I have to begin this post by apologizing for missing a lesson! My schedule last week didn’t allow me to comment on OT Lesson 33, covering the book of Jonah and sections from Micah.  It’s not that there is nothing interesting to say about these books — there certainly is — it’s just that I didn’t make time for it last week.  If your ward has not yet done this lesson, here are a couple of internet posts that I’ve seen on it:

OT Lesson 34 — Hosea 1-3; 11; 13-14


The Book of Hosea is placed first in our Bibles in a collection of twelve short books known as “the Minor Prophets” — called “minor” not because they were any less important or influential, but simply because what we have of their writings is much less than the writings of the “major” prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel.  The books of the Minor Prophets are supposed to be, traditionally, ordered chronologically, but an analysis of the texts reveals that this is not likely the case.  For example, although Hosea is placed first, this is likely due to an erroneous reading of the Rabbis of Hosea 1:2 (RSV): “When the LORD first spoke through Hosea”, which they took to mean that Hosea was the first of these prophets who was called to speak for the Lord.1  However, the text of Hosea (Hosea 1:1) puts the prophet in the days of Jeroboam, Uzziah, and up to King Hezekiah’s time.  Chronologically, then, his book should be placed after those of Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, and Amos. Hosea was a younger contemporary of Amos,2 and also served as prophet at roughly the same time as Jonah, Isaiah, and Micah.

Hosea was a prophet of Israel, the Northern Kingdom (while Isaiah and Micah were in Judah), before the destruction and exile of those northern tribes.  We can’t be sure if he witnessed that destruction, as it is not mentioned in his book, but some of the turmoil of the times leading up to that event is evident.  Hosea’s name in Hebrew, Hoshea, means “salvation.”

The book of Hosea presents an overview of the history of Israel, how they were loved as God’s chosen people (his bride/children), how they proved unfaithful by loving other gods more than the Lord, how they consequently fell into error, apostasy, and destruction, but how they would finally repent and return to their true God and be restored to the blessed state of abiding in his everlasting love.

Woodcut Illustration. Hosea, Gomer, and three children. From Zurich Bible, 1531.

The “Wife of Whoredoms” Metaphor

The initial narrative of the book of Hosea is very interesting in that it really makes you wonder if it is to be taken as fact or fiction — if it is all meant to be symbolic.  From the onset we see the Lord commanding his prophet to involve himself in a rather odd family situation — God commands Hosea (Hos. 1:2) to “Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD.” Why in the world would the Lord ask his prophet to go and marry a prostitute?  Apparently, it was to serve as a symbol to Israel of the condition of their relationship, as a nation, to the Lord.  Just as Hosea was married to an “unfaithful” woman, Israel had also prostituted themselves with false gods and broken their covenants with the Lord.  Of course it is hard to know whether Hosea in reality married a harlot or if this is all metaphorical, but the book of Hosea teaches important principles regarding our covenant relationship to the Lord.  Hosea and his adulterous wife, Gomer, are presented as symbols of the Lord as the faithful husband and the land of Israel as his unrighteous wife.

This metaphor is in line with the symbols we pointed out in Proverbs (and elsewhere) of the “Strange Woman” and “Lady Wisdom”, the harlot and the virtuous wife of God (see my post here). This is a recurring theme in biblical literature that we get even in the NT book of Revelation.  As I explained in that post, “Running after” or “going in unto” the prostitute is symbolic of apostasy from the truth, while the virtuous wife represents wisdom, seeking and being faithful to the Truth.

According to the text, Israel’s “adultery” consisted of worshiping false gods (esp. Baal) in place of the true God of Israel (compare to the situation described in the story of Elijah).  It is interesting that Hosea is so focused on the sin of Baal worship in Israel, while his contemporary in the North, Amos, does not seem concerned about it much at all.  It is hard to know the reason for this, but for our purposes here we should understand that the Lord calls different prophets to serve different functions, and the prophet fulfills the specific duties that the Lord has called him to accomplish.

It is important to note in analyzing this metaphor of the unfaithful wife that we understand that the emphasis here is on the relationship of the Lord to Israel and not on Hosea’s relationship to his wife (or of any man to his spouse).  The reason I bring this up is because in some places in our reading of the text (see, for example, the beginning of chapter 2), the prophet, or the Lord, seems to be condoning the use of very harsh methods to punish the “adulterous wife.” As we read on, it becomes obvious that the Lord is speaking of the judgments that would come upon Israel for their unfaithfulness.  We should not see in this (not that anyone reading this would) any type of justification for mistreating or abusing our spouse in any way.3

The last item I wanted to make note of on this topic is the prophetic nature of the names given to Hosea’s children.  Their names all have symbolic meaning and represent judgments that will befall Israel, much like the names of the children of Isaiah (see, for example, Isa. 8).  The following, from Collins, is helpful in understanding the symbolism behind the given of these names:

The children of Hosea and Gomer are made to bear the prophet’s message by symbolic names. The first was named Jezreel, the name of the summer palace of the kings of Israel. It was at Jezreel that Jehu had slaughtered Jezebel and the royal family (2 Kings 9). Jeroboam II and his short-lived son Zechariah were the last kings of the line of Jehu, and this oracle must date from their time. There may have been many acts of bloodshed at Jezreel during the time of the Jehu dynasty. The most conspicuous one, however, was the bloody coup that involved the murder of Jezebel. According to 2 Kings, Jehu acted with the sanction of the prophet Elisha, but his bloodshed nonetheless warranted punishment in the eyes of Hosea.

The second child is named [lo' ruhamah], which may be translated “not pitied” or “not loved” (the name is related to the Hebrew word for womb, rehem). The point is that Israel will no longer be pitied. The third child receives an even harsher name, [lo 'ammi], “not my people.” The phrase echoes the common formula for divorce (“she is not my wife”) and reverses the common formula for marriage…4

Apostasy and Restoration

The book of Hosea emphasizes the apostasy and subsequent restoration of Israel.  As discussed above, Hosea prophesies of the consequences that will come upon the land of Israel because of her insistence on breaking her covenants with the Lord and apostasy from the truth. In each of the first three chapters, and then in the book as a whole, we see this pattern of apostasy and then repentance and restoration to the Lord’s favor.  For example:

  • In Hos. 1, we see that God reaches the point that he declares that Israel “is not my people,” but later it is stated that after their repentance, he will say to them, “Ye are sons of the living God” (Hos. 1:10).
  • In chapter 2, after divorcing his “bride” and leaving her to be shamed and punished in various manners, in the end the Lord makes a covenant with Israel that He will “betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.  I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD” (Hos. 2:19-20).  The bride would refer to her husband as Ishi (“my man/husband”) rather than Baali (“my master/Baal”) — this reflects the popular affinity in Hebrew writing for plays on words — Baal was the name/title of the false god, but also a common way in Israel for a woman to refer to her husband, but the Lord did not want any “baal” references to be used at all anymore (Hos. 2:16-17).
  • Chapter 3 speaks of the repentance of Israel — their abstinence from idolatrous practices instigated by unrighteous kings — and their return to seeking the Lord their God and David their ideal king.
  • The intervening chapters, 4-13, generally outline how Israel has sinned and how the Lord has tried to call them to repentance. There is special focus on the tribe of Ephraim, unto whom the Lord had promised many great blessings, but who seem to have been leading the way in sin.  Ephraim had rejected their one and only Savior (Hos. 13:4) and in so-doing, brought destruction (i.e., the Assyrian destruction and Exile) on themselves. However, we learn that in the end, in chapter 14, Ephraim will return to the Lord and he will “love them freely” and turn away his anger from them (Hos. 14:4).

    The first part of chapter 4 is particularly interesting as it includes Israel’s priesthood as a casualty of this falling away from the truth (as would the later Great Apostasy).  Note also that a lack of knowledge is one of the great effects (or causes) of this apostasy.

    Hosea 4:1–10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.

    2 By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.

    3 Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.

    4 Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.

    5 Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother.

    6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.

    7 As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.

    8 They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.

    9 And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings.

    10 For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to the LORD.

    The Lord’s Long-suffering and Persevering Love

    I believe that the key lesson to be learned from the book of Hosea is that of the Lord’s long-suffering nature and persevering love for his people.  The Lord loves Israel like a husband loves his bride.  Notwithstanding this great love and the blessings that come with the “marriage covenant” with the Lord, Israel has so often been unfaithful.  And, just as in the case when Hosea married Gomer, the Lord knew that Israel had some tendency towards “adulterous” behavior. Nevertheless, the Lord loved the people of Israel and made them his.  Drawing on the customs of the time regarding what a man would do with an unfaithful wife, the Lord “put away” his bride, letting her wander in grief and shame, fending for herself, for a time.  The Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom (and of much of the South) and the exile of Ephraim and the other tribes seemed like an unbearable punishment.  But this does not mean that the Lord ever stopped loving Israel.

    In chapter 11, we see the Lord recalling how he had brought Israel, as a son, out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1; compare Matt. 2:15) and carried Ephraim in his arms (Hos. 11:3). He had always loved his people, although all He received in return was disobedience and disloyalty.  However, his love did not wane:

    (RSV Hosea 11:8) How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Zeboiim! My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.

    Through it all, the Lord would not force his people to love him, but sent them reminders through his prophet: “O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.” If they would remember and return to him, God would show his people his great love for them — the arms of his mercy were perpetually extended.

    The loving Father knows that his children will return to him in the end. In his perfect foreknowledge, he can see them repenting and receiving the full blessings of his love and parental protection.

    (Hosea 14:4–8)  4 I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him. 5 I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. 6 His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. 7 They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. 8 Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found.

    1. John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, 296
    2. Ibid.
    3. See Ibid., 299-300
    4. Ibid., 297

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