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Bible Commentaries
Hosea 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1


This verse introduces the whole book. The word of Yahweh came to Hosea, the son (possibly descendant) of Beeri, during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah (cf. Isaiah 1:1). It also came to him during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (cf. Amos 1:1). As explained above under "Date," Hosea’s ministry probably extended from about 760-715 B.C. Hosea’s name means "He [Yahweh] has saved" and is a variation of "Joshua" (cf. Numbers 13:8; Numbers 13:16; Gr. Jesus). We know nothing else about Beeri ("my wellspring") or any of Hosea’s other ancestors or his hometown.


Though we know nothing of Hosea’s personal life before he began prophesying, we do know about a crisis that arose in his family while he ministered. This personal tragedy and its happy ending proved to be a lesson to the people of Israel. This lesson corresponds to and illustrated the other messages of judgment and restoration that follow. Other prophets also experienced personal problems that the Lord used to teach His people (e.g., Isaiah 20:1-4; Ezekiel 4:1 to Ezekiel 5:4).

The major themes of the book come into view in this opening section: Israel’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh, His judgment of her, and His later restoration of her.

Verse 2

At the beginning of Hosea’s ministry, Yahweh commanded him to take a wife of harlotry and to have children of harlotry. The reason the Lord gave for this unusual command was that the land of Israel (i.e., the people of the Northern Kingdom, cf. Hosea 4:1) were committing flagrant harlotry in the sense that they had departed from the Lord to pursue other loves. The Lord used personification to picture the land (i.e., the people of the land) as a woman acting as a prostitute.

Students of this book have understood the phrase "a wife of harlotry" (Heb. ’esheth zenunim) to mean one of four things. These major views fall into two groups: non-literal and literal interpretations.

First, some believe the text means that God gave Hosea a vision or that He told him an allegory in which his wife was or would become a harlot. [Note: E. J. Young, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 245-46.] This view avoids the moral problem of God commanding His prophet to marry a woman who was already or would become a harlot. However, there is no indication in the text that this was a visionary experience or an allegorical tale, and there are many details that point to it being a real experience. For example, Hosea recorded the name of his wife and her father’s name (Hosea 1:3). He also named the exact amount that he paid for her (Hosea 3:2).

Second, some interpreters believe that Hosea’s wife became "a wife of harlotry" because she was already or became a worshipper of a false god; her harlotry was spiritual rather than physical. A related view is that she was a spiritual harlot merely by being an Israelite since the Israelites had been unfaithful to Yahweh. [Note: Stuart, pp. 26-27.] Again the details of the story as it unfolds argue for literal sexual unfaithfulness.

Third, it is possible that Hosea’s wife was sexually promiscuous before he married her. [Note: Keil, 1:29, 37; T. E. McComiskey, "Hosea," in The Minor Prophets, pp. 11-17; J. L. Mays, Hosea: A Commentary, p. 26; Longman and Dillard, p. 402; and Warren W. Wiersbe, "Hosea," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 316.] Some have even suggested that she may have been a temple prostitute. One writer suggested that she had participated in a Canaanite rite of sexual initiation in preparation for marriage, but this would not likely have made her a harlot. [Note: Wolff, pp. 14-15.] If the Lord meant that Hosea was to marry a harlot, it would have been more natural for Him to say "take to yourself a harlot" (Heb. zonah) or "prostitute." The biggest problem with this view is ethical. It seems very unlikely that God would command His prophet to marry a woman who was already a harlot.

Fourth, the preferred view seems to be that Hosea’s wife became unfaithful to him after they got married, and that Yahweh told him that she would do this before they got married. [Note: Andersen and Freedman, p. 162; Harper, p. 207; Wood, "Hosea," p. 166; idem, The Prophets . . ., p. 279; Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets, p. 337; Freeman, pp. 181-82; and Kaiser, p. 197.] Similarly, God told Moses that Pharaoh would harden his heart and not allow the Israelites to leave Egypt before Moses first went into Pharaoh’s presence (Exodus 3:19). This view posits a situation that was most similar to the relationship that existed between Yahweh and Israel, which Hosea’s marital relations illustrated (cf. Hosea 2:2; Hosea 2:4; Hosea 4:12; Hosea 5:4). Israel became unfaithful to Yahweh after previous faithfulness; Israel was not unfaithful when Yahweh married her (at Sinai). She was a brand new bride freshly redeemed out of Egyptian slavery (cf. Jeremiah 2:2-3). This parallelism suggests that the woman whom Hosea loved again (ch. 3) was Gomer, his original wife. Another view is that two wives are involved, one in chapter 1 and a different one in chapter 3. Discussion of this issue follows under chapter 3.

Another difficulty is the meaning of "children of harlotry." Were these children that Gomer already had? [Note: Keil, 1:29.] Were they children that Hosea would have by Gomer that would prove unfaithful like their mother? [Note: Wood, "Hosea," p. 171.] Or were they born to Hosea and Gomer after she became unfaithful? [Note: McComiskey, pp. 15-16.] Probably the phrase means "children of a wife who is marked by harlotry." [Note: Andersen and Freedman, p. 168; and Kaiser, p. 197.] It seems to me that the children in view were the children born to Hosea and Gomer, and they became known as children of harlotry when their mother became a harlot.

"In ancient Israelite society harlots were chiefly foreigners." [Note: McComiskey, p. 19.]

Verses 2-9

A. Signs of coming judgment 1:2-9

The Lord used Hosea’s family members as signs to communicate His message of coming judgment on Israel.

Verses 3-4

Hosea obediently married Gomer (probably meaning "completion"), the daughter of Diblaim ("fig cakes"). She bore Hosea a son whom the Lord told the prophet to name "Jezreel." The Lord also prescribed the names of Isaiah’s sons (Isaiah 7:3; Isaiah 8:3-4), Messiah (Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6), and many other entities. He also assigned the symbolic names Oholah and Oholibah to Samaria and Jerusalem (Ezekiel 23). The name "Jezreel" means "God sows" (by scattering seed), but it was not just the meaning of the name that was significant in this case but also the associations with the town in Israel that bore that name.

Each section on Hosea’s children (Hosea 1:3-9) contains a birth notice, a word of instruction from the Lord about the child’s name, and an explanation of the meaning of the name. The names of Hosea’s children all reminded everyone who heard them of the broken relationship that existed between Yahweh and Israel, and each one anticipated judgment.

It was at Jezreel that King Jehu of Israel (841-814 B.C.) had massacred many enemies of Israel, including King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel, King Jehoram of Israel, and many prophets of Baal, which was good (cf. 2 Kings 9:6-10; 2 Kings 9:24; 2 Kings 10:18-28; 2 Kings 10:30). But he also killed King Ahaziah of Judah and 42 of his relatives, which was bad (2 Kings 9:27-28; 2 Kings 10:12-14). Ahaziah and his relatives did not die in Jezreel, but their deaths were part of Jehu’s wholesale slaughter at Jezreel. Jehu went too far and thereby demonstrated disrespect for the Lord’s commands (cf. 2 Kings 10:29-31).

Because of Jehu’s atrocities that overstepped his authority to judge Israel’s enemies, God promised to punish his house (dynasty). [Note: Ibid., p. 20.] The fulfillment came when Shallum assassinated King Zechariah, Jeroboam II’s son and the fourth king of Jehu’s dynasty, in 753-752 B.C. This death ended Jehu’s kingdom (dynasty) forever (2 Kings 15:10). Another view is that the reference to putting an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel refers to the demise of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. [Note: Wood, "Hosea," p. 171.] It is very difficult to determine if the word rendered "kingdom" should be translated "kingdom" (Heb. mamlekat) or "kingship" (mamlekut). When Hosea wrote, the Hebrew alphabet only had consonants, no vowels.

Verse 5

This name of Hosea’s first son would also point to a future judgment that would also take place in the valley near Jezreel. It would happen on "that day," namely, a future unspecified day. Yahweh promised to break Israel’s military strength, symbolized by an archer’s bow, there then. The Assyrian king Tiglath-Pilesar III fulfilled this prophecy when he invaded and defeated Israel there in 733 B.C. (2 Kings 15:29; cf. 2 Kings 17:3-5). Gideon had defeated the Midianites in this valley (Judges 6:33; Judges 7), the Philistines had defeated the Israelites under Saul’s leadership there (1 Samuel 29:1; 1 Samuel 29:11; 1 Samuel 31), and Pharaoh Neco II defeated Josiah there after the Assyrians attacked (2 Kings 23:29-30).

Verse 6

After some time Gomer bore Hosea a daughter. Some scholars believed that Hosea fathered only the first child and that Gomer’s other children were born of fornication. [Note: E.g., Charles H. Dyer, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 725; and F. F. Bruce, The Letter of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, pp. 184-85.] The Lord told Hosea to name this girl "Lo-ruhamah," meaning, "She is not loved," because He would not have compassion on Israel to forgive her for her sins. This was an outrageous name for a daughter. Yahweh had been very compassionate toward Israel in the past, but her persistent unfaithfulness to Him and His covenant with her made continuing compassion impossible.

Verse 7

In contrast, the Lord would have compassion on the Southern Kingdom of Judah and deliver her from such a fate. He said He would do this by Yahweh their God, perhaps using His own name this way to impress on the Israelites who their true God was. He said He would not do this in battle, however. The Israelites relied on human arms and alliances, but the Judahites trusted in the Lord, generally speaking, so He delivered the Judahites supernaturally. He did it in 701 B.C. by killing 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night while they lay camped around Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:32-36; Isaiah 37). Jerusalem was the only great city that did not fall to the Assyrians during this invasion of Syria-Palestine. Judah’s sins were not as great as Israel’s at this time. Judah enjoyed a succession of four "good" kings (Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, and Jotham), and Hosea may have received this prophecy when Uzziah or Jotham was reigning.

"The northern kingdom had arrogated the name of Israel to itself. It clung obstinately to the belief that its greater riches, area and strength showed that it was the true representative of God’s people. The mention of Judah underlines the vital truth that the rejection of the North in no way involved God’s complete repudiation of Israel’s sonship." [Note: Ellison, p. 105.]

Verses 8-9

Two or three years later, after Gomer had weaned Lo-ruhamah (cf. 1 Samuel 1:23; 2 Maccabees 7:27), she bore Hosea another son. The reference to weaning is a detail that would seem superfluous if this were an allegory or vision. This time the Lord told Hosea to name the boy "Lo-ammi," meaning "not my people." The Lord no longer regarded the kingdom of Israel as His people or Himself as their God. He did not mean, of course, that He would break His unconditional promises to His people (e.g., Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 26:17-18), but that the relationship that they had enjoyed so far would come to an end. The last phrase of Hosea 1:9 literally is "I [am] not I AM [’ehyeh] to you" (cf. Exodus 3:14). The Lord would withdraw the covenant He had so dramatically made with the revelation of this same name. He would remove protection that He had formerly provided and allow another nation to invade and discipline His people.

This passage contains four symbolic names: the names of Hosea’s three children and Yahweh’s new name, "not your I AM," indicating His rejection of Israel. Positive names were the rule in the ancient Near East, yet the last three of these names are bluntly negative. The collective impact of these four names is the message of this pericope: Israel’s unfaithfulness had become so obnoxious to Yahweh that He would not tolerate her any longer.

Hosea’s Children
JezreelGod scattersGod would scatter His people.
Lo-RuhamahNo compassionGod would no longer show compassion by rescuing Israel from destruction.
Lo-AmmiNot my peopleGod would sever His relationship because of Israel’s disobedience.

"Hosea 1:2-9 functions as a summarizing preface to the entire book. It presents an overview, in stark and moving terms, of the prophet’s proportionately dominant message: God has given up his people. The theme of restoration after this judgment then follows immediately in Hosea 2:1-3 [in the Hebrew Bible, Hosea 1:10 to Hosea 2:1 in the English versions]." [Note: Stuart, p. 35.]

B. A promise of restoration 1:10-2:1

A wonderful promise of future restoration immediately follows this gloomy revelation of judgment. It provided encouragement to Hosea’s audience by assuring a glorious and secure future for Israel eventually.

Verse 10

This verse begins chapter 2 in the Hebrew Bible. Despite the judgment promised, Yahweh revealed that the number of the Israelites would be as the sand of the sea (i.e., innumerable, cf. Genesis 22:17; Genesis 32:12). He also said that in the same place where they heard His word of rejection (Hosea 1:9) they would hear His word of acceptance, namely, in the land of Israel. They would again be sons of the living God. This family terminology points to the restoration of intimate covenant relationship and privilege. The "living God" title recalls Joshua 3:10, where Joshua told the Israelites that they would know that the living God was among them when they saw Him defeat their enemies in the Promised Land. In this future day the Israelites would again see that Yahweh was the only living God (true God) when He defeated their enemies and led them in victory.

"Hosea’s words here are crucial to an understanding of his theology of hope. His prophetic oracles appear to presage absolute judgment, but that was so only for his unbelieving generation. The nation’s unfaithfulness to God and their trust in Assyria would be their downfall, but God would preserve a people, and out of them would spring an innumerable multitude." [Note: McComiskey, p. 29.]

Verse 11

The Northern and Southern Kingdoms would reunite, and they would have only one king instead of two (cf. Hosea 3:5; 2 Samuel 7:11-16; Isaiah 9:6-7; Ezekiel 37:22; Amos 9:11; Micah 5:2). They would also go up from the land, probably in the sense of growing strong in the land, as a plant. [Note: See Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "Hosea," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, pp. 1381-82.] When this happens it will be a great day for Jezree. As Jezreel was a place of former victory for Israel (Judges 7), so it would be again in the future (cf. Isaiah 9:4-7; Isaiah 41:8-16; Joel 3:9-17; Amos 9:11-12; Revelation 19:11-21). The leader in view is probably Jesus Christ (cf. Hosea 3:5; Jeremiah 30:21), so this is probably a messianic prophecy.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Hosea 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/hosea-1.html. 2012.
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