I. A Broken Marriage (1:1-3:5)

Outline

  1. The Prophet’s Family (1:1-2:1)
    1. Introduction (1:1)
    2. Gomer (1:2-3)
    3. Jezreel: Blessing Reversed (1:4-5)
    4. Lo-Ruchama: Compassion Withdrawn (1:6-7)
    5. Lo-Ammi: Estrangement Complete (1:8-9)
    6. Restoration (1:10-2:1)
  2. The Lord and Israel (2:2-23)
    1. Israel’s Disgraceful Behaviour (2:2-13)
    2. Love’s Initiative (2:14-23)
  3. Reclaiming Love (3:1-5)
    1. The Restoration of Hosea’s Wife (3:1-3)
    2. The Restoration of Israel (3:4-5)

Hosea’s account of his prophetic ministry begins with his marriage. The prophet relates how God commanded him to marry a woman of doubtful character (1:2), and how children were born and given symbolic names (1:3-8). Later he reveals that their family life broke down because of his wife’s unfaithfulness (3:1), but even then, in accordance with divine instructions, he reclaimed his wife and took steps to restore their relationship (3:2-3). Beyond that skeletal outline Hosea is reticent about what must have been a painful and turbulent experience. Such silence has opened the door for much speculation— which has inevitably proved inconclusive. However, there is no doubt that both at the level of God’s intention in arranging the marriage and at the level of Hosea’s rationale for beginning his prophetic memoirs in this way, his marriage to Gomer served a useful purpose: it engaged the attention of his contemporaries, and of succeeding generations as well.

Still, though our interest is naturally stimulated by the prophet’s unusual marital circumstances, we ought not to be diverted from the substance of his message. Moreover, Hosea goes out of his way to direct the reader’s focus away from himself. That seems to be why the early chapters of the book provide such scant personal information. Indeed, after the first few verses Hosea does not again mention either himself or Gomer by name. For it is not the messenger or his family history which are of primary importance. Hosea’s relationship with Gomer was designed to reflect that between the Lord and his people, Israel. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the prophet gives just enough details of his own domestic tragedy to illumine the main story, but not to replace it. What is of paramount significance is the Lord’s evaluation of the bond between himself and his people. They had sinned gravely and persistently, and consequently dire judgement was looming over the nation. In the ultimate analysis the marriage which has broken down is not that between Hosea and Gomer, but that between the Lord and Israel. However, despite all that had gone wrong, the prophet’s vision is repeatedly brought back to the restoration which will be achieved because of the committed love of the Lord who will not let his people go. His resolve establishes and proclaims the final verdict on their destiny, which is sovereignly and irrevocably determined by his grace and compassion.

Hosea gives literary expression to the centrality of the Lord’s relationship with Israel in the way he arranges the material in this division of the book. Chapters 1-3 have a simple three-part chiastic (cross-over or envelope) structure in which the two outer sections, A (1:1-2:1) and C (3:1-5), provide a mixture of information about Hosea’s personal circumstances and the message the Lord wished to convey through them. However, in the central section, B (2:2-23), the details of Hosea’s marriage fade almost completely into the background, and the dominant theme is the relationship between the Lord and his covenant people. Furthermore, each of these three sections possesses a similar internal arrangement. Three times there is a movement from the sinful behaviour of the people and the judgement that is going to come on them (1:2-9; 2:2-13; 3:1) to the divine initiative of love which, despite Israel’s spiritual wandering, will effect their restoration (1:10-2:1; 2:14-23; 3:2-5). So it is clear that the overriding purpose of this division of the book is not to acquaint us with particulars of Hosea’s life, but to bring out the way in which the Lord was prepared to redeem his people despite their rebellion.

As regards the date of composition of these chapters, it is evident that what is recorded here was put into its present form some time after the events which are described actually took place. ‘Beginning’ (1:2) indicates that subsequent communications from the Lord to Hosea were known about when that verse was written. It is not possible to give a definitive answer to the question of who was responsible for bringing Hosea’s memoirs into their present form. Trends in modem scholarship favour redactors or groups of redactors at various dates. There is, however, nothing in the text to rule out the simpler hypothesis that it was the prophet himself who set out the record of his life and ministry in the form in which we now have it.

The messages of chapters 1-3 reflect a period of national prosperity in the northern kingdom of Israel, which fits in well with what we know about the closing years of Jeroboam’s reign. Since the events recorded here require at least five years, but more probably as long as ten years, the record would cover what occurred between the mid 750s and mid 740s b.c., that is, between the closing years of Jeroboam’s reign and the resurgence of Assyria under Tiglath-Pileser (see Introduction, pg. 15).

A. The Prophet's Family (1:1-2:1)

After an initial heading (1:1), we are introduced to Hosea’s wife and children. Their family history embodies the message of the entire book, and indeed of the history of the northern kingdom of Israel. By designating a wife of questionable character for Hosea, the Lord used the prophet to give a vivid illustration of the unfaithfulness of the people to himself (1:2). The names of the prophet’s three children presage the judgement which is inevitably coming upon the land (1:4-9). Yet, when all seems headed for an irretrievable disaster, a message of hope and salvation suddenly intrudes into the ominous scene (1:10-2:1). This change does not originate in any recovery which Hosea and his family manage to bring about, or in what the nation contrives to achieve. The dominant lesson of this section is that of the controlling purpose of the Lord, who will sovereignly reclaim and restore his people. The great reversal is the product of restoring grace.

There is no reason to doubt that the third person account of this section goes back to the prophet himself. In its present form it comes from a period subsequent to the events described (cf. 1:2), but it is probable that Hosea himself kept records of his ministry from its early days. For a discussion of the historical nature of the account, see Introduction pg.36, and the decision to set out certain verses in this section as poetry is argued for in Introduction, pg. 26.

(1) Introduction (1:1)

1:1 The word of the Lord which came to Hosea, son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz ⌞and⌟ Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam, son of Joash, king of Israel.

This verse brings to the attention of the reader factors which are of importance for understanding the book correctly: the document which follows is the record of a prophetic ministry, and its significance requires that it be interpreted against the background of the prophet’s own times.

Hosea differs from Isaiah (Isa. 1:1), Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:1) or even his contemporary Amos (Amos 1:1), by not mentioning an initial visionary experience. He simply speaks of the word of the Lord (cf. Jer. 1:2; Mic. 1:1), which refers to the content of what he, as a spokesman for the Lord, had been commissioned to proclaim. Though Hosea delivered various messages over a number of years, his ministry was integrally related and constituted one co-ordinated declaration from the Lord. The word came refers to that which originated outwith Hosea himself and was divinely disclosed to the prophet’s inner consciousness. So what follows is not human analysis or social commentary emanating from an individual pondering the destiny of his nation; rather this is the declaration of a prophet whose message has been directly revealed to him by God.

The prophet’s own name, Hosea, is a shortened form of Hoshaiah (cf. Neh. 12:32; Jer. 42:1; 43:2), which means ‘the Lord has saved’ or ‘Lord, save!’ Its significance is therefore close to that of the name Joshua (‘the Lord has saved’), and indeed Hoshea had been Joshua’s name until Moses changed it (Num. 13:16). Son of Beeri (literally ‘my spring’ or ‘my well’) indicates his descent, but neither the identity of his father nor the interpretation of his name are of relevance for understanding the book. Beeri is attested as a name in Genesis 26:34, and also in extra-Biblical sources. The patronymic serves to distinguish the prophet from others with the same name, particularly Hoshea the last king of Israel (2 Kgs. 15:30; see Introduction, pg. 18). We are not told anything of the prophet’s background, but he was evidently a northerner himself (see Introduction, pg. 19).

In the days of is equivalent to ‘during the reign of’, and the names of the kings indicate the historical context of Hosea’s ministry, stretching from before Jeroboam’s death in 753 b.c.. until after Hezekiah’s accession in 729 b.c.. The list begins by recording four kings of Judah (for further details regarding them, see Introduction, pg. 13). This sequence corresponds to that found in Isaiah 1:1, though the latter prophet was called at the end of Uzziah’s reign around 739 b.c.. (Isa. 6:1) and outlived Hosea by many years. Furthermore, the kings of Judah are mentioned first, a feature which may reflect a measure of approbation extended by Hosea to the southern monarchs, and his expectation that salvation would come through the house of David (cf. 3:5). Also Jeroboam is the only Israelite king named, and this may be a way of expressing doubts as to the legitimacy of his successors (cf. 8:4), though that would scarcely apply to Zechariah, Jeroboam’s son and heir. More probably the others are passed over as non-entities who scarcely merited the title of king, especially since so many of them assassinated their predecessor to gain the throne. For further information regarding Hosea’s views of kingship, see on 1:11; 3:5; and 7:3-7, and for his interest in Judah, see on 1:7.

Critical scholars have argued that this introductory verse was added later by the scribes who preserved Hosea’s oracles after the overthrow of the northern kingdom. As their intended audience was in the south, the scribes added information which was of relevance to them. While this might account for the kings of Judah being listed first, it is still probable that the arrangement derives from Hosea himself. His knowledge of the history of the covenant people and his commitment to the faith revealed through Moses is consonant with an acceptance of the southern line of kings as the true successors of David and as those through whom the Lord would realise the commitments he had made in the Davidic covenant. This outlook is reinforced by the fact that the final kings of Israel are passed over in silence (cf. Harrison 1969:860).

Jeroboam, however, could not be disregarded. He is here designated son of Joash (also known as Jehoash, cf. American editions of NIV, NLT), to distinguish him from Jeroboam I, the first king of the breakaway northern kingdom, who was ‘son of Nebat’ (1 Kgs. 12:2). Jeroboam II was a significant figure in the history of the north, and under him Israel was a considerable local power. Territory was regained (2 Kgs. 14:25) and the land enjoyed security and economic prosperity. But it was affluence accompanied by religious apostasy, and that scenario provides the background for the initial period of Hosea’s ministry during the closing years of Jeroboam’s reign. After his death the land lurched into internal chaos in a series of short reigns during which no monarch of any great significance arose, certainly none who could effectively combat the dangers facing the land. Throughout these troubled times for the northern kingdom Hosea’s ministry provided the Lord’s commentary and his call for repentance as the way to avert further disaster.

Reflection

(2) Gomer (1:2-3)

Prior to Hosea’s ministry there had been no extended exploration of marriage as a metaphor for the Lord’s relationship with Israel, and so there had been no explicit identification of him as the husband of his people. However, indications were given that it was an appropriate analogy, so that Hosea’s presentation is not wholly innovative. For instance, an expression such as ‘commit whoredom after their gods’ (Exod. 34:15) in connection with the spiritual unfaithfulness of the people derives its force from the acceptance of an underlying resemblance between the covenant bond and marriage. The Scriptural norm for marriage is presented in Genesis 2:23-24 as a union which takes priority over other human relationships, even those that exist naturally and have their own proper basis (‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother’), and which entails an exclusive, permanent commitment (‘the man shall... hold fast to his wife’). Breaches of this bond were not tolerated (‘You shall not commit adultery’, Exod. 20:14). Similarly the Lord wished to forge a union with his people in which they would treat all other allegiances as secondary to the one which they had with him. So he required them to renounce every spiritual connection which was inconsistent with his primary, unique, perpetual rights over them. Just as the metaphor of covenant reflected the international treaties of the ancient world and demanded Israel’s undivided allegiance to the Lord as their sovereign King, so the metaphor of marriage added a dimension of intimacy to the description of the covenant bond, emphasising that the Lord was jealous of his relationship with his people and not prepared to share their devotion with a third party (Deut. 32:21). The union between God and Israel created by this bond intensified the sense of betrayal involved in their infidelity; it was not simply breach of a contract, but treachery which caused personal hurt.

1:2 The beginning of ⌞what⌟ the Lord spoke through Hosea.

And the Lord said to Hosea,

'Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredoms

and children of whoredoms,

for the land is committing great whoredom

⌞departing⌟ from the Lord.'

Instead of being treated as an introductory temporal clause (‘When the Lord first spoke... ’, ESV), the beginning of what the LORD spoke spoke’. While this combination of a noun in the construct followed by a finite verb is unusual, it is attested elsewhere (e.g. Exod. 6:28; 1 Sam. 25:15; Isa. 29:1; cf. GKC §130d). The LXX rendering ‘beginning of the word of the Lord’ represents an attempt to express this thought in Greek. The repetition of both ‘the Lord’ and ‘Hosea’ makes it more likely that the expression is a heading to the section, standing grammatically separate, rather than a subordinate clause introducing what follows, ‘When the Lord began to speak to Hosea’ (cf. NRSV, ESV). through Hosea is to be taken as a subtitle covering 1:2b—2:1. It is unlikely that it covers the whole division of the book to the end of chapter 3, because there is every reason to suppose that, during the period in which the events of the first three chapters occurred, Hosea engaged in other ministry which may now be incorporated in subsequent chapters. Rather this expression indicates that Hosea’s call to be a prophet took the form of a divine command to get married, after which the Lord communicated with his appointed messenger on various occasions. Hosea was evidently unmarried when he received this command, and it would be in accordance with prevailing social practice to envisage him as around twenty years old.

The terse record does not seek to inform about the precise circumstances of the prophet or of the community when this message was delivered. What mattered was that the Lord was going to speak to his errant people, and they had to grapple with the challenge his message brought to their personal and national conduct. Furthermore, if this record was finally prepared by Hosea for transmission to the southern kingdom and preservation there, then it would confront Judah also regarding their attitude towards the Lord and how he would deal with them.

It is significant to note that ‘the Lord spoke through Hosea’, not ‘to’ him or ‘about’ him. While the preposition may be used to indicate action shared ‘with’ another, the idiom ‘to speak in/by means of’ (dibber bə) designates Hosea as the channel through whom the Lord communicated with others. The same expression is employed in Aaron and Miriam’s indignant questions, ‘Is it only with/through Moses that the Lord has spoken? Has he not also spoken with/through us?’ (Num. 12:2; cf. 1 Kgs. 22:28). Hosea’s marriage and the names he gave children were not primarily personal, family matters, but were intended as a means of addressing the community as a whole. The subtitle thus emphasises the divine legitimation of Hosea’s startling conduct, and therefore of his ministry—something which was doubtless needed in the light of the instructions given to him.

There then follows the first of four divine injunctions (cf. 1:4, 6, 9), each of which is implemented by the prophet and each of which is accompanied by an explanation which points out its significance for the entire nation.

Go, take for yourself a wife/'woman’ is a formula for marriage, as in Genesis 4:19, ‘And Lamech took for himself two wives/women’ (cf. Gen. 6:2; 11:29; 24:67; Exod. 6:20). Indeed ‘take’ on its own may be used of choosing a bride (cf. Gen. 24:3; Exod. 34:16; Lev. 21:13). So it is clear that Hosea is commanded to get married.

What causes considerable difficulty is the description which is given of his bride, ‘a woman of zənûnîm’, an uncommon plural form for which many translations have been proposed: whoredoms, harlotries, prostitutions, promiscuities, fornications, unfaithfulnesses. It is an ugly, abrasive, accusing term which should not be narrowed or toned down. Its pejorative and condemnatory connotations are clearly evident when it is used along with ‘sorceries’ to describe the conduct of the notorious Israelite queen Jezebel (2 Kgs. 9:22). The associated verb zānâ nearly always has a feminine subject and denotes engaging in illicit sexual behaviour outside the bond of marriage. It usually involved receipt of payment of some sort, and it always attracted social disapproval and opprobrium. Terms derived from the same root are also used metaphorically in connection with other types of unfaithful behaviour, particularly violation by Israel of the covenant bond with the Lord (cf. Lev. 20:6; Deut. 31:16; Judg. 2:17). Many views have been advanced as to the precise significance of the expression ‘a woman of zənûnîm’ as applied to Gomer.

One way of approaching the matter is to observe what Hosea does not say. Some commentators have supposed that Gomer is described as a woman whose sexually immoral behaviour was connected with the Canaanite fertility cult. However, there is a specific Hebrew word for a ‘cult prostitute’, which Hosea does in fact employ in 4:14. Hence his avoidance of the term in connection with Gomer may be taken as a fairly conclusive indicator that her misconduct lay elsewhere. Nor is Gomer’s whoredom to be viewed as merely involvement in Baal worship in general. Undoubtedly that was common in Hosea’s day; it is after all the charge which is brought against the people as a whole (cf. 4:12, 15, 18; 9:1). However, if no more was meant than that Gomer was a typical Israelite woman of her day, ‘then the drama and anguish of these chapters would be incomprehensible’ (Anderson 1975:427). That Gomer was a child of her own generation who may have participated in the religious aberrations and unfaithfulness of the north is beside the point. Rather than assuming that this is an instance where actual practice and metaphorical usage overlap, it is preferable to take the comparison as being between Gomer’s marital unfaithfulness to Hosea and Israel’s religious infidelity to the Lord.

Furthermore, at this juncture Hosea does not use the narrower terms ‘adultery’ or ‘adulteress’. In the Old Testament ‘adultery’ refers to voluntary sexual relations between a married woman and any male other than her husband. That is how Hosea uses the term in 4:13 and 4:14, where it is ‘your daughters-in-law’, that is married women, who commit adultery. An allegation of adultery would be inappropriate when Gomer is as yet unmarried, but it is made at a later stage (3:1).

Somewhat surprising is the fact that here and elsewhere Hosea does not apply to Gomer the usual term for a ‘prostitute’ (zônâ), which is derived from the root under discussion (e.g., ʾis̆s̆â zônâ, ‘a woman, a prostitute’, Lev. 21:7-14). So Gomer is not directly described as someone who earned a living by soliciting sex for financial compensation. Instead, the plural of an associated noun is employed. While this may simply be a synonymous expression, it is highly probable that a specific emphasis is intended. The plural of a norm may convey the notion of repeated action of a certain sort, or it may be a plural of abstraction describing the character of an individual. is identified as a plural describing a repeated series of actions or a habitual behaviour, IBHS §7.4.2c. However, they also note the use of the plural to express an abstract quality where the plural ‘may have originally signified the diverse concrete manifestations of a quality or state’ (§7.4.2a). Similar phrases, such as ‘man of bloods’ (2 Sam. 16:7) and ‘woman of contentions’ (Prov. 21:9; 25:24; 27:15), are found elsewhere in the Old Testament, but it is doubtful if they ever portray an individual’s make-up apart from the external actions to which it gives rise. Significantly, Hosea uses the phrase ‘a spirit of whoredoms’ in 4:12 and 5:4 to specify an inner propensity to unfaithfulness which manifests itself in observable behaviour. So it is probable that Gomer is presented as someone who, while not necessarily a professional prostitute, is notorious for her promiscuous behaviour.

The question then arises as to when this character trait first manifested itself in Gomer’s conduct. Often through a desire to mitigate perceived ethical problems, commentators have proposed that this description of Gomer expresses Hosea’s retrospective evaluation of her. Gomer was chaste when Hosea married her, and it was only afterwards that he learned the truth regarding her. However, such a proleptic usage seems to be an expedient adopted without any feature of the text providing a peg on which to hang it. It is not stated that the Lord directed Hosea to Gomer personally; rather he gave the prophet a general description of the sort of woman whom he was to many and left the individual choice to the prophet himself. Since Hosea was not to engage in psychoanalysis, Gomer’s inner disposition must already have been evident in her conduct. Furthermore, Hosea’s marriage was an instance of prophetic symbolism, designed to speak to his contemporaries (see Introduction, pg. 36). For them to be aware of its full significance, Gomer’s behaviour must have been scandalous from the outset.

It may be objected, however, that this conclusion mars the parallel between Hosea’s marriage and the Lord’s union with Israel because when Hosea looks back on the early history of the people he detects an initial stage of positive relationship (2:14-15; 9:10; 10:1, 11), as later Jeremiah would also (Jer. 2:2). Nonetheless, it was always acknowledged that Israel had an idolatrous past, both before Abraham left Ur, and while in Egypt. Joshua’s words are well known: ‘Remove the gods which your fathers served beyond the River ⌞Euphrates⌟ and in Egypt, and serve the Lord’ (Josh. 24:14). Although the incident of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32 reveals how shallow Israel’s commitment was, it is argued that there was a short-lived period of promise and potential when the people pledged themselves to the Lord (cf. Exod. 24:3, 7). Even so, the main focus of the present passage is that because of Israel’s unfaithfulness the relationship had not progressed as it should have done. Consequently the prophet’s situation reflected that of the Lord with respect to Israel, for he had entered into a covenant bond with the people knowing full well the stresses and strains the relationship would come under due to their character, and Hosea likewise knew that Gomer’s misconduct would parallel that of Israel. When anyone would challenge the prophet as to his choice of wife, he could readily respond that they were looking in a mirror at their own relation to the Lord—and this would be facilitated by the earlier religious use of ‘commit whoredom’. Gomer’s wandering looks and corrupt behaviour—fickle in relationships, unstable in commitments, of changeable and capricious personality—were a living embodiment of Israel’s infidelity in their relationship with the Lord.

Gomer’s children are described as children of whoredoms, which in itself may describe them as being bom through their mother’s misconduct, though this is not true of the first son (1:3), and need not be so of the other two children (1:6, 8). Indeed, because there is only one verb used, this phrase has even been taken to refer to children already bom as a result of promiscuous behaviour prior to her marriage whom Hosea was to adopt (McComiskey 1992:15-16), but it is more probable that there is here an instance of a figure of speech known as zeugma. In this compressed mode of expression one verb governs two objects, but in somewhat different senses. Hosea is commanded to take/get a wife and so in a somewhat different sense to get a family. Furthermore, it is predicted that the children will inherit character traits from their mother, whose conduct will adversely impact their own.

For introduces the second, more significant part of the verse. The prophet is to engage in such unusual behaviour to alert his contemporaries to their violation of the terms of their covenant with the Lord. This shows that from the outset Gomer and her children were divinely designated as having symbolic significance for the nation. The land may well be a designation of both the northern and the southern kingdoms; it functions as a metonymy for the people associated with the land who, taken collectively, occupy the land as recipients of the Lord’s favour and his covenant blessing (cf. 9:3). Committing great whoredom (an infinitive absolute preceding a finite verb) is an emphatic expression denoting how completely the people despised their privileged relationship with the Lord and acted with gross promiscuity (cf. Exod. 34:15-16 where the root zānâ occurs three times in connection with improper attraction to Canaanite gods in conjunction with the term ‘after’). ⌞Departing⌟ from the Lord (literally, ‘from after the Lord’; cf. 2:5; Num. 14:43; Deut. 7:4; Josh. 22:16 §11.4.3d). Hosea also uses this construction in 2:17, 20; 3:5; 12:7.) indicates a repudiation of his authority and leadership. within direct speech are permissible in Hebrew idiom (cf. 1:7, 3:1; Zeph. 1:5, 6). Here the focus is not on the deities whom the people take as the objects of their misplaced devotion, but on the sheer folly of the national malaise in which they rebelled against the Lord, their covenant benefactor, and put their trust elsewhere.

The explanation given here no doubt also eased the considerable personal challenge for the prophet in responding to the instructions given to him. The focus of the book is not on what obedience cost Hosea, and he is silent as to any questions he may have had. Even so, the strangeness of his call would have been mitigated when he was told how the pattern of his life would function in conveying the Lord’s message to the people. It also provided him with an answer if any of his contemporaries mocked him regarding his choice of wife.

1:3 So he went and took Gomer, daughter of Diblayim; and she conceived and bore to him a son.

In he went and took, the repetition of the verbs ‘go’ and ‘take’ from the divine directions of 1:2 indicates that Hosea did exactly what the Lord had commanded. There is no hint of demurral or delay. Took in this verse is not accompanied by the word ‘woman’/‘wife’, but the thought is carried over from the previous verse and is used to report a legitimate marriage. Gomer is assigned a totally passive role in the matter as was Israel in the Lord’s election of them.

Various attempts have been made to ascertain the meaning of the names Gomer and Diblayim, but no conclusive results have been obtained. Gomer occurs as a male name in Genesis 10:2, and it may be related to a fuller form, Gemariah (‘the Lord has accomplished’, Jer. 29:3; 36:10). However, the opacity of these names in contrast to those subsequently given to the children strongly indicates that here Gomer is a real person who had that name before Hosea married her, and that Diblayim is the name of her father, and not a place name (such as Diblathayim in Moab, cf. Num. 33:46; Jer. 48:22). It then follows that the son mentioned is also a real person. It is significant that to him is explicitly present to indicate that Hosea was his father. Opinions differ as to what weight is to be attached to its omission as regards the subsequent children; it may simply arise from the compressed nature of the account.

Reflection

(3) Jezreel: Blessing Reversed (1:4-5)

Giving a prophet’s children symbolically significant names also occurred later in the eighth century b.c.. with Isaiah’s two sons, Shear-jashub (‘A remnant will return’, Isa. 7:3) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (‘Speeding is booty; hastening is plunder’, Isa. 8:3). These names were not intended to convey information about the personality of the individuals involved. The children were rather instruments used by God to stir the interest of the people and convey his challenge to them as to their conduct and the legacy they were bequeathing to subsequent generations.

1:4 And the Lord said to him,

'Call his name Jezreel,

for yet a little while

and I will appoint the bloodshed of Jezreel

upon the house of Jehu,

and I will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel.'

The narrative is terse, wasting no time in background details before proceeding to the second divine injunction, which would naturally have come shortly after Hosea’s son had been bom. Call is a masculine singular imperative addressed to the prophet. Jezreel (‘May God sow7‘make fruitful’; cf. 2:21-23) could be used as a personal name (1 Chron. 4:3), but it principally described a town which was situated in a valley of the same name in the northern tribal territory of Issachar (Josh. 17:16), and which in the time of Ahab became the winter capital of the Israelite kings. In itself the name originally possessed very positive associations (cf. 1:11; 2:22) because this area was at the heart of the agricultural prosperity of the northern kingdom, and the valley also formed part of a major international trade route from Egypt to Damascus and thence to Mesopotamia. Moreover, since Jezreel (yizrəʿeʾl) is similar in sound to Israel (yizrāʾēl), it is easy to connect the two, and so there is an obvious hint that the fortunes of Jezreel set a precedent for those of the northern kingdom as a whole. In this verse the original significance of Jezreel is reversed to make it a symbol of the besetting sin of the current regime in Israel which was ruthlessly committed to advancing its own interests in any way which came to hand.

For introduces the reason for the Lord’s choice of this name, which focuses on its negative associations, rescinding the thought of the land where the LORD has sown abundantly, and pointing to the judgement which would come upon the sin of the people. Yet a little while indicates that it would not be long before circumstances changed (cf. Isa. 10:25; 29:17; Jer. 51:33; Hag. 2:6). What is in view here is divine intervention to reverse the prosperity currently enjoyed by Israel and to impose on them the punishment they deserved. It may well be that it links the time it would take the child to grow and the period which will elapse before the prophecy is fulfilled. This would locate the beginning of Hosea’s ministry in the closing years of the reign of Jeroboam II, after whose death the fortunes of the land plummeted, starting with the assassination of Zechariah, Jeroboam’s son and successor, just six months into his reign (2 Kgs. 15:10).

I will appoint employs one of the more versatile roots in the Hebrew language (pāqad), which basically indicates the attention a superior gives to the situation or action of an inferior. The traditional rendering ‘to visit’ is not intended to picture a cosy, fire-side chat, but an inspection which may involve conducting a census, imposing taxation, appointing to a post, mustering troops, extending protection, or rewarding the diligent as well as penalising the offending (cf. 2:13; 4:9, 14; 8:13; 9:9; 12:2). The precise nuance of the verb depends on its context.

Mention is made here of the bloodshed of Jezreel, literally ‘the bloods of Jezreel’, with the plural term probably indicating blood violently shed (cf. 4:2; Gen. 4:10, 11; Ps. 5:6; 9:12). This was something which happened regularly in the valley of Jezreel, which as a major trade route had strategic significance and was the location of many battles. ‘Bloods’ may also convey the notion of ‘blood-guilt’ arising from death of the innocent (12:14; Exod. 22:1; 2 Sam. 21:1). The further connection with the house of Jehu points to what took place in Jezreel when Jehu ousted the dynasty of Omri by killing Joram, piling the heads of Ahab’s seventy sons at the city gates, and massacring Ahab’s followers (2 Kgs. 9:21-10:10).

Traditionally the idiom ‘to bring to account something upon someone’ has been taken to indicate that the Lord will bring retribution on those who have transgressed, matching the punishment to the offence. However, while such an approach to the expression fits elsewhere, it does not seem appropriate in this instance (cf. also ‘I will appoint upon them four kinds of ⌞punishment⌟’ Jer. 15:3). The account in 2 Kings 10 does not indicate that Jehu’s action had been viewed unfavourably by the LORD, even though he may have gone further than was warranted. Rather, the coup had been initiated with the Lord’s blessing as conveyed through Elisha (2 Kgs. 9:1-10), and earned the Lord’s commendation: ‘And the LORD said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes—according to all that was in my heart you have done to the house of Ahab—your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel” ’ (2 Kgs. 10:30). Hosea is not predicting that Jehu’s dynasty will end because of the way in which they had seized power, but because of what they proceeded to do with that power.

The idiom of ‘to bring to account something upon someone’ is here used in the sense of the Lord imposing on the house of Jehu an end like that which they had been instrumental in bringing upon the previous regime. ‘The prophet’s words are ironic. Jehu’s dynasty came to power by virtue of a bloody coup at Jezreel. It was to meet its demise in a hauntingly similar way’ (McComiskey 1993:101).) a town in the Valley of Jezreel (cf. GNB, ESV), rather than ‘before people’/'in public’ (qābāl [an Aramaic term] ʿam) as in the MT of 2 Kgs. 15:10. Other LXX manuscripts read a place name also, and specification of the place of assassination would fit in with the pattern found in 2 Kgs. 15:8-30 (McComiskey 1992:21). Why? The dynasty had not learned the lesson of the overthrow of Ahab. Instead Jehu sponsored the syncretistic worship which had been promoted by earlier kings of the north (2 Kgs. 10:29, 31), and this practice was continued by successive members of the dynasty, who were condemned for it: Jehu (2 Kgs. 10:30-31), Jehoahaz (2 Kgs. 13:2), Jehoash (2 Kgs. 13:11), Jeroboam (2 Kings 14:24). The same verdict was divinely pronounced upon the six month king, Zechariah (2 Kgs. 15:9). Their compromised loyalty to the Lord would result in their overthrow with violence which would match that originally exhibited by Jehu.

Indeed, when the Lord reviewed the state of the northern kingdom, the scope of his verdict would extend beyond the dynasty of Jehu. I will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel does not simply restate the judicial sentence of the previous line. ‘House of Israel’ includes more than the current dynasty. The term first occurs in Exodus 16:31 in reference to the whole of the covenant people (cf. Exod. 40:38; Lev. 10:6; 17:10), though later it may be used of the northern kingdom on its own (cf. 1 Kgs. 12:21; 20:31; Amos 5:1, 3, 4; 6:1, 14; 9:9). Combined here with ‘kingdom’/‘royal dominion’ it points to the end of the independent existence of the state." pg. 14). Bereft of its king, it will no longer exist as a political entity. Possibly this evokes the sentence implicit in the negative reading of Jezreel, ‘the Lord sows’. In view is not the scattering of seed for a good harvest, but the scattering of the people before their enemies, culminating in the judgement of deportation from the land. In Zechariah 10:9 ‘I will sow them among the peoples’ may refer to the dispersion at and after the exile.

1:5 'And it will happen on that day

that I will break the bow of Israel

in the valley of Jezreel.'

On that day extends beyond Zechariah’s death, which marked the extinction of Jehu’s dynasty, to include the aftermath of his overthrow. While ‘that day’ does refer to a period when the Lord makes his control of human history obvious, it is improbable that the phrase here has explicit eschatological overtones connected with an inbreaking of the final day of the LORD.

The bow was the typical weapon of warfare (cf. 1:7; 2:18; Ps. 46:9; 76:3; Jer. 49:35; 51:56; Zech. 9:10; 10:4). When it is broken, all Israel’s military might will be devastated. Though the nation relied on military strength and strategic alliances for preservation, when the LORD imposed his judgement on them, the futility of their efforts would be completely exposed. It took around thirty years for the implications of the child’s name to be fully realised, but the fall of Samaria and the removal of the people showed that it had been no idle threat.

In the valley of Jezreel brackets verses 4 and 5 together with the repetition of Jezreel in an inclusive pattern. The valley was the eastern part of what was also known as the plain of Esdraelon (the Greek form of the name Jezreel), which was over 10 miles wide and lay between the hills of lower Galilee to the north and the mountains of Samaria to the south. It stretched in a north-westerly direction from the Jordan valley to mount Carmel on the Mediterranean coast. Possibly the term is used loosely to refer to the whole of the valley-plain. As it was suitable for the effective deployment of chariot forces, it had been the scene of many military encounters. There is no record of any specific engagement there when the Assyrians seized control of the land. Even so, the fulfilment of this prophecy may be associated with events in 733 b.c.. when Galilee became an Assyrian province (cf. Wolff 1974:19-20).

Reflection

(4) Lo-Ruchama: Compassion Withdrawn (1:6-7)

There is no indication of how much time passed before Gomer’s second child was born, nor is it spelled out how long will elapse between the naming of the child and the events foreshadowed by her name coming to pass. Possibly the absence of such information indicates that the Lord’s forbearance was exhausted right from the moment of her birth. If so, she may have been bom during the after-math of Zechariah’s assassination (752 b.c..) when the kingdom began to collapse internally.

1:6 And she conceived again and bore a daughter, and he said to him,

'Call her name Not-Shown-Compassion,

for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel,

for I will utterly raise with respect to them.'

When Gomer gives birth to a second child, it is not explicitly stated that Hosea is the father of the baby girl. The omission of ‘to him’, which was present in 1:3, may well arise from the abbreviated nature of the narrative, in which, for instance, ‘the Lord said to Hosea’ (1:4) becomes simply he said to him. That the account becomes progressively more concise is also indicated by the further absence of ‘again’ in 1:8. So it may be intended that the fact of Hosea being her father should be carried over from the earlier verse. Certainly there is no emphasis on the thought that the child is illegitimate, nor is there anything implied about Hosea’s personal disposition towards her.

The focus of the narrative is on the third divine injunction regarding the contrived name the prophet is to give to the girl. The verb ‘to show compassion’ is derived from a noun meaning ‘womb’ and ‘abdomen’, and it denotes a warm, tender attitude welling up from a deep emotional bond, a response of positive feelings and action towards one in need. Though it is often considered to be a term for ‘mother love’ (cf. Isa. 49:15), it is also used of male figures (cf. Ps. 103:13). Such compassion characterises the Lord’s favourable disposition towards his people (cf. Exod. 33:19; Deut. 13:18; Isa. 54:7).

However, the child is here named Not-Shown-Compassion (Lo-Ruchama, ‘she ⌞is⌟ not shown compassion’). This shocking name is not an indication that Hosea refused to treat her with love and affection, but is a sign-name intended to attract the attention of the community and convey to them what awaited them. At first this might seem a more passive, and thus less threatening, message than that of the external disaster indicated by the name Jezreel, but in reality it is spiritually more ominous. What is in view is not just that the people will be scattered in judgement, but that the Lord will no longer view them fondly and mercifully. Previously, he had acted with longsuffering as regards the misconduct of the nation and its kings (cf. with respect to Jehu, 2 Kgs. 10:30; with respect to Jehoahaz, 2 Kgs. 13:4; with respect to Joash, 2 Kgs. 13:23; and with respect to Jeroboam, 2 Kgs. 14:25-27). But those days will come to an end for the house of Israel, which in the light of the contrast found in the next verse refers here specifically to the northern kingdom (cf. 1:4). No longer will the Lord tolerate their disobedience; instead in judgement he will withdraw from them the privileges of the covenant and deprive them of his parental care and oversight.

The rendering of the last line of the verse given above has been deliberately left as awkward as possible in the translation above to indicate the difficulty of determining its meaning. The verb ‘to raise’ or ‘to lift up’ in the last line of the verse may be understood in two ways. (1) In 14:2 Hosea employs it along with ‘iniquity’