That the kingdom of Israel was the object of the prophet's ministry is so evident, that upon this point all are, and cannot but be, agreed. But there is a difference of opinion as to whether the prophet was a fellow-countryman of those to whom he preached, or was called by God out of the kingdom of Judah. The latter has been asserted with great confidence by Maurer, among others, in his Observ. in Hos., in the Commentat. Theol. ii. i. p.293. But the arguments by which he supports this view will not stand the test. He appeals (1) to the inscription. The circumstance that, in this, there is mention made of the kings of Judah under whom Hosea exercised his ministry, -- that they are mentioned at all, -- and that they are mentioned first and completely, while only one of the kings of Israel is named, [Pg 166] proves, according to him -- especially on a comparison with the inscription of Amos -- that the prophet acknowledged the kings of Judah as his superiors. But this mode of argumentation entirely overlooks the position which the pious in Israel generally, and the prophets especially, occupied in reference to Judah. They considered the whole separation -- the civil as well as the religious -- as an apostasy from God. And how could they do otherwise, since the eternal dominion over the people of God had been granted, by God, to the house of David? The closeness of the connection between the religious and the civil sufficiently appears from the fact, that Jeroboam and all his successors despaired of being able to maintain their power, unless they made the breach, in religious matters also, as wide as possible. The chief of the prophets in the kingdom of the ten tribes -- Elijah -- by taking twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of Israel (1 Kings xviii.31), plainly enough declared, that he considered the separation as one not consistent with the idea of the Jewish kingdom, and that therefore, in reality, it must at some future period be done away with; that he considered the government in Israel as existing de facto, but not de jure.
By none do we find this view so distinctly brought out as by Hosea. "They have set up kings, and not by Me" -- says the Lord by him, chap. viii.4 -- "they have made princes, and I knew it not." In his view, then, the whole basis of the government in Israel is ungodliness. Because they have chosen kings and princes without God, and against the will of God, they shall be taken from them by God, chap. iii.4. Salvation cannot come to the people until Israel and, Judah set over themselves one head, ii.2 (i.11), until the children of Israel seek Jehovah their Lord, and David their king, iii.5. These two things are, in his view, intimately connected; no true return to the invisible head of the Theocracy is possible without, at the same time, a return to the visible one -- the house of David. What, at some future time, the mass of the people, when converted, were to do, the converted individual must do even now. He even now recognised the kings of the tribe of Judah as truly his sovereigns, although he yielded civil obedience to the rulers of Israel, until God should again abolish the government which He gave to the people in wrath, and set [Pg 167] up in opposition to the government of the house of David in His anger, on account of their apostasy. From all this, it clearly appears that, in order to account for the peculiarity of the inscription, we need not have recourse to the conjecture, that Hosea was a native of Judah. One might, with as much reason, maintain that all the prophets in the kingdom of Israel, who rejected the worship of the calves -- and hence all the prophets without exception -- were natives of the kingdom of Judah. For the worship of the calves is quite on a par with the apostasy from the anointed of God. Hosea mentions, first and completely, the kings of the legitimate family. He then further adds the name of one of the rulers of the kingdom of Israel, under whom his ministry began, because it was of importance to fix precisely the time of its commencement. Uzziah, the first in the series of the kings of Judah mentioned by him, survived Jeroboam nearly twenty-six years; compare Maurer, l. c. p.284. Now, had the latter not been mentioned along with him, the thought might easily have suggested itself, that it was only during the latter period of Uzziah's reign that the prophet entered upon his office; in which case all that he said about the overthrow of Jeroboam's family would have appeared to be a vaticinium post eventum, inasmuch as it took place very soon after Jeroboam's death. The same applies to what was said by him regarding the total decay of the kingdom which was so flourishing under Jeroboam; for, from the moment of Jeroboam's death, it hastened with rapid strides towards its destruction. If, therefore, it was to be seen that future things lie open before God and His servants "before they spring forth" (Is. xlii.9), it was necessary that the commencement of the prophet's ministry should be the more accurately determined; and this is effected by the statement, that it happened within the period of the fourteen years during which Uzziah and Jeroboam reigned contemporaneously. That this is the main reason for mentioning Jeroboam's name, is seen from the relation of ver.2 to ver.1. The remark there made, -- that Hosea received the subsequent revelation at the very beginning of his prophetic ministry, corresponds with the mention of Jeroboam's name in ver.1. But this is not all; nor can we say that, had it not been for this reason, Hosea would not have mentioned any king of Israel at all, in order that, from the outset, he might exhibit [Pg 168] his disposition. There was a considerable difference between Jeroboam and the subsequent kings. Cocceius remarked very strikingly: "The other kings of Israel are not considered as kings, but as robbers." Jeroboam possessed a quasi legitimacy. The house of Jehu, to which he belonged, had opposed the extreme of religious apostasy. It was, to a certain degree, acknowledged, even by the prophets. Jeroboam had obtained the throne, not by usurpation, but by birth. He was the last king by whom the Lord sent deliverance to the people of the ten tribes; compare 2 Kings xiv.27: "And the Lord would not blot out the name of Israel from under heaven; and He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam, the son of Joash." (2.) The internal reason adduced by Maurer (S.294) is equally insignificant. "The morum magistri," he says, "are wont more slightly to reprove, in the case of strangers, that which they severely condemn in their own people; but Hosea rebukes with as much severity the inhabitants of Judah, when he comes to speak of them, as he does the Israelites." But no certain inferences can be drawn from such commonplaces; for, in this way we might as reasonably infer, that Isaiah and the writer of the Books of Kings were natives of the kingdom of the ten tribes, because they censure the sins of the Israelites as severely as they do those of the inhabitants of Judah. To this commonplace we might as easily oppose another equally true, viz., the "morum magistri, from a partiality for their own people, are wont to judge more leniently of their faults than of those of strangers." Such maxims require to be applied with the utmost caution, even in the territory to which they belong, because one consideration may be so easily outweighed by another. Here, however, its application is altogether out of the question. The prophets, as the instruments of the Spirit, spoke pure and plain truth without any regard to persons. Whether Hosea was a native of Judah or of Israel, he would express himself in the same way concerning the inhabitants of Judah. He would severely rebuke their sins, and at the same time readily acknowledge, as he does, their advantages, -- for "Salvation cometh of the Jews."
If, then, these be the arguments in favour of the Judean origin of Hosea, it readily appears that the probabilities of such an origin, compared with that of his Israelitish descent, are not [Pg 169] even in the proportion of one to a hundred. The prophets were almost more numerous in the kingdom of Israel than in that of Judah; and yet the entire history knows of only two instances of prophets being sent from the kingdom of Judah to that of Israel, viz., the prophet spoken of in 1 Kings xiii. and Amos. And the former of these even scarcely belongs to this class, inasmuch as he received only a single mission into the kingdom of Israel, and that, at a time when the prophetic institution was not as yet organized there. In the case of Amos likewise, it is manifest not only that he was only an exception to the rule, -- as appears from the transactions with the priest Amaziah, reported in Amos vii. (compare especially ver.12), -- but still more plainly, from the mention in the inscription of his having been a native of Judah.
With regard to the time of the prophet, the inscription places his ministry in the reigns of the kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. A long period is, no doubt, thus assigned to it, -- a period embracing at least twenty-six years of Uzziah's reign, and, in addition, the sixteen years of that of Jotham, the sixteen years during which Ahaz reigned, and at least one or two years of the reign of Hezekiah, making, at the lowest calculation, a period of sixty years in all.
This exceedingly long duration of the prophet's ministry might easily excite suspicion regarding the genuineness and correctness of the inscription; but such suspicion is at once set at rest by the fact, that the statements contained in the book itself lead us to assume a period equally extended. The beginning of the prophet's ministry cannot be assigned to any later period; for, in chap. i.4, the fall of Jeroboam's house, which took place soon after his death, is announced as a future event. Moreover, the condition of the kingdom appears still, throughout the whole first discourse, as a very flourishing one. Nor can the end of his ministry be assigned to any earlier period. For in chap. x.14, an expedition of Shalman or Shalmaneser against the kingdom of Israel (Vitringa, Proleg. in Is. p.6) is described as being already past, and a second invasion is threatened. But the first expedition of Shalmaneser, reported in 2 Kings xvii.1 seqq., is almost contemporaneous with the beginning of Hezekiah's reign. For it was directed against Hoshea, king of Israel, who began his reign in the twelfth [Pg 170] year of that of Ahaz, which lasted sixteen years. The exact harmony of the passage in Hosea with that in 2 Kings xvii. is very evident. In 2 Kings xvii.3, it is said: "Against him came up Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, and Hoshea became his servant and gave him tribute." This was the first expedition of Shalmaneser. Then followed the second expedition, which was caused by the rebellion of Hoshea, -- in consequence of which Samaria was taken and the people carried away. In Hos. x.14, 15, it is said: "And tumult ariseth against thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled, as Shalman spoiled Beth-arbel in the day of battle; the mother was dashed in pieces upon (her) children. So shall he do unto you, Bethel, because of your great wickedness in the dawn of the morning, destroyed, destroyed shall be the king of Israel." Hosea here declares that the beginning of the destruction by Shalmaneser is the prophecy of the end of the kingdom of Israel. The "morning dawn" is the time of apparently reappearing prosperity, when, according to Cocceius, a time of peace begins to shine. In Amos iv.13, v.8, the prosperity again dawning upon the kingdom of Israel is likewise expressed by "morning" and "morning dawn." The identity of Beth-arbel and Arbelah in Galilee can the less be doubted, because recent researches have rendered it certain that this place, now called Irbid, was an important fortress. (Compare Muenchener gelehrte Anzeigen 1836, S.870 ff.; Robinson, iii.2, p.534; v. Raumer, S.108.) The use of Beth-arbel, instead of the more common Arbelah, as well as that of Shalman instead of Shalmaneser, belongs to the higher style. At the first expedition, the decisive battle had, no doubt, taken place at Arbelah. They who disconnect this passage from 2 Kings xvii. do not know what to make of it. Simson complains of the darkness resting on the passage under consideration. -- But Hos. xii.2 (1) likewise leads us to the very last times of the kingdom of Israel, -- those times when Hoshea endeavoured to free himself from the Assyrian servitude by the help of Egypt. "Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east-wind; he daily increaseth lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried into Egypt." Their sending oil to Egypt, notwithstanding the covenant made with Assyria, is the lie, which goes hand in hand with desolation, while they imagine thereby to [Pg 171] work deliverance. This explanation has been already given by J. H. Manger, of whose Commentarius in Hoseam, Campen, 1782 -- a commentary in many respects excellent -- most of the recent commentators, and, lastly, Simson, have, to their great disadvantage, not availed themselves. Manger says: "These words refer to the ambassadors who were sent with splendid presents by king Hoshea to the king of Egypt, in order to win him over to himself, and induce him to assist him against the Assyrians, to whom he had become subject by a solemn treaty." -- To the last times of the kingdom of Israel we are likewise led by what occurs in other passages concerning the relation of Israel to Egypt and Asshur. The matter has been falsely represented by very many as if two parties among the people were spoken of, -- an Assyrian and an Egyptian party. Nor is it so, that the whole people turn at one time to Egypt in order to free themselves from the Assyrians, and at another time to Assyria to assist them against Egypt. The position is rather thus: The people, heavily oppressed by Asshur, at one time seek help from Egypt against Asshur, and, at another, attempt to conciliate the latter. Precisely thus is the situation described in vii.11: "They call to Egypt, they go to Asshur." That by which Israel was threatened, was, according to viii.10, "the burden of the king of princes, the king of Asshur," ver.9. This they seek to turn off, partly by artifices, and partly by calling to their help the king of Egypt. Asshur alone is the king "warrior" (Jareb), v.13, x.6; he only has received the divine mission to execute judgment; compare xi.5: "He, i.e., Israel, shall not return to the land of Egypt, and Asshur, he is his king." As an ally not to be trusted, Egypt is described in vii.16, where, after the announcement of their destruction on account of their rebellion against the Lord, it is said: "This shall be their derision on account of the land of Egypt," i.e., thus they shall be put to shame in the hope which they place on Egypt. Is. xxx.1-5 is quite analogous. In that passage the prophet announces that Judah's attempt to protect themselves against Asshur by means of Egypt would be vain; compare, especially, ver.3: "And the fortress of Pharaoh shall be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt, your confusion;" and ver.5: "Not for help nor for profit, but for shame and for reproach." Such historical circumstances, [Pg 172] however, had not yet occurred under Menahem. At that time, Israel was not yet placed in the midst betwixt Asshur and Egypt. It is expressly mentioned in 2 Kings xv.20, that the invasion of Pul was only transitory, and that not conquest, but spoil, was its aim. The real commencement of the Assyrian oppression is formed by the invasion of Tiglathpileser at the time of Ahaz. Isaiah, in chap. vii., points out the pernicious consequences of Ahaz's calling the Assyrians to his assistance against Syria and Israel. The very fact of this war carried on against Judah by Syria and Ephraim shows, that up to that time, Asshur had not laid his hand upon these regions. It was only with the invasion under Ahaz that there was any display of Asshur's tendency to make permanent conquests on the other side of Euphrates, which could not fail to bring about the conflict with the Egyptian power. -- "King Jareb," -- such had already become the historical character of the king of Asshur, at the time when Hosea wrote; but prior to the times of Ahaz and Hezekiah, he did not stand out as such.
There is no decisive weight to be attached to what Simson advances in order to prove that we must fix an earlier date. He argues thus: "Gilead, which, according to 2 Kings xv.29, was taken and depopulated by Tiglathpileser, whom Ahaz had called to his assistance, appears in vi.8, xii.12 (11) to be still in the possession of Israel. Hence, the ministry of the prophet cannot have extended beyond the invasion of Judah by the Syrians and Ephraim." But since the book gives the sum and substance of Hosea's prophecies during a prolonged period, there must necessarily occur in it references to events which already belonged to the past, at the time when the prophet wrote. In chap. i.4, even the overthrow of the house of Jeroboam appears as being still future.
But even although we could not establish, from other sources, the statement contained in the inscription, the inscription itself would nevertheless be a guarantee for it; and the more so, because there are other analogies in favour of so long a duration of the prophetic office, which was sometimes entered upon even in early youth. The inscription has the same authority in its favour as every other part of the book; and it is hardly possible to understand the levity with which it has, in recent times, been pretty generally designated as spurious, or, at least, suspicious. [Pg 173] It is altogether impossible to sever it from the other parts of the book. There must certainly have been some object in view when, in ver.2, it is expressly remarked, that what follows took place at the beginning of Hosea's ministry. But such an object it will be possible to point out, only in the event of its being more accurately determined at what time this beginning took place -- viz., still under the reign of Jeroboam, when the state of things as it appeared to the eye did not yet offer any occasion for such views of the future as are opened up in the first three chapters. Ver.1 cannot, therefore, be regarded as an addition subsequently made, unless the words in ver.2, from [Hebrew: tHlt] to [Hebrew: bhvwe] be so likewise. But these again are most closely connected with what follows by the Future with Vav convers., which never can begin a narrative. There remains, therefore, only this alternative: -- either to regard the whole as having been written at a later period, or to claim for Hosea the inscription also. We cannot agree with the view of Simson, that the remark by which the beginning of the book is assigned to the beginning of the prophet's ministry, originated from a chronological interest only; and we can the less do so, because the prophet does not pay any attention to chronology in any other place, but is anxious to give only the sum and substance of what he had prophesied during a series of years. The only exception which he makes in this respect must have originated from strong reasons; and such do not exist, if the inscription in ver.1, or the mention of the kings in it, be spurious. The mention of the beginning in ver.2 would, in that case, be so much the more groundless, as we could know nothing at all regarding the length of his ministry.
Much more fruitful, certainly, than all such vain doubts, are the reflections of Calvin on the long duration of the prophet's ministry: "How grievous is it to us when God requires our services for twenty or thirty years; and, especially, when we have to contend with ungodly people, who would not willingly take upon them the yoke, yea, who even obstinately resist us! we then wish to be freed at once, and to become pensioned soldiers. But, seeing this prophet's long protracted ministry, let us take from it an example of patience, that we may not despair although the Lord should not at once free us from our burden."
Many interpreters have zealously attempted to determine the [Pg 174] particular portions of this lengthened period to which the particular portions of this book belong. But such an undertaking is wholly vain in the case before us, as well as in that of Micah, and most of the minor prophets generally. The supposition upon which it rests is false -- viz., that the collection consists of a number of single, detached portions. We do not possess the whole of Hosea's prophecies, but only the substance of their essential contents, -- a survey which he himself gave towards the end of his ministry. This appears (1) from the [Hebrew: dbr ihvh] in the inscription. In itself, this would not be a decisive argument, as the prophet might also have comprehended in an ideal unity, discourses outwardly distinct; but, nevertheless, as long as no reason appears for the contrary, it is more naturally referred to a continuous discourse with an external unity also. (2.) It appears from the entire omission of all chronological data. The only exception is in ver.2; but this exception serves only to strengthen the argument drawn from the omission everywhere else. (3.) It is proved by the absence of all certain indications about the beginning and ending of the particular portions. There occur, just as in the second part of Isaiah, new starting points only; but, with these exceptions, the discourse always moves on in the same manner. (4.) It is seen from the indefiniteness and generality of the historical references, which must necessarily arise if the prophet referred, in like manner, to the whole of this lengthened period. That the facts, upon which the last two arguments rest, really exist, is made sufficiently apparent from the immense diversity of opinions as to the number and extent of the particular portions, and as to the time of their composition. There are not even two of the more important interpreters who agree in the main points alone. Such a diversity does not exist in reference to any of the prophetical books which actually consist of detached prophecies. (5.) The style and language are too much the same throughout the whole, to admit of the idea that any long period could have elapsed between the particular prophecies. This, indeed, is only a subordinate argument; but it acquires its full importance, when connected with the foundation of the third and fourth proofs.
It now only remains to give a survey of the historical circumstances at the time of the prophet. This is the more necessary, as a knowledge of these is required for the exposition of [Pg 175] the Messianic prophecies, not only of Hosea, but also of Amos, his contemporary.
The kingdom of Israel carried within it, from its very commencement, a twofold element of destruction -- viz., the establishment of the worship of the calves, and the rebellion against the dynasty of David. With regard to the former, -- the consequence of this apparently so much isolated transgression of a Mosaic ordinance extended much further than would appear upon a superficial view. In this case also it was seen that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Of far higher importance than the low conceptions of God produced by this symbolical representation of Him, was another aspect of the transaction. The prohibition of image-worship in the Pentateuch was as distinct and clear as it was possible to make it. The kings of Israel were far from rejecting it; but still, how difficult soever it may appear, they found out an interpretation by which they evaded the application of it to their institution. Such a course once entered upon, could only lead them further and further astray. As, in so important a case, they had, in opposition to their own better convictions, allowed themselves to pervert and explain away the law -- asserting, probably, that it was given only on account of the coarse sensuality of former generations -- the same was done in other things also, as often as it was called for by the disposition of the corrupted heart. All unfaithfulness which is known to be so, and yet is cherished, and excused to the conscience and before men, must draw after it entire ruin, in a community, not less than in an individual. As a reason for this ruin, it is very strikingly said in 2 Kings xvii.9: "And they covered (this is the only ascertained signification of [Hebrew: Hpa]) words that were not so, over the Lord their God;" i.e., they ventured, by a number of perversions and false interpretations of His word, to veil its true form. To this, the following consideration must be added: -- That first change of the religious institutions proceeded from the political power which secured to itself, for the future, an absolute influence upon the religious affairs, by subjecting to its control the ecclesiastical power, which had hitherto been independent of it. Those Levites who, having no regard to the miserable sophisms invented by the king as an excuse, declared against the worship of calves, were expelled, and, in their stead, creatures of the king [Pg 176] were made ministers of the sanctuary. This became now the king's sanctuary (compare the remarkable passage, Amos vii.13), and all the ecclesiastical affairs were, in strict contradiction to the Mosaic law, submitted to his arbitrary power. The consequences of this must necessarily have been all the sadder, the worse the kings were; and they must inevitably have become so, because of the bad foundation on which the royal power rested.
Image-worship was very speedily followed by idolatry, -- which is, however, in like manner, not to be looked upon in the light of an undisguised opposition to the true God. Such an opposition took place during the reign of only one king -- Ahab -- under whom the matter was carried to an extreme. Holy Scripture, however, with a total disregard of the whole multitude of miserable excuses ordinarily made, designates as direct apostasy from God, everything which was substantially such, although it did not outwardly manifest itself as such. Externally, they remained faithful to Jehovah; they celebrated His feasts, -- they offered the sacrifices prescribed in the Pentateuch, -- they regulated, in general, all the religious institutions according to the requirements there laid down, as may be proved from the Books of Kings, and, still more plainly, from Amos and Hosea. But in all this they discovered a method by which light and darkness, the worship of idols with that of the Lord, might be combined. Nor was this discovery so very difficult, since their eye was not single. They had before them the examples of heathen nations, who were quite prepared reciprocally to acknowledge their deities, in all of whom they recognised only different forms of manifestation of one and the same divine being; and they were quite willing to extend this acknowledgment even to the God of Israel also, as long as they did not meet with intolerance on the part of those who professed to worship Him, and were therefore not roused to the practice of intolerance in return. This reciprocal recognition of their deities by the nations in the midst of whom the Israelites lived, is sufficiently evident from the circumstance, that they all called their highest deity by the same name -- Baal -- and expressed, by some epithet, only the form of manifestation peculiar to each. Now, the Israelites imagined that they might be able, at one and the same time, to satisfy the demands of their God, and to propitiate [Pg 177] the idols of the neighbouring mighty nations -- especially of the Ph[oe]nicians -- if they removed the wall of separation betwixt the two. Jehovah and Baal were, in their view, identical as to their essence. The former was that mode of manifestation peculiar to them, and the main object of their worship according to the method prescribed by Himself in His revelation. But the latter was not to be neglected; inasmuch as they imagined that they might thereby become partakers of the blessings which this form of manifestation of the deity was able to bestow. And thus to Jehovah they gave the name of Baal also, Hos. ii.18 (16); they celebrated the days appointed by Jehovah, ver.13 (11), but those also devoted to Baalim, ver.15 (13). In this way we receive an explanation of the fact which, at first sight, is so startling, viz., that according to Hosea and Amos, all is filled with the service of Baal; while the Books of Kings would lead us to think that, with the reign of Ahab, the dominion of this worship had ceased. But it was only its hostile opposition to the worship of Jehovah that had disappeared, while a far more dangerous religious compromise took its place. No doubt can be entertained as to the party on whose side lay the advantage in this compromise. It was plainly on that side on which it always lies, whensoever the heart is divided betwixt truth and falsehood. Externally, the worship of Jehovah remained the prevailing one; but, inwardly, idolatry obtained almost the sole dominion. If only the limits betwixt the two religions were removed, that religion would of course come with the highest recommendation, the spirit of which was most in accordance with the spirit of the people. But, owing to the corrupt condition of human nature, this would not be the strict religion of Jehovah, which, as coming from God, did not bring God down to the level of human debasement, but demanded that man should be raised to His elevation, -- which placed the holiness of God in the centre, and founded upon it the requirement that its possessors should be holy; -- but it would be the soft, sensual, idolatrous doctrine which flattered human corruption, because from that it had its origin. Thus the Jehovah of the Israelites became in reality what they sometimes called Him by way of alternation -- a Baal. And the matter was now much more dangerous than if they had deserted Him [Pg 178] externally also, inasmuch as they now continued to trust in His covenant and promises, and to boast of their external services, -- thus strengthening themselves in their false security.
The natural consequence of this apostasy from the Lord was a frightful corruption of manners. The next result of spiritual adultery was the carnal one. Voluptuousness formed the fundamental characteristic of the Asiatic religions in general, and, in particular, of those with which the Israelites came in contact. But the pernicious influence extended still further over the whole moral territory. Where there is no holy God, neither will there be any effort of man after holiness. All divine and human laws will be trampled under foot. All the bonds of love, law, and order, will be broken. And, as such, the condition of the country in a moral point of view is described by its two prophets throughout. Compare, e.g., Hosea iv.1, 2: "There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery -- they break through, and blood toucheth blood." There then followed, from the moral corruption, the internal dissolution of the state, and its external weakness.
The supernatural consequences of the apostasy from the Lord, were the severe punishments which He inflicted upon the people. With whomsoever God has entered into a closer connection, whomsoever He thinks worthy of His grace, in him the Lord will be glorified by the infliction of punishment upon him, if, through his own guilt. He has not been glorified by sanctification in him. Just because Israel formed part of the Covenant-people, they could not be allowed to continue to retain the outward appearance of it, when, inwardly, they did not retain a vestige.
As the second element of the ruin, we mentioned the rebellion against the dynasty of David. Their dominion rested on divine right, while the new Israelitish kingdom rested upon the sandy foundation of human caprice. The first king had raised himself to the throne by his own power and prudence, and through the favour of the people. Whosoever had the same means at his disposal, imagined that these gave him the right to do likewise. And thus dynasty supplanted dynasty, regicide followed regicide. In the bloody struggles thereby occasioned, the people became more and more lawless. Sometimes interregna, [Pg 179] and periods of total anarchy took place; and by these internal struggles the power to resist external enemies was more and more broken. No king was able to stop this source of mischief, for such an effort would have required him to lay aside his position as a king. And as little was any one able to put a stop to that source of evil formerly mentioned: for, if the religious wall of partition which was erected between Israel and Judah were once removed, the civil one likewise threatened to fall.
Such were, in general, the circumstances under which Hosea, like the other prophets of the kingdom of Israel, appeared. There cannot be any doubt that these were much more difficult than those of the kingdom of Judah. There, too, the corruption was indeed very great; but it was not so firmly intertwined with the foundation of the whole state. Thorough-going reforms, like those under Hezekiah and Josiah, were possible. The interest of a whole tribe was closely bound up with the preservation of true religion.
The reign of Jeroboam II., which was externally so prosperous, and in which Hosea entered upon his prophetic ministry, had still more increased the apostasy from the Lord, and the corruption of manners, and thus laid the foundation for the series of disastrous events which began soon after his death, and which, in quick succession, brought the people to total ruin. The prosperity only confirmed them still more in their security. Instead of being led to repentance by the unmerited mercy of God (compare 2 Kings xiv.26, 27), they considered this prosperity as a reward of their apostasy, as the seal by which Jehovah-Baal confirmed the rectitude of their ways. The false prophets, too, did what was in their power to strengthen them in their delusion, whilst the true prophets preached to deaf ears.
Immediately after the death of Jeroboam, it soon became apparent on which side the truth lay. There followed an interregnum of from eleven to twelve years. After the termination [Pg 180] of it, Zachariah, the son of Jeroboam, succeeded to the throne; but he was murdered by Shallum, after a short reign of six months, 2 Kings xv.10. Shallum, after he had reigned only one month, was slain by Menahem, ver.14. Menahem reigned ten years at Samaria. Under him, the catastrophe was already preparing which brought the kingdom to utter destruction. He became tributary to the Assyrian king Pul, vers.19-21. He was succeeded by his son Pekahiah, in the fiftieth year of Uzziah. After a reign of two months, he was slain by Pekah, the son of Remaliah, who held the government for twenty years (ver.27), and, by his alliance with the kings of Syria against his brethren the people of Judah (comp. Is. vii.), hastened on the destruction of Israel. The Assyrians, under Tiglathpileser, called to his assistance by Ahaz, even at that time carried away into captivity part of its citizens, -- the tribes who lived on the other side of the Jordan. In the fourth year of Ahaz, Pekah was slain by Hoshea, who, after an interregnum of eight years, began to reign in the twelfth year of Ahaz, xvii.1. He became tributary to Shalmaneser; and the end of his government of nine years was also the end of the kingdom of the ten tribes. His having sought for an alliance with Egypt drew down, upon himself and his people, the vengeance of the king of Assyria.
We have already proved that the historical references in the prophecies of Hosea extend to the time when the last king of Israel attempted to secure himself against Asshur, by the alliance with Egypt. It is very probable that the book was written at [Pg 181] that time. At the time when the sword of the Lord was just being raised to inflict upon Israel the death-blow, Hosea wrote down the sum and substance of what he had prophesied during a long series of years, beginning in the last times of Jeroboam, when, to a superficial view, the people were in the enjoyment of the fullest prosperity. When at the threshold of their final fulfilment, he condensed and wrote down his prophecies, just as, in the annus fatalis, the fourth year of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah, according to chap. xxv., gave a survey of what he had prophesied over Judah during twenty-three years.
In the prophecies of Hosea, as in those of Amos, the threatening character prevails. The number of the elect in Israel was small, and the judgment was at hand. In Jeremiah and Ezekiel, too, the prophecies, previous to the destruction, are mainly minatory. It was only after the wrath of God had been manifested in deeds, that the stream of promise brake forth without hindrance. Hosea, nevertheless, does not belie his name, by which he had been dedicated to the helping and saving God, and which he had received, non sine numine. ([Hebrew: hvwe], properly the Inf. Abs. of [Hebrew: iwe], is, in substance, equivalent to Joshua, i.e., the Lord is help.) Zeal for the Lord fills and animates him, not only in the energy of his threatenings, but also in the intensity and strength of his conviction of the pardoning mercy and healing love of the Lord, which will, in the end, prevail. In this respect, Hosea is closely connected with the Song of Solomon -- that link in the chain of Holy Scripture into which he had, in the first instance, to fit. There are in Hosea undeniable references to the Song of Solomon. (Compare my Comment. on the Song of Solomon, on chap. i.4, ii.3.) It is certainly not by accident that the brighter views appear with special clearness at the beginning, in chap. i.3 (compare ii.1-3, 16-25 [i.10, ii.1, 14-23], iii.5), and at the close, xiv.2-10 (1-9), where the fundamental thought is expressed in ver.4 (3): "For in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy." But even in the darker middle portions, they sometimes suddenly break through; compare v.15, vi.3, where the subject is: "He teareth and He healeth us; He smiteth and He bindeth up;" vi.11, where, after the threatening against Israel, we suddenly find the words: "Nevertheless, O Judah! He grants thee a harvest, when I (i.e., the Lord) return to the prison of My people." (Judah is [Pg 182] here mentioned as the main portion of the people, in whom mercy is bestowed upon the whole, and in whose salvation the other tribes also share.) Compare also xi.8-11, where we have this thought: After wrath, mercy; the Covenant-people can never, like the world, be altogether borne down by destructive judgments; xiii.14, where the strong conviction of the absolutely imperishable nature of the Congregation of the Lord finds utterance in the words, "I will ransom them from the hand of hell; I will redeem them from death: O death! where is thy plague? O hell! where is thy pestilence? repentance is hid from Mine eyes." Simson is perplexed "by the sudden transition of the discourse, in this passage, from threatening to promise, -- and this without even any particle to indicate the mutual relation of the sentences and thoughts." But the same phenomenon occurs also in vi.11 (compare Micah ii.12, 13), where, likewise, several expositors are perplexed by the suddenness and abruptness of the transition. It is explained from the circumstance, that behind even the darkest clouds of wrath which have gathered over the Congregation of the Lord, there is, nevertheless, concealed the sun of mercy. In the prophets, it sometimes breaks through suddenly and abruptly; but in this they are at one with history, in which the deepest darkness of the night is oftentimes suddenly illuminated by the shining of the Lord: "And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold, the bridegroom cometh."
The sum and substance of Hosea's prophetic announcement is the following: -- Israel falls, through Asshur: Judah, the main tribe, shall be preserved from destruction in this catastrophe. (The prophet's tender care for Judah is strikingly brought out in his exhortation to Israel, in iv.15, that they should desist from their compromises in religion, and that, if they chose to commit sin, they should rather desert the Lord altogether, lest by their hypocrisy Judah also should be seduced and infected.) But at a later period, Judah too is to fall under the divine judgment (ii.2 [i.11], where it is supposed that Judah shall also be carried away into captivity; v.5: "Israel and Ephraim fall by their iniquity, Judah also falleth with them;" v.12: "I am unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness;" compare also xii.1, 3), although the immediate instruments of the judgment upon Judah are not mentioned [Pg 183] by Hosea. But the judgments which the two houses of Israel draw upon themselves by their works (ii.2 [i.11], iii.5, indicate that even Judah will, at some future time, rebel against the house of David) shall be followed by the deliverance to be accomplished by grace. Judah and Israel shall, in the future, be again gathered together under one head, ii.2 (i.11); a glorious king out of David's house not only restores what was lost, but also raises the Congregation of the Lord to a decree of glory never before conceived of, iii.5: "Afterwards shall the children of Israel return and seek the Lord their God, and David their King, and shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days."
The peculiarity of the Messianic prophecies of Hosea, as compared with those of the time of David and Solomon, consists in the connection of the promise with threatenings of judgments, and in the Messiah's appearing as the light of those who walk in the deepest darkness of the divine judgments. It was necessary that this progress should have been made in the Messianic announcements, before the breaking in of the divine judgments; for, otherwise, the hope of the Messiah would have been extinguished by them, because it was but too natural to consider the former as, in fact, an annihilation of these dreamy hopes. But now there was offered to the elect a staff on which they might support themselves, and walk with confidence through the dark valley of the shadow of death.
The Book of Hosea may be divided into two parts, according to the two principal periods of the prophet's ministry, -- under Jeroboam, when the external condition was as yet prosperous, and the bodily eye did not as yet perceive anything of the storms of divine wrath which were gathering, -- and under the following kings, down to Hosea, when the punishment had already begun, and was hastening, by rapid strides, towards its consummation. -- Another difference, although a subordinate one, is this: -- that the first part, which comprehends the first three chapters, contains prophecies connected with a symbol, while the second part contains direct prophecies which have no such connection. A similar division occurs in Amos also, -- with this difference, that there, the symbolical prophecies form the conclusion. The first part may be considered as a kind of outline, which all the subsequent prophecies served to fill up; just [Pg 184] as may the 6th chapter in Isaiah, and the first and second in Ezekiel. We shall give a complete exposition of this section, as it will afford us a vivid view of the whole position of Hosea, and as it is just there that the Messianic announcement meets us in its most developed form.
Footnote 1: Ewald, Thenius, and others, will not grant that such an interregnum took place. As numbers were originally expressed by letters, in which an interchange might easily happen, we cannot deny the possibility of such an error having occurred in 2 Kings xiv.23. It is quite possible that the duration of Jeroboam's reign was there originally stated at fifty-two or fifty-three, instead of forty-one years. But strong reasons would be required for rendering such a supposition admissible, -- the more so, as the interchange would not have been limited to one letter, as Thenius supposes, but must have extended to both. But no such reasons exist. The silence of the Books of Kings upon the subject of this interregnum cannot be urged as a reason, since these books are so exceedingly short as regards the history of the last times of the kingdom of Israel. Sacred historiography has no interest in the details of this process of decay, which began with the death of Jeroboam, -- which also is represented by Amos as if it were the day of Israel's death (Amos vii.11: "Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall be led away captive out of their own land"), although bare existence is still, for some time, spared. By the rejection of this interregnum, Hosea's ministry would be shortened by twelve years; but this gain -- if such it be -- can be purchased only at the expense of a most improbable extension of the duration of Jeroboam's reign. Simson, S.201, has defended the interregnum.