Commentary on Hosea

Hosea 1:1

Superscription (1:1)

The Lord gave this message to Hosea son of Beeri during the years when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah, and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.

Notes

1:1

The Lord gave this message.—In a manner similar to that of several of the OT prophets, Hosea opened his prophecy with a declaration of the divine source of the words that will follow.

kings of Judah... king of Israel.—Hosea indicated that his prophetic service was during the time of the kings whose reigns spanned the greater part of the eighth century bc (see Introduction). The failure to mention any of Jeroboam II’s successors may indicate something of the conflicting claims for legitimacy of rule in the turbulent closing years of the northern kingdom.

Commentary

Hosea made it clear at the onset of his prophecy that what he had to say and record was not of human origin. The opening narrative and succeeding oracles that make up the prophetic collection and lead to the closing piece of prophetic wisdom were not born of mere human experience and observation but came from God. All that Hosea experienced and the messages he received were the Lord’s appointment for him and communication through him (cf. 2 Pet 1:20-21).

Hosea’s opening words remind all believers that God is a God of revelation; his person and work are made known in the Scriptures (cf. 2 Tim 3:16). There believers may find strength and direction for life in its divinely inspired words (Ps 119:105; Prov 1:1-7). Accordingly, believers should turn to the Bible and follow its precepts so as to find direction and the true joy of living (Ps 119:111).

Hosea 1:2-9

  1. A Prophetic Portrayal of Unfaithful Israel (1:2-3:5)
    1. Israel’s Rejection—Symbolized by Hosea’s Marriage (1:2-9)

2When the Lord first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.”

3So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she became pregnant and gave Hosea a son. 4And the Lord said, “Name the child Jezreel, for I am about to punish King Jehu’s dynasty to avenge the murders he committed at Jezreel. In fact, I will bring an end to Israel’s independence. 5I will break its military power in the Jezreel Valley.”

6Soon Gomer became pregnant again and gave birth to a daughter. And the Lord said to Hosea, “Name your daughter Lo-ruhamah—‘Not loved’—for I will no longer show love to the people of Israel or forgive them. 7But I will show love to the people of Judah. I will free them from their enemies—not with weapons and armies or horses and charioteers, but by my power as the Lord their God.”

8After Gomer had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she again became pregnant and gave birth to a second son. 9And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi—‘Not my people’—for Israel is not my people, and I am not their God.

Notes

1:2

Go and marry a prostitute.—Lit., “a wife of harlotry.” Several positions are held as to whether God actually told his prophet to marry an unholy woman: (1) The marriage was merely hypothetical, the account itself being a literary parable or allegory (Calvin). (2) The account is a dream or vision (Ibn Ezra, Maimonides). (3) The whole narrative is simply a stage play (Kaufman). (4) Hosea married a woman with promiscuous tendencies who later committed adultery (Hubbard, Wood), perhaps as a cult prostitute (Andersen and Freedman, Craigie, Mays). (5) Hosea’s wife was only guilty of spiritual adultery (i.e., of idol worship—Stuart). (6) Hosea married an already adulterous woman (Garrett, McComiskey). Although the nlt text most naturally supports the last view, the accompanying textual note leaves open the possibility that Hosea is to marry a woman with promiscuous tendencies. In keeping with the full context, this appears to be the better choice. Such an understanding provides a clear parallel with God’s own relation to his covenant people as demonstrated throughout Hosea’s prophecies (cf. Jer 2:24-35). This position preserves both the integrity of God’s character and the standards of his word, while allowing Hosea’s life situation to serve as a visible spiritual lesson for the people to whom he was called to minister.

Several other variations have also been proposed; see Garrett 1997:43-50 and Laetsch 1956:21. Complicating the matter is the problem of whether ch 3 speaks of relations between Hosea and Gomer (whether supplying new details or being a duplicate account of ch 1) or of Hosea’s dealings with a different woman (cf. Stuart 1987:64-65).

has acted like a prostitute by... worshiping other gods.—God’s primary charge against apostate Israel was its failure to worship him alone (cf. Exod 20:3-5; Deut 5:7-9; 6:4, 14-15; Matt 4:10). This theme surfaces repeatedly among the various oracles and undergirds God’s final rhetorical question (represented as an exclamation in the nlt) to his wayward people in 14:8.

1:4

Name the child Jezreel.—Jezreel means “may God sow/scatter.” While the meaning inherent in the name will be brought up later, here it calls attention to that place where “Jehu was swept to power over all Israel on a mighty tide of bloodshed” (Hubbard 1989:61).

avenge the murders he committed at Jezreel.—Details of Jehu’s bloody deeds at Jezreel are found in 2 Kgs 9:17-37; 10:7-8. It was a bloodbath that carried over into Samaria (2 Kgs 10:17-27).

bring an end to Israel’s independence.—The nlt rendering combines the wording of vv. 4 and 5 in the MT. The end of the northern kingdom was to come nearly 100 years after the death of Jehu in 814 bc. His dynasty, however, came to an end in 752 bc, some 30 years before the fall of Samaria. The punishment of Jehu’s dynasty and the end of the northern kingdom are thus telescoped into a single prediction. Such telescoped prophecies are attested elsewhere in the Scriptures (e.g., Isa 61:1-3; cf. Luke 4:16-21).

1:6

Lo-ruhamah.—The Hebrew root underlying the name of the second child is located in the noun rekhem [TH, ZH8167] (womb), from which come the denominative verb rakham [TH, ZH8163] (have compassion/pity) and the related nominal derivatives, which carry the thought of compassion or mercy. A deep emotional concept is thus associated with the second child’s name (cf. NIDOTTE 3.1096-1097).

or forgive them.—Scholars are divided as to the meaning of the MT. As Garrett (1997:60) observes, “The most obvious meaning of the line is, ‘But I will certainly forgive them.’” This rendering makes a stark contrast between the final phrase and the previous part of the verse, which speaks of God’s lack of compassion for Israel. The interpretation of this phrase will also affect one’s treatment of v. 7. Garrett decides on a positive reading of both, suggesting that God intends the reader to hold both Israel’s judgment and its hope of forgiveness in dynamic paradoxical tension. In contrast, Andersen and Freedman (1980:188-194) take a negative approach, holding that the earlier negative of v. 6 (“I will no longer,” nlt) controls all that follows, so that both Israel and Judah may expect God’s judgment, not his deliverance. Steering a middle course between these two positions, most commentators (e.g., Keil, Laetsch, McComiskey, Stuart, Wood) and translations (e.g., lxx, Vulgate, and all the standard English versions) opt in some fashion for Israel’s condemnation and God’s assurance of continued support for Judah.

Although some scholars (e.g., G. A. Smith, Wolff) have argued that v. 7 is a later interpolation, this conjecture is without textual support. Even Emmerson (1984:88-95), who finds several Judean passages in Hosea to be intrusive secondary redactions, hesitates to exclude 1:7 from the primary Hosean corpus. For a critique of Emmerson’s work, see my remarks in Hebrew Studies 29:112-114.

1:9

Lo-ammi.—Some have suggested that neither the second nor the third child born to Gomer after her marriage to Hosea was Hosea’s. Nothing in the text makes this certain, however. “Not my people” would remind Israel of the sanctions inherent in the Sinaitic covenant (Exod 6:7; Lev 26:12; Deut 27:9).

As indicated in the outline (see Introduction) Hosea’s relationship with Gomer bookends the first section of the book, Hosea’s marriage to Gomer (1:2-9) being balanced by God’s instructions to take back his estranged wife (3:1-5). Woven into the chiastic structure of the first three chapters is an orderly presentation of narrative features. Each chapter is dominated by God’s command, after which further comment or narrative details occur. In chapters 1 and 3 the prophet’s compliance follows God’s command.

Commentary

God instructed Hosea to take a wife whose promiscuity would not only cause him heartaches but also bring a separation between them (1:2-3). Having done what God asked him to do (1:4), the subsequent events of the narrative provide divine comment upon Hosea’s tenuous situation with Gomer (1:5-9). The names of the three children born to Gomer reflect the fragile nature of their marriage due to her promiscuity.

It is evident that Hosea’s relationship with Gomer and the names of the three children are symbolic. Thus, Gomer depicts God’s relation to the nation, often represented metaphorically as his wife (e.g., Isa 54; Jer 2:2-3; 3:1-9). Just as Gomer was to prove unfaithful, so Israel had worshiped other gods and done horrendous deeds. Likewise, the details relative to the three children carry a prophetic significance, much as Isaiah and his family did (Isa 8:18). The names of the three children represent the people of Israel and warn of God’s judgment upon the nation and its citizenry.

God stated through the name Jezreel that he would bring to justice the standing crimes of Jehu and his dynasty. Not only would Israel’s fourth dynasty be brought to an end but the irreversible tide of sin set in motion by Jehu’s bloody deeds would eventuate in the demise of the northern kingdom. Critics have often accused God of inconsistency in first commanding Jehu to extirpate the dynasty of Ahab and then, as here, condemning him for it. Such criticism, however, deals amiss with the facts. For while Jehu did fulfill his divine commission, he exceeded it by exterminating even his remotest rivals. Further, his halfhearted devotion to God and his law became evident in his embracing the apostate state religion instituted by Jeroboam I (2 Kgs 10:31). His manipulation of events to suit his own selfish ends is illustrated in the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III of Assyria, where his submission, accompanied by heavy tribute to the Assyrian king, is recorded.

Nor were his successors any better. Jehu and his dynasty were thus duly condemned. When people use the name of God as a pretext for their own desires and plans, like Jehu and his dynastic successors, they stand in danger of divine punishment. H. Hailey (1971:137) observes, “One may do the command of the Lord and yet be in rebellion against Him, doing the thing commanded because it is what the individual desires and not because it is what God desires.”

The names of the second and third children are also instructive. God’s tender compassion for his nation and people would be exchanged for “no pity/no mercy.” The time of divine judgment was fast approaching. The nation and people that he had taken into covenant with himself had violated the conditions of the covenant by disobedience and would suffer the consequences. No longer “my people,” they would suffer many disasters, including defeat and deportation at the hands of their enemies (Deut 28:25-29; cf. 2 Kgs 17:1-23). As Sweeney (2000:21-22) comments, the name of the third child is a virtual reversal of God’s statement at the founding of the nation (cf. Exod 6:6-7; Lev 26:12) and signals “the disruption of the relationship between YHWH and Israel.”

Oh, that Israel would follow the example of Judah, which (though it would later come in for its share of criticism) was the repository of God’s covenantal future blessings (1:6-7)! As heirs of the promises in the Abrahamic, Sinaitic, and Davidic covenants, Judah could look forward to that era when God’s new covenant would be realized in David’s heir (Ezek 34:20-31; 36:21-28). In Judah was centered the promise that they would be God’s people (Jer 31:33). In that day they would know God and obediently live out God’s precepts as written in their hearts (Jer 31:34).

This passage is instructive for the Christian believer. Most significantly it lays stress on the crucial importance of obedience and faithfulness. Hosea was obedient to God in taking a wife that he would not have chosen for himself. His nation and people, however, were not obedient, for they had fallen into a dead orthodoxy mixed with the worship of Baal; these evils had infected Israel’s total life situation. In this they had failed to keep covenant with God (Exod 19:5) and his commandments (Deut 27:10; Jer 32:23); hence, they became liable to the penalties for disobedience (Deut 11:27-28; 28:15-28).

The situation of ancient Israel must not be that of today’s believer. Indeed, by the very act of believing, believers have come to enjoy right standing before God. Such has been accomplished through the obedience of Christ who, though he is God’s son (Heb 3:6), “learned obedience from the things he suffered.... and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him” (Heb 5:8-9; cf. Phil 2:8). As those who “belong to his dear Son” (Eph 1:6; 1 Pet 1:2), Christians too must walk in obedience even as he did (1 John 2:6). May we be obedient to God’s claim upon our lives (cf. Acts 26:19ff), serving him not in merely routine, outward service or for our own selfish ends, but out of a pure heart. May we be ever mindful not only of whom we serve (1 Thess 1:9; 2 Tim 1:3), but of Christ’s own example and the price of his provision for us (1 Pet 1:14-15).

Although believers may not be God’s symbols to an entire community as were Hosea and his family, they are nonetheless his witnesses (Acts 1:8) and ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20). Therefore, they are so to live as not to be detriments to the cause of Christ (Matt 16:19; 1 Cor 8:9; 2 Cor 6:3; Phil 1:27). Rather, they should be those whose consistency and faithfulness are attractive to others so that they too might come into the joy of the obedience of Christ (1 Cor 9:19; Phil 4:5; 1 Pet 2:11-17).