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by Joseph Exell
§ 1. SUBJECT OF THE BOOK
IN the Book of Hosea we have a summary of what the prophet taught and felt during his official career of some thirty years. His lot was cast in mournful times. If he did not live to see the actual destruction of the kingdom of Israel, he beheld it in prophetic vision a very short time before the terrible consummation; and the causes that led to the overthrow were plain and open to his clear insight. Under Jeroboam II. Israel had been prosperous and successful, as she had never been since the days of David and Solomon. She had recovered much of the territory which those monarchs had held, and restored the ancient boundaries which had marked out the promised inheritance. As it is recorded in 2 Kings 14:25, 2 Kings 14:28, "He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain... and warred, and recovered Damascus." But the curse of idolatry still remained, accompanied with other sins which defection from the Lord and the worship of strange gods always brought in their train. Impiety, luxury, profligacy, everywhere abounded; and when Jeroboam died, and the strong hand which had checked the open turbulence and lawlessness of the people was removed, a scene of anarchy and confusion ensued, which gave sure token of coming vengeance. His son Zechariah was assassinated, after a reign of six months, by Shallum, who usurped the crown, and, after wearing it for one month, was himself murdered by one of his generals, Menahem. This cruel and wicked tyrant occupied the throne thus gained by bloodshed for ten years. His reign is chiefly remarkable for the appearance of the Assyrians in the Holy Land under Pul, who assumed the name of Tiglath-Pileser. To escape the attack of these stern invaders, Menahem became tributary to the Assyriaus, and was confirmed in his kingdom at the price of a thousand talents of silver, which he exacted from the wealthiest of his subjects. His son Pekabiah, after a troubled reign of two years, was murdered by one of his officers named Pekah, who seized the throne, and held it for twenty years according to the present reading in 1 Kings 15:27; but there is some error in the number, and probably we ought to read "two" instead of "twenty," as he was conquered by the Assyrians and put to death B.C. 734, which was the second year of his reign. This man, in order to strengthen his position, formed a close alliance with Rezin of Damascus, and the two kings turned their arms against Judah, in the hope of overthrowing the dynasty of David. Jotham, the King of Judah, in his extremity, called in the aid of the Assyrians, who devastated the territory of Damascus, took Samaria, put Pekah to death, and appointed Hoshea king in his place, exacting from him a large yearly tribute. The discontinuance of the tribute, which was effected by the secret machinations of Egypt, under promises of support which were never fulfilled, led to another inroad of the Assyrians under Shalmaneser IV., the successor of Tiglath-Pileser. Hoshea was carried into captivity; and, after a siege of three years, Samaria fell into the hands of Sargon, who had seized the Assyrian crown on the death of Shalmaneser, B.C. 722. Many of the people were deported into foreign countries, their places being partially filled by the introduction of heathen settlers, while much of the land became wholly depopulated. Thus ended the kingdom of Israel, brought to this miserable issue because its rulers and its people had done evil before the Lord continually.
The moral condition of the people, as we conclude from the historical books and from intimations in Hosea's own pages, was exceedingly corrupt; that of Judah indeed was notoriously bad (as we see later from the denunciations of Micah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah), but it never fell into such a depth of degradation as its northern sister. The very priests, instead of instructing the people in the duties of pure religion, taught the very opposite, encouraging a worship which led to gross excesses, welcoming the spread of any impiety which occasioned them material advantage (Hosea 4:8; Hosea 5:1), and even waylaying and murdering those who were passing on their way to Jerusalem (Hosea 6:9). The kings and rulers set an example of drunkenness and debauchery, and delighted in the contemplation of the general iniquity (Hosea 7:3-5). These calamitous results were the natural issue of corrupt worship. The Israelites, indeed, worshipped Jehovah, and observed certain imitations of the Mosaic ritual and festivals; but they used these forms without entering into their spirit and meaning; they confounded Jehovah with the local Baalim, they employed unlawful symbols in their worship, and "the calf of Samaria" (Hosea 8:5) destroyed all the spirituality of their religion, bringing about that gross declension in morals of which we have abundant proof. This formal Jehovah-Baal worship led, as Professor Cheyne has well remarked, to distrust of God, and to reliance on foreign aid as a source of strength. The Assyrians always referred their military successes to the favor of the gods whom they adored; they made a point of depreciating and insulting the deities of conquered nations. This spirit the Israelites had imbibed. They distrusted their own national Divinity; they doubted his power to protect them, and, as Hosea complains (Hosea 8:9, Hosea 8:10), "hired lovers among the nations" — appealed either to Assyria or Egypt for that assistance which they ought to have asked from the Lord. To these consequences the schism inaugurated by Jeroboam the son of Nebat had inevitably led. And, though this separation was now of long standing, and had been accepted for ages as an accomplished fact, for which no remedy was likely to be forthcoming, Hosea cannot view it unmoved; it is a sin in his eyes, and calls for punishment. He looks forward indeed vaguely to a healing of the schism; but he has no formal revelation to announce on this subject, and speaks rather as his longings lead him, than as directed to foretell a future union of the nation under one head (Hosea 1:11; Hosea 3:5). The success and prosperity of Israel, and her temporary immunity from foreign invasion, had never led to a reformation or improvement of religion; the notion of a national repentance and a general purification of worship did not occur to rulers or people as feasible or desirable; and when trouble befell them, instead of seeing therein the punishment of their sin and a motive for conversion, they were only alienated further from Jehovah, and more bent on departing from the national devotion to the one God. They would not see that the wrath of God was ready to fall upon them, and that their only hope lay in averting his judgment by reversing the policy of many years and turning with their whole hearts unto him whom they had virtually rejected.
Such was the condition of Israel when the Spirit of the Lord moved Hosea to utter his warnings, rebukes, and prophecies. We may trace the varying fortunes of Israel in his different addresses. Prosperity, declension, ruin, are severally depicted in his pages. In the two great divisions of the work, the first part (Hosea 1-3.) plainly was written during the lifetime of Jeroboam, and the rest of the book falls into the later years of anarchy and immorality; the former declaring how the way for the judgments of God was being prepared by the laxity, idolatry, and luxury that prevailed, the latter containing threats, denunciations, and exhortations, intermingled with some happy promises to comfort the pious amid the announcements of the punishment whose arrival they had already begun to feel. The book is rather a summary of Hosea's teaching during his long ministry, than an orderly collection of his addresses. It seems to have been gathered into a volume in the beginning of Hezekiah's reign, and committed to writing in order to impress its leading thoughts on his contemporaries. Whether the prophet removed to Judaea in the latter part on his life, and there wrote the-substance of his prophecies, is uncertain. It seems probable, at any rate, that the collection soon found its way into the southern kingdom, and was there preserved among the records of the prophets when Ephraim was overtaken by ruin. The analysis of the latter division, which is the chief portion of the work, is very difficult, and many commentators have given up the task as hopeless, while others have divided and subdivided in a way and on a plan of which we may be quite sure the author knew nothing.
The book commences with a symbolical action. To show the unfaithfulness of Israel and the wonderful long-suffering of God, the prophet is made to perform a public act which would demonstrate the two truths in the most plain and emphatic manner. He is bidden to take as wife one Gomer, an unchaste woman, or one of such a character that she would be likely to prove unfaithful, and to have children whose legitimacy might well be questioned. From this union are born three children, whose names are significative of the fate of the people. He then announces the chastisements which God is about to inflict, which will bring a recognition of sinfulness and a return to the Lord, who will, in consequence, make with them a new covenant of peace and righteousness (Hosea 1:2.); and by another symbolical action, wherein the adulteress is separated from all intercourse, are shown the infidelity of Israel and her coming captivity (Hosea 3:0.). This first part gives the key-note to the whole book, the rest of which is only an expansion and elaboration of the facts and threats previously announced. The corruption and idolatry of Israel are sternly condemned, the destruction of the kingdom is foretold, and the pious are briefly comforted with the hope of eventual restoration (Hosea 4-14.). The three stages of the connection with Gomer represent the feeling of God for the unfaithful Israel: there is first the hatred of the sin, and its stern denunciation; there is next the punishment of it in degradation and misery; and lastly there is pity for the repentant and assurance of ultimate pardon.
As there is no logical connection between the several portions of this section of Hosea's prophecy, it is impossible to draw out a regular argument for it. We can give only a summary of the contents of these "scattered leaves of a sibyl's book," as Bishop Lowth calls them. The prophet begins by denouncing the universal immorality of these "children of Israel," and their idolatry promoted by the priests, which led infallibly to moral outrages. Judah is warned not to participate in her sister's sin (Hosea 4:0.). He turns to the priests themselves, who are only a snare and a cause of ruin instead of being wholesome guides, and upbraids them and all the chiefs who thought to escape punishment by invoking foreign aid, but who by this means only rendered it more inevitable (Hosea 5:0.). In view of the chastisement threatened, he calls on the people to repent and to turn to the Lord, who punishes in love (Hosea 6:3). He dilates on God's long-suffering and the various ways in which he has tried to lead them to better things. Bat in vain; all ranks and classes are corrupt; the very leaders are the chief offenders, and Judah follows in their train. They had learned heathen morals, they fly to heathen aid, they seek not protection from the Lord: therefore "woe unto them!" (Hosea 6:4-7:16). They have rejected the covenant, set up princes for themselves, and worshipped Jehovah under unlawful symbols; and retribution shall come upon them by foreign invasion, the ruin of their cities, and captivity (Hosea 8.-9:9). In order to show that the vengeance is richly deserved, the prophet recounts the blessings which God has poured upon them and the ill return which they have made, and announces the overthrow of the centers of idolatry and cruel treatment at the hands of enemies (Hosea 9:10-10:15). Be returns to the contrast between God's dealings and the people's ingratitude, which merited the severest punishment; but even here God's love and pity protest against his justice: "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? My heart is turned within me, my compassions are kindled together." They must indeed pay the penalty of their sin, but, when they have profited by this stern lesson, in due time they shall be forgiven and restored. And once more Hosea rebukes the degenerate nation, and sadly shows how it is ripe for judgment. Be sets before them the example of their father Jacob, and laments that they have fallen away from his obedience and piety into Canaanitish ways which shall bring destruction upon them. Their obstinate persistence in idolatry, notwithstanding the forbearance and goodness of God toward them, will prove their ruin. But there is hope of salvation. Only let Israel return unto the Lord with humility and entire faith, confessing her guilt and casting away her trust in false gods, and God will receive her and bless her largely. "Who is wise," concludes the prophet, "and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? For the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but transgressors shall fall therein".
To the question — Does the book contain prophecies of the Messiah? we must return a qualified answer. Hosea seems barely to mention Messiah himself, but he has many allusions to the Messianic epoch, both in its human and its Divine idea. The restoration of Israel is conceived as a return to the Promised Land after due chastisement and probation, and a return to God's favor under a second David (Hosea 3:5). This restoration is presented under various figures. It is the remarriage of an adulterous wife after a course of severe discipline; it is Israel's resurrection from the dead after she has been fast bound in the chains of judicial death; it is a banished son's recall from weary exile. And this restoration is accompanied with blessings material and spiritual, peace and fertility in the land, an outpouring of God's Spirit upon the people. The writers of the New Testament regarded Hosea's prophecy as containing much that was distinctly Messianic. Our blessed Lord himself twice cites Hosea 6:6. "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice," as containing the true genius of his religion (see Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7). The terrors of the last day are expressed in Hosea's language: "They shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us" (see Luke 23:30; Revelation 6:16). Looking on Israel as a type of Christ, St. Matthew quotes Hosea's saying, "I called my son out of Egypt", and applies it to the Incarnation, the flight into Egypt, and the return to the Holy Land (Matthew 2:15). For a proof of the calling of the Gentiles in gospel days, St. Paul (Romans 9:25, etc.) refers to Hosea 1:10; Hosea 2:23. When St. Paul speaks of Christ "rising again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:4), some think that he is alluding to Hosea's prophecy (Hosea 6:2), "After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight."
§ 2. AUTHOR AND DATE.
The genuineness of the prophecies of Hosea has never been widely called in question, nor has the book that bears his name been successfully distributed among several authors differing in character, culture, and date — a division of labor, which has played a great part in the criticism of other prophets. All we know about Hosea is supplied by himself, and the information is of the scantiest nature. His name, written in the Septuagint ̓Ωσηέ, and in the Latin Vulgate Osee, signifies "help," "deliverance," or, if taken as Jerome views it, as an abstract for concrete, "helper," "savior." It occurs twice elsewhere — first as borne by Joshua, in Numbers 13:8, Numbers 13:16 (9, 17, Hebrew), and secondly as the name of the last king of Israel (2 Kings 15:30, etc.), and is a shortened form of the word "Jehoshea," which would mean, "the Lord is my help." St. Jerome says that in some manuscripts, both Greek and Latin, he found the name written "Ause," which, he adds, is unintelligible. But this variation may be explained by the Assyrian monuments, in which the name assumes the form of "Ausi." Hosea was the son of Beeri, whom the Jews erroneously identified with Beerah, prince of the Reubenites, who was carried into captivity by Tiglath-Pileser (1 Chronicles 5:6), and whom they supposed to be a prophet, because they held the opinion that when a prophet's father is mentioned by name, the latter himself belongs to the prophetical class. Pseudo-Epiphanius ('De Vit. Proph.,' 11.) and Pseudo-Dorotheus ('De Vit. Proph.,' 1.) assign him to the tribe of Issachar, and assert that he was born at a place named Belemoth, which Jerome calls Bethsemes (Beth-shemesh), within the territories of that tribe, now identified with the ruined site, Ain esh Shemsiyeh, in the Jordan valley. There is no reason to doubt that he belonged to the northern kingdom, and exercised his office there. Topographical and other allusions make this clear. Thus he says, "Ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread abroad upon Tabor" (Hosea 5:1); Samaria is continually mentioned; the writer is familiar with Gilead (Hosea 6:8), Gilgal, Lebanon, and Beth-el, which he names Bethaven (Hosea 4:15). He calls the kingdom of Israel simply "the land" (Hosea 1:2), and the King of Israel "our king" (Hosea 7:5). He shows au intimate acquaintance with the history and circumstances of Israel. His whole oracle is directed towards Ephraim; and Judah is named only in passing and incidentally. That the kings of Judah are mentioned in the heading (Hosea 1:1) is probably owing, as Keil says, to the inward relation which Hosea assumed towards that kingdom in common with all true prophets. Seeing there the only legitimate representative of the theocracy, while recognizing the civil authority of other rulers, he fixes the date of his prophecy primarily by the era of the kings of the people of God. The only fact in the prophet's life with which we are acquainted is his marriage with a woman called Gomer at God's command (Hosea 1:2, etc.): "Go, take unto thee," said God to him, "a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms," by which union he was to offer to his people a symbolical representation of their unfaithfulness and of God's forbearance. The transaction has seemed to many so unnatural and revolting that they have refused to admit the literal fulfillment of the command, and relegate the whole matter to the regions of allegory, drama, or vision. But, as Dr. Pusey says, "there is no ground to justify our taking as a parable what Holy Scripture relates as a fact. There is no instance in which it can be shown that Holy Scripture relates that a thing was done, and that with the names of persons, and yet that God did not intend it to be taken as literally true. There would then be left no test of what was real, what imaginary; and the histories of Holy Scripture would be left to be a prey to individual caprice, to be explained away as parables when men disliked them." So we must believe that Hosed took this woman as wife, and became by her the father of three children, to whom at God's command he gave symbolical names. The first was called Jezreel, in commemoration of the evil memories attached to that place now to be visited for; the second, a daughter, Lo-ruhamah, "Not pitied," in token of the universal destruction threatened; and the third, Lo-ammi, "Not my people," a warning of the rejection and dispersion of Israel. After a time, the evil of Gomer's nature reasserted itself. She fled from her husband, and proved unfaithful to him. But her paramour did not long care for her; and Hosea, seeking her, found her deserted and despised, perhaps sold as a slave. Yet his love was not yet wearied out. He purchased her freedom, and took her to his house, no longer to enjoy the privileges of an honored wife, which she had flung away, but to repair the past and atone for the sin by mortification, seclusion, and tears. The chief difficulty in regarding this transaction as real and historical is that it would have taken some years to accomplish. But, on the other hand, it was more impressive for the people to have this acted parable placed before their eyes for a long continuance. Nor were such lengthened symbolical actions unusual in the domain of prophecy (comp. Isaiah 20:3; Ezekiel 4:5, Ezekiel 4:6, Ezekiel 4:9). A merely recounted vision must have had a far weaker effect than this piece of real life. If Gomer was known to be of loose character, her conversion into the chaste wife of a holy prophet must have led people to think and to inquire into the cause of this seemingly anomalous proceeding. "Nee culpandus propheta," says St. Jerome, "si meretricem converterit ad pudicitiam, sea potius laudandus quod ex mala bonam fecerit. Non enim qui bonus permanet ipse polluitur, si societur malo; seal qui malus est in bonum vertitur, si bona exempla sectetur. Ex quo intelligimus non prophetam perdidisse pudicitiam fornicariae copulatum, sed fornicariam assumsisse pudicitiam quam anted non habebat."
We know nothing of the latter days of Hosea. It is probable that he finished his life in Judaea, as the preservation of his book amid the ruin of Samaria is thus more easily accounted for. The place and date of his death are equally unknown. A tomb is shown as his between Nablus and Es-salt; but there is no ground for supposing that it has ever contained the prophet's remains.
Hosea stands first in the book of the minor prophets, which some have supposed to be arranged in chronological order. But closer investigation does not confirm all the details of this arrangement. We may safely say that the books are distributed chronologically thus far: first are placed those seers that prophesied in the Assyrian period, viz. Hosea to Nahum; then those in the Chaldean era, Habakkuk and Zephaniah; and lastly, those in post-exilian times. To Hosea is assigned the foremost place, because, although not the longest of the twelve (for Zechariah is somewhat more lengthy, the Masorites reckoning one hundred and ninety-seven verses for Hosea, and two hundred and eleven for Zechariah), it is the most important of those in the first cycle. Joel and Amos were probably prior to Hosea; but he exercised his office much longer than any of the others, and this, perhaps, was one reason for giving him the position which he occupies in the Hebrew Bible. A mistranslation has played some part in the matter. The first clause of the second verse, "The beginning of the Word of the Lord by Hosea," which is a kind of heading to the first part of the book, has been rendered, "The beginning of the Lord hath spoken by Hosea," as if the sentence referred to his priority compared with the other prophets, whereas it appertains only to the predictions to which it is prefixed.
In the title, the genuineness of which is generally allowed, Hosea is said to have prophesied "in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, King of Israel." The statement seems to be plain enough till it is examined carefully; it is then seen to need some elucidation. Uzziah began to reign (if we accept the dates ascertained by Assyrian monuments) B.C. 792, and died in B.C. 740, and sixteen years each being allotted to Jotham and Ahaz, and Hezekiah's first regnal year being assumed to be B.C. 708, — thus, supposing that Hosea began his career in Uzziah's first year, at the age of twenty (which, indeed, is at least ten years too young), and continued it for a year or two in Hezekiah's time, he must have been one hundred and five in the early part of that monarch's reign, and his ministry must have lasted between eighty and ninety years; while, if we consider that he prophesied till the close of Hezekiah's life, the duration of his ministry is inconceivable and absurd. But it is quite unnecessary to suppose that Hosea's prophetic activity extended over the entire reigns of the kings named in the title. A limitation is added by the introduction of the name of Jeroboam II., who reigned from B.C. 790 to B.C. 749; so that we may conclude that Hosea entered upon his office during some part of Uzziah's reign which was contemporary with Jeroboam, or about B.C. 755, which was some six years before its close. This reckoning would allow about fifty years for the duration of Hosea's prophetical life. But late discoveries have given reason to suppose that Jotham was joint sovereign with his father, and that Ahaz also was sole monarch for a very short time. This alters Hezekiah's date from B.C. 708 to B.C. 728, and allows for the prophet's ministry some thirty years. Our view of the prophet's date is, however, not dependent wholly upon the title of the book. Further information can be derived from the contents. First, as to the close of his ministry. Though he foretold the fall of Samaria, he does not mention the capture of the city and the destruction of the kingdom of Israel in the sixth year of Hezekiah, B.C. 722, an event of such overwhelming importance that he could not have passed it over unnoticed, had he been alive when it occurred. The predictions concerning this event seem to have been uttered about the middle of the reign of Hoshea, the last king, which would be just at the time of the accession of Hezekiah. Secondly, as to the commencement of his prophetical office. He could not have prophesied long under Jeroboam. The long and prosperous reign of that king, when the fortunes of Israel were raised to an unprecedented height, could never have given occasion to the descriptions of confusion, anarchy, and disaster which frequently occur (comp. Hosea 7:1, Hosea 7:7; Hosea 8:4). Such allusions seem rather to belong to an interregnum that followed on the death of Jeroboam, or to the time of his successors in the kingdom. The first portion of the book (Hosea 1-3.) was written in Jeroboam's time, since it speaks of the fall of the house of Jehu as still future (Hosea 1:4), and the kingdom of Israel as still prosperous. But the remainder belongs to times subsequent, when a rapid decline had begun, and events were leading up to the fatal consummation. The prophet, indeed, complains in an early chapter (2:16, 17) of the dishonor done to the Lord by confounding him with local Baalim, but he does not denounce the gross moral corruption of the people till he is constrained to do so by the view of their condition and actions after Jeroboam's death.
When we said above that the genuineness of the title is generally allowed, we did not mean that it had never been questioned, but that the balance of authority was greatly in its favor. Of late years, Kuenen, Dr. Cheyne in his commentary, and Professor W.I. Smith ('The Prophets of Israel,' lect. 4.), have thrown discredit on the heading as being a careless combination of two distinct traditions referring to different parts of the prophet's writings. The mention of Jeroboam, they say, rightly fixes the date of the first part of the prophecy; the rest of the heading was added by a scribe during the exile, probably the same who wrote the names of the same four kings of Judah at the beginning of Isaiah; and it is argued that, as it is plain that when Hosea 14:3 was written the Jews had not finally broken with Assyria, the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah could not synchronize with any part of Hosea. But the final rupture with Assyria, which led to the fall of Samaria, took place B.C. 722, in Hezekiah's sixth year; and Hosea's prophecy might have been written in the earliest portion of Hezekiah's reign, which, as we said above, would be sufficient to prove the correctness of the title. The notion of the scribe's blunder is a mere conjecture, in itself improbable, and certainly not required by any internal consideration.
§ 3. GENERAL CHARACTER.
"Osee," says St. Jerome, "commaticus est, et quasi per sententias loquens" — "Hosea is concise, and speaks in detached sentences." This is one reason of the obscurity of his writings. Conciseness, combined with a fullness of meaning which needs much expansion to be intelligible, occasions perplexity and confusion. The truth is that the prophet feels too deeply to express himself calmly; the sorrow and the indignation within him force utterance, without regard to logical connection or careful arrangement. Verse is bound to verse simply by identity of feeling; the prevalence of one pathetic coloring unites the several parts of the picture. He cannot stoop to the niceties of parallelism and to the scrupulous balancing of clauses; his grief, his upbraidings, his pleadings, are artless and untrammeled. In his vehemence he oversteps the bounds of grammatical propriety, and hurries the hearer along, regardless of rules which a less feeling writer would have been careful to observe. Abruptly he passes from one image to another without fully developing either; he draws his figures from the field, the mountain, the forest. God's loud call to repentance, awful and far-reaching, is the roar of a lion; in the fierceness of his anger he is swift as the leopard, furious as the she-bear bereft of her whelps. At another time he uses mild chastisements, as the moth frets a garment (Hosea 5:12); or he sends blessing like the gentle spring and autumn rain (Hosea 6:4) even upon Ephraim, whose goodness is a morning cloud, which glistens in the sun and soon disappears. The repentant Israel shall receive the clew of God's grace, and shall grow pure as the lily, strong as the cedar, ever beautiful as the olive tree, fragrant and sweet as the wine of Lebanon. Such accumulations of figures, unexplained and isolated, tend to obscurity. Another cause that occasions the same result is the use of peculiar words and unusual constructions. Hosea, too, is very fond of paronomasias. "Shoot (tremach) brings no fruit (kemach)" (Hosea 8:7); the altars in Gilgal are as "heaps of stones (gallim)"; Beth-el," the house of God," has become Beth-aven, "the house of vanity".
Yet, with all his obscurity, how touching and winning is his utterance! Amid all his threats and denunciations his tender love for Israel beams forth. He rejoices when he has a message of mercy to deliver; and his style loses its stern abruptness, and he dwells with placid delight on the prospect before him; his impetuous boldness sobers down into the gentle flow of calm confidence. But this happier aspect of his prophecy is rarely seen. His message is generally full of mourning and woe. The prophets of Judah could look forward to a restored people and a repaired polity. The ten tribes had no separate future. Their temporal punishment was irreversible. It was only as associated with, and absorbed in, Judah that they could hope for restored vitality. This feeling colors all the prophet's language and darkens his mental view. His love is disquieted and saddened by the prospect; yet his trust in Jehovah triumphs over all. His confidence in the spiritual mercies which are in store for Israel is unshaken, and abides with him as a living certainty. To this confidence he is guided by his unalterable conviction of the Lord's love for his people; he has learned that "God is love." Hosea's wedded life is the outward symbolizing of this truth, and taught that man should in like manner love his fellow. Those who were embraced in the arms of one Father should love as brethren; they should have that filial affection to Jehovah which none could feel for a heathen deity, and that affection for one another which can reign only in a united family. These ideas will be found to run through the whole book, and to underlie each rebuke, prophecy, and expostulation.
If we come to consider what influence earlier Israelite literature exercised upon Hosea, we have but few facts on which to rest. References to past Jewish history, such as the story of Jacob, the wanderings in the wilderness, the exodus, the destruction of Sodom and the other cities, the transactions connected with Achor (Hosea 2:15), Gibeah, and Baal-peor (Hosea 9:10), presuppose acquaintance with Genesis, Joshua, and Judges, as we know of no other sources whence such information could be obtained. Many parallelisms of idiom and language are found in Hosea and the Pentateuch, which show that the latter was extant in the northern kingdom, and can only be accounted for by its existence in a written form. The prophet himself refers to the Pentateuch when he introduces God as saying (Hosea 8:12), "Though I wrote for him my Law in ten thousand precepts, they were counted as a strange thing." The "manifold [or, 'ten thousand,' according to the 'Chethib'] precepts" is a rhetorical exaggeration for the numerous laws contained in the Pentateuch, of which the Jews reckoned two hundred and forty-eight affirmative and three hundred and sixty-five negative. The parallelisms have been noticed by many commentators. The following are a few of them: Hosea 1:2, "The land hath committed great whoredom;" and Leviticus 20:5, "All that go a-whoring after them, to commit whoredom with Molech." Hosea 1:10, "The number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea;" and Genesis 22:17 and 32:12.Hosea 4:8, "They eat up the sin offering of my people;" according to Leviticus 6:17. Hosea 4:10, "They shall eat, and not have enough;" and Leviticus 26:26. Hosea 11:1, "I called my son out of Egypt;" and Exodus 4:22, "Say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son." Hosea 5:6, "With their flocks and with their herds they shall go to seek the Lord;" and Exodus 10:9, "With our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast unto the Lord." Hosea if. 17, "I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name;" and Exodus 23:13.Hosea 6:2, "We shall live in his sight;" and Genesis 17:18. Hosea 12:5 (6, Hebrew), "Even the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is his memorial;" and Exodus 3:15, "This is my Name for ever, and this is my memorial." Hosea 9:4, "Bread of mourners;" and Deuteronomy 26:14.Hosea 12:9, "Will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles;" and Leviticus 23:43.Hosea 8:13, "They shall return to Egypt;" and Deuteronomy 28:68, "The Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again." Hosea 9:10, "I found Israel... in the wilderness;" and Deuteronomy 32:10.
Other books beside the Pentateuch have had some influence on the writings of Hosea. He was certainly cognizant of the Song of Songs. The relation of Israel to Jehovah under the figure of a wife with her loving spouse, which runs through Hosea's prophecy, is equally familiar to us in the Canticles. The expressions at the end of the book, "He shall grow as the lily.., his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon," recall the description of the bride in Song of Song of Solomon 2:2 and 4:11, "As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters... the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon." So again, "Plead with your mother, plead," reminds one of the passage (Song of Song of Solomon 8:2) where the bride desires to lead the bridegroom into her mother's house. Amos, too, Hosea's immediate predecessor, was not unknown to him. He reproduces Amos's allusion to Beth-avert (Hosea 4:15, etc.; Amos 1:5; Amos 5:5). He borrows (Hosea 8:14) the formula with which Amos concludes his seven denunciations (Amos 1:11), "I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof." He uses Amos's figure of the lion's roar for the voice of God's vengeance.
§ 4. LITERATURE.
As Hosea is the first of the minor prophets, it will be useful to name the chief commentators upon the whole twelve, or many of them, before mentioning those who have treated the particular book before us.
In this category, of the Fathers and early writers we may cite St. Ephraem Syrus, who annotates seven of the twelve; Cyril of Alexandria, followed in a great measure by Theophylact in his commentary on five of the twelve; Theodoretus of Cyrus; St. Jerome, epitomized by Haimon. Of mediaeval and later writers, the most useful are: Albertus Magnus, Ribera, Arias Montanus, Rupertus, Cornelius Lapide, Sanctius (Sanchez), , Luther, Calvin,; J. Lightfoot, 'Versiones,' Works, 10.; Staudlin; Hitzig, 'Die zwolf Klein. Proph.,' 4th edit. by Steiner; Henderson, 'The Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets'; Archbishop Newcome, 'An Attempt,' etc., new edit.; Hengstenberg, 'Christology;' Umbreit, 'Die Klein. Proph. '; Keil, translated in Clarke's 'Theol. Lib.;' Dr. Pusey, 'The Minor Prophets'; Reinke, 'Die Messianish. Weissag.'; Schegg, 'Die Klein. Proph.'; Cowles; Trochon, in 'La Sainte Bible avee comment.'; Knabenbauer, in 'Cursus Scripturae Sacral'; Ewald, 'Die Prophet. d. Alt. Bundes'; W.R. Smith, 'The Prophets of Israel'. There are a few Jewish commentators which will be found useful, viz. Jarchi, translated into Latin by Breithaupt; Kimchi, and Aben Ezra, all in Buxtorf's 'Rabbinical Bible,' vol. 3.. Of special commentaries devoted to Hosea, we note the following: Origen, 'Selecta in Oseam,' Migne, 11.; Ephmem Syrus, 'Explanatio in Oseam,' Opera, 5.; Luther, 'Enarratio;' 'Abarbanel, 'Comment. in Hosea'; Burroughes, 'Exposition'; Schmidt; Pocock, 'Commentary'; Van der Hardt, 'Hoseas Illustrat.'; Neale, 'Transl. and Comm.'; Kuinoel 'Hoseae Oracula'; Bishop Horsley; Stuck, 'Hoseas Propheta'; Simson, 'Der Proph. Hosea erklart'; Schroder; Wilnsehe, 'Der Proph. ubers.'; Drake, 'Notes'; Prof. Cheyne, in the 'Cambridge Bible for Schools'.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29