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The book of Hosea is the first of the twelve Minor Prophets. Hosea began service as a prophet about 750 B.C. and concluded his work about 722 B.C., shortly before the Assyrian conquest of Israel (the ten tribes that constituted the Northern Kingdom). He thus began his work shortly after Amos concluded his shorter prophetic ministry (about 760-755 B.C.).
Unlike Amos, who was a native of Judah (the Southern Kingdom), Hosea was a native of Israel (the Northern Kingdom). Both addressed their prophecies to Israel (the Northern Kingdom). Like Amos, Hosea proclaims a message of judgment on Israel for her unfaithfulness to Yahweh. However, Hosea also proclaims God’s continuing love and pleads for Israel’s repentance. He holds out the hope of forgiveness and restoration (1:10-11; and chapters 3, 11, and 14).
The superscription says that “the word of Yahweh that came to Hosea the son of Beeri, 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” (1:1). The Jeroboam in question here is Jeroboam II, who reigned in Israel (the Northern Kingdom) from about 785-745 B.C.
Hosea began his prophetic work during the last years of Jeroboam’s reign. That reign appears to have been prosperous—both Amos and Hosea condemn the extravagance of Israel’s wealthier citizenry. However, Jeroboam “did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh” (2 Kings 14:24). He was succeeded by his son, Zechariah, who reigned for only six months before being assassinated. Zechariah’s successor, Shallum, reigned only a month before he was assassinated. In the three decades of his prophetic ministry, Hosea saw a total of seven kings—all bad—come and go.
Chapters 1-3 constitute a unit in which Yahweh commands Hosea to take a wife known to be sexually promiscuous. His wife will serve as a metaphor for Israel, which has engaged in the whoredom of idolatry—unfaithfulness to Yahweh. When Gomer bears three children, Yahweh commands Hosea to give them names that further the prophetic message. But when Gomer reverts to kind and suffers the fruits of her unfaithfulness, Yahweh commands Hosea to redeem her (chapter 3)—a metaphor for Yahweh’s love that seeks to redeem Israel.
HOSEA 1:2-3. GO, TAKE FOR YOURSELF A WIFE OF PROSTITUTION
2 When Yahweh spoke at first by Hosea, Yahweh said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of prostitution and children of unfaithfulness; for the land commits great adultery, forsaking Yahweh.”
3 So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; and she conceived, and bore him a son.
“When Yahweh spoke at first by Hosea” (v. 2a). This is the beginning of Hosea’s prophetic ministry.
“Go, take for yourself a wife of prostitution and children of unfaithfulness” (v. 2b). We don’t know whether Gomer, the woman Hosea will marry, is a professional prostitute, a temple prostitute, or simply a woman of loose sexual morals. The point is that she cannot be trusted. She is not the kind of a woman that Hosea, left to his own devices, would choose to marry.
“children of unfaithfulness” This phrase does not necessarily mean that Gomer will bear children of illicit sexual relationships. Verse 3 says that Gomer “conceived and bore (Hosea) a son,” so we know that the first child was Hosea’s. We can’t be certain about the other two children. However, the phrase, “children of unfaithfulness,” (NRSV “children of whoredom”) could simply mean that the children are the offspring of a woman of loose morals.
“for the land commits great adultery, forsaking Yahweh'” (v. 2c). The word “land” hearkens back to the promises that God made to Abram at the very beginnings of Jewish history. God commanded Abram to leave his father’s house and to go “to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). When Abram and his family arrived in Canaan, God promised Abram, “I will give this land to your seed” (Genesis 12:7). The word “land,” then, is tied to the covenant that Yahweh established with Abram—a covenant that Israel violated by her idolatry—her unfaithfulness to Yahweh.
The land mentioned here is the nation Israel. It is Israel who has been unfaithful to Yahweh. This is the point that Hosea’s marriage is intended to illustrate. Gomer will prove to be “a wife of unfaithfulness,” just as Israel has committed “great adultery, forsaking Yahweh” (v. 2c).
The issue here is idolatry, especially the worship of Baal, the Canaanite god. Ahab served as king of Israel from 875-854 B.C. His wife, Jezebel, was the daughter of Ethbaal of Tyre and Sidon, and is the archetypical evil woman of Hebrew Scripture. The Bible speaks of her “prostitution…and witchcraft” (2 Kings 9:22). Jezebel strongly promoted the worship of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 16:3-32; 18:19). By Hosea’s time, Jezebel has been dead for a century, but the idolatry that she promoted still plagues Israel.
“So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; and she conceived, and bore him a son” (v. 3). Hosea obeys Yahweh’s command to marry a wanton woman—Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. We know little about Gomer and nothing more about Diblaim, but this listing of their names confirms that Hosea’s marriage is, in fact, an historical event—a real marriage between a prophet of Yahweh and a particular woman.
HOSEA 1:4-5.CALL HIS NAME JEZREEL
4 Yahweh said to him, “Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and will cause the kingdom of the house of Israel to cease. 5 It will happen in that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
“Yahweh said to him, “Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and will cause the kingdom of the house of Israel to cease” (v. 4). Hosea is to name his first son Jezreel—an important name symbolically. Jezreel can mean “God will scatter”—appropriate in this context.
Naboth’s vineyard was in the town of Jezreel, “hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria” (1 Kings 21:1). When Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to Ahab, Queen Jezebel had Naboth killed—resulting in a severe judgment by the Lord (1 Kings 21).
Later, Jehu “struck all that remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, with all his great men, his familiar friends, and his priests, until he left him none remaining” (2 Kings 10:11). Thus the site of Jezebel’s great sin against Naboth became the place where Ahab’s dynasty came to an ignominious end.
“It will happen in that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (v. 5). Now Yahweh is saying that, just as Jehu brought an end to Ahab’s dynasty in Jezreel, so also will Yahweh bring an end to Jehu’s dynasty—and Israel itself—”in the valley of Jezreel.”
HOSEA 1:6-7. CALL HER NAME LO-RUHAMAH
6 She conceived again, and bore a daughter.
Then he said to him, “Call her name Lo-Ruhamah; for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, that I should in any way pardon them.
7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and will save them by Yahweh their God, and will not save them by bow, sword, battle, horses, or horsemen.”
“She conceived again, and bore a daughter. Then he said to him, “Call her name Lo-Ruhamah; for I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, that I should in any way pardon them” (v. 6). Gomer’s second child will be a daughter. Whether this is Hosea’s child or a child of an illicit relationship is a matter of speculation. Yahweh commands Hosea to name her Lo-ruhamah, which means “Not pitied” or “Not loved.” Whenever her name is called, she will remind Israel that it stands under Yahweh’s judgment—that Yahweh will not pity Israel (the Northern Kingdom).
“in any way pardon them” (v. 6b). This part of verse 6b is difficult to understand. A more literal translation would be “I will certainly take them away” or “I will certainly forgive them.”
What is meant here? This has been the subject of scholarly debate. One possibility is that Yahweh is saying that he will not pity Israel—will not rescue her from her terrible fate—but that he will forgive her. There is a similar reversal in verses 10-11, so it is quite possible that a similar reversal is intended here.
“But I will have mercy on the house of Judah” (v. 7a). However, Yahweh will pity Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Israel, the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom, will fall to the Assyrians, but Judah will be spared.
“and will save them by Yahweh their God, and will not save them by bow, sword, battle, horses, or horsemen” (v. 7b). Judah will not be spared because of its military might. It will be spared by the grace of God—and that alone. This event is recorded in 2 Kings 18:13 – 19:37.
HOSEA 1:8-9. CALL HIS NAME LO-AMMI
8 Now when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived, and bore a son.
9 He said, “Call his name Lo-Ammi; for you are not my people, and I will not be yours
“Now when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived, and bore a son” (v. 8). In those days, a child was usually weaned at the age of three years. Gomer bears her third child—her second son. Whether this is Hosea’s child or a child of whoredom is speculation.
“He said, “Call his name Lo-Ammi” (v. 9a). Yahweh commands Hosea to name this third child Lo-ammi, which means “Not my people.”
“for you are not my people, and I will not be yours” (v. 9b). This is a reversal of the covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel. Until now, the message has been, “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7; see also Leviticus 26:12; Psalm 50:7; Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4; 30:22; Ezekiel 13:9; 36:28).
But in the next chapter, we will see a reversal of this judgment. Yahweh will have pity on Lo-ruhamah, and will say to Lo-ammi, “You are my people.” Lo-ammi shall say, “My God” (2:23). Like a father disciplining a wayward son, Yahweh seeks a path to redemption.
HOSEA 1:10. THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL WILL BE AS THE SAND OF THE SEA
10 Yet the number of the children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea, which can’t be measured nor numbered; and it will come to pass that, in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’
“Yet the number of the children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea, which can’t be measured nor numbered” (v. 10a). With this verse, Yahweh announces a reversal that leaves the door open to hope.
Earlier, God said to Abraham, “I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your seed greatly like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand which is on the seashore”—a promise that he reiterated later to Jacob (Genesis 22:17; 32:12). Now Yahweh tells these people that those promises are still intact. They will become as sand on the seashore.
“in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God'” (v. 10b). These people, who have borne the accursed name of Lo-ammi (“Not my people”), will be transformed. They shall be known as “sons of the living God.” The covenant, which these people have broken, will be restored.
HOSEA 1:11 – 2:1. NOT IN THE LECTIONARY READING
Verses 1:11 – 2:1 are not in the lectionary reading, but the preacher should be aware of them. Verse 1:11 promises the restoration of the united kingdom—Israel and Judah together under one leader (1:11).
Verse 2:1 refers to “your brothers, ‘My people!’ (Hebrew: Ammi), and …your sisters, ‘My loved one!'” (Hebrew: Ruhamah) (2:1). Note that the names have been changed—from Lo-ammi (“Not loved”) to Ammi (“Loved”) and from Lo-ruhamah (“Not pitied”) to Ruhaman (“Pitied”). It is a grand reversal.
POSTSCRIPT:THE ASSYRIAN EXILE AND EVENTUAL RESTORATION
In 722 B.C., Assyria put down a revolt in Israel and deported large numbers of its people to Assyria, after which it repopulated the area with other peoples (2 Kings 17-18). The people of Israel became so assimilated after that time that Israel (the Northern Kingdom) ceased to exist as a nation or a people.
However, that will not be the end of the Jewish people. Judah (the Southern Kingdom) will remain in place for the time being, but will be taken into exile by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. However, in 539 B.C., the Lord will raise up Cyrus, king of Persia, who will defeat the Babylonians and issue an edict allowing the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. Cyrus will even return the temple vessels to the exiles for use in the new temple and will provide financial backing for their return (Ezra 6:2-5). In 520 B.C., a large group of exiles will return to Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua. In 516 B.C., they will dedicate the new temple.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Achtemeier, Elizabeth, New International Biblical Commentary: Minor Prophets I (Peabody, Massachusetts, 1996)
Birch, Bruce C., Westminster Bible Companion: Hosea, Joel, and Amos (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997)
Dearman, J. Andrew, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Hosea (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010)
NOTE: This commentary was not yet released when I wrote this exegesis, but promises to be an excellent resource on Hosea when it is released in October 2010.
Garrett, Duane A., The New American Commentary: Hosea, Joel, Vol. 19a (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1997)
Guenther, Allen, Believers Church Bible Commentary: Hosea, Amos (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1998)
Hubbard, David Allan, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Hosea, Vol. 22a (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989)
Kidner, Derek, The Message of Hosea: The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984)
Limburg, James, Interpretation Commentary: Hosea-Micah (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988)
McComiskey, Thomas Edward, in McComiskey, Thomas Edward (ed.), The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992, 1993, 1998)
Newsome, James D. in Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Ogilvie, Lloyd, The Preacher’s Commentary: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Vol. 22 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002)
Radner, Ephraim, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Simundson, Daniel J., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005)
Stuart, Douglas, Word Biblical Commentary: Hosea-Jonah, Vol. 31 (Dallas: Word Books, Publisher, 1987)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Yee, Gale A., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, Daniel, the Twelve Prophets, Vol. VII (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2001)
Copyright 2010, Richard Niell Donovan