Hosea and the Book of Hosea
Young People's Bible Dictionary
by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)
Hosea, meaning "salvation." A prophet in the Northern Kingdom, Israel, beginning in the reigh of Jeroboam II, about 750 B.C. Rom. 9:25.
Hosea, The Book of. O.T. book containing the teachings of the prophet Hosea that were collected after his death. The first part of the book compares God's love for the people of Israel with that of a husband who takes back his unfaithful wife. The second part is a summary of the prophet's teaching.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition, edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.
Hosea, the Book of, the twenty-eighth book in the ot. Hosea (Heb., ‘[God] has saved’), the prophet to whom it is attributed, was the son of Beeri and was active in the last years of the Northern Kingdom. His Hebrew name is the same as that of the Northern Kingdom’s last king (usually spelled Hoshea in English; the Hoshea of Num. 13:8 is a reference to Joshua).
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
The Book of Hosea
I. Hosea’s marriage: symbol of God’s relationship with Israel (1:1-3:5)
C. The husband’s love (Hosea and God; 3:1-5)
II. Details and consequences of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God (4:1-13:16)
D. Judgment in light of Israel’s history with God (9:10-13:16)
III. Life beyond judgment (14:1-9)
Date: It has been difficult for scholars to pinpoint the exact dates of Hosea’s prophetic career, although most agree that it extended from about 745 b.c., when Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam II, was killed, to the end of this king’s reign. Whether Hosea lived to the fall of Samaria in 721 b.c. is not known. Moreover, while this temporal range makes good historical sense, it must be noted that explicit textual references for precisely dating specific prophecies are lacking—though scholars have made bold attempts to concretize the prophecies. Thus, texts like Hos. 7:11; 9:13; and 12:2 have been interpreted as reflecting the attempt of King Hoshea to seek out the support of Egypt against Assyria; and 13:10, 15 have been taken, correspondingly, as referring to Assyria’s subsequent punishment.
Author: Even as the precise dates of Hosea’s prophecies are in question, so are the details of his life. Thus, even the opening unit (chaps. 1-3), which deals with a marriage between the prophet and one Gomer and their subsequent divorce and remarriage (an episode symbolizing the relationship between God and Israel), is contradictory (cf. chaps. 1-2 with 3) and subject to various interpretations—including nonhistorical ones (i.e., the episode is a dream or parable). Further, the details of the abominations and sins described in chaps. 4-9 cannot be precisely fixed with respect to Israelite history or the prophet’s life. Chaps. 10-13 deal with God’s oracles of judgment on Israel and express other aspects of the complex relationship between God and Israel. Chap. 14 concludes the book with an appeal for repentance and hope in restoration. Because of divergences in tone, voice, and content, some modern scholars have separated Hosea 1-3 from 4-14 and seen the latter as a deutero-Hosean anthology. But this position has not won wide support, and most scholars prefer to treat the entire work as the prophecies of one prophet.
Themes: Hosea shares many themes with other classical prophets and, like them, uses symbolic names and actions. Three of his children are called Jezreel, Lo Rukhama (Heb., ‘unloved’), and Lo Ammi (Heb., ‘not my people’), indicating God’s warning to Israel. He describes God’s anger at Israel’s sins, which include ethical misbehavior (4:2; 10:13) and overreliance on both cultic activity (8:13) and military capability (10:13). Because of this, he warns, God will punish the nation, bringing destruction to the land (10:7-8) and removing its inhabitants (9:3).
As the only native of the northern kingdom of Israel among the literary prophets, Hosea’s linguistic idiosyncrasies may reflect a northern dialect of Hebrew. His prophecy is characterized by its extensive use of Israelite historical traditions (see, e.g., 12:3-4, which refer to the patriarch Jacob). Primary among these are references to the Exodus and wanderings: God brought Israel out of Egypt (11:1), but the people proved unfaithful even before reaching the promised land (9:10). Once there, they failed to recognize the true source of success (13:1-6), ascribing it to Baal, the local god (11:1-2). The past is important not only for its theological implications, but also as prefiguring the future. As a punishment, Israel will return to Egypt (8:13; 9:3). God will seduce them back into the wilderness, where Israel will answer ‘as in the days of her youth’ (2:14-15). Chap. 2 suggests that God will make the desert bloom so that Israel cannot again make the mistake of thinking that the land’s produce comes from Baal (see also 13:4-8).
Israelite apostasy, manifest particularly through idolatry, forms of divination, and various fertility rituals (cf. 4:12-19), constitutes the major concern of Hosea, whose marriage to a prostitute named Gomer is used to symbolize God’s problem with Israel. Although scholars differ in their understanding of the relationship between the accounts in chaps. 1 and 3, and whether they are to be understood as factual or visionary, in both Israel’s lack of fidelity to God is described as adultery. In keeping with this marital imagery, Hosea looks forward to a new honeymoon in the desert (2:14-15, Hebrew vv. 16-17) and a time when Israel will no longer speak of God as her master (Heb. baal), but as her husband (Heb. ish), a hint that at one time it may have been acceptable to speak of God as baal, a usage that became unacceptable once it was associated with a Canaanite god as well. Hosea’s apparent condemnation of those who idolize the golden calves at Bethel and Dan (8:5-6) suggests a similar development, whereby a once legitimate cultic object came to be used for idolatrous purposes. (A similar process took place with regard to the bronze serpent, originally made by Moses at God’s command [Num. 21:8-9], but destroyed by Judah’s King Hezekiah after it had become an object of worship [2 Kings 18:4].) In addition to the marital imagery, Hosea also portrays the divine-human relationship in such images as father-son (11:1-3), physician-patient (7:1), and fowler-birds (7:12).
Some scholars have thought that hopeful passages, such as 11:8-11, could not be authentic, given the prophet’s generally negative tone; others, however, see this rejection as without basis. Hosea’s use of the past to prefigure the future and his repeated use of Exodus imagery would seem to support the latter position.
Bibliography Wolff, H. W. Hosea. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974.
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer