But i.-iii. seem to be the result of long and agonized meditation on the meaning of his wedded life: it was not at once that he discovered
Gomer to be an unfaithful wife, i.2, and it must have been later still that he learned to interpret the impulse which led him to her and threw such sorrow about his life, as a word of the Lord, i.2. These chapters were probably therefore written late, though the experiences they record were early.
[Footnote 1: Zechariah his son reigned for only six months.]
Of the date, generally speaking, of iv.-xiv. there can be no doubt: they reflect but too faithfully the confusion of the times that followed Jeroboam's death. It is a period of hopeless anarchy. Moral law is set at defiance, and society, from one end to the other, is in confusion, iv.1, 2, vii.1. The court is corrupt, conspiracies are rife, kings are assassinated, vii.3-7, x.15. We are irresistibly reminded of the rapid succession of kings that followed Jeroboam -- Zechariah his son, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah. Gilead, however, is still part of the northern kingdom, vi.8, xii.11, so that the deportation effected by Tiglath Pileser in 734 B.C. has not yet taken place (2 Kings xv.29). Further, there is no mention of the combination of Israel and Aram against Judah; and, as Hosea was a very close observer of the political situation, his silence on this point may be assumed to imply that his prophecies fall earlier than 735. The date of his prophetic career may safely be set about 743-736 B.C. In chs. i. and iii. Hosea reads the experiences of his wedded life as a symbol of Jehovah's experience with Israel. Gomer bore him three children, to whom he gave names symbolic of the impending fate of Israel, i.1-9. The faithless Gomer abandons Hosea for a paramour, but he is moved by his love for her to buy her out of the degradation into which she has fallen, and takes earnest measures to wean her to a better mind. All this Hosea learns to interpret as symbolic of the divine love for Israel, which refuses to be defeated, but will seek to recover the people, though it be through the stern discipline of exile (iii.). Ch. ii. elaborates the idea, suggested by these chapters, of Israel's adultery, i.e. of her unfaithfulness to Jehovah, of the fate to which it will bring her, and of her redemption from that fate by the love of her God. [Footnote 1: Chs. i.10-ii.1 interrupts the stern context with an outlook on the Messianic days, considers Judah as well as Israel, presupposes the exile of Judah, and anticipates ii.21-23. It can hardly therefore be Hosea's; nor can i.7, which is quite irrelevant and appears to be an allusion to the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib in 701 B.C.]
It is quite impossible even to attempt a summary of iv.-xiv., partly because of the hopeless corruption of the text in very many passages, partly from the brevity and apparently disjointed nature of the individual sections. Possibly this is due, in large measure, to later redactors of the book, or to the fragmentary reports of the prophet's addresses; perhaps, however, it also expresses something of the abrupt passion of his speeches, which, as Kautzsch says, were "more sob than speech." The general theme of this division appears in its opening words, "There is no fidelity or love or knowledge of God in the land," iv.1.
That knowledge of God is in part innate and universal: it is knowledge of God, and not specifically of Jehovah -- not knowledge of a code, but fidelity to the demands of conscience. It was, however, the peculiar business of the priests to proclaim and develop that knowledge; and for the deplorable perversity of Israel, they are largely held responsible, iv.6. The worship of Jehovah, which ought to be a moral service, vi.6, is indistinguishable from Baal worship (ii.) and idolatry. Upon the calf, the symbol under which Jehovah was worshipped, and upon those who worship Him thus, Hosea pours indignant and sarcastic scorn, viii.5, 6, x.5, xiii.2. Ignorance of the true nature of God is at the root of the moral and political confusion. It is this that leads the one party to coquet with Egypt and the other with Assyria, vii. II, viii, 9, xi.5, xii.1, and the price paid for Assyrian intervention was a heavy one (2 Kings xv.19, 20, cf. Hosea v.13). The native kings, too, are as impotent to heal Israel's wounds as the foreigners, vii.7, x.7; and though it might be too much to say that Hosea condemns the monarchy as an institution, viii.4, the impotence of the kings to stem the tide of disaster is too painfully clear to him, x, 7, 15.
Whether Hosea ever alludes to Judah in his genuine prophecies is very doubtful. Some of the references are obvious interpolations (cf. i.7), and for one reason or another, nearly all of them are suspicious: in vi.4, e.g., the parallelism (cf. v.10) suggests that Israel should be read instead of Judah. But there can be no doubt that the message of Hosea is addressed in the main, if not exclusively, to northern Israel. It is her land that is the land, i.2, cf.4, her king that is "our king," vii.5, the worship of her sanctuaries that he exposes, and her politics that he deplores.
If Amos is the St. James of the Old Testament, Hosea is the St. John. It is indeed possible to draw the contrast too sharply between Amos and Hosea, as is done when it is asserted that Amos is the champion of morality and Hosea of religion. Amos is not, however, a mere moralist; he no less than Hosea demands a return to Jehovah, iv.6, 8, v.6, but he undoubtedly lays the emphasis on the moral expression of the religious impulse, while Hosea is more concerned with religion at its roots and in its essence. Thus Hosea's work, besides being supplementary to that of Amos, emphasizing the love of God where Amos had emphasised His righteousness, is also more fundamental than his. There is something of the mystic, too, in Hosea: in all experience he finds something typical. The character of the patriarch Jacob is an adumbration of that of his descendants (xii.), and his own love for his unfaithful wife is a shadow of Jehovah's love for Israel (i.-iii.).
His message to Israel was a stern one, probably even sterner than it now reads in the received text of many passages, e.g., xi.8, 9. He represents Jehovah as saying to Israel: "Shall I set thee free from the hand of Sheol? Shall I redeem thee from death? Hither with thy plagues, O death! Hither with thy pestilence, O Sheol! Repentance is hidden from mine eyes," xiii.14. But it is too much to say with some scholars that the sternness is unqualified and to deny to the prophet the hope so beautifully expressed in the last chapter. There were elements in Hosea's experience of his own heart which suggested that the love of Jehovah was a love which would not let His people go, and ch. xiv. (except v.9) may well be retained, almost in its entirety, for Hosea. His passion, though not robust, like that of Amos, is tender and intense, xi.3, 4: as Amos pleads for righteousness, he pleads for love (Hos. vi.6), hesed, a word strangely enough never used by Amos; and it is no accident that the great utterance of Hosea -- "I will have love and not sacrifice," vi.6 -- had a special attraction for Jesus (Matt. ix.13, xii.7).