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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments


- Hosea

by Joseph Benson



THE Twelve Prophets, whose prophecies must now come under our consideration, are called the Minor, or Lesser Prophets: not because their writings are of less authority or usefulness than those of the four preceding, but only because they are shorter. Their prophecies, Josephus tells us, were put into one volume, by “the men of the great synagogue,” in Ezra’s time: of which learned and pious body of men, the last three of these twelve are supposed to have been themselves members. St. Stephen is thought to have referred to this volume, when, quoting a passage from Amos, Acts 7:42, he says, “As it is written in the book of the prophets.” And it is certain that, in the early ages of the Christian Church, both Jews and Christians, in enumerating the canonical books of the Old Testament, reckoned the twelve minor prophets to be one book. They are not arranged, either in the Hebrew or Greek copies, exactly in the order of time in which they lived; for Jonah, who was the oldest of them, is placed the sixth in order in these copies. Archbishop Newcome’s arrangement of them, according to the time in which they prophesied, is as follows: Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Nahum, Joel, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Obadiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

Hosea, whose prophecy first claims our attention, began his public ministry in the latter part of the reign of Jeroboam II. king of Israel, about 785 years before Christ, twenty before the Olympiads, and more than forty before the foundation of Rome; and he continued to prophesy till the reign of Hezekiah king of Judah. And since he was of age to choose a wife for himself when he first entered upon his office, he must have lived to extreme old age. If, as many commentators have supposed, he witnessed the accomplishment of the judgment which he denounced upon Samaria and the ten tribes, he must have attained his hundredth year at least. But it is more “probable that he was removed before that event took place. For in all his prophecies the kingdom of Samaria is mentioned, as sentenced indeed to excision; but as yet subsisting, at the time when they were delivered.” “Inasmuch as he reckons the time of his ministry by the succession of the kings of Judah, the learned have been induced to believe that he himself belonged to that kingdom. However this may be, it appears that he took a particular interest in the fortunes of the sister kingdom. For he describes, with much more exactness than any other prophet, the distinct destinies of the two great branches of the chosen people, the different judgments impending on them, and the different manner of their final restoration; and he is particularly pathetic in the exhortations he addresses to the ten tribes. It is a great mistake, however, to suppose that his prophecies are almost wholly against the kingdom of Israel; or that the captivity of the ten tribes is the immediate and principal subject, the destiny of the two tribes being only occasionally introduced. Hosea’s principal subject is that which is the principal subject indeed of all the prophets, the guilt of the Jewish nation in general, their disobedient, refractory spirit, the heavy judgments that awaited them, their final conversion to God, their re-establishment in the land of promise, and their restoration to God’s favour, and to a condition of the greatest national prosperity, and of high pre-eminence among the nations of the earth; under the immediate protection of Messiah, in the latter ages of the world. He confines himself more closely to this single subject than any other prophet. Comparatively, he seems to care but little about other people. He wanders not, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, into the collateral history of the surrounding heathen nations. He meddles not, like Daniel, with the revolution of the great empires of the world. His own country seems to engross his whole attention; her privileges, her crimes, her punishment, her pardon. He predicts indeed, in the strongest and clearest terms, the ingrafting of the Gentiles into the church of God. But he mentions it only generally; he enters not, like Isaiah, into a minute detail of the business. He alludes to the calling of our Lord from Egypt; to the resurrection on the third day; he touches, but only in general terms, upon the final overthrow of the antichristian army in Palestine, by the immediate interposition of Jehovah; and he celebrates, in the loftiest strains of triumph and exultation, the Saviour’s final victory over death and hell. But yet, of all the prophets, he certainly enters the least into the detail of the mysteries of redemption. His country, and his kindred, are the subject next his heart. Their crimes excite his indignation, their sufferings interest his pity, and their future exaltation is the object on which he fixes with delight.” Bishop Horsley. Very similar is the character given of this prophecy by Archbishop Newcome, though in few words: “He chiefly addresses Israel, but introduces frequent mention of Judah. He not only inveighs against the vices of the people, but sharply arraigns the conduct of their kings, princes, and priests. Like many of the Hebrew prophets, he tempers denunciations of God’s vengeance against an idolatrous and vicious people with promises of abundant mercies in store for them; and his transitions from one of these subjects to the other are rapid and unexpected.”

As to the style of Hosea, it indicates antiquity; it is nervous, acute, concise, strongly marked with the graces of poetry, and retains the sententious brevity of the more ancient prophets whose writings are handed down to us. Though this, doubtless, was at first esteemed a peculiar elegance, yet, in the present devastations of the Hebrew language, it is productive of obscurity; and though the general subject of the prophet be plain enough, yet there is scarce any other so difficult and intricate: see Bishop Lowth’s Twenty-first Prelection. “He delights,” says another acknowledged critic, “in a style which always becomes obscure when the language of the writer ceases to be a living language. He is commatic, to use St. Jerome’s word, that is, concise, more than any other of the prophets. He writes in short, detached, disjointed sentences, not wrought up into periods, in which the connection of one clause with another is made manifest to the reader by an artificial collocation, and by those connective particles which make one discourse of parts which otherwise appear as a string of independent propositions. His transitions from reproof to persuasion, from threatening to promise, from terror to hope, and the contrary, are rapid and unexpected. His similes are brief, accumulated, and often introduced without the particle of similitude. Yet these are not the vices, but the perfections, of the holy prophet’s style; for to these circumstances it owes that eagerness and fiery animation which are the characteristic excellence of his writings, and are so peculiarly suited to his subject.” The same learned author observes elsewhere, “The style of Hosea is poetical in the very highest degree. In maxim, solemn, sententious, brief; in persuasion, pathetic; in reproof, severe; in its allusions, always beautiful and striking, often sublime; rich in its images; bold in hyperbole; artificial, though perspicuous, in its allegory; possessing, in short, according to the variety of the matter, all the characters by which poetry, in any language, is distinguished from prose. And there cannot be a doubt that the composition was originally in the metrical form. But as the division of the hemistichs [verses] is not preserved in the MSS. nor in any of the versions, I consider the metrical form as lost.” Bishop Horsley. We shall only add to the above, that, with respect to the alleged obscurity of Hosea’s style, this may easily be accounted for from the duration of his ministry, which, being prolonged during the reigns of four kings of Judah, must, of course, include a very considerable space of time and a great variety of events, or matters, to which they refer, and we have now only a small volume of his principal prophecies; and these transmitted to us in a continued series, with no marks of distinction as to the times in which they were published, or the subjects of which they treat. There is, therefore, no cause to wonder if, in perusing these prophecies, we sometimes find ourselves in a similar predicament with those who consulted the scattered leaves of the sibyl.