Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures













§ 1. Person of the Prophet.1

THE name הוֹשֵׁע, which occurs in Hosea 1:2, as well as in the superscription, Hosea 1:1, signifies deliverance, salvation. It was a name not uncommon among the Jews. The last monarch of the kingdom of Israel2 furnishes another familiar instance. It was also the original name of Joshua, having been changed by Moses to יְחוֹשֻׁעַ. The LXX. write the name’Ωσηέ (for which Paul, however, in the citation from our Prophet, writes’Ωσηέ), the Vulgate Osee, and Luther, more conformably to the Hebrew pronunciation, Hosea. The Prophet’s name = Deliverance, stood thus in marked contrast to the aim of his mission,—the announcement of ruin and destruction. And yet it well agreed with his vocation as a messenger of God, to return to whom would have been the only but the sure way to deliverance. So also the final “deliverance” of God’s people was the grand object kept in view through all the terrors of the judgment denounced upon apostate Israel. Thus the position at the beginning of the Book of the Twelve Prophets, occupied by Hosea, was truly significant.

As to the origin of the Prophet we have no direct information. Only the name of his father, Beeri, is mentioned in the superscription. But we may be justified in seeking his home in that region which is clearly presented as the scene of his labors, namely, in the Kingdom of Israel. It is true that we have, in Amos, an instance of a prophet sent from Judah into the Kingdom of Israel, as also in the case of the prophet mentioned in 1 Kings 13. But if Hosea also had been so commissioned, the fact would probably have been recorded as something unusual, as was done in the case of Amos. Yet prophets were not unknown in the Kingdom of Israel (e.g., Jonah under Jeroboam II., 2 Kings 14:25, and, previously, Elisha with the school of young prophets trained by him). But the perfect familiarity with the circumstances and topography of the northern kingdom, displayed by Hosea, furnishes positive evidence that he belonged to that region (comp. Hosea 5:1; 6:8, 9; 12:12; 14:6 ff.). That, in Hosea 2, he calls it directly “the land,” and, in Hosea 7:5, terms its king “our king,” would seem to prove, further, that he resided there, while his diction betrays an Aramaic coloring, in forms as well as in particular words. His frequent casual references to Judah do not invalidate the evidence of a northern origin. For it was impossible that a prophet of Jehovah, were he ever so much a citizen of the kingdom of Israel, should lose sight of Judah; for Judah was the kingdom of David, and it was to it alone that those promises related, which formed the sure ground of the Messianic hope, that the Lord would not cast off his people utterly and forever, but that a time was coming when they should rise gloriously from out of their desolation. The prophet could call attention all the more impressively to the strictness of the divine righteousness as displayed towards Judah; for even that nation was not to be spared, but was to be punished for its apostasy; how much less, then, should the kingdom of Israel fancy itself secure in its gross unfaithfulness to God! Finally, if the superscription, in the first line of which the period of the Prophet’s ministry is defined according to the succession of Kings of Judah, should be adduced as proof that Hosea did not belong to the Northern Kingdom, it might be shown that this proves nothing, since it is not certain that the superscription proceeded from the Prophet himself. It may have been prefixed to his writings in the kingdom of Judah some time after their composition, and this mode of indicating his era would then have been quite natural.3

With regard to the circumstances of Hosea’s life we know absolutely nothing. What tradition has to say upon this subject is utterly devoid of support and quite worthless.

With regard, however, to the character and disposition of the Prophet and his inner life generally, much could be gathered from his book. But this is to be gained more fully from what is unfolded in the book itself, and we shall therefore postpone our inquiry until we come to examine the subject as presented there.

There can be no doubt as to where the scene of the Prophet’s labors lay. It was the more northerly of the two divided kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel. The prophecies which he has left to us in his book are almost exclusively occupied with that kingdom, the events, religious, moral, and political which had transpired there, and the destiny which was awaiting it. Judah is, indeed, not unfrequently mentioned, partly in contrast to Israel (Ephraim), partly as being guilty of the same transgressions. In the latter relation it is named with greatest frequency in Hosea 5 and 6, but afterwards only in isolated passages: 8:14; 10:11; 12:1. But Judah is always referred to incidentally, and in such a way that no doubt is left upon the mind, that the Prophet, though giving to Judah a prominent place, did not regard it as the sphere of his mission. The supposition that later, at least, he betook himself to the kingdom of Judah and there composed his book (Ewald), cannot be established.

If we seek for the period in which the Prophet lived and labored, we meet at once with a definite statement in the superscription (ver. 1), which defines this period as “the time of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and Jeroboam, son of Joash, king of Israel.” This would assign to the active ministry of the Prophet a very long duration. “For between the death of Uzziah and the first year of Hezekiah there intervened thirty-two years. But the Israelitish king, Jeroboam II. died, at the least calculation, a considerable period before Uzziah. The interval was probably twenty-six years, although the discordant statements of the books of the Kings with regard to the relation of the Kings of Judah and Israel prevent us from assigning with certainty the precise period. Thus, according to the superscription, the ministry of Hosea must have begun long before Uzziah’s death, and if we place it only a short time before the death of Jeroboam II., it must, since it reached to the beginning of the reign of Hezekiah, have been of very long duration, about sixty years.” (According to the ordinary reckoning Jeroboam died B. C. 783, and Hezekiah ascended the throne in 727.) This result is calculated to excite doubts of the correctness of the superscription. We therefore seek grounds of support in the book itself. It appears to be quite certain from it that Hosea appeared before the fall of the dynasty of Jehu, which affords us the terminus a quo. For it is with the announcement of the destruction of this house that his book opens. “But it was only,” remarks Ewald rightly, “the idolatry promoted by the house of Jehu, that was denounced; the people were still, to all appearance, great and powerful.” More especially, there is as yet no allusion whatever to internal commotions, or to the subversion of the order of things in the state. We can hardly refer his first appearance to the period succeeding the death of Jeroboam II., during which the kingdom was probably in a state of anarchy for from eleven to twelve years. And if the supposition of such an interregnum should be pronounced untenable, we have still less room for Hosea’s appearance after Jeroboam’s death; for with his son Zachariah the house of Jehu lost the throne, thus bringing about the event threatened by the Prophet, Zachariah having retained possession only half a year. The dynasty of Jehu then actually appeared to be firmly established, but was undoubtedly being undermined internally even in the time of Jeroboam. To this period, therefore, concerning which we have a brief notice in 2 Kings 14:23–29, and which is there expressly spoken of as a time in which Jehovah gave help through Jeroboam, for “He had not yet declared that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven,” to this period towards its conclusion, we can assign, with almost perfect confidence, the terminus a quo of Hosea’s ministry. It is a matter of greater difficulty to fix the terminus ad quem. We are certain, at the outset, only of this much, that Hosea labored and wrote before the sixth year of the reign of Hezekiah; for it was in that year that the event transpired which he had so plainly announced, the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel, by the Assyrians. But how closely are we justified in approaching this limit? That Hosea lived during the gloomy period of the disorders occasioned by the usurpations under Zachariah, Shallum, and Menahem, described briefly in 2 Kings 15:8–20, is a well established fact, for these events are most vividly mirrored in his discourses (see especially Hosea 7). But the Assyrians stand in the foreground with special prominence, as the power-in which help was sought, and to which “gifts” were sent in time of distress,—foolishly, for it was in these actions that the Prophet discerned so clearly the sure way to destruction through Assyria. We must therefore descend at least to the reign of Menahem; for it was then that Assyria under Pul, first came in contact with Israel, Menahem paying him tribute, and thus purchasing from Assyria assistance in his efforts to maintain his kingdom.4

Ewald does not feel himself at liberty to seek any later period, and therefore does not go down as far as the reign of Pekah, thus excluding the period of King Uzziah in Judah. For it was under Pekah that Tiglath-Pileser, summoned by Ahaz to assist him against Pekah, who had formed an alliance with Rezin, king of Syria (2 Kings 16:5–9), wrested from the kingdom of Israel the northern and eastern portions of the country, more particularly Galilee and Gilead (2 Kings 15:29). Yet of these important transactions the Prophet appears to know nothing historically, Gilead and Tabor, in his view, comprising between them the whole of the kingdom, and Gilead, so often mentioned, appearing throughout as an unconquered territory. But these grounds are not unassailable. In the first place we do not even know to what extent the conquest was carried. It may have been only a plundering expedition. It is certain that these districts stood only in the relation of tributaries to Assyria. But, especially, we do not know how long this state of subjection lasted. May we not be allowed to assume, in the absence of other information, that the later expedition of Shalmaneser against Hoshea (2 Kings 17:3) was occasioned by the circumstance that Hoshea had regained possession of the territory formerly subdued by Tiglath-Pileser? In that case, however, we must take into consideration the interval between the utterance of the discourses and the composition of the book. “In them, therefore, allusions might well be found to events and circumstances which at the time when the book was composed, belonged to the past” (Hengstenberg). Thus for example, Hosea might have survived the first Assyrian invasion under Tiglath-Pileser, even though, in his discourses, Gilead appears to be still a component part of the kingdom, which in other passages, e.g., Hosea 12:12 (11), it is not necessary to assume. For a tributary relation to Assyria and utter destruction are things entirely different. Scarcely anything then stands in the way of the attempt to bring the terminus ad quem down to the days of Pekah and Hoshea. On the other hand, there are many things which seem to demand such an attempt. The whole position which Assyria assumes with Hosea seems to show that what he spoke and wrote did not fall on the first contact with Assyria under Menahem, which had a comparatively favorable issue, but that Assyria had already displayed her power, so fraught with danger to Israel and causing such destruction, as was done by Tiglath-Pileser in the reign of Pekah. And many indications seem to point directly to the reign of the last king Hoshea; one instance is the denunciation of the double relation, into which Israel entered simultaneously with Assyria and Egypt (Hosea 7:11; 12:2). Ewald would refer this to two political parties. But nothing is known of any connection with Egypt under Menahem at least; and even though Hosea 7:11 could be interpreted in this interest, the expression employed in 12:1 indicates so clearly an alliance and an offering of gifts, that we are only justified in supposing that transaction to be referred to, of which we have certain information, namely, the double game which, according to 2 Kings 17:3, 4, Hoshea played with Assyria and Egypt. We may obtain still clearer testimony to the correctness of this view, if, in Hosea 10:14 Shalman be understood directly to stand for Shalmaneser, so that the first expedition of Shalmaneser, mentioned in 2 Kings 17:3, would be referred to as having already been made, and as a new invasion is here threatened, the last expedition of that king which brought ruin upon the kingdom would be regarded as impending. But the passage is obscure, and the conclusion which must be adopted is that the terminus ad quem can be only approximately ascertained. But, at all events, no direct testimony can be adduced against the correctness of the designation of time made in the superscription, which extends the ministry of the Prophet to the reign of Hezekiah.

Accordingly Hosea was, most probably, an older contemporary of Isaiah, whose ministry began in the long reign of King Uzziah in Judah, though much later than that of Hosea, and extended to a period much later. He would also be contemporary with Micah, if he actually lived until the beginning of Uzziah’s reign. On the other side he comes in contact with Amos; for the latter prophet lived in the contemporary reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam II.; and if it was the case that Hosea did not appear until after the death of Amos, he must have been closely connected with him, not merely in time, but also in their common vocation. For it was the mission of Amos also, though belonging to the tribe of Judah, to proclaim the divine judgments, upon the kingdom of Israel. Hosea, therefore, takes up the thread where Amos had let it drop and keeps spinning it out until the destruction of the kingdom. He also manifestly makes reference to Amos, comp. Hos. 8:14 with Amos 2:5 (1:4–7, 10, 12; 2:6); Hos. 9:3 with Am. 7:17; Hos. 12:8 with Am. 8:5; Hos. 12:10 f. with Am. 2:10 ff. While Amos is probably cognizant of the power, Assyria, by which God was to execute his judgments upon the kingdom of Israel, but does not name or even allude to it, in Hosea it is named plainly and very frequently, and he must denounce any association of Israel with this World-Power, which had approached already so near. Hosea falls, in any case, in the last of the three periods of the history of this kingdom. The times in which he lived, as defined above, form a twofold period, or two periods, outwardly at least, very diverse. One was the period of the vigorous rule 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 prove. The other was the period of the visible decline and decay of the kingdom after the fall of the house of Jehu and under the succeeding kings, induced inwardly by a religious and moral ruin, and not deferred, but only hastened, by an untheocratic policy, which sought support among foreign powers, and delivered the nation into the hands of the Assyrians. The information given in the historical books concerning this whole period must have its due place in the study of the Prophet. Comp. 2 Kings 14:23–29; 15:8–31; 17:1–6, and, as supplementary to it, the pragmatical treatment of the subject, assigning the causes of the destruction of the kingdom, 2 Kings 17:7–23. The truest picture of the whole period is presented by the Prophet himself in his whole book, to the examination of which we accordingly pass.

§ 2. The Book of the Prophet

We have in the Canon under the name of Hosea one book in fourteen chapters.

With regard to its contents. We have seen above that it is mainly occupied with the more northerly of the two kingdoms, although the kingdom of Judah is not therefore kept out of sight, being alluded to repeatedly, especially in Hosea 5 and 6, in conjunction with Israel. What then has it to say with reference to that kingdom? A single glance into our book is sufficient to inform us. It is chiefly occupied with a most severe testimony against the national apostasy from Jehovah, and the deep and prevailing moral and civil corruption which appears throughout as the fruit of that apostasy, and in immediate connection therewith, an announcement of divine judgments, which increases in severity until the utter destruction of the kingdom itself is foretold. But this does not exhaust the purport of the book; for, like the other prophetic writings, it contains too an abundant storehouse of promise. By the side of the severe threatenings, though these occupy by far the larger space in the book, there are found words of promise most richly unfolded, not merely as a hope of future conversion and thus of the return of better days, but as a definite announcement that the time was coining when the people, purified by chastisement and returning in grief and penitence to their God, should again find acceptance with Him, and that thereby their kingdom should be restored, not in its then abnormal and divided condition, but as one united body, under a King of the line of David.

But this view only presents the meaning of the book externally, and exhibits only the germs of that which it was the special province of the prophetic writings chiefly to unfold.

It is just with our Prophet that this exhibition cannot satisfy. He presents these general truths in a form peculiar to himself; he would at least, beside the one, the threatening, place the other, the promise, but he labors to regard from a single point of view the position which Jehovah bears to Israel and so specially to the kingdom of the ten tribes, and from this to explain both the threatening and the promise; to view them, namely, in the light of Jehovah’s love to Israel as his people.

In this love of God (and not simply in his righteousness) are rooted, according to Hosea, even the threatening and announcement of punishment, with which he is chiefly occupied. For it was because Jehovah’s love embraced his people from the beginning that He could not suffer any apostasy from him, but must become angry at it, must chastise it, must even slay and destroy it utterly, that is, in its corporate existence. All threatening and chastisement is really the indignation and zeal of love,5 born of sorrow and therefore all the more intense. Hence the announcement of punishment sounds forth in tones of terrific severity. But they also have their end in themselves. Love is indeed angry and most deeply so, but it is and remains nothing but love, for it is pained that it must be angry, and with all its wrath it can only aim to remove that which interrupts and prevents the display of itself to the object beloved, and must ever aim to secure salvation, reconciliation, and restoration, else it would itself stand in the way of realizing its object, and would thus contribute most surely to its own failure. From this stand-point, promise is seen to be as necessary as threatening, and in proportion to the severity of the latter must be the richness of the former, as flowing from the love of God, and not simply from a certain compassion coexisting with his punitive righteousness, or from his faithfulness, by which the covenant is maintained, as though his truthfulness alone were to be kept unimpeachable. If, therefore, we do not wish to rest content with a superficial view of the book, we must regard its meaning from this stand-point as expressed in the following estimate: “The prophetic exhibition of the love of God, wounded sorely and in numberless ways by Israel’s guilt, and therefore necessarily a chastening love, though ever remaining unchanged in its inner nature, which being so deeply grounded would not destroy, but heal and recall to itself.” Such are the words of Ewald, who has so correctly perceived and so beautifully expressed the fundamental thought of our book, but who views it too subjectively, too much as the mere outflow of the author’s own personal feelings, instead of something flowing from a deep insight into the nature of God himself. Yet he makes these admirable observations: “To this prophet the love of Jehovah is the deepest ground of his relation to Israel; that love was always active in forming the Church; it was injured and disturbed by Israel; it chastens now in deep pain, but can never deny itself or be extinguished; it would still deliver and will at length save all. All this is exhibited with the most glowing sympathy, and in a great variety of ways. But no image is here more expressive than that of marriage. As the wife is united to her husband by indissoluble and sacred bonds, and the faithful husband justly feels angry at the unfaithful wife, punishes her or even casts her off for a time, but never can really cease to love her, so has the ancient Church, the mother of the churches now living, borne children, during her unfaithfulness to Jehovah, who resist Him unworthily, and yet the love of Jehovah never departs from them, although he is angry and punishes them.”

This last sentence may indicate also why we regard this relation of love between Jehovah and Israel not merely as the doctrinal background of the contents of our book, but an expression of those contents themselves. For Hosea, from the very opening, presents expressly this relation of Jehovah and Israel under this figure of the husband, who just because he is united to his wife by the bond of love, must as surely be indignant with her and punish her, as he must also be unable to let her go, but must hold out to her the prospect of a cordial reinstatement in her former relations.

The figure becomes indeed less prominent as the book advances, but appears through the whole sometimes more obscurely, sometimes more clearly, and even emerges again into the foreground in several passages. The conception of Israel’s conduct is based upon this image, partly as it is designated infidelity, whoredom, which applies not merely to idolatry itself, but sets forth the principle that underlies the false, untheocratic policy of the kingdom of the Ten Tribes in its alliances with the world-powers; and partly and still more as everything that is said of Jehovah’s conduct towards Israel, of warning, of threatening, of punishing, of promising, is rooted wholly in this fundamental idea of Jehovah’s love to Israel as his spouse drawn from the analogy of wedded love,—except that this image of wedded love is interchanged with the figure of paternal love, equally strong in another direction, as especially in Hosea 11 in accordance with the fact that the subject of that chapter is Jehovah’s conduct towards Israel in his childhood. This latter relation is thus placed parallel to a relation of personal love based upon a moral course of life. This view explains why our book, in a way so peculiar to itself, refers so much to Israel’s earlier history. For it is natural that love should remind the one beloved, who had become unfaithful and refused to reciprocate affection, of the beginning of their attachment; that the husband should recall to the wife, when such a rupture of the marriage tie has taken place, the first love with which he met the bride (as the father also reminds the backsliding son of the love displayed toward him in childhood). On the other hand when the course of infidelity is complete, he is led to remember the beginnings and foretokens of such behavior in earlier days, and he explains the present in the light of the past, justifies his anger and chastening in the present and his bitter complaints over the unfaithfulness of his wife, by adducing the complaints made and the punishments which had to be inflicted in former times. If the recollection of the past thus intensifies the bitterness of injured love, it is equally potent, on the other side, in preventing the extinction of love; for to the wounded and deeply injured one it again presents the attachment in its whole extent, and forces the thought upon him irresistibly and imperceptibly: “This is the one upon whom thou hast bestowed thy love, with whom thou hast been and art united in love, and whom, therefore, thou canst not let go from thee utterly and forever.”

If we now consider the contents of the particular divisions of the book, we find this much to be clear at the outset; first, that Hosea 1 and 2, and next that Hosea 4–14 are closely connected. With regard to the first and smaller division, Hosea 1 and 2, the fact is more incontestable than with regard to the second and longer one, which, in any case demands itself a subordinate division. The question is now, how we are to reckon Hosea 3. It has been attached by some to Hosea 4–14 as their introduction. But the correct view will be found to be given in the words of Hävernick, that “the symbolical method of representation unites the first three chapters into one whole.” And if we are reminded of the somewhat abrupt introduction of Hosea 3, we must observe that an explanation of the symbol is given in Hosea 3:4, 5,—an explanation in plain words, in fact the first one which occurs, of the discourse in Hosea 2, which from Hosea 2:4 onwards is figurative throughout, representing Israel as an adulterous wife, so that we here arrive at a conclusion which clearly expresses the sense of what precedes.

It will more clearly appear that the view which regards Hosea 3. as belonging with Hosea 1 and 2 is the correct one, if we remember that the contents of Hosea 1 (and therefore also of Hosea 2) certainly fall in an earlier period than the discourse in Hosea 4–14 (as Hosea 1–2 relate expressly to the “beginning of the word of Jehovah to Hosea”), namely, in the period preceding the fall of the house of Jehu (Hosea 1:4), while Hosea 4–14 belong to the second period defined above, after its fall; for it is in that portion that Assyria first appears, which is decisive. If now the symbolical narrative in Hosea 1 must have appeared earlier than Hosea 4–14, it is only proper to suppose that Hosea 3, so analogous to it, falls in the same period, that we have here generally fragments drawn from the earlier part of the Prophet’s ministry, and that therefore Hosea 1–3 form a connected whole. It is thus natural to assume that the symbolical mode of presentation, in general, characterizes the earlier period of the Prophet’s labors.

We thus assume two main divisions: Hosea 1–3 and Hosea 4–14, and in favor of such partition have not only internal grounds but also an external argument, namely, that each part is the product of a distinct period. The one of earlier origin is, however, comparatively small, and the opinion is plausible that the Prophet, in committing the whole to writing, prefixed the former part as a kind of introduction to the greater prophetic discourse which constituted the main division, like a vestibule inviting an entrance. The contents, also, are appropriate to this purpose with their symbolical actions and figurative discourses. It has something enigmatic, surprising, straining the attention, and so preparing the way for reaching and hearing what is expressed in a simple, literal form.

The first introductory portion (Hosea 1–3) which contains “the beginning” of the divine revelation to Hosea, describes the (spiritual) adultery of the kingdom of the ten tribes in its apostasy from Jehovah to idolatry, and the conduct of Jehovah towards this unfaithful spouse. The most severe punishment even to rejection is threatened against it, but, as the end and aim of such punishment, new and higher blessedness is held out in prospect.

This is set forth in three sections, each of which contains both threatening and promise, with the aim of showing clearly how little these are to be separated, how, rather, both have a common source in the love which Jehovah has to Israel, since He stands united with it in (spiritual) marriage.

1. Hosea 1:2—2:3. The Prophet must symbolically, by a marriage with a wife of whoredom, hold up to Israel its sin, and, by the names of the children born of this marriage, announce its rejection (1:2–9). Yet its future acceptance and reunion are immediately pictured with a few outlines (2:1–3).

2. In copious, extraordinarily vivid, and, especially in the latter portion, most sublime language, Jehovah unbosoms Himself to his unfaithful spouse, Israel. He utters a severe accusation against her, and proclaims that she shall be punished by falling into a condition of extreme want, that she shall be laid waste (Hosea 2:4–15). But with this new “leading into the desert” a change occurs; Jehovah concludes a new alliance, rich in blessing, with the spouse returning in penitence to Him (Hosea 2:16–25).

3. Hosea 3. The Prophet must again show symbolically by his conduct towards the wife of whoredom, whom he was commanded to marry, that God still loves his adulterous wife, Israel, and would only in his love humble her, that she might return to Him.

The second division, the main portion of the book (Hosea 4:14), the product of a later period, as we saw above, is in form distinguished from the earlier part by the entire absence of symbolical acts, the discourse being literal throughout. The purport is, however, similar in its essential features, inasmuch as here also punishment and even destruction (on account of its apostasy) are announced to the kingdom of Israel. But at the same time also it is predicted that it shall be received back on the ground of its expected conversion; indeed a time of richest blessing is at last held out to it in prospect. Jehovah appears here also as one who loves Israel, and must therefore punish it for infidelity, though as unable to give it up, and as being forced to be again merciful and to bless according to the law of love. The object is accordingly essentially the same; this inability to give up Israel, this ultimate favor and blessing form here also the picture of the future. But it costs labor, as it were, to realize this aim; the threatening is so severe. This constitutes by far the largest portion of the whole, and only after it has disclosed its full severity, does promise break through, when Jehovah seems as it were to call to mind his former love for his people, thus showing that from the beginning love did not fail, but that even his accusings and threatenings arose from deeply wounded love. This suggests already that the ground upon which the prophecy proceeds, is changed. Idolatry, as unfaithfulness to Jehovah is, it is true, always the fundamental offense on account of which judgment is declared, but to this is added not only moral pollution, but also dissolution of the state, and especially the pursuance of a false policy altogether opposed to the character of a people of God, which sought help in external aid against the distresses which invaded them, partly in Assyria and partly in Egypt. It is the unfaithfulness of Ephraim towards Jehovah, mainly in this form of a political attitude entirely untheocratical, against which the prophet appears, and on account of which he announces judgment, the punishment threatened being destruction by those very world-powers, Egypt, and especially Assyria.

This second main division, of such large extent, calls itself for a division. But this is a matter of great difficulty. It is, however, certain that the attempt to assign the several chapters to different periods of time, and thus to view the succession of the chapters as determined by the order of their composition (Maurer and Hitzig among others), must be unsuccessful, even if it be conceded that these chapters did proceed originally from different occasions. It is remarkable, for example, that in Hosea 4, 5, 6, Judah is mentioned frequently along with Ephraim, while afterwards it retreats more into the background, so that it is natural to infer different situations as their occasions. But as the whole lies before us at present, there is a certain unity apparent, though it is difficult to follow definitely the course of thought. We must abandon the supposition of a strictly logical arrangement of the parts in view of the nature of the language, marked, as it is, by excitement and constantly surprising abruptness. Different expositors adopt most widely differing divisions, while others abandon the attempt altogether.

It is clear, at the outset, that from Hosea 4 onwards accusation of Israel occupies the chief place, as describing its degradation and guilt; and Ewald has rightly perceived that Hosea 4 is to be separated as containing a general charge, relating to the apostasy generally of the people from Jehovah, and the moral deterioration thereby induced. Then in Hosea 5 the denunciation is more specially directed against those of exalted position (comp. Hosea 5:1), and as its subject, in addition to the general unfaithfulness to Jehovah, something special enters, namely the false, untheocratic policy of “going after Egypt and after Assyria.” This is, at all events, the new element here, and in attempting to exhibit the progress of thought, this point must so far be made prominent. In Hosea 6 this does not appear, but the chapter is so closely connected with Hosea 5, that no partition is supposable. On the other hand the denunciation of the untheocratic policy becomes still more marked in Hosea 7, being there directed chiefly against the court itself, while Hosea 5 and 6 seem to be aimed more particularly at the priests. Hence Hosea 7 also is to be combined with these chapters. So in all these chapters the threat of punishment is uniformly united with the accusations. But actual announcement of judgment appears first in Hosea 8, accusations however being still uttered. Compare the beginning, Hosea 8:1, and it seems to show more especially that the punishment, namely, the transportation into Egypt and Assyria, and therefore, the destruction of the state, the carrying away into captivity, is presented as the reverse side of the calling upon Egypt and going to Assyria. For the same reason Hosea 9 and 10 are to be added with Hosea 8 Hosea 10:15 forms a fitting close to this section. But the contrast to the transportation to Egypt and Assyria appears again only in Hosea 11:11, so that we stand first upon new ground in that passage.

Thus with Hosea 11 begins a new section, and with it enters promise. Jehovah’s love to Israel, which seemed to be utterly swallowed up in the announcement of judgment, here breaks forth. At first, indeed, only in the form of a reminder of its manifestations in early times, how it was vouchsafed to Israel in childhood. This is naturally expressed in a sorrowful complaint against that Israel, who now in his manhood requites that love so ill, displaying in his apostasy the basest ingratitude. Hence we have again in Hosea 11:5, the most severe threatening. But Jehovah has again brought his love to remembrance; it is He that loves Israel, as had been already shown in the beginning; this love is his essential disposition towards Israel, and thus cannot in the present belie itself; it oversteps wrath and appears as mercy, and promise breaks forth on its shining way, like the sun after dark and long distressing clouds. The brief recollections of former times in Hosea 9 and 10 only served to give point to the keen accusings. But in Hosea 11 the sun breaks forth brightly. It is promise that now prevails.

But the storm is not yet past. In Hosea 12 and 13 denunciation and announcement of punishment reappear. Yet, if they are still severe, they are much less protracted. But, chiefly, there seems to be a new standpoint gained. It is the past that is dwelt upon, namely, what had transpired between Jehovah and Israel in former days. But this is a great step gained. Hence the weighty words are twice uttered: “l am Jehovah, thy God, from the land of Egypt” (Hosea 12:10; 13:4). This thought does, it is true, serve to sharpen the complaint, and with it to sharpen the threatening; but that people cannot be given up who have, from the beginning, Jehovah as their God. Hence in Hosea 14:2–4, the exhortation to return, which shows clearly his determination not to give them up; and now, upon the ground of their expected conversion, love at last flows forth in the fullest promise, which is no longer merely a cessation of punishment, as in Hosea 11:9 ff., but, positively, holds out in prospect a glorious state of blessedness.

The course of thought is accordingly not perfectly undeviating, but, especially towards the close after the highest point has been reached, rather deflected, as it tends towards the conclusion through the wrestling of love and justice, which it thus expresses. Ewald assumes after Hosea 11, a sort of preliminary conclusion, marking an interruption in writing. It is, at all events, correct to assume that the train of thought has then reached a certain completion, after which the former order of the discourse is again taken up.

The following scheme will exhibit our attempt to divide the section:—

Jehovah pleads with Israel, his beloved but unfaithful spouse (comp. Hosea 4:1).

I. First discourse (Hosea 4–11).

1. Hosea 4–7 The complaint, addressed—

a. (Hosea 4) against the people as a whole, on account of their idolatry and deep depravation of morals promoted by the priests.

b. (Hosea 5–7): against the rulers (priests, Hosea 5–6), court (Hosea 7), especially on account of their ungodly and calamitous alliance with the powers of the world.

2. Hosea 8–10 The judgment, extending even to the carrying away of the people to bondage under Assyria.

3. Hosea 11 Mercy; God cannot utterly destroy Israel; whom He has always loved, but will again have compassion upon them even though they have most vilely requited his love.

II. Second discourse (Hosea 12–14).

1. Hosea 12. Complaint is once more resumed, and—

2. Hosea 13, judgment is most emphatically declared; but—

3. Hosea 14, in hope of conversion, love finally flows forth in the promise of richest blessing.

[Those who may wish to become acquainted with the various methods of dividing the book which have been proposed, will find them exhibited and discussed in the Biblical Repertory, Jan. 1859, art. “Book of Hosea,” by Prof. Green, of Princeton. A division having much to recommend it is that adopted by him from Keil, according to which each of the two main sections (Hosea 1–3, 4–14) is divisible into three smaller ones (1:2–2:1, 2:2–23, 3; 4:1–6:3, 6:4–11:11, 11:12–14:9). Each of these smaller sections in both of the main divisions is marked by its beginning with denunciation and ending with promise.—M.]

In harmony with the fundamental thought of our book, as above presented, according to which it describes the sorrow and indignation of Jehovah’s love, so sorely wounded by Israel’s infidelity, the language is of a peculiarly emotional and impassioned character, reflecting unmistakably 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 beside which it is standing. His profound sympathy gives to his language the character of excitement, so that for the most part he merely hints briefly at the thoughts instead of studiously elaborating them, passes with abrupt changes from one figure or simile to another, and moves forward in short sentences and oracular utterances, rather than in gently rounded discourse.” (Keil.) Jerome (Prœf. in XII. Proph. Min.) says of him: “Commaticus (literally, cut up = short) Esther et quasi per sententias loquens.” Eichhorn (Introduction, § 555, p. 286) says not unaptly: “The style of the Prophet is like a garland woven of 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.” With these features are connected manifold anomalies in the structure of his clauses, rugged transitions, ellipses, asyndetical constructions, inversions, and anacolutha. Add to this that his diction is marked by rare words and forms and unusual combinations, and it may be conceived how difficult is the exposition of the book. “One must often read between the lines if he would establish the connection between the several thoughts and sentences. We will not be charged with overstatement, if we assert that the Prophet is in this respect one of the most difficult of the prophets of the Old Covenant, and indeed of all the Biblical writers.” (Wünsche.)

The abruptness of the language, reaching often to obscurity, does not merit any censure, for this peculiarity is to be explained from the contents and the subject of which the Prophet was full. “His heart,” remarks Wünsche, “full of the deepest anguish, on account of the destruction and the inevitably approaching dissolution of the State, makes him neglect all artistic and harmonious treatment and exhibition of his theme.” And Ewald says with perfect correctness: “In Hosea there is a rich and lively imagination, a pregnant fullness of language, and, in spite of many strong figures, great tenderness and warmth of expression. His poetry is throughout purely original, replete with vigor of thought and purity of presentation. Yet at one time we find the gentle and flowing predominate in his style, while at another it is violently strained and abrupt, and his irresistible pain causes him often to give a hint of his meaning without allowing him to complete it. There is also thrown over the whole language the burden of the times and of the heart so oppressed by them.”

If, finally, we inquire into the composition of our book, we find no ground whatever for maintaining that the author was any other than the Prophet himself, or for the assumption that, although the several discourses came from Hosea, they were yet first compiled by another and later editor. It has been thought that their aphoristic character justifies such a hypothesis, but we are convinced that this is not so marked as one would certainly suppose at first sight, and that the several portions are not only governed by one fundamental idea, which would probably have become still more obscured in the hands of a later redactor of such fragments, but that the several parts are brought into a definite order and connection. There can therefore be scarcely a doubt that our book came from the hands of the Prophet precisely in that form in which we possess it to-day. “On closer examination the book is seen to form a complete whole executed according to a fixed artistic plan, and with corresponding beauty. This artistic plan and execution only need to be rightly understood in order to show us that it was finally published as a whole, and in its present form, by the Prophet himself.” (Ewald.) But as to the relation in which this book stands to the numerous prophetic utterances of Hosea, we are compelled to assume that we have not in this book those discourses presented in their original form. If this had been the intention of the Prophet, we should have had a greater number. Moreover the book is framed too decidedly according to a certain plan, making it clear that it was designed to form a continuous and regular composition. We have therefore to regard it as a selection from his discourses, or more correctly, as a free and independent working-up of the substance of them by the Prophet himself. His several utterances are combined by him into one complete picture. He would employ not only his lips but also his pen, and by his writings would testify concerning the holy anger of the love of God, and thus appeal to the consciences of the people.

But here the question may be asked, whether our book is the first product of Hosea’s pen, whether, more particularly, earlier writings are not embodied in it. At the outset it is certainly to be assumed that Hosea was in the habit of writing down his several discourses. But keeping this in view, the difference between the first part of the book (Hosea 1–3), and the second (Hosea 4 ff.) is so significant, the contents of the first part, moreover, falling in an earlier period, that Ewald’s conjecture has much to support it: that Hosea 1–3 contain the substance of an earlier composition of Hosea, which he embodied in the present one when he executed it. Even if we hesitate to go so far as this, we must probably assume that the separate sections of Hosea 1–3 had been published already by the Prophet, since we have in the narratives of the symbolical actions merely the drapery in which they were to be presented to the world and not actual occurrences (see below). For in those chapters punishments were announced which were inflicted at a time earlier than the completion of the whole book. The Prophet could incorporate into his book only at a later period earlier actual events; but these symbolical transactions existed only in the mind of the prophet, and in publishing them he must have come forth at a time when these parabolic narratives could address themselves to the conscience of the people, and therefore a considerable period before the composition of the whole book, which, as we now have it, contains, in its second part, discourses of a much later time. Such publication of the symbolical transactions might indeed have been at first only oral; but the contents of these sections seem less appropriate to that mode of announcement.

The preservation of the whole book in the destruction of the kingdom of the Ten Tribes may be readily explained. “Through the intercourse which was kept up between the prophets of the Lord in the two kingdoms, it was carried soon after its composition into Judah, and became widely diffused in the circle of the prophets, and was thus preserved, as Jeremiah especially has made frequent use of it in his predictions. Comp. Aug. Küper, Jeremias, Librorum SS. Interpres atque Vindex. Berlin, 1837, p. 67 ff.” (Keil.)

After what has been said it will scarcely be necessary to add anything special in the way of exhibiting the importance of our prophetic book in Old Testament history and doctrine. Into the internal relations of the kingdom of the ten tribes, against which he, like his older cotemporary, Amos, directs his words of rebuke and threatening (by which these two prophets mark a new step in prophecy, in distinction from Joel and Obadiah, regarding the heathen not merely as the objects but also as the instruments of the divine judgment, which is inflicted with the greatest severity against the people of God themselves),—into the internal relations of this kingdom Hosea gives us the deepest insight, and affords a most essential addition to the knowledge which we have thereon from his older cotemporary. As to its doctrinal teaching, however, there can be no doubt as to the significance of a book, which regards the relation of Jehovah to Israel so profoundly and specially from the standpoint of holy love, of a holy wrath of love, and looks so far into the depths, into the intensity as well as into the sincerity, of such love as, in the examination of the contents and fundamental thought of the prophecy, we have shown that it does. In this he stands above his nearest predecessor, Amos. That prophet also discerns the favor of God shining again at last upon his people after the tempests of his wrath. But he grounds it upon the consciousness that this judgment is and shall be only one of trial and not of destruction, and that room is thus prepared for mercy through the revelation of wrath, while Hosea traces back this duality in the divine revelation to the nature of God Himself, by his more profound conception of the divine love.

Our book is therefore truly a classic for the right understanding of the Old Testament conception of God with its interaction of love and wrath, and of the nature of the Old Testament revelation concerning God. Only such a God who can so be angry and so love, who in all His love so displays anger and in all His anger so displays love, could give up his Only-begotten Son to the accursed death for the deliverance of rebellious man.

§ 3. The Symbolical Transactions in Hosea 1 and 3

What is recounted in these chapters is so peculiar, and has always been regarded under such different views, that a more intimate discussion cannot here be foreborne: and to it we shall therefore devote a separate section in the Introduction. In this the results of the exeegesis of the passages in question are of course to be anticipated, and must therefore be referred to here. This much is however certain that, according to the narrative, mention is made of a marriage of the Prophet with an unchaste woman at the command of God himself. Here we have a stone of stumbling. It is true that the ground of moral offense contained herein does not exist according to some interpreters, inasmuch as the “wife of whoredom” whom the Prophet is to marry, is regarded as being such in the spiritual sense in which a “whoring” of Israel is spoken of = serving idols; that Hosea had scruples about marrying a whorish, that is, an idolatrous woman; and that it is commanded him not to stand aloof from her but to exhibit symbolically in his own domestic fortunes, that is, by his union with such a woman, Jehovah’s relation to his people. But this view is quite untenable. For idolatry cannot be a symbol of idolatry, a marriage with an idolatress cannot be a symbol of a like marriage, namely, the marriage of Jehovah with an idolatrous people. This, altogether apart from the consideration that such a command of God to the prophet is not conceivable, that such marriage would have produced upon the people an effect exactly opposite to the one intended, namely, the presentation of idolatry to the consciousness as something sinful, if we can suppose that any effect was produced. Umbreit also seeks to establish more firmly the interpretation of the woman’s whoredom as spiritual whoredom, by maintaining that Hosea, in order to represent God’s marriage with Israel, was commanded to enter into marriage with Israel; but, since all Israel had become adulterous towards God, that he was obliged in order to enter the marriage relation with Israel, to unite himself to a whore in the spiritual sense=idolatress. Such a wife thus represents, as an individual, the whole people. And this outward marriage of the Prophet is the symbol of his spiritual marriage with his people. But Kurtz remarks rightly against this hypothesis, that the notion that the Prophet himself was to enter into a spiritual marriage with Israel is quite unfounded, that such a conception is not once found in the Old Testament, which knows only of a marriage of Jehovah with Israel; that the Prophet by his external marriage could symbolize only that spiritual marriage of Jehovah, and not his own spiritual marriage with Israel. For this reason his marriage, in order to represent the marriage of Jehovah with adulterous Israel, must be a marriage with a whorish woman in the outward sense.

Thus it is beyond question that it is such a marriage of the prophet that is here described, but the question is now: Must we assume an actual outward event in the life of the Prophet or not?

It is clear that we have before us a transaction which has a symbolical significance and is therefore in so far a symbolical transaction; but the question is just this, Is this an actual event intended as a symbol of a higher truth, or do we move outside the sphere of objective reality? The latter supposition does certainly seem, on the first view, to be excluded by the language employed, which does not give us the slightest hint that we have presented to us anything else than outward reality, but rather creates the impression that it is a record of actual events. And it is not to be maintained that the narrative has to do with something physically impossible, that it bears directly upon itself the stamp of unreality in the external sense. But it appears all the more probable that something morally impossible is described; for would it not be in the highest degree incredible that a prophet should marry an unchaste woman, and that at the express command of God? Hence the literal interpretation has been rejected already by the Chaldee Paraphrase and by the Jewish Commentators. But this plea is itself not altogether without difficulties. The reference to Lev. 21:7–14, at all events, proves nothing: for what is there forbidden to a priest cannot be directly transferred to a prophet (comp. Kurtz: “That prohibition is based upon the consideration that the priests were to represent the ideal holiness of the people, and is rooted in the same ground as is the law that a priest must be free from physical blemishes. The latter injunction is as far as possible from implying that physical defect is sin in an Israelite, and the same holds with regard to the former”). And then it is one thing to have intercourse with an unchaste woman, in order to practice fornication with her, and quite another to marry such a woman. The one is as assuredly sinful as the other is in itself not so, any more than it was for Jesus to be a friend of publicans and sinners. For the prophet would not have entered into such an alliance that he might be assimilated to the woman, but in order to raise her up to his own level, to rescue her from her sinful habits: “Non propheta perdidit pudicitiam fornicariœ copulatus, sed fornicaria assumsit pudicitiam, quam antea non habebat” (Jerome).

Such an alliance in the Prophet would have been in the very highest degree surprising. But it may be asked, Was it not intended to be so, in order that the people, in their astonishment at such an anomaly, should ask what it meant, and might then learn to their shame, that it held up to them a mirror in which they could perceive their own relations with God? The Prophet would reinforce his oral preaching by a preaching of outward action; this marriage would have been a lasting actual proclamation of punishment to the people, not impeding the influence of the Prophet, but furthering it.

But on a closer examination of this view, which understands actual events to be described, most serious objections to it are immediately suggested. A beautiful picture could have been drawn exhibiting the morally reforming influence of this alliance upon the light-minded wife and the neglected children of the first marriage, and how worthy of God it would have been, answering to his compassionate love seeking that which was lost! But of this there is not a syllable—not a syllable could be said. Rather, this idea, which alone could neutralize the moral objections against this alliance with an unchaste woman, is completely excluded by the whole spirit and aim of the command which the Prophet received. It is just the present “whorish” conduct of Israel, the still existing and continued and persistent infidelity towards Jehovah, that is represented by this marriage of the Prophet, and punishment and rejection are then exhibited as the necessary fruit and conseqence of such conduct. Thus the “wife of whoredom,” whom the Prophet is to and does marry, is necessarily to be regarded as one who does not amend her ways, or is withdrawn from her life of sin by her alliance with the Prophet, but who even now in this alliance with him is conceived as practicing unchastity, who shows and proves herself to be unfaithful to her husband. Otherwise she would not be at all an image of Israel as thus situated, nor would this marriage be at all an image of the present conduct of Israel towards their husband, Jehovah. Strictly speaking, this wife of whoredom would have been bound, so long at least as her marriage with the Prophet was to testify to Israel of its sin, not to forsake her sinful life (until special corrective measures, related in Hosea 3 should be taken with her, so that she might become a testimony of that which God, still retaining his love for Israel, would do to them).

There is no need to prove that the assumption of an actual occurrence would lead to an ethical monstrosity. With the design of this marriage to exhibit the conduct of Israel towards Jehovah, is most clearly connected a circumstance, which shows more plainly than ever the non-reality of the related transaction, namely, that the Prophet is expressly enjoined to take a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom. This is at first sight surprising, but becomes quite intelligible if we think of the design, of that which was to be exemplified, the conduct of Israel and all its individual members. Israel in the concrete is represented only by the latter; but this separation of a part from the whole is very frequently found in relation to Israel. Israel as the whole then appears as the mother, the individual members as the children (comp. Hosea 2:4 ff.). Now both Israel as a whole and all the members of the people are unfaithful to Jehovah, they “commit whoredom.” If therefore the actual condition of affairs in its whole extent is to be represented by a marriage of the Prophet, he must take to wife a woman still practicing unchastity, and, at the same time, have children, who are children of whoredom, that is, naturally (see also below in the exegesis) not those who were the fruit of the illicit commerce of the mother (a woman characterized as a woman of whoredom could, in fact, have no other, and the remark would be quite superfluous), but children who stand in the same relation to whoredom as the mother does, that is, who practice whoredom as she did, and bear therefore a faithful resemblance to her. How then is the Prophet to “take” these children of whoredom? Naturally the notion of such “taking,” which in the case of a woman means marrying, must be modified in the case of children. Two senses are supposable. One is that he obtains them by marriage as children already born to his wife. In that case he is obliged to find out an unchaste woman, who has children that already commit whoredom; and not only so, but they must actually continue that habit; for otherwise the symbol no longer meets the conditions of the case, the sign no longer agrees with the thing signified. In short, under the assumption of an objective reality in this transaction, we come again to an ethical monstrosity. But the case is still worse, if we understand “taking” the children in the sense of begetting them with the wife (and this view is the more probable one; see the exegesis below). For Jehovah is married to Israel, and they are unfaithful to Him; and Jehovah has begotten children by this marriage—the individual members of the people—and they also are unfaithful to Him, they “commit whoredom.” So the Prophet, in order to manifest this, must not only take a wife of the above description, but also beget children by her who are of the same character as she, are unchaste like her. It might be known antecedently that they would be so; they are, so to speak, predestined to such a character; if it were otherwise, they would fail to perform their part, they would not represent what it was intended they should. To speak of actual reality in such a case is now a sheer impossibility. The thing signified, that which is to be represented, is revealed too clearly through the sign, that which is to set forth the relation; only one thing could make it plainer, namely, that the Prophet should add: of course this was not really done!—but one must be almost blind to suppose, even for a moment, that it could be. The symbol is arranged simply in accordance with the thing to be symbolized, without reference to the consideration that in concrete reality it would encounter invincible obstacles: naturally such reference does not need to be had, because the transaction was not realized in concreto and in facto, but was only a plastic symbolizing of a certain condition of affairs which was to be denounced.

We must now go a step backwards. That which morally excites such objections lies not merely in the fact of this marriage with an unchaste woman, of whom again unchaste children were to be born, but also in its design. It is to be observed that the alliance spoken of has its aim purely out of itself, terminates in nowise upon itself, but is merely a mean to an end. This end is not the begetting of children. They are certainly to be begotten, but they are themselves only means to an end, with their significant names, which they receive in order to announce to the people their rejection. This marriage was thus to be contracted purely for the purpose of symbolizing another fact which lay altogether without the sphere of marriage. Such a conclusion cannot be disputed unless there is imported into the words something foreign to them. Let the words be followed closely, let not separate expressions: he went and took, etc., be emphasized, but the whole be accepted and understood as it reads, with no interlarding of all sorts of notions, about the use and plausibility of this alliance, of which nothing is indicated, and the narrative will be seen to relate to a marriage and procreation of children which are purely symbolical and described solely as serving the purposes of an emblematic representation. And that this transaction, considered as an occurrence of outward reality, is something inconceivable, opposed to the spirit and significance of marriage, is so clear, that the Prophet did not need to give the least hint of its unliteral character (if, indeed, that had been the custom of the Prophets). No; an actual marriage is not concluded simply in order to symbolize something different; the marriage is a symbol of a higher covenant. But its design is not realized in such symbolizing. That would be a trifling with the idea of marriage, agreeing but little with the profound conception of that state, which the Prophet brings to light in this very act of conceiving the relation between Jehovah and Israel as a marriage. I can give a name to a child born of a marriage, for the purpose of indicating something by it symbolically; but it would be something quite different if I were to enter into the married state simply for this purpose. And hence the reference to Is. 7:14; 8:3, 4, where, however, an outward act is narrated, is altogether unsuitable. If recourse is had to the words of the text, it may be replied that many prophetic passages, e.g., Jer. 25:15 ff., Zech. 11, show clearly that the simple words of the narrative are not decisive. In such passages the words, taken literally, even when relating to symbolical transactions, seem to record an occurrence entirely objective, though no one supposes that they really do so. In other passages this inference is more patent, while here it is obscured, though only apparently so; for that which it is ethically inadmissible to suppose should be done by the command of God, is just as incredible as the occurrence of that which is physically impossible.

We have now to consider, finally, in what a brief period the action is performed, the rapidity with which the several acts are, and are intended to be, presented. It is the rapidity which, if the word may be allowed, is well suited to a dramatic conception, but not to concrete reality. By literalists the fact is entirely ignored that this symbolical course of teaching would have required three years at least for its complete unfolding. And in connection with the other considerations the remark of Simson (in spite of the strictures of Kurtz) is perfectly just: “After each of the four principal scenes which make up the symbolical narrative (vers. 2, 4, 6, 9), the explanation and occasion of the symbol follows, connected with ‘for’ in such a peculiar way, that it may be gathered indubitably, simply from this connection and the whole manner of expression, that the figure is not presented in its actuality, but is only devised for the sake of making evident to the senses the lessons it unfolds.” Thus the view which regards the actions described as real occurrences is seen to be untenable if we do not even go beyond the first section; nor do we need to add to the other arguments the relation of Hosea 3 to our section. On the contrary, we think that arguments have been too much drawn from that portion of the book, and therefore too largely based upon external grounds, and for this reason less convincing than they should be.

Now after this negative result, that the narrative is not to be regarded as relating actual occurrences, the question first arises: What then does it relate? A vision? So the Jewish commentators, and in recent times especially Hengstenberg. This view does indeed surrender the externality of the transaction, but it holds to its actuality, only assuming that it was not experienced outwardly but inwardly. With regard to this hypothesis of a vision, it is admitted that a “beholding” lies at the foundation of all prophetic announcement, that is, a vision in the wider sense (comp. the remarks on Amos, Hosea 7). But we are not justified on this account in assuming at once that the Prophet was in an ecstatic state. There is not the least hint of such a thing given in our passage; for nothing is said of a vision in the narrower sense, and hence we are unwarranted in adopting such an assumption here. He certainly “beheld,” as all the prophets did, that which he here relates in parabolic discourse. It is thus that the narrative is most properly designated.

But it may be asked: If, according to the above reasoning, it leads to a series of monstrosities to regard the (symbolical) transaction as an actual occurrence, was it allowable for the Prophet even to present it in a parabolic dress? This objection, which it seems to be, is possible only under a misapprehension of the whole aim of the exhibition. The action represented is certainly bold, is surprising, is, we say directly, exorbitant. But it was just intended to be so. It was intended, as we remarked above, to rouse the hearer into uttering the question: What? do I hear aright? What do you say the prophet must do? The thing to be set forth, the thing signified, is something abnormal, contradictory, something which it seems could never occur, that Israel should “commit whoredom, departing from their God”; and not this merely, but also (which, to be sure, is the necessary consequence of the former) that God should reject this His people, His spouse, to whom He had always been faithful, to whom He had been so beneficent. Since this condition of affairs to be represented, the “thing signified,” was of such a character, it must be set forth by the description of an occurrence of a like kind, that is, one which is just as abnormal, contradictory, and unprecedented, thus necessarily rousing the attention to consider how a prophet could marry a whore at the bidding of God, and by her beget children, who should receive, also at God’s command, names indicative of punishment, from their resemblance to their mother. There is therefore intentionally something monstrous, something ethically impossible, held up to the people as though it had happened, in order that it might be forced upon their consciousness, how utterly abnormal, how monstrous, how opposed to the right order of things, is that which they had done to God, and which He must do to them. That, therefore, which the prophet relates to the people is related to them, because it is something monstrous; but being so, it was just as certainly not a statement of actual fact for this very reason. If we were to maintain the opposite, we should mistake the design of the prophet. He would say: As Israel has acted towards God, and as He must treat his people in return, so would I, the prophet, act if I were to marry a whorish woman. As impossible as the latter is, so impossible should the former be; and yet alas it is a reality!

But it may be objected: The prophet’s marriage would indeed represent to the people their apostasy from Jehovah, and the names of the prophet’s children would bring perpetually to their consciousness the judgment which they must expect in return; but if that marriage did not take place, and the children never existed, how could such a design be carried out? Now, this objection is based simply upon an unwarranted supposition, and the inference drawn therefrom must be false. It is taken for granted that such an argumentatio ad oculos by outward action must have been made by the Prophet, that the Prophet intended to do so, judging from the statements of the book, and that therefore we have a narrative of actual occurrences, while it is never said that the prophet had any such intention. The Prophet may just as well have intended to appeal to the people, not by means of outward action, but by a discourse in which certain actions were the drapery of those truths which were to be proclaimed. Whether this discourse was originally oral or not, as other prophetical discourses usually were, or whether it existed from the beginning in a written form, we do not know. If the former supposition is correct, we are not obliged to assume, any more than in other prophetical discourses, that it possessed precisely the same form as that which we now have, since it would have the form appropriate to oral discourse. It is quite wrong, however, to insist that such a mere recital,—heard to-day and forgotten, perhaps, to-morrow,—could have but little influence, and make but little impression, for at least its fixed written form followed with its words speaking perpetually to the conscience. And it has been said already above in § 2, that such a fixed form was probably given to it before the composition of the whole book, as at present constituted, and during the period in which the discourses of the first part were pronounced.

But another argument still is adduced against the supposition of a parabolic recital,” which is seen to be so necessary from all that has been said. It is urged that this would derogate from the character of the prophetic word; that the Prophet speaks expressly and repeatedly of a command of the Lord which he had received; that, if the whole were only a feigned transaction, the words, “the Lord said,” would be degraded into a meaningless, rhetorical phrase, which would be opposed to the divinely objective character of Prophecy. Certainly our whole position would be viewed with distrust, if this drapery of narrative in which the Prophet clothes his message of instruction and rebuke, which he records, and in which he makes mention of an express command of God, were to be regarded by him as only an arbitrary device (rhetorical or as being appropriate to the plan of the book). But what is there to support such an assumption? In this, as throughout his prophetic ministry, the Prophet rather acted and spoke from a divine impulse. He had beheld what he had to say to the people, reproach of their sinfulness and threatening of punishment, and how he had to say it, that is, he had received from God in spirit an authorization and an impulse to adopt this form of rebuke, to present his divine commission in the form of feigned events. It has been further remarked (e.g., by Kurtz), that we have the words: go, take, etc., and not: go, tell the people that thou hast taken a wife, etc. But this objection is without force. For the expression: “The Lord said to Hosea, go, take to thyself,” etc., is itself included already in the parabolical discourse as well as vers. 4, 6, 9; and to insist that the Prophet must have given some hint that he was not intending to record an actual occurrence, argues a somewhat crude notion of the obligations of a writer. A parabolic discourse must not bear the appearance of being so; on the contrary it must present itself as describing actual events (comp. e.g., Judges 9:8; 2 Sam. 12), though it does not really do so. It bears in itself a sapienti sat which shows that it does not,—and thus our narrative is really twofold. In general the fact is evidently always overlooked, that we have before us in these seemingly historical portions, not a statement concerning the Prophet, but the written discourse of the Prophet himself; that, therefore, behind the words there stands, so to speak, the prophet writing. It is not his duty to record events as an historian; and the inference is unwarranted, that he must do so because what he says has the form of an historical record. Hence, according to correct conceptions as to what different kinds of composition require, no objection based upon the form of representation can be made to the parabolic view. And the circumstance that the Prophet is spoken of in the third person, cannot be adduced as a proof that he does not here speak and narrate (figuratively), and that a statement is made concerning him. It cannot, at least, by any one who regards the whole book to be the composition of the Prophet and not a mere compilation by another. Moreover, in Hosea 3 the Prophet introduces himself as speaking of himself in the first person. And, finally, it proves nothing that the name and origin of the woman are given. Even if the names are not applied appellatively (see in the exegesis), nothing would be more natural than to invent names for the occasion, which would be a device appropriate in a symbolical discourse.

If we now turn to Hosea 3 and hold the identity of the woman named there with the one in Hosea 1, the question is decided of itself. For if the marriage, mentioned in Hosea 1, of the Prophet with this woman, was not an actual occurrence, it is self evident that his dealings towards her in Hosea 3 are not more historical. If he did not in reality marry this woman, then he did not actually perform what, in Hosea 3, he is commanded to do, love her. The woman is, in Hosea 1, only a feigned person, and if the same person is meant in Hosea 3 she cannot be a real person. But if we regard the woman of Hosea 3 as not identical with that of Hosea 1, we have, in the fact that the Prophet becomes connected with another woman, disregarding his marriage with the one mentioned in Hosea 1, we have here, I say, a clear indication, applying to the whole narrative from the beginning, that these descriptions do not relate to actual events in the Prophet’s life. For it is plain that the assumption of his separation from the first wife, or of her death in the interval, is only a device to escape from a dilemma. Such circumstances must have been stated, if actual events had been related; but not a syllable is found to this effect, simply because it was assumed that no one would think of real occurrences.

But, leaving the consideration of the circumstances connected with the woman mentioned in Hosea 1, and regarding simply by itself the command given to the Prophet in Hosea 3 according to his own representation of it, we find the matter here to be somewhat different.

The fact is to be set forth that Jehovah preserves his faithfulness to Israel in spite of their unfaithfulness, and therefore does not utterly cast them off, but only adopts, for their good, corrective measures springing from such abiding faithfulness. Thus something is to be exemplified which would not be expected, since rejection would be the more natural course, but nothing which should not be, nothing which could be found fault with or would invite censure. And accordingly the symbol, or that which the Prophet was commanded to do, was not something ethically inadmissible or monstrous, but only something difficult, unusual, because involving great self-denial, namely, that he should remain faithful to an unfaithful wife. And what is declared to have been done by him is in the same way not something inadmissible, but only something unusual; for by a series of corrective measures the unfaithfulness of the wife is to be brought home to her heart, while, at the same time, it was to be shown that she would not be rejected. Now though it might appear as if very little could be urged in disproof of the actual occurrence of the event described (that is, if it be viewed as an isolated account), yet here also grave objections arise upon a closer examination. Even if the woman of Hosea 3 is not to be identified with that of Hosea 1, the former is hardly conceived of as being of another character than the latter. The woman is not one who was previously chaste and afterwards became unchaste, but one whose adultery is only the manifestation of her former disposition, and a continuation of her previous mode of life, and the Prophet would thus be represented as entering into such intimate relations with her—whether he married her or not would not be certain—which again would border closely upon the morally offensive and become for the Prophet an impossibility. Here the canon is again to be applied, that acts, which are of an essentially immoral nature and fall under moral criticism, cannot be regarded upon external grounds as having been actually performed by divine command. Thus a husband might, it is true, be so controlled by the thought of God’s faithfulness, as even to remain faithful to an unfaithful wife, that is, from moral and religious considerations, whether suggested by himself or by another. But this is not the case presented here: the narrative speaks not of an act undertaken or a course of conduct discontinued upon any such ground, but simply of a positive command of God, which was not intended to remind the husband of a duty demanded of him, but which was issued with the design of a manifestation of God’s attitude towards the people of Israel, a design altogether foreign to the nature of marriage or the injunction of fidelity.

The Prophet is represented as doing what he here does purely for this external purpose; not from the recognition of a duty, and not to call attention to such duty: he does it plainly in order to symbolize something different. This is perfectly agreeable to the parabolic mode of presentation; but as soon as we come to hold the notion of an actual transaction, the moral sense revolts against it as against a trifling with things which belong essentially to the sphere of the moral and religious life, and therefore cannot be employed as means to serve another purpose. Finally, if we had real transactions presented to us and not a symbolical form, it could not be very well supposed that the woman, accepting the gift of the Prophet, would be inclined, to obey his command. The possibility of the opposite would rather have to be assumed, which was manifestly not the case. But in the parabolic narrative this happens naturally just as the purposes of instruction require.

On the question treated in this section compare the thorough discussion by John Marck, Diatribe, de Muliere Fornicationum, Leyden, 1696, reprinted in his Comment, in 12 Proph. Min., ed. Pfaff, 1734; and in more recent times especially Hengstenberg, Christologie, i. 205 ff., who denies the actual occurrence of the events described, and the minute investigation of Kurtz, Die Ehe des Propheten Hosea [The Marriage of the Prophet Hosea], 1859, reprinted from the Dorpat Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, who holds as strongly to the literal interpretation.

[The question so fully discussed above is encumbered with difficulties so great as to seem almost insuperable, and it is probable that it will never be satisfactorily settled. Instances might even be quoted of the same interpreter holding directly opposite opinions within a very short period of time. If the history of interpretation were to be thoroughly surveyed, it might perhaps be found that the majority of distinguished names have been arrayed on the side of the literal view. It may be remarked, however, that among modern interpreters, the more reverent and cautious of those of Germany seem, as a general rule, to favor the theory that the prophet was not to fulfill the commands actually and outwardly. Among the Anglo-American Commentators, on the other hand, the preponderance of opinion still is, as it always has been, in favor of the literal interpretation. So among the recent writers, Pusey and Cowles. The opinion that the Prophet beheld the events in vision has been maintained by Pococke and lately by Fausset. This theory is discussed at length by Cowles in a dissertation appended to his Commentary, to which the reader is referred. It may be remarked, generally, that the main support upon which the defenders of the literal interpretation rely, is the nature of the language employed, bearing, as it does, not the slightest indication that the commands were to be fulfilled in any other than a literal manner, and that the opponents of this theory take their stand chiefly upon the supposed moral impossibility of the literal fulfillment. The conclusion which each reader will arrive at for himself will depend mainly upon the relative force which these considerations may have upon his mind.—M.]

§ 4. Literature

SINGLE COMMENTARIES: Hoseas Chaldaica Jonathanis Paraphrasi et R. Salom: Jizchaki, R. Abrah. Aben-Esræ et R. David Kimchii commentariis illustratus (Hosea, illustrated by the Chaldee Paraphrase of Jonathan and the Commentaries of R. Solomon Isaaki, R. Abraham Aben-Ezra and R. David Kimchi), edited by Von der Hardt. Helmstadt, 1703, 4 to; new edition by J. D. Michaelis, 1775; Rabbi Isaac Abarbenel, Comm. in Hoseam, edited by Franc. ab Husen, Leyden, 1687.

Of the age of the Reformation: Capito, Comm. in Hoseam, Strassburg, 1528; Brentius, Comm. in Hoseam Proph., 1560 and 1580.

Of the last part of the sixteenth, with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: Jac. Matthæus, Prælectiones in Hoseam, Basle, 1590; Am. Polanus, Analysis Libri Hoseæ Proph. Basle, 1599; Hier. Zanchius, Comm. in Hoseam, Neost., 1600; Dav. Pareus, Hoseas, Pr. Comm. illust., Heidelberg, 1605–1609; Mich. Krackewitzius, Comm. in Hos., Frankfort, 1619; Balth. Meisnerus, Hoseas, Viteb., 1620; And. Rivetus, Comm. in Hoseam, Leyden, 1625; Exposition of the Prophecy of Hosea, by Jer. Burroughs, Oxford, 1643–1652, 3 vols.; Henr. Ursinus, Hos. Comm. literali enucleatus, Norib., 1677; Pococke, Commentaries on Hosea, Joel, Micah, and Malachi, Oxford, 1685; Seb. Schmidius, Comm. in Pr. Hos., Frankfort, 1687; Franc. Vavassor, Comm. in Hos. Proph. (In his works, Amsterdam, 1709); De Prophetie van Hosea outledigt door J. Biermann [The Prophecy of Hosea expounded by J. Biermann], Utrecht, 1702; Wackius, Expos. et illust. Hoseæ, Ratisbon, 1711; Hoseas Historiæ et Antiquitati redditus ab Herm. von der Hardt, Helmst., 1712; Dathe, Dissert. in Aquilæ reliquias interpr. Hoseæ, 1757; Manger, Comment. in Hos., Campis, 1782; Schröder, Der Proph. Hosea aus bibl. und weltlichen Historien erläutert, etc. [The Prophet Hosea elucidated from sacred and profane histories], Dessau, 1782; L. J. Uhland, Annotat. Hist. Exeg, in Hoseam, Tübingen, 1785–1797; J. C. Volborth, Erklärung des Proph. Hosea [Exposition of the Prophet Hosea], Göttingen, 1787; C. T. Kuinoel, Hoseæ Oracula Hebr. et Lat. Perp. Annot. illustr., 1792; J. Ch. Baupel, Der Proph. Hosea erklärt [The Prophet Hosea explained], Dresden, 1793.

Of the present century: E. G. A. Böckel, Hoseas, Augsburg, 1807; J. C. Stuck, Hoseas Propheta, Leipzig, 1828; Simson, Der Proph. Hosea erklärt und übersetzt [The Prophet Hosea explained and translated], Hamburg and Gotha, 1851; O. C. Krabbe, Quæstionum de Hos. Vatic. Spec. [A View of Questions relating to the Proph. of Hosea] (Hamburg Programme), 1836; A. Wünsche, Der Proph. Hosea übersetzt und erklärt mit Benutzung der Targumim, der jüdischen Ausleger Raschi, Aben Ezra, und D. Kimchi [The Prophet Hosea, translated and explained, with a use of the Targum, and of the works of the Jewish Expositors, Raschi, Aben Ezra, and D. Kimchi], Leipzig, 1868. The most complete of recent times. The copious illustrations drawn from the Chaldee Paraphrase, and the three Jewish Commentaries are very valuable. F. A. Löwe, Biblische Studien, Erstes Heft: Beiträge zum Verständniss des Propheten Hoseas [Biblical Studies, Part First: Contributions to the Interpretation of the Prophet Hosea].

For the Practical Exposition: L. C. Gräf, Der Proph. Hoseas in 172 Wochen-Predigten erklärt [The Prophet Hosea explained in 172 Weekly Sermons], Dresden, 1716; P. Die-drich, Die Propheten Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, kurz erklärt für heilsbegierige, aufmerksame Bibellesen [The Profits Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, briefly explained for earnest and attentive Bible-readers]. Leipzig, 1861.

[The special works in English upon Hosea, besides those of Burroughs and Pococke mentioned in the above list, are: Bishop Horsley, Hosea, translated from the Hebrew with Notes, Explanatory and Critical, 2d ed. London, 1804; Rev. Wm. Drake, Notes on Hosea, Cambridge (England), 1853. Dr. Pusey’s Commentary upon Hosea in his Min. Proph. (in which he has advanced as far as Micah), on account of his excessive allegorizing and spiritualizing tendencies, is not uniformly of the highest critical or exegetical merit, but is worthy of all praise for the great value of its practical remarks. Bishop Wordsworth, who belongs to the same patristic school, treats of the Minor Prophets in the 6th volume of his Commentary (London, 1872).—M.]


[1][Compare, besides the articles on Hosea in the Bible Dictionaries, an iugenious and suggestive Life of the Prophet Hosea, by Proof. Green, of Princeton, in Our Monthly, cincinnati, Januray and February, 1871. It is constructed mainly from hints scattered through the book itself. Dean Stanley gives an eloquent sketch of the Prophet in his Lectures on the History of the Jewish Church, ii. 409 f.—M.]

[2][In Engl. Vers. written Hoshea, to distinguish him from the Prophet. Comp. Zachariah and Zechariah, also identical in the Hebrew.—M.]

[3][For the further discussion of this question, and the reasons for doubting the correctness of the conclusion arrived at above, see the superscription as expounded in its place.—M.]

[4][This was the first occasion recorded in the Scriptures, and also, probably, the turning-point in the history of Israel’s relations with Assyria, which terminated so disastrously to the former. If we may trust, however, the translation of the Inscription upon the black obelisk brought by Layard from Nimrûd, which was erected by Shalmaneser I., we are pointed to the reign of Jehu as the period of the first contact. It is stated there that Benhadad II. and Hazael (enemies of Israel) were among the conquered foes of the great Assyrian, and that Yahua (Jehu), the son of Khumri (Omri, who must therefore have been considered the founder of the Kingdom of Samaria) paid tribute to him. In this translation all authorities concur. Sir Henry Rawlinson infers also from 2 Kings 15:19, that Menahem “had neglected to apply for the usual confirmation of his kingdom,” and that this was the cause of Pul’s invasion. He draws a like inference with regard to Amaziah of Judah from 2 Kings 14:5. If these opinions are correct, it would appear that the countries were brought into frequent contact before the first occasion alluded to in the Old Testament.—M.]

[5][Comp. Delitzsch, Comm. on Job, Introduction.—M.]

Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Top of Page
Top of Page