By George L. Robinson
I. Name and Personality.-The name Hosea, like that of Joshua and Jesus, which spring from the same root, signifies “salvation,” “help,” “deliverance.” Very probably the prophet was a native of North Israel, as his frequent, allusions to Lebanon, Tabor, Samaria, Bethel, Jezreel and Ramah would imply. Of “Ephraim” alone he speaks some thirty-seven times. “In every sentence,” says Ewald, “it appears that Hosea had not only visited the kingdom of Ephraim, as Amos had done, but that he is acquainted with it from the depths of his heart, and follows all its doings, aims, and fortunes with the profound feelings gendered of such a sympathy as is conceivable in the case of a native prophet only.” As a son of the soil he drew many of his simple and charming images from the fireside, the garden, and the farm (4:16; 7:4-8; 8:7; 10:11; 11:4; 13:3, 15; 14:7). In this he stands in contrast with Amos, who reflects the desert mountains of Judah and the Dead Sea. Hosea was the home missionary of North Israel, as Jonah was their foreign. He was gentle, pensive, and inclined to melancholy, but frank, affectionate, and full of domestic feeling. He was the Jeremiah of the northern kingdom, and, like him, was little less than a martyr, prefiguring Christ. Both were ardent patriots, possessed of finely sensitive religious natures. Jeremiah was the more studied and self-conscious in his grief; Hosea, the more artless and passionate. Jeremiah was more of a theologian; Hosea, more of a poet. His book is both a prophecy and a poem; one of the most difficult, but at the same time one of the most evangelical of the Old Testament. This is due not to any special Messianic predictions enunciated, but because he announced centuries in advance “the new commandment” of the Gospels, and was the first of the seers to grasp the truth that God is love, and that Israel’s sin of sins was not to have recognized the love of God. Hosea was thus the St. John of the Old Testament.
II. His Times.-The title to his Book reads “The word of Jehovah that came unto Hosea, 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” (1:1). Accordingly, Hosea, like Amos, began preaching in times of great prosperity, and left off when the nation was struggling in the grip of anarchy! During his earlier years Jeroboam II was the grand Monique, the Louis XIV of Samaria. He stood at the head of an arrogant military despotism-a true descendant of Jehu! In his day the nation was at the summit of its military prosperity, but, at the same time, far down the slope of a fatal moral declension. The Second Book of Kings informs us that upon the death of Jeroboam, internal feuds took place, rival politicians sacrificed the nation’s interests to their own, princes became debauched, phantom kings were set up, and the national power became seriously weakened, Kings were cut off as foam upon the water” (Hos.10:7) . Jeroboam was the last really strong man of Israel. Of the six kings who succeeded him only Menahem died a natural death. “Conspiracy” is the keyword of the history of the period (cf. II Kings 15). Zechariah reigned six months; Shallum, only one. In their desperation, accordingly, they leaned first one way and then another to secure foreign help, paying tribute alternately to Assyria and to Egypt, until they finally lost their independence and national autonomy, exhausted their energies and resources, and were forced to accept of abject vassalage to Assyria. Their decline was rapid as soon as their independence was gone. To a patriot like Hosea, it was terrible to appeal to foreign governments for help (8:9, 10:6). Such a policy was no remedy for the nation’s moral disease (5:13). Unconsciously Ephraim became prematurely old. “Gray hairs” were here and there upon him and he knew it not (7:9). All classes of society became demoralized. Even the priests turned bandit and rejoiced in the sins of the people, because it increased their revenues. Things went from bad to worse, until the prophet exclaimed, “There is no truth, nor goodness, nor knowledge of God in the land. There is naught but swearing and breaking faith, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery; they break out and blood toucheth blood” (4: I, 2). The conditions were terrible! Religion sank into the most sensual Idolatry: Family life, especially, became dissolute. Upon it, accordingly, the prophet laid his heaviest indictment. To express their hopeless condition he uses the hateful word “whoredom” some sixteen times. As Davidson says, “Hosea lived during, perhaps, the most unquiet and turbulent times through which the country had ever passed.” The fury of the various factions was like raging heat: “They are as an Oven heated by the baker” (7:4). Men everywhere were pitted against each other. The outlook was hopeless. Israel’s sun was setting. It hardly needed a prophet to discern that the end of the State was near. It was not long indeed after Hosea ceased to preach that they were carried away by Sargon into captivity to Assyria, B. c., 722 (II Kings 17).
III. The Duration of Hosea’s Ministry. – Some assign but a brief period of about ten years to Hosea’s active ministry. This conclusion is based upon the prophet’s references to “Gilead” in 6:8 and 12:1 I, which seem to indicate that Hosea was ignorant of the Syro-Ephraimitic War (B. C. 734). But more recently Alt has pointed out that 5:86:3 definitely refer to this war. Besides, the role played by the Egyptians in 7:11; 9: 3, 6; 11: 5 ; 12 : 1, as the counterpoise to Assyria seems, as Sellin observes, to take us down to the time of Hoshea, the last king of the northern kingdom. Add to this the prophet’s allusion in 10:14 to Shalman’s capture of Beth-arbel, and this brings him down to 725 B. c., for it was probably in that year that Shalmanezer IV (who is best identified with Shalman) took Beth-arbel. According to II Kings 17:3, 4, Shalmanezer made two invasions into Canaan: the first, when he took Beth-arbel and imposed tribute on North Israel, and the second, which he undertook because King Hoshea had broken the terms agreed upon. Wellhausen, Nowack, and others, on the contrary, deny the genuineness of Hos. 10:14. For, like Eiselen, they reason, “If the allusion m 10: 14 is to Shalmanezer IV the passage must be a later addition, since Hosea’s activity ended before this king ascended the throne.” But it is better, with Davidson, to allow that Hosea’s prophecies “extended over a considerable period of Israel’s history.” Personally we would assign him to the years between 750 and 725 B. C. In this Sellin also concurs.
IV. Hosea’s Call (Chaps. I-3).-Hosea’s personal history, which he interpreted as a symbol of Jehovah’s experience with Israel, may be regarded as the master-key of his teaching. Delicately and without self-consciousness he tells the tragic story of his domestic life. It burned two ideas into his soul: Jehovah’s loving faithfulness to Israel, and Israel’s thankless unfaithfulness to Jehovah. “When Jehovah spake at the first by Hosea, Jehovah said unto Hosea, Go take unto thee a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom” (1:2) . The woman he chose was Gomer, who bore him two sons and one daughter, a son, Jezreel, “Vengeance”; a daughter, Lo-ruhamah, “Uncompassionated”; and a son, Lo-ammi, “Not my people”; their names pointing significantly to the judgments which would inevitably descend upon the house of Jehu. Gomer proved faithless to her marriage vows; becoming ensnared by the wild orgies of Baal and Ashtaroth. She deserted her husband for a paramour and fell into sensual slavery. But Hosea redeemed her for fifteen silverlings and a homer and a half of barley (3:2); thus from the bitterness of his own home trials the prophet learned of the unquenchable love of Jehovah. The whole account bears the stamp of reality; indeed, only as real history would the prophet’s words have any effect. For, his domestic experience served as a living mirror of Israel’s unfaithful relation to Jehovah. It is useless to object to the literal interpretation of these chapters; for, if they are to be taken as figurative or allegorical only, such an interpretation would reflect upon the prophet’s actual wife, if he were married; or, upon the prophet himself, if unmarried. The whole story, including chap. 3, is one piece; chaps. 1 and 3 referring to the same woman, and to the same command of Jehovah to Hosea to marry a harlot. Such a thought is awfully repulsive to our modern sense, still more to the mind of the ancient Hebrews. By many it is assumed that Gomer was a pure woman up until the time of her marriage, with only latent tendencies to an immoral life. So taught Ambrose, Theodoret, Cyril of Alexandria, and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Not that Hosea, “with his eyes wide open,” married a woman who was already “of evil reputation,” as J. M. P. Smith and others aver; for, as Davidson points out, “to suppose that Jehovah would have commanded his prophet to ally himself to a woman already known as of impure life is absurd and monstrous!” In any case we have an instance of a bad wife who made a good prophet! But what if Gomer were originally a sacred prostitute? -“a holy woman,” as T. H. Robinson suggests, (for the Hebrew word for “harlot” and “holy woman” is one and the same) -a woman whom the prophet purchased from the shrine to which she was attached? Sacramental fornication was a normal feature of polytheistic religions, based on nature worship. It is so in India today; and it was so in Graeco-Roman religion influenced as it was by Asiatic cults. It is not impossible, therefore, that a sort of religious sanctity attached to such a marriage, and, that Hosea’s action was regarded, indeed, as lawful and even meritorious. In any case Hosea’s choice of Gomer presents a problem in the Divine Providence which finds a parallel only in Jesus’ choice of Judas Iscariot. Surely, there may have been one exception of sexual immorality which was palliated by the people and condoned by Jehovah! Such a theory helps to explain the psychology of Hosea’s religious development. In all the world’s literature there is no record of human love like that of Hosea. His passion for Gomer was no mere explosive flash of strong emotion; rather it was a consuming fire, shut up in his bones, which no infidelity on her part could weaken, or personal suffering on his part could quench. Through her treacherous rejection of his affection and loyalty, Hosea discovered there was no true love apart from pain; and conversely, also, that there is no real pain without love. He is, therefore, appropriately called “the Minnesinger among the Prophets!”
V. Hosea’s Message (Chaps. 4-14).-Analysis of Hosea’s book is well-nigh impossible; yet it bears throughout a distinctly personal stamp, being probably the carefully collected “notes” of many years. Very appropriately it has been described as “one long impassioned monologue, broken by sobs”; or, as Kautzsch puts it, “more sob than speech.” This much is clear: Chaps. 1-3 tell of the messenger; while chaps. 4-14 tell of his message. The first section is a sort of spiritual autobiography, half narrative, half prophecy, the confessio amantis, wrung from a heart which through the anguish of outraged human love has won its way into the secret of the love divine. The second section consists of a series of homilies, mere fragments of warning and promise, without any clearly articulated divisions. The reason for this mixed and desultory type of prophetic utterance is perfectly clear, however, when we reflect that Hosea’s theology is the theology of the heart rather than of the head. Various attempts have been made to trace a chronological sequence in the excerpts of chaps. 4-14; thus Ewald thought he had discovered even an artistic poetic arrangement: (1) 4:1-6: 11a, the arraignment: (2) 6: 11 b-9: 9, the punishment; and (3) 9:10-14:9, retrospect of Israel’s earlier history, exhortation and comfort. In a similar way Kirkpatrick made a three-fold subdivision: (1) 4-8, Israel’s guilt; (2) 9:1-11:11, Israel’s doom; (3) 11:12-14:9, Israel’s retrospect and prospect. But it is better to allow that the great ideas of the prophet’s preaching being limited in number were oft repeated, and that order and sequence are almost ignored. As a matter of fact, the salient teachings of his entire book may be summed up under the three words complaint, condemnation, and consolation; the only progress of thought discernible being that of a general advance from (1) Israel’s guilt, to that (2) of punishment, and (3) of final restoration. There is a monotony of grief throughout the book, as there is in the “Lamentations of Jeremiah,” which is uttered in different varieties of phrase and cadence, causing a heart-moving effect. Nevertheless, it is possible to trace, for homiletic purposes, the successive steps in Israel’s national downfall, as follows:
1. Lack of Knowledge “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6); i.e., for lack of head! This is Hosea’s fundamental charge. The nation is ignorant of God’s law. The people are simply stupid, they have no brains; “whoredom and wine and new wine take away the brains” (4:11), “heart” in Hebrew being equivalent to the English word “brains.” Thus the prophet’s fundamental rebuke is an intellectual one.
2. Pride. “And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face” (5:5); i.e., Israel has a diseased heart! They were not only patriotic but arrogant. Ephraim strove to rival the heathen as a world power. Jeroboam’s prosperity was proving a snare. National honor was becoming synonymous with national whoredom! One is reminded in this connection of the minatory words of James Russell Lowell on the occasion of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Harvard University. He says:
“I am saddened when I see our success as a nation measured by the number of acres under tillage, or of bushels of wheat exported, for the real value of a country must be weighed in scales more delicate than the balance of trade. The gardens of Sicily are empty now, but the bees of all climes still fetch honey from the tiny garden plot of Theocritus. On a map of the world you may cover Judea with your thumb, Athens with a finger tip, and neither of them figures in the prices current; but they still live in the thought and action of every civilized man. Did not Dante cover with his hood all that was in Italy six hundred ago? And if we go back a century, where was Germany unless in Weimar? Material success is good, but only as the necessary preliminary of better things. The measure of a nation’s true success is the amount it has contributed to the thought, the moral energy, the intellectual happiness, the spiritual hope and consolation of mankind.”
3. Instability.-“For your goodness is as a morning cloud, or as the dew that goeth early away” (6:4); i.e., life is stifled by hypocrisy and ritual! Goodness had lost its virtue. Worship which ought to have been spiritual had become formal and stereotyped: “For I desired goodness and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (6:6).
4. Worldliness.-“Ephraim, he mixeth himself among the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned” (7:8); i.e., the nation’s politics were bad! Ephraim, like a silly dove, without understanding, sought alliances with Egypt and Assyria, thus coquetting with Jehovah. The nation, however, had been strenuously enjoined by the great law-giver to remain separate from other peoples. Besides, Ephraim was a cake not turned, “a charred scone,” half raw on one side, half a cinder on the other! Some too rich, others too poor! hot in politics, cold in religion! The extremes of society being too great!
5. Corruption.-“They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah” (9:9); i. e., their religion was rotten I Corruption in politics was bad enough, but in religion it was unpardonable. Phoenician and Canaanite nature-worship was unspeakably immoral. Israel were playing the harlot under the cloak of religion: they went to Baalpeor (9:10).
6. Backsliding.-“My people are bent on backsliding from me” (11:7) ; i. e., backsliding had become a habit I Men were perishing because of their own wicked counsels (11:6) ; the Nemesis of evil being wrapped up in itself. Yet Jehovah still loves Israel and longs to save them: “How shall I give thee up Ephraim? How shall I cast thee off, Israel?” (11:8). For, though Israel had contracted the habit of backsliding, Jehovah was still willing to continue the Divine pursuit (cf. Ps. 23:6).
7. Idolatry.-“And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, even idols, according to their own understanding” (13 :2); i.e., they had become guilty of complete abandon! No prophet ever scorned more sincerely than Hosea a manufactured God; he traced, indeed, as we have seen, all of Israel’s sins back to infidelity to God.
These to Hosea were seven of the principal steps in Israel’s downfall, which led straight to the precipice of national ruin I But the prophet’s book does not close without a gracious offer of forgiveness (chap. 14). Though Israel stands guilty before Jehovah, yet, through repentance, restoration is not impossible: “O Israel, return unto Jehovah thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and return unto Jehovah: say unto J Jehovah, Take away all iniquity” (14: I, 2). He will graciously respond, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for mine anger is turned away from him” (14:4). Ephraim has still one more chance. Love must prevail; for love is greater than Law. “If he sin against law he will be maimed; if he sin against love he will be lost.” Mercy must triumph over judgment. Thus Hosea has the same message in essence as Amos, only he carries it deeper, lodging it in the love of God. Hosea is distinctively the prophet of grace. He anticipated, and in a very true sense prepared for Calvary. “Come back,” he pleads, “Come back; if you only knew how God loves you, you would come back. Take with you words and pray, and God will receive you graciously.” And so he finally concludes in an epilogue which sums up his entire message: “Who is wise, that he may understand these things? prudent that he may know them? for the ways of Jehovah are right, and the just shall walk in them; but transgressors shall fall therein” (14:9); which means, whoever desires to become wise and prudent, let him acquaint himself with these oracles, and from them learn: (1) that Jehovah’s ways are right, and (2) that the destinies of men are determined by their attitude to the divine will.
VI. Hosea’s Message to us. – One general lesson is taught by Hosea of ever permanent worth, namely, that inward corruption in a nation is more dangerous to its existence than their external enemies. And a kindred lesson closely related to this is: that the truest of all patriots is he who, like Hosea, identifies himself with his people, sorrows over their calamities as though they were his own, and repents for their sins as though he had committed them himself. Hosea’s message, accordingly, is not out of date. The God of ancient history is a God in modern history. All national events are still under the Divine superintendence. The God of Israel still chooses his agents, both national and individual. This is the one permanent lesson taught by Hosea. Certain more specific lessons are the following:
1. The folly of sacrificing national interests to personal advantage (5: 10, 11)
2. The penalty of condoning vice (4:13-19).
3. The rapid decline of a nation when the religious leaders become corrupt; “like people, like priest” 4:9).
4. The Nemesis of neglecting God’s law (4:6; 8:1, 12).
5. God’s fatherly desire to show mercy (hesed).This Hebrew word, which occurs so frequently in the book of Psalms, conveys a thought closely akin to “grace” in the New Testament. It is used by Hosea six times (2:19; 4:1; 6:4; 6:6; 10:12; 12:6) being translated by “goodness,” “kindness,” and even “loving-kindness.” Hosea, accordingly, is correctly regarded as “the Prophet of Love.” Amos never employs the term. To Hosea it meant what is usually conveyed by the Scotch term “leal-love,” i.e., love plus loyalty, including both love for God and for our fellow-men. Hosea was the evangelist of a new Gospel, “If Psalm 22 is the Calvary of the Old Testament, Hosea’s sobs are its Gethsemane.” Echoes of the prophet are found in the New Testament: thus, Hos. 11:1 in Matt. 2:15; Hos. 10:8 in Lk.23:30; Hos. 2:23 in I Pet. 2:10; Hos. 6:6 in Matt. 9:13; 12:7.
VII. Pemmican Passages in Hosea i. e., great texts, worthy of being masticated, digested, and remembered:
1. “For I desire goodness and not sacrifice”; (6: 6) – a passage which had special attraction for Jesus (Matt. 9:13; 12:7).
2. How shall I give thee up Ephraim? how shall I cast thee off Israel?” (11:8), –perhaps the most significant passage in the book!
3. “Let us follow on to know Jehovah” (6:3), a very remarkable exhortation to spring from the eighth century B.C.!
4. “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone” (4 : 17) ,-lest contagion be contracted!
5. “Gray hairs are here and there upon him, and he knoweth it not” (7:9),-a rarely suggestive epigram!
6. “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (8:7),-anticipating Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians (Gal. 6:7).
7. “I wrote for him the ten thousand things of my law; but they are counted a strange thing” (8:12) , -from which it is justly inferred that already in Hosea’s time a voluminous religious literature was in existence.
8. “Give them, O Jehovah: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts” (9: 14), -a strange imprecation to be found among the writings of “the prophet of love” (c.f. Hos. 13:14-16).
9. “They shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us” (10:8) I-a graphic touch in the prophet’s description of Samaria’s ruin!
10. “It is time to seek Jehovah” (10:12) ,-applicable to all generations in all time!
11. “For I am God and not man; The Holy One in the midst of thee” (11:9),-therefore, free from all vengeance.
12. “Besides me there is no saviour” (13:4) ,an oft recurring thought in Isaiah 40-66.
13. “Who is wise, that he may understand these things” (14: 9) ,-a final sentence, which, like the concluding sentences of Ezekiel, Nahum, and Zephaniah, respectively, gathers up the spirit and teaching of the prophet’s entire message.
14. Notable epigrams also: “Like. people, like priest” (4:9); “Cut off as foam upon the water” (10:7); “drew them with cords of a man” (11:4); “I will be as the dew unto Israel” (14:5); “Ephraim is a cake not turned” (7:8).
This article “Hosea The Prophet Of Love” by George L. Robinson is excerpted from his book, 12 Minor Prophets.