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The unique contribution of Hosea is the extended allegory of marriage given in chapters 1-3. While a few commentators believe this section to be entirely symbolic, most believe that the events described did occur.
First, Hosea was directed by Yahweh to marry a harlot, and he did so. This was a symbolic act, representing Yahweh's covenant with Israel. What was the nation of Israel when Yahweh chose to enter into a covenant relationship with it? It was a group of ex-slaves who chose to worship a golden calf rather than Yahweh, the God who had rescued them from slavery. Thus, Yahweh characterizes the nation as a harlot.
Second, Hosea and his wife, Gomer, have a son. Yahweh commands that the son be named Jezreel. This name refers to a valley in which much blood had been shed in Israel's history, especially by the kings of the Northern Kingdom. The naming of this son was to stand as a prophecy against the reigning house of the Northern Kingdom, that they would pay for that bloodshed.
Third, the couple has a daughter. Yahweh commands that she be named No Pity or Not Pitied, to show Israel that, although Yahweh will still have pity on the Southern Kingdom, He will no longer have pity on the Northern Kingdom; its destruction is imminent.
Fourth, a son is born to Gomer. It is questionable whether this child was Hosea's, for Yahweh commands that his name be Not My People, or more simply, Not Mine. The child bore this name of shame to show that the Northern Kingdom would also be shamed, for its people would no longer be known as God's People.
Following this, the prophecy is made that someday this will all be changed, that Yahweh will indeed have pity on his people, Israel.
Chapter two describes a divorce. This divorce seems to be the end of the covenant between Yahweh and the Northern Kingdom. However, it is probable that this was again a symbolic act, in which Hosea divorced Gomer for infidelity, and used the occasion to preach the message of Yahweh's rejection of the Northern Kingdom. He ends this prophecy with the declaration that Yahweh will one day renew the covenant, and will take His people back in love.
In Chapter three, at Yahweh's command, Hosea seeks out Gomer once more. Either she has sold herself into slavery for debt, or she is with a lover who demands money in order to give her up, because Hosea has to buy her back. He takes her home, but refrains from sexual intimacy with her for many days, to symbolize the fact that Israel will be without a king for many years, but that Yahweh will take Israel back, even at a cost to Himself.
Chapters 4-14 spell out the allegory at length. Chapters 4-10 contain a series of oracles, or prophetic sermons, showing exactly why Yahweh is rejecting the Northern Kingdom, what are the grounds for the divorce. Chapter 11 is Yahweh's lament over the necessity of giving up the Northern Kingdom, which is a large part of the people of Israel, whom He loves. He promises that He will not entirely give them up. Then, in Chapter 12, he pleads for their repentance. Chapter 13 foretells the destruction of the kingdom at the hands of Assyria, because there has been no repentance. Chapter 14 urges them to seek forgiveness, and promises the restoration of Israel, while urging the utmost fidelity to Yahweh.
Hosea prophesied in a difficult period of Israel's history, the period of the Northern Kingdom's decline and fall in the 8th century BCE. Hosea was himself a native of the Northern Kingdom, and wrote in a distinctive northern dialect.
During Hosea's lifetime, the kings of the Northern Kingdom, their aristocratic supporters, and the priests had led the people in falling away from the Law of God, as given in the Pentateuch. Forsaking the worship of Yahweh, they worshipped other gods, especially Baal, the Canaanite fertility god. Other sins followed, including homicide, perjury, theft, and sexual sin. Hosea, like other 8th century prophets, declares that, unless they repent of these sins, Yahweh will allow their nation to be destroyed, and the people will be taken into captivity by Assyria, the greatest nation of the time.
In fact, Assyria did capture Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, in 722 BCE. All the members of the upper classes and many of the ordinary people were taken captive and carried off to live as prisoners of war.
The primary theme of the Book of Hosea is that God loves Israel, just as a man loves his wife. This is shown by the extended metaphor of Hosea's own marriage.
In conjunction with that theme, however, are the twin themes of Israel's sin and the coming retribution. Although Yahweh loves Israel, Israel has not returned His love. This has been shown by the continued idolatry and acts of violence, oppression, and sexual sin among the people. Because Israel has not returned God's love, He will put them away from Him, just as Hosea did his wife, and send them into exile.
This introduces the fourth theme, which is the restoration of Israel from exile. The country will be conquered; the people will be sent into exile; but some will return and build the land up once more. God will embrace them as His people, and they will be loyal to Him as their God.
Most scholars believe that the bulk of the book originated with Hosea himself, but there is evidence of one or more editors, who collected Hosea's stories and sermons, putting them together in the form in which we now find them.
The primary source of debate is the question of the reality of the events in the first three chapters. Some scholars question whether the holy Yahweh would have ordered His prophet to marry a prostitute. On the grounds that that is out of character, they suggest that the entire series of events is purely symbolic. According to them, Hosea is telling a story that brings out the themes of God's love for Israel and Israel's betrayal of God. Other scholars point out that the story is told in the same straightforward manner in which other prophets relate their symbolic actions, and that there is really no reason to doubt that the events really happened.
Use in the New Testament
Hosea has been quoted several times in the New Testament. Matthew, Luke, John and Paul all use the Book of Hosea as a source.
Hosea 1:10 was quoted by Paul in Romans 9:25-26. This applies the statement that those who have been "not my people" will be "my people" to the Gentiles in the Christian era. Hosea 2:23 is also quoted as part of Romans 9:25, similarly extending the promise of God's love to the Gentiles.
Hosea 6:6, a well-known verse stating that God wants mercy, not sacrifice, is quoted twice by Matthew, Matt. 9:13 and 12:7; in both cases, Jesus is rebutting the challenge of the Pharisees, religious officials of the time who were very careful about performing the required sacrifices. In Matt. 9:13, the Pharisees were rebuking Jesus for spending time with those they considered sinful and unworthy; the aptness of the quotation is obvious. In Matt. 12:7, the Pharisees are angry because Jesus' followers were picking grain to eat on the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day when all work was forbidden. In this case, He seems to be using the quotation to suggest that a legalistic, slavish obedience may not be what God wants.
Hosea 10:8 prophesies that, when the places where the Israelites worship idols are destroyed, the people will beg the very hills to fall on them and cover their shame. In Luke 23:30, Jesus quotes this verse, applying it to the people of Jerusalem for the shame they will feel about Jesus' crucifixion. John, in the Book of Revelation, also refers to this verse, at Rev. 6:16, applying to the time of the end.
Hosea 11:1 quotes God as saying, "Out of Egypt have I called my son," which is probably a reference to the Exodus, when God took the nation of Israel out of captivity in Egypt. In Matthew 2:15, this verse is applied to Jesus, who spent his early childhood in Egypt.
Hosea 13:14 states that God will destroy Death. Some scholars believe that 1 Corinthians 15:55, which exults, "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" is a reference to this verse.
The NIV Study Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, Zondervan Publishing, 1995 The New King James Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982 "Old Testament Survey," Second Edition, William Sanford Lesor et al, Eerdmans Publishing, 1996. Accordance 6.2, Oaktree Software, 2004.
H. D. Beeby, "Grace Abounding: A Commentary on the Book of Hosea" (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1989); William J. Doorly, Prophet of Love: Understanding the Book of Hosea (Paulist Press, New York, 1991); Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea (Intervarsity Press, England, 1976).
Prepared in 2005 for the course BIBL5023 at Acadia Divinity College
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