Date of Prophet’s Activity: 750-725 BC
Audience: Northern Israel
The book of Hosea was likely written in Judah after the fall of the northern capital, Samaria (722-721 BC). It is unknown if it was Hosea himself who authored the book. The text has a thematic unity to it given its repeated pattern of disaster and salvation dispersed throughout (i). Structurally, the book can be divided into two units that reflect this thematic unity: Hosea’s marriage parable (chapters 1-3) and uncontextualized statements (chapters 4-11). Perhaps most well-known from the book is its usage of a marriage parable. This parable presents Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, a prostitute, which functions as a parable of Yahweh’s relationship to Israel.
Hosea (whose name means either “salvation,” “He saves,” or “He helps”) was the son of Beeri and a prophet to the north. Unlike most of the other prophets he was also a native of the north (1:1). He was active just after the prophet Amos and probably from the years 750 to 725 BC (ii). Previously Amos had warned of God’s judgment on Israel by an unnamed enemy, and Hosea identifies that enemy as Assyria (7:11; 8:9; 10:6; 11:11). In the first chapter of the book, Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is shown,
“When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son” (1:2, NIV).
According to the author, Amos and the unfaithful Gomer had three children. The first child’s name was Jezreel (in Hebrew Yizreel), and he was the son of Hosea. When the text says “the blood of Jezreel” it referred to Jehu’s bloody slaughter of the house of Ahab, and for which the monarchy would be punished. The second child’s name was Lo-ruhamah, and he was not the son of Hosea. His name means, “without mercy,” and some have made a connection between Yahweh and the womb, indicating Yahweh as the merciful God of the Covenant and as the God who loves Israel with a parental love. The third child’s name was Lo-ammi, and he was also not the son of Hosea. His name means, “not my people,” which has a strong connection to God’s covenant with Israel as his people. Significant is that Hosea was the first prophet to use his marriage and children to make theo-political prophetic points, although the prophet Isaiah would also do the same during his ministry shortly after Hosea.
The marriage metaphor of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel was representative of the covenant Yahweh and Israel had entered into with each other during the wilderness. The focus was on the relationship between a man and a woman as a way to mirror Yahweh’s relationship with Israel, and just as Hosea paid a purchase price for an unclean wife, so Yahweh purchased an unclean people with a price, to clean them and make them his own. Both Hosea and Yahweh’s expectation or standard is that after the purchase, the wife/people would be pure. However, the marriage analogy warned that the people had turned away from Yahweh, the one true God, and worshiped other false gods such as those of the Canaanites (13:1-3). The author also referenced other sins the people had committed of which too made them ripe for judgement unless they turned in repentance (9:3). God’s anger at the unfaithfulness of his people is expressed in graphic detail by the prophet,
“…rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts. Otherwise I will strip her naked and make her as bare as on the day she was born; I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst. I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery” (2:2-5, NIV).
This metaphor was originally applied to the Northern Kingdom of Hosea’s day, however, some have suggested that the description of the relationship was reapplied by a later writer to the Southern Kingdom too (iii). If so, the message was applied to the Southern Kingdom of Judah after the fall of the Northern Kingdom as both a lesson and a warning to them. This is visible in the text speaking to Judah which symbolized the abstinence of physical intimacy between husband and wife and the abstinence of spiritual intimacy between Yahweh and Judah with the loss of king and temple in Babylonian exile.
Strong throughout the prophet’s teachings and prophecies was God’s love for his people despite their sinfulness. God’s anger and pain over his peoples’ betrayal of the Covenant (Exodus 33:19) through following pagan gods is clearly evident. However, as the marriage metaphor suggests, just as Gomer had been unfaithful to Hosea by sleeping with another man, Hosea still loved and forgave her despite this. In the same way God would still love and forgive his people despite their sins and unfaithfulness. Chapter 14 therefore ends on a more hopeful note concerning Israel’s restoration after repentance,
“Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord… “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow.”
i. Old Testament Prophets Module (Cornerstone Institute, 2018)
ii. The International Bible Society. Hosea. Available.
iii. Old Testament Prophets Module (Cornerstone Institute, 2018)
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