The book of Hosea (Hosea 1)

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Hosea the prophet in all likelihood wrote the book that bears his name. Some scholars have argued that parts of the book are secondary (written by someone else), but their arguments have produced no consensus and have persuaded few. Some hold, for example, that references to Judah and to the house of David were added at a leter time (e.g. Hosea 3:5; Hosea was primarily a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel). Others contend that the “optimistic” messages are add-ons (e.g. Hosea 14:4-7; Hosea primarily preached a message of condemnation). These arguments presuppose that Hosea was a one-dimensional prophet, incapable of speaking to both Israel and Judah or of preaching both condemnation and hope.

Another major issue regarding Hosea is the nature of his relationship to Gomer, his wife. It seems astonishing that Hosea would have been commanded by God to marry an immoral woman (1:2). The account in the first three chapters of this prophetic work has been subjected to every conceivable interpretation (e.g. that it is only the record of a vision or parable, that Gomer was actually faithful but played the part of a faithless woman for the sake of Hosea’s message, or that Gomer was actually guilty of idolatry but not promiscuity). None of these suggestions is persuasive. The text seems clear that God commanded Hosea to marry a dissolute woman and that the prophet took Gomer in direct obedience to that command. This is the ultimate kind of prophetic sign – a scenario in which a prophet engages in shocking and otherwise inexplicable behaviour in order to make his point for his audience (see Isaiah 20:2-4, Ezekiel 24:15-24).

Hosea dated his message to the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel and to those of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah (Hosea 1:1). This places the years of his prophetic ministry from around 755 to 715 B.C. and indicates that the prophet lived to see the destruction of Samaria, the capital of Israel, in 722 B.C.

Hosea initially delivered his message of doom orally to the northern kingdom of Israel. After the fall of Samaria his words were transcribed to scrolls as a record of prophecy fulfilled and was a warning of judgement, a call to repentance and a promise of restoration.

Hosea was written primarily as a message of judgement to the northern kingdom during the years of its precipitous decline prior to its fall to Assyria. For the most part the prophet’s words are filled with condemnation and promises of destruction for the nation, but readers who find this tedious do well to recognize that his predictions, in all their horror, were fulfilled within about 30 years of the beginning of his ministry.

The first three chapters of this book are a moving story that makes for fascinating reading. Make the attempt to enter vicariously into the drama from the perspective of the prophet himself or from that of one of the other players, such as Gomer. What relevance does this story have to the history of your own life and salvation?

Did you know that clay tablets from Ugarit tell of fertility rites carried out by the Canaanites at the high places, and that pagan rituals involving sexual immorality were often conducted under oak trees, which were considered sacred (4:13)? Did you know that “harlots” were common prostitutes, while “shrine prostitutes” were women of the sanctuaries who served as partners for men in the sexual activity that was part of their religious ritual (4:14)? Did you know that the “festival of our king” probably refers to a coronation or birthday celebration that developed into a drunken orgy (7:5)? King Elah died of drunkenness (1 Kings 16:9). Did you know that four Israelite kings were assassinated within 20 years, Zechariah and Shallum during a mere even-month period (Hosea 7:7)?


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