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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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HOSEA . The name of the prophet Hosea, though distinguished by the English translators, is identical with that of the last king of Israel and with the original name of Joshua; in these cases it appears in the EV [Note: English Version.] as Hoshea. Hosea, the son of Beeri, is the only prophet, among those whose writings have survived, who was himself a native of the Northern Kingdom. The main subject of the prophecy of Amos is the Northern Kingdom, but Amos himself was a native of the South; so also were Isaiah and Micah, and these two prophets, though they included the Northern Kingdom in their denunciations, devoted themselves mainly to Judah.

Hosea’s prophetic career extended from shortly before the fall of the house of Jerohoam ii. ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 746) to shortly before the outbreak of the Syro-Ephraimitish war in b.c. 735 a period of rapidly advancing decay following on the success and prosperity of the reign of Jeroboam ii. He began to prophesy within some 10 or 15 years of the prophetic activity of Amos at Bethel, and continued to do so till some years after Isaiah had made his voice heard and his influence felt in the Southern Kingdom. Influenced himself probably by Amos, he seems to have exercised some influence over Isaiah; but these conclusions must rest on a comparison of the writings of the three prophets. Our direct knowledge of Hosea is derived entirely from the book which bears his name; be is mentioned nowhere else in the OT.

If the account given in the 1 JJames 3:1-18 rd chapters of Hosea were allegory, as many ancient and some modern interpreters have held, our knowledge of Hosea would be slight indeed. But since these chapters are clearly not allegorical, there are few prophets whose spiritual experience is better known to us. In favour of an allegorical interpretation the clearly symbolical character of the names of Hosea’s children has been urged; but the names of Isaiah’s children Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz are also symbolical (cf. Isaiah 8:18 ). Moreover, if the narrative were allegorical, there would be just as much reason for the names of Hosea’s wife and her father as for the names of the children being symbolical; on the other hand, in real life it was within the power of the prophet to give symbolical names to the children, but not to his wife or her father. The names of Hosea’s wife, Gomer, and her father, Diblaim are not symbolical. Further, the reference to the weaning of Lo-ruhamah in Isaiah 1:8 is purposeless in allegory, but natural enough in real life, since it serves to fix the interval between the birth of the two children.

The command in Isaiah 1:2 has seemed to some, and may well seem, if prophetic methods of expression are forgotten, impossible except in allegory. It is as well, therefore, to approach the important narrative of Hosea with a recollection of such a method of describing experience as is illustrated by Jeremiah 18:1-4 . This describes a perfectly familiar scene. The incident, translated out of prophetic language, is as follows. On an impulse Jeremiah one day went down to watch, as he must often have watched before, a potter at his work; but on this particular day the potter’s work taught him a new lesson. Then he recognized (1) that the impulse that had led him that day was from Jahweh, and (2) that the new suggestion of the potter’s wheel was a word from Jahweh. So again, Jeremiah 32:6 f. describes what we should term a presentiment; after it was realized, it was recognized to have been a word from Jahweh ( Jeremiah 32:8 ). Interpreted in the light of these illustrations of prophetic methods of speech, the narrative of Hosea 1:1-11 gives us an account of the experience of Hosea, as follows. Driven by true love in which, probably enough, Hosea at the time felt the approval, not to say the direct impulse of Jahweh, Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. After marriage she proved unfaithful, and Hosea heard that the woman whom he had been led by Jahweh to marry had had within her all along the tendency to unfaithfulness. She was not at the time of marriage an actual harlot, but, had Hosea only fully understood, he would have known when he married her, as these years afterwards he has come to know, that when Jahweh said, ‘Go, marry Gomer,’ He was really saying ‘Go, marry a woman who will bestow her love on others.’ His new, sad knowledge does not make him feel less but more that his marriage had been ordered of God. Not only through the love of youth, but even more through the conflict and the treachery and the ill-return which his love has received, Jahweh is speaking. Had Hosea spoken just like Jeremiah, he might have continued: ‘Then I discovered that my wife had played the harlot, and that my children were not mine. Then I knew that this was the word of Jahweh, and Jahweh said unto me: Even as the bride of thy youth has played the harlot, even so has My bride, Israel, played the harlot: even as thy children are children of harlotry, even so are the children of Israel children of harlotry, sons of the Baals whom they worship.’

Apparently Hosea reached the conclusion that none of the children were his; he calls them without exception ‘children of harlotry’ (Hosea 1:2 ). But the name Jezreel ( Hosea 1:4 ) certainly does not suggest that at the birth of his firstborn he was already aware of his wife’s unfaithfulness, the name of the second, Lo-ruhamah (‘Not pitied,’ Hosea 1:6 ), does not prove it, and even that of the third child, Lo-ammi (‘Not my kinsman,’ Hosea 1:9 ), may merely carry further the judgment on the nation expressed unquestionably in the first and probably in the second. In any case we may somewhat safely infer that Hosea became a prophet before he had learned his wife’s unfaithfulness, and that in his earnest preaching he, like Amos, denounced inhumanity as offensive to God; for this is the purpose of the name Jezreel; the house of Jehu, established by means of bloodshed and inhumanity ( Hosea 1:4 ), is about to be punished. ‘Kindness not sacrifice’ ( Hosea 6:6 ) must have been the ideal of religion which from the first Hosea held up before his people.

It has generally been inferred that Hosea’s wife subsequently left him (or that he put her away), but that at last in his love for her, which could not be quenched, he rescued her from the life of shame into which she had sunk (ch 3). And this perhaps remains most probable, though Marti has lately argued with much ability (1) that ch. 3 does not refer to Gomer, (2) that, unlike ch. 1, ch. 3 is allegorical, and (3) that ch. 3 formed no part of the original Book of Hosea. Be this as it may, it is clear that although the circumstances of Hosea’s married life were not the cause of his becoming a prophet, they do explain certain peculiar characteristics of his message and personality: his insistence on the love of God for Israel, and on Israel’s sin as consisting in the want of love and of loyalty towards God; and the greater emotional element that marks him as compared with Amos. At the same time, it is important not to exaggerate the difference between Amos and Hosea, of to lose sight of the fact that Hosea not less than Amos or Isaiah or Micah insisted on the worthlessness of religion or of devotion to Jahweh which was not ethical ( Jezreel , Hosea 1:4; Hosea 6:6 ). In considering the greater sympathy of Hosea with the people whom he has to condemn, it must he remembered that he was of them, whereas Amos, a native of the South, was not.

G. B. Gray.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Hosea'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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