Hosea 1
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers









THE importance of Hosea is testified not only by the foremost position which his prophecy occupies in the LXX. and Masoretic Canon, but by the evident traces of his influence on Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Moreover, he is probably the only prophet of the kingdom of Israel whose oracles have come down to us in complete and literary form, bearing in their very language traces of the dialect of Northern Palestine.

Respecting the prophet Hosea (Hebrew חךשﬠ, salvation, LXX. Ωσηέ, and even Αὐσή), we only know for certain that he was the son of Beeri, and from internal indications we infer that he prophesied in the northern kingdom during the closing years of its existence. This epoch was characterised by moral and social dissolution. The death of Jeroboam II. left Israel a prey to anarchy. A series of short and violent usurpations undermined the prestige of royalty, and the kingdom fell a victim to disorder. While idolatrous sensuality and excess prevailed as it had done from the days of Israel’s disruption, robbery and oppression grew to alarming proportions. Bands of priests waylaid pilgrims on the way to local shrines, and the nobles were given up to violence and drunkenness. Meanwhile, the vast overshadowing military power of Assyria was advancing with rapid strides under the energetic rule of Tiglath-pileser. Egypt was unable to present an effectual resistance, and the tide of Assyrian conquest rolled with scarcely a check to the banks of the Jordan.

“The word of the Lord 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.” This superscription, or heading to the prophecy, in the first verse, furnishes a rough conception of the period over which Hosea’s prophetic activity extended. Without discussing the question whether the superscription, like that of the collected prophecies of Amos and of Isaiah, proceeded from the prophet’s own hand or from that of a later editor (as many critics assume), it may be affirmed that no cogent argument has yet been adduced impugning its historic accuracy. Formerly difficulties were felt to exist in the excessive length of active life therein assigned (65 years according to Keil, in his Introduction to the Old Testament). But the whole question of Scripture chronology has been profoundly affected by the results of Assyrian discovery, and is a problem still unsolved. (See Geo. Smith, Assyrian Eponym Canon, pp. 150 sqq.; Kamphausen, Die Chronologie der hebräischen Könige; Bleek, Einleiting in das alte Testament, 4th ed., pp. 263-66; Schrader, Keilinschriften, 2nd ed., pp. 222 sqq., 458 sqq.); and the tendency of modern inquiry is to abridge the interval between the reign of Jeroboam II. and that of Hoshea. (See article Hosea in Encyc. Brit.)

Critics at the present time lay stress on the argument that the internal evidence of the oracles themselves leads to the assumption that the mention of the Judæan kings is due to a later and incorrect interpolation. (1) It is said that the allusions to Gilead are incompatible with a time subsequent to its depopulation by Tiglathpileser (734 B.C.). But in the first place the extent of the destruction there wrought cannot be ascertained from the mutilated records of his campaign; while, secondly, the very disorders in that region, graphically portrayed by the prophet, may have been aggravated by the disturbing effects wrought by that invasion. This is confirmed by the language of Hosea 12:11, where the prophet refers to the destruction which had been wrought in Gilead, and points to the ruined “stoneheaps” which were once the altars of a false worship in the adjoining district of Gilgal on the west side of the Jordan. (See Notes on Hosea 7:9; Hosea 7:11.) (2) It is urged that these prophecies, if subsequent to the Syro-Ephraimitic war against Judah, would not have passed over it in silence. But the argumentum e silentio is perilous, unless adequate motive can be assigned for such allusions relative to the general scope and purpose of the prophecy. That purpose was to awaken the slumbering consciousness of Israel (the northern kingdom) to a sense of its unfaithfulness to Jehovah. But why should war against so unworthy a representative of David as the effeminate and superstitious Ahaz (Isaiah 3:4) appear in the eyes of the prophet dishonouring to Jehovah, and why should we expect a special reference to the subject in these oracles? If, as some writers argue, the policy of Rezin and Pekah was to compel Ahaz to unite in resisting the encroachments of Assyria (see Cheyne’s Isaiah, Introduction to Hosea 7), the moral sympathies of Hosea may well have been on the side of his countrymen, and opposed to a monarch whose policy of subservience to Asshur he would emphatically condemn. (Comp. Hosea 5:13; Hosea 7:11; Hosea 14:3.)

On the other hand, indications are not wanting that the year 726 B.C. circ. may be assumed as the terminus ad quem of the prophet’s career. This was admitted by Bleek (Introduction to Old Testament). The references to Judah in Hosea 4-14 are such as point to the national degradation brought about by the reign of Ahaz (Hosea 4:6; Hosea 4:13; Hosea 6:11). Moreover, Samaria was not yet destroyed, but there are evidences in the closing chapters that the impending shadows of that terrible catastrophe darkened his soul (Hosea 9:13; Hosea 10:3-8; Hosea 10:14-15; Hosea 13:7-11; Hosea 13:15-16), and added pathos to his last appeal (Hosea 14).

The writings of Hosea, like most Old Testament oracles, are in a minor key, but are characterised by the prevalence of a tragic discord, which was the ever-recurring grief of a sorrow-stricken heart. For Hosea was doomed by the chastening hand of God to suffer the domestic misery of an unfaithful wife. Soon after his marriage to Gromer, daughter of Diblaim, the infidelities of her past and present conduct became apparent. The children born under these sad auspices received significant names from the prophet, which exhibit how the mind of the seer was working by Divine enlightenment to a clear interpretation of the sorrowful mystery. Did the prophet’s marriage become to him ultimately a Divine summons to his sacred office? We do not know, but we are justified in inferring from his language that this marriage was regarded by him as part of a special Divine purpose. The wrongs he had suffered were now understood by him to be a parable of the sins committed by Israel against Jehovah, and of the long history of unfaithfulness to the God of Jacob who had brought His people out of Egypt. In the Commentary it will be seen that we have maintained the view that regards the marriage with Gomer not as mere allegory, but as historic fact. The opinion there adopted is that of Duhm (Theologie der Propheten, p. 82), Wellhausen, and Nowack, and has also been followed by Mr. W. R. Smith. In the second part of this collection of prophecies it will be seen that Israel’s unfaithfulness to Jehovan, which is the central theme, falls into two clearly marked types.

(1) Unfaithfulness in political relations. From 2Kings 15:19-20 we learn that Menahem purchased immunity from the attacks of Pul (Tiglath-pileser II.) by paying a tribute of 1,000 talents of silver. This event may probably be assigned to about 738 B.C., and is confirmed by the mention in Tiglath-pileser’s records of Menahem of Samaria in a list of monarchs who paid tribute to Assyria. This may, with considerable likelihood, be assumed to have taken place at a time when a confederacy organised by the powerful and valiant Azariah (Uzziah), king of Judah, was being broken up by the rapid successes achieved by the Assyrian monarch. Menahem thus inaugurated a fatal policy of dependence on Assyria, which was only too faithfully imitated by Ahaz, king of Judah, and opened the way to the complete subjugation of the Western Syro-Palestinian chain of kingdoms and states. This policy was carried to its highest pitch in the reign of king Hoshea. This monarch, as we clearly see from the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser (G. Smith, Assyrian Eponym Canon, pp. 123, 4), obtained his elevation to power by the aid of Assyria, and paid tribute to Assyria as a humble vassal. But Hoshea could not have maintained his position long under such conditions. He had to reckon with a powerful party in Israel who aimed at throwing off the yoke of Assyria by courting an alliance with Egypt, and at length he felt compelled to adopt their views, and play a double part between these two world-powers. But all this policy of subservience to foreign empires was in flagrant violation of the old theocratic principle. To the mind of the prophet it was treacherous abandonment of Israel’s God, and with scathing words he denounced the unfaithfulness of Ephraim to Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts, the leader of Israel’s armies, and the supreme protector of their soil. Ephraim is compared to a silly dove hovering between Egypt and Assyria (Hosea 7:11, comp. Hosea 5:13). “A covenant is made with Assyria and oil is carried to Egypt” (Hosea 11:1). “Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not” (Hosea 7:9). It was the aim of these stern denunciations to lead Israel back to faithful dependence on the God of Jacob, that they might “return to Jehovah their God” and confess with penitence: “Asshur shall not save us” (Hosea 14:1-3).

(2) Unfaithfulness shown in idolatry. The worship of the true God had been degraded in the northern kingdom into the calf-worship erected by Jeroboam I. into a state-religion. The step from the calf-worship to the Baal-worship of the Canaanites was an easy one. The latter, indeed, had long exercised its fatal seductions upon the Hebrew race. Jehovah was even called by the name of Baal, as Hebrew proper names, closely analogous to Phœnician, clearly testify; and the God of Israel was thus in reality worshipped in local shrines with all the loathsome accompaniments of licentious excess (see Hosea 2:13; Hosea 2:16-17; Hosea 4:12-14; Hosea 9:10, &c.; comp. Introduction to Amos), and hence there resulted a hideous blending of a foreign cultus with a national religion. This idolatry was regarded by Hosea, as it was by Elijah, and afterwards by Isaiah, as treachery to the pure and Holy God of Israel. It was the aim of the prophet to awaken a yearning for the olden time and the old covenant-relations when “by a prophet Jehovah led Israel out of Egypt,” so that the nation might be brought to make the solemn vow, “We will say no more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods” (Hosea 12:13; Hosea 14:3).

The latter aspect of Hosea’s prophecy is highly important. Some modern critics attempt to represent Amos and Hosea as epoch-making in the sense of introducing entirely new religious conceptions. But this is an unwarrantable inference. The language clearly points in the opposite direction. Hosea recognises what all Israel likewise recognised from the days of Ahab to those of Hezekiah, that an old order and system of worship existed (Hosea 8:11-14; Hosea 12:9-10; Hosea 12:13), and to this they were summoned to return. If this common ground did not exist, on what basis could the prophet’s appeal to the national conscience rest?

Was this appeal in vain? We are disposed to think that a considerable awakening of Israel’s slumbering religious life was the result. The brighter visions of the concluding strophes (Hosea 14) might seem to indicate, when connected with a phrase in 2Kings 17:2, that even in the worldly heart of king Hoshea a change had been wrought by the exhortations of the prophet. In the kingdom of Judah the policy and utterances of his younger contemporary, Isaiah, were profoundly moulded by the words of Ephraim’s great preacher of repentance, and more than a century after the language of Jeremiah shows traces of the same influence.

We have seen that the oracles of Hosea are linked by one dominant conception arising out of his personal history. These writings, like the “Faust” of Goethe, are fragmentary in character, and were composed at intervals extending over a large part of the prophet’s lifetime.

An exact chronological arrangement of the prophecies of Hosea is, from the conditions of the case, impossible. They may, however, with some probability, be divided according to their general contents as follows:—

I.Hosea 1-3 (written in the closing years of the reign of Jeroboam II., as is shown by the references to the “house of Jehu” in Hosea 1:4).—Descriptive of the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife as figurative of Israel’s sin.

II.Hosea 4-14—A series of discourses (belonging to a later period), in which the key-note of Israel’s fidelity to Jehovah, her Lord, constantly recurs.

Hosea 4—Moral degradation and idolatrous corruption of people and priests.

Hosea 5, 6 (Tiglath-pileser’s invasion).—Demoralisation of nobles and priests in Judah and Ephraim. Their repentance is a hollow one, as is proved by the murders in Gilead.

Hosea 7, 8 (Hoshea’s reign).—The drunkenness of the princes, and the foolish alliances with Assyria or Egypt. Idolatrous corruption of Ephraim and unfaithfulness to Jehovah.

Hosea 9-11—Divine chastisement and Divine pleading.

Hosea 12-14—The teachings of patriarchal history. Last words of rebuke and final hope.

It has been well observed that Hosea is “a man of emotion rather than of logic, a poet rather than a preacher,” in this respect standing in contrast with Amos, the prophet of well-ordered argument. Justice is the key-note of the denunciations of Amos; love, outraged love, is the key-note of Hosea’s pleading. And with what a wealth of resource the pleading is enforced! “The language of the prophet,” says Eichhorn, “resembles a garland of divers flowers; images are woven to images, similes strung to similes, metaphors ranged on metaphors.” And the rapidity of transition from one to another, especially when confused by corruption of the text, occasionally renders the path of interpretation perilous and uncertain (e.g., Hosea 6:9; Hosea 9:12). For further information we would refer the reader to the admirable chapter in W. R. Smith’s Prophets of Israel, pp. 159-169, and to Prof. Davidson’s article on “Hosea” in the Expositor (1879). The many points of contact between Hosea and the Pentateuch are clearly indicated in Curtiss’ Levitical Priests, pp. 175-181.


EXCURSUS A: ON JAREB (Hosea 5:13).

Schrader, in his “Cuneiform Inscriptions and the Old Testament,” has the following note:—“King Combat, or Contention (Jareb), is not a proper name—none such being found in the Assyrian lists. In the prevailing uncertainty respecting Biblical chronology, it is hard to determine what Assyrian monarch is meant by this appellative. If we are to understand Salmanassar III. (781-772) as the king in Hosea 10:14, under the name Salman, the allusion here may be to Assur-dan-ilu (771-754), who conducted a series of expeditions to the West.” But when we turn to Schrader’s comment on Hosea 10:14, we find that he abandons the theory that Salman is Salmanassar III. (see ad. Loc.). On the other hand, Tiglath-pileser, whom Schrader and Sir H. Rawlinson identify with the Pul of Scripture, was a warrior of great prowess, to whom such a designation as “King Combat” from Hosea and his contemporaries would admirably apply. The verse might then be taken to refer to the events of the reign of Menahem (2Kings 15:19, see also Introduction). But this explanation, probable as it is, is complicated with questions of Biblical chronology. (See Introduction).

EXCURSUS B (Hosea 6:7).

Buhl, in Zeitschrift für Kirchliche Wissenschaft, Part 5, 1881, throws some light on the enigmatical phrase keAdam, by pointing out that Adam is employed in many places to express all the other races of mankind as opposed to Israel. Thus, he translates Jeremiah 32:20, “Thou who didst perform wonders in Israel, as well as in Adam.” Similarly Isaiah 43:4, on which Delitzsch remarks that those who do not belong to the chosen people are called Adam, because they are regarded as nothing but descendants of Adam. In this passage the emphatic position of the Hebrew pronoun hemmah lends significance to the contrasted term Adam. The meaning, therefore, is—the Israelites, who should be a chosen race, belong now, through their violation of the covenant, to the heathen: have become, in fact, Lo’Ammi. (Comp. Hosea 1:9.) The word “there” in the last clause may refer to some local sanctuary, notorious for idolatrous corruption. This is confirmed by the mention of localities in the next verse. We prefer, however, to understand it (with the Targum of Jonathan) as referring to the Holy Land.

The word of the LORD 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) In the days of Uzziah.—On the historical questions involved in this verse, see Introduction.

The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD.
(2) The beginning of the word . . .—More correctly, In the beginning when the Lord spoke to Hosea, the Lord said . . .

Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms.—How are we to interpret the prophet’s marriage to the licentious Gomer? Is it an historic occurrence, the only too real tragedy of the author’s personal experience, employed for the purpose of illustration? (Comp. the domestic incident, Isaiah 8:1-4.) Or is this opening chapter a merely allegorical representation, designed to exhibit in vivid colours the terrible moral condition of Israel? (Comp. the symbolic actions described in Jeremiah 25:15-29; Ezekiel 4:4-6; and perhaps Isaiah 20:1-3.) Able writers have advocated each of these opposed theories; but in our opinion the balance of evidence inclines to the former view, which regards the events as historic. The further question arises, Was Gomer guilty before or after the marriage? The former supposition involves the harshness of conceiving such a marriage as the result of a Divine command; but the latter supposition admits of a satisfactory interpretation. The wickedness which after marriage revealed itself to the prophet’s agonised heart was transfigured to the inspired seer into an emblem of his nation’s wrong to Jehovah. In the light of this great idea, the prophet’s past came before him in changed aspect. As he reflected on the marvellous symbolic adaptation of this episode to the terrible spiritual needs of his fellow-countrymen, which he was called by God to supply, the Divine purpose which shaped his sorrowful career became interpreted to his glowing consciousness as a Divine command—“Go, take unto thyself a wife of whoredoms.” He had suffered acutely, but the agony was part of God’s arrangement, and the very love that was repeatedly outraged proves ultimately to have been suggested by a Divine monition.

Children of whoredoms.—Children of Hosea’s marriage. The whole result of his family history was included in this divinely ordered plan.

So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; which conceived, and bare him a son.
(3) Gomer the daughter of Diblaim.—Gomer means complete, or perfect, but whether in external beauty or in wickedness of character is not easy to determine.

And the LORD said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel.
(4) Jezreel means “God shall sow.” The prophet had already discovered the faithlessness of his spouse, and that his married life was symbolic of his nation’s history. Observe the resemblance in sound between Jezreel and Israel, and the historic associations of the former. It was the name of a very fertile plain in the tribe of Issachar, which was many times the scene of terrible struggles (Judges 4:13; Judges 6:33; Judges 7:1; 1Samuel 29:1). It was also the name of a town associated with the guilt of Ahab and Jezebel in bringing about the murder of Naboth (1 Kings 21), and with the final extinction of Ahab’s house by Jehu (2Kings 9:21; 2Kings 10:11).

And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.
(5) I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.—Jehu was to be punished for the assassination of Ahab’s descendants. Though the destruction of the house of Ahab was divinely appointed, its value was neutralised by Jehu’s tolerance of the calf-worship.

And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Loruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away.
(6) Lo-ruhamah.—“Unloved,” or, perhaps, “unpitied.” The prophet’s growing despondency about his country’s future is revealed in her name. The rest of the verse is best rendered—For I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel, that I should indeed forgive them.

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.
(7) Will save them . . .—We may consider this verse to have been literally fulfilled in the destruction of Sennacherib’s army. The prophetic outlook anticipates the fact that when Judah is captive and exiled, her restoration by the divine hand would take the form of mercy and forgiveness. (Comp. Psalms 76, Isaiah 40:1-2.)

Then said God, Call his name Loammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.
(9) Closes the chapter in the Hebrew text. The episode above described is, in some particulars, the model for Ezekiel 16. Gomer’s child Lo ‘Ammi (not my people), is type of utter and final repudiation.

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.
(10) An abrupt transition from dark presage to bright anticipation. The covenant-blessings promised to Abraham shall yet be realised.

Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel.
(11) Shall come up out of the land.—Better, shall go up out of, &c., a phrase frequently occurring in Scripture, to denote the marching forth to war. Israel shall then be united. The envy of Israel and Judah shall cease. (Isaiah 11:12-13; Ezekiel 34:24; Ezekiel 37:24). A world-wide dominion shall be established under the restored theocracy. Under the word “land,” no reference is made by the prophet to exile, either in Babylon, Assyria, or Egypt, but Palestine is evidently meant. Then the true Israel, having chosen their true king, shall demonstrate the greatness of the day of Jezreel. The brothers and sisters will then drop the curse involved in their names, and recognise the Divine proprietorship of Jehovah and the abundance of His pity.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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