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by Ger de Koning
The so-called ‘minor prophets’, of which Hosea is the first, are for most Bible readers not among the favorite books of the Bible. For me, too, they have long had the place they have in the Old Testament in the Bible: at the end. The fact that they are at the end of the Old Testament has nothing to do with their importance compared to the books that precede them. They got their place at the end because they belong there historically. They mainly relate to the last events that took place in and around Israel before the curtain fell for that people and the time after that.
The fact that during my study of the Bible they came at the end has to do with the fact that I did not know very well how to read them and what benefit I could derive from them. When I was asked to give Bible lectures about Hosea, I did not have to think long. In fact, it gave me the opportunity to remove this book of the Bible from the place at the end and put it first in my study of Holy Scripture.
What I was allowed to discover about Hosea and share through the lectures, I elaborated in this commentary in order to share it with the reader. I hope and pray that the reader will receive as much blessing as I do while studying this book of the Bible. May its effects become visible in our lives under the powerful action of God’s Spirit for the glory of the Lord Jesus.
Ger de Koning
Middelburg, October 2001 – revised February 2018 – translated October 2020
The minor prophets
The twelve bible books that are called ‘the minor prophets’ are perhaps the least read Bible books and therefore the least known to Christians. But these ‘minor prophets’ also belong to the inspired Scriptures from which we read: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16-17). For the prophets, and thus also for the ‘minor prophets’, there is the special word can be added: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is [a matter] of one’s own interpretation” (2Pet 1:20). This means that we need all the prophets and all the books of the Bible in order to compare Scripture with Scripture.
They are called ’the minor prophets’ because of the short content of their scriptures compared to prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. We can call these prophets are ‘major prophets’ because their books are much more voluminous. But for the authority with which their words are covered, it makes no difference at all. Both for what we have of Isaiah and Jeremiah and what we have of Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah and the eight following ‘minor’ prophets in the Bible, the contents are clothed with the same divine authority. Therefore, it is right and necessary that Christians also listen to the message of these twelve ‘minor prophets’, which some see as one whole and are then referred to as ‘The Twelve Prophets book’.
It is not clear why the twelve minor prophets are arranged as we have them in the Bible. They are not arranged chronologically. However, we can make a global classification according to the periods in which they prophesied. The prophets Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah and Nahum prophesied in the time of the Assyrian world empire. Habakkuk and Zephaniah prophesy at the time of the rise of Babel as a world power. The third period is after the Babylonian exile. In that time the prophets Haggaï, Zachariah and Malachi prophesy.
Hosea has a topical message
What God has to say to His earthly people through those twelve prophets speaks the same clear language to God’s heavenly people today. The question, however, is whether we still have ears to what God has to say. We will see how topical Hosea’s message is for the Christian of today. The Christian is anyone who claims to be a Christian, anyone who counts himself to be one of God’s people. As Hosea addresses the earthly people of God very directly, we may listen to Hosea in a spiritually derived sense. We will find the answer to the question: What is his message for God’s people today?
The person Hosea
Before we listen to “the word of the LORD which came to Hosea” (Hos 1:1), it is good to first notice some things about the person Hosea, about Hosea as a prophet and about the situation Israel finds itself in during his preaching. Against that background, many of his statements will become clearer to us.
The name Hosea means ‘savior’, ‘deliverer’. In that name, God’s intention with the preaching of this prophet is immediately expressed. He wants to deliver His people from the power of sin. His name reminds us of the name ‘Jesus’. Joseph is told to give the Son, Who Mary will give birth to, the name ‘Jesus’, with the explanation: “For He will save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). For that purpose, the Lord Jesus has come to earth. When God sends someone, to man in general or to His people in particular, He always does so for the good of that man and of His people.
What we also know of Hosea is that he is “the son of Beeri” (Hos 1:1). The name Beeri means “my source”. Doesn’t that say something about the source with which Hosea is connected? He does not draw the strength for his service from his own power, but from God. God is his source, from Him he obtains what he needs to do what he is commanded to do. Besides, with less he would never have been able to perform his service. Furthermore not much is known about the person Hosea.
A prophet points to sin
Of a prophet, it is also not so much important who he is, but what the message is that he brings. His person must, as it were, be hidden behind his message. Prophets are generally not very popular among the people. That is because they usually appear on stage when something is not right with God’s people. They appeal to the people for that. Unfortunately, it turns out that the people as a whole are not open to the voice and heart of God, interpreted by the prophets.
God, Who wants the people to confess their sin and return to Him, is rejected. This is clearly visible in the fate that many prophets have undergone. The Lord Jesus says in His lamentation about Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Mt 23:37).
The people are blind to the fact that God, in His love, sends prophets to them. He does so because a life in sin, with its back to God, never makes them happy. When guilt lies with the people of God through idolatry and other sins, prophets speak in the name of God to the heart and conscience of the people. They warn of the judgment that God must let come.
That is why a prophet is often seen as a troublemaker, a pessimist. Thus, Ahab calls the prophet Elijah “troubler of Israel” (1Kgs 18:17). Ahab, by his ungodly behavior, has called God’s judgment upon Israel and he blames Elijah for that. We also sometimes have a tendency to shift the blame for mischief that afflicts us to others, most of all to the one who points out our sinful behavior.
A prophet also points to blessing
But prophets do not only speak about judgment. Judgment is generally for the masses of the people who refuse to repent. Prophets also speak of blessing for every single person who listens to the Word of God. That promise of blessing is an encouragement to anyone who, in the midst of an unfaithful mass, wants to remain faithful to God and live according to His will, which He makes known in His Word.
There is a difference between a prophet like Hosea and prophets like Elijah and Elisha. There is no book of Elijah and Elisha in the Bible, but there is a book of Hosea. The preaching of Elijah and Elisha relates to the situation of their time and they announce judgment and blessing with that in mind. Their prophecies have no fulfilment in the distant future. They have not prophesied for the restoration of Israel in connection with the coming of the Messiah. This is precisely the case with the prophets of whom we have a book in the Bible.
The ‘writing’ prophets always point forward to the person of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom. This realm, called the millennial realm of peace, is still future. With Hosea we will find several references to that time and that realm.
The time in which Hosea lives
The time in which Hosea lives is not a time of poverty and famine, but a time of great prosperity and welfare. That does not make his preaching any easier. Just go and preach judgment when things are going well for people. If they go to church on top of that, they will be confirmed in their feelings that they are very faithful people after all. They reason: ‘If we would live badly and sinfully, we probably wouldn’t have it that well.’
At the time when Hosea is prophesying, there is nothing to indicate that judgment is imminent. Jeroboam II – to distinguish from Jeroboam I, the first king of the ten tribes kingdom after the division of Israel into two and ten tribes (1Kgs 12:20) – reigns from 793-753 BC. God brought Jeroboam to power because He feels sorry for the misery of the people in his time (2Kgs 14:25-27).
Before Jeroboam becomes king, the situation in Israel is critical. At the time of his grandfather Joahaz, the Syrians brought the people to the edge of the abyss (2Kgs 13:7). There is only a pittance left of the former power and glory of Israel. Under Joash, the father of Jeroboam, Israel scrawls up again (2Kgs 13:25). Under Jeroboam this restoration continues and he brings the country to great prosperity.
Times of prosperity
During that flowering period – you could speak of a golden age – Hosea preaches. Jeroboam is then in the second part of his reign. At that time people enjoy all the comforts and pleasure that prosperity brings, without having to fight for it themselves. They only know from the stories that battles were once fought, that defeats were suffered and that Israel was oppressed. What they enjoy in terms of prosperity and welfare has been thrown into their laps.
It is a well-known fact that prosperity rarely leads to behavior that pleases God. Rather, there is a tendency to forget God, especially if one has not had to make an effort for that prosperity. This phenomenon has been called ‘the disease of the third generation’. This ‘disease’ arises in this way: the first generation acquires, the second generation inherits, the third generation corrupts.
The first generation has made an effort to achieve prosperity. The second generation inherited that prosperity without much effort. That prosperity is still appreciated because that generation recognizes the effort it has taken and is (usually) grateful for it. However, the third generation has no connection whatsoever with the acquisition of prosperity and it does not mean anything to them, they do not appreciate what they possess.
Get blessings or fight for them
Literally this can be applied to the time in which we live. I am writing this at the beginning of the twenty-first century. My parents experienced the Second World War (1940-1945). After the war they had to dedicate themselves to the reconstruction of the Netherlands. That took a lot of effort. I heard their stories about oppression and poverty, but had no part in it. I was born and raised just after the war when there is enough to buy again and the means to buy are there too. Still, at first you should be careful. You could not buy everything you wished for.
However, our children, born in the 70s and later, grew up in wealth and prosperity. They are increasingly surrounded by luxury and things that make life fun and easy. It is thrown into their laps. But does the world look better now? Are today’s young people happier? Is there any asking for God? More and more young people are getting stuck in a society that only pays attention to them as far as it can enrich itself from these young people.
What applies in the social field also applies in the spiritual field. There are Christians who feel rich in their knowledge of spiritual blessings. They have heard a lot about the Lord Jesus, they read from the Bible at home, they visit meetings where they talk about Him. Yet all this has no effect in their lives. On the contrary, it seems that their knowledge of these spiritual blessings makes them nonchalant and indifferent. After all, they know everything, don’t they? But there is no real relationship with God and no life of thankfulness towards God.
In spite of all external prosperity, God, through Hosea, exposes the true condition of His earthly people. Through this prophet he also wants to expose the real condition of His ‘spiritual’ people, the church.
Duration of the preaching
As already mentioned, the task of Hosea is not easy. He clearly has the tide against him. Together with Amos and Micah, he has denounced the complete decay of Israel, the ten tribes, and announced the judgment of the entire people. Amos was sent by God as a prophet to the ten tribes during the first part of the reign of Jeroboam II. He is the forerunner of Hosea. But Amos was not listened to. Now it is Hosea’s turn.
The fact that the preaching of Amos has hardly produced any results does not make Hosea’s task any easier. Yet he courageously goes to work and prophesies against the evil of his days. Through Hosea, God sends one of the last warnings to His people. That is why Hosea so penetratingly addresses the seriousness of the sin of the people and announces the judgment that will surely come if they do not listen. If the people do not heed his call, it will be over for them as a nation.
The period of Hosea’s action spans more than fifty years. All this time he has witnessed the rebellion of Israel against God. He loves his people and therefore their condition breaks his heart. From the long time Hosea prophesies, we see how long-suffering God is. In Hosea he gives His people a last chance to return to Him. Hosea may even have witnessed the deportation of the ten tribes under the reign of Israel’s last king, his namesake Hosea. The deportation takes place in the year 722 BC. He has been warning the people until the last moment.
How Hosea preaches
In the fourteen chapters that his Bible book contains, Hosea admonishes the people and warns and reprimands them because they have deviated from the LORD. He speaks to the people in examples and powerful language. He does not do so from above, but as someone who belongs to that people. His statements touch himself, they go through him like a sword. Hence the sorrow of his heart which can be heard through his prophecy every time, especially in Hosea 4-10.
His style is extraordinarily powerful and full of sudden transitions. He goes from threats to promises, from a short word of blessing to a scene of bloodshed, from past favors enjoyed to future contractions of labor that will suddenly come over Ephraim. He speaks this way because judgment is at hand.
He is in a hurry to say everything that can contribute to the repentance of the people. Sometimes he changes the subject so quickly and abruptly that it is better to speak of utterances than speeches. In addition to judgment, however, he also shows again and again how God will finally act in grace with the people and bring a turn in their fate.
The area where Hosea prophesies
The area where Hosea preaches is the ten tribes realm. It seems that he himself also belongs to the ten tribes realm, because he speaks of “our king” (Hos 7:5), by which he indicates to be one with the people he speaks to. Hosea speaks to Israel and Ephraim. Ephraim is the main tribe of the ten tribes realm. He plays the leading role in the unfaithfulness of the people. Occasionally Hosea also speaks about Judah (Hos 4:15; Hos 5:5), but hardly to Judah. Hosea speaks to Israel (or Ephraim). The names Israel and Ephraim are mentioned together almost eighty times, that of Judah only fifteen times.
The division of the book
The division of the book is quite simple. There are three parts:
1. Hosea 1-3. Here we find how Israel behaves and what God therefore has to do with these people. We also find the councils of God towards Israel and His ways with them, how He will fulfill His plan with them, despite the attitude of the people. Each of these chapters ends with the blessing that God ultimately has for the people.
2. Hosea 4-13. Herein are the exhortations which the prophet in the name of the LORD speaks to the people.
3. Hosea 14. Now we hear the call of the prophet to the people to repent and how the people will obey to it. This conversion will take place in the last days, which is in the end time. The result of the conversion is described.
What the book of Hosea should do with us
Before we listen to “the word of the LORD which came to Hosea” (Hos 1:1) one more remark. It is possible to receive the full benefit of what God has to say to us through the service of Hosea. This happens especially when, while studying this book of the Bible, we are seized by the fierce fear and strong feelings that fill the heart of this man of God because of:
1. The love for his people and
2. The grief of which he knows that God is done with their unfaithfulness.
If the Word of God can go through us like this and take possession of us, we will share God’s feelings about the things around us in the world in general and what is happening in Christianity in particular. This attitude gives the Holy Spirit ample opportunity to do His shaping work in us. Its impact will be seen in our lives, as a blessing for our environment and above all as a joy and honor for God.
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26