The Minor Prophets
The Book of Hosea
But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.—Hosea 1:7
Based on Notes from the Bible by John A. Meggison
The name Hosea means deliverance, salvation. It is not uncommon among the Jews. Isreal’s last king was named Hoshea. It was the original name of Joshua, which Moses changed (Num. 13:8). The prophet’s name thus stood in marked contrast to his mission which was to announce ruin and destruction.
The period of his prophecy—Uzziah to Hezekiah and Jeroboam, son of Joash of Israel—covered a very long and active ministry. From the death of Uzziah to the first year of Hezekiah was 32 years. His ministry may have lasted 60 years (Lange’s Commentary).
Hosea was contemporary with Isaiah, Micah, and Amos. These must have been closely connected in time, message, and service. Hosea takes up the thread of prophecy where Amos left off and keeps spinning it out until the destruction of the kingdom of Israel. There are parallel passages in Amos and Hosea (Hosea 8:14 and Amos 2:5; 1:4-7, 10; 12; 2:6; Hosea 9:13 and Amos 7:17; Hosea 12:8 and Amos 8:5; Hosea 12:10 and Amos 2:10). While Amos was probably aware of Assyria, by which God was to execute his judgment on the kingdom of Israel, he does not name or even allude to it. In Hosea it is named repeatedly. In Hosea it is named repeatedly and plainly, and he must denounce any association of Israel with this world power (Lange’s Commentary).
The time of Hosea’s prophecy covered two periods of the ten tribe history. First, the time of Jeroboam II, who raised the kingdom to an unprecedented position of eminence and power, although internal conditions of decay were abundantly present which the prophet was commissioned to reprove. The second was the period of decline and decay of the kingdom after the fall of the house of Jehu, and under succeeding kings. This was induced inwardly by a religious and moral ruin and not deferred, but only hastened, by a godless policy which sought support from foreign powers and delivered the nation into the hands of Assyria. (See 2Kings 14:23-29; 15:8-31; 17:1-23). (Lange’s Commentary)
The prophecy is mainly occupied with the ten-tribe kingdom, though Judah is not kept out of sight but alluded to in chapters five and six. It gives a severe testimony against the national apostasy from Jehovah and the deep and prevailing moral and civil corruption as the fruit of that apostasy, foretelling, as a result, divine judgments which increase in severity until the utter destruction of the kingdom. Side by side with the severe threatenings are words of promise richly unfolded, not merely as a hope of conversion and thus of better days but also as a definite announcement that the time was coming when the people, purified by chastisement and returning in grief to their God, would again find acceptance with him. Thereby their kingdom would be restored, not in its current abnormal and divided condition but as one united nation under a king of the line of David.
The prophet prounces punishment because of Jehovah’s love for his people. In this love of God (not merely in his righteousness) are rooted even his threatenings and the announcement of punishment. It was because Jehovah embraced his people from the beginning that he could not suffer any apostasy from them but must become angry at it, chastise it, even slay and destroy it utterly. All the threatening and chastisement is really the indignation and zeal of love, born of sorrow, and hence the more intense. Love is indeed angry and most justly and deeply so but it still remains nothing less than love. It is pained that it must be angry. In wrath in aims only to remove that which interrupts and prevents the display of love to the beloved. It seeks always to secure salvation, reconciliation, and restoration. Otherwise it would stand in its own way of realizing its object—the happiness of all God’s creatures—and would contribute most surely to its own failure.
Thus God’s promise is as necessary as his threatening. In proportion to the severity of the punishment must be the richness of the promise; as flowing from the love of God and not simply from a compassion coexisting with his punitive righteousness or from his faithfulness to his covenant as though truthfulness alone were to be kept unimpeachable. Thus the prophetic exhibition of the love of God, wounded sorely and in many ways by Israel’s guilt and therefore necessarily a chastening love, though ever remaining unchanged in its inner nature and so deeply grounded that it would not destroy but heal and recall to itself (Lange’s Commentary).
To Hosea the love of Jehovah is the deepest ground of his relation to Israel. That love was always active in developing the faithful. It was injured and disturbed by Israel. It chastens now in deep pain but can never deny itself nor be extinguished. It would still deliver and will at length save all the willing and obedient. All this is shown with the most glowing sympathy and in a great variety of ways. As the wife is united to her husband in indissoluble and sacred bonds and as the faithful husband feels justly angry and punishes her, even casting her off for a time, but can never cease to love her, so the love of Jehovah never departs from Israel, though he is angry and must punish them.
Divisions of the Book
Chapters one through three are introductory, They give the beginning of the divine revelation to Hosea and describe the spiritual adultery of the ten-tribe kingdom and its apostacy from Jehovah into idolatry.
The second main division is chapters four through fourteen. Chapter four is separated as a general charge of apostasy by the people of Jehovah.
In chapter five the denunciation is directed against those of exalted position. In addition to the general unfaithfulness to Jehovah, the false policy of seeking alliances with Egypt and Assyria was an insult to Jehovah.
Disloyalty does not appear to be mentioned in chapter six but is resumed again in chapter seven. There the denunciation is directed chiefly against the court itself while chapters five and six are more against the priests. In all these chapters the threat of punishment is united with the accusations. The actual announcement of judgment, however, appears first in chapter eight and continues in the following two chapters.
A new section begins in chapter eleven and his promises enter. Jehovah’s love for Israel seemed to be swallowed up by judgment but here it emerges again. First is only his reminder of his action toward Israel in their childhood. Naturally this is expressed in a sorrowful complaint against Israel who now, in manhood, requites that love with ill, showing by its apostasy the basest ingratitude. In 11:5, 6 we find the threat of punishment but Jehovah again brings his love into remembrance. It is he that loves Israel. This love is his essential disposition and cannot now belie itself. It oversteps wrath and appears as mercy. His promises break forth on their shining way as sunlight after dark and long distressing clouds.
The storm is not yet passed. In chapters twelve and thirteen threats of punishment reappear. The present is contrasted with the past and weighty words are twice uttered: “I am Jehovah, thy God from the land of Egypt” (12:9; 13:4). That people who had from the beginning Jehovah as their God cannot be given up. It is on the ground of their expected ultimate conversion that love flows forth in fullest promise. It promises no longer a mere cessation of punishment (11:9) but positively holds out the promise of a glorious state of blessedness.
Keil divides each of the two main sections (Chapters 1-3 and 4-14) into three smaller ones (1:2 to 2:1; 2:2-23 and chapter 3 for the first section and 4:1 to 6:3; 6:4 to 11:11 and 11:12 to 14:9) for the second section. Each section is marked by a beginning of denunciation and an ending of promise.
The Second Section
The second section may alternatively be divided into two main parts as described below:
The Sorrow and Indignation of Love
The prophecy describes the sorrow and indignation of Jehovah’s love which was so wounded by Israel’s faithlessness. The language is peculiarly emotional and impassioned, reflecting plainly the rush and swell of the feelings. “This anguish of love at the faithlessness of Israel so completely fills the mind of the prophet that his rich and lively imagination seeks perpetually by variety of imagery and fresh turns of thought to open the eyes of the sinful nation to the abyss of destruction ahead of it. His deep sympathy gives to his language the character of excitement, so that he merely hints briefly at the thoughts instead of studiously elaborating them, passes with abrupt change from one figure or simile to another and moves forward in short sentences and oracular utterances rather than in gently rounded discourse” (Keil).
“The style of the prophet is like a garland woven with various kinds of flowers, comparisons intertwined with comparisons. He breaks off one flower and throws it away, only to break off another immediately. He flies like a bee from one bed of flowers to another, bringing the honey of his varied sentences. His diction is marked by rare words and forms and unusual combinations and it may be conceived how difficult is the exposition of this book. The prophet [Hosea] is one of the most difficult of the prophets of the Old Covenant, and indeed of all the biblical writers” (Wunsche).
“His heart is full of the deepest anguish on account of the destruction and the inevitably approaching dissolution of the state, which makes him neglect all artistic and harmonious treatment of his theme” (Wunsche).
“In Hosea there is a rich and lively imagination, a pregnant fullness of language, and in spite of many strong figures, great tenderness of expression and warmth. His poetry is purely original, replete with vigor and thought and purity of presentation. Sudden changes occur.”