on no moral or reverential considerations, but entirely on exegetical grounds. He thinks it enough to say that, when the prophet calls his children "children of whoredom," he indicates quite clearly that he uses the words in a figurative sense; and he explains the allegory as follows: The prophet is the representative of Yahweh; Israel is the wife of Yahweh, but faithless to her husband, going after other gods; the children are the Israelites, who are therefore called children of whoredoms because they practice the idolatry of the nation. So they receive names which denote the consequences of their sin. In accordance with the allegory, the children are called the children of the prophet (for israel is God's own) but this is not the main point; the essential thing is the naming of the children as they are named. In the third chapter, according to this interpretation, allegory again appears, but with a modification and for another purpose. Idolatrous Israel is again the unfaithful wife of the prophet as the representative of Yahweh. This relation can again be understood only as figurative; for, if the prophet stands for Yahweh, the marriage of Israel to the prophet cannot indicate infidelity to Yahweh. The sense is evident: the marriage still subsists; God does not give His people up, but they are for the present divorced "from bed and board"; it is a prophecy of the time when Yahweh will leave the people to their fate, till the day of reconciliation comes.
(2) Literal View.
The literal interpretation, adopted by Theodore of Mopsucstia in the ancient church, was followed, after the Reformation, by the chief theologians of the Lutheran church, and has been held, in modern times, by many leading expositors, including Delitzsch, Kurtz, Hofmann, Wellhausen, Cheyne, Robertson Smith, G. A. Smith and others. In this view, as generally held, chapters 1 and 3 go together and refer to the same person. The idea is that Hosea married a woman named Gomer, who had the three children here named. Whether it was that she was known to be a worthless woman before the marriage and that the prophet hoped to reclaim her, or that she proved faithless after the marriage, she finally left him and sank deeper and deeper into sin, until, at some future time, the prophet bought her from her paramour and brought her to his own house, keeping her secluded, however, and deprived of all the privileges of a wife. In support of this view it is urged that the details are related in so matter-of-fact a manner that they must be matters of fact. Though the children receive symbolical names (as Isaiah gave such names to his children), the meanings of these are clear and are explained, whereas the name of the wife cannot thus be explained. Then there are details, such as the weaning of one child before the conception of another (Hosea 1:8) and the precise price paid for the erring wife (Hosea 3:2), which are not needed to keep up the allegory, and are not invested with symbolical meaning by the prophet. What is considered a still stronger argument is relied on by modern advocates of this view, the psychological argument that there is always a proportion between a revelation vouchsafed and the mental state of the person receiving it. Hosea dates the beginning of his prophetic work from the time of his marriage; it was the unfaithfulness of his wife that brought home to him the apostasy of Israel; and, as his heart went after his wayward wife, so the Divine love was stronger than Israel's sin; and thus through his own domestic experience he was prepared to be a prophet to his people.
The great difficulty in the way of accepting the literal interpretation lies, as Reuss has pointed out, in the statement at the beginning, that the prophet was commanded to take a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms. And the advocates of the view meet the difficulties in some way like this: The narrative as it stands is manifestly later than the events. On looking back, the prophet describes his wife as she turned out to be, not as she was at the beginning of the history. It is urged with some force that it was necessary to the analogy (even if the story is only a parable) that the wife should have been first of all chaste; for, in Hosea's representation, Israel at the time of its election in the wilderness was faithful and fell away only afterward (Hosea 2:15; Hosea 9:10; Hosea 11:1). The narrative does not require us to assume that Comer was an immoral person or that she was the mother of children before her marriage. The children receive symbolic names, but these names do not reflect upon Gomer but upon Israel. Why, then, is she described as a woman of Whoredoms? It is answered that the expression 'esheth zenunim is a class-descriptive, and is different from the expression "a woman who is a harlot" ('ishshdh zonah). A Jewish interpreter quoted by Aben Ezra says: "Hosea was commanded to take a wife of whoredoms because an honest woman was not to be had. The whole people had gone astray-was an `adulterous generation'; and she as one of them was a typical example, and the children were involved in the common declension (see Hosea 4:1)." The comment of Umbreit is worthy of notice: "as the covenant of Yahweh with Israel is viewed as a marriage bond, so is the prophetic bond with Israel a marriage, for he is the messenger and mediator. Therefore, if he feels an irresistible impulse to enter into the marriage-bond with Israel, he is bound to unite himself with a bride of an unchaste character. Yea, his own wife Comer is involved in the universal guilt" (Prak. Commentary uber die Propheten, Hamburg, 1844). It is considered, then, on this view, that Gomer, after her marriage, being in heart addicted to the prevailing idolatry, which we know was often associated with gross immorality (see Hosea 4:13), felt the irksomeness of restraint in the prophet's house, left him and sank into open profligacy, from which (Hosea 3) the prophet reclaimed her so far as to bring her back and keep her secluded in his own house.
Quite recently this view has been advocated by Riedel (Alttest. Untersuchungen, Leipzig, 1902), who endeavors to enforce it by giving a symbolic meaning to Gomer's name, Bath-Diblaim. The word is the dual (or might be pointed as a plural) of a word, debhelah, meaning a fruitcake, i.e. raisins or figs pressed together. It is the word used in the story of Hezekiah's illness (2 Kings 20:7), and is found in the list of things furnished by abigail to David (1 Samuel 25:18). See also 1 Samuel 30:12 1 Chronicles 12:40. Another name for the same thing, ashishah, occurs in Hosea 3:1, rendered in the King James Version "flagons of wine," but in the Revised Version (British and American) "cakes of raisins." It seems clear that this word, at least here, denotes fruit-cakes offered to the heathen deities, as was the custom in Jeremiah's time (Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 44:17). So Riedel argues that Comer may have been described as a "daughter of fruit-cakes" according to the Hebrew idiom in such expressions as "daughters of song," etc. (Ecclesiastes 12:4 Proverbs 31:2 2 Samuel 7:10 Genesis 37:3, etc.).
It will be perceived that the literal interpretation as thus stated does not involve the supposition that Hosea became aware of his wife's infidelity before the birth of the second child, as Robertson Smith and G. A. Smith suppose. The names given to the children all refer to the infidelity of Israel as a people; and the renderings of Lo'-ruchamah, "she that never knew a father's love," and of Lo-`ammi, "no kin of mine," are too violent in this connection. Nor does the interpretation demand that it was first through his marriage and subsequent experience that the prophet received his call; although no doubt the experience through which he passed deepened the conviction of Israel's apostasy in his mind.
II. The Book.
1. Style and Scope:
Scarcely any book in the Old Testament is more difficult of exposition than the Book of Hosea. This does not seem to be owing to any exceptional defect in the transmitted text, but rather to the peculiarity of the style; and partly also, no doubt, to the fact that the historical situation of the prophet was one of bewildering and sudden change of a violent kind, which seems to reflect itself in the book. The style here is preeminently the man. Whatever view we may take of his personal history, it is evident that he is deeply affected by the situation in which he is placed. He is controlled by his subject, instead of controlling it. It is his heart that speaks; he is not careful to concentrate his thoughts or to mark his transitions; the sentences fall from him like the sobs of a broken heart. Mournful as Jeremiah, he does not indulge in the pleasure of melancholy as that prophet seems to do. Jeremiah broods over his sorrow, nurses it, and tells us he is weeping. Hosea does not say he is weeping, but we hear it in his broken utterances. Instead of laying out his plaint in measured form, he ejaculates it in short, sharp sentences, as the stabs of his people's sin pierce his heart.
The result is the absence of that rhythmic flow and studied parallelism which are such common features of Hebrew oratory, and are often so helpful to the expositor. His imagery, while highly poetical, is not elaborated; his figures are not so much carried out as thrown out; nor does he dwell long on the same figure. His sentences are like utterances of an oracle, and he forgets himself in identifying himself with the God in whose name he speaks-a feature which is not without significance in its bearing on the question of his personal history. The standing expression "Thus saith the Lord" ("It is the utterance of Yahweh" the Revised Version (British and American)), so characteristic of the prophetic style, very rarely occurs (only in Hosea 2:13, 16, 21; Hosea 11:11); whereas the words that he speaks are the very words of the Lord; and without any formal indication of the fact, he passes from speaking in his own name to speaking in the name of Yahweh (see, e.g. Hosea 6:4; Hosea 7:12; Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:9, 10, 14-17, etc.). Never was speaker so absorbed in his theme, or more identified with Him for whom he speaks. He seems to be oblivious of his hearers, if indeed his chapters are the transcript or summary of spoken addresses. They certainly want to a great extent the directness and point which are so marked a feature of prophetic diction, so much so that some (e.g. Reuss and Marti) suppose they are the production of one who had readers and not hearers in view.
But, though the style appears in this abrupt form, there is one clear note on divers strings sounding through the whole. The theme is twofold: the love of Yahweh, and the indifference of Israel to that love; and it would be hard to say which of the two is more vividly conceived and more forcibly expressed. Under the figures of the tenderest affection, sometimes that of the pitying, solicitous care of the parent (Hosea 11:1, 3, 1; Hosea 14:3), but more prominently as the affection of the husband (Hosea 1; Hosea 3), the Divine love is represented as ever enduring in spite of all indifference and opposition; and, on the other hand, the waywardness, unblushing faithlessness of the loved one is painted in colors so repulsive as almost to shock the moral sense, but giving thereby evidence of the painful abhorrence it had produced on the prophet's mind. Thus early does he take the sacred bond of husband and wife as the type of the Divine electing love-a similitude found elsewhere in prophetic literature, and most fully elaborated by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16; compare Jeremiah 3). Hosea is the prophet of love, and not without propriety has been called the John of the Old Testament.
2. Historical Background:
For the reasons just stated, it is very difficult to give a systematic analysis of the Book of Hos. It may, however, be helpful to that end to recall the situation of the time as furnishing a historical setting for the several sections of the book.
At the commencement of the prophet's ministry, the Northern Kingdom was enjoying the prosperity and running into the excesses consequent on the victories of Jeroboam II. The glaring social corruptions of the times are exhibited and castigated by Amos, as they would most impress a stranger from the South; but Hosea, a native, as we are led suppose, of the Northern Kingdom, saw more deeply into the malady, and traced all the crime and vice of the nation to the fundamental evil of idolatry and apostasy from the true God. What he describes under the repulsive figure of whoredom was the rampant Worship of the be`alim, which had practically obscured the recognition of the sole claims to worship of the national Yahweh. This worship of the be`alim is to be distinguished from that of which we read at the earlier time of Elijah. Ahab's Tyrian wife Jezebel had introduced the worship of her native country, that of the Sidonian Baal, which amounted to the setting up of a foreign deity; and Elijah's contention that it must be a choice between Yahweh and Baal appealed to the sense of patriotism and the sentiment of national existence. The worship of the ba`als, however, was an older and more insidious form of idolatry. The worship of the Canaanite tribes, among whom the Israelites found themselves on the occupation of Palestine, was a reverence of local divinities, known by the names of the places where each had his shrine or influence. The generic name of ba`al or "lord" was applied naturally as a common word to each of these, with the addition of the name of place or potency to distinguish them. Thus we have Baal-hermon, Baal-gad, Baal-berith, etc. The insidiousness of this kind of worship is proved by its wide prevalence, especially among people at a low stage of intelligence, when the untutored mind is brought face to face with the mysterious and unseen forces of Nature. And the tenacity of the feeling is proved by the prevalence of such worship, even among people whose professed religion condemns idolatry of every kind. The veneration of local shrines among Christians of the East and in many parts of Europe is well known; and Mohammedans make pilgrimages to the tombs of saints who, though not formally worshipped as deities, are believed to have the power to confer such benefits as the Canaanites expected from the ba`als. The very name ba`al, originally meaning simply lord and master, as in such expressions as "master of a house," "lord of a wife," "owner of an ox," would be misleading; for the Israelites could quite innocently call Yahweh their ba`al or Lord, as we can see they did in the formation of proper names. We can, without much difficulty, conceive what would happen among a people like the Israelite tribes, of no high grade of religious intelligence, and with the prevailing superstitions in their blood, when they found themselves in Palestine. From a nomad and pastoral people they became, and had to become, agriculturists; the natives of the land would be their instructors, in many or in most cases the actual labor would be done by them. The Book of Jud tells us emphatically that several of the Israelite tribes "did not drive out" the native inhabitants; the northern tribes in particular, where the land was most fertile, tolerated a large native admixture. We are also told (Judges 2:7) that the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua and of the elders who outlived Joshua; and this hint of a gradual declension no doubt points to what actually took place. For a time they remembered and thought of Yahweh as the God who had done for them great things in Egypt and in the wilderness; and then, as time went on, they had to think of Him as the giver of the land in which they found themselves, with all its varied produce. But this was the very thing the Canaanites ascribed to their ba`als. And so, imperceptibly, by naming places as the natives named them, by observing the customs which the natives followed, and celebrating the festivals of the agricultural year, they were gliding into conformity with the religion of their neighbors; for, in such a state of society, custom is more or less based on religion and passes for religion. Almost before they were aware, they were doing homage to the various ba`als in celebrating their festival days and offering to them the produce of the ground.
Such was the condition which Hosea describes as an absence of the knowledge of God (Hosea 4:1). And the consequence cannot be better described than in the words of Paul: "As they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (Romans 1:28). Both Hosea and Amos tell us in no ambiguous terms how the devotees of the impure worship gave themselves up "to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Ephesians 4:19; compare Amos 2:7; Hosea 4:14); and how deeply the canker had worked into the body politic is proved by the rapid collapse and irretrievable ruin which followed soon after the strong hand of Jeroboam was removed. The 21 years that followed his death in 743 B.C. saw no fewer than six successive occupants of the throne, and the final disappearance of the kingdom of the ten tribes. Zechariah, his son, had reigned only six months when "Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him. and slew him, and reigned in his stead" (2 Kings 15:10). Shallum himself reigned only a month when he was in the same bloody manner removed by Menahem. After a reign of 10 years, according to 2 Kings 15:17 (although the chronology here is uncertain), he was succeeded by his son Pekahiah (2 Kings 15:22), and after two years Pekah "his captain" conspired against him and reigned in his stead (2 Kings 15:25). This king also was assassinated, and was succeeded by Hoshea (2 Kings 15:30), the last king of the ten tribes, for the kingdom came to an end in 722 B.C. Hosea must have lived during a great part of those troubled times; and we may expect to hear echoes of the events in his book.
3. Contents and Divisions:
(1) Hosea 1-3.
We should naturally expect that the order of the chapters would correspond in the main with the progress of events; and there is at least a general agreement among expositors that Hosea 1-3 refer to an earlier period than those that follow. In favor of this is the reference in 1:2 to the commencement of the prophet's ministry, as also the threatening of the impending extirpation of the house of Jehu (1:4), implying that it was still in existence; and finally the hints of the abundance amounting to luxury which marked the prosperous time of Jeroboam's reign. These three chapters are to be regarded as going together; and, however they may be viewed as reflecting the prophet's personal experience, they leave no room for doubt in regard to the national apostasy that weighed so heavily on his heart. And this, in effect, is what he says: Just as the wife, espoused to a loving husband, enjoys the protection of home and owes all her provision to her husband, so Israel, chosen by Yahweh and brought by Him into a fertile land, has received all she has from Him alone. The giving of recognition to the ba`als for material prosperity was tantamount to a wife's bestowing her affection on another; the accepting of these blessings as bestowed on condition of homage rendered to the ba`als was tantamount to the receiving of hire by an abandoned woman. This being so, the prophet, speaking in God's name, declares what He will do, in a series of a thrice repeated "therefore" (2:6, 9, 14), marking three stages of His discipline. First of all, changing the metaphor to that of a straying heifer, the prophet in God's name declares (2:6) that He will hedge up her way with thorns, so that she will not be able to reach her lovers-meaning, no doubt, that whether by drought or blight, or some national misfortune, there would be such a disturbance of the processes of Nature that the usual rites of homage to the ba`als would prove ineffectual. The people would fail to find the "law of the god of the land" (2 Kings 17:26). In their perplexity they would bethink themselves, begin to doubt the power of the ba`als, and resolve to pay to Yahweh the homage they had been giving to the local gods. But this is still the same low conception of Yahweh that had led them astray. To exchange one God for another simply in the hope of enjoying material prosperity is not the service which He requires. And then comes the second "therefore" (Hosea 2:9). Instead of allowing them to enjoy their corn and wine and oil on the terms of a mere lip allegiance or ritual service, Yahweh will take these away, will reduce Israel to her original poverty, causing all the mirth of her festival days to cease, and giving garments of mourning for festal attire. Her lovers will no longer own her, her own husband's hand is heavy upon her, and what remains? The third "therefore" tells us (Hosea 2:14). Israel, now bereft of all, helpless, homeless, is at last convinced that, as her God could take away all, so it was from Him she had received all: she is shut up to His love and His mercy alone. And here the prophet's thoughts clothemselves in language referring to the early betrothal period of national life. A new beginning will be made, she will again lead the wilderness life of daily dependence on God, cheerfully and joyfully she will begin a new journey, out of trouble will come a new hope, and the very recollection of the past will be a pain to her. As all the associations of the name ba`al have been degrading, she shall think of her Lord in a different relation, not as the mere giver of material blessing, but as the husband and desire of her heart, the One Source of all good, as distinguished from one of many benefactors. In all this Hosea does not make it clear how he expected these changes to be brought about, nor do we detect any references to the political history of the time. He mentions no foreign enemy at this stage, or, at most, hints at war in a vague manner (Hosea 2:14 f).
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