John K. Goodrich
Author and Date. Although other men in the OT have the name "Hosea," nothing is known of this prophet besides what is recorded in this book. Hosea, the son of Beeri, was a contemporary of Micah and Isaiah. According to the superscription (1:1) his prophetic ministry coincided with the reigns of several Israelite and Judean kings (Uzziah, Jeroboam II, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah), spanning about 30 years (c. 755–722 BC) until the northern kingdom of Israel was besieged by Assyria (2Kg 17:1–6).
Recipients. Though Hosea brought some charges against Judah, his ministry was directed primarily toward Israel. The deteriorating political and economic climate of the northern kingdom—referred to throughout as Israel, Ephraim, and Samaria—is often apparent, as God’s judgment of Israel’s apostasy began to take effect and the prosperity of the nation progressively waned. Chief among Israel’s sins was the nation’s religious and political unfaithfulness. Seeking economic and political security, the Israelites participated in idolatry (particularly Baal worship) and made ill-advised treaties with foreign powers, thus demonstrating their lack of trust in and exclusive devotion to the Lord. To illustrate the heinousness of Israel’s apostasy the metaphor of marital infidelity is employed throughout the book and in a particularly vivid way in the life of Hosea himself.
Themes. Hosea’s prophecy stands at the head of the Book of the Twelve, and deservedly so. In its literary sophistication and theological significance Hosea is unsurpassed by the other Minor Prophets. Employed throughout the book are many metaphors and wordplays that expose both the utter rebelliousness of humanity and God’s unwavering righteousness. Still, Hosea’s frequent announcements of the Lord’s retributive wrath are often immediately followed by promises of God’s restorative mercy. Hosea then is a book with profound theological insights, exhibiting not only God’s grief over the sin of His people but also His redemption of His beloved.
Hosea’s ministry was ultimately unsuccessful. The sins with which Hosea charged Israel are those for which Israel was eventually sent into exile (2Kg 17:7–23). Yet God’s sovereign control over Israel’s future was never out of sight. Israel’s defeat at the hands of the Assyrians was entirely a divine sentence that the nation faced strictly because God willed it to be. Even as He sought to discipline His wayward people, God always had their restoration in view. And inasmuch as God demanded genuine and heartfelt devotion from His people, covenant obedience—observance of the Mosaic law—remained the quintessential expression of Israel’s love for and faithfulness toward God.
The structure of Hosea’s prophecy is difficult to discern. Though the argumentation of chaps. 1–3 (which clearly stand apart from chaps. 4–14) is relatively easy to follow, this is not the case for the latter part of the book. Commentators disagree on how to outline chaps. 4–14, as Hosea includes very few structural markers in the text. The preferred way of outlining Hosea, therefore, is by way of the prophet’s thematic use of cycles of judgment and restoration. Hosea employed six such cycles throughout, three in chaps. 1–3 and three in chaps. 4–14.
I. Superscription (1:1)
II. Hosea’s Marriage and Family (1:2–3:5)
A. First Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing the Children as Signs (1:2–2:1)
B. Second Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing the Unfaithful Wife (2:2–23)
C. Third Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing the Faithful Husband (3:1–5)
III. Hosea’s Prophetic Oracles (4:1–14:8)
A. Fourth Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing Israel’s Unfaithfulness (4:1–6:3)
B. Fifth Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing Israel’s Discipline (6:4–11:11)
C. Sixth Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing God’s Faithfulness (11:12–14:8)
IV. Postscript (14:9)
COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
I. Superscription (1:1)
1:1. The opening verse announces the book’s revelatory nature and Hosea’s prophetic role. The word of the Lord which came is a common OT idiom indicating God’s communication with and through a Hebrew prophet (Jl 1:1; Mc 1:1; Zph 1:1). The name Hosea means "salvation of the Lord." The names of the Judean and Israelite kings reveal the historical setting of Hosea’s ministry. Though the reigns of Uzziah (792–740 BC) and Jeroboam II (793–753 BC) were contemporaneous, curiously the Israelite counterparts to the Judean kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah are not included, perhaps because Hosea did not recognize the legitimacy of Jeroboam’s successors.
II. Hosea’s Marriage and Family (1:2–3:5)
A. First Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing the Children as Signs (1:2–2:1)
1:2–3a. Hosea’s message was not only conveyed through utterances, but personified through his marriage to a wife of harlotry and the birth of their children. Hosea’s relationship with his family was intended to illustrate God’s troubled relationship with the Israelites (the land), His covenant people who through idolatry were guilty of spiritual infidelity. The noun zenunim ("promiscuity") denotes both Gomer’s character and her profession (prostitute). Interpreters debate whether Gomer was sexually promiscuous before or only after her marriage to Hosea. Since the Lord’s instructions suggest that Hosea was already aware of Gomer’s promiscuity, and it is nearly impossible to explain how Hosea would have otherwise been able to identify a chaste woman having only tendencies toward infidelity, it seems most likely that when they married, Gomer had already had extramarital sexual encounters, and was probably practicing prostitution.
1:3b–5. The names of Hosea’s three children announce God’s coming judgment and restoration on Israel. Jezreel alludes to the town and valley bearing that name located between Galilee and Samaria, a region well known for violence. The bloodshed of Jezreel, then, refers to Jehu’s destruction of Omri’s dynasty at that site (2Kg 9:1–10:11). Since Jehu’s campaign came at the Lord’s direction, God’s judgment on the house of Jehu and the kingdom of the house of Israel is not in response to the king’s bloodshed at Jezreel, but in resemblance of it. The verb paqad, though often translated "punish," here means "visit or bring": "And I will bring the bloodshed of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu" (Duane A. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, NAC [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997], 57). In other words Jehu’s dynasty, which proved no more faithful than those whom Jehu had destroyed, would in a little while meet the same fate, along with the entire kingdom (2Kg 15:10).
1:6–7. Lo-ruhamah ("no mercy") reiterates God’s forthcoming judgment on Israel at the hands of Assyria. The Lord’s withholding of compassion (racham) and refusal to forgive (nasa) Israel’s sin is consistent with His character. For though the Lord is a "compassionate" (rachum) God who "forgives" (nasa) sin (Ex 34:6–7), "He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations" (Ex 34:7). Conversely God’s mercy toward Judah sustained the nation against the threats of Assyria, and miraculously this came about apart from military might (2Kg 19:32–36; Is 36–37).
1:8–9. Lo-ammi (not My people) signifies Israel’s estrangement from God. Though most translations insert your God at the end of v. 9, they are not in the Hebrew. I am not might therefore be a negation of YHWH ("I am"), God’s covenant name; thus while Israel became the Lord’s people at the establishment of the Mosaic covenant (Ex 6:7; Lv 26:12) and continued to be so, there is a sense in which Israel’s apostasy during these days put her in a similar category as the Gentile nations who would face God’s judgment.
1:10–2:1. Immediately after God warned of Israel’s coming discipline, He abruptly forecasted the judgment’s total reversal. In keeping with the Abrahamic covenant, God reassured Israel of the innumerability of Abraham’s progeny (Gn 22:17; 32:12), implying the nation’s eventual reinstatement. This is made explicit by contrasting God’s rejection of the Israelites with their inevitable restoration as sons of the living God. Although Paul applied this promise (with Hs 2:23) to Gentiles in Rm 9:25–26, it is a mistake to see Paul as transferring the promises made to Israel to the Church as if the Church is "the new Israel." If Israel, during Hosea’s day, temporarily had a status similar to Gentiles because of their sin, then it is appropriate to apply these verses to Gentiles as well, without saying the Church replaces Israel.
The promises from Hosea spoke directly of Israel. They will be fulfilled at the end of days when God will reconcile Israel with Judah to Himself (Rm 11:25–26), creating a (re)unified nation with a single Davidic leader (Hs 3:5). Nevertheless, Hosea’s words are also suitable as a description of what God is currently doing among the Gentiles. Therefore, Paul was merely applying a principle of election, that God has taken some Gentiles, who were not God’s people, and by election made them into His people and placed them into the Church. That Paul did not see the Gentiles as replacing Israel is evident in the very next verses in Romans (Rm 9:27–29), where he cited Is 10:22–23 as proof that God will also choose a remnant of the sons of Israel to be saved at the end of days.
The expressions go up from the land and Jezreel ("God sows") are agricultural puns signifying the nation’s prosperity (cf. 2:23). On account of God’s restorative mercy, Israel will cease to be typified by the names of Hosea’s children, "Lo-Ammi" and "Lo-Ruhamah," and will be redesignated Ammi ("My people") and Ruhamah ("My beloved").
B. Second Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing the Unfaithful Wife (2:2–23)
Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is recast and developed in chap. 2 as an allegory of God’s punishment of Israel’s infidelity. Although the metaphor extends for nearly half the chapter, Hosea and his family are basically absent from the discourse; their relationship provides only a paradigm for God’s relationship with Israel.
2:2a. The command to contend may depict a legal proceeding. The charge probably signifies the people’s need to rebuke their political and religious leaders (your mother). God’s repudiation of His marriage to Israel does not suggest that the relationship has been completely severed since as the passage develops He will seek to bring them to repentance (2:7).
2:2b–3. God’s repudiation began by calling Israelites to abandon their adulterous ways. The face and breasts symbolize sexuality; together they represent the entirety of the woman. Because adultery in Israel was a crime deserving of execution (Lv 20:10; Dt 22:22), shaming an adulteress by stripping her (a common ancient Near Eastern practice) may be a prelude to her stoning (Ezk 16:39–40). Israel’s refusal to repent will reap nakedness and bareness (wilderness … desert land), representing humiliation, starvation by famine, and expulsion by exile.
2:4–5. God will withhold compassion from all Israel because as children of harlotry (1:2) each was tainted and followed in the unfaithfulness of their "mother," the nation’s leaders. Bread … water … wool … flax … oil, and drink were Israel’s prostitute "wages" (2:12) and represent the basic necessities of ancient life, which the Israelites foolishly supposed were supplied by other deities they worshiped (e.g., "Baal," 2:8).
2:6–8. Verse 6 introduces a series of therefore clauses (also in vv. 9, 14) describing God’s judgment of Israel’s disobedience. God sought to win the nation back by various means of discipline: (1) establishing a barrier (2:6–8); (2) withdrawing provisions (2:9–13); (3) seducing them (2:14–23). First God placed a restrictive barrier around Israel. Thorny hedge[s] and wall[s] were used in antiquity to direct human and animal traffic (Jb 3:23; 19:8; Pr 15:19; Lm 3:7, 9) and to provide protection. Historically God used Assyria to prevent Israel’s access to idolatrous temples and ultimately to discredit Baal, the Canaanite deity mistaken as the source of Israel’s prosperity. God’s plan was to frustrate Israel so the nation might return to its first husband and true provider.
2:9–13. Because Israel failed to recognize God as the source of their blessings, God planned to withdraw His gifts and provisions. Material losses were in keeping with the covenant curses God had warned would be issued for disobedience (Lv 26:14–39; Dt 28:15–68). By stripping away the nation’s possessions before its lovers, and even allowing beasts to devour them, God would humiliate Israel and expose the poverty and powerlessness of idols. God would also remove Israel’s religious festivals. Though the nation worshiped idols, apparently it had not completely forsaken its religious rites. Israel’s cultic calendar was observed with rejoicing and formed part of the nation’s collective identity. Its removal, therefore, was cause for remorse. Moreover, God will punish her for (lit., "bring upon her"; cf. 1:4) the nation’s idolatry. By burning incense to the Baals (various Canaanite deities) and thereby seeking their favor, Israel was acting like a woman who adorns herself with sensuous attire to seduce another man.
2:14. Following God’s foretelling of His punishment of Israel’s unfaithfulness, the Lord announced His plan to restore the nation to its previous state of privilege. God’s promise to allure Israel, to bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her, perpetuates the courtship metaphor. Although in v. 3 the "wilderness" represents the nation’s bareness as a result of judgment, here it alludes to the Egyptian desert where God established the Mosaic covenant. The imagery in v. 14 then is reminiscent of the exodus, recalling God’s original betrothal to Israel and the intimacy experienced between the nation and its God (Jr 2:2).
2:15. The imagery here is reminiscent of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. Israel’s vineyards represent the inheritance the nation received when they initially inhabited Canaan (Dt 6:11), would forfeit due to covenant disobedience (Dt 28:30, 39), and would regain when God brought the nation back from exile. The valley of Achor (akor, "trouble") was probably one of the entrances leading into the central hill country 15 miles east of Jerusalem at the northwest end of the Dead Sea. It was where the Israelites executed Achan and his household following Israel’s defeat at the battle of Ai as a result of Achan’s sin (Jos 7:24–26). Although Israel experienced this troublesome route when originally entering the promised land, God promised a door of hope for Israel’s reentrance. Israel would respond (anah) to God at her restoration as she did when the nation responded (also anah) affirmatively to the terms of the covenant at Sinai (see Ex 24:3).
2:16–17. God’s restoration of Israel would involve three promises that will be fulfilled in that day: (1) reconciliation with God (v. 16), (2) security from enemies (v. 18), and (3) abundance of resources (v. 21). In ancient Israel the Hebrew terms ishi ("my husband") and baali ("my master") were probably interchangeable when used by a woman with reference to her spouse. But at Israel’s reinstatement God will forbid his bride from calling Him Baali, since some in Israel were apparently using the designation syncretically—referring to God as if He were merely a Canaanite deity, a Baal. Moreover, the invocation of the Baals will be terminated in Israel.
2:18. Israel’s restoration will also bring about universal harmony. Just as beasts would destroy Israel’s vines (v. 12), so in its restoration Israel will live peaceably with all wild animals. And though Israel would be defeated by other nations (1:5), at their restoration God’s people will be made to lie down in safety from all foreign enemies, a chief covenantal blessing (Lv 26:6), one that will ultimately be fulfilled under the Messiah, the Son of David (see 1Ch 17:9–10). The three classes of animals mentioned are exactly those from Gn 1:26–30, while the bow, sword, and war were mentioned by Hosea in 1:7. In the messianic kingdom, Israel would be at peace with the entire creation: animals and humanity.
2:19–20. God again portrayed Israel’s restoration as a betrothal, three times employing the verb aras ("to betroth"). The passage follows the betrothal rite of ancient Israel wherein the groom gave gifts to the bride’s family to compensate for their loss of labor. The gift guaranteed the bridegroom’s right to the marriage, so that "[a]cceptance of the gift or payment was tantamount to marriage under the law" (Victor H. Matthews, "Family Relationships," in Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003], 295). The gifts God would give at Israel’s betrothal would be distinctive. The Hebrew prefix be, translated in by most versions and appearing five times here, indicates that righteousness … justice … lovingkindness … compassion, and faithfulness were all given by God as the bride-price. These gifts, being divine attributes, function as God’s pledge of Himself to Israel. Through them, God reestablishes His relationship with Israel and enables them to know Him intimately once more.
2:21–23. God’s blessings toward Israel will also include an abundant agricultural provision. God is shown here not only to be sovereign over the forces of nature, but also (in contrast to Baal) Israel’s true purveyor of produce and life. God promises to supply (the sense of respond here) for Israel in abundance, and to do so He need only speak. God’s reinstatement of Israel will culminate in the reversal of those judgments associated with the names of Hosea’s three children and previewed in 1:4, 7, 10. Here, as at 1:4, Jezreel ("God sows") represents Israel, though now rather than signifying the nation’s destruction, the name signifies Israel’s prosperity and repopulation, as God promises then to sow her for Myself in the land. Further, God will once again show compassion to the nation who previously had not obtained compassion, and He will accept as His people those He once considered not My People. In response Israel will declare that the Lord is indeed their God. As Garrett remarks, "To affirm that Yahweh is their God is to confess that he is their Savior, to submit to him as their only King, to worship him as the One who alone is worthy, and to awaken the truth that they had once rejected" (Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 96).
C. Third Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing the Faithful Husband (3:1–5)
3:1. God’s reinstatement of Israel is illustrated by Hosea’s reconciliation with Gomer, though here she remains unnamed. Hosea’s reconciliation with Gomer assumes that the two experienced a separation (judgment) in their relationship similar to the rupture described previously between God and Israel (2:2–23). Parallels between 3:1 and 1:2 are also clear. The "man" who loves the wife, in light of the Hebrew word meaning "lover" or "paramour," is probably not her husband, as rendered by some translations, but "another man" (ESV) with whom she commits adultery. The Hebrew word translated yet (wa) in the NASB has an explanatory rather than contrastive sense: the woman is loved by another man thus is an adulteress. Such a reading eliminates redundancy (i.e., Hosea loving Gomer, who is loved by Hosea) and creates closer parallelism between 3:1a and 3:1b: Hosea is to love a woman who is loved by another man, just as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods. Raisin cakes might have had cultic, perhaps even idolatrous, significance (2Sm 3:16). Hosea’s love for Gomer was patterned after God’s love for Israel: "It is not selfish, remorseful, or a begrudged requirement, but an excited giving of one’s self to people who do not deserve to be loved" (Gary V. Smith, Hosea, Amos, Micah, NIVAC [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan], 2001).
3:2. Hosea paid a significant price in exchange for Gomer, though the specifics of the payment and the reason Gomer had to be purchased remain unclear. Perhaps as a result of Gomer’s temporary abandonment by Hosea, she acquired significant debt or gave herself up to slavery. Hosea, therefore, either settled her debts or purchased her from her master. The payment was made in cash (fifteen shekels of silver) and goods (barley). The modern equivalent of a homer and a half of barley has been estimated to be between 300 and 400 liters. The value of 15 shekels is difficult to determine because shekels are used here as a weight of measure. However, because the approximate value of an ancient Hebrew slave was 30 shekels of silver (Ex 21:32), the payment in silver was probably worth the same amount as the barley. At any rate, Gomer’s purchase price was somewhat steep, indicating Gomer’s (and Israel’s) great value to her husband.
3:3–4. The marital dynamics described in v. 3 are patterned after God’s probationary relationship with Israel in v. 4 (for). Though Hosea intended again to cohabit with Gomer and the latter would cease committing harlotry, the two were to remain celibate for many days. This would serve as a purification period, whereby Gomer’s sexual abstinence would cleanse her from previous immorality. By analogy, Israel was to be without those important political leaders (king or prince), the temple (sacrifice or sacred pillar), and priestly paraphernalia (ephod or household idols) that had been corrupted and thus previously hindered the nation. Israel’s lack of governmental leadership and temple worship suggests a period of foreign rule and perhaps exile.
3:5. Following Israel’s probationary period (afterward), Israel will be fully reinstated as God’s people. At that time the nation will repent and will actively pursue the Lord and David their king (Dt 4:25–30). The mention of David is not a reference to a resurrected King David but rather to the future messianic Son of David predicted in the Davidic covenant (2Sm 7:12–16; 1Ch 17:11–14; Am 9:11–14). The nation will have the appropriate disposition toward God and the Messiah King, and fully return in faith, being fearful of His judgments and yet awestruck by His goodness.
III. Hosea’s Prophetic Oracles (4:1–14:8)
A. Fourth Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing Israel’s Unfaithfulness (4:1–6:3)
4:1–3. Chapter 4 records God’s charge of covenant unfaithfulness against Israel. Hosea imagined himself serving as an accuser in a legal proceeding between two parties. The prophet began by gaining Israel’s attention and announcing that God had a case (a legal term, constituting a legal indictment) against them. In a sense, this whole section (4:1–14:8) presents God’s indictment of Israel for sin. The summary of that indictment, found in this verse, is that the Israelites lacked the appropriate disposition toward God and behaved immorally toward one another. Faithfulness … kindness, and knowledge of God indicate devotion to the Lord and the covenant, while the five vices listed in v. 2 (swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery) are covenant prohibitions taken directly from the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:7, 13–16). The consequences (therefore) of Israel’s covenant infidelity are covenant curses (Lv 26:4–45; Dt 28), which would affect the prosperity of the land as well as its human and non-human inhabitants.
4:4–6. Although v. 4 is difficult to understand, it appears that the object of God’s accusation turned from the entire nation to the priest. Priests were Israel’s spiritual leaders and teachers, but they had neglected their responsibility to educate the nation with the knowledge of God as revealed through the law (Jr 2:8). According to Dearman, ‘ "Knowledge’ in this sense refers to apprehension of and fidelity to divine instruction, the maintenance of the covenant ethos" (J. Andrew Dearman, The Book of Hosea, NICOT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010], 148). As a result of these priestly failures, God pronounced judgment on the priesthood and the entire nation.
4:7–8. The Levitical priesthood would multiply during times of prosperity. But, counterintuitively, the numerical growth of priests (probably witnessed during the reign of Jeroboam II) resulted in widespread spiritual laxity. Therefore rather than granting priests privileged status (glory) in Israel, Hosea prophesied that the priesthood would be maligned (would experience shame) for its sin. The image of devouring sin is an allusion to the priestly right of eating the sacrifices brought by the people. But rather than simply consuming sin offerings, the priests were indulging in sin itself.
4:9–11. The expression like people, like priest indicates that God would punish Israel’s priesthood and bring on it the very injustices they issued to the Israelites. The activities of eating and committing harlotry probably have cultic resonances here, especially given the religious context of prostitution in vv. 13–14. Thus the priests would neither be able to satisfy their appetites nor multiply their offspring because of their failure to guard their relationship with the Lord. Harlotry, wine and new wine may imply a festival celebration. The proverb in v. 11 affirms that both sexual impropriety and excessive alcohol consumption impair the heart, the seat of one’s mental and volitional faculties.
4:12–13a. Hosea proceeded to mock those Israelites who sought guidance from handcrafted objects (i.e., idols; cf. Is 44:9–17; Jr 10:1–16). The spirit of harlotry refers both literally to Israel’s sexual promiscuity and metaphorically to their spiritual infidelity. Pagan worship often occurred on tree-covered hills (2Ch 28:4; Jr 2:20; 3:6; 17:2; Ezk 6:13), where shade was plentiful and pleasurable for the worshipers.
4:13b–14. Both married and unmarried women were prostituting themselves at the hilltop altars. However, God would withhold individual judgment on the women of Israel because Israel’s men were also indulging in sacred prostitution. Therefore in a final proverbial statement God declared that He would bring ruin on all Israel for their sexual promiscuity and rejection of spiritual discernment (cf. vv. 1, 6, 11).
4:15. Assuming the spiritual waywardness of Israel, Hosea turned his attention to Judah and gave three consecutive prohibitions: the nation must (1) resist Israel’s negative influence, (2) avoid Gilgal and Beth-aven (Bethel) because of their religious apostasy (Am 4:4; 5:5), and (3) refrain from taking an oath in the Lord’s name because of the hypocrisy of outward devotion while practicing idolatry.
4:16–18. The hopeless state of Israel’s spirituality was seen in their rebellion, idolatry, and moral laxity. In contrast to a lamb that follows without resistance (Is 53:7), Israel was a stubborn heifer. Here and in the remainder of the book the tribe of Ephraim refers metonymically, i.e., the part for the whole, in this case one tribe for the entire northern kingdom. Since Israel was joined as a slave to idols, Hosea’s audience must leave Israel to their own devices. Drunkenness that leads to sex is again underscored as characteristic of the Israelites.
4:19. The wind is depicted as an agent of affliction, perhaps causing a draught in the land. The people would then suffer shame when they realized the foreign gods they were worshiping could not come to their aid.
5:1–2. An alternative reading proposed for the initial clause of v. 2 (the revolters have gone deep in depravity) is "a pit they have dug at Shittim." This translation (variations of which are adopted by the NRSV and the NLT) creates an exact parallelism between v. 1a and vv. 1b–2: three calls for the attention of the nation’s leaders (priests … house of Israel … house of the king) are followed by an announcement of their judgment; then three charges against the places where those leaders performed injustices (a snare at Mizpah … a net … on Tabor, and "a pit … at Shittim") are followed by a second announcement of judgment (chastise). Mizpah was located in Benjamin, a territory that Hosea warned of judgment (5:8). Shittim, about 15 miles southwest of Jericho, was near Baal-peor, a place that Hosea was charging with sin (9:10). Not much is known about Tabor, though as a mountain it may have been the home of an idolatrous shrine.
5:3–4. The initial clause of v. 3 uses a literary exchange (A-B-A′-B′: Ephraim … Israel … Ephraim … Israel), the repetition emphasizing God’s identification and awareness of the northern kingdom’s disobedience. Like so many modern believers, there were some in Israel who foolishly hoped God had overlooked their sin. But though the Lord "knew" Israel, the nation did not know God. Knowledge of God is not merely cognitive; it is also relational and includes covenantal obedience (4:6). Thus the unrighteous deeds of Israel reveal their faithlessness (a spirit of harlotry) to the Lord, and their impenitence prevents reconciliation.
5:5–6. Hosea attributed Israel’s disobedience to the pride (gaon, "arrogance") of their leaders, which had led the nation to follow its own iniquitous way. But as surely as "pride goes before destruction" (Pr 16:18), so Israel and Judah (despite the warning in Hs 4:15–19) will stumble and collapse as a result of their sin. They will then sacrifice their flocks and herds in the desperate attempt to placate the Lord, as they would Baal. Even so it will be too late, for God will have already withdrawn from them.
5:7. Israel’s bearing of illegitimate (lit., "foreign") children is another metaphor for their spiritual adultery, their idolatry. To deal treacherously against God is to break the covenant (6:7). The new moon devouring Israel and their land is a reference to the approaching day of the Lord (see the comments on Jl 2:10–11), the time when God would purify the land and judge Israel’s sins by sending the nation into exile. Although the day of the Lord here refers to the nation’s coming temporal judgment of exile, it foreshadows the latter day judgment of the people and land of Israel prior to the Messiah’s return.
5:8. A number of the descriptions in vv. 8–15 can be attributed to the Syro-Ephraimite War with Tiglath-pileser III (745–727 BC). The horn (shophar) and trumpet were used as military signals. Just as Hosea warned of judgment at three locations in 5:1–2, so he does here, for Gibeah, Ramah, and Beth-aven. These Benjamite towns, aligned vertically directly north of Jerusalem and between Judah and Ephraim, were about to suffer attack from an unnamed enemy.
5:9–10. The desolation of Israel was a curse for covenant disobedience (Dt 29:27; 2Kg 22:19). Isaiah linked such desolation with the day of the Lord (Is 13:9), the time of God’s judgment and exile of Israel (see 5:7). Those who stole land (who move a boundary) were also cursed under the law (Dt 19:14; 27:17), and Judah’s leaders were apparently committing comparable crimes. Thus both Ephraim and Judah deserved a flood of divine wrath.
5:11–12. Being oppressed and crushed by foreign powers was another curse for covenant disobedience (Dt 28:33). The command Israel followed was not God’s law, but a foreign policy, probably the financial tribute demanded of Assyria when Israel became its client state (2Kg 15:19–20). God’s destruction of Israel and Judah would then be like a moth to a garment or rottenness to wood or bones (Jb 13:28; Is 40:20).
5:13–15. Ephraim and Judah eventually observed the dire nature of their political and economic condition, if not also the gravity of their moral and spiritual perversion. Israel therefore sent embassies with tributes to Jareb, probably a title for the king of Assyria meaning "the great king," in exchange for aid (10:6). Since this occurred numerous times, the occasion in 5:13 is undeterminable. But despite Israel’s political ploy, the cure for their ailment could not be supplied by a human king, for God was the one inflicting the wounds, like a lion against which there could be no defense (Dt 32:39). Moreover, God, the true King, alone possesses the ability to remedy sin and restore His covenant people. But God would withhold His presence and mercy from Israel until the nation’s affliction caused them to repent and once again to seek after Him earnestly.
6:1–2. In view of God’s temporary departure from Israel, Hosea exhorted the nation to repent and return to the Lord. The verbs torn, heal, and wounded echo their use or that of similar words in 5:13–15. Revival after two or three days indicates God’s ability to reverse Israel’s fortunes after just a short time (Ezk 37:1–14). Acknowledging God’s role in their afflictions, Hosea confidently affirmed God’s commitment to heal and restore His broken people if they would humble themselves before Him.
6:3. As noted earlier (5:4), to know God is relational, and Hosea called for the nation to press on to know Him. God’s going forth to save and restore Israel was as certain as the coming of the dawn and seasonal rain, which were reversals of the judgments brought about by the new moon (5:7) and droughts (2:9; 4:3).
B. Fifth Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing Israel’s Discipline (6:4–11:11)
6:4–5. God responded to the repentance of Israel and Judah in frustration by questioning their sincerity. Their track record shows their lack of fidelity—it had appeared and then subsided like a morning cloud and the dew. Consequently God used the prophets to pronounce judgment on them.
6:6. Though offerings and sacrifices functioned as the outward expression of the Jewish faith, God stated that covenant loyalty (chesed, "kindness") and obedience (daath, lit., knowledge) are the true hallmarks of spirituality, not liturgy (1Sm 15:22; Mk 12:33). Yet Israel and Judah continued to disobey the covenant.
6:7–9. Hosea illustrated the ongoing covenant disobedience of Israel (esp. their leaders) and the disintegration of society, this time in discrete locales. Adam probably refers to the city of that name situated in the Jordan Valley about 18 miles northwest of Jericho. The region of Gilead, located east of the Jordan River, was famous for indecent behavior (Gn 31:25–26; 32; Jdg 11). Shechem, located in the hill country about 38 miles north of Jerusalem, was the northern kingdom’s first capital (1Kg 12:1, 25). Tracks of blood and homicidal priests suggest that the people were committing violent crimes, which often occurred during travel (Lk 10:30).
6:10–11a. Verse 10 summarizes Israel’s immorality, linking promiscuity with impurity (5:3). The harvest appointed for Judah is a declaration of judgment. Judah had followed right in Israel’s footsteps.
6:11b–7:2. As many scholars suggest, 6:11b belongs with 7:1. The parallelism shows this to be correct: when I restore … when I … heal; the iniquity of Ephraim … the evil deeds of Samaria. God depicts His people as if they were pillaging His home (4:2; 6:9). Of course their sins must be uncovered before His people are restored. But Israel is ever forgetful that the Lord remembered their sins (5:3). In fact evil deeds surrounded the nation so that their sins were all that God saw.
7:3–7. This is an obscure passage that, by curiously mixing the images of baking and political deceit, probably describes the assassination of Israelite kings (2Kg 15). The unspecified subjects of v. 3 are probably two-faced political leaders of Israel who simultaneously pleased and plotted against the monarch; they joined the king in debauchery, and yet stabbed him in the back. This political scheming is compared to the baker (king) who sleeps all night (being consumed with wickedness) and thus fails to stir up the fire and knead his dough, so by morning the leaven (evil) spreads and the oven’s fire (plotter’s anger) rages uncontrollably. The day of our king (v. 5) is a royal celebration, perhaps a birthday or coronation, when princes drank till they became sick (or poisoned). When the king stretched out his hand to confront his plotters (perhaps for poisoning his princes), they merely mocked him. Though this is a strangely constructed metaphor, its point remains clear: because the king failed to respond to his plotters and to call on the Lord, wickedness would spread throughout the kingdom and he would eventually be overthrown.
7:8–10. Israel’s assimilation with foreign nations was religious, political, and cultural. Israel is therefore compared to an unturned cake (reminiscent of the baking metaphor in vv. 3–7), because its leaders have neglected the responsibility of preserving the particularity of the nation. These strangers were consuming Israel like food, robbing the nation of its wealth (2Kg 15:20) and its religious and cultural identity. Israel’s integration process was by no means immediate; it came about slowly and unwittingly, like gray hairs. Verse 10a repeats 5:5a. Israel’s pride is their finding security in political alliances, one of their foremost sins. When Israel’s trust remained in their diplomacy, it was impossible for the nation to trust God and repent.
7:11–12. Israel was as foolish and senseless (ayin leb, "without heart") as a silly dove that had left its home and could not find its way back. So it was with Israel when they made alliances with other nations (Egypt and Assyria) and failed to trust in the Lord. But much like a bird captured in a net and pulled back down to earth, Israel would be restrained from finding outside help (2:6–7). Israel’s negotiations would fail and their diplomats would bring back the bad news to the community.
7:13–16. These four verses function as a single unit, bookended with general and specific declarations of judgment (vv. 13a–b, 16c). The themes of rebellion deserving of penalty (vv. 13a–b, 14, 16) and grace without repentance (vv. 13c, 15) are repeated throughout. Verses 13a and v. 13b parallel one another and emphasize God’s judgment (woe … destruction) of Israel’s disobedience (strayed rebelled). The lies spoken against God were probably spiritual in nature, and perhaps referred to Israel’s syncretism and idolatry. Verse 14 forms a chiasm with Israel’s abandonment of God bracketing the nation’s shortcomings. Israel’s remorse was supposed to be from their heart, and indeed wholehearted (Jl 2:12–13). To wail on their beds might suggest remorse without turning completely from sexual sins. Their assembling for the sake of grain and new wine indicates the observance of cultic, idolatrous practices. Training and strengthening Israel’s arms is a military reference, and probably indicates God’s empowering of and fighting for Israel in battle. When Israel did turn, it was not to God in repentance, but to idols, diplomacy, and other means of support. A deceitful bow was one that did not work correctly (Ps 78:57). In such cases the weapon, far from being helpful, became potentially dangerous to its user. Similarly Israel’s leaders worked not for God but against Him. The insolence of their tongue, a possible reference to their illegitimate treaties, would cause God to slay Israel’s princes. Then the Israelites themselves would be the subject of derision in the land of Egypt. Though some Israelites fled from the Assyrians into Egypt, Hosea often used Egypt to represent Assyria, whose exile of Israel is portrayed as a reversal of the exodus (8:13; 9:3, 6; 11:5, 11).
8:1. The trumpet (shophar) was used to signal danger (5:8), and here the danger (the enemy) is represented as an eagle roaming over Israel (the house of the Lord). Since Hosea alludes elsewhere to the exodus, the portrayal of Israel’s enemy as an eagle may be an echo and indeed a reversal of the depiction of God as an eagle supporting Israel during their escape from Egypt (Ex 19:4; Dt 32:11). God Himself caused the attack on Israel because of the nation’s violation of the Mosaic covenant.
8:2–3. Though many in Israel undoubtedly cried out to God for help while under the impression that their relationship with the Lord was still intact, their faith was fickle and insincere (7:14). God promised temporal good to Israel in return for obedience (Nm 10:29; Dt 30:15), but their breach of the covenant was a rejection of God’s gifts and the cause of His temporary rejection of them.
8:4a. Hosea was not repudiating the monarchy in general, but only those rulers appointed illegitimately without divine approval (not by Me). Know is relational, so the complaint is that the appointees were strangers to God.
8:4b–6. The idolatry of Israel is a key theme in the book. Idols were worshiped to bring about material blessing for the worshiper, but in fact Israel’s idolatry only incurred God’s wrath. Verses 4b and 6b are parallel (they have made idols … cut off; a craftsman made it … broken to pieces) and bookend the passage. The calf idol of Samaria represents Baal and probably refers to the calf idol Jeroboam erected at Bethel (1Kg 12:28–29; cf. Hs 10:5–6). The incident is also reminiscent of the golden calf erected at Sinai (Ex 32). Just as Aaron ground the Sinai calf to powder (Ex 32:20), so God would break Samaria’s idol to bits. That the man-made idols cannot be divine is a common prophetic announcement (Is 41:6–20; Jr 10:1–5).
8:7. This verse contains two analogies. The first employs the truism "you reap what you sow" to show how Israel’s disobedience would bring about a storm, representing God’s judgment through both hazardous climate and a foreign army (Jr 4:13; Am 1:14). The second analogy is similar, for it describes at once the barrenness of Israel’s land and the inevitable consumption of their harvest by strangers, if it had produced crops. The irony of both metaphors is unmistakable: though the nation entreated Baal for abundance and security, it received infertility and political turmoil instead.
8:8–10. The verb "swallow" figuratively depicts Israel’s assimilation with the nations (7:8). The expression a vessel in which no one delights is apparently a stock phrase indicating ordinariness and disposability, and is an insult to persons once held in honor (Jr 22:28). This charge is given to Israel as a result of their alliance with Assyria, since Israel had agreed to pay tribute (hire allies) to the Assyrian king so he would not wage war on the Israelites. Israel’s alliance is likened to prostitution, which will be punished as God "gathers" (qabats) Israel, an expression implying judgment (see 9:6 for the same word), and as God eliminates the nation’s leadership ("kings and princes").
8:11–13. The altars erected by Israel were intended to atone for their sin, but ironically they caused rather than removed sin. How Israel managed to use sacrifice to make matters worse is not clear. Perhaps this means that worshipers remained unrepentant, using the sacrificial system as a means of easy grace, or perhaps their religious practices had become contaminated by syncretism. Whatever the reason, they were unfamiliar with the Mosaic law (My law), and they treated sacrifices as mere ritual rather than as relational. Yet God delights in obedience, not sacrifice (1Sm 15:22; Hs 6:6), in sincere devotion rather than in superficial religious performance. Before God gave Israel the land, He called the nation to love Him with all their heart, soul, and might, and to demonstrate their love for Him by obeying His commandments and keeping the covenant (Dt. 6:5, 17). Therefore, when the Israelites participated in religious ceremonies without first observing the more fundamental aspects of loving and obeying the Lord, God rightfully rejected their sacrifices. In fact, rather than forgiving and forgetting Israel’s transgressions (Ps 103:3–4), God held Israel responsible for their iniquity by reversing the exodus and sending the nation into exile (7:16).
8:14. Israel’s fortified cities illustrate the nation’s reliance on military might and failure to trust in God (Israel had forgotten his Maker), as did Israel’s construction of palaces (if by palaces Hosea had in view something like the fortresses comparable to Herod’s future residence at Masada). Nevertheless all of Israel’s defenses could not withstand the attack (fire) that God would allow to overtake the nation. God always finds a way to pierce those very things people trust in the most.
9:1–2. When God gave Israel a harvest, the nation would celebrate (Jl 2:23–24). But here Hosea admonished Israel for even considering such festivities (Hs 9:5), for the nation had prostituted itself to idols in pursuit of a bountiful harvest (earnings). But in judgment God would withhold blessing so that Israel’s threshing floor and wine press will not be able to satisfy the nation.
9:3–4. God’s judgment will also result in the reversal of the exodus (return to Egypt, including the oppression and hardship that was associated with their time there) and Israel’s exile to Assyria. There the nation would become defiled by unclean food (bread contaminated by death), which will feed them while in exile but will be of no use in worship. They will not be allowed to reenter the land (here called the house of the Lord).
9:5–6. Which festival Hosea had in view is not known, but it could be the Feast of Booths, which is associated with the harvest and twice was called the feast of the Lord (Lv 23:39, 41). This festival would not be celebrated since Israel will go into exile. Verse 6 has numerous allusions to the exodus, which Hosea declared will be reversed so that the Israelites will be buried by Memphis (Egyptians). Treasures of silver alludes to Israel’s "plunder[ing] the Egyptians" (Ex 12:35–36), while tents recall the nation’s lodging in the wilderness. Neither will be of use or value in Israel’s exile.
9:7–9. The prophets were charged with madness in the OT and NT (1Sm 10:11; 2Co 5:13). Here Hosea sarcastically acknowledged the charge, for if Hosea was insane (a fool), it was only because Israel’s sin had made him so! As a watchman over Israel, the prophet identified the nation’s sin and warned them of impending danger (2Sm 18:24–29). In this sense the prophet brought not salvation, but judgment, resulting in hostility within Israel (the house of his God). The depravity … of Gibeah, situated about five miles north of Jerusalem, probably referred to the rape and murder of the Levite’s concubine in Jdg 19.
9:10. The horticultural metaphors in v. 10a recall the exodus and express God’s delight in discovering Israel’s forefathers in no less than the infertile wilderness. However, the delectability of Israel quickly faded when certain Israelites were enticed by cult prostitutes at Baal-peor (Nm 25:1–11; Dt 4:3–4; Ps 106:28–39). By referring to Baal-peor, Hosea demonstrated the early arrival of apostasy in Israel (before they even entered the land of Israel) and likened that episode to their current apostasy.
9:11–12. Ephraim’s glory is God Himself who will fly away and depart from Israel. God’s departure will result in the Israelites’ infertility and premature death (Dt 28:18, 22). Though hyperbole, the curse anticipates the difficulty of reproduction and the abbreviated lifespan of those Israelites going into exile.
9:13–14. Tyre and Israel had certain advantages (planted in a pleasant meadow), which were being revoked. Tyre, located about 100 miles northwest of Jerusalem on the coast of the Mediterranean, fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, and the same would happen to Israel when the nation’s children would die in battle. Though the nation used the sacrificial system to entreat God for gifts and blessing, God cursed Israel with infertility. As Ephraim was Joseph’s second son, the curse reversed Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s descendants (Gn 49:22–25).
9:15. Gilgal, immediately north of Jericho, was guilty of every Israelite sin (4:15; 12:11) and here represents all of Israel (all their princes). Since Gilgal is where Saul was crowned king (1Sm 11:15), the city probably symbolized Israel’s rejection of God and vice versa. Thus God’s hatred of Gilgal implies His general disdain for the entire nation. I will love them no more portrays Israel as an abandoned adulteress.
9:16–17. The withered root and fruitlessness of Israel indicates biological infertility (bear children … the precious ones of their womb), though famine may also be implied. Strikingly God is the agent of judgment who will slay Israel’s children and cast them away from the land as wanderers in exile.
10:1–2. The OT frequently compares Israel to a vineyard (e.g., Is 5:1–7), and here the metaphor picks up Hosea’s frequent vegetation theme. Though translations often render the verb baqaq positively ("to be luxuriant"), it is better understood negatively ("to cause to degenerate" as in the alternate reading in the NASB footnote, "Israel is a degenerate vine"), just as for himself negatively portrays Israel’s intentions. The fruit of such a vine is consistent with Israel’s own heart. Thus while God granted Israel conditions sufficient to produce abundantly, the nation bore only idolatry (altars and pillars). For the Israelites to bear their guilt meant they would be judged for their sin.
10:3–4. Hosea attributed speech to Israel in v. 3 in which the nation rejected its king. Israel’s king was supposed to be God’s regent; by extension rejection of the king was rejection of God Himself. Together with the vineyard metaphor, this description is analogous to Jesus’ parable of the tenants ("vine-growers," Mk 12:1–11). Israel’s failure to revere God was essentially a breach of the covenant to which the nation was giving only lip service. Judgment will therefore ensue as Israel was abandoned like a wretched vineyard (field).
10:5–6. Verse 5 illustrates the extent of the idolatry in Beth-aven ("house of wickedness"), another name for Bethel, by portraying those who once revered the calf idol as continuing to grieve its departure (8:6). Ironically Israel’s political corruption eventually led to the removal of their idolatry through the purging that resulted from judgment. Israel realized God’s punitive hand at work here, for the nation was seized with shame as a result of sin and judgment.
10:7–8. The judgment of Beth-aven (in the region of Samaria) is further elaborated as the nation and its king are said to be cut off and quickly run off like a small stick (perhaps better translated "foam") on the surface of the water. Moreover Beth-aven’s high places of idolatry will be destroyed and buried by mountains and hills, which may symbolize an enemy nation (e.g., Is 42:15), namely Assyria.
10:9–10. Gibeah was mentioned earlier as a site of past sin (9:9) and forthcoming conflict (5:8). Its reference here combines both senses as Israel was indicted for sin and assured of their imminent defeat at the hands of the peoples (Assyria). The phrase sons of iniquity probably means "sons of violence." Israel’s two sins (double guilt) are left undefined, but may refer to Gibeah’s past sins or Israel’s trust in both idols and armies.
10:11–13a. Here Hosea introduced another agricultural metaphor. The comparison of Israel (Ephraim/Jacob) to a trained heifer wearing God’s yoke indicates the nation’s initial readiness to obey the covenant. Having entered into a relationship with God, Israel was instructed to sow (obey) the seeds that would produce righteousness, and thus reap God’s kindness (blessing). Instead the nation had plowed wickedness and reaped injustice against God and their own people.
10:13b–15. One of Israel’s primary covenantal offenses is their having trusted in their military powers rather than in their God. The nation’s numerous warriors would be defeated, its impressive fortresses … destroyed, and its king removed by God through the Assyrians. Shalman may be Shalmaneser III, the ninth-century Assyrian king. Beth-arbel may be modern Irbid, a city near the Sea of Galilee. The battle there, which included the murder of women and children, is not reported elsewhere in the OT.
11:1–2. The reference to Israel as a youth describes its nonfamilial status during the Egyptian captivity. At the exodus, however, Israel became God’s firstborn son/heir (Ex 4:22–23), demonstrating His love (election) of the nation. In Hs 11:1 God is the One who called Israel as sons but in 11:2, Hosea cites Israel’s history of resistance to God. He sent them prophets, and the more they (the prophets) called them, the more they (Israel) went from them (the prophets) and pursued false gods (the Baals). Thus even though God redeemed Israel from captivity and made them His son, the nation pursued Baals and idols.
Matthew used Hs 11:1 typologically to describe Jesus’ childhood retreat to and return from Egypt (Mt 2:14–15). While it could be that Matthew was attempting to identify a simple correspondence between the infancies of Israel and Jesus, there may be more significance to Matthew’s use of this passage than simply correspondence. In Nm 23:22–24 (the second Balaam oracle) and 24:5–9 (the third Balaam oracle) Moses established that Israel was a type of the future Messiah, with one point of similarity being that both Israel and her future King would come out of Egypt. Matthew may have cited Hs 11:1, a passage about Israel coming out of Egypt, with the perspective that this is typologically true of the Messiah, a point already established in the Pentateuch. Although Hosea’s words refer directly to Israel, the previously established type may have enabled Matthew to cite it legitimately of Jesus the Messiah (cf. Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010], 99–104).
11:3–4. God’s redemption (yoke) of Israel, the giving of the law (taught), and His provisions (led and fed) for them during their desert wanderings demonstrated His father-like love for the nation. But God’s efforts went unappreciated as Israel failed to acknowledge God’s grace and to reciprocate His covenant loyalty.
11:5–6. Because of Israel’s disobedience and failure to repent in Hosea’s day (they refused to return), God would punish Israel by sending the nation back into captivity, this time in Assyria. The sword represents the military forces that would demolish Israel’s cities.
11:7–9. The Hebrew word translated bent (tala, lit., "to hang upon") indicates determination or pinning one’s hopes on something. Hosea described Israel as determined to remain disobedient. Therefore when the nation called out to God (the One on high), He would not respond. But ignoring and surrendering Israel was not easy for the Lord, for as a compassionate father His heart remained with His wayward children. Even though God does not actually question His own decision-making, here Hosea used human terms to describe God’s emotions in continuing to love Israel. The cities of Admah and Zeoboiim were neighbors of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 14:2, 8) and represent human depravity.
Although Israel’s sin made the nation deserving of complete destruction in the manner of Sodom and Gomorrah, God chose not to repeat (again) the corporate death sentence exacted at Sodom. God’s righteousness demands that sin be punished, but in His compassions God can choose to limit the extent of his anger and wrath.
11:10–11. God’s compassion will be displayed in the return of His people from exile in Assyria, an event typologically resembling God’s rescue of Israel from Egypt during the exodus. At that time Israel will follow (walk after) God in humility (trembling like birds and doves) as He leads them out of captivity with the ferocity of a lion. Hosea’s prophecy of Israel’s return from exile is thought by some to have been fulfilled through the events reported in Ezra and Nehemiah.
However, others see three reasons indicating that this refers to Israel’s eschatological restoration. First, Hosea speaks of a return from the west, south (Egypt), and the north (Assyria), indicating an international regathering to the land of Israel, not just from Assyria. Second, since the prophet sees a permanent settlement in the land (I will settle them in their houses) he is not likely speaking of the return from captivity, which did not result in permanent settlement. Third, the nation’s humble (trembling) walk after the Lord indicates a spiritual transformation that did not take place at the return from captivity but will be true in the last days (cf. 3:4–5). Hence, these verses presumably refer to God’s restoration of Israel in the last days, when the nation trusts in Jesus as their Messiah and they become God’s faithful people in the millennial kingdom (see Hs 3:4–5 and comments there).
C. Sixth Cycle of Judgment and Restoration Emphasizing God’s Faithfulness (11:12–14:8)
11:12–12:1. Israel’s deception is mentioned several times in the book (7:3; 10:13). The precise nature of Israel’s lies is not specified, but they are probably related to the nation’s waywardness and idolatry. Such covenant infidelity was characteristic of Israel’s behavior and contrasted with God’s faithfulness. Israel was also further charged with shepherding the wind, an impossibility, which illustrates Israel’s foolishness. No one can corral the wind, and efforts to do so are pointless. Israel’s folly is also compared to pursuing the east wind, which would normally be avoided because of the desert’s severe dry heat. Such folly is exhibited in Israel’s treaties with and tributes to Assyria and Egypt, both of whom would turn on Israel.
12:2–6. Judah was also charged with sin (cf. 11:12), for which Hosea declared that the people would be punished. Hosea then recited several incidences in the life of the patriarch Jacob to draw a comparison with Judah: Jacob’s grabbing of Esau’s heel at birth (Gn 25:26); Jacob’s wrestling with the angel at Peniel (Gn 32:28); Jacob’s weeping at his reunion with Esau (Gn 33:4); Jacob’s encountering God at Bethel (Gn 28:11–22). These allusions to the shortcomings and eventual blessings of Jacob are recalled to show how the Israelites could also overcome their disobedience and receive God’s blessing if only they would repent, keep the covenant, and patiently hope in God.
12:7–9. The sin of Israel was also apparent in the nation’s attaining of possessions. Like an oppressive merchant, some in Israel had acquired wealth through immoral and unjust means. Furthermore those immoral persons believed themselves to be without iniquity. Therefore the God who rescued them from Egypt and gave them the promised land was prepared to reverse the exodus by sending them back to the wilderness to live in tents, as they did during the Feast of Booths (Lv 23:33–43).
12:10–11. Though God’s judgment in v. 9 seems quite harsh, Hosea reminded Israel that for some time God had been warning the nation of His coming retribution. These warnings had come through the prophets—including Hosea—even if mediated through strange visions and parables. The esoteric nature of prophecy was then exhibited through Hosea’s reindictment of Gilead and Gilgal, two cities apparently well known for sin (see the comments on 6:8; 9:6) and destined for destruction.
12:12–14. Hosea introduced two more examples from Israel’s early history to illustrate how the nation must now proceed: Jacob shepherding for two terms in exchange for a wife (or wives) in Aram (Gn 27:43–29:30); Moses (a prophet) shepherding Israel out of Egypt through the exodus. The brevity of the accounts, together with the inexact and inexplicit nature of their parallels, causes Hosea’s purpose for including the narratives difficult to discern. The point to be illustrated is probably that, just as both Jacob and Moses labored to possess and protect a precious person/people in troubled times, so God was presently using a prophet (Hosea) to shepherd Israel during a turbulent period in the nation’s history. The Israelites had therefore better heed the prophet’s warnings! In significant contrast to those earlier events, however, God had no immediate plans to remove His people from either their current or impending hardships. Instead, God would leave His bloodguilt on Israel, for they had provoked Him to bitter anger.
13:1–3. The judgment of Israel stated in 12:14 is expanded in chap. 13, with the opening three verses recounting the past, present, and future of Ephraim. Though Ephraim by metonymy often represents the northern kingdom of Israel, here it refers to the tribe of Ephraim, though by extension it too represents all Israel. The historical occasion behind v. 1 remains unclear, but Ephraim’s initial esteem (exalted) among the tribes and subsequent apostasy (worshiping Baal) is apparent. Ephraim’s sin and idolatry increased until the present time (now). Hosea exposed the folly of worshiping man-made objects (8:5–6) and may have been comparing Ephraim’s idolatry to the golden calf incident at Sinai (Ex 32; 1Kg 12:20–33). Israel’s future then was as fleeting as a morning cloud and as dew, chaff, and smoke, for God would suspend His covenant with the nation and punish them by removing them from the land through the Assyrian exile.
13:4–6. Hosea again recounted Israel’s history in Egypt, where God called the nation into relationship with Him and became Israel’s savior. The Lord’s prohibition against "knowing" (yada) other gods is an allusion to the first commandment (Ex 20:3; Dt 5:7), though slightly modified to underscore the intimacy of the marital bond (know) between the Lord and Israel. The verb yada is then reemployed in v. 5 to reemphasize the intimacy with which God cared for (or "knew," as in NASB footnote) Israel in the wilderness by providing for His people. But despite God’s warnings, Israel took the Lord’s provisions for granted and forgot Him (Dt 8:11–14).
13:7–8. Israel’s forgetfulness and ingratitude would cause God to judge the nation, like a wild beast ambushing its prey. A variety of similes used here portray the suddenness (lie in wait) and violence (tear open and devour) of God’s coming wrath. The image of God as Israel’s wilderness savior in vv. 4–5 contrasts here with God as their predator.
13:9. The form of the Hebrew verb shachath used here should be translated "it has destroyed you," the implied subject being the wrath of God described in vv. 7–8. Though God is Israel’s "helper," the nation aligns itself against Him and thus reaps destruction.
13:10–11. The king, judges, and princes were all powerful political figures. The rhetorical question in v. 10 implies either that Israel currently had no ruler or that the government was ineffective. In all your cities implies the need for an attacking army to conquer a nation city by city. The Israelites’ request for a king and princes demonstrates their desperation for centralized, human leadership and perhaps their lack of trust in God’s rule (1Sm 8:4–20). But the monarchy was in God’s complete control; He installs and removes kings at will (Dn 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21).
13:12–13. Israel’s sinfulness and folly are portrayed here by the metaphor of childbirth. The description of Israel’s iniquity as bound up and stored up implies the nation’s retention of sin and refusal to repent. But the one who retains sin, Hosea suggested, is as foolish as a baby who refuses to exit the womb during labor and chooses death over life. Hosea’s point is that as God’s judgment approaches, Israel must rid itself of sin and thereby avoid God’s wrath.
13:14a. Although many versions (such as the NASB) translate the opening two statements of v. 14 as questions, they are better interpreted as declarations: God will indeed ransom and redeem Israel from death. Although many individual Israelites would die in and as a result of the exile, death in this context refers primarily to God’s suspension of His covenantal blessings to Israel and the removal of the nation from the land (see Lv 18:5, where "live" refers to God’s provision of covenantal blessings). Thus, the two declarations lead into two rhetorical questions where the pain and fear of Death and Sheol (the afterlife) are taunted. That is because they posed no permanent threat to Israel since God would reverse His judgment on the nation and bring them out of exile in Assyria. Ultimately, at the end of days, God will bring Israel back from worldwide dispersion. Paul quoted a version of Hs 13:14a in 1Co 15:55 to highlight the defeat of physical and eschatological death through Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
13:14b–16. The removal of God’s compassion implies the exacting of His judgment, which had to occur before He would ransom the nation. Flourishing Israel was to be devastated by a desert wind (12:1), which would dry up the nation’s water supply and agricultural resources. The east wind also represents the invasion of Assyria, which would plunder Israel’s treasury and violently murder its pregnant women and children (9:12).
14:1–3. Hosea’s final words to Israel begin with a call to return to God. Repentance was the primary condition on which God would forgive and restore Israel. Therefore Hosea instructed Israel how to be reconciled with God, giving the nation the very words to pray. First, the prayer has an appeal to God for His forgiveness and acceptance. Then being pardoned, Israel was to "repay" God with prayers and praise (the fruit of our lips). Second, the prayer contains Israel’s admission to misplaced faith in political alliances (Assyria), military might (horses), and idols (Our god). Third, the prayer includes an affirmation of God’s mercy toward fatherless orphans like Israel.
Hosea made no mention of Israel’s need to make sin offerings to receive forgiveness. There are a couple of reasonable explanations for this. First, God was more concerned in the immediate with Israel’s contrition and covenantal faithfulness, since these, and not the sacrificial system, were the conditions for Israel’s restoration from the very beginning (Dt 30:2; see the comments on Hs 6:6; 8:11–13). In fact, animal sacrifices could not actually atone for sin, as the NT would later reveal (Rm 3:25; Heb 10:1–14), and without repentance every Israelite would remain liable to judgment (Rm 2:5). Second, Israel’s sacrificial system itself had been corrupted. Without prior repentance, the further misuse of sacrifices would only increase sin (Hs 8:11). And even once Israel had repented, God probably desired that Israel undergo a probationary period without the privilege of offering sacrifices in order to purify it, as He did for other aspects of Israelite life following the exile (see the comments on 2:16; 3:4).
14:4. In response to Israel’s contrition, God promised to heal and love the nation without their sin causing any hindrance to the relationship (2:13–23). Characterizing Israel’s apostasy as in need of healing suggests that the nation’s waywardness was caused by an underlying spiritual condition requiring divine restoration. Though Hosea did not mention it explicitly here, in the new covenant God will finally remedy this ailment by giving believers a new heart of flesh through the Holy Spirit (Ezk 36:27).
14:5–7. Dew often reflects refreshment in a dry land (see Ps 133:3), the blossoming of lilies and olive trees signifies the future beauty of restored Israel, and roots connote security. Sprouting shoots, blossoming vines, and living in the shadow signify the new growth and splendor (renown) Israel will experience in its restoration. Israel’s pleasant fragrance, along with many of the earlier images, may portray Israel as a bride being united with a spouse (Sg 4:8–15; 5:5). Lebanon (northern Galilee) is mentioned three times because this region was well known for its fertile soil and fragrance.
14:8. In His final statement God expressed His desire for Israel to move beyond idolatry once and for all. God had said all He can on the subject; now He was simply waiting and watching for Israel to obey. Further, God made His rightful claim on Israel: It is the Lord, not Baal, who answers and watches over Israel, and it is He who like a tree gives them fruit.
IV. Postscript (14:9)
14:9. Hosea’s postscript begins with a riddle that appropriately characterizes the entire book. The point of the puzzle is not that the wise person will understand these prophecies, but that those who know them are in fact wise. Knowledge is further clarified to mean not merely comprehension but also, as throughout the book, compliance with and relation to God. True wisdom, then, is righteous living in accord with God’s ways, while folly results in transgressing and stumbling.
The message of Hosea is the story of God’s jealous and yet unrelenting love for His wayward bride. A people chosen by grace and redeemed from slavery to serve the only true God, Israel failed to remain faithful to her Husband when she pursued other lovers by trusting in idols and foreign powers. God therefore promised to suspend His covenant blessings to Israel by sending the nation into exile so they would repent and appreciate God’s incomparable love when He graciously accepted them back again. In this light, the message of Hosea prefigures the gospel: Only by God’s grace through the work of Jesus Christ can wayward humanity be redeemed from the power of sin and death and be forever reconciled to its Creator. As Ortlund says, "The gospel is not an imperialistic human philosophy making overrated universal claims; the gospel sounds the voice of our Husband who has proven his love for us and who calls for our undivided love in return" (Raymond C. Ortlund, God’s Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery, New Studies in Biblical Theology [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002], 173). Indeed, even as readers of Hosea repeatedly encounter God’s jealousy and judgment, they are always reminded of the Lord’s merciful salvation available to all who will return to their faithful and forgiving God.
Andersen, Francis I. Hosea: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 24 of The Anchor Bible. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1980.
Dearman, J. Andrew. The Book of Hosea. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.
Garrett, Duane A. Hosea, Joel. New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997.
Macintosh, A. A. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Hosea. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997.
Matthews, Victor H. "Family Relationships." In Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, 291–299. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003.
Ortlund, Raymond C. God’s Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002.
Rydelnik, Michael. The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010.
Silva, Charles H. "The Literary Structure of Hosea 1–3." Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (2007): 181–97.
———. "The Literary Structure of Hosea 4–8." Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (2007): 291–306.
———. "The Literary Structure of Hosea 9–14." Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (2007): 435–53.
Smith, Gary V. Hosea, Amos, Micah. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.
Stuart, Douglas. Hosea–Jonah. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word, 1987.
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