The book of Hosea is an excellent example of a book that we often find difficult because we don’t understand “the manner of prophesying among the Jews” (2 Nephi 25.1). One of the most important of those ways of prophesying was the use of types and shadows. (See Romans 5:14; Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5, 9:9 and 24, and 10:1; and Mosiah 3:15, 13:10, and 16:14.) The key to understanding Hosea is to recognize that the relation of Israel to the Lord is typified by the marriage relation and that Israel in apostasy is typified by an unfaithful wife. That relation is used in this book to call Israel to repentance.
Initially Hosea uses a negative version of the bride-and-groom metaphor to teach Israel that, though they are unfaithful to him, he will remain faithful to them. (No other prophet in the Old Testament uses as much metaphor as does Hosea.) For us, the surprising thing about the book of Hosea is that Hosea does not only use the metaphor of the faithful husband and the unfaithful wife linguistically, he acts it out by marrying an unfaithful woman.
Some have insisted that we cannot understand Hosea’s story literally. Most readers have argued that we should. Some have argued that the Lord commanded Hosea to marry a woman who was not a harlot at the time, but whom he knew would become one. Regardless of the side of that argument that you wish to defend, it is important to remember that such arguments are beside the point. They take us away from the lesson of Hosea to other issues. I will read the story as we have it in scripture, looking to learn the lessons that story teaches us, and I won’t worry about whether the Lord really commanded Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman.
Hosea was a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II (approximately 750-790 B.C.), king of Israel, and during the reign of those who followed. He probably prophesied mostly in Samaria. The traditional dates given for the years of his prophetic work are 760-720 B.C. Jewish tradition says that his father, Beeri, was also a prophet and that one of Beeri’s prophecies was included in Isaiah’s prophecies (Isaiah 8:19-20). Micah, Isaiah, and Amos were contemporary with Hosea, and all four of these prophets agreed in what they said about Israel and Judah: they were morally and spiritually ill. Hosea 4 gives a bleak description of Israel, summarized in verse 1: “There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” Israel’s spiritual illness was reflected in her politics: she was constantly quarreling with her neighbors, winning and losing unending battles, while at the same time she and those neighbors were threatened by the huge power of Assyria. And the political strife was not only between Judah and Israel, on the one hand, and other nations, on the other. It was also internal. In the south, Judah was at war with Ephraim (see chapter 5). And, after Jeroboam II died, there were three kings on Israel’s throne within one year, followed by continual fighting by those who claimed to be king and, shortly, the end of the kingdom. (See 13:11.)
Verses 4-5: The first son is born and named Jezreel, or “I will sow.” What connotations does this name have? What will the Lord sow? Are any connotations of the name positive? Why isn’t his name changed after Gomer repents? What does it mean that the Lord will “break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel”?
Verses 6-7: The name “Lo-ruhamah” is the name “Ruhamah,” mercy, with a negative prefix. So it means “no mercy” or “no compassion.” What does it mean that the Lord will have mercy on Israel, but not on Judah? Why would he do that? What is the division between Israel and Judah? What does it mean to say that the Lord will not save Judah “by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, .?.?.”? How will he save them?
Verses 8-9: Like Lo-ruhamah, Lo-ammi, is the name “Ammi” with a negative prefix. “Ammi” means “my people.” Notice that verse 3 says Gomer “conceived, and bare him a son,” but verses 6 and 8 just say that she “conceived, and bare a [child].” Many have understood this to be a way of saying that Hosea was not the father of the second two children.
Verses 10-11: What do these two verses have to do with the rest of the chapter? What promise is made? To whom? Does remembering the meaning of the name, “Jezreel,” add a dimension to the meaning of the phrase “great shall be the day of Jezreel”?
Verse 1: Why has Hosea dropped the negative prefix from his daughter’s and his son’s names? Why change their names? What does this say about him? What might it show Israel?
Verses 2-5: What does Hosea ask in verse 2? Verse 3 describes the punishment of adultery (compare Ezekiel 16:39), and verse 4 continues that description. Notice that the description of these children at the end of verse 4 is paralleled by Gomer’s description of them in verse 12 where she describes the children as the rewards of her lovers rather than the children of Hosea, adding weight to the usual interpretation of verses 3, 6, and 8, that Hosea was not their father. In verse 5, what does she say she wanted from her lovers? What do these verses say to Israel? What do they say to us?
Verses 6-13: This section begins with Hosea speaking of what he will do to convince Gomer to return and it ends with the Lord speaking of Israel forgetting him. This change in voice may seem odd to us, but it is perfectly appropriate in typological writing: Hosea the prophet is a shadow of the Lord.
What is Hosea going to do to convince Gomer to return? Who has been providing her with her needs? Compare what Hosea has been giving her with what she wants from her lovers. Notice that she thinks of her children as gifts of her lovers, just as she thought the necessities of life came from them. What does this show us about her? What do these things tell us about Israel? About ourselves?
Notice, in verse 11, that Gomer’s mirth (her joy or rejoicing) is defined by her feast days and so on, indications of her idolatry. Notice, too, that the trees of a forest (to which she compares her children) are non-bearing trees. They have no fruit.
Verses 14-15: The word translated “allure” could also be translated “persuade her with endearing words.” What does this say about how the Lord deals with Israel? In verse 15, why does the Lord offer marriage presents to someone to whom he is already married?
Compare the reference to the wilderness here with the reference in verse 3. How do they differ? The reference here is an allusion to the Exodus from Egypt. How is that relevant? As the footnotes point out, in verse 15, the word “Achor” can also be translated “trouble.” How does that translation help us understand the point of these two verses? In addition, the valley of Achor was a valley the children of Israel had to pass through on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. How is that significant to this verse? Why is the Exodus such an important type for scripture? (Why is it such an important type for the Book of Mormon prophets?) Is it an important type for us? If so, how so?
Verses 16-17: What is the significance of this change in the form of address? What is the difference between a husband and a master? The word “Baali” is connected with idolatry, with Baal worship. So what?
Verse 18: What is the point of this verse? What is the Lord promising?
Verses 19-20: What does the word “betroth” mean? What does it mean to be betrothed to the Lord? How does the image of betrothal compare to that of being the Lord’s children (compare 1:10)? What does each image teach us?
Verses 21-22: Perhaps a better translation of the word translated “hear” in these verses would be “pay attention to” or “respond to.” What is the Lord promising in these verses? Does the fact that the verse ends with the name Jezreel—”I will sow”—help us understand the promise made? Is there more than one level of this promise? In other words, can it be read as meaning more than one thing? Corn, wine, and oil may be an oblique reference to the temple ritual and sacrifices. If so, how might that be relevant to the promise made here?
Verse 23: In the last verses of this chapter, the names of Hosea’s and Gomer’s children are important. For example, verse 19 ends with a reference to mercy or compassion, the name of their daughter (Ruhamah, 1:6). As we saw, verse 22 ends with the mention of their first son, Jezreel, and, if we remember the meaning of the first son’s name, verse 23 begins with a mention of him. Then this verse mentions their daughter, Ruhamah, and finally it mentions their second son, Ammi. So, if we recognize the connection of the names to the meanings of the names, verse 23 mentions each child in order of birth and could be translated like this:
Then I will sow her (Jezreel) unto me in the earth and I will have mercy on She-Who-Did-Not-Receive-Mercy (Lo-Ruhamah); and I will say to He-Who-Is-Not-My-People (Lo-Ammi), Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.
How does this bring together the shadow (Hosea’s experience with his wife, Gomer) and the original (the Lord’s experience with Israel)? So what?
Verse 1: What is the Lord commanding Hosea to do when he says “Love the woman who is beloved of another and an adulteress”? (I’ve used another translation to make the King James translation more clear.) Deuteronomy 4:4 forbids a man whose wife has become the wife of another person from remarrying her, so what Hosea does here seems, strictly speaking, to be illegal. What do you make of that? How does that add depth to the story?
Verse 2: In ancient Israel, as in many other ancient cultures, women were considered the property of their husbands. Since Gomer now “belongs” to someone else, if Hosea wants her back, he must compensate her lover and buy her back. How is that an image of our own situation?
Verse 3-5: What is Hosea’s message to Gomer? What is the Lord’s message to Israel? Hans Walter Wolff describes Hosea’s message this way: “The lawful opportunity for Israel’s return was created only by the emphatic love of Yahweh” (Hosea : A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Hosea, Hermeneia—a critical and historical commentary on the Bible, page xxix). Do you understand the book as Wolff does or differently? Explain.
This chapter gives us the Lord’s version of Israel’s history, including its near future history, and turning toward its more distant future in the last four verses. How is that history relevant to Hosea’s message?
Verse 1: “Love” is a good translation of the Hebrew word used here. It includes all of the kinds of love we might think of, from marital love, to parental love, to carnal love of all kinds. When the Lord speaks of the covenant between himself and Israel, he often uses the word “love” (e.g., Deuteronomy 7:8 and 10:15). Does this verse intend us to see a parallel between Israel and the Son?
Verse 2: The King James translation of the first part of this verse is misleading. The New International Version (NIV) translates it this way, and most scholars would agree:
The more I called Israel, the further they went from me.
That fits the context better than does the KJV translation. If we accept this revision of the translation, in what two ways does the Lord describe Israel’s sin? Do either or both of those describe our own sins? What do you make of the contrast between verse 1 and verse 2?
Verse 3: “To go” means “to walk”: I taught Ephraim also to walk.” What is the image that the Lord uses here? How does that image help us understand the Lord’s point in these verses? Previous chapters have spoken of the Lord healing Israel (Hosea 5:13; 6:1; 7:1). When has he done so? How has Israel responded?
Verse 4: The Lord has been using the metaphor of a father’s love for a child. What metaphor is he using in this verse? “Laid meat unto them” means “fed them.”
Verses 5-6: Of whom is the Lord speaking here? In verse 5, “refused to turn” means “refused to repent.” When the Lord says that Israel will not return to Egypt but will be governed by Assyria (verse 5), what is he saying? Why mention Egypt at all? What does it mean to Israel that it will no longer have its own king? How doe verse five compare to the curse on Israel uttered by the Lord in Deuteronomy 28:68? A better translation of “shall consume his branches and devour them” is “will destroy the bars of their gates” (NIV). What does the threat of swords in the cities and the destruction of the city gates tell Israel? Why would that be such a disastrous event? To what does the King James translation attribute this destruction?
Verse 7: Will the destruction and enslavement of Israel bring them to repentance? The second two parts of this verse are understood in quite different ways by different scholars. Some understand “Most High” to refer to the Lord, as we might assume. Others, however, think that it refers to Baal. Which interpretation do you think fits the context best?
Verses 8-9: To see who Admah and Zeboim were, go to Genesis 10:19 and 14:2-8. How are they relevant to what the Lord says here? What point is the Lord making when he says “I am God, not a man”? “I will not enter into the city” is not a good translation of the last clause of verse 9. “I will not come in wrath” is more accurate.
Verses 10-11: Why will the Lord “roar like a lion” when his people begin to follow him again? Why use that metaphor? What does it mean here? (Compare Amos 1:2; 3:8; Joel 4:16; and Jeremiah 25:30.) Some translators believe that the Hebrew word translated “tremble” in verse 10 and verse 11 should be translated “hurry.” Given only the context—in other words, not knowing Hebrew—do you think that makes sense? If “tremble” is correct, what does the last clause of verse 10 mean?
Verse 12: This verse should probably be the first verse of chapter 13 rather than the last verse of chapter 12, so I will treat it that way.
The chapter lays out the Lord’s lawsuit against Israel (Hosea 12:2): his accusations against them (Hosea 11:12-12:1; 7-8; and 11), his defense of himself (12:3-6; 9-10; and 12-13), and the judgment that he will make (12:14-13:1).
Verses 11:12-12:1: The dominant theme of the chapter is mentioned here: treachery. How has Israel been treacherous with the Lord? What does “treachery” mean in a context like this? Does the second half of verse 1 suggest an answer to that question? Wolff thinks these verses are spoken by the prophet Hosea rather than by the Lord. Do you agree or disagree? What does it mean to say that Ephraim feeds on the wind and follows the east wind (12:1)?
Verse 2: Verse 1 accused Ephraim. The first part of verse 2 accuses Judah. The second part accuses Jacob. What is going on in that series?
Verses 3-5: Is the Jacob of verse 2 the same Jacob that we see here? Are both the prophet Jacob? Are both the nation of Israel, called by the prophet’s name? Is one the prophet and the other the nation? What does it mean to say that the Lord is Jacob’s memorial?
Verse 6: How does the content of this verse follow from what has just been said?
Verses 7-8: What is the point of this metaphor? Of what does it accuse Israel? Ancient Israel thought of the Canaanites as merchants but not themselves (Wolff, page 214). Does that help us understand these verses? Unjust scales are often used in the Old Testament as a metaphor for those who oppress the poor. What does Ephraim say of himself in verse 8? What does that mean? How is it part of the Lord’s accusation?
Verses 9-10: How is verse 9 a response to what Ephraim has said in verse 8? What is the Lord threatening? How will that help Israel? How is verse 10 relevant to the Lord’s accusation? To his self-defense?
Verse 11: What kind of sacrifice is the Lord speaking of here, sacrifice to him or idolatrous sacrifice? The last clause of the verse, “Yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields,” appears to be a prophecy about what will become of Israel’s sacrifices at Gilead and Gilgal: their altars will be like heaps of stones in a plowed field.
Verses 12-13: The Lord uses Jacob’s service to his father-in-law to earn a wife as a metaphor in verse 12. Can you explain the meaning of that metaphor? Structurally verse 13 seems parallel to verse 12 (for example, both end by speaking of tending: Jacob tended sheep, the Lord tended—”preserved” in the KJV—Israel). Can you explain that parallel?
Verses 12:14-13:1 When the Lord says that Ephraim has offended so severely that he, the Lord, “shall leave his [Israel’s] blood on him [Israel],” what is he saying? Here is the NIV translation of Hosea 13:1: “When Ephraim spoke, men trembled; he was exalted in Israel. But he became guilty of Baal worship and died.” Does that help make sense of the King James translation? Can this serve as a synopsis of the charge against Israel and the result? Why use Ephraim as the stand-in for Israel as a whole?
We see here a series of threatened punishments, amounting to “I will destroy you, O Israel.” Read the chapter and ask yourself how you would respond to something like that from a contemporary prophet? What contemporary events could be comparable to the events prophesied for Israel? In other words, what does this chapter have to do with us?
Verses 1-3: Why does the prophet tell Israel what they should pray when they repent? Is he giving them a formula for their prayers, or is he telling them what the content of those prayers of repentance should be? Why are they to take words to the Lord rather than sacrifices?
There is debate about the proper translation of what the KJV renders “receive us graciously.” Some think it should be “Accept the word [we offer].” Others think it should be “We will take what is good [to the Lord].”
“Calves of our lips” is a poor translation of the Hebrew. “Fruit of our lips” is better.
What is it that Asshur (Assyria) cannot save Israel from? Why do they say “We will not ride on horses”? Do we ever say to the work of our hands “Ye are our gods”? Do the works of our hands—computers, iPods, television, and other gizmos—ever control our lives, deciding for us what has to be done and when? What do you make of the description, in this context, of the Lord as the one in whom the fatherless find mercy?
Verses 5-7: How does the Lord heal backsliding, in other words, apostasy? When he spoke of Israel’s sins, the Lord compared himself to a lion, a leopard, or an angry bear (Hosea 5:14; 13:7). Now he speaks of himself as the dew. The fierceness of a wild animal is easy to understand as a metaphor for an angry God, but what does the metaphor of dew suggest? Is Isaiah 26:19 relevant to understanding this metaphor as it is used here? What do the other metaphors in these verses suggest about the Lord’s relation to Israel?
Verse 8: Who is speaking in the last two sentences of verse 8, Israel or the Lord?
Verse 9: The prophet has finished describing Israel’s possible repentance and returns to its present problem: who will understand the prophecy and voice of warning that he has pronounced? How might this prophetic reflection on the prophetic office apply to us?
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