Book of Hosea

The "Book of Hosea" is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible and of the Christian Old Testament. It stands first in order among what are known as the twelve Minor Prophets.

Author

Hosea prophesied during a dark and melancholy era of Israel's history, the period of the Northern Kingdom's decline and fall in the 8th century BC. The apostasy of the people was rampant, having turned away from God in order to serve the calves of Jeroboam (see 1 K 12.26-30; Ho 8.4-6) and Baal, a Canaanite god of fertility.

Hosea was himself a native of the Northern Kingdom, and wrote in a distinctive northern dialect.

Contents

The book may be divided into two parts, the first containing chapters 1-3, and symbolically representing the idolatry of Israel under imagery borrowed from the matrimonial relation; Hosea marries a prostitute, as the Lord said, "The people in this land have acted like prostitutes and abandoned the Lord."

The figures of marriage and adultery are common in the Hebrew Bible as representations of the relationship between God and the people of Israel. Here we see the apostasy of Israel and its punishment, with its future repentance, forgiveness, and restoration.

The second part, containing 4-14, is a summary of Hosea's discourses, filled with denunciations, threatenings, exhortations, promises, and revelations of mercy.

The unique contribution of Hosea is the extended metaphor of marriage in chapters 1-3. There is scholarly disagreement on whether the marriage is entirely symbolic or descriptive of actual events.

First, Hosea was directed by God to marry a harlot, and he did so. Marriage here is symbolic of the covenantal relationship between God and Israel. However, Israel has been unfaithful to God by following other gods and breaking the commandments which are the terms of the covenant, hence Israel is symbolized by a harlot who violates the obligations of marriage to her husband.

Second, Hosea and his wife, Gomer, have a son. God commands that the son be named Jezreel. This name refers to a valley in which much blood had been shed in Israel's history, especially by the kings of the Northern Kingdom. (See I Kings 21 and II Kings 9:21-35). The naming of this son was to stand as a prophecy against the reigning house of the Northern Kingdom, that they would pay for that bloodshed. Jezreel's name means God Scatters.

Third, the couple has a daughter. God commands that she be named Lo-ruhamah; Unloved,or, Pity or Pitied On to show Israel that, although God will still have pity on the Southern Kingdom, God will no longer have pity on the Northern Kingdom; its destruction is imminent.

Fourth, a son is born to Gomer. It is questionable whether this child was Hosea's, for God commands that his name be Lo-ammi; Not My People, or more simply, Not Mine. The child bore this name of shame to show that the Northern Kingdom would also be shamed, for its people would no longer be known as God's People. Also God says that "I am not your I am"; in other words, God changes His own name in connection with his current relationship with Israel.

Following this, the prophecy is made that someday this will all be changed, that God will indeed have pity on Israel.

Chapter two describes a divorce. This divorce seems to be the end of the covenant between God and the Northern Kingdom. However, it is probable that this was again a symbolic act, in which Hosea divorced Gomer for infidelity, and used the occasion to preach the message of God's rejection of the Northern Kingdom. He ends this prophecy with the declaration that God will one day renew the covenant, and will take Israel back in love.

In Chapter three, at God's command, Hosea seeks out Gomer once more. Either she has sold herself into slavery for debt, or she is with a lover who demands money in order to give her up, because Hosea has to buy her back. He takes her home, but refrains from sexual intimacy with her for many days, to symbolize the fact that Israel will be without a king for many years, but that God will take Israel back, even at a cost to Himself.

Chapters 4-14 spell out the allegory at length. Chapters 4-10 contain a series of oracles, or prophetic sermons, showing exactly why God is rejecting the Northern Kingdom, what are the grounds for the divorce. Chapter 11 is God's lament over the necessity of giving up the Northern Kingdom, which is a large part of the people of Israel, whom God loves. God promises not to give them up entirely. Then, in Chapter 12, the prophet pleads for Israel's repentance. Chapter 13 foretells the destruction of the kingdom at the hands of Assyria, because there has been no repentance. In Chapter 14, the prophet urges Israel to seek forgiveness, and promises its restoration, while urging the utmost fidelity to God.

Context

During Hosea's lifetime, the kings of the Northern Kingdom, their aristocratic supporters, and the priests had led the people away from the Law of God, as given in the Pentateuch. Forsaking the worship of God, they worshipped other gods, especially Baal, the Canaanite fertility god. Other sins followed, including homicide, perjury, theft, and sexual sin. Hosea declares that, unless they repent of these sins, God will allow their nation to be destroyed, and the people will be taken into captivity by Assyria (Ho 9.3; 11.5), the greatest nation of the time.

In fact, Assyria did capture Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, in 722 BCE. All the members of the upper classes and many of the ordinary people were taken captive and carried off to live as prisoners of war.

Themes

The primary theme of the Book of Hosea is that God loves Israel, just as a man loves his wife. This is shown by the extended metaphor of Hosea's own marriage.

In conjunction with that theme, however, are the twin themes of Israel's sin and the coming retribution. Although God loves Israel, Israel has not returned His love. This has been shown by the continued idolatry and acts of violence, oppression, and sexual sin among the people. Because Israel has not returned God's love, He will put them away from Him, just as Hosea did his wife, and send them into exile.

This introduces the fourth theme, which is the restoration of Israel from exile. The country will be conquered; the people will be sent into exile; but some will return and build the land up once more. God will embrace them as His people, and they will be loyal to Him as their God.

Contribution

Hosea is believed to be the first prophet to use marriage as a metaphor of the covenant between God and Israel, and he influenced latter prophets such as Jeremiah. He is among the first writing prophets, and the last chapter of Hosea has a format similar to wisdom literature.

External links

*Jewish translations:
** [http://www.chabad.org/library/archive/LibraryArchive2.asp?AID=15758 Hoshea - Hosea (Judaica Press)] translation with Rashi's commentary at Chabad.org

*Christian translations:
** [http://www.gospelhall.org/bible/bible.php?passage=Hosea+1 "Online Bible" at GospelHall.org]
** [http://www.anova.org/sev/htm/hb/28_hosea.htm "Hosea" at The Great Books] (New Revised Standard Version)
* [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=927&letter=H "Jewish Encyclopedia":] "Book of Hosea"
* [http://www.wlsessays.net/authors/H/HankeHosea/HankeHosea.PDF Isagogical Study of the Book of Hosea by: Paul R. Hanke]
* [http://www.wikichristian.org/Book_of_Hosea Book of Hosea at WikiChristian]


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