1. Name

2. Native Place

3. Date

4. Personal History (Marriage)

(1) Allegorical View

(2) Literal View


1. Style and Scope

2. Historical Background

3. Contents and Divisions

(1) Hosea 1 through 3

(2) Hosea 4 through 14

4. Testimony to Earlier History

5. Testimony to Law

6. Affinity with Deuteronomy


See a list of verses on HOSEA in the Bible.

I. The Prophet.

1. Name:

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

The name (hoshea Septuagint Osee-; for other forms see note inDB ), 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 Nu 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 (2Ki 15:30), and we find the same name borne by a chief of the tribe of Ephraim under David (1Ch 27:20) and by a chief under Nehemiah (Ne 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 Hos (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 (Jg 10:17). Then we find Tabor (Ho 5:1), Shechem (Ho 6:9 the Revised Version (British and American)), Gilgal and Bethel (Ho 4:15; 9:15; 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 (Ho 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.

3. Date:

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 BC. as to the other limit, it is to be observed that, though the downfall of "the kingdom of the house of Israel" is threatened (Ho 1:4), the catastrophe had not occurred when the prophet ceased his ministry. The date of that event is fixed in the year 722 BC, 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 BC) by Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus against the kingdom of Judah (2Ki 16:5; Isa 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?" (Ho 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 (Jer 13:1-27). 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 (Eze 4:1-17); 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 ff) 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 (Ho 1:8) and the precise price paid for the erring wife (Ho 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 (Ho 2:15; 9:10; 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 Ho 4:1 f) ." 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 Ho 4:13), felt the irksomeness of restraint in the prophet's house, left him and sank into open profligacy, from which (Ho 3:1-5) 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 (2Ki 20:7), and is found in the list of things furnished by abigail to David (1Sa 25:18). See also 1Sa 30:12; 1Ch 12:40. Another name for the same thing, ashishah, occurs in Ho 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 (Jer 7:18; 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. (Ec 12:4; Pr 31:2; 2Sa 7:10; Ge 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 Ho 2:13,16,21; 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. Ho 6:4; 7:12; 8:13; 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 (Ho 11:1,3,1; 14:3), but more prominently as the affection of the husband (Ho 1:1-11; 3:1-5), 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 (Eze 16:1-63; compare Jer 3:1-25). 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 Jdg 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 (Jg 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 (Ho 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" (Ro 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" (Eph 4:19; compare Am 2:7 f; Ho 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 BC 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" (2Ki 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 2Ki 15:17 (although the chronology here is uncertain), he was succeeded by his son Pekahiah (2Ki 15:22), and after two years Pekah "his captain" conspired against him and reigned in his stead (2Ki 15:25). This king also was assassinated, and was succeeded by Hoshea (2Ki 15:30), the last king of the ten tribes, for the kingdom came to an end in 722 BC. 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 through 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 Ho 1:1-11 through 3 refer to an earlier period than those that follow. In favor of this is the reference in Ho 1:2 to the commencement of the prophet's ministry, as also the threatening of the impending extirpation of the house of Jehu (Ho 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" (Ho 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 (Ho 2:6 ff) 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" (2Ki 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" (Ho 2:9 ff). 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 (Ho 2:14 ff). 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 (Ho 2:14 f). In the second chapter the thing that is emphasized is the heavy hand of God laid on the things through which Israel had been led astray, the paralyzing of Nature's operations, so as to cut at the root of Nature-worship; but the closing stage of the Divine discipline (Ho 3:1-5), when Israel, like the wife kept in seclusion, neither enjoying the privileges of the lawful spouse nor able to follow after idols, seems to point to, and certainly was not reached till, the captivity when the people, on a foreign soil, could not exercise their ancestral worship, but yet were finally cured of idolatry.

The references to Judah in these chapters are not to be overlooked. Having said (Ho 1:6) that Israel would be utterly taken away (which seems to point to exile), the prophet adds that Judah would be saved from that fate, though not by warlike means. Farther down (Ho 1:11) he predicts the union of Israel and Judah under one head, and finally in Ho 3:1-5 it is said that in the latter day the children of Israel would seek the Lord their God and David their king. Many critics suppose that Ho 1:10 f are out of place (though they cannot find a better place for them); and not a few declare that all the references to Judah must be taken as from a later hand, the usual reason for this conclusion being that the words "disturb the connection." In the case of a writer like Hosea, however, whose transitions are so sharp and sudden, we are not safe in speaking of disturbing the connection: what may to us appear abrupt, because we are not expecting it, may have flashed across the mind of the original writer; and Hosea, in forecasting the future of his people, can scarcely be debarred from having thought of the whole nation. It was Israel as a whole that was the original bride of Yahweh, and surely therefore the united Israel would be the partaker of the final glory. As a matter of fact, Judah was at the time in better case than Israel, and the old promise to the Davidic house (2Sa 7:16) was deeply cherished to the end.

(2) Hosea 4 through 14.

If it is admissible to consider Ho 1:1-11 through 3 as one related piece (though possibly the written deposit of several addresses) it is quite otherwise with Ho 4:1-19 through Ho 14:1-9. These are, in a manner, a counterpart of the history. When the strong hand of Jeroboam was relaxed, the kingdom rapidly fell to pieces; a series of military usurpers follows with bewildering rapidity; but who can tell how much political disorder and social disintegration lie behind those brief and grim notices: So and So "conspired against him and slew him and reigned in his stead"? So with these chapters. The wail of grief, the echo of violence and excess, is heard through all, but it is very difficult to assign each lament, each reproof, each denunciation to the primary occasion that called it forth. The chapters seem like the recital of the confused, hideous dream through which the nation passed till its rude awakening by the sharp shock of the Assyrian invasion and the exile that followed. The political condition of the time was one of party strife and national impotence. Sometimes Assyria or Egypt is mentioned alone (Ho 5:13; 8:9,13; 9:6; 10:6; 14:3), at other times Assyria and Egypt together (Ho 7:11; 9:3; 11:5,11; 12:1); but in such a way as to show too plainly that the spirit of self-reliance--not to speak of reliance on Yahweh--had departed from a race that was worm-eaten with social sins and rendered selfish and callous by the indulgence of every vice. These foreign powers, which figure as false refuges, are also in the view of the prophet destined to be future scourges (see Ho 5:13; 8:9 f; Ho 7:11; 12:1); and we know, from the Book of Ki and also from the Assyrian monuments, how much the kings of Israel at this time were at the mercy of the great conquering empires of the East. Such passages as speak of Assyria and Egypt in the same breath may point to the rival policies which were in vogue in the Northern Kingdom (as they appeared also somewhat later in Judah) of making alliances with one or other of these great rival powers. It was in fact the Egyptianizing policy of Hoshea that finally occasioned the ruin of the kingdom (2Ki 17:4). Thus it is that, in the last chapter, when the prophet indulges in hope no more mixed with boding fear, he puts into the mouth of repentant Ephraim the words: "Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses" (Ho 14:3), thus alluding to the two foreign powers between which Israel had lost its independence.

It is not possible to give a satisfactory analysis of the chapters under consideration. They are not marked off, as certain sections of other prophetical books are, by headings or refrains, nor are the references to current events sufficiently clear to enable us to assign different parts to different times, nor, in fine, is the matter so distinctly laid out that we can arrange the book under subjects treated. Most expositors accordingly content themselves with indicating the chief topics or lines of thought, and arranging the chapters according to the tone pervading them.

Keil, e.g., would divide all these chapters into three great sections, each forming a kind of prophetical cycle, in which the three great prophetic tones of reproof, threatening, and promise, are heard in succession. His first section embraces Ho 4:1-19 to Ho 6:3, ending with the gracious promise: "Come, and let us return unto Yahweh," etc. The second section, Ho 6:4 to Ho 11:11, ends with the promise: "They shall come trembling as a bird .... and I will make them to dwell in their houses, saith Yahweh." The third section, Ho 11:12 to Ho 14:9, ends: "Take with you words, and return unto Yahweh," etc. Ewald's arrangement proceeds on the idea that the whole book consists of one narrative piece (chapters 1 through 3) and one long address (chapters 4 through 14), which, however, is marked off by resting points into smaller sections or addresses. The progress of thought is marked by the three great items of arraignment, punishment, and consolation. Thus: from 4:1 through 6:11 there is arraignment; from 6:11 to 9:9 punishment, and from 9:10 through 14:10 exhortation and comfort. Driver says of chapters 4 through 14: "These chapters consist of a series of discourses, a summary arranged probably by the prophet himself at the close of his ministry, of the prophecies delivered by him in the years following the death of Jeroboam II. Though the argument is not continuous, or systematically developed, they may be divided into three sections: (a) chapters 4 through 8 in which the thought of Israel's guilt predominates; (b) chapter 9 through 11:11, in which the prevailing thought is that of Israel's punishment; (c) 11:12 through Ho 14:1-9 in which these two lines of thought are both continued (chapters 12, 13), but are followed (in chapter 14) by a glance at the brighter future which may ensue provided Israel repents." A. B. Davidson, after mentioning the proposed analyses of Ewald and Driver, adds: "But in truth the passage is scarcely divisible; it consists of multitude of variations all executed on one theme, Israel's apostasy or unfaithfulness to her God. This unfaithfulness is a condition of the mind, a `spirit of whoredoms,' and is revealed in all the aspects of Israel's life, though particularly in three things: (1) the cult, which, though ostensibly service of Yahweh, is in truth worship of a being altogether different from Him; (2) the internal political disorders, the changes of dynasty, all of which have been effected with no thought of Yahweh in the people's minds; and (3) the foreign politics, the making of covenants with Egypt and Assyria, in the hope that they might heal the internal hurt of the people, instead of relying on Yahweh their God. The three things," he adds, "are not independent; the one leads to the other. The fundamental evil is that there is no knowledge of God in the land, no true conception of Deity. He is thought of as a Nature-god, and His conception exercises no restraint on the passions or life of the people: hence, the social immoralities, and the furious struggles of rival factions, and these again lead to the appeal for foreign intervention."

Some expositors, however (e.g. Maurer, Hitzig, Delitzsch and Volck), recognizing what they consider as direct references or brief allusions to certain outstanding events in the history, perceive a chronological order in the chapters. Volck, who has tempted a full analysis on this line (PRE2) thinks that chapters 4 through 14 arrange themselves into 6 consecutive sections as follows: (1) chapter 4 constitutes a section by itself, determined by the introductory words "Hear the word of Yahweh" (4:1), and a similar call at the beginning of chapter 5. He assigns this chapter to the reign of Zechariah, as a description of the low condition to which the nation had fallen, the priests, the leaders, being involved in the guilt and reproof (Ho 5:6). (2) The second section extends from Ho 5:1 to Ho 6:3, and is addressed directly to the priests and the royal house, who ought to have been guides but were snares. The prophet in the spirit sees Divine judgment already breaking over the devoted land (Ho 5:8). This prophecy, which Hitzig referred to the time of Zechariah, and Maurer to the reign of Pekah, is assigned by Volck to the one month's reign of Shallum, on the ground of Ho 5:7: "Now shall a month (the King James Version and the Revised Version margin, but the Revised Version (British and American) "the new moon") devour them." It is by inference from this that Volck puts Ho 4:1-19 in the preceding reign of Zechariah. (3) The third section, Ho 6:4 through Ho 7:16, is marked off by the new beginning made at Ho 8:1: "Set the trumpet to thy mouth." The passage which determines its date is Ho 7:7: "All their kings are fallen," which, agreeing with Hitzig, he thinks could not have been said after the fall of one king, Zechariah, and so he assigns it to the beginning of the reign of Menahem who killed Shallum. (4) The next halting place, giving a fourth section, is at Ho 9:9, at the end of which there is a break in the Massoretic Text, and a new subject begins. Accordingly, the section embraces Ho 8:1 to Ho 9:9, and Volck, agreeing with Hitzig, assigns it to the reign of Menahem, on the ground of Ho 8:4: "They have set up kings, but not by me," referring to the support given to Menahem by the king of Assyria (2Ki 15:19). (5) The fifth section extends from 9:10 to l1:11, and is marked by the peculiarity that the prophet three times refers to the early history of Israel (9:10; 10:1; 11:1). Identifying Shalman in 10:14 with Shalmaneser, Volck refers the section to the opening years of the reign of Hoshea, against whom (as stated in 2Ki 17:3) Shalmaneser came up and Hoshea became his servant. (6) Lastly there is a sixth section, extending from Ho 12:1 to the end, which looks to the future recovery of the people (Ho 13:14) and closes with words of gracious promise. This portion also Volck assigns to the reign of Hoshea, just as the ruin of Samaria was impending, and there was no prospect of any earthly hope. In this way Volck thinks that the statement in the superscription of the Book of Hos is confirmed, and that we have before us, in chronological order if not in precisely their original oral form, the utterances of the prophet during his ministry. Ewald also was strongly of opinion that the book (in its second part at least) has come down to us substantially in the form in which the prophet himself left it.

The impression one receives from this whole section is one of sadness, for the prevailing tone is one of denunciation and doom. And yet Hosea is not a prophet of despair; and, in fact, he bursts forth into hope just at the point where, humanly speaking, there is no ground of hope. But this hope is produced, not by what he sees in the condition of the people: it is enkindled and sustained by his confident faith in the unfailing love of Yahweh. And so he ends on theme on which he began, the love of God prevailing over man's sin.

4. Testimony to Earlier History:

The references in Hosea to the earlier period of history are valuable, seeing that we know his date, and that the dates of the books recording that history are so much in dispute. These references are particularly valuable from the way in which they occur; for it is the manner of the prophet to introduce them indirectly, and allusively, without dwelling on particulars. Thus every single reference can be understood only by assuming its implications; and, taken together, they do not merely amount to a number of isolated testimonies to single events, but are rather dissevered links of a continuous chain of history. For they do not occur by way of rhetorical illustration of some theme that may be in hand, they are of the very essence of the prophet's address. The events of the past are, in the prophet's view, so many elements in the arraignment or threatening, or whatever it may be that is the subject of address for the moment: in a word, the whole history is regarded by him, not as a series of episodes, strung together in a collection of popular stories, but a course of Divine discipline with a moral and religious significance, and recorded or referred to for a high purpose. There is this also to be remembered: that, in referring briefly and by way of allusion to past events, the prophet is taking for granted that his hearers understand what he is referring to, and will not call in question the facts to which he alludes. This implies that the mass of the people, even in degenerate Israel, were well acquainted with such incidents or episodes as the prophet introduces into his discourses, as well as the links which were necessary to bind them into a connected whole. It is necessary to bear all this in mind in forming an estimate of the historical value of other books. It seems to be taken by many modern writers as certain that those parts of the Pentateuch (JE) which deal with the earlier history were not written till a comparatively short time before Hosea. It is plain, however, that the accounts must be of much earlier date, before they could have become, in an age when books could not have been numerous, the general possession of the national consciousness. Further, the homiletic manner in which Hosea handles these ancient stories makes one suspicious of the modern theory that a number of popular stories were supplied with didactic "frameworks" by later Deuteronomic or other "redactors," and makes it more probable that these accounts were invested with a moral and religious meaning from the beginning. With these considerations in mind, and particularly in view of the use he makes of his references, it is interesting to note the wide range of the prophet's historical survey. If we read with the Revised Version (British and American) "Adam" for "men" (the King James Version Ho 6:7), we have a clear allusion to the Fall, implying in its connection the view which, as all admit, Hosea held of the religious history of his people as a declension and not an upward evolution. This view is more clearly brought out in the reference to the period of the exodus and the desert life (Ho 2:15; 9:10; 11:1). Equally suggestive are the allusions to the patriarchal history, as the references to Admah and' Zeboiim (Ho 11:8), and the repeated references to the weak and the strong points in the character of Jacob (Ho 12:3,12). Repeatedly he declares that Yahweh is the God of Israel "from the land of Egypt" (Ho 12:9; 13:4), alludes to the sin of Achan and the valley of Achor (Ho 2:15), asserts that God had in time past "spoken unto the prophets" (Ho 12:10), "hewed" His people by prophets (Ho 6:5), and by a prophet brought His people out of Egypt (Ho 12:13). There are also references to incidents nearer to the prophet's time, some of them not very clear (14; 5:1; 9:5:15; 10:9); and if, as seems probable, "the sin of Israel" (10:8) refers to the schism of the ten tribes, the prominence given to the Davidic kingship, which, along with the references to Judah, some critics reject on merely subjective grounds, is quite intelligible (3:5; 4:15).

5. Testimony to the Law:

We do not expect to find in a prophetic writing the same frequency of reference to the law as to the history; for it is of the essence of prophecy to appeal to history and to interpret it. Of course, the moral and social aspects of the law are as much the province of the prophet as of the priest; but the ceremonial part of the law, which was under the care of the priests, though it was designed to be the expression of the same ideas that lay at the foundation of prophecy, is mainly touched upon by the prophets when, as was too frequently the case, it ceased to express those ideas and became an offense. The words of the prophets on this subject, when fairly interpreted, are not opposed to law in any of its authorized forms, but only to its abuses; and there are expressions and allusions in Hosea, although he spoke to the Northern Kingdom, where from the time of the schism there had been a wide departure from the authorized law, which recognize its ancient existence and its Divine sanction. The much-debated passage in Hos (8:12), "Though I write for him my law in ten thousand precepts" (the Revised Version (British and American) or the Revised Version margin "I wrote for him the ten thousand things of my law"), on any understanding of the words or with any reasonable emendation of the text (for which see the comm.), points to written law, and that of considerable compass, and seems hardly consistent with the supposition that in the prophet's time the whole of the written law was confined to a few chapters in Ex, the so-called Book of the Covenant. And the very next verse (Ho 8:13), "As for the sacrifices of mine offerings, they sacrifice flesh and eat it; but Yahweh accepteth them not," is at once an acknowledgment of the Divine institution of sacrifice, and an illustration of the kind of opposition the prophets entertained to sacrificial service as it was practiced. So when it is said, "I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feasts, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn assemblies" (Ho 2:11; compare Ho 9:5), the reference, as the context shows, is to a deprivation of what were national distinctive privileges; and the allusions to transgressions and trespasses against the law (Ho 8:1; compare De 17:2) point in the same direction. We have a plain reference to the Feast of Tabernacles (Ho 12:9): "I will yet again make thee to dwell in tents, as in the days of the solemn feast" (compare Le 23:39-43); and there are phrases which are either in the express language of the law-books or evident allusions to them, as "Thy people are as they that strive with the priest" (Ho 4:4; compare De 17:12); "The princes of Judah are like them that remove the landmark" (Ho 5:10; compare De 19:14); "Their sacrifices shall be unto them as the bread of mourners" (Ho 9:4; compare De 26:14); "They (the priests) feed on the sin of my people" (Ho 4:8; compare Le 6:25 f; Le 10:17). In one verse the prophet combines the fundamental fact in the nation's history and the fundamental principle of the law: "I am Yahweh thy God from the land of Egypt; and thou shalt know no god but me" (Ho 13:4; compare Ex 20:3).

6. Affinity with Deuteronomy:

It is, however, with the Book of Dt more than with any other portion of the Pentateuch that the Book of Hos shows affinity; and the resemblances here are so striking, that the critics who hold to the late date of Dt speak of the author of that book as "the spiritual heir of Hosea" (Driver, Commentary on Deuteronomy, Intro, xxvii), or of Hosea as "the great spiritual predecessor of the Deuteronomist" (Cheyne, Jeremiah, His Life and Times, 66). The resemblance is seen, not only in the homiletical manner in which historical events are treated, but chiefly in the great underlying principles implied or insisted upon in both books. The choice of Israel to be a peculiar people is the fundamental note in both (De 4:37; 7:6; 10:15; 14:2; 26:18; Ho 12:9; 13:4). God's tender care and fatherly discipline are central ideas in both (De 8:2-3,5,16; Ho 9:15; 11:1-4; 14:4); and, conversely, the supreme duty of love to God, or reproof of the want of it, is everywhere emphasized (De 6:5; 10:12; 11:1,13,22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6,16,20; Ho 4:1; 6:4,6). Now, when points of resemblance are found in two different books, it is not always easy to say on merely literary grounds which has the claim to priority. But it does seem remarkable, on the one hand, that a writer so late as the time of Josiah should take his keynote from one of the very earliest of the writing prophets two centuries before him; and, on the other hand, that these so-called "prophetic ideas," so suitable to the time of `the kindness of youth and love of espousals' (Jer 2:2), should have found no place in the mind of that "prophet" by whom the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt (Ho 12:13). The ministry of Moses was to enforce the duty of whole-hearted allegiance to the God who had made special choice of Israel and claimed them as His own. Nor was Hosea the first, as it is sometimes alleged, to represent the religious history of Israel as a defection. Moses had experience of their apostasy under the very shadow of Sinai, and all his life long had to bear with a stiff-necked and rebellious people. Then, again, if these "Deuteronomic" ideas are found so clearly expressed in Hosea, why should it be necessary to postulate a late Deuteronomist going back upon older books, and editing and supplementing them with Deuteronomic matter? If Moses sustained anything like the function which all tradition assigned to him, and if, as all confess, he was the instrument of molding the tribes into one people, those addresses contained in the Book of Deuteronomy are precisely in the tone which would be adopted by a great leader in taking farewell of the people. And, if he did so, it is quite conceivable that his words would be treasured by the God-fearing men among his followers and successors, in that unbroken line of prophetic men to whose existence both Amos and Hosea appealed, and that they should be found coming to expression at the very dawn of written prophecy. Undoubtedly these two prophets took such a view, and regarded Moses as the first and greatest Deuteronomist.


Harper, "Minor Prophets," in ICC; Keil, "Minor Prophets," in Clark's For. Theol. Library; Huxtable, "Hosea," in Speaker's Comm.; Cheyne, "Hosea," in Cambridge Bible; Pusey, Minor Prophets; Robertson Smith, Prophets of Israel; G. A. Smith, "The Book of the Twelve," in Expositor's Bible; Horton, "'Hosea," in Century Bible; Farrar, "Minor Prophets," in Men of the Bible; A. B. Davidson, article "Hosea" in HDB; Cornill, The Prophets of Israel, English translation, Chicago, 1897; Valeton, Amos en Hosea; Nowack, "Die kleinen Propheten," in Hand-Comm. z. Altes Testament; Marti, Dodekapropheton in Kurz. Hand-Comm.

James Robertson

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