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Studies in the Prophets
HOSEA

Hosea

The setting of the book is in the Northern Kingdom
Events cover mid-8th century BCE to the fall of Samaria 722. Jeroboam II 786-746 Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekiah, Pekah and Hoshea 732-724.
Hosea’s total focus is on the Northern Kingdom and he never mentions Jerusalem.
He opposes Canaanite religion and the various dubious practices. His opposition is reminiscent of the book of Deuteronomy.

In the opening chapters metaphors of prostitution and adultery are used to depict Israel’s worship. It seems to be generally agreed that these are the earliest of Hosea’s oracles.

                Structure
                                1-3 Hosea’s marriage and Israel’s unfaithfulness
                                4:1 – 7:16 Sins of the people, priests and leaders
                                8:1 -11:11 False worship
                                11:12-14:9 Past and Future

The writing known as the prophecy of Hosea is a fascinating study.
The date of writing would seem to be around 730BC. Commentators seem divided about how long his ministry lasted. Most are agreed that he would have known the final years of Jeroboam II reign.
Some believe his work lasted around 10 years. Others feel that chapters such as chapter 11 may have come from the time of the Fall of Samaria 722BCE and chapter 14 may be even later.  

Clearly Hosea lived in the Northern Kingdom – those 10 tribes that had separated themselves from Jerusalem and Judah. The state of the monarchy in the north was much more fluid than in Judah.  In Jerusalem kings generally followed in dynastic succession. In the north, based around Samaria dynasties were short lived, Palace coups were rife and the governing principle there seemed to be charismatic.

Kings in the north were Jeroboam II 786-746, Zechariah (6 months) 746-745, Shallum (1 month) 745, Menahem 745-737, Pekiah 737-736, Pekah 736-732 and Hoshea 732-724.
This was a very turbulent period in the history of the northern kingdom.
For example the king Jeroboam II is one of those northern kings who the writer of the book of Kings (the Deuteronomic historian) disapproved of on principle – simply because he was a northern king. Yet clearly he was also successful. This seemed odd to the author of 2Kings so he added a comment to explain why Jeroboam’s life had not been cut short in his wickedness (2K14:26-27).

Some of Hosea’s prophecies come from the time of the Syro-Epraimite crisis (733-732BCE) – when King Ahaz of Jerusalem received reassurances from Isaiah just outside the city walls that all would be well.
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman′uel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

In Hosea we see the same crisis from northern Israelite point of view in contrast to the Judaean king.
(Hosea 5:8-11).

Hosea and Deuteronomy
If one reads the prophecies of Hosea carefully and the compare them with the book of Deuteronomy, there seems to be a similarity of language and the similar viewpoints shared by the two books on topics such as “the covenant” …”Yahweh as the giver of the land” … and the opposition to Canaanite religion.
For a long time there has been a suspicion that the Book of Deuteronomy originated as a book associated with one of the sanctuaries in the northern kingdom and that it was carried south to Jerusalem when the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 721.

There seems to be a link between the two books
Hosea therefore was writing at the time when the kingdom of Assyria was on the rise. The great Tiglath pileser III ascended the Assyrian throne in 745BC and this marked the beginning of the end for Northern Israel.

Religion
Hosea seems to be highly critical of religious practices in Israel. This is what the Bible calls Canaanite religion. The worship of the male god Baal and the female goddess Asherah.  Hosea  picks out sanctuaries for specific attack such as Bethel – (which he nicknames Bethaven – house of iniquity) Gilgal – he criticizes the calf idols (product of the first Jeroboam), sacred pillars, self mutilation in worship, cultic prostitution of both sexes, sacrifice and religious feasts. In Hosea we get a sordid sexual picture.
Interestingly recent archaeological explorations in the northern kingdom seem to indicate that this agricultural religion of Baal was far more common than we first thought. There may even have been a tendency among the ordinary people to conflate the worship of Yahweh with the worship of Baal and to see both gods as part of the same pantheon. Our understanding of Canaanite religion is still developing but we are moving away from the view that the worship of Yahweh was what the good people did and the worship of Baal was the result of a few heretics who were rather enjoying and indulging in carnal desires.

Hosea and prophetic symbolism
In chapters 1-3 there is an account of Hosea’s marriage, the children he fathers and a subsequent relationship.
The command from God in chapter one is “Go take a prostitute and have children by a prostitute “
Gomer, the prostitute, has children by Hosea who carry symbolic names.
Here one may note that the account is written in the third person like a biography.
The first-born, a boy was to be called Jezreel, (God sows – a reminder of Jehu’s violence against the house of Ahab…2Kings 9)
Then there was a daughter called Lo-ruhamah (Not pitied…not shown compassion)
Lastly a son Lo-ammi (not my people) The names symbolize the rolling back of the covenantal promises and judgement about to fall on the nation.
In chapter two the situation just described is applied to the nation of Israel – how they have prostituted themselves and are in great danger of losing the fundamental relationship between themselves and God. Issues of harlotry, nakedness and false lovers are applied to the attitude of the people. Their wantonness, wilfulness and shameless attitude towards God are brought to light by the prophet.
Then in chapter three we hit another problem. Hosea is told again to go and love a woman who is an adulteress. This chapter is written in the first person like an autobiography.  Commentators cannot decide whether this is yet another woman or Gomer again. There has been no indication that Gomer has been unfaithful , yet it seems strange for Hosea to be ordered to play the field and find another prostitute.
Nevertheless it seems unlikely that Hosea was interested in purely giving biographical data

Structure of the book
In simple terms it looks like this
1-3 Hosea’s marriage and Israel’s unfaithfulness
                                4:1 – 7:16 Sins of the people, priests and leaders
                                8:1 -11:11 False worship
                                11:12-14:9 Past and Future

Quite a lot of space in the book is spent describing the exact nature of Israel’s wrongdoing. How the priests are failing the people, how the behaviour of the worshippers at the shrines is disgraceful and how the whole direction of worship is not pleasing to God.
There are passages of judgement, warnings and threats about what God will do by way of punishment.
Then in the midst of all there are three passages which are very different.


Ch6:1-6.
“Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn, that he may heal us;
    he has stricken, and he will bind us up.
2 After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
3 Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going forth is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”
4 What shall I do with you, O E′phraim?
    What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
    like the dew that goes early away.
5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,
    I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
    and my judgment goes forth as the light.
6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.
This passage contains two very important terms for Hosea

  1. The need “to know the Lord”
  2. “To show faithfulness”   (Hebrew hesed…steadfast love)

The in chapter 11 the imagery changers  - no longer does Hosea use the husband/wife imagery instead he takes up the theme of parent/child and Israel is seen as God’s son


Ch 11
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 The more I called them,
    the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Ba′als,
    and burning incense to idols.
3 Yet it was I who taught E′phraim to walk,
    I took them up in my arms;
    but they did not know that I healed them.
4 I led them with cords of compassion,
    with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one
    who eases the yoke on their jaws,
    and I bent down to them and fed them.
See also in verse 8
How can I give you up, O E′phraim!
    How can I hand you over, O Israel!
How can I make you like Admah!
    How can I treat you like Zeboi′im!
My heart recoils within me,
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
The third is


Ch 14
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
    for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
2 Take with you words
    and return to the Lord;

Some commentators have rearranged the book into what they believe is a historical order.  The oracles reflect the political situation of the times. So the earliest preaching might be a call to repentance – then during the war with Syria against Judah (Syro-Epraimite crisis) passages about corrective punishment. When these went unheeded the prophet goes back to messages of doom. Only when the nation was about to fall to the Assyrians did Hosea see that God’s love could never be overcome…(ch11)
The calls to repent in chapter 14 could come after the fall of Israel in 722BC

That really is a logical progression of ideas – but of course it does not follow the order of the oracles in the book itself.
I think it is generally agreed that after the fall of Samaria and removal of the people to Assyria the book was probably smuggled south to Jerusalem and it is possible that editing and rearranging of the sayings happened as well as one or two stark warnings that applied to the kingdom of Judah were added.

 

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