1: Unfaithful Israel (Hosea 1-2:1)
1:1 This is the word of the Lord which was revealed to Hosea son of Beeri during the time when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah ruled Judah, and during the time when Jeroboam son of Joash ruled Israel.
Exegesis and Exposition
Hosea declares that his entire prophecy is that which he has received via direct divine revelation. Whatever religious and social conditions he may have observed are not the ultimate source of his prophecies. Rather, they reflect faithfully God’s viewpoint and message concerning his covenant people. Therefore, Hosea’s prophecy is in accordance with the rest of Scripture in reflecting God’s person, purposes, standards, and acts (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Although the primary focus is the situation in the Northern Kingdom, in Hosea’s list of ruling kings contemporaneous with his prophetic ministry he begins with four generations of Judahite kings. This tends to indicate that proper royal succession lay with the Davidic line in the Southern Kingdom. As Sweeney points out, “Hosea addresses both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah from a relatively pro-Judean perspective… . Judah thereby provides the means by which Israel will be restored insofar as Israel will return to YHWH and to David their king (Hos 3:4-5); i.e., when Israel returns to YHWH in Jerusalem and to Davidic/Judean rule, Israel will be restored.”1 To be sure, God had graciously permitted the splintering of the United Kingdom (1 Kings 11:29-38). Yet although he would thereby humble Judah because of its adulterous idolatry, this would not last forever. Indeed, at the division of that kingdom God declared that he would “humiliate David’s descendents because of this, but not forever” (1 Kings 11:39). “Here is both a reaffirmation of the enduring nature of God’s promise to David and the clear statement to Jeroboam and his successors that the house of David will win in the end … there seems to be an implication … that in the future the tribes will all once again be under the leadership of Judah.”2 As indicated above, the fact that only Jeroboam II is specifically mentioned may reflect that any legitimate claim to the throne of the Northern Kingdom ended with his line. Such would be in accord with the details of Hosea’s prophecy in 1:4.
1:1 Joash The NET reflects the MT text here. In 2 Kings 13:10 this king’s name is given as Jehoash but in 13:12 as Joash. The names are thus interchangeable variants. The names are employed similarly in the case of the kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms. Likewise, Uzziah of Judah is a variant of Azariah (cf. 2 Kings 15:1 with 15:30).
The opening three chapters of the book provide a foundation and orientation for Hosea’s prophecies that follow. Israel (the Northern Kingdom in particular) has strayed from its relationship with Yahweh, its covenant God.
1:2 When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, he said to him, “Go marry a prostitute who will bear illegitimate children conceived through prostitution, because the nation continually commits spiritual prostitution by turning away from the Lord.” 3 So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Then she conceived and gave birth to a son for him. 4 Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Name him ‘Jezreel,’ because in a little while I will punish the dynasty of Jehu on account of the bloodshed in the valley of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. 5 At that time, I will destroy the military power of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
6 She conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, “Name her ‘No Pity’ (Lo-Ruhamah) because I will no longer have pity on the nation of Israel. For I will certainly not forgive their guilt. 7 But I will have pity on the nation of Judah. I will deliver them by the Lord their God; I will not deliver them by the warrior’s bow, by sword, by military victory, by chariot horses, or by chariots.”
8 When she had weaned ‘No Pity’ (Lo-Ruhamah) she conceived again and gave birth to another son. 9 Then the Lord said: “Name him ‘Not My People’ (Lo-Ammi), because you are not my people and I am not your God.”
Exegesis and Exposition
Due to Israel’s infidelity Hosea is commissioned to pronounce many messages of condemnation and warning. Nevertheless he will convey messages affirming that God’s concern and love for his people remains through it all. Therefore, Hosea can also occasionally include words of hope for Israel’s eventual restoration to God’s favor. This will come, however, only after it has been properly chastised. Then a repentant people will once again enjoy the full benefits of its covenant relation with God.
Something of this was to be portrayed visibly to God’s people through his prophet. Thus God’s covenant relation to Israel was to be symbolized in Hosea’s marriage to Gomer who will prove to be as unfaithful to her husband as Israel has been to Yahweh. Yet following her rebuke and chastisement, Gomer would find reconciliation with her husband. Interestingly enough, both the account of Gomer’s rejection (1:2-9) and that of her reconciliation (3:1-5) are told in narrative prose style, which serves to bookend the intervening poetic sections. Moreover, the structure of these two sections is in each case dominated by similarly presented elements: God’s command, followed by the prophet’s compliance, followed by additional details and God’s explanations.
As the first of his commands (v. 2), God tells Hosea to find and “take to himself a wife of harlotries.” The NET note suggests that this person was very possibly and active prostitute and may have been serving in that capacity in a pagan temple. Such temples were mainly devoted to the Canaanite god Baal. Many expositors have suggested similar ideas (e.g., Andersen and Freedman, Craigie, Mays) including the thought that Gomer was already a woman of questionable character (Garrett, McComiskey). If the text is to be taken at face value and not dismissed as a mere literary device such as a parable or allegory (Calvin) or was a dream or visionary experience (Ibn Ezra, Maimonades), then some sensible reason for the command, which is true to the context, must be sought.
One is immediately struck by the concern that God is somehow a partaker of evil by giving Hosea such a command, which appears to be in clear violation of his own standards (e.g., Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). Indeed, adultery is repeatedly condemned in the Scriptures (e.g., 2 Sam. 11:1-5; Prov. 2:16-19) and treated with severe penalty (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:23-24). Some have attempted to soften the force of the command by suggesting that since Gomer was a woman without male support trapped in an ancient Semitic culture, prostitution was one way of supporting herself (Sweeney). To be sure prostitution was simply recognized as a fact of life (e.g., Gen. 38); yet this by no means would excuse Gomer’s actions as Hosea’s wife. Some argue that Gomer was merely guilty of spiritual adultery as a devotee of some form of paganism ( (Stuart).
Because the full context demands that Hosea’s experience was designed to be symbolic of Yahweh’s relation with Israel, it would seem best that God tells Hosea to obtain a wife who like Israel would later prove to be unfaithful (cf. Hubbard, Wood).3 Such an understanding provides a clear parallel with God’s own relation to his covenant people as demonstrated throughout Hosea’s prophecies (see also Jer. 2:24-35). This position preserves both the integrity of God’s character and the standards of his word while allowing Hosea’s life situation to serve as a visible spiritual lesson for the people to whom he was called to minister. Experientially, however, this would be a source of further heartbreak for both the Lord and his people. As McComiskey points out, “The consonance of the marriage with the history of Israel is one of the strongest arguments for the proleptic view. If Israel was pure when God found her and took her as his bride, then the marriage of Hosea to Gomer should parallel that aspect of Israel’s history and Gomer could not have been a harlot at the time of her marriage.”4
The following phrase has likewise stimulated a great deal of discussion and occasioned a wide variation in translations. The Hebrew text simply reads, “and children of harlotry.” The NET takes this to mean that Hosea’s wife will have children born of her prostitution. Similarly, the NLT assumes the view that some, possibly all, of Gomer’s children were to be fathered by someone other than Hosea. The REB tends to support the thought that the children could come from the union of Hosea and Gomer. Actually the MT simply reports that embedded in God’s command to Hosea was the added message that he would have children tainted by the situation of their mother. The following verses clearly indicate that Hosea fathered their firstborn son. Though such is not distinctly stated with regard to the second and third children, there is no need to suggest that they were not Gomer’s through Hosea.5
The main stress of the context, however, is on the symbolic role that Gomer bears as a metaphor of Israel’s spiritual nature. As Stuart rightly points out, harlotry/prostitution is a well-known term in the ancient Near East for covenant disloyalty (cf. Exod. 34:15, 16; Lev. 17:9; 20:6; Deut. 31:16; 2 Chron. 21:11, 13; Ezek. 16; 23).6 Gomer’s promiscuity would result in the fact that her children would be born in an environment tainted and influenced by their mother’s vices. Similarly, Israel has long been spiritually unfaithful to its covenant Lord thus creating an adulterous atmosphere, which was perpetuated in Hosea’s present generation. As Gomer was Hosea’s unfaithful wife, so spiritually Israel was Yahweh’s adulterous “wife” (cf. Isa. 54; Jer. 2:2-3). Just as Gomer had children, which bore the taint of their mother’s lifestyle, so individual Israelites were children of that covenant nation living in an atmosphere of spiritual infidelity. Would they profit by Hosea’s living example?
Hosea proceeds to record the specific charges concerning the Northern Kingdom’s spiritual infidelity. For when the firstborn son would arrive, Hosea was to name him Jezreel (“God will sow/scatter”). The reason assigned to the name is that the name will serve as a reminder of the besetting sin of the present dynasty. Jehu had been commissioned to bring the evil Omride dynasty to an end together with the rule of Ahab and Jezebel because of their bloody purge of God’s prophets and faithful people (2 Kings 9:7-10). Jehu indeed carried out his commission but exceeded it by putting to death any and all rivals as well as many innocent people. Having killed the prophets of Baal (2 Kings 10:18-30), he proceeded to be just as unfaithful to God as Ahab by adopting the apostate religious practices of Jeroboam I, the founder of the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 10:31). As Garrett observes, “God visited the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu because, in the final analysis, his dynasty’s rule was little better than that of Jeroboam I or of Ahab and Jezebel.”7
Jehu was ever the opportunist using every situation to further his own goals or to preserve himself. Thus the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III portrays Jehu’s “submission” to the Assyrian king together with a note as to the tribute that he received from him.8 Jehu’s successors were little better. Even though the present king Jeroboam II had many military victories to his credit, he perpetuated the existing spiritual infidelity (2 Kings 14:24). Therefore, the present dynasty stood condemned and due for God’s judgment; the final judgment of the Northern Kingdom would follow in the not too distant future (Hos. 1:4). Ironically, the death of Zechariah, the last king of Jehu’s dynasty, occurred in “Ible’am” close to where Jehu massacred the royal house of Judah (2 Kings 9:27; 10:12-14). As the Jehu dynasty had begun, so it would end in the Valley of Jezreel.
Hosea goes on to record the birth of his daughter (v. 6) whom he dutifully named Lo-Ruhamah (“no pity/mercy”). The name reflected God’s certain judgment of the Northern Kingdom. Israel stood guilty and accordingly would not experience his forgiveness. Although Yahweh is a God of forgiveness, he is also a God of justice and therefore, judgment (cf. Exod. 34:6; Deut. 4:31). Only contemporary Judah would experience God’s mercy, but that not because of any military prowess. Israel’s present king, Jeroboam II, had achieved great things militarily (2 Kings 14:25-27). Had the people come to glory in military strength? Political and military strength alone would not spare Israel from God’s judgment. Nor would Judah thus be spared. Judah’s salvation depended solely upon its covenant faithfulness to “the LORD their God” (v. 7).
The third child was a second son. He was to be named Lo Ammi (“not my people”; vv. 8-9). This last of the three children underscored Israel’s tragic situation. God would no longer call this generation his people. Rather, because they had violated the basis of their covenant relation with the Lord, they would suffer his alienation. This pointed to their many disastrous defeats, and the eventual capture and deportation of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-23). Just as in the case of Isaiah’s children (Isa. 7:14-8:10), so Hosea’s children depicted the spiritual realities that would have an important bearing upon the people of Israel. As Sweeney suggests, the name of the third child is a virtual reversal of God’s statement at the founding of the nation (cf. Exod. 6:6-7; Lev. 26:12) and signals “the disruption of the relationship between YHWH and Israel.”9
1:2 The opening clause “When the LORD first spoke through Hosea” (NET) describes Hosea’s initial call to serve the Lord. From the very first his ministry and commission would involve great personal sacrifice. For his service would entail a life-changing experience that included the opposite of what any man could expect for a wife. He understood, however, that his life and his prophetic ministry would fulfill an even higher expectation—that of representing visibly in his personal experience the very experience that God had with his people Israel. As Israel once began her relationship in purity with her Lord (her spiritual husband) yet became unfaithful, so Hosea would have the duty and privilege of portraying graphically the theological alienation between God and his people through his life with Gomer.
1:2 The NET rightly understands the Hebrew “take yourself a woman” as indicative of marriage (e.g., Gen. 4:19). Contrary to McComiskey’s view that the phrase “illegitimate children” means “born out of wedlock,”10 so that in marrying Gomer Hosea would also assimilate her previously born illegitimate children, it need mean nothing more than that the children born to Hosea and Gomer would bear the taint of a now immoral mother.
1:3 The name Gomer is normally given to men (cf. Gen. 10:2, 3; 1 Chron. 1:5, 6). Likewise, the name Diblaim is unusual since it is a dual rather than singular noun (but note also Ephraim). The nature of her name and patrilineage may point to the unusual nature of Hosea’s entire relationship with his wife.
1:4 The fertile Jezreel Valley served as an important agricultural center (e.g., 1 Kings 21:1-3) and was a key trade route connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Jordan River and inland commercial centers stretching from Egypt to Damascus. Therefore, it became the scene of many key military battles for fledgling Israel (e.g., Judg. 4:5-6, 7; 1 Sam. 29:1) as well as serving as the military highway for later Assyrian campaigning. Still later it would become the location of the battle between King Josiah of Judah and the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco (2 Kings 23:29-30). The city of Megiddo, which overlooks the west end of the Valley of Jezreel, is linked with the warfare in eschatological times (Rev. 16:14-16).11
1:6 The verbal phrase kî na„sÃo„á àesÃa„ la„hem has occasioned a variety of suggestions as to its force. Garrett decides for a positive reading meaning “I will completely forgive them.”12 Thus God’s coming judgment upon Israel as well as his eventual forgiveness is placed side by side in balanced relationship. Others hold that the negative particle found in the preceding clause concerning Israel’s judgment is to be understood as likewise controlling this succeeding clause. Therefore, both Israel and Judah should expect neither God’s mercy nor his forgiveness.13 Most commentators support a balanced position, which sees Israel’s condemnation and Judah’s deliverance as reflected in the NET.
1:9 Some have considered the name of the third child “not my people” as signifying that this son is surely not Hosea’s. This is not at all certain on the basis of the text and need not be the case. Rather, the name signifies the rift between Yahweh and Israel that will ensue as a result of Israel’s infidelity as specified in the Mosaic Covenant (Lev. 26:12-45; Deut. 27:8-10).
1:10 [2:1] However, in the future the number of the people of Israel will be like the sand of the sea which can be neither measured nor numbered. Although it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it will be said to them, “You are children of the living God!” 11 Then the people of Judah and the people of Israel will be gathered together. They will appoint for themselves one leader, and will flourish in the land. Certainly, the day of Jezreel will be great! 2:1 Then you will call your brother, “My People” (Ammi)! You will call your sister, “Pity” (Ruhamah)!
Exegesis and Exposition
The Lord next informs Hosea and his hearers of matters beyond the time of Israel’s coming punishment. With its judgment completed a repentant and restored Israel will flourish once again. The alienated “not my people” will become “children of the living God.” At that time of God’s blessing their numbers would increase to become as innumerable as “the sand on the sea.” The simile would not be lost to the perceptive Israelite. For he would understand that such a promise is in accordance with the provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Gen. 22:17). Moreover, like Jacob of old returning to the land (Gen. 32:1-13), so in the future there will be a massive return to the land resulting in “descendants like the sand of the seashore, too numerous to count” (Gen. 32:13).
In that day the divided kingdom shall exist no longer. For there will be one people under one leader (lit., “one head”). The reference is doubtless to the terms of the Davidic Covenant (cf. Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24; Hos. 3:5). Symbolic of that blessed future era he who was termed “not my people” will be changed into “my people” and she who was “no mercy” will be known as “mercy.” As well there is focus on the restoration of life—indeed, a more abundant life—in the land. For it will be the “day of Jezreel.” Here the prophecy builds upon the name of Hosea’s firstborn son. No longer is the emphasis on Israel’s scattering, however, but on the Lord’s sowing of new life in a restored land of Israel.
In all of this Hosea provides a hint of the dominant covenant theme of the Old Testament. Much like the inviolable Royal Grant treaties of the ancient Near East, the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:1-7; 13:14-17; 15:1-18; 17:1-8) was irrevocable. Yet it would be channeled through the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:11-16; 1 Chron. 17:10-14; 2 Sam. 23:5; Ps. 89:28-39) and ultimately both would find their climax and completion in one grand New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-17; 33:25-26; Ezek. 34:11-14, 22-30; 37:22-27). Crucial to this covenant theme is its emphasis on the concept of a messianic king/leader in whom all things will find their culmination (Isa. 7:13-17; 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Pss. 2:7-12; 110:1-2; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24).
The messianic force of this passage was not lost on the Apostle Paul. For in Romans 9:22-29 he draws upon Hosea’s prophecy together with others to emphasize that in addition to the Jewish people, gentile believers would likewise enjoy the blessings of the one Messiah Lord, even Christ Jesus. The inclusion of non-Jews is also envisioned as early as the Abrahamic Covenant of the Old Testament (e.g., Gen. 12:3; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14) and becomes a prominent theme in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8, 26-29; Eph. 2:14-15). Indeed, in a far richer way all believers now stand in vital union with Christ (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:18-22, 27).14 No less than the Israel of Hosea’s day, New Testament believers look forward with great hope and anticipation of that future time when David’s heir, Jesus Christ, will reign in the midst of a regenerated and purified people composed of all tongues, tribes, and nations living on a refreshed, God-enriched, and blessed earth (cf. Dan. 7:13-14; Rev. 11:15; 21-22).
1:10 [2:1] The transition from a narrative prose style relative to Hosea’s marriage and family life to a poetic prediction concerning Israel’s future is marked by the twice occurring familiar prophetic marker we†ha„ya„h, “it shall come to pass”—rendered ad sensum in the NET (see notes). For the image of the sand of the sea as conveying vast uncountable numbers, see Joshua 11:4; 1 Samuel 13:5; Isaiah 10:22; cf. Romans 9:27.
2:1 [2:3] The reading of the Hebrew text is in the plural: “your brother” and “your sister.” This appears to conflict with the singular nouns “my people” and “mercy” that follow. Accordingly, “brothers” and “sisters” are often rendered as singular nouns (e.g., LXX). The more difficult reading of the MT is to be preferred. In any case the MT nouns may be viewed collectively—each of the brothers and sisters being called by the appropriate title. In either case the result is the same, the translation ad sensum being properly reflected in the NET.
1 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:9.
2 R. D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel, “1 & 2 Kings,” EBC , ed., Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 4:111.
3 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (Hard Sayings of the Old Testament [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988], 217-219) perhaps misrepresents the situation in suggesting that not only was Hosea to marry Gomer who “was not a harlot at that time” but that Hosea was “unaware of what God discerned in the heart of Gomer, that she had an adulterous predisposition and a bent toward sexual promiscuity.”
4 McComiskey, “Hosea,” 13. Among those who have decided for an initially chaste Gomer who became an adulteress, see B. Hefling, “Hosea 1-3: Love Triumphant,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 36 (1993): 9-19 and R. Vasholz, “Gomer—Chaste or Not?: A Philological Note,” Presbyterion 19 (1993): 48-49, who questions the legitimacy of Gomer’s children after the birth of Jezreel.
5 McComiskey (“Hosea,” 15-16) takes the unlikely view that two groups of children are in view—one that Gomer had before her marriage and were subsequently adopted by Hosea, and a second born to Hosea and Gomer after their marriage.
6 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 27.
7 Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 57. H. Hailey (A Commentary on the Minor Prophets [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971], 137) observes, “One may do the command of the Lord and yet be in rebellion against Him, doing the thing commanded because it is what the individual desires and not because it is what God desires.” Likewise A. R. Fausset (A Commentary Critical, Experimental and Practical on the Old and New Testaments, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948], 4:461) “If we do the will of God merely for the sake of our own ends, and not from the pure principle of obedience, we are not pleasing God, but pleasing ourselves; and however prosperous we be for a time, in the end must pay an awful penalty for disobedience.”
8 See Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, Readings from the Ancient Near East (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 144.
9 Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 1:21-22.
10 “Hosea,” 15
11 For a discussion of the importance of The Valley of Jezreel, see P. Wegner, “Jezreel Valley,” NIDOTTE, 4:777-779.
12 Hosea, Joel, 60-62.
13 See Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 188-94; David Allan Hubbard, Hosea TOTC (Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 1989), 64-65; Sweeney, Twelve Prophets, 20-21.
14 See the classic studies on union with Christ by A.T. Pierson, In Christ Jesus (Chatanooga: AMG Publishers [n.d.] and A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1954), 793-809.