Almost 750 years before the coming of the Savior,
Hosea is the first of the twelve prophets in the Book of the Twelve. The Book of the Twelve Prophets was originally on one parchment roll because of the brevity of the text, and together formed one Book of the 24 Books of Hebrew Scripture. The Book of the Twelve follows the writings of the four Major Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. All together the 16 prophets are called the Latter Prophets, as they began writing after the Division of the United Kingdom of Israel.
Hosea – הוֹשֵׁעַ – parallels his own tragic marriage to his unfaithful wife Gomer (Chapters 1-3) to that of the covenant between God and Israel (Chapters 4-14).
Our commentary this week is taken from the Bible Commentary by Adam Clarke (1762–1832), a British Methodist minister and theologian. It is interesting sometimes to get a historical perspective on some of the more difficult or controversial topics in the Bible, and there are few more “difficult” than Hosea.
The rabbins say that Bura was his father, who is mentioned in the Chronicles, and was prince of the tribe of Reuben at the time when Tiglath-pileser carried some of the tribes of Israel into captivity. But if it be so, Hosea must be said to be of the tribe of Reuben; and a native of Beelmeon, beyond Jordan. This prophet lived in the kingdom of Samaria; and his prophecies for the most part have a view to this state, though there are likewise some particular things which concern the kingdom of Judah.
We read, in the introduction to his prophecy that he prophesied under the kings of Judah, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and under Jeroboam II., king of Israel. If he prophesied in the reign of all these princes, he must have lived a very long time; for there are a hundred and twelve years from the beginning of Uzziah‘s reign to the end of Hezekiah‘s reign.
He foretells that the people of Judah should still continue some time in their country after the captivity of the ten tribes; but that after this they themselves should likewise be carried captives beyond the Euphrates.
The children of this faithless woman are children of prostitution, since they imitate the idolatry of their mother. God gives these children the names of Jezreel, God will disperse; Lo-rechamah, or Without mercy; and Lo-ammi, Thou art no longer my people; to show, –
1.That God was going to revenge upon the house of Jehu, king of Israel, the sins which he had committed at Jezreel, when he usurped the kingdom of the ten tribes.
2.That the Lord would treat his idolatrous and sinful people without mercy.
3.That he would reject them, and no more look upon them as his people.
Order and Time in Which the Twelve Minor Prophets Flourished
1. Jonah Prophesied between 823 B.C. and 783 B.C. in the reign of Jeroboam II., king of Israel. See 2 Kings 14:25.
2. Amos prophesied from about 823 B.C. to about 785 B.C. in the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah, and in that of Jeroboam II., king of Israel. See Amos 1:1.
3. Hosea flourished from about 809 B.C. to about 698 B.C., in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in that of Jeroboam II., king of Israel. See Hosea 1:1. [But see the observations above)
4. Micah flourished between 757 B.C. and 698 B.C., in the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. See Micah 1:1.
5. Nahum is supposed to have prophesied between 720 B.C. and 698 B.C., in the reign of Hezekiah.
6. Joel is supposed to have prophesied between 697 B.C. and 660 B.C., in the reign of Manasseh.
7. Zephaniah prophesied between 640 B.C. and 609 B.C., in the reign of Josiah. See Zephaniah 1:1.
8. Habakkuk is thought to have prophesied between 606 B.C. and 598 B.C., in the reign of Jehoiakim.
9. Obadiah prophesied soon after 587 B.C., between the taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the destruction of the Edomites by the same prince.
10. Haggai prophesied about 520 B.C. after the return from Babylon. See Haggai 1:1.
11. Zechariah prophesied from 520 B.C. to about 518 B.C.; and was contemporary with Haggai. See Zechariah 1:1.
12. Malachi is generally believed to have prophesied about 436 B.C.
The verb to return – שׁוּב or “shuv” is recorded in Hosea 3:5, 6:1, 12:6, 14:1, and 14:2, calling upon Israel to return to the Lord…which makes sense of the scripture “draw close to God THEN he will draw close to us as individuals.” [James 4:8]
The Gospel of Matthew 2:15 refers to Hosea 11:1 in a direct quotation, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” And St. Paul cites Hosea 2:1 and 2:25 (1:10 and 2:23 in this English translation) in Romans 9:25-26 concerning God’s free election, and Hosea 13:14 in First Corinthians 15:54-55 in a different way, that of the ultimate victory of life over death in the resurrection of the body through Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.
Jezreel, Hosea’s first born…the Valley of Jezreel is also the same as the Valley of Megiddo; also known as Plain of Esdraelon. As a rule of thumb and logistics, this valley has historically been the pathway of invading armies. This will be true in End Time during the Battle of Armageddon [Revelation 14-16].This is why in End Times, those who align against Jerusalem (50 miles to the south) will assemble in Megiddo. This is also why Daniel’s prophecies of wars between the Kings of the north and the Kings of the south need to pass through Northern Israel; a place where large masses of military forces and equipment could be moved. In reality, this valley is a bridge passage between Europe, Africa, and Asia.
In was on the plains of Jezreel that Jehu’s army defeated the armies of Jezebel (2 Kings 9), beginning a bloodbath in the Northern Kingdom that would have consequences for years (cf. Hos 1:4-5). And it was at Megiddo that King Josiah was killed in a fateful attempt to block Egyptian armies from using the pass to march north to lend aid to Assyrian armies trapped by the Babylonians (2 Kings 23:29).
NOTE: Within the territory of the tribe of Ephraim, the children of Israel brought the Tabernacle (Josh. 18:1), Making Shiloh a religious center for the Israelites even before Jerusalem.
The path to the mound has a beautiful view of the valley where one of the most colorful stories in the Bible took place – the summer grape-harvest festival when the daughters of Shiloh came out dancing and the men of Benjamin sought brides from among them (Judges 21:15-23).
But its modern-day beauty hides a bloody and violent history.
Here Jezreel’s rulers killed Ahab’s 70 sons, put their heads in baskets, and brought them to Jehu (2 Kings 10:1–11). Queen Jezebel murdered Naboth in his own vineyard in Jezreel (1 Kings 21:1–23) and later died after being thrown from a palace and devoured by dogs. Pharaoh Neco killed King Josiah in the Jezreel Valley (2 Kings 23:30).
To date and according to history, there have been no less than 34 battles in this valley. Four of these recorded battles were from the Crusades in the 12th century; Napoleon Bonaparte crushed the Ottomans in 1799. One major and remaining world-ending battle remains to be fought in this same Valley; i.e. Armageddon.
The Book of Hosea was a severe warning to the northern kingdom against the growing idolatry being practiced there; the book was a dramatic call to repentance. Christians extend the analogy of Hosea to Christ and the church: Christ the husband, his church the bride. Christians see in this book a comparable call to the church not to forsake the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians also take the buying back of Gomer as the redemptive qualities of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Hosea lived in the tragic final days of the northern kingdom, during which six kings (following Jeroboam II) reigned within 25 years (2Ki 15:8 — 17:6). Four (Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, Pekah) were murdered by their successors while in office, and one (Hoshea) was captured in battle; only one (Menahem) was succeeded on the throne by his son. These kings, given to Israel by God “in anger” and taken away “in wrath” (13:11), floated away “like a twig on the surface of the waters” (10:7). “Bloodshed” followed “bloodshed” (4:2). Assyria was expanding westward, and Menahem accepted that world power as overlord and paid tribute (2Ki 15:19-20). But shortly afterward, in 733 b.c., Israel was dismembered by Assyria because of the intrigue of Pekah (who had gained Israel’s throne by killing Pekahiah, Menahem’s son and successor). Only the territories of Ephraim and western Manasseh were left to the king of Israel. Then, because of the disloyalty of Hoshea (Pekah’s successor), Samaria was captured and its people exiled in 722-721, bringing the northern kingdom to an end.
Theological Theme and Message
The first part of the book (chs. 1 – 3) narrates the family life of Hosea as a symbol (similar to the symbolism in the lives of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) to convey the message the prophet had from the Lord for his people. God ordered Hosea to marry an adulterous wife, Gomer, and their three children were each given a symbolic name representing part of the ominous message. Ch. 2 alternates between Hosea’s relation to Gomer and its symbolic representation of God’s relation to Israel. The children are told to drive the unfaithful mother out of the house; but it was her reform, not her riddance, that was sought. The prophet was ordered to continue loving her, and he took her back and kept her in isolation for a while (ch. 3). The affair graphically represents the Lord’s relation to the Israelites (cf. 2:4,9,18), who had been disloyal to him by worshiping Canaanite deities as the source of their abundance. Israel was to go through a period of exile (cf. 7:16; 9:3,6,17; 11:5). But the Lord still loved his covenant people and longed to take them back, just as Hosea took back Gomer. This return is described with imagery recalling the exodus from Egypt and settlement in Canaan (cf. 1:11; 2:14-23; 3:5; 11:10-11; 14:4-7). Hosea saw Israel’s past experiences with the Lord as the fundamental pattern, or type, of God’s future dealings with his people.
The second part of the book (chs. 4 – 14) gives the details of Israel’s involvement in Canaanite religion, but a systematic outline of the material is difficult. Like other prophetic books, Hosea issued a call to repentance. Israel’s alternative to destruction was to forsake her idols and return to the Lord (chs. 6; 14). Information gleaned from materials discovered at Ugarit (dating from the 15th century b.c.) enables us to know more clearly the religious practices against which Hosea protested.
Hosea saw the failure to acknowledge God (4:1,6; 8:2-3; 13:4) as Israel’s basic problem. God’s relation to Israel was that of love (2:19; 4:1; 6:6; 10:12; 12:6). The intimacy of the covenant relationship between God and Israel, illustrated in the first part of the book by the husband-wife relationship, is later amplified by the father-child relationship (11:1-4). Disloyalty to God was spiritual adultery (4:13-14; 5:4; 9:1; cf. Jer 3; see note on Ex 34:15). Israel had turned to Baal worship and had sacrificed at the pagan high places, which included associating with the sacred prostitutes at the sanctuaries (4:14) and worshiping the calf images at Samaria (8:5; 10:5-6; 13:2). There was also international intrigue (5:13; 7:8-11) and materialism. Yet despite God’s condemnation and the harshness of language with which the unavoidable judgment was announced, the major purpose of the book is to proclaim God’s compassion and covenant love that cannot — finally — let Israel go
The book of Hosea has at least two perplexing problems. The first concerns the nature of the story told in chs. 1 – 3 and the character of Gomer. While some interpreters have thought the story to be merely an allegory of the relation between God and Israel, others claim, more plausibly, that the story is to be taken literally. Among the latter, some insist that Gomer was faithful at first and later became unfaithful, others that she was unfaithful even before the marriage.
The second problem of the book is the relation of ch. 3 to ch. 1. Despite the fact that no children are mentioned in ch. 3, some interpreters claim that the two chapters are different accounts of the same episode. The traditional interpretation, however, is more likely, namely, that ch. 3 is a sequel to ch. 1 — i.e., after Gomer proved unfaithful, Hosea was instructed to take her back.
8. Undying Love— The Story of Hosea and Gomer
The calendar on the wall indicated that it was about 760 years before Jesus was born. Jeroboam II was on the throne of the northern kingdom of Israel, and his military exploits had extended Israel’s borders farther than they had been since the days of Solomon’s glorious kingdom. Tribute money from subject nations was pouring into the treasury at the capital city of Samaria, and the people of Israel were enjoying a period of unprecedented prosperity.
As is often the case, with prosperity came moral and spiritual degeneration. Secularism and materialism captured the hearts of the people and sin ran rampant. The list reads like twentieth-century America: swearing, lying, killing, stealing, adultery, drunkenness, perversion, perjury, deceit, and oppression, to name but a few. But the thing that grieved the heart of God more than anything else was the sin of idolatry (Hos. 4:12, 13; 13:2).
- The Children as Signs (1:2;2:1)
- The Unfaithful Wife (2:2-23)
- The Faithful Husband (ch. 3)
- The Unfaithful Nation and the Faithful God (chs. 4–14)
- Israel’s Unfaithfulness (4:1;6:3)
- Israel’s Punishment (6:4;10:15)
- The Lord’s Faithful Love (chs. 11–14)