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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Hosea

- Hosea

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

TITLE AND WRITER

The prophet’s name is the title of the book. The book claims to be the word of the Lord that Hosea received (Hos_1:1). Thus he appears to have been the writer.

UNITY

Historically almost all Jewish and Christian scholars have regarded the whole book as the product of Hosea. Some critics, however, believe later editors (redactors) added the prophecies concerning Judah (e.g., Hos_4:15; Hos_5:5; Hos_5:10; Hos_5:12-14; Hos_6:4; Hos_6:11; et al.), since most of the book contains prophecies against Israel, the Northern Kingdom. [Note: E.g., W. R. Harper, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea, pp. clix-clxii; H. W. Wolff, Hosea, pp. xxix-xxxii.] Yet there is no good reason to deny Hosea the Judean prophecies. [Note: For discussion of the Judean passages, see R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 868-70; John Bright, A History of Israel, p. 280.] All the other eighth-century prophets also spoke about Judah, including Amos, who ministered to the Northern Kingdom at this time. Some critics say the salvation passages in Hosea (e.g., Hos_11:8-11; Hos_14:2-9) are so different from the judgment passages that someone else must have written them. However, the mixing of judgment and salvation messages is very common in all the prophets.

DATE

Hosea’s ministry spanned the reigns of four Judean kings (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah; cf. Isa_1:1) and one Israelite king (Jeroboam II; Hos_1:1). King Uzziah (Azariah) of Judah began reigning in 792 B.C., and King Hezekiah of Judah stopped reigning in 686 B.C., spanning a period of 107 years. Probably Hosea’s ministry began near the end of Jeroboam II’s (793-753 B.C.) and Uzziah’s (792-740 B.C.) reigns and ended in the early years of Hezekiah’s sole reign (715-686 B.C.). Hezekiah evidently reigned for 14 years as co-regent with his father Ahaz (729-715 B.C.; cf. 2Ki_18:1). This would mean that the prophet’s ministry lasted perhaps 45 years (ca. 760-715 B.C.). It also means that Hosea’s ministry extended beyond the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. since Hezekiah began ruling in 715 B.C. Hosea did not date any of his prophecies. Other possible dates are between 760 and 753 to 715 B.C. (38 to 45 years), [Note: Leon Wood, "Hosea," in Daniel-Minor Prophets, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 163, and idem, The Prophets of Israel, p. 276.] 760 to 720 B.C. (38 years), [Note: Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. xliii.] 760 to sometime during Hezekiah’s reign (715-686 B.C., about 45 years, [Note: Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, p. 175.] and about 60 or 65 years. [Note: C. F. Keil, "Hosea," in The Twelve Minor Prophets, 1:15.]

There were six other kings of Israel who followed Jeroboam II that Hosea did not mention in Hos_1:1 that ruled during the reigns of the four Judean kings he named. They were Zechariah (753 B.C.), Shallum (752 B.C.), Menahem (752-742 B.C.), Pekah (752-732 B.C.), Pekahiah (742-740 B.C.), and Hoshea (732-723 B.C.). Hosea evidently prophesied during the reigns of more kings of Israel and Judah than any other prophet, probably eleven. It seems unusual that Hosea would mention four Judean kings and only one Israelite king, especially since he ministered primarily to the Northern Kingdom. He may have done this because the six Israelite kings named above were less significant in Israel’s history than the other kings Hosea did mention. Another possibility is that Hosea did this because he regarded the Judean kings as Israel’s legitimate kings in contrast to those of the North. He may have mentioned Jeroboam II because he was the primary king of the Northern Kingdom during his ministry or because he was the strongest king of that kingdom during that period.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Hosea began ministering near the end of an era of great material prosperity and military success for both Israel and Judah (cf. 2Ki_14:25-28; 2Ch_26:2; 2Ch_26:6-15). In the first half of the eighth-century B.C. Assyrian influence in the West had declined temporarily, allowing both Jeroboam II and Uzziah to flourish. However, under Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 B.C) Assyria began to grow stronger and to expand westward again. In 734 B.C. the Northern Kingdom became a puppet nation within the Assyrian Empire (2Ki_15:29). After Israel tried to revolt, Assyria defeated Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, in 722 B.C., and deported the people of Israel into captivity (2Ki_17:1-6; 2Ki_18:10-12). Judah also became a vassal state in the Assyrian Empire during Hosea’s ministry (2Ki_16:5-10).

Hosea’s prophecy reflects conditions of economic prosperity, religious formalism and apostasy, and political stability that marked Jeroboam II’s reign. The historical background of the Book of Amos is almost identical.

PLACE OF COMPOSITION

Beside the fact that Hosea ministered to the Northern Kingdom, his reference to the king of Samaria as "our king" (Hos_7:5) seems to make his residence in Israel certain. The book never states the location of any of his preaching, however.

AUDIENCE AND PURPOSE

Hosea, like Amos, addressed the Northern Kingdom of Israel primarily. Their contemporaries, who were Isaiah and Micah, ministered primarily to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Some scholars believe that Amos preceded Hosea slightly. [Note: E.g., Wood, "Hosea," pp. 162, 163; Stuart, p. xliii; and H. L. Ellison, The Prophets of Israel, p. 95.] But this seems impossible to prove conclusively since we have so little information about exactly when these prophets wrote. His purpose was to announce that because the nation had broken Yahweh’s covenant (the Mosaic Covenant) judgment was coming (cf. Deu_28:15-68). His purpose was, therefore, similar to Jeremiah’s in that both prophets announced and witnessed the downfall of their respective nations. One writer referred to Hosea as the Jeremiah of Israel. [Note: Freeman, p. 177. Cf. Wood, The Prophets . . ., p. 282.] The people needed to repent and return to the Lord and His covenant. If they did, they might avoid His judgment. However, the prophet announced that the nation as a whole would not repent, though individuals could, so judgment was coming. Hosea also reaffirmed God’s promise to bless His people Israel eventually, in the distant future (cf. Deu_30:1-10).

"Understanding the message of the book of Hosea depends upon understanding the Sinai covenant. The book contains a series of blessings and curses announced for Israel by God through Hosea. Each blessing or curse is based upon a corresponding type in the Mosaic law." [Note: Stuart, pp. 6-7.]

THEOLOGY

The major biblical doctrines that Hosea stressed were sin, judgment, salvation, and the loyal love of God.

Regarding sin, the prophet stressed the idolatry of the Israelites, which he compared to spiritual adultery. Israel had turned from Yahweh to worship Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility. The Lord told Hosea to marry a woman who would prove to be unfaithful to him so he could appreciate and communicate how the Lord felt about His wife’s (Israel’s) unfaithfulness to Him. Hosea also pointed out other sins that the Israelites needed to forsake: violent crimes (Hos_4:2; Hos_6:9; Hos_12:1), political revolt (Hos_7:3-7), foreign alliances (Hos_7:11; Hos_8:9), spiritual ingratitude (Hos_7:15), social injustice (Hos_12:7), and selfish arrogance (Hos_13:6).

Hosea called for repentance, but he was not hopeful of a positive response because most of the people did not want to change. God’s judgment would, therefore, descend in the form of infertility, military invasion, and exile. Hosea stressed the fact that God was just in sending judgment on the Israelites. He would do it by making their punishments match their crimes.

The prophet assured the Israelites that God would not abandon them completely. After judgment would come salvation. Eventually the people would return to Yahweh, as Hosea’s wayward wife returned to him. In Hosea, passages on salvation follow sections announcing judgment, though there are more predictions of punishment than promises of deliverance.

JudgmentRestoration
Hos_1:2-9Hos_1:10 to Hos_2:1
Hos_2:2-13Hos_2:14 to Hos_3:5
Hos_4:1 to Hos_5:14Hos_5:15 to Hos_6:3
Hos_6:4 to Hos_11:7Hos_11:8-11
Hos_11:12 to Hos_13:16Hosea 14

The outstanding revelation concerning God that this book contributes is the loyal love of Yahweh for His own.

"In no prophet is the love of God more clearly demarcated and illustrated than in Hosea." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward and Old Testament Theology, p. 197.]

The great illustration of how committed God is to His people is how He instructed Hosea to relate to his unfaithful wife. The Lord will not forsake those with whom He has joined in covenant commitment even if they become unfaithful to Him repeatedly. He will be patient with them and will eventually save them (cf. Hos_11:1-4; Hosea 14).

"The Lord’s covenantal relationship with His people Israel is central to the messages of the eighth-century prophets Hosea, Amos, and Micah. Each of these prophets accused God’s people of violating the obligations of the Mosaic Covenant and warned that judgment was impending. Despite painting such a bleak picture of the immediate future, these prophets also saw a bright light at the end of the dark tunnel of punishment and exile. Each anticipated a time when the Lord, on the basis of His eternal covenantal promises to Abraham and David, would restore Israel to a position of favor and blessing. In fact, the coming judgment would purify God’s people and thus prepare the way for a glorious new era in Israel’s history." [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "A Theology of the Minor Prophets," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 398.]

THEMES

"The major truths of the book are: (1) God suffers when His people are unfaithful to Him; (2) God cannot condone sin; and (3) God will never cease to love His own and, consequently, He seeks to win back those who have forsaken Him." [Note: The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 919.]

Wood identified five basic themes that recur throughout the book. Israel continued to break the covenant that God had made with her. The broken marriage covenant of Hosea and Gomer illustrated Israel’s sin. In spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness God remained faithful to her. The Israelites could expect severe punishment for breaking the covenant. And Israel would again enjoy gracious benefits from God, including future restoration. [Note: Wood, The Prophets . . ., pp. 282-83.]

GENRE AND LITERARY FORMS

Hosea consists of prophetic oracles, most of which are in poetic form. [Note: Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 403.] Silva regarded Hosea as essentially a covenant enforcement document. He identified the following subgenres or literary forms in Hosea: the prophetic judgment speech, the covenant lawsuit speech (or rib oracle), the oracle of salvation, the prophetic call or commission, the symbolic action, proverbs and wisdom sayings, calls to alarm or battle warnings, the woe oracle, rhetorical questions, a penitential song, a divine lament, an admonition or exhortation to repent, and a love song. [Note: Charles H. Silva, "Literary Features in the Book of Hosea," Bibliotheca Sacra 164:653 (January-March 2007):34-48.]

"Hosea was a master literary craftsman. His work is so elevated in style that it is often difficult to distinguish between his use of poetry and prose." [Note: Richard D. Patterson, "Portraits from a Prophet’s Portfolio: Hosea 4," Bibliotheca Sacra 165:659 (July-September 2008):294-308.]

"The single most striking feature of the poetic/literary nature of the book is its use of metaphor and simile." [Note: Longman and Dillard, p. 405.]

TEXT

Hosea contains the highest proportion (not number) of textual problems of any Old Testament book except possibly Job. [Note: F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Hosea: A New Translation, Introduction and Commentary, p. 66.]

OUTLINE

I.    Introduction Hos_1:1

II.    The first series of messages of judgment and restoration: Hosea’s family Hos_1:2 to Hos_2:1

A.    Signs of coming judgment Hos_1:2-9

B.    A promise of restoration Hos_1:10 to Hos_2:1

III.    The second series of messages of judgment and restoration: marital unfaithfulness Hos_2:2 to Hos_3:5

A.    Oracles of judgment Hos_2:2-13

1.    Judgment on Gomer as a figure of Israel Hos_2:2-7

2.    Judgment on Israel Hos_2:8-13

B.    Promises of restoration Hos_2:14 to Hos_3:5

1.    Renewed love and restored marriage Hos_2:14-20

2.    Renewed fertility and restored favor Hos_2:21-23

3.    The restoration of Hosea’s and Yahweh’s wives ch. 3

IV.    The third series of messages on judgment and restoration: widespread guilt Hos_4:1 to Hos_6:3

A.    The judgment oracles chs. 4-5

1.    Yahweh’s case against Israel ch. 4

2.    The guilt of both Israel and Judah ch. 5

B.    The restoration promises Hos_6:1-3

V.    The fourth series of messages on judgment and restoration: Israel’s ingratitude Hos_6:4 to Hos_11:11

A.    More messages on coming judgment Hos_6:4 to Hos_11:7

1.    Israel’s ingratitude and rebellion Hos_6:4 to Hos_8:14

2.    Israel’s inevitable judgment Hos_9:1 to Hos_11:7

B.    Another assurance of restoration Hos_11:8-11

VI.    The fifth series of messages on judgment and restoration: historical unfaithfulness Hos_11:12 to Hos_14:8

A.    Judgment for unfaithfulness Hos_11:12 to Hos_13:16

1.    The deceitfulness of Israel Hos_11:12 to Hos_12:14

2.    Israel’s impending doom ch. 13

B.    Restoration in spite of unfaithfulness Hos_14:1-8

1.    An appeal for repentance Hos_14:1-3

2.    A promise of restoration Hos_14:4-8

VII.    Conclusion Hos_14:9

Bibliography

Andersen, Francis I., and David Noel Freedman. Hosea: A New Translation, Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible commentary series. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1980.

Barker, Harold P. Christ in the Minor Prophets. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, n.d.

Bright, John. A History of Israel. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1959.

Bruce, Frederick F. The Letter of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentary series. Revised ed. Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985.

Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. Handbook on the Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2002.

_____. "Hosea." In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, pp. 1377-1407. Edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1985.

_____. "A Theology of the Minor Prophets." In A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 397-433. Edited by Roy B. Zuck. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991.

Dyer, Charles H., and Eugene H. Merrill. The Old Testament Explorer. Nashville: Word Publishing, 2001. Reissued as Nelson’s Old Testament Survey. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001.

Ellison, H. L. The Prophets of Israel: From Ahijah to Hosea. Exeter, Eng.: Paternoster Press, 1969; American ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974.

Freeman, Hobart E. An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets. Chicago: Moody Press, 1968.

Harper, William Rainey. A Critical and Exegetical Commentery on Amos and Hosea. International Critical Commentaries series. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1905.

Harrison, R. K. Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969.

Hillers, D. Treaty Curses and the Old Testament Prophets. Biblica et orientalia 16. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1964.

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Toward an Old Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978.

Keil, Carl Friedrich. The Twelve Minor Prophets. 2 vols. Translated by James Martin. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949.

Kidner, Derek. Love to the Loveless: The Message of Hosea. The Bible Speaks Today series. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1981.

Longman, Tremper, III and Raymond B. Dillard. An Introduction to the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Mays, James Luther. Hosea: A Commentary. The Old Testament Library series. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969.

McComiskey, Thomas Edward. "Hosea." In The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expositional Commentary, 1:1-237. 3 vols. Edited by Thomas Edward McComiskey. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992, 1993, and 1998.

Morgan, G. Campbell. Living Messages of the Books of the Bible. 2 vols. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1912.

The New Scofield Reference Bible. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, William Culbertson, et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Patterson, Richard D. "Portraits from a Prophet’s Portfolio: Hosea 4." Bibliotheca Sacra 165:659 (July-September 2008):294-308.

Pritchard, James B., ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 3rd ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Silva, Charles H. "Literary Features in the Book of Hosea." Bibliotheca Sacra 164:653 (January-March 2007):34-48.

_____. "The Literary Structure of Hosea 1-3." Bibliotheca Sacra 164:654 (April-June 2007):181-97.

_____. "The Literary Structure of Hosea 4-8." Bibliotheca Sacra 164:655 (July-September 2007):291-306.

_____. "The Literary Structure of Hosea 9-14." Bibliotheca Sacra 164:656 (October-December 2007):435-53

Stuart, Douglas. Hosea-Jonah. Word Biblical Commentary series. Waco: Word Books, 1987.

Waltke, Bruce K., with Charles Yu. An Old Testament Theology: an exegetical, canonical, and thematic approach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Wiersbe, Warren W. "Hosea." In The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, pp. 315-32. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Cook Communications Ministries; and Eastbourne, England: Kingsway Communications Ltd., 2002.

Wolff, Hans Walter. Hosea. Translated by Gary Stansell. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974.

Wood, Leon J. "Hosea." In Daniel-Minor Prophets. Vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.

_____.The Prophets of Israel. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979.

Young, Edward J. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Revised ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960.