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by Peter Pett
COMMENTARY ON HOSEA THE PROPHET.
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
Hosea commenced prophesying in Israel in the latter part of the reign of Jeroboam II (c. 782-753 BC - co-regency from c. 793 BC), having been preceded as a prophet by Elisha (who prophesied over a period of fifty years from Ahab to Jehoash, Jeroboam’s father), Jonah (c. 760 BC), and the earlier years of Amos, who was his ‘older’ contemporary. The reign of Jeroboam II was one of continual success and prosperity for Israel, and as a result of earlier Assyrian activity which had weakened Aram (Syria), Jeroboam was able to establish an empire, which included Aram, to the north of Israel as far as Libo-Hamath, and in Transjordan down as far as the Dead Sea, fulfilling Jonah’s earlier prophecy (2 Kings 14:25). Trade routes were reopened, industry was expanded, and tolls from caravans using trade routes through his territory multiplied. Humanly speaking this was made possible because the powerful Assyria to the north was facing hostility from its northern neighbour Urartu who, allied with some Aramaean states to the south of Assyria, were seeking to quash Assyria’s power. Thus Assyria, having earlier devastated Damascus, was being kept too busy to bother itself too much with conquests further south, and this boded well for Israel.
However, in spite of outward success, the situation in Israel was not healthy. Archaeology has revealed, by means of excavations in Samaria, both the excessive grandeur and luxury of that fortress city, and the false worship against which Amos had inveighed (Amos 5:26; Amos 6:1-7; Amos 8:14). Building work continued on a large scale to the detriment of many (it always had a large human cost), and extreme wealth and extreme poverty went hand in hand (Amos 2:6-7). Empty religious ritual combined with Baalism abounded (Amos 5:21-24; Amos 7:10-17), and all the while Israel relaxed in the cocoon of a false sense of security (Amos 6:1-8). It was the social injustice, and the continuing and whole-hearted dependence of Israel on a syncretistic Yahwism, mixed with Baalism, with its attendant perversions, against which Hosea would inveigh.
Thus it was towards the end of Jeroboam II’s reign that Hosea appeared on the scene with his picture of Israel as an adulterous wife who had proved unfaithful to YHWH. It is clear from the introduction to his prophecy that his period of ministry was a long one, for it extended from the time of Uzziah (Jeroboam’s contemporary as King of Judah) to the early days of Hezekiah. This last fact might point to him as having in his later years, following the destruction of Samaria in c 722 BC, prophesied in Judah.
While Jeroboam lived Israel prospered, but after the death of Jeroboam things went rapidly downwards for Israel. His son was almost immediately assassinated and then there followed a series of kings, each of whom assassinated the previous one, indicating the turmoil in which Israel found itself. It was one of these (Pekah) who in alliance with Aram (Syria) would seek to force Ahaz of Judah into a coalition by means of an invasion (see Isaiah 7:0), in order to be able to face a resurgent Assyria. Meanwhile the appearance of Assyria on the horizon had resulted during the ministry of Hosea in invasion by her forces, subjection to tribute in the time of Menahem, and later hopeless resistance by both Aram and northern Israel under Pekah. This would eventually result in the destruction of both states and consequent exile for many.
Initially, as a consequence of the Assyrian invasion, Aram was totally subjugated, parts of Israel annexed, and Pekah, who had meanwhile replaced Menahem, was assassinated. The parts that were annexed were the northern and north-western part of northern Israel. These were the first to come under Assyria’s direct rule, with many being exiled and the whole area becoming an Assyrian province (2 Kings 15:29). This left Hoshea, who had replaced Pekah (2 Kings 15:30), to rule over a greatly restricted ‘Ephraim’, with Samaria as its capital, and that only with Assyria’s permission (2 Kings 17:3). But influential elements in Israel were strongly opposed to subjection to Assyria, and this led to subsequent rebellion, which then resulted in further retaliation, and then finally in full-scale invasion (2 Kings 17:4-5). The consequence of this was the destruction of Samaria (2 Kings 17:6) and the removal of the cream of the people from the land into exile (2 Kings 17:6), something evidenced in Assyrian records. (For the whole see 2 Kings 15:8 to 2 Kings 17:23). Israel (northern Israel) as a nation was no more.
We must remember that the slaughter throughout Ephraim (Israel) prior to the taking of Samaria would have been horrendous, with those who could taking refuge in Samaria, and the land would therefore have been left sparsely populated with many Israelites fleeing to Judah in the south, or to Egypt (the one place over which the Assyrians at the time had no control). But there would still be a foundation of Israelites left in the land, many of whom would have taken refuge in the mountains, and they would struggle to survive.
General Pattern Of The Prophecy.
Hosea based much of his prophecy on the curses found in Leviticus 26:0 and Deuteronomy 28-29. Many of these are continually mirrored by him throughout his prophecy, and this continual emphasis on their fulfilment was relieved only by the promises that once the curses had run their course God would again bless Israel (compare Leviticus 26:44-45; Deuteronomy 30:1-9 which had already promised this), and bring her back under the Davidic rule (Hosea 3:5). Thus Hosea constantly brings out the disobedience of Israel to the covenant, and the prospect of different kinds of judgment that will come upon them, described very much in terms of what we find in Leviticus 26:0 and Deuteronomy 28:0. These include famine, pestilence, pests, the proliferation of wild animals, the ravages of war, death by the sword, defeat, siege, occupation, desolation, fear, horror, degradation, exile, and the loss of all that they held dear.
He commenced his prophecy with a vivid picture of Israel as the adulterous and unfaithful wife of YHWH bearing adulterous children (Hosea 1:2-11), in contrast with Judah who had as yet not fallen quite so far (Hosea 1:7). This would be a situation which would result in Israel being stripped bare and dishonoured (Hosea 2:1-13), until YHWH would finally (in the distant future) woo her back to Himself (Hosea 2:14-23). In these two chapters is encapsulated the whole of salvation history. It includes, presented in prophetic form:
· The inter-Testamental return of Israel to the land in repentance. From poor beginnings this flowered into what was for a while an independent kingdom of some strength, and resulted in the relatively prosperous situation under Herod the Great who ruled at the time of the birth of Jesus.
· The coming of Israel’s Bridegroom in Jesus Christ, Who established a believing remnant in Israel as the foundation of His future ‘congregation’ (Matthew 16:18), that is of the new nation which would spring from the old (Matthew 21:43).
· The expansion of this true Israel to include converted Gentiles in the ministry of the early church.
· And the final establishment of God’s people in the new Heaven and the new earth.
Chapter 3 then describes Israel’s period of probation which will end in their return to YHWH their God and to David their king. Israel and Judah will once more be united under God’s appointed King. This will occur ‘in the latter days’. But we must remember in this regard that in the New Testament ‘the latter days’ began in the coming of Jesus and at Pentecost (see Act 2:17 ; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:1-2; Heb 9:26 ; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7). Thus it found its fulfilment in the remnant of Israel which responded to the coming of God’s Messiah, founding the new, true Israel (John 15:1-6).
This picture of the unfaithful wife is then followed by a series of prophecies in which the curses as found in Leviticus 26:0; Deuteronomy 28-29 are seen as coming on Israel, although these are interspersed with assurances that in the end there will be final blessing (Hosea 6:1-3; Hosea 11:10-11; Hosea 14:1-9). At this stage Judah, who were still in submission to ‘David’ (Hosea 11:12), were excluded from the condemnation (Hosea 1:7; Hosea 4:12), only to be included later (Hosea 5:5; Hosea 5:10; Hosea 5:12-14; Hosea 6:4; Hosea 8:14; Hosea 10:11; Hosea 12:2), the latter prophecies probably partly arising as a result of worshippers from Judah appearing at Israelite feasts in honour of Baal.
In the second part of Hosea references back to Israel’s past begin to abound, firstly in terms of cities which helped towards their downfall (Baal-peor, Gibeah, Bethel, Gilgal, Gilead), whose sins the people themselves were now imitating, and secondly in terms of the deliverance from Egypt and incidents from the life of Jacob.
These aspects of Hosea’s prophecies are all a reminder that the traditions found in the Pentateuch and the early histories were well known in Israel. However, were it not for the occasional promises of final blessing, the prophecy would have been a picture of unrelieved gloom (compare the similar situation in Amos, which leads up to Amos 9:11-15). And even then it is a long term hope of blessing that is in mind, rather than a short term one, for Israel (and Judah) are seen as having much to endure before they can enjoy God’s final mercy. Their near future was a picture of hopelessness, apart from for the few who genuinely responded to the preaching of the prophets and did therefore have hope of mercy in the future.
That mercy would in the event come in three stages:
· Firstly in the historical restoration of Israel back to their land in the pre-Christian era after the Exile, when much of what Hosea promises would be fulfilled. Israel would again prosper under Davidic rule (Zerubbabel), would be established in the land, and would eventually find her independence and prosperity for a period under the Maccabees. During this period many Israelites would have returned to the land in repentance, and a godly community was established who were no longer beholden to idols, experiencing great blessing at times under Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra and Nehemiah. But as always their godliness became diluted both as a result of the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things, and as a consequence of misdirected religious zeal (the same story all over again), so that when Jesus Christ came into the world they were not ready to receive Him. There did, however, always remain a godly remnant in Israel who were waiting for the coming of the Messiah (e.g. Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna as found in Luke 1-2, and see Hebrews 11:0), a remnant which was greatly increased by the preparatory work of John the Baptiser.
· Secondly in the new era of Jesus Christ (the Messiah), when a restored Israel (a new nation - Matthew 21:43; the true vine - John 15:1-6; a holy nation - 1 Peter 2:9) would be built up under the Kingly Rule of great David’s greater son, and that of his lieutenants (His Apostles) as they took their place on thrones ‘judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (i.e. having authority over the new ‘assembly of Israel’, the church, His ‘gathered ones’ - James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1), reaching out to the world with the message of salvation. The remnant of true believers, in Israel, grew into, and was now represented by, the true church of Jesus Christ composed of all true believers.
· Thirdly in what we call ‘the end days’, when a portion of the remaining unbelieving part of Israel will no doubt be brought back in repentance, from out of their unbelief, to their Messiah, preparatory for His second coming, becoming re-engrafted into the true Israel (the true believing church). See Romans 11:0. This process has already begun incipiently as a minority of Jews have already come to Christ, but it will probably grow in intensity towards the end. It is important to recognise, however, that they can only become acceptable to God by turning to Jesus Christ as their Messiah. There is no hope for Israel outside of Christ.
· Finally all will come to ultimate fulfilment in the eternal kingdom in the new Heaven and the new earth, when the promises to the patriarchs (see Hebrews 11:10-14), the subsequent promises through the prophets, and the promises of Jesus Christ Himself, will be fully accomplished, and Abraham and Israel will receive that ‘better country’ (Hebrews 11:16) which is the heavenly.
The Love Of God.
Central to Hosea is the concept of true love as revealed in YHWH as against the false love revealed in Baalism. True love is revealed in the love of YHWH for His people in spite of their unfaithfulness (Hosea 3:1; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:4; Hosea 14:4, and basic to the idea of Israel as YHWH’s wife), a love which will remain steadfast until He is able to restore them, and yet it is a love which will meanwhile chasten them for their wrongdoings, and deal with them severely because of their idolatry. This love has no sexual connotations, (except as latently depicted within marriage), but is concerned to inculcate a right attitude towards God along with right moral behaviour and a sense of belonging to YHWH. It demands in return a love that is obedient to the covenant and reveals itself in practical outworking, in total faithfulness to YHWH as the only true God and in a fulfilling of His covenant requirements in respect of social justice and concern for others.
In contrast with that pure love of YHWH is the sexuality involved in Israel’s worship of the Baalim who are seen as her ‘lovers’ (the root for ‘love’ occurs far more in relation to Baal than it does in respect of YHWH). Love for Baal (and for a debased idea of YHWH seen as parallel with Baal) is expressed very much in debased sexual activity, combined with sacrifices that mainly contribute food towards their festal occasions. Such sexual activity and feasting was basic to Baal worship. It was very much an ‘earthy’ religion aiming at bringing physical satisfaction rather than spiritual upliftment (although no doubt claiming to be spiritual), and trading on the idea of ‘love’ seen in its most vulgar form. There is indeed a very real sense in which much of modern religion, with its emphasis on ‘God loves us and we can therefore behave as we like because He will always forgive us and likes us to enjoy ourselves’, is based on the same criteria (compare Romans 2:3-5). God is seen by them as going along with man’s proclivities and their religion is seen by them as being part of their self-expression. It is a religion which is almost wholly man pleasing (even when it makes demands). It was against such a false view of God that Hosea was fighting, and that we must fight today.
Central also in Hosea is the idea of the covenant between God and His people (see especially Hosea 6:7 and Hosea 8:1):
· The covenant is basic to the concept of Israel as an unfaithful wife to her husband because she has breached the marriage covenant.
· It is Israel’s breaking of God’s covenant with her that is central to much of Hosea’s denunciation. Her following after idols, her social misbehaviour, and her trust in kings and foreigners are all seen as indicative of that breach of covenant.
· It is because the covenant is in shreds that judgment and exile are coming on her.
· And it is when they again truly respond to the covenant that YHWH will accept them and love them freely (Hosea 14:1-9; compare Hosea 1:10-11; Hosea 2:14-23; Hosea 3:5; Hosea 6:1-3; Hosea 11:10-11).
Thus the covenant and its importance is basic to Hosea’s ministry.
We can sometimes feel as we read the prophets that somehow it does not apply to us today. It appears to us to be simply a matter of history. After all, none of us are chasing after the Baalim. But, of course, that is not correct. For whilst history certainly changes, people do not change. They still have the same unbelief, the same tendency to seek ‘God-replacements’, and the same unwillingness to listen to God and obey His demands. And God is still the same, showing mercy to thousands but bringing His judgment, even if often delayed, on those who do not respond to Him.
If we think that we are nothing like the Israel of Hosea’s day then it is because we do not know our own hearts. For the truth is that we are very much like them. We still have the same tendency to hanker after illicit sex, and after other ‘gods’ which replace Jesus Christ in determining what we do and how we behave, and we still have the same tendency to ignore the fact of a judgment that is coming, and dismiss it as not likely of fulfilment. The truth is that, in the end, we face the same challenges as the people of Hosea’s day, even if they are dressed up in more modern guise, and we need to recognise that, apart from the ‘godly remnant’, we all face the same judgment.
Furthermore the ‘godly remnant’ need also to recognise the importance of heeding Hosea’s pleas that we turn to God from all God-substitutes, that we do not finally trust in political solutions or in our own ability. And we need to recognise that, tearing ourselves out of the grip of the world and all that it offers, we are called on to live our lives wholly in such a way as to please God.
Structure Of The Book.
We are probably justified in seeing the book as divisible into four main sections, each of which ends with a promise of restoration and blessing, and each of which, possibly to a large extent, follows on the other chronologically:
· The commencement - YHWH’s steadfast love for Israel and her extreme unfaithfulness to Him, which will, however, one day result in full restoration (Hosea 1:2 to Hosea 3:5).
· The early years (Jeroboam, Menahem) - Israel’s love affair with idols and with Assyria and warnings of what will be the result, with a reminder that if they return to Him He can provide all that Baal provides and more (Hosea 4:1 to Hosea 6:3).
· The later years (Pekah, Hoshea) - Israel’s growing spiritual bankruptcy and degraded behaviour, along with reliance on idols, foreigners, unworthy kings and themselves, in contrast with YHWH’s steadfast love for His failing son (Hosea 6:4 to Hosea 11:12).
· The final years (Hoshea) - an appeal to Jacob’s example which simply serves to reveal Israel’s parlous state and guarantees the coming judgment of destruction and the exile, but with the promise of final restoration and fruitfulness in view (Hosea 12:1 to Hosea 14:9).
This can then be expressed in more detail as follows:
YHWH’S STEADFAST LOVE FOR ISRAEL AND HER UNFAITHFULNESS TO HIM EXPRESSED IN TERMS OF THE MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP WITH AN ASSURANCE THAT ONE DAY THERE WILL BE FULL RESTORATION (Hosea 1:2 to Hosea 3:5 ).
1) Hosea’s Wife And Children Are To Be A Sign Of The Unfaithfulness Of Israel (Hosea 1:2 to Hosea 2:5 a).
2) Judgment Is To Fall On God’s Rejected People Because They Have Followed False Religion And False Gods, Not Realising Who It Was Who Was Really Their Benefactor. They Will Be Exposed And Shamed, Something Which Will Cause Them Once Again To Think Of YHWH (Hosea 2:5-13).
3) Hope Shines Through From The Future Because One Day YHWH Will Once Again Draw His People Back To Himself And Will Restore Her Situation, After Which Israel Will Dwell Securely, Having Become Betrothed To YHWH For Ever, And The Day Of Jezreel (God Sows) Will Come. They Will Once More Be His People And He Will Be Their God (Hosea 2:14-23).
4) Hosea Is Called On To Take Another Woman As Wife Who Was An Adulteress, But Was Not To Have Sexual Relations With Her. This Was As A Sign That Israel Too Was To Lose Her Relationship With YHWH, Although In The Latter Days That Position Would Be Reversed (Hosea 3:1-5).
ISRAEL’S LOVE AFFAIR WITH IDOLS AND WITH ASSYRIA IS DESCRIBED AND WARNINGS ARE GIVEN OF WHAT WILL BE THE RESULT IF THEY DO NOT ALTER THEIR COURSE ALONG WITH A REMINDER THAT IF THEY RETURN TO HIM HE CAN PROVIDE ALL THAT BAAL PROVIDES AND MORE (Hosea 4:1 to Hosea 6:3 ).
1) YHWH’s Indictment Of Israel And Warning Of The Consequences (Hosea 4:1-5).
2) YHWH Attacks Both Priests And People Because They Are So Taken Up With Sin That They No Longer Heed Him (Hosea 4:6-10).
3) Strong Wine and Illicit Sex Have Turned The People’s Minds So That They Look To Bits Of Wood Concerning Their Future And Play The Harlot On The Tops Of Mountains And Under Sacred Trees Rather Than Looking To YHWH (Hosea 4:11-19).
4) Judgment Is Announced On The Priests, People And Royal House Of Israel Because Of Their Going Astray In Their Ritual, Something Which Has Prevented Them From Turning To YHWH And Has Made Them Unacceptable To Him, And The Consequence Will Be That They Will Be Devoured (Hosea 5:1-7).
5) Ephraim Are To Prepare For An Invasion Which Will Lead To Their Desolation Whilst Judah Will Be Punished For Taking Advantage Of The Situation In Order To Seize Land. Both Will Suffer As A Consequence. Meanwhile A Plea From Ephraim To Assyria Will Not Solve Her Problems, Whilst YHWH Will Be Waiting For Their Repentance (Hosea 5:8-15).
6) The Eventual Return Of Israel To YHWH Is Depicted In Terms Of A Restoration To Health And A Resurrection, And Of The Blessing Of Rain Upon The Earth (Hosea 6:1-3).
ISRAEL’S GROWING SPIRITUAL BANKRUPTCY AND DEGRADED BEHAVIOUR ARE DESCRIBED ALONG WITH THEIR RELIANCE ON IDOLS, FOREIGNERS, UNWORTHY KINGS AND THEMSELVES, AND THIS IN CONTRAST WITH YHWH’S STEADFAST LOVE FOR HIS FAILING SON (Hosea 6:4 to Hosea 11:12 ).
1) YHWH Makes Clear His Current View Of Israel And Judah Because Of Their Spiritual Bankruptcy (Hosea 6:4-6).
2) The Sinfulness Of Israel/Ephraim Is Totally Exposed And Judah Is Briefly Warned Of What Will Come On Them As Well (Hosea 6:7 to Hosea 7:2).
3) The People And Their Kings Are Seen As Being Alike In Their Ways, Burning Hot In Their Sins, In Consequence Of Which Their Kings Are Assassinated One After The Other (Hosea 7:3-7).
4) In Turning To Foreign Nations For Their Support Instead Of Turning To YHWH, Ephraim Do Not Realise What The Consequences Will Be (Hosea 7:8-10).
5) Ephraim (Israel) Are Pictured As A Hapless Dove Fluttering Between Egypt And Assyria As They Endeavour To Avoid YHWH’s Net (Hosea 7:11-16).
6) When The Enemy Descend On Them Like An Eagle Because They Have Broken The Covenant And Cast Off What Is Good, Israel Will Cry In Vain, ‘”O God Of Israel We Know You” (Hosea 8:1-3).
7) Israel Have Laid False Foundations In Kingship And Religion, And YHWH, Despairing Of There Being Any Likelihood Of Their Becoming Pure, Will In Anger Both Destroy ‘The Calf Of Samaria’ And Minimise Their Harvest (Hosea 8:4-7).
8) Because Israel Have Deserted YHWH And Looked To Others, (Both Nations And Gods), In Spite Of Having Received His Abundant Instruction, He Will Desert Them And They Will Return To Egypt And See Their Cities Destroyed By Fire (Hosea 8:8-14).
9) Israel Must Not Rejoice At Their Harvest Feast Because Everything Will Shortly Be Taken From Them When They Are Exiled To Egypt/Assyria Because Of What They Have Become And Because Of How They Have Treated YHWH (Hosea 9:1-10).
10) Ephraim’s Future Is Bleak (Hosea 9:11-17).
11) Israel’s ‘Fruitfulness’ Is Revealed By Their Setting Up A Multiplicity Of Altars And Religious Pillars, Declaring That They Are Responsible To No One, And Do Not Fear God, But They Will Shortly Discover That They Are Responsible To Someone, Even To The Great King Of Assyria, And That All Their False Altars Will Be Torn Down By A God Whom They Will Certainly Fear (Hosea 10:1-8).
12) Israel Are Warned That They Face Another Gibeah Because Although He Had Chosen Them As His Servant (Like A Trained Heifer) They Have Responded With Disobedience And Wickedness. A Final War Of Destruction Is Therefore Inevitable Unless They Repent Deeply And Seek His Face (Hosea 10:9-15).
13) YHWH Describes How He Had Called His Son (Israel) Out Of Egypt And Watched Over Him As A Faithful Father, Training Him In The Right Way, Only For His Heart To Remain In Egypt So That He Would Inevitably Return There Again. Nevertheless God Promises That He Will Not Give Them Up, And That One Day He Will Call Them Out Of Egypt Again And He Will Cause Them To Dwell With Him (Hosea 11:1-12).
AN APPEAL IS MADE TO JACOB’S EXAMPLE WHICH SIMPLY SERVES TO REVEAL ISRAEL’S PARLOUS STATE AND GUARANTEES THE COMING JUDGMENT OF DESTRUCTION AND THE EXILE BUT IT IS WITH THE PROMISE OF FINAL RESTORATION AND FRUITFULNESS IN VIEW (Hosea 12:1 to Hosea 14:9 ).
1) YHWH Makes A Further Appeal To Ephraim And Judah On The Basis Of What Their Ancestor Jacob Did (Hosea 12:1-7).
2) Having Made His Appeal For Repentance Hosea Now Indicates That Ephraim Are So Confident In Themselves That Their Only Hope Will Be After They Have Been ‘Brought Down A Peg Or Two’ (Hosea 12:8-14).
3) Because Ephraim Have Offended So Deeply, And Have Rejected Their Deliverer, Judgment Upon Them Is Inevitable (Hosea 13:1-16).
4) Israel Are Called On To Return To YHWH With The Assurance That When They Do So YHWH Will Restore Them And Love Them Freely, And They Then Learn Of All The Good Things That He Has In Store For Them As A Result (Hosea 14:1-9).
the Fifth Week after Easter