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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on Hosea

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( 1:1 ) Superscription

This is a typical editorial addition to the beginning of a prophetic book. The divine origin of Hosea's message is affirmed, and Hosea's ministry is dated to the reigns of Judean and Israelite kings. The Judean kings are listed first, even though Hosea was a northerner, suggesting Judean redaction. Strangely, Jeroboam (II) is the only northern king listed; Hosea prophesied many years after his death down to the 720s. But Jeroboam's successors had short reigns and to have listed them all would have required adding another six names.

( 1:2–9 ) The Children of Hosea's Marriage with Gomer

Here Hosea marries Gomer and three children are born bearing sign-names of judgement for Israel. Gomer is described (v. 2 ) as a wife of whoredom bearing children of whoredom. v. 2 , probably the description of Gomer as ‘a wife of whoredom’ is proleptic and describes her future behaviour. Cf. 2:4 , where the term is applied to Israel following her abandonment of YHWH. Another view is that Hosea married a common or cult prostitute. In 1:3 Hosea's wife is called Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Neither name has any apparent symbolic significance, which supports their historicity and argues against a merely allegorical or visionary understanding of the events. The first child, Jezreel, is the only one explicitly stated to be Hosea's (cf. vv. 6, 8 ), which may or may not be significant. Jezreel, the first son (v. 4 ), is named after the city of Jezreel, the scene of Jehu's bloody massacres, c.842, that ended Omri's dynasty (2 Kings 9:1–37; 10:1–11 ). Jehu's actions were supported by the prophet Elisha and his followers, but Hosea condemns this sanctified murder. Jezreel (modern Zer῾in) has been excavated.

Lo-ruhamah, the name of the daughter, means ‘not pitied’ (v. 6 ). v. 7 is a pro-Judean gloss. Its reference to God's saving Judah without military force may well reflect Jerusalem's deliverance from the Assyrians in 701 (cf. 2 Kings 19:35–7 ). Lo-ammi, the name of the second son, means ‘not my people’ (v. 9 ).

( 1:10–2:1 (MT 2:1–3 )) Oracle of Salvation: The Reversal of Judgement

These verses primarily reverse the negative meanings of the names of Hosea's children and apply them to the nation. They resemble the hopeful message of 2:21–3 , though, unlike the latter, are generally considered redactional. The promise in 1:10 of numerous progeny echoes the promises to the patriarchs (Gen 22:17; 32:12 ). The name of Hosea's son, Lo-ammi, ‘not my people’, is now reversed and the people are to be ‘children of the living God’; cf. 2:23 . v. 11 predicts ‘one head’ for Judah and Israel. Cf. 3:5 , where another Judean redactional addition anticipates a future united Davidic monarchy, which could be in mind here. Although it is sometimes supposed that v. 11 reflects Hosea's own ideas, it is more probably redactional, since Judah is mentioned first and the idea is absent in Hosea's salvation oracles in chs. 11 and 14 . ‘For great shall be the day of Jezreel’ reflects Hosea's reversal of the negative implications of the name for the nation—cf. 2:22–3 . In 2:1 the names Lo-ammi, ‘not my people’, and Lo-ruhamah, ‘not pitied’, are reversed to Ammi, ‘my people’, and Ruhamah, ‘pitied’, and applied to the people as a whole; cf. 2:23 . The people addressed, following LXX, are ‘your brothers’ and ‘your sisters’, i.e. the nation, not ‘your brother’ and ‘your sister’ (NRSV, etc.), which might suggest simply Hosea's children.

( 2:2–15 (MT 4–17)) Indictment of Israel, the Unfaithful Wife

YHWH's relationship to Israel is here depicted as one of husband and wife. Israel has been unfaithful to YHWH and gone whoring after her lovers, the Baals, from whom she expects to receive grain, wine, oil, and other products, not realizing these come from YHWH (vv. 5, 8 ). Consequently, YHWH will strip her naked (vv. 3, 9–10 ), block the way to her lovers so she cannot find them (vv. 6–7 ), withdraw the grain, wine, etc. (v. 9 ), and put an end to her religious festivities (vv. 11, 13 ). She will then seek to return to him and YHWH will allure her in the wilderness, cause her to respond to him there, as at the Exodus, and bring her into Canaan anew (vv. 14–15 ). Some think the more hopeful note in vv. 14–15 implies that it belongs rather with vv. 16–23 , but against this stand the third-person form of address found also in vv. 2–13 and the ‘Therefore’ in v. 14 (cf. vv. 6, 9 ). Furthermore, hope is already anticipated in v. 7 . The words of v. 2 , ‘for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband’, are not a divorce formula, contrary to the view of some. There would be no point in divorce, since the point of the proceedings was to regain the wife (v. 2b , ‘that she put away her whoring from her face’).

Stripping a wife naked (v. 3 ) was a punishment the wronged husband could inflict, mentioned also in vv. 9–10 . The phrase ‘children of whoredom’ (v. 4 ) occurs at 1:2 , of Gomer's children, but now it refers to the Israelites. Some scholars place vv. 6–7 between vv. 13 and 14 , but though this position might seem more logical, it is unjustified; Hosea's thought sometimes flits around.

Grain, wine, and oil (v. 8 ) were the chief agricultural products of Israel but the people did not realize they came from YHWH, attributing them rather to Baal who was the great Canaanite storm and fertility god, believed to be dead during the hot, dry summer season and risen from the dead in the wet, winter season. The words ‘that they used for Baal’ are probably a gloss, because we have ‘Baal’, not ‘Baals’ here, and the third-person plural verb is foreign to the context. The Baals (v. 13 ) were local manifestations of the god Baal, also mentioned in 2:17, 11:2 . This is the first time Hosea alludes to Israel's ‘lovers’ as the Baals. v. 15 , the Valley of Achor (lit. trouble) was associated with the stoning of Achan (Josh 7:24–6 ). Its precise location is uncertain, but it was near Jericho, at the entrance into Canaan, and is perhaps at Wadi Qilt.

( 2:16–23 (MT 18–25)) YHWH's Remarriage with Israel and the Restoration of Well-being

Here, the imagery of YHWH and Israel as husband and wife continues, but the dominant note is hope. YHWH will renew his marriage bond with Israel and everything will be well. There are three units here, each containing the words ‘on that day’. The first predicts that Israel will no longer call YHWH ‘my Baal’, but ‘my husband’, and the names of the Baals will be mentioned no more (vv. 16–17 ). The second speaks of YHWH as the mediator of a covenant with the animals and the abolition of war from the land, when YHWH will take Israel as his wife forever (vv. 18–20 ). Finally, the implications of the names of Gomer's three children are reversed, thus signifying the restoration of fertility to the land, YHWH's pity, and Israel as YHWH's people (vv. 21–3 ).

In v. 16 the future Israel will call YHWH ‘my husband’ (᾽îšî), not ‘my Baal’ (ba῾ălî). This indicates that in Hosea's time YHWH could be called ‘Baal’ and was in danger of being confused with him. Cf. the personal name Bealiah, ‘Baal is YHWH’ (1 Chr 12:5 ). In v. 18 YHWH is the mediator of a new covenant with the animal world. This could imply either the banishment of wild animals from the land (Ezek 34:25–8; Lev 26:6 ), or the paradisal transformation of wild animals (Isa 11:6–9 ). ‘Take as wife for ever…’, v. 19 : the verb refers to the legally binding agreement that preceded the wedding. In vv. 22–3 the significance of the names of Hosea's three children is reversed, so as to symbolize hope for Israel (cf. 1:10–2:1 ). Jezreel (‘God sows’) will betoken fertility for the land. YHWH will have pity on Lo-ruhamah (‘not pitied’), and will say to Lo-ammi (‘not my people’), ‘You are my people’.

( 3:1–5 ) Hosea and his Wife

This chapter is a first-person narrative (unlike the third-person ch. 1 ) in which Hosea is told to love an adulterous woman, just as the Lord loves Israel, though they turn to other gods. As noted (HOS B. 3, 4), the parallelism here only makes sense if the woman had previously been married to Hosea and gone astray from him, i.e. she was Gomer. That she is unnamed, unlike in ch. 1 , is not significant, since the first-person ch. 3 comes from a different hand from the third-person ch. 1 . Hosea bought the woman and put her under discipline for a while, symbolizing Israel's lack of cultic paraphernalia (cf. God's luring Israel, bringing her into the wilderness in 2:14 ).

v. 1 can be translated either ‘The Lord said to me again, “Go love a woman…”’ (NRSV) or ‘The Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman…”’ (RSV). Either way there is a clear reference back to ch. 1 . ‘Other gods’ corresponds to ‘Baals’ in 2:13, 17; 11:2 , whilst the raisin cakes that Hosea condemns must have been associated with Baal worship. In 2 Sam 6:19 they are eaten in a Yahwistic cultic context. The reference in v. 2 to Hosea buying the woman probably alludes to the brideprice. A homer equalled 10 ephahs (between 15 and 40 litres). NRSV, REB, NEB ‘a measure of wine’ is based on LXX; MT has ‘a lethech of barley’ (RSV etc.). A lethech was half a homer. v. 4 describes Israel's temporary deprivation of king, prince, sacrifice, pillar, ephod, and teraphim. Scholars debate whether Hosea considered them legitimate or not, but the parallel deprivation of God's good gifts ( 2:9, 11 ) suggests that at least some, and maybe all, were held legitimate. The ephod is here probably an object used in divination (cf. 1 Sam 23:6; 30:7 ). Elsewhere it can be the name of a priestly garment (1 Sam 2:18; 22:18 ), and eventually it became part of the high priest's dress (Ex 25:7 ). Teraphim were figurines of gods in human form used in divination, at first regarded as legitimate (1 Sam 19:13, 16 ), but later disapproved (2 Kings 23:24 ). v. 5 finally describes Israel's return to YHWH, and corresponds to the hopeful conclusion of ch. 2 . Israel's return to ‘David their king’ is probably a Judean redactional addition, since the northerner Hosea is unlikely to have supported the Davidic monarchy. Also, ‘in the latter days’ probably reflects later Judean eschatology.

( 4:1–19 ) YHWH's Indictment of Priest and People

This chapter begins (vv. 1–3 ) with a general divine indictment against Israel for its lack of knowledge of God. The indictment is continued in vv. 4–6 specifically against the priests, who are blamed for the people's lack of knowledge of God, and a further oracle against the priests continues in vv. 7–10 . vv. 11–14 focus on the cult, which is condemned for being pervaded by a spirit of whoredom as well as literal cult prostitution. vv. 15–19 also condemn Israel's whoredom, manifested in the cult and idolatry.

‘Indictment’, v. 1 (rîb) is a legal term. The absence of knowledge of God in the land is an important theme in Hosea ( 4:6; 5:4; 6:6 ). ‘Knowledge of God’ is not mystical knowledge of God (as in the NT), but an awareness of his basic moral laws, and a practical keeping of them—summed up in hesed, ‘steadfast love’. v. 2 castigates ‘murder’, ‘stealing’, and ‘adultery’, the same terms used in the sixth, eighth, and seventh commandments of the Decalogue (Ex 20, Deut 5 ); also mentioned are ‘swearing’ and ‘lying’, equivalent to the sins found in the third and ninth commandments. Scholars debate whether Hosea refers specifically to the Decalogue. If it is older than Hosea (and Ex 20 has traditionally been ascribed to the Elohist source, c.750), he could have done so, but recently some scholars have dated it later. By way of judgement ‘the land dries up’—‘dries up’ is a better translation of the verb ᾽bl here than the usual ‘mourns’. v. 5 , ‘the prophet also shall stumble with you by night’ is probably a gloss; prophets are nowhere else mentioned in this chapter and some other glosses contain ‘also’ ( 5:5; 6:11 ).

‘Thing of wood’ or ‘staff’, v. 12 (RSV) is probably an abusive description of a wooden idol used in divination, possibly the Asherah. Though sometimes seen as rhabdomancy (divination by sticks), this is unlikely since it is only rarely attested in the ancient Near East. REB ‘diviner's wand’ and NRSV ‘divining rod’ are unlikely. v. 13 alludes to the sanctuaries known in the OT as ‘high places’ (Hos 10:8 ) and the description of sacrifices taking place on mountains and under trees recalls the frequent phrase ‘on every high hill and under every luxuriant tree’ (cf. Jer 2:20 ; NRSV's ‘green tree’ is incorrect). Continuing with the high places, v. 14 alludes to ‘cult prostitutes’ (RSV) there. The word literally means ‘holy ones’ (qĕdēšôt) and the parallelism with ‘harlots’ (zōnôt) here and elsewhere (Deut 23:17–18; Gen 38:15, 21–2 ) establishes the meaning as ‘cult prostitutes’. We cannot say much about their precise role, but they seem to have had some connection with the Baal fertility cult. There is no reason to doubt their existence, as some scholars have done recently—in addition to the OT we have references to them in many (admittedly mostly late) classical sources, as well as in Mesopotamia, where they were particularly associated with the goddess Ishtar. In v. 15 Hosea rejects Gilgal and Beth-aven (i.e. Bethel), both sites of sanctuaries. Gilgal (Khirbet el-Mefjir, near Jericho) is also condemned in 9:15 and 12:11 , there specifically in connection with sacrifices. Beth-aven, literally ‘house of evil’, is a derogatory name for Bethel (modern Beitin; cf. 5:8, 10:5 ), the leading sanctuary associated with the calf-cult ( 10:5 ). The words ‘Do not let Judah become guilty’ are probably a gloss. In v. 16 Israel is like a stubborn heifer: this is one of a number of Hosea's sayings employing nature imagery. The text of vv. 17–19 is uncertain in parts.

( 5:1–7 ) Judgement on a Faithless Nation and its Leaders

vv. 1–7 continue ch. 4 's description of the apostasy of the leaders and nation. vv. 1–2 condemn not only the priests (mentioned in ch. 4 ), but also the ‘house of the king’. vv. 3–7 then describe the apostasy of the whole nation.

v. 1 oddly includes the ‘house of Israel’ between the specific groups of the ‘priests’ and the ‘house of the king’. vv. 1–2 employ hunting images to describe the leaders' entrapping the people at Mizpah, Tabor, and Shittim. Probably there were sanctuaries at these sites and cultic sin is alluded to, though precise information is lacking. Mizpah is probably Tell en-Naṣbeh in Benjamin. Tabor is a striking dome-shaped mountain in Galilee. Shittim in Transjordan was associated with apostasy to Baal of Peor (Num 25:1–5 ), with which Hosea was familiar ( 9:10 ). vv. 3–7 , the leaders having set a bad example (vv. 1–2 ), Hosea now describes apostasy amongst the whole people. v. 5b extends the judgement to Judah, and is doubtless a gloss.

( 5:8–6:3 ) Israel's Sickness unto Death and Hosea's Exhortation to Repentance

This section concerns the period of the Syro-Ephraimite war (735–733 BCE) and its aftermath (733–731) (see HOS A.3). In 5:8–15 Hosea describes the internecine strife of that period between Judah and Israel and expresses divine judgement on both. YHWH will inflict sickness and death on the nation, but in 6:1–3 predicts it will revive if they accept his exhortation to repent.

5:8–10 reflects the movement north of Judean troops into northern-Israelite/Benjaminite territory during the Syro-Ephraimite crisis, and this is condemned. At the same time, the northern kingdom is condemned for its self-inflicted wound in going after ‘vanity’ (Heb. uncertain), which refers to its attack under Pekah (with the Syrians under Rezin) on Judah in the time of Ahaz. At 5:12 translate ‘Therefore I am like a moth to Ephraim’, as traditionally (RSV), not ‘maggots’ (NRSV) or ‘festering sore’ (NEB, REB), which have been proposed for ῾āš on the basis of an alleged Arabic cognate. Certainly ῾āš means ‘moth’ in Job 13:28 , where it is parallel with rāqāb, ‘rottenness’, as here. The thought is compressed: just as a moth is to a garment, so will YHWH be to Israel. 5:13 mentions Ephraim's going to Assyria, which refers to Hoshea's submission to Tiglath-pileser III in 731. Judah under Ahaz appealed to the Assyrians too (even though this is not explicit here), following the northern Israelite and Syrian invasion of Judah (2 Kings 16:7–8; cf. Isa 7 ). The Assyrian ruler is referred to as ‘the great king’ (similarly Hos 10:6 ): the Hebrew is unusual (melek yārēb), rendered incorrectly by AV and RV as ‘King Jareb’.

Israel's hoped-for restoration is depicted in 6:1–3 , which raises two highly debated questions. First, with regard to who is speaking it has been suggested: (1) that these are the words of the Israelites, but that they are insincere. However, the language is so full of genuine Hoseanic images and the sentiments so similar to Hosea's exhortation to repentance in ch. 14 , that it is difficult to regard the words as insincere. (2) Some suppose these are the words that Hosea hopes the Israelites will say, but ‘saying’ (RSV) is lacking in the Hebrew at the end of 5:15 and the parallel with ch. 14 also tells against it. So (3) is most likely—this is Hosea's own exhortation to the people, like 14:1–3 .

The second debated question is whether Hosea's imagery is of resurrection from death or simply healing of the sick. In favour of the former are: (1) elsewhere when the verbs ‘revive’ (hiphil of ḥyh) and ‘raise up’ (hiphil of qûm) appear together, they denote resurrection (Isa 26:14, 19; Job 14:12, 14 ); (2) 6:5 speaks of Israel as slain; (3) there are impressive parallels between chs. 5–6 and 13–14 (lion image, 5:14, 13:7–8 ; exhortation to return, 6:1; 14:1 ; dew or rain imagery, 6:3; 14:4 ), and since in ch. 13 it is clearly a case of death (vv. 1, 9, 14 ), this should also be the case in chs. 5–6 (cf. Ezek 37 for death and resurrection as symbolic of exile and restoration). Probably Hosea has appropriated the imagery of Israel's death and resurrection from the dying and rising god Baal. This is supported by 13:1 , ‘he incurred guilt through Baal and died’, and the association of the resurrection with rain in 6:3 . ‘After two days… on the third day’ means ‘after a short while’; cf. ᾽etmôl šilšōm, ‘formerly’, literally, ‘yesterday, the third day’.

( 6:4–7:16 ) Israel's Corruption, Political and Religious

This section contains loosely connected oracles mostly concerned with Israel's political, but also religious, corruption. 6:4–6 enunciates Israel's failure to live up to YHWH's demand for steadfast love and knowledge of God; 6:7–10 recalls crimes perhaps associated with Pekah's rebellion; 6:11a is a Judean gloss, applying YHWH's judgement to the southern kingdom; 6:11b–7:2 explains how Israel's corrupt deeds prevent YHWH from restoring her; 7:3–7 describes vividly the court intrigues leading to the overthrow of a king; 7:8–12 rejects foreign alliances; finally, 7:13–16 condemns religious apostasy.

The statement at 6:4–6 has often been thought to be YHWH's response to Israel's insincere repentance in 6:1–3 , but, as noted, it is not insincere, but contains Hosea's own exhortation to repentance. Rather, 6:4–6 reflects Hosea's response to the people's current plight prior to any possible repentance such as that depicted in 6:1–3 . Hosea's famous words in 6:6 elevate the importance of right moral behaviour above ritual. As in similar passages in other prophets (Isa 1:10–17; Jer 7:21–3; Mic 6:6–8 ), it is probably not sacrifice per se that is rejected, but hollow and meaningless worship (and syncretistic worship in Hosea's case). ‘Not this but that’ can mean, ‘That is more important than this’. Obscure allusions to crimes at various locations are contained in 6:7–10 . Gilead (v. 8 ) was in Transjordan and Adam (v. 7 , read with NRSV ‘at Adam’, not ‘like Adam’) was a town in the Jordan valley in the region of Gilead. Since Pekah's rebellion in c.735 started in Gilead (2 Kings 15:25 ), we may have allusions to it here. v. 7 's words, ‘But at Adam they transgressed the covenant’ are significant, since, together with 8:1 , we have here the only explicit reference to YHWH's covenant with Israel in any of the eighth-century prophets. It has sometimes been supposed that the covenant referred to here is rather a political treaty, but against this note that elsewhere ‘transgress a (political) treaty’ is hēpĕrû bĕrît, not ῾ābĕrû bĕrît as here. (See Day 1986 .) v. 11a is an anti-Judean gloss. Other glosses also contain ‘also’ (cf. 4:5 and 5:5 ) and its lame brevity challenges its genuineness. The words reapply Hosea's message to Judah at a later date. ‘Harvest’ is an image for judgement. In 6:11b–7:2 YHWH states his willingness to restore the fortunes of Israel, but cannot because of their wickedness. Samaria ( 7:1 ), first mentioned here in Hosea, was the capital of the northern kingdom since the ninth-century King Omri (it has been excavated); sometimes it stands for the remaining rump northern kingdom (cf. 10:5 ).

The treachery involved in one of the coups d'état is reflected in 7:3–7 , possibly when Hoshea overthrew Pekah (c.731). The passionate intrigue of the conspirators is compared to the heat of a baker's oven (cf. 7:4, 6, 7 ). It has sometimes been supposed that Hosea was opposed to kingship in principle, but it is more likely that it was the behaviour of contemporary kings that he opposed.

The section 7:8–12 returns to condemning Israel's foreign alliances. These devour Israel's strength ( 7:8 ), a probable allusion to Assyria's annexing some of Israel's territory in 733. The fact that Israel calls upon Egypt as well as Assyria ( 7:11 ) probably indicates a date after Hoshea's appeal to Egypt in c.725. At 7:13–16 Israel's religious apostasy is again condemned. There is an interesting reference in 7:14 to the ritual practice of people gashing themselves for grain and wine. (The translation ‘they gash themselves’ follows LXX and some Heb. MSS instead of MT, ‘they assemble themselves’.) Lacerating oneself is prohibited in Deut 14:1 (cf. 1 Kings 18:28 ), but was part of the Baalistic cult. The beginning of 7:16 is unclear: perhaps emend to ‘They turn to Baal’, which fits the context, though other suggestions have been made.

( 8:1–14 ) A Catalogue of Israel's Sins

Here Hosea recounts the sins which will lead to judgement on Israel. vv. 1–3 begin in general terms, proclaiming that Israel has broken God's covenant and transgressed his law. The specific sins are unauthorized changes of rulers (v. 4a ), making of images, especially the (golden) calf cult (vv. 4b–6 ), Israel's foreign alliances (vv. 8–10 ), sacrificial worship (vv. 11–13 ), and trust in fortifications rather than YHWH (v. 14 ).

v. 1 is significant because, along with Hos 6:7 , it contains the only explicit mention of the word ‘covenant’ (Heb. bĕrît) to describe YHWH's relationship with Israel in the eighth-century prophets. Although some have argued that the notion of covenant was a later invention of the Deuteronomists, there are good grounds for seeing it as authentic to Hosea here and in 6:7 (Day 1986 ). Also in v. 1 ‘trumpet’ is better rendered ‘ram's horn’. ‘One like a vulture’ is the probable translation (retaining MT) and seems to be an image for the invader's swiftness. v. 4 a refers to the frequent coups d'état of Israel's final years after the death of Jeroboam II. Then, in 8:4b–6 , in condemning images, Hosea focuses especially on the calf cult, claiming that the calf is not a god and will be destroyed (cf. 10:5–6; 13:2 ). In referring to the calf as Samaria's (vv. 5, 6 ) the prophet probably means the province of Samaria (i.e. the northern kingdom), not the capital city (cf. 10:5 ). Jeroboam I had set up golden calves in Bethel and Dan in c.930 (1 Kings 12:28–30 ) to lure the north away from the Jerusalem temple. The calf cult at Dan probably ended in 733 when Assyria annexed part of the northern kingdom. Probably the golden calves were originally symbols of YHWH, not a pagan god, and had been acceptable to many Israelites. It is sometimes maintained that they were merely pedestals of the deity, but this is unlikely. Hosea insists, ‘it is not God’, which would be meaningless if everyone regarded it as simply a pedestal. Probably the calf image goes back to the supreme Canaanite god El (called ‘Bull El’ in the Ugaritic texts) with whom YHWH was equated (cf. Bethel, ‘house of El’). Aaron's golden calf (Ex 32 ) is probably a back projection from 1 Kings 12:28–30 .

vv. 8–11 condemn Israel's foreign alliances, a repeated theme of Hosea's ( 5:13; 7:8–9, 11; 12:1; 14:3 ). In particular he condemns the alliance with the Assyrians: this probably refers to Hoshea's submission to the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III in 731. This fits v. 9 , ‘Israel is swallowed up; now they are among the nations as a useless vessel’, as Tiglath-pileser III exiled part of Israel in 733 (2 Kings 15:29 ). The translation of 8:10b is uncertain: RSV follows LXX, ‘And they shall cease for a little while from anointing king and princes.’ vv. 11–13 reject Israel's sacrifices on account of the people's sin; probably sacrifices are not rejected per se (cf. HOS 6:6 ). Finally, v. 14 rejects Israel's trust in fortifications rather than in YHWH.

( 9:1–9 ) Exile will Bring an End to Israel's Festal Worship

These verses form a prophetic diatribe, unlike 9:10–13, 15–16 and most of ch. 8 , where YHWH speaks in the first person. The prophet condemns the festal worship and predicts that exile in Assyria and Egypt will bring it to an end. Hosea's words lead the people to think he is a mad prophet (v. 7 ), to which he replies in v. 8 . Israel's return to Assyria and Egypt is predicted in v. 3 , whilst v. 6 emphasizes simply the return to Egypt. This latter verse's detail suggests it is meant literally, not symbolically. In the light of Hosea's message of doom, v. 7b quotes the popular view of him as a mad prophet. (Cf. 2 Kings 9:11 and Jer 29:16 for the perception of other prophets as ‘mad’.) v. 8 then presents Hosea's response to this charge with his claim that, as a prophet, he is rather God's watchman over Ephraim. Interestingly, this passage challenges the proposal of some recent scholars that the pre-exilic prophets did not actually see themselves as prophets and that this was a later Deuteronomistic understanding. The reference at v. 7 to Hosea as ‘the man of the spirit’ is also of interest, since unlike the ‘word’ of God, the ‘spirit’ is mentioned only rarely in the pre-exilic canonical prophets.

The reference to the people as corrupt ‘as in the days of Gibeah’ (v. 9, cf. 10:9 ) probably alludes to the outrage in Judg 19–20 , when a Levite's concubine was raped and murdered in Gibeah, which made a notable impression (Judg 19:30 ). The combination of violence and sexual sin makes it appropriate for this to be paradigmatic for Hosea. A reference to Saul, whose capital was at Gibeah, is less likely.

( 9:10–17 ) Israel's Sinful History Begets a Barren Future

These verses are primarily in first-person divine speech, unlike the preceding and following sections. They describe how, though YHWH found Israel in the wilderness like grapes or the first ripe figs, they committed apostasy with Baal-peor (v. 10 ), and following in the same train ever since, they are destined to infertility (cf. vv. 11–14, 16 ). Since Baal was a fertility god, there is evident irony here.

v. 10 speaks of Israel's apostasy to Baal-peor, recalling Num 25:1–5 . ‘Shame’ (Heb. bōšet) is a euphemism for ‘Baal’. v. 13a is difficult and various renderings have been given. v. 15 , ‘Every evil of theirs began at Gilgal; there I came to hate them.’ It is uncertain whether we should translate as past tense (as NRSV) or with present tense. Also, the evil referred to at Gilgal is unclear. Elsewhere Hosea refers to cultic misdemeanours there ( 4:15; 12:11 ) so that may be the case here. If the tense is past, the reference may be to the Baal-peor incident alluded to in v. 10 , which Mic 6:5 says extended ‘from Shittim to Gilgal’. Others envisage political misdemeanours, whether referring in the past to Saul, who was made king at Gilgal (1 Sam 11:14–15 ), or to some contemporary event, as might be suggested by ‘all their officials are rebels’.

( 10:1–8 ) The Coming Downfall of Cult and King

Hosea here anticipates the downfall of the nation's institutions, both religious and political. Characteristically, he flits from one to the other: vv. 1–2, 5–6, 8 envisage the end of the cult and vv. 3–4, 7 highlight the futility of the monarchy and its foreign alliances and anticipate the end of Israel's king.

For the image of Israel as a vine (v. 1 ), cf. Isa 5:1–7, Ps 80:8–16 (MT 9–17). The ‘pillars’ (maṣṣēbôt) of vv. 1–2 were sacred pillars at the high places, and symbolic of the male deity. Originally they were acceptable (Gen 28:22 ), but later they were condemned (Deut 16:22 ). The covenants opposed in v. 4 are probably treaties made with foreign nations (cf. 12:2 ). vv. 5–6 predict judgement on the calf of Beth-aven, i.e. Bethel (see HOS 8:5–6 ). ‘Calf’ (v. 5 ) follows Greek and Syriac—Hebrew, strangely, has feminine plural, ῾eglôt. For v. 6 's ‘great king’, see HOS 5:13 . The ‘high places’ (Heb. bāmôt) of v. 8 were local sanctuaries where the syncretistic practices condemned by Hosea took place. Strangely, in Hosea the term occurs only here. Some (e.g. NRSV) take ᾽āwen as a place-name (Aven, short for Beth-aven, i.e. Bethel), but more likely it has its normal meaning ‘wickedness’, because of the plural ‘high places’.

( 10:9–15 ) Predictions of War and Disaster

This section begins and ends with judgement oracles (vv. 9–10, 13b–15 ); in between are sayings about Israel, using agricultural imagery (vv. 11–13a ).

For ‘the day of Gibeah’ (v. 9 ) see HOS 9:9 . vv. 11–13a illustrate Hosea's fondness for agricultural images. Within v. 11 the reference to ‘Judah’ is probably a gloss, extending the words to the southern kingdom. Some think v. 14 refers to an invasion of Irbid (Arbela) in Transjordan by King Salamanu of Moab, whilst others identify Beth-arbel with a place in northern Israel and see Shalman as the Assyrian King Shalmaneser V. The latter would be a more effective image, since Shalmaneser V eventually destroyed the northern kingdom as anticipated by Hosea (HOS A.4). In v. 15 MT has ‘Bethel’, but the context of vv. 13–15 supports ‘house of Israel’ with LXX. ‘At dawn’ (NRSV follows MT): RSV ‘in the storm’ is based on debatable emendation.

( 11:1–11 ) YHWH's Inextinguishable Love for Israel and Israel's Ingratitude

This is one of the high points in the OT, depicting God's love in the face of Israel's continued ingratitude. vv. 1–11 appear to be a unity, apart from v. 10 , which is probably a later addition. vv. 1–4 depict YHWH's love for Israel from the Exodus and Israel's ingratitude, sacrificing to the Baals. vv. 5–7 prophesy the divine judgement and Israel's exile. vv. 8–9 then mark a shift, not only in the move from YHWH's speaking of Israel in the third person to addressing it directly, but in its poignant depiction of the anguish of YHWH's love so that he cannot totally destroy Israel. Finally, vv. 10–11 depict Israel's subsequent deliverance from exile.

v. 1 speaks of YHWH's call of Israel, his son, at the time of the Exodus (cf. Ex 4:22; Deut 14:1 ). In vv. 3–4 YHWH's tender care for the infant Israel is more characteristic of a mother, and feminist scholars have suggested YHWH is depicted with female imagery (cf. Isa 66:12–13 ). This may be, though the OT never directly calls YHWH mother, but only father. v. 5 , the threat of exile in Egypt and Assyria is a repeated theme in Hosea ( 7:16; 8:8–10, 13; 9:3, 6 ). v. 7 contains a textual problem: NRSV has ‘To the Most High (῾al) they call’, but ῾al is possibly a corruption from ba῾al (Baal).

In vv. 8–9 , one of the most moving passages in the OT, YHWH struggles with himself, and the anguish of his love finally dictates that he cannot totally destroy Israel as he did Admah and Zeboiim (these being two cities of the plain destroyed alongside Sodom and Gomorrah: Deut. 29:22–3; cf. Gen 10:19; 14:2, 8 ). This does not negate the promise of judgement, but means that Hosea foresees it as not final; rather it has a chastening effect on Israel. In the literal sense this contradicts some other passages where YHWH says he will destroy Israel ( 13:9, 16 ), but even there subsequent restoration is envisaged (ch. 14 ). Interestingly, Hosea implies a degree of divine suffering; contrast the denial of divine suffering in some early Church Fathers. v. 10 is probably a later addition, alluding to a return of Israel's western exiles: other prophetic references to an ingathering of western exiles are post-exilic (Isa 11:11; 60:9; Joel 3:6–7; Ob 20 ). v. 10 is probably a later amplification of Hosea's authentic prophecy of return from exile in v. 11 (reversing the threat of v. 5 ).

( 11:12–12:14 (MT 12:1–15 )) Israel's Perfidy and Kinship with its Ancestor Jacob

In the MT ch. 12 begins with 11:12 of the English versions and this represents a better chapter division. Allusions to Israel's lies and deceit in 11:12 clearly belong with ch. 12 (cf. vv. 1, 3, 7 ). Much of ch. 12 is pervaded by Israel's deceit and unfaithfulness, and interestingly, Hosea associates this with the character of Israel's ancestor, Jacob (vv. 2–4, 12 ). Hosea here shows knowledge of traditions about Jacob very similar to those contained in the J source in Genesis. In contrast stand God's prophets ( 12:10 ), including Moses, who led Israel out of Egypt ( 12:13 ). The chapter is essentially a unity, though there are later glosses, both pre- and anti-Judean, in 11:12b and 12:2a . The translation of 11:12b is uncertain, but it seems to contrast Judah's faithfulness with Israel's infidelity. That ‘Judah’ is a gloss in 12:2 is supported by the play on the name Israel as well as Jacob in v. 3 , which supports ‘Israel’, not ‘Judah’ being original in v. 2 . In 12:1 the oil carried to Egypt probably alludes to an Israelite gift to induce Egyptian support, rather than being part of the ritual of treaty-making. 12:2 introduces the verses about Jacob with ‘The Lord … will punish Jacob according to his ways’, indicating the remarks about Jacob are intended to be critical. Jacob's overweening ambition was first manifested in the womb when he sought to supplant his brother Esau ( 12:3a ). The word ‘supplant’ (ya῾ăqōb) here plays on the name of Jacob. Cf. Gen 25:26 (J), where Jacob takes Esau by the heel (῾ăqēb), and ῾āqab (supplant) is used rather in connection with Jacob's taking Esau's birthright and blessing in Gen 27:36 (J). A second allusion to Jacob's ambition comes in 12:3b–4a , recalling Jacob's wrestling with God/an angel at Penuel (Gen. 32:22–32 ), though Hosea's reference to Jacob's weeping there is unattested in Genesis. The third allusion is to God's meeting with Jacob at Bethel ( 12:4b ), attested in both Gen. 28:10–22 (J) and 35:9–15 (P).

At 12:7–8 the theme of Israel's deceit is continued, but without explicit allusion to Jacob. With their condemnation of Israel's commercial corruption these verses are reminiscent of Amos. 12:11 condemns two sites, Gilead, perhaps as in 6:8 for its part in Pekah's rebellion, and Gilgal for its sacrificial cult. 12:12 returns to citing the tradition about Jacob, this time in connection with his flight to Aram (Syria), where he served for his wives (Rachel and Leah—cf. Gen 29:15–30 ). The point is not wholly clear, but it probably hints at Israel's embroilment in foreign alliances and exile, since 12:13 contrasts Moses' leading of Israel out of Egypt. Moses is called a ‘prophet’ (taking up the theme of prophets in 12:10 ), the first time in the OT he is so called. Moses is later called a prophet in Deut 18:15, 18; 34:10 , one of a number of instances in which Deuteronomy stands in the tradition of Hosea.

( 13:1–16 (MT 14:1 )) Death for Israel

Ch. 13 is pervaded by Israel's death. This is primarily future, but in v. 1 is already present. This is a metaphor for Israel's end, specifically with reference to exile. The chapter divides into three sections, vv. 1–3, 4–8 , and 12–16 , beginning with a historical retrospect establishing Israel's guilt (vv. 1–2, 4–6, 12–13 ) and concluding with a declaration of judgement (vv. 3, 7–8, 14–16 ). To the second oracle is appended a mocking condemnation of the monarchy (vv. 9–11 ).

The statement in v. 1 that Israel ‘incurred guilt through Baal and died’ is ironical. Baal was a dying and rising fertility god, and Israel has died through worshipping him (to be followed, after repentance in ch. 14 , by resurrection). The current ‘death’ probably alludes to Tiglath-pileser III's exile of part of the northern kingdom in 733. The end of v. 2 is a little uncertain: NRSV is probably right, with partial LXX support, to read ‘ “Sacrifice to these”, they say. People are kissing calves!’ For the calf cult, cf. 8:5–6 and 10:5–6 . In devouring Israel (vv. 7–8 ) YHWH is compared with various wild beasts. YHWH as a lion (vv. 7–8 ) is found also in the similar passage in 5:14 . v. 10 possibly refers to the period after c.725 when King Hoshea was imprisoned by the Assyrians. There may be a play on his name (meaning ‘salvation’) in the words ‘that he may save you’.

In v. 14 YHWH declares he will hand Israel over to the power of Death (Sheol). The interrogative particle is lacking, so the ancient versions (followed by Paul in 1 Cor 15:33 ) understood the sentiments positively: ‘I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol…’, but this does not fit the context (cf. ‘compassion is hid from my eyes’ at end of verse). In v. 14 Israel is in the grip of Death (māwet) and Sheol, whilst in v. 15 Israel's ‘fountain will dry up, his spring will be parched’. This ultimately reflects Baal mythology, for in the Ugaritic Baal myth, after Baal goes down into the realm of Mot (Death), the land becomes dry and parched.

In v. 15 , read probably ‘among the rushes’ (᾽āḥû) with NRSV rather than MT's ‘among the brothers’ (᾽aḥîm), as it fits the nature-based imagery better.

( 14:1–8 (MT 2–9)) Repentance and Restoration

As is characteristic of OT prophetic books, the final chapter of Hosea ends happily, anticipating Israel's future repentance and restoration. vv. 1–3 are the prophet's exhortation to the people to repent. Following this, in vv. 4–8 YHWH promises to restore Israel; the passage employs striking images from the blossoming of nature to depict this.

In vv. 1–3 , following the prophecy of Israel's death (exile) in ch. 13 , there is a call to repentance, just as 6:1–3 has a call to repentance following the description of Israel's illness/death in 5:12–16 . In repenting, the people are to confess their guilt to YHWH, renouncing their faith in Assyria, military might, and idolatry (v. 3 ). Following its repentance, v. 4 gives a beautiful depiction of Israel's future national restoration, depicted under the imagery of the growth and blossoming of nature. Somewhat similar imagery is used of the restoration of Israel in Isa 27:2–6 , which is probably dependent on Hos 14 (see Day 1980 ).

The passage has several textual problems. In v. 5 probably retain MT ‘Lebanon’ (NRSV, etc.) rather than reading libneh, ‘poplar’ (RSV, etc.). In v. 7 probably retain ‘his shadow’ rather than emending to ‘my shadow’ (contra NRSV, etc.), and also in this verse read ‘they shall grow grain’ with MT (similarly REB) rather than emending to ‘they shall flourish as a garden’ (contra RSV, NRSV); also, zikrô should be rendered ‘their fame’ (cf. REB), not ‘their fragrance’. v. 8 is best translated ‘What has Ephraim to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after him. I am like a luxuriant cypress, from me comes your fruit.’ It is unique in the OT for YHWH to be compared to a tree. The fact that idolatry is rejected in the same context and that the Canaanite goddess Asherah, worshipped by the Israelites, was symbolized by a stylized tree, may indicate that Hosea is appropriating her role as a source of fertility to YHWH. The words ‘It is I who answer and look after him’ (῾ānîtî wa᾽ăšûrennû) could be a word play on the names of the goddesses Anat and Asherah.

( 14:9 (MT 10)) Epilogue

This is an editorial postscript in the style of the Wisdom writers, reflecting on the message of the book. It implies that, rightly understood, its words bring blessing, but to the wicked they bring disaster.

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