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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Hosea Book of

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Hose´a (deliverance), the first, in order of the Minor Prophets in the common editions of the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as of the Alexandrian and Vulgate translations. We are not, however, to suppose from this that he flourished earlier than all the other Minor Prophets: by the best computation he seems to have been preceded by Joel, Amos, and Jonah.

The figments of Jewish writers regarding Hosea's parentage need scarcely be mentioned. His father, Beeri, has been confounded with Beerah, a prince of the Reubenites, . So, too, Beeri has been reckoned a prophet himself, according to the rabbinical notion that the mention of a prophet's father in the introduction to his prophecies, is a proof that sire as well as son was endowed with the oracular spirit.

Whether Hosea was a citizen of Israel or Judah has been disputed. Various arguments have been adduced to show that he belonged to the kingdom of Judah; but we accede to the opinion that he was an Israelite, a native of that kingdom with whose sins and fates his book is specially and primarily occupied.

The superscription of the book determines the length of time during which Hosea prophesied. That period was both long and eventful, commencing in the days, of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, extending through the lives of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and concluding in the reign of Hezekiah. Uzziah and Jeroboam were contemporary sovereigns for a certain length of time. If we compute from the first year of Uzziah to the last of Hezekiah, we find a period of 113 years. Such a period appears evidently to be too long; and the most probable calculation is to reckon from the last years of Jeroboam to the first of Hezekiah.

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This long duration of office is not improbable, and the book itself furnishes strong presumptive evidence in support of this chronology. The first prophecy of Hosea foretells the overthrow of Jehu's house; and the menace was fulfilled on the death of Jeroboam, his great-grandson. 'This was the word of the Lord which he spake unto Jehu, saying, Thy sons shall sit on the throne of Israel unto the fourth generation; and so it came to pass' (). A prediction of the ruin which was to overthrow Jehu's house at Jeroboam's death, must have been uttered during Jeroboam's life. This fact defines the period of Hosea's commencement of his labors, and verifies the inscription which states that the word of the Lord came to him in the reign of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, king of Israel. Again, in , allusion is made to an expedition of Shalmanezer against Israel; and if it was the first inroad against king Hoshea, who began to reign in the twelfth year of Ahaz, the event referred to by the prophet as past must have happened close upon the beginning of the government of Hezekiah (). Data are thus in like manner afforded to corroborate the statement that Hezekiah had ascended the throne ere the long-lived servant of Jehovah was released from his toils. The extended duration indicated in the superscription is thus borne out by the contents of the prophecy.

The years of Hosea's life were melancholy and tragic. The vials of the wrath of heaven were poured out on his apostate people. The nation suffered under the evils of that schism which was effected by the craft of him who has been branded with the indelible stigma—'Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin.' The obligations of law had been relaxed, and the claims of religion disregarded; Baal became the rival of Jehovah, and in the dark recesses of the groves were practiced the impure and murderous rites of heathen deities; peace and prosperity fled the land, which was harassed by foreign invasion and domestic broils; might and murder became the twin sentinels of the throne; alliances were formed with other nations, which brought with them seductions to paganism; captivity and insult were heaped upon Israel by the uncircumcised; the nation was thoroughly debased, and but a fraction of its population maintained its spiritual allegiance (). The death of Jeroboam II was followed by an interregnum of ten years. At the expiry of this period, his son Zechariah assumed the sovereignty, and was slain by Shallum, after the short space of six months (). In four weeks Shallum was assassinated by Menahem. The assassin, during a disturbed reign of ten years, became tributary to the Assyrian Pul. His successor, Pekahiah, wore the crown but two years, when he was murdered by Pekah. Pekah, after swaying his bloody scepter for twenty years, met a similar fate in the conspiracy of Hoshea; Hoshea, the last of the usurpers, after another interregnum of eight years, ascended the throne, and his administration of nine years ended in the overthrow of his kingdom and the expatriation of his people. 'The Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight. So was Israel carried out of their own land to Assyria unto this day' (; ).

The prophecies of Hosea were directed especially against the country whose sin had brought upon it such disasters—prolonged anarchy and final captivity. Israel, or Ephraim, is the people especially addressed. Their homicides and fornications, their perjury and theft, their idolatry and impiety, are censured and satirized with a faithful severity. Judah is sometimes, indeed, introduced, warned, and admonished; but the oracles having relation to Israel are primary, while the references to Judah are only incidental. The prophet's mind was intensely interested in the destinies of his own people. The nations around him are unheeded; his prophetic eye beholds the crisis approaching his country, and sees its cantons ravaged, its tribes murdered or enslaved. No wonder that his rebukes were so terrible, his menaces so alarming, that his soul poured forth its strength in an ecstasy of grief and affection. Invitations, replete with tenderness and pathos, are interspersed with his warnings and expostulations. Now we are startled with a vision of the throne, at first shrouded in darkness, and sending forth lightnings, thunders, and voices: but while we gaze, it becomes encircled with a rainbow, which gradually expands till it is lost in that universal brilliancy which itself had originated (Hosea 11, 14).

The peculiar mode of instruction which the prophet details in the first and third chapters of his oracles has given risen to many disputed theories. We refer to the command expressed in —'And the Lord said unto Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms,' etc.; , 'Then said the Lord unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress,' etc. What was the precise nature of the transactions here recorded? Were they real events, the result of divine injunctions literally understood, and as literally fulfilled? or were these intimations to the prophet only intended to be pictorial illustrations of the apostasy and spiritual folly and unfaithfulness of Israel? The former view, viz. that the prophet actually and literally entered into this impure connubial alliance, has found advocates both in ancient and modern times. Fanciful theories are also rife on this subject. Luther supposed the prophet to perform a kind of drama in view of the people, giving his lawful wife and children these mystical appellations. Newcome thinks that a wife of fornication means merely an Israelite, a woman of apostate and adulterous Israel. Hengstenberg supposes the prophet to relate actions which happened, indeed, actually, but not outwardly. Some, with Maimonides, imagine it to be a nocturnal vision; while others make it wholly an allegory. The first opinion has been refuted by Hengstenberg at great length and with much force. Besides other arguments resting on the impurity and loathsomeness of the supposed nuptial contract, it may be argued against the external reality of the event, that it must have required several years for its completion, and that the impressiveness of the symbol would therefore be weakened and obliterated. Whichever way this question may be solved; whether these occurrences be regarded as a real and external transaction, or as a piece of spiritual scenery, or only, as is most probable, an allegorical description; it is agreed on all hands that the actions are typical.

Expositors are not at all agreed as to the meaning of the phrase rendered 'wife of whoredoms;' whether the phrase refers to harlotry before marriage, or to unfaithfulness after it. It may afford an easy solution of the difficulty, if we look at the antitype in its history and character. Adultery is the appellation of idolatrous apostasy. The Jewish nation were espoused to God. The contract was formed on Sinai; but the Jewish people had prior to this period gone a-whoring. , 'Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, and they served other gods.' Comp. , in which it is implied that idolatrous propensities had also developed themselves during the abode in Egypt: so that the phrase may signify one devoted to lasciviousness prior to her marriage. The marriage must be supposed a real contract, or its significance would be lost. , 'I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.' Children of whoredoms refers most naturally to the two sons and daughters afterwards to be born. They were not the prophet's own, as is intimated in the allegory, and they followed the pernicious example of the mother.

The names of the children being symbolical, the name of the mother has probably a similar signification, and may have the symbolic sense of 'one thoroughly abandoned to sensual delights.' The names of the children are Jezreel, Lo-ruha-mah, and Lo-ammi. The prophet explains the meaning of the appellations. It is generally supposed that the names refer to three successive generations of the Israelitish people. Hengstenberg, on the other hand, argues that 'wife and children both are the people of Israel: the three names must not be considered separately, but taken together.' But as the marriage is first mentioned, and the births of the children are detailed in order, some time elapsing between the events, we rather adhere to the ordinary exposition. Nor is it without reason that the second child is described as a female.

The first child, Jezreel, may refer to the first dynasty of Jeroboam I and his successors, which was terminated in the blood of Ahab's house which Jehu shed at Jezreel. The name suggests also the cruel and fraudulent possession of the vineyard of Naboth, 'which was in Jezreel,' where, too, the woman Jezebel was slain so ignominiously (; ). But as Jehu and his family had become as corrupt as their predecessors, the scenes of Jezreel were again to be enacted, and Jehu's race must perish. Jezreel, the spot referred to by the prophet, is also, according to Jerome, the place where the Assyrian army routed the Israelites. The name of this child associates the past and future, symbolizes past sins, intermediate punishments, and final overthrow. The name of the second child, Lo-ruhamah, 'not-pitied,' the appellation of a degraded daughter, may refer to the feeble, effeminate period which followed the overthrow of the first dynasty, when Israel became weak and helpless as well as sunk and abandoned. The favor of God was not exhibited to the nation: they were as abject as impious. But the reign of Jeroboam II was prosperous; new energy was infused into the kingdom; gleams of its former prosperity shone upon it. This revival of strength in that generation may be typified by the birth of a third child, a son, Lo-ammi, 'not-my-people' (). Yet prosperity did not bring with it a revival of piety; still, although their vigor was recruited, they were not God's people.

The peculiarities of Hosea's style have been often remarked. His style, says De Wette, 'is abrupt, unrounded, and ebullient; his rhythm hard, leaping, and violent. The language is peculiar and difficult.' Lowth speaks of him as the most difficult and perplexed of the prophets. Eichhorn's description of his style was probably at the same time meant as an imitation of it:—'His discourse is like a garland woven of a multiplicity of flowers: images are woven upon images, comparison wound upon comparison, metaphor strung upon metaphor. He plucks one flower, and throws it down that he may directly break off another. Like a bee, he flies from one flowerbed to another, that he may suck his honey from the most varied pieces. It is a natural consequence that his figures sometimes form strings of pearls. Often is he prone to approach to allegory—often he sinks down in obscurity' (comp.;;;;; ).

Hosea, as a prophet, is expressly quoted by Matthew (). The citation is from . is quoted twice by the same evangelist (; ). Quotations from his prophecies are also to be found in , References to them occur in , and in . Messianic references are not clearly and prominently developed. This book, however, is not without them; but they lie more in the spirit of its allusions than in the letter. Hosea's Christology appears written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God, on the fleshly tables of his heart. The future conversion of his people to the Lord their God, and David their king, their glorious privilege in becoming sons of the living God, the faithfulness of the original promise to Abraham, that the number of his spiritual seed should be as the sand of the sea, are among the oracles whose fulfillment will take place only under the new dispensation.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Hosea Book of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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