The twelve prophets, at the head of whom Hosea has been placed, were called of old “the lesser, or minor prophets,” by reason of the smaller compass of their prophecies, not as though their prophecies were less important than those of the four greater prophets . Hosea, at least, must have exercised the prophetic office longer than any besides; he must have spoken as much and as often, in the Name of God. A prophecy of Micah and words of Joel are adopted by Isaiah; Jeremiah employs verses of Obadiah to denounce anew the punishment of Edom; a prophecy of Joel is expanded by Ezekiel. The “twelve” were the organs of important prophecy, as to their own people, or foreign nations, or as to Him whom they looked for, our Lord. Now, since the first five were earlier than Isaiah, and next, in order of time, to the prophetic Psalms of David, Solomon, Asaph and the sons of Korah, the revelations made to these lesser prophets even ante-date those given through the four greater.
The general outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh and the Day of the Lord were first spoken of by Joel. Our resurrection in Christ on the 3rd day; the inward graces which Christ should bestow on His Church in its perpetual union with Him; the entire victory over death and the grave; and the final conversion of Judah and Israel, were first prophesied by Hosea. When James wished to show that the conversion of the Gentiles had been foretold by a prophet, he quoted a passage of Amos. “The twelve,” as they begun, so they closed the cycle of those whom God employed to leave written prophecies. Yet God, who willed that of all the earlier prophets, who prophesied from the time of Samuel to Elisha, no prophecy should remain, except the few words in the books of Kings, willed also, that little, in comparison, should be preserved, of what these later prophets spoke in His Name. Their writings altogether are not equal in compass to those of the one prophet, Isaiah. And so, like the twelve Apostles, they were enrolled in one prophetic band; their writings, both in the Jewish and Christian Church (see Cosin. Section 47ff), have been counted as one book; and, like the Apostles, they were called “the twelve” (see Carpzov iii. 270, and Cosin).
The earliest of this band followed very closely upon the ministry of Elijah and Elisha. Elisha, in his parting words 2Ki 13:14, 2Ki 13:25. foretold to Joash the three victories whereby he recovered from Syria the cities of Israel which Hazael had taken from his father Jehoahaz. In the next reign, namely, that of Jeroboam II, there arose the first of that brilliant constellation of prophets, whose light gleamed over the fall of Israel and Judah, shone in their captivity, and set at last, with the prediction of him, who should precede the rising of the Sun of Righteousness.
In the reign of Jeroboam II, Hosea, Amos, Jonah, prophesied in the kingdom of Israel. Joel was probably called at the same time to prophesy in Judah, and Obadiah to deliver his prophecy as to Edom; Isaiah, a few years later. Micah, we know, began his office in the following reign of Jotham, and then prophesied, together with Isaiah, to and in the reign of Hezekiah.
The order, then, of “the twelve” was probably, for the most part, an order of time. We know that the greater prophets are placed in that order, as also the three last of the twelve, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Of the five first, Hosea, Amos and Jonah were nearly contemporary; Joel was prior to Amos ; and of the four remaining, Micah and Nahum were later than Jonah, whom they succeed in order; Nahum refers to Jonah; Zephaniah quotes Habakkuk. It may be from an old Jewish tradition, that Jerome says , “know that those prophets, whose time is not prefixed in the title, prophesied under the same kings, as those other prophets, who are placed before them, and who have titles.”
Hosea, the first of the twelve, must have prophesied during a period, as long as the ordinary life of man. For he prophesied (the title tells us) while Uzziah king of Judah and Jeroboam II, king of Israel, were both reigning, as also during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. But Uzziah survived Jeroboam, 26 years. Jotham and Ahaz reigned, each, 16 years. Thus, we have already 58 years complete, without counting the years of Jeroboam, during which Hosea prophesied at the beginning of his office, or those of Hezekiah which elapsed before its close. But since the prophecy of Hosea is directed almost exclusively to Israel, it is not probable that the name of Jeroboam would alone have been selected for mention, unless Hosea had prophesied for some time during his reign. The house of Jehu, which sunk after the death of Jeroboam, was yet Jos 1:4-5 standing, and in its full strength, when Hosea first prophesied.
Its might apparently is contrasted with the comparative weakness of Judah Hos 1:7. On the other hand, the office of Hosea probably closed before the end of the 4th year of Hezekiah 2Ki 18:9. For in that year, 721 b.c., the judgment denounced by Hosea upon Samaria was fulfilled, and all his prophecy looks on to this event as yet to come: the 13th chapter closes with the prophecy of the utter destruction of Samaria; and of the horrible cruelties which would befall her helpless ones. The last chapter alone winds up the long series of denunciations by a prediction of the future conversion of Israel. This chapter, however, is too closely connected with the preceding, to admit of its being a consolation after the captivity had begun. If then we suppose that Hosea prophesied during 2 years only of the reign of Hezekiah, and 10 of those in which the reigns of Jeroboam II and Uzziah coincided, his ministry will have lasted 70 years.
A long and heavy service for a soul full of love like his, mitigated only by his hope of the coming of Christ, the final conversion of his people, and the victory over the grave! But the length is nothing incredible, since, about this time, Jehoiada 2Ch 24:15 “did good in Israel both toward God and toward His House;” until he “was 130 years.” The shortest duration of Hosea’s office must have been some 65 years. But if God called him quite young to his office, he need but have lived about 95 years, whereas Anna the prophetess served God in the temple with fasting and prayer night and day, after a widowhood probably of 84 years ; and John the Evangelist lived probably until 104 years; and Polycarp became a martyr when he was about 104 years old, having served Christ for 86 years , and having, when 95, sailed from Asia to Italy. Almost in our own days, we have heard of 100 centenarians, deputed by a religious order who ate no animal food, to bear witness that their rule of life was not unhealthy. Not then the length of Hosea’s life but his endurance was superhuman. So long did God will that His prophets should toil; so little fruit were they content to leave behind them. For these few chapters alone remain of a labor beyond the ordinary life of man. But they were content to have God for their exceeding great reward.
The time, during which Hosea prophesied, was the darkest period in the history of the kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam II was almost the last king who ruled in it by the appointment of God. The promise of God to Jehu 2Ki 10:30 in reward of his partial obedience, that his 2Ki 15:8 “children of the fourth generation should sit on the throne of Israel,” expired with Jeroboam’s son, who reigned but for 6 months (see 2Ki 15:10, 2Ki 15:14, 2Ki 15:25, 2Ki 15:30) after an anarchy of 11 years. The rest of Hosea’s life was passed amid the decline of the kingdom of Israel. Politically all was anarchy or misrule; kings made their way to the throne through the murder of their predecessors, and made way for their successors through their own 2Ki 15:8. Shallum killed Zechariah; Menahem killed Shallum; Pekah killed the son of Menahem; Hoshea killed Pekah. The whole kingdom of Israel was a military despotism, and, as in the Roman empire, those in command came to the throne. Baasha, Zimri, Omri, Jehu, Menahem, Pekah, held military office before they became kings 2Ki 16:14. Pekah was a captain of Romaliah 2 Kings 16:25).
Each usurper seems to have strengthened himself by a foreign alliance. At least, we find Baasha in league with Benhadad, king of Syria 1Ki 15:19; Ahab marrying Jezebel, daughter of a king of Tyre and Zidon 1Ki 16:31; Menahem giving Pul king of Assyria tribute, that he might “confirm the kingdom in his hand” 2Ki 15:19; Pekah confederate with Rezin Isa 7:1, Isa 7:9, Isa 7:16; 2Ch 28:5-6. These alliances brought with them the corruptions of the Phoenician and Syrian idolatry, wherein murder and lust became acts of religion. Jehu also probably sent tribute to the king of Assyria, to secure to himself the throne which God had given him. The fact appears in the cuneiform inscriptions ; it falls in with the character of Jehu and his half belief, using all means, human or divine, to establish his own end. In one and the same spirit, he destroyed the Baal-worshippers, as adherents of Ahab, retained the calf-worship, courted the ascetic Jonadab, son of Rechab, spoke of the death of Jehoram as the fulfillment of prophecy, and sought help from the king of Assyria.
These irreligions had the more deadly sway, because they were countenanced by the corrupt worship, which Jeroboam I had set up as the state religion, over against the worship at Jerusalem. To allow the people to go up to Jerusalem, as the center of the worship of God, would have risked their owning the line of David as the kings of God’s appointment. To prevent this, Jeroboam set up a great system of rival worship. Himself a refugee in Egypt 1Ki 11:40; 1Ki 12:2, he had there seen nature (i. e., what are God’s workings in nature) worshiped under the form of the calf . He adopted it, in the words in which Aaron had been overborne to sanction it, as the worship of the One True God under a visible form: “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” Exo 32:4; 1Ki 12:28.
With great human subtlety, he laid hold of Israel’s love for idol-worship, and their reverence for their ancestors, and words which even Aaron had used, and sought to replace, by this symbol of God’s working. His actual presence over the mercy-seat. Around this he gathered as much of the Mosaic ritual as he could. The priests and Levites remaining faithful to God 2Ch 11:13-15, he made others priests, not of the line of Aaron . Then, while he gratified the love of idolatry, he decked it out with all the rest of the worship which God had appointed for Himself. He retained the feasts which God had appointed, the three great festivals , their solemn assemblies, Amo 5:21 the new moons and sabbaths Hos 2:11; and these last feasts were observed even by those, to whose covetousness the rest on the festival was a hindrance Amo 8:5.
Every kind of sacrifice was retained, the daily sacrifice, Amo 4:4 the burnt-offering, Amo 5:22 the meal-offering Hos 9:4; Amo 5:22, the drink-offering Hos 9:4, thank-offerings (Hos 5:6; Hos 6:6, perhaps Hos 4:8), peace-offerings Amo 5:22, free-will offerings (Hos 5:6; Hos 6:6, perhaps Hos 4:8), sin-offerings (Amo 4:5, and of this class generally, Hos 8:13). They had hymns and instrumental music Amo 5:23; Amo 8:3. They paid the tithes of the third year Amo 4:4; probably they gave the first fruits ; they had priests 1Ki 12:32; Hos 4:6, Hos 4:9; Hos 5:1; Hos 6:9; Hos 10:5 and prophets Hos 4:5; Hos 9:7-8 and temples 1Ki 12:31-32; Hos 8:14; the temple at Bethel was the king’s chapel, the temple of the state Amo 7:13.
The worship was maintained by the civil authority Hos 5:11; Hos 13:2. But all this outward show was rotten at the core. God had forbidden man so to worship Him, nor was it He who was worshiped at Bethel and Dan, though Jeroboam probably meant it. People, when they alter God’s truth, alter more than they think for. Such is the lot of all heresy. Jeroboam probably meant that God should be worshiped under a symbol, and he brought in a worship, which was not, in truth, a worship of God at all. The calf was the symbol, not of the personal God, but of ever-renewed life, His continued vivifying of all which lives, and renewing of what decays. And so what was worshiped was not God, but much what people now call “nature.” The calf was a symbol of “nature;” much as people say, “nature does this or that;” “nature makes man so and so;” “nature useth simplicity of means;” “nature provides,” etc.; as if “nature were a sort of semi-deity,” or creation were its own Creator. As men now profess to own God, and do own Him in the abstract, but talk of “nature,” until they forget Him, or because they forget Him, so Jeroboam, who was a shrewd, practical, irreligious man, slipped into a worship of nature, while he thought, doubtless, he was doing honor to the Creator, and professing a belief in Him.
But they were those same workings in creation, which were worshiped by the neighboring pagan, in Baal and Ashtaroth; only there the name of the Creator was altogether dropped. Yet it was but a step from one to the other. The calf was the immediate and often the sole object of worship. They “sacrificed to the calves” 1Ki 12:32; “kissed the calves” Hos 13:2, in token of worship; swore by them as living gods Amo 8:4. They had literally Psa 106:20 “changed their Glory (i. e., God) into the similitude of a bull which eateth hay.” Calf-worship paved the way for those coarser and more cruel worships of nature, under the names of Baal and Ashtaroth, with all their abominations of consecrated child-sacrifices, and degrading or horrible sensuality. The worship of the calves led to sin. The pagan festival was one of unbridled licentiousness. The account of the calf-festival in the wilderness agrees too well with the pagan descriptions. The very least which can be inferred from the words “Aaron had made them naked to their shame before their enemies” Exo 32:25, is an extreme relaxedness, on the borders of further sin.
And now in Hosea’s time, these idolatries had yielded their full bitter fruits. The course of iniquity had been run. The stream had become darker and darker in its downward flow. Creature worship (as Paul points out, Rom. 1), was the parent of every sort of abomination; and religion having become creature-worship, what God gave as the check to sin became its incentive. Every commandment of God was broken, and that, habitually. All was falsehood Hos 4:1; Hos 7:1, Hos 7:3, adultery Hos 4:11; Hos 5:3-4; Hos 7:4; Hos 9:10; Amo 2:7, bloodshedding Hos 5:2; Hos 6:8; deceit to God Hos 4:2; Hos 10:13; Hos 11:12 produced faithlessness to man; excess Hos 4:11; Hos 7:5; Amo 4:1 and luxury Hos 4:15; Hos 6:4-6 were supplied by secret Hos 4:2; Hos 7:1 or open robbery Hos 7:1, oppression Hos 12:7; Amo 3:9-10; Amo 4:1; Amo 5:11, false dealing Hos 12:7; Amo 8:5, perversion of justice Hos 10:4; Amo 2:6-7; Amo 5:7, Amo 5:12; Amo 6:3, Amo 6:12, grinding of the poor Amo 2:7; Amo 8:6.
Blood was shed like water, until one stream met another Hos 4:2, and overspread the land with one defiling deluge. Adultery was consecrated as an act of religion (see the note at Hos 4:14). Those who were first in rank were first in excess. People and king vied in debauchery Hos 7:5, and the Scottish king joined and encouraged the free-thinkers and blasphemers of his court Hos 7:5. The idolatrous priests loved and shared in the sins of the people Hos 4:8-9; nay, they seem to have set themselves to intercept those on either side of Jordan, who would go to worship at Jerusalem, laying wait to murder them Hos 5:1; Hos 6:9. Corruption had spread throughout the whole land Hos 5:1; even the places once sacred through God’s revelations or other mercies to their forefathers, Bethel Hos 4:15; Hos 10:5, Hos 10:8, Hos 10:15; Hos 12:4; Amo 3:14; Amo 5:5; Amo 7:10, Amo 7:13, Gilgal Hos 4:15; Hos 9:15; Hos 12:11, Gilead Hos 6:8; Hos 12:11, Mizpah Hos 5:1, Shechem (see the note at Hos 6:9), were special scenes of corruption or of sin. Every holy memory was effaced by present corruption. Could things be worse? There was one aggravation more. Remonstrance was useless Hos 4:4; the knowledge of God was willfully rejected Hos 4:6; the people hated rebuke Amo 5:10; the more they were called, the more they refused (Hos 11:2, add 7); they forbade their prophets to prophesy Amo 2:12; and their false prophets hated God greatly Hos 9:7, Hos 9:9. All attempts to heal all this disease only showed its incurableness Hos 7:1.
Such was the condition of the people among whom Hosea had to prophesy for some 70 years. They themselves were not sensible of their decay Hos 7:9, moral or political. They set themselves, in despite of the prophet’s warning, to prop up their strength by aid of the two pagan nations, Egypt or Assyria. In Assyria they chiefly trusted (Hos 5:13; Hos 8:9-10; Hos 14:3; and with Egypt, Hos 7:11; Hos 12:1), and Assyria, he had to denounce to them, should carry them captive (Hos 10:6; Hos 11:9, denying it of Egypt); stragglers at least, from them fled to Egypt Hos 9:3, and in Egypt they should be a derision Hos 7:16, and should find their grave Hos 9:6. This captivity he had to foretell as imminent Hos 1:4; Hos 5:7, certain Hos 5:9; Hos 9:7, and irreversible Hos 1:6; Hos 5:6. Once only, in the commencement of his prophecy, does he give any hope, that the temporal punishment might be averted through repentance.
This too he follows up by renewing the declaration of God expressed in the name of his daughter, “I will not have mercy” Hos 1:2-4. He gives them in God’s Name, a distant promise of a spiritual restoration in Christ, and forewarns them that it is distant Hos 3:4-5. But, that they might not look for any temporal restoration, he tells them, on the one hand, in peremptory terms, of their dispersion; on the other, he tells them of their spiritual restoration without any intervening shadows of temporal deliverance. God tells them absolutely (Hos 1:4, Hos 1:6; Hos 9:17; Hos 9:3; Hos 8:8, and of distant captivity, Hos 4:19, Hos 4:16), “I will cause the kingdom of the house of Israel to cease;” “I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel;” “they shall be wanderers among the nations;” “they shall not dwell in the Lord’s land;” “Israel is swallowed up; she shall be among the nations like a vessel in which is no pleasure.” On the other hand, the promises are markedly spiritual (Hos 1:10; Hos 2:19 ff; Hos 3:5; Hos 6:1-3; Hos 10:12; Hos 13:14); “Ye are the sons of the living God;” “I will betroth her to Me for ever;” “they shall fear the Lord and His goodness;” “He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight;” “till He come and rain righteousness upon you.” “I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death.” Again, God contrasts Hos 1:7; Hos 6:11 with this His sentence, on Israel, His future dealings with Judah, and His mercies to her, of which Israel should not partake, while of Judah’s spiritual mercies, He says, that Israel should partake by being united with Judah Hos 1:11; Hos 3:5.
The ground of this difference was, that Israel’s separate existence was bound up with that sin of Jeroboam, which clave to them throughout their history, and which none of their least bad kings ventured to give up. God tried them for two centuries and a half; and not one king was found, who would risk his throne for God. In merciful severity then, the separate kingdom of Israel was to be destroyed, and the separate existence of the ten tribes was to be lost.
This message of woe gives a unique character to the prophecies of Hosea. He, like Paul, was of the people, whose temporary excision he had to declare. He calls the wretched king of Israel “our king” Hos 7:5; and God calls the rebellious people “thy people” Hos 4:4 . Of that people, he was specially the prophet. Judah he mentions incidentally, when he does mention them, not in his warnings only, but in his prophecies of good also. His main commission lay among the ten tribes. Like Elijah and Elisha whom he succeeded, he was raised up out of them, for them. His love could not be tied down to them; and so he could not but warn Judah against sharing Israel’s sin. But it is, for the most part, incidentally and parenthetically . He does not speak of them equally, except as to that which was the common sin of both, the seeking to Assyria for help, and unfulfilled promise of amendment Hos 5:13-14; Hos 6:4. And so, on the other hand, mercies, which belong to all as God’s everlasting betrothal of His Church Hos 2:19-20, and our redemption from death Hos 13:14 and the grave, he foretells with special reference to Ephraim, and in one place only expressly includes Judah (Hos 1:11; Judah is included virtually in Hos 3:5).
The prophecies of Hosea (as he himself collected them) form one whole, so that they cannot be distinctly separated, In one way, as the second chapter is the expansion and application of the first, so the remainder of the book after the third is an expansion and application of the third, The first and third chapters illustrate, summarily, Ephraim’s ingratitude and desertion of God and His dealings with her, by likening them to the wife which Hosea was commanded to take, and to her children. The second chapter expands and applies the picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness, touched upon in the first, but it dwells more on the side of mercy; the remaining chapters enlarge the picture of the third, although, until the last, they dwell chiefly on the side of judgment. Yet while the remainder of the book is an expansion of the third chapter, the three first chapters, (as every reader has felt) are united together, not by their narrative form only, but by the prominence given to the history of Hosea which furnishes the theme of the book, the shameful unfaithfulness of Israel, and the exceeding tenderness of the love of God, who, “in wrath, remembers mercy.”
The narrative leads us deep into the prophet’s personal sorrows. 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 no test left 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 people disliked them. Hosea, then, at God’s command, united to himself in marriage, one who, amid the widespread corruption of those times, had fallen manifoldly into fleshly sin. With her he was commanded to live holily, as his wife, as Isaac lived with Rebecca whom he loved. Such an one he took, in obedience to God’s command, one Gomer. At some time after she bore the prophet’s children, she fell into adultery, and forsook him. Perhaps she fell into the condition of a slave (see the note at Hos 3:2). God anew commanded him to show mercy to her, to redeem her from her fallen condition, and, without restoring to her the rights of marriage (see the note at Hos 3:3), to guard and protect her from her sins. Thus, by the love of God and the patient forbearance which He instructed the prophet to show, a soul was rescued from sin unto death, and was won to God; to the children of Israel there was set forth continually before their eyes a picture and a prophecy of the punishment upon sin, and of the close union with Himself which He vouchsafes to sinners who repent and return to Him.
“Not only in visions which were seen,” says Irenaeus (iv. 20. 12. p. 374 Old Testament), “and in words which were preached, but in acts also was He (the Word) seen by the prophets, so as to prefigure and foreshew things future, through them. For which cause also, the prophet Hosea took ‘a wife of whoredoms,’ prophesying by his act, that the earth, i. e., the people who are on the earth, shall commit whoredoms, departing from the Lord; and that of such people God will be pleased to take to Himself a Church, to be sanctified by the communication of His Son, as she too was sanctified by the communion of the prophet. Wherefore Paul also saith, that 1Co 7:14 the unbelieving woman is sanctified in her believing husband.” “What,” asks Augustine of the scoffers of his day, “is there opposed to the clemency of truth, what contrary to the Christian faith, that one unchaste, leaving her fornication, should be converted to a chaste marriage? And what so incongruous and alien from the faith of the prophet, as it would have been, not to believe that all the sins of the unchaste were forgiven, when she was converted and amended? So then, when the prophet made the unchaste one his wife, a kind provision was made for the woman to amend her life, and the mystery (of the union of Christ Himself with the Church of Jews and Gentiles) was expressed” (Augustine, ib. 89). “Since the Lord, through the same Scripture, lays clearly open what is figured by this command and deed, and since the apostolic Epistles attest that this prophecy was fulfilled in the preaching of the New Testament, who would venture to say that it was not commanded and done for that end, for which He who commanded it, explains in the holy Scripture that He commanded, and that the prophet did it?”
The names which Hosea, by God’s command gave to the children who were born, expressed the temporal punishment, which was to come upon the nation. The prophet himself, in his relation to his restored yet separated wife, was, so long as she lived, one continued, living prophecy of the tenderness of God to sinners. Fretful, wayward, jealous, ungovernable, as are mostly the tempers of those who are recovered from such sins as her’s, the prophet, in his anxious, watchful charge, was a striking picture of the forebearing loving-kindness of God to us amid our provocations and infirmities. Nay, the love which the prophet bare her, grew the more out of his compassion and tenderness for her whom God had commanded him to take as his own. Certain it is, that Holy Scripture first speaks of her as the object of his love, when God commanded him a second time to take charge of her who had betrayed and abandoned him. God bids him show active love to her, whom, amid her unfaithfulness, he loved already. “Go yet, love a woman, beloved of her husband, yet an adulteress.” Wonderful picture of God’s love for us, for whom He gave His Only-begotten Son, loving us, while alien from Him, and with nothing in us to love!
Such was the tenderness of the prophet, whom God employed to deliver such a message of woe; and such the people must have known to be his personal tenderness, who had to speak so sternly to them.
The three first prophecies, contained severally in the three first chapters, form each, a brief circle of mercy and judgment. They do not enter into any detail of Israel’s sin, but sum up all in the one, which is both center and circumference of all sin, the all-comprehending sin, departure from God, choosing the creature rather than the Creator. On this, the first prophecy foretells the entire irrevocable destruction of the kingdom; God’s temporary rejection of His people, but their acceptance, together with Judah, in One Head, Christ. The second follows the same outline, rebuke, chastisement, the cessation of visible worship, banishment, and then the betrothal forever. The third speaks of offence against deeper love, and more prolonged punishment. It too ends in the promise of entire restoration; yet only in the latter days, after many days of separation, both from idolatry and from the true worship of God, such as is Israel’s condition now.
The rest is one continuous prophecy, in which the prophet has probably gathered into one the substance of what he had delivered in the course of his ministry. Here and there, yet very seldom in it Hos 4:5; Hos 5:3, Hos 5:7; Hos 9:1, the prophet refers to the image of the earlier chapters. For the most part he exhibits his people to themselves, in their varied ingratitude, folly, and sin. The prophecy has many pauses, which with one exception coincide with our chapters . It rises and falls, and then bursts out in fresh tones of upbraiding (see the beginnings of Hos 5:1-15; Hos. 7; Hos 8:1-14; Hos. 9; Hos 10:1-15; Hos 11:1-12; Hos 12:1-14; Hos. 13), and closes mostly in notes of sorrow and of woe , for the destruction which is coming. Yet at none of these pauses is there any complete break, such as would constitute what preceded, a separate prophecy; and on the other hand, the structure of the last portion of the book corresponds most with that of the first three chapters, if it is regarded as one whole. For as there, after rebuke and threatened chastisement, each prophecy ended with the promise of future mercy, so here, after finally foreannouncing the miseries at the destruction of Samaria, the prophet closes his prophecy and his whole book with a description of Israel’s future repentance and acceptance, and of his flourishing with manifold grace.
The brief summary, in which the prophet calls attention to all which he had said, and foretells, who would and who would not understand it, the more marks the prophecy as one whole.
Yet, although these prophecies, as worked into one by the prophet, bear a strong impress of unity, there yet seem to be traces, here and there, of the different conditions of the kingdom of Israel, amid which different parts were first uttered. The order, in which they stand, seems, upon the whole, to be an order of time. In the first chapters, the house of Jeroboam is still standing in strength, and Israel appears to have trusted in its own power, as the prophet Amos Amo 2:14, Amo 2:16; Amo 6:13 also, at the same time, describes them. The fourth chapter is addressed to the “house of Israel” Hos 4:1 only, without any allusion to the king, and accords with that time of convulsive anarchy, which followed the death of Jeroboam II. The omission of the king is the more remarkable, inasmuch as the “house of the king” is included in the corresponding address in Hos 5:1. The “rulers” Hos 4:18 of Israel are also spoken of in the plural; and the bloodshed Hos 4:2 described seems to be more than individual insulated murders.
In this case, the king upbraided in Hos 5:1-15 would, naturally, be the next king, Zechariah, in whom God’s promise to the house of Jehu expired. In Hos. 7 a weak and sottish king is spoken of, whom his princes misled to debauchery, disgusting drunkenness and impiety. But Menahem was a general of fierce determination, energy and barbarity. Debauchery and brutal ferocity are natural associates; but this sottishness here described was rather the fruit of weak compliance with the debauchery of others. “The princes made him sick” Hos 7:5, it is said. This is not likely to have been the character of successful usurpers, as Menahem, or Pekah, or Hoshea. It is far more likely to have been that of Zechariah, who was placed on the throne for 6 months, “did evil in the sight of the Lord,” and then was “slain publicly before the being people” 2Ki 15:10, no one resisting. Him, as the last of the line of Jehu, and sanctioned by God, Hosea may the rather have called “our king” Hos 7:5, owning in him, evil as he was, God’s appointment.
The words, “they have devoured their judges, all their kings have fallen” Hos 7:7, had anew their fulfillment in the murder of Zechariah and Shallum (772 B. C) as soon as the promise to the house of Jehu had expired. The blame of Judah for “multiplying fenced cities” Hos 8:14, instead of trusting in God, probably relates to the temper in which they were built in the days of Jotham 2Ch 27:2-4, between 758, and 741 b.c. Although Jotham was a religious king, the corruption of the people at this time is especially recorded; “the people did corruptly.” Later yet, we have mention of the dreadful battle, when Shalman, or Shalmanezer, took and massacred women and children at Betharbel Hos 10:14 in the valley of Jezreel, about 729 b.c. Hosea, thus, lived to see the fulfillment of his earlier prophecy, “I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (Hos 1:4, see the note at Hos 10:14). It has been thought that the question “where is thy king?” relates to the captivity of Hoshea, three years before the destruction of Samaria. This sort of question, however, relates not to the actual place where the king was, but to his ability or inability to help.
It belongs to the mournful solemnity of Hosea’s prophecy, that he scarcely speaks to the people in his own person. The ten chapters, which form the center of the prophecy, are almost wholly one long dirge of woe, in which the prophet rehearses the guilt and the punishment of his people. If the people are addressed, it is, with very few exceptions, God Himself, not the prophet, who speaks to them; and God speaks to them as their judge . Once only does the prophet use the form, so common in the other prophets, “saith the Lord” Hos 11:11. As in the three first chapters, the prophet, in his relation to his wife, represented that of God to His people, so, in these ten chapters, after the first words of the fourth and fifth chapters, “Hear the word of the Lord, for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land,” “Hear ye this, O priests” Hos 4:1; Hos 5:1, whenever the prophet uses the first person, he uses it not of himself, but of God. “I” “My” are not Hosea, and the things of Hosea, but God and what belongs to God. God addresses the prophet himself in the second person Hos 4:4, Hos 4:17; Hos 8:1.
In four verses only of these chapters does the prophet himself apparently address his own people Israel, in two Hos 9:1, Hos 9:5 expostulating with them; in two, (Hos 10:12; (but followed by a declaration of the fruitlessness of his call Hos 10:13, Hos 10:15) Hos 12:6) calling them to repentance. In two other verses he addresses Judah Hos 4:13, or foretells to him judgment mingled with mercy (see the note at Hos 6:11). The last chapter alone is one of almost unmingled brightness; the prophet calls to repentance Hos 14:1, Hos 14:3, and God in His own Person Hos 14:4, Hos 14:8 accepts it, and promises large supply of grace. But this too closes the prophecy with the warning, that righteous as are the ways of God, the transgressors should stumble in them.
It is this same solemn pathos, which has chiefly occasioned the obscurity, complained of in Hosea. The expression of Jerome has often been repeated ; “Hosea is concise, and speaketh, as it were, in detached sayings.” The words of upbraiding, of judgment, of woe, burst out, as it were, one by one, slowly, heavily, condensed, abrupt, from the prophet’s heavy and shrinking soul, as God commanded and constrained him, and put His words, like fire, in the prophet’s mouth. An image of Him Who said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” Mat 23:37, he delivers his message, as though each sentence burst with a groan from his soul, and he had anew to take breath, before he uttered each renewed woe.
Each verse forms a whole for itself, like one heavy toll in a funeral knell. The prophet has not been careful about order and symmetry, so that each sentence went home to the soul. And yet the unity of the prophecy is so evident in the main, that we cannot doubt that it is not broken, even when the connection is not apparent on the surface. The great difficulty consequently in Hosea is to ascertain that connection in places where it evidently exists, yet where the prophet has not explained it. The easiest and simplest sentences (for example, Hos 12:9, Hos 12:12-13) are sometimes, in this respect, the most difficult. It is in remarkable contrast with this abruptness in the more mournful parts, that when Hosea has a message of mercy to deliver, his style becomes easy and flowing. Then no sign of present sin or impending misery disturbs his brightness. He lives wholly in the future bliss which he was allowed to foretell.
Yet, meanwhile, no prophet had a darker future to declare. The prophets of Judah could mingle with their present denunciations a prospect of an early restoration. The ten tribes, as a whole, had no future. The temporal part of their punishment was irreversible. Hosea lived almost to see its fulfillment. Yet not the less confidently does he foretell the spiritual mercies in store for his people. He promises them as absolutely as if he saw them. It is not a matter of hope, but of certainty. And this certainty Hosea announces, in words expressive of the closest union with God; an union shadowed by the closest union which we know, that, whereby a man and his wife are “no more twain, but one flesh.” Here, as filled and overfilled with joy, instead of abrupt sentences, he gladly lingers on his subject, adding in every word something to the fullness of the blessing contained in the preceding” Hos 2:14-20; Hos 14:1-7. He is, indeed, (if one may venture so to speak) eminently a prophet of the tenderness of the love of God. In foretelling God’s judgments, he ventures to picture Him to us, as overcome (so to speak) by mercy, so that He would not execute His full sentence Hos 11:8-9. God’s mercies he predicts in the inmost relation of love, that those whom He had rejected, He would own, as “sons of the living God;” that He would betroth them to Himself in righteousness, in judgment, loving-kindness, mercies, faithfulness, and that, forever; that He would raise us up on the third day, and that we should live in His sight, ransoming us, Himself, and redeeming us, as our Kinsman, from death and the grave (see the notes at Hos 1:10; notes at Hos 2:19 ff; notes at Hos 6:2; notes at Hos 13:14).
In this prophecy of the betrothal of the Church to God, he both applies and supplies the teaching of Ps. 45 and of the Song of Solomon. Moses had been taught to declare to his people that God had, in a special way, made them His people, and was Himself their God. The violation of this relation, by taking other gods, Moses had also spoken of under the image of married faithlessness. But faithlessness implies the existence of the relation, to which they were bound to be faithful. The whole human family, however, had once belonged to God, and had fallen away from Him. And so Moses speaks of the pagan idolatry also under this name, and warned Israel against sharing their sin. “Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods - and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods” Exo 34:15-16. The relation itself of betrothal Moses does not mention; yet it must have been suggested to the mind of Israel by his describing this special sin of choosing other gods, under the title of married faithlessness Lev 17:7; Lev 20:5-6; Num 14:33 and of desertion of God Deu 31:16, and by his attributing to God the title of “Jealous” Exo 20:5; Exo 34:14; Deu 4:24; Deu 5:9; Deu 6:15; Num 25:2. It was reserved to Hosea, to exhibit at once to Israel under this image, God’s tender love for them and their ingratitude, to dwell on their relation to God whom they forsook , and explicitly to foretell to them that new betrothal in Christ which should abide forever.
The image, however, presupposes an acquaintance with the language of the Pentateuch; and it has been noticed that Hosea incidentally asserts that the written Pentateuch was still used in the kingdom of Israel. For God does not say, “I have given to him,” but “I have written,” or “I write Hos 8:12 to him the great” or “manifold” things of the law. The “ten thousand things” which God says that He had written, cannot be the decalogue only, nor would the word “written” be used of an unwritten tradition. God says moreover, “I write,” in order to express that the law, although written once for all, still came from the ever-present authority of Him Who wrote it.
The language of Hosea is, for the most part, too concise and broken, to admit of his employing actual sentences from the Pentateuch. This he does sometimes (see Hos 3:1; Hos 4:8, Hos 4:10; Hos 5:6, Hos 5:10-11, Hos 5:14; Hos 6:2-3; Hos 10:14; Hos 11:7-8; Hos 12:4, Hos 12:6; Hos 13:6, Hos 13:9; Hos 14:2), as has been pointed out . On the other hand, his concise allusions would scarcely be understood by those who were not familiar with the history and laws of the Pentateuch (see Hos 1:10-11; Hos 3:2; Hos 4:4, Hos 4:8; Hos 8:6, Hos 8:11, Hos 8:13; Hos 9:3, Hos 9:10; Hos 10:4, Hos 10:11; Hos 11:8; Hos 12:4-6, Hos 12:10-12; Hos 14:3-4). Since then plainly a prophet spoke so as to be understood by the people, this is an evidence of the continual use of the Pentateuch in Israel, after the great schism from Judah. The schools of the prophets, doubtless, maintained the teaching of the law, as they did the public worship. The people went to Elisha on new-moons and sabbaths, and so to other prophets also 2Ki 4:23. Even after the great massacre of the prophets by Jezebel 1Ki 18:13, we have incidental notices of schools of the prophets at Bethel 2Ki 2:3, Jericho 2Ki 2:5, Gilgal 2Ki 4:38, Mount Ephraim 2Ki 5:22, Samaria , from which other schools were formed 2Ki 6:1. The selection of Gilgal, Bethel, and Samaria, shows that the spots were chosen, in order to confront idolatry and corruption in their chief abodes. The contradiction of people’s lives to the law, thus extant and taught among them, could scarcely have been greater than that of Christians now to the Bible which they have in their houses and their hands and their ears, but not in their hearts.