Who was Hosea?
In the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament, Hosea was a prophet to the nation of Israel is may be best known for marrying a woman named Gomer, an adulteress.
1. His name
The name ( הושׁע , hōshēa‛ Septuagint �Ωσηέ , Ōsēé ; for other forms see note in DB ), probably meaning "help," seems to have been not uncommon, being derived from the auspicious verb from which we have the frequently recurring word "salvation." It may be a contraction of a larger form of which the Divine name or its abbreviation formed a part, so as to signify "God is help," or "Help, God." according to Numbers 13:8 , Numbers 13:16 that was the original name of Joshua son of Nun, till Moses gave him the longer name (compounded with the name of Yahweh) which he continued to bear ( יהושׁע , yehōshua‛ ), "Yahweh is salvation." The last king of the Northern Kingdom was also named Hosea (2 Kings 15:30 ), and we find the same name borne by a chief of the tribe of Ephraim under David (1 Chronicles 27:20 ) and by a chief under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:23 ).
2. Native Place
Although it is not directly stated in the book, there can be little doubt that he exercised his ministry in the kingdom of the Ten Tribes.
Whereas his references to Judah are of a general kind, Ephraim or Samaria being sometimes mentioned in the same connection or more frequently alone, the situation implied throughout and the whole tone of the addresses agree with what we know of the Northern Kingdom at the time, and his references to places and events in that kingdom are so numerous and minute as to lead to the conclusion that he not only prophesied there, but that he was a native of that part of the country. Gilead, e.g. a district little named in the prophets, is twice mentioned in Hos (Nehemiah 6:8 ; Nehemiah 12:11 ) and in such a manner as to suggest that he knew it by personal observation; and Mizpah (mentioned in Nehemiah 5:1 ) is no doubt the Mizpah in Gilead (Judges 10:17 ). Then we find Tabor (Hosea 5:1 ), Shechem (Hosea 6:9 the Revised Version (British and American)), Gilgal and Bethel ( Hosea 4:15 ; Hosea 9:15 ; Hosea 10:5 , Hosea 10:8 , Hosea 10:15 ; Hosea 12:11 ).
Even Lebanon in the distant North is spoken of with a minuteness of detail which could be expected only from one very familiar with Northern Palestine (Hosea 14:5-8 ).
In a stricter sense, therefore, than amos who, though a native of Tekoah, had a prophetic mission to the North, Hosea may be called the prophet of Northern Israel, and his book, as Ewald has said, is the prophetic voice wrung from the bosom of the kingdom itself.
All that we are told directly as to the time when Hosea prophesied is the statement in the first verse that the word of the Lord came to him "in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel." It is quite evident that his ministry did not extend over the combined reigns of all these kings; for, from the beginning of the reign of Uzziah to the beginning of that of Hezekiah, according to the now usually received chronology (Kautzsch, Literature of the Old Testament , English Translation), there is a period of 52 years, and Jeroboam came to his throne a few years before the accession of Uzziah.
When we examine the book itself for more precise indications of date, we find that the prophet threatens in God's name that in "a little while" He will "avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu." Now Jeroboam was the great-grandson of Jehu, and his son Zechariah, who succeeded him, reigned only six months and was the last of the line of Jehu. We may, therefore, place the beginning of Hosea's ministry a short time before the death of Jeroboam which took place 743 bc. as to the other limit, it is to be observed that, though the downfall of "the kingdom of the house of Israel" is threatened (Hosea 1:4 ), the catastrophe had not occurred when the prophet ceased his ministry.
The date of that event is fixed in the year 722 bc, and it is said to have happened in the 6th year of King Hezekiah. This does not give too long a time for Hosea's activity, and it leaves the accuracy of the superscription unchallenged, whoever may have written it. If it is the work of a later editor, it may be that Hosea's ministry ceased before the reign of Hezekiah, though he may have lived on into that king's reign. It should be added, however, that there seems to be no reference to another event which might have been expected to find an echo in the book, namely, the conspiracy in the reign of Ahaz (735 bc) by Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus against the kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 16:5 ; Isaiah 7:1 ).
Briefly we may say that, though there is uncertainty as to the precise dates of the beginning and end of his activity, he began his work before the middle of the 8th century, and that he saw the rise and fall of several kings. He would thus be a younger contemporary of amos whose activity seems to have been confined to the reign of Jeroboam.
4. Personal History (Marriage)
Hosea is described as the son of Beeri, who is otherwise unknown. Of his personal history we are told either absolutely nothing or else a very great deal, according as we interpret Hosea 1:1-11 and Hosea 3:1-5 of his book. In ancient and in modern times, opinions have been divided as to whether in these chapters we have a recital of actual facts, or the presentation of prophetic teaching in the form of parable or allegory.
(1) Allegorical View
The Jewish interpreters as a rule took the allegorical view, and Jerome, in the early Christian church, no doubt following Origen the great allegorizer, states it at length, and sees an intimation of the view in the closing words of Hosea's book: "Who is wise, that he may understand these things? prudent, that he may know them?" (Hosea 14:9).
It is a mystery, he says; for it is a scandal to think of Hosea being commanded to take an unchaste wife and without any reluctance obeying the command. It is a figure, like that of Jeremiah going to the Euphrates (when Jerusalem was closely besieged) and hiding a girdle in the bed of the river (Jeremiah 13 ). So Ezekiel is commanded to represent, by means of a tile, the siege of Jerusalem, and to lie 390 days on his side to indicate the years of their iniquity (Ezekiel 4 ); and there are other symbolical acts. Jerome then proceeds to apply the allegory first to Israel, which is the Gomer of chapter 1, and then to Judah, the wife in chapter 3, and finally to Christ and the church, the representations being types from beginning to end.
Calvin took the same view. Among modern commentators we find holding the allegorical view not only Hengstenberg, Hävernick and Keil, but also Eichhorn, Rosenmüller and Hitzig. Reuss also ( Das Altes Testament , II, 88ff) protests against the literal interpretation as impossible, and that on no moral or reverential considerations, but entirely on exegetical grounds. He thinks it enough to say that, when the prophet calls his children "children of whoredom," he indicates quite clearly that he uses the words in a figurative sense; and he explains the allegory as follows: The prophet is the representative of Yahweh; Israel is the wife of Yahweh, but faithless to her husband, going after other gods; the children are the Israelites, who are therefore called children of whoredoms because they practice the idolatry of the nation.
So they receive names which denote the consequences of their sin. In accordance with the allegory, the children are called the children of the prophet (for israel is God's own) but this is not the main point; the essential thing is the naming of the children as they are named. In the third chapter, according to this interpretation, allegory again appears, but with a modification and for another purpose. Idolatrous Israel is again the unfaithful wife of the prophet as the representative of Yahweh. This relation can again be understood only as figurative; for, if the prophet stands for Yahweh, the marriage of Israel to the prophet cannot indicate infidelity to Yahweh. The sense is evident: the marriage still subsists; God does not give His people up, but they are for the present divorced "from bed and board"; it is a prophecy of the time when Yahweh will leave the people to their fate, till the day of reconciliation comes.
(2) Literal View
The literal interpretation, adopted by Theodore of Mopsucstia in the ancient church, was followed, after the Reformation, by the chief theologians of the Lutheran church, and has been held, in modern times, by many leading expositors, including Delitzsch, Kurtz, Hofmann, Wellhausen, Cheyne, Robertson Smith, G. A. Smith and others. In this view, as generally held, chapters 1,3 go together and refer to the same person.
The idea is that Hosea married a woman named Gomer, who had the three children here named. Whether it was that she was known to be a worthless woman before the marriage and that the prophet hoped to reclaim her, or that she proved faithless after the marriage, she finally left him and sank deeper and deeper into sin, until, at some future time, the prophet bought her from her paramour and brought her to his own house, keeping her secluded, however, and deprived of all the privileges of a wife. In support of this view it is urged that the details are related in so matter-of-fact a manner that they must be matters of fact.
Though the children receive symbolical names (as Isaiah gave such names to his children), the meanings of these are clear and are explained, whereas the name of the wife cannot thus be explained. Then there are details, such as the weaning of one child before the conception of another (Hosea 1:8 ) and the precise price paid for the erring wife (Hosea 3:2 ), which are not needed to keep up the allegory, and are not invested with symbolical meaning by the prophet. What is considered a still stronger argument is relied on by modern advocates of this view, the psychological argument that there is always a proportion between a revelation vouchsafed and the mental state of the person receiving it.
Hosea dates the beginning of his prophetic work from the time of his marriage; it was the unfaithfulness of his wife that brought home to him the apostasy of Israel; and, as his heart went after his wayward wife, so the Divine love was stronger than Israel's sin; and thus through his own domestic experience he was prepared to be a prophet to his people.
The great difficulty in the way of accepting the literal interpretation lies, as Reuss has pointed out, in the statement at the beginning, that the prophet was commanded to take a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms. And the advocates of the view meet the difficulties in some way like this: The narrative as it stands is manifestly later than the events. On looking back, the prophet describes his wife as she turned out to be, not as she was at the beginning of the history. It is urged with some force that it was necessary to the analogy (even if the story is only a parable) that the wife should have been first of all chaste; for, in Hosea's representation, Israel at the time of its election in the wilderness was faithful and fell away only afterward (Hosea 2:15 ; Hosea 9:10 ; Hosea 11:1 ).
The narrative does not require us to assume that Comer was an immoral person or that she was the mother of children before her marriage. The children receive symbolic names, but these names do not reflect upon Gomer but upon Israel. Why, then, is she described as a woman of Whoredoms? It is answered that the expression 'ēsheth zenūnı̄m is a class-descriptive, and is different from the expression "a woman who is a harlot" ('ishshāh zōnāh ). A J ewish interpreter quoted by Aben Ezra says: "Hosea was commanded to take a wife of whoredoms because an honest woman was not to be had. The whole people had gone astray - was an 'adulterous generation'; and she as one of them was a typical example, and the children were involved in the common declension (see Hosea 4:1 f) ."
The comment of Umbreit is worthy of notice: "as the covenant of Yahweh with Israel is viewed as a marriage bond, so is the prophetic bond with Israel a marriage, for he is the messenger and mediator. Therefore, if he feels an irresistible impulse to enter into the marriage-bond with Israel, he is bound to unite himself with a bride of an unchaste character. Yea, his own wife Comer is involved in the universal guilt" ( Prak. Comm. über die Propheten , Hamburg, 1844). It is considered, then, on this view, that Gomer, after her marriage, being in heart addicted to the prevailing idolatry, which we know was often associated with gross immorality (see Hosea 4:13 ), felt the irksomeness of restraint in the prophet's house, left him and sank into open profligacy, from which (Hosea 3:1-5 ) the prophet reclaimed her so far as to bring her back and keep her secluded in his own house.
Quite recently this view has been advocated by Riedel ( Alttest. Untersuchungen , Leipzig, 1902), who endeavors to enforce it by giving a symbolic meaning to Gomer's name, Bath-Diblaim . The word is the dual (or might be pointed as a plural) of a word, debhēlāh , meaning a fruitcake, i.e. raisins or figs pressed together. It is the word used in the story of Hezekiah's illness ( 2 Kings 20:7 ), and is found in the list of things furnished by abigail to David (1 Samuel 25:18 ). See also 1 Samuel 30:12 ; 1 Chronicles 12:40 .
Another name for the same thing, 'ăshishāh , occurs in Hosea 3:1 , rendered in the King James Version "flagons of wine," but in the Revised Version (British and American) "cakes of raisins." It seems clear that this word, at least here, denotes fruit-cakes offered to the heathen deities, as was the custom in Jeremiah's time (Jeremiah 7:18 ; Jeremiah 44:17 ). So Riedel argues that Comer may have been described as a "daughter of fruit-cakes" according to the Hebrew idiom in such expressions as "daughters of song," etc. (Ecclesiastes 12:4 ; Proverbs 31:2 ; 2 Samuel 7:10 ; Genesis 37:3 , etc.).
It will be perceived that the literal interpretation as thus stated does not involve the supposition that Hosea became aware of his wife's infidelity before the birth of the second child, as Robertson Smith and G. A. Smith suppose. The names given to the children all refer to the infidelity of Israel as a people; and the renderings of Lō' - rūḥāmāh , "she that never knew a father's love," and of Lō - ‛ammı̄ , "no kin of mine," are too violent in this connection. Nor does the interpretation demand that it was first through his marriage and subsequent experience that the prophet received his call; although no doubt the experience through which he passed deepened the conviction of Israel's apostasy in his mind.
IBSE, (in the public domain) with minor edits.