A Review of the Book of the Prophet Hosea
A REVIEW OF THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET HOSEA
Essay presented by Rev. H. D. Mensing
to the Convention, August 18, 1956
I. Historical Introduction
Hosea identifies himself in the first verse of chapter one as “the son of Beeri, 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.” Uzziah is the same as Azariah (2 Chronicles 26). He, together with the other kings of Judah mentioned, reigned in the period extending from about 760 to 725 B. C. Jeroboam II reigned in Israel from 783 to 742, and the destruction to the Northern Kingdom took place in the year 722. Hosea, then, was the very last great prophet of the Northern Kingdom, Israel, an older contemporary of Isaiah and Micah, and a younger contemporary of the prophet Amos. (1) His name, Hosea, is the Hiphil infinitive of the verb “jasha”, which means “save” or “deliver”, and indicates the purpose of his prophecy. Nothing more is known about the personal life of Hosea, except what may be implied from the allusions to his tragic family life in chapters 1 and 3, and then only if his actions there described are accepted in the literal sense.
While Judah is referred to a number of times, the prophecy of Hosea was intended primarily for the Kingdom of Israel. It was important that Hosea should concentrate his attention upon the people of Israel in particular, because this division of God’s chosen nation was rapidly approaching the culmination of its time of grace, while Judah was first carried away into the Babylonian captivity a hundred and thirty-five years later, in the year 587 B. C.
Jeroboam II, Israel’s ruler at the time of Hosea, was a descendant of the house of Jehu, and during his reign the kingdom outwardly reached its zenith of power. (2) But its idolatry and sinful practices had already shattered it to the core. After Jeroboam’s death and the overthrow of the house of Jehu, the nation rapidly approached its destruction through rebellion, assassination of its kings, and the rapid change of dynasties, on the one hand; and, on the other, through shameless idolatry. Its final destruction came through the rising world-power of Assyria, which was the rod in the hand of God to punish His apostate people. (3)
(1) Dr. L. Fuerbringer: Introduction to the Old Testament, page 90.
(2) 2 Kings 14: 23-29.
(3) Dr. L. Fuerbringer: o.c., 1.c.
Israel was first of all guilty of gross idolatry. Her people worshiped Baal already in the period of the Judges, and this practice had consistently grown in popularity. The plural name, Baalim, in chapter 2:17, suggests that more than one individual idol was worshiped, and it is generally held that the feminine counterpart of Baal was the moon and Ashtoreth, with whose worship was connected all manner of adulterous and licentious practices. (1) (2) Besides this, many of the Israelites lived constantly in the sin of fine idolatry. They loved to eat, drink, and be merry more than they loved the Lord (chapter 4:10); they ceased to fear the Lord (chapter 7:2); they trusted in the assistance of heathen Egypt and Assyria, but neglected to appeal their cause to the Lord in prayer (chapter 7:10-11). God had been patient and longsuffering with Israel for hundreds of years, but now at last the time of His visitation and vengeance is no longer far away. Hosea is standing at the very death-bed of his people.
They Book of Hosea comprises two chief parts, chapters 1-3 and chapters 4-14, which differ from each other in contents and were very likely written at different times. Both parts, however, have the under-lying though of Israel’s apostasy and of God’s saving grace, which the Prophet pleads with them to accept through true repentance. In the first part, which was written during the reign of Jeroboam, Hosea seeks to portray to Israel its sins of disloyalty to the Lord and its needs for repentance by employing a very unique and remarkable symbolical action, which has often been misinterpreted, and which we shall discuss separately further on in our presentation. The second half of the Book, chapters 4-14, seems to have been written by Hosea very near the close of his ministry, after the death of Jeroboam. For it takes for granted on the part of the reader a knowledge of the wholesale rebellion and massacre that followed immediately upon the king’s death. (Chapter 6:8, 7:7, 8:4; et al.) Here there is no more symbolical action, but lengthy discourses of denunciation and pronouncement of impending doom, interspersed with appealing offers of forgiveness and numerous prophecies concerning the Messianic Kingdom of Christ.
No doubt has ever been cast upon the authority of Hosea’s prophecy, and on account of its singular originality even liberal critics are agreed that it cannot be questioned. (3) Moreover, numerous passages are quoted and applied in the New Testament Scriptures. (Romans 9:25-26; 1 Peter 2:10; Matthew 2:15; 9:13: 12:7; Luke 23:30; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Revelation 6:16.)
(1) Popular & Crit. Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. I, Page 199.
(2) Dr. L. Fuerbringer: Classroom Lectures, O. T. Isagogics
(3) Dr. L. Fuerbringer: Introduction to the Old Testament, page 90
II. Peculiar Style and Language
Hosea’s style and language make his prophecy unusually difficult to read and understand, except after much searching and study. He not only employsthe peculiar symbolical action, but also uses a multiplicity of images and metaphors, woven and entwined one upon the other. He describes apostate Israel, for instance, as a “hot oven”; as a “cake not turned”, that is, baked only on one side, (chapter 7); as a “wild ass alone by himself” (chapter 8); and with many other similar figures. Besides this, Hosea employs an array of historical and geographical names which puzzle the reader at first, but, when understood, have a deep significance. (1) In Chapter 5, he refers to Mizpah, an ancient fortification on Mount Tabor, to call to mind by contrast the strength and security which Israel once possessed. Ephraim is his pet mane for Israel. He uses this name partly because Ephraim was the chief tribe of Israel and partly because its first king, Jeroboam, came from the tribe of Ephraim. Judah, he calls Benjamin, though Benjamin was the smallest tribe of the Southern Kingdom. Announcing also Judah’s doom in verse 8, he says: “Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah, and the trumpet in Ramah: cry aloud at Bethaven, after thee, O Benjamin.” The very mention of Gibeah was a threat of destruction and slaughter to the Jews, for there, according to Judges 19 and 20, as a consequence of rape and licentiousness, a savage battle had ensued which almost exterminated the entire tribe of Benjamin. The mention of Ramah is a similar threat, as well as a prophecy; for this village near Jerusalem was a rendezvous of the Jews as they were led away as captives to Babylon. In Chapter 9, the city of Memphis is substituted for the Egyptian people. Tyrus or Tyre is mentioned to remind Israel and Judah of their rich blessings in former years, as it was through Hiram of Tyre that most of the costly and precious materials had been obtained for the building of the temple. With the mere mention of the words Gilgal and Baalpeor, the prophet once more calls to mind the shameful wickedness by which his people were calling down the wrath of God upon them. For Gilgal had long been a focal point of Idolatrous worship, and Baalpeor was the feminine expression of the idol, mentioned before under the name of Ashtoreth, which was worshiped with all manner of lust and obscenity. In Chapter 10, Shalman is Hosea’s abbreviated form of the Assyrian King Shalmanezer Bethal, at one time a most sacred place, is shown to have deteriorated into a Bethaven, which means “the house of nothingness, or idolatry.” In the 11th chapter, the Lord, speaking through the prophet, intimates that Israel will have the same experience as Admah and Zeboim, which were communities destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah.
Thus Hosea has and uses a vocabulary almost all his own. His grammatical constructions are correspondingly difficult, being very abrupt and idiomatic. Hundreds of connectives such as transitional, causal, adversitive, and other particles, which have been inserted into the translations, have been omitted entirely from the original Hebrew.
(1) Popular & Crit. Bible Encyclopedia Volumes I, II, and III
As we consider Hosea’s peculiar style, or mode of presentation, we are confronted with a special difficulty by the symbolical action of the Prophet recorded in Chapters 1 to 3. In Chapter 1:2-9, we read: “And the Lord said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms; for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord. So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; which conceived, and bare him a son. And the Lord said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel. And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel. And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Lo-ruhamah; for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away. But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by the bow, not by the sword, not by battle, by horses, not by horsemen. Now then she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived, and bare a son. Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi; for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.”
In Chapter 2 this symbolical action is applied to Israel. And in Chapter 3 we read again: “Thus said the Lord unto me, Go yet, love a women beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the Lord toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods., and love flagons of wine. So I brought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley: And I said unto her, Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man; so will I also be for thee. For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim: Afterwards shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their King; and shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.”
The final significance of this section needs no special consideration. The words: “For the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord,” makes it clear that the figure represents the unfaithfulness of Israel to her first-love, Jehovah. The proper names used here also present no particular difficulty. The name Gomer seems to have been derived from the verb gamar, meaning to complete, and may then connote the completeness with which the woman, as well as Israel, had devoted herself to lust. The significance of her name is accentuated by the name of her mother, Diblaim, a dual form meaning double grapecakes, which suggests drunkenness as an auxiliary to her lust. Her children are called “Jezreel,” meaning “God scatters;” “Lo-ruhamah.” meaning”not having obtained mercy;” and “Lo-ammi,” meaning “not my people.” The purpose of these names is evident from what is said in the text itself.
The crux of this passage is to determine whether the actions described were actually carried out in reality, or only in some figurative manner. Most commentators believe this action of the prophet to have been done only internally or in a vision. (1) The chief reasons for this view are that it is thought the force of the symbolical action would have been lost if the action had been real and therefore necessarily extended over a long period of time; and, secondly, that in Leviticus 21:7 & 14, the priests were forbidden to marry widows, divorcees, and adulteresses. As to the first reason stated, we may reply that it is to be debated whether or not the force of an action is retarded when extended over any length of time. It seems we may rather expect a more definite result from an action that is protracted. As to the regulation of Leviticus 21 concerning priests, we must bear in mind that Hosea was not a priest, but a prophet; and no specific restriction of such a nature was imposed upon the prophets. In striving to stay clear of an actual allegorical interpretation, Luther suggests that Gomer was Hosea’s lawful wife, but that he staged a sort of drama, calling his wife a whore and her children the children of whoredom, in order to show Israel what her sin really was in the sight of God. This explanation seems more plausible than the first; yet, it, too departs from the literal sense of the text, and is not acceptable. As Dr. Fuerbringer remarks concerning Luther’s interpretation: “Amicus Plato, amicus Socrates, sed malo amicus esse veritatis.” (Plato is my friend, and Socrates is my friend, but I prefer to be a friend of the truth.) (2)
Accepted principles of hermeneutics allow only five different reasons for departing from the literal sense of the text: namely, the general usage of a word or term (usus loquendi generalis), a special use (usus specialis), the demands made by context, the preclusion that the author would not contradict himself, and; and last, because of an article of faith (analogia fidei). (3) In the passage before us, the first two reasons do not apply, for the word zenunim according to Gesenius’ and other lexicons has no special usages, but always means “whoredom.” A similar Hebrew word zenuthim also means “whoredom,” but is always used in a metaphorical sense. In agreement with the entire context, the prophet chooses the former word in preference and in contrast to the metaphorical expression. There is, moreover, no self-contradiction by the author, so we are left with only the last possibility of departing from literal sense on account of an article of faith. We note here again that Hosea was not a priest and therefore not subject to Leviticus 21. Furthermore, he was not commanded to commit adultery, but only to “take unto thee a wife.” Even if God had commanded him to commit adultery in this instance, Hosea would not have sinned by obeying. It would then have been a case similar to Abraham’s when he was ordered to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and proceeded to Mt. Moriah with the full intention of killing his son at God’s command. For what God ordains is always good.
Hence, we are compelled to abide by the conviction that Hosea actually and literally carried out what God had commanded, in order to portray backsliding Israel the loathsomeness of her sins as well as the longsuffering lovingkindness of her Bridegroom and Lord.
(1) Kretzmann: Popular Commentary of the Bible, Volume II, O.T.
(2) Dr. L Fuerbringer: Classroom Lectures, O. T. Isagogics
(3) Theological Hermeneutics, Par. 24
While it is not our intention in this essay to treat with any completeness the Messianic prophecies of Hosea, we shall nevertheless call attention to some of the most outstanding, knowing that it was also of the minor prophecies that our Savior enjoined: “Search the Scriptures; — for they testify of Me.” (John 5:39)
Beginning already in chapter 1:10, Hosea paints a picture of the New Testament Church. He recalls the promise once made to Abraham, that the true Israel, namely, all believers in Christ (Romans 9 and 10) would be “as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measures nor numbered.” In verse 11 and chapter 2, verse 1, he shows that one Head, namely Christ, will rule over the spiritual Israel: and then this yet unincarnated Messiah turns, as it were, to the prophet himself, and comfortingly tells him, as if to encourage him in his apparently fruitless ministry: “Say unto your brethren, Ammi (you are my people); and to your sisters, Ruhamah (you have obtained mercy). And this the Apostle Paul repeats to his people of Rome, as he says in Romans 9:24-25: “Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.” Peter also reiterates in his First Epistle, chapter 2:10, “Which in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God; which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
The Lord Himself continues to speak His comforting Gospel to Israel in verses 19 and 20, saying, “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness, and thou shalt know the Lord.” Of these five expressions, Luther says: “Righteousness, judgment, lovingkindness, mercies, and faithfulness; three are the five jewels in the Church’s ring of betrothal.” (1) In chapter 3:5, we find another Messianic prophecy, which directly refers to Christ as the King of His Church. “Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.” At the time of this prophecy King David of Israel had been dead for many years; and that Christ is meant by David is also confirmed by the added expression: “In the latter days.” Chapter 11:1, contains the well-known prophecy of our Savior’s flight to Egypt. We note also the prophecy in chapter 13:14: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death; O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction.” It was on this verse from Hosea, and its parallel in 1 Corinthians 15, that Luther, as well as the original Latin author, based his hymn: “Christ ist crstanden,” “Christ is arisen.” Significant also of Hosea’s importance to the church of the New Testament is the classic passage in chapter 13:9 which refutes the Calvinistic error of a double predestination: “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.”
Hosea is indeed a prophet of the Law, a preacher of God’s fierce anger and retribution for sin. But in the background of his preaching there is always the mercy and love of God, the incomparable love of a dear father for his prodigal son; an example of priceless worth also for us ministers of the Law, but primarily of the Gospel, in this Twentieth Century. As we bring our discussion to a close, we hear this impassioned singer of God’s grace still plead with his people in the last chapter: “O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God: for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously; so will we render the calves of our lips.”
The Hebrew Old Testament
The English Bible, Thompson Chain Reference
Concordia Home and Teachers’ Bible
The Hirschberger Bible
Gesenius: Hebrew Lexicon
The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopedia
Dr. L. Fuerbringer: Classroom Lectures, O.T. Isagogics
Dr. L. Fuerbringer: Introduction to the Old Testament
Dr. P. E. Kretzmann: Popular Commentary of the Bible
Jamiesen, Fausset, & Brown: Commentary
Theological Hermeneutics (CHP)