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CORNERSTONE BIBLICAL COMMENTARYMINOR PROPHETS Hosea-Malachi
By Richard D. Patterson Andrew E. Hill
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2008 Richard Patterson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHosea RICHARD D. PATTERSON
INTRODUCTION TO Hosea
Hosea presents a study in God's love for his own. Despite the fact that God's people had become self-reliant, God maintained his love and concern for them. Although Hosea warned that God's judgment on Israel must come, sending them into exile, he assured the people that one day a redeemed and faithful remnant would know God's forgiveness, restoration, and blessings. Israel's spiritual journey provides a lesson for believers of all ages: God reserves his best for his faithful servants.
Hosea prophesied during part of the reigns of several eighth-century BC kings of Judah (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah) and Israel (Jeroboam II). The son of a man named Beeri (1:1), he ministered to the people of the northern kingdom (see "Audience" below). Laetsch (1956:9-10) points out that early Jewish tradition identified his father with the tribe of Reuben, which was carried away into exile by Tiglath-pileser III (cf. 1 Chr 5:6, 26), and that another Jewish legend reports that Hosea died in Babylon but was buried at Safed, northwest of the Sea of Galilee. Laetsch also calls attention to an early Christian tradition which suggests that he came from the tribe of Issachar. All of this, of course, is mere speculation.
Hosea, God's prophet, was ordered to marry a harlot, a situation that would spiritually symbolize God's own relation with apostate Israel (Hos 1-3). From this union at least three children were born (Hos 1). Hosea was motivated by a genuine concern for God's person and will, and concern for Israel's besetting sinfulness. Thus, Wood remarks, "Hosea should be thought of as a hard-working prophet, fully dedicated to the will of God, ministering faithfully to the sinful people of his day in spite of the great sadness of his own marriage" (1985:281). A man of deep spiritual convictions, "Hosea was concerned primarily with moral, religious, and political abominations in the nation" (Harrison 1969:871).
While in the past critics have suggested that not all of the book was authored by Hosea, current scholarship tends to acknowledge that a great preponderance of the material stems from Hosea's messages. Many suggest, however, that the actual writing may have come from Hosea's disciples or that some of the messages may contain redactional interpolations, such as references to Judah (Emmerson 1984) and hopeful oracles of salvation (1:10-2:1; 2:14-23; 3:5; 11:8-11; 14:4, 7). Nevertheless, all such suggestions are basically a priori assumptions that reflect theological predisposition rather than demonstrable proof. Dillard and Longman (1994:355) aptly observe, "It must be said that such critical conclusions restrict the future vision of the prophet (judgment and hope) as well as his concern for the whole people of God (north and south)." I concur with Garrett (1997:3), who said, "There is no reason to doubt that [all] the messages of Hosea came from the prophet himself."
DATE AND OCCASION OF WRITING
Given the historical notices of the kings who reigned during his ministry (1:1), Hosea must have delivered his messages across a great deal of the eighth century BC. While it is difficult to pinpoint the various occasions of his messages with certainty, some of the prophecies appear to reflect particular historical circumstances in that era (see the Introduction to Joel). For example, the prediction of judgment concerning the house of Jehu (1:4) must have taken place in the reign of Jeroboam II (792-752 BC), for Jeroboam's son was assassinated a scant six months into his reign (2 Kgs 15:8-12). The rapid change of royalty in the following 30 years, which saw five kings elevated in accordance with changing political fortunes, appears to be considered in 8:4.
Moreover, one can sense the prophet's condemnation of the spiritual indolence and moral complacency of life in the northern kingdom in the early chapters (e.g., ch 2), giving way to growing crises in relations with the Neo-Assyrian empire (e.g., 5:8-13; 8:7-9; 12:1; 14:3; cf. 2 Kgs 15:19-31) and Egypt (7:11; 12:1; cf. 2 Kgs 17:3-4) and in relation to internal affairs (7:1-7; 10:1-4; 12:7; 13:10-11). Indeed, in his closing prophecies, the end of the northern kingdom seems assured (13:9-16; 14:1). Accordingly, Stuart (1987:9) appears to be correct in suggesting that Hosea's prophecies "proceed more or less chronologically," even though some portions of the latter part of the book appear to prove an exception to this rule of thumb (e.g., 12:7-8).
Since Hosea does not specifically mention the fall of Samaria, an event that would provide a natural setting for expanding on the sins that occasioned the fall of the northern kingdom (cf. 2 Kgs 17:7-18, 20-23), it would seem that the book was completed before 722 BC. Therefore, since the prophecies reflect the greater portion of the eighth century BC, a date of 760-725 BC for the oral delivery and collection of the messages would seem to be reasonable.
Hosea delivered his oracles primarily to the northern kingdom, although a few remarks for Judah are scattered throughout the book (e.g., 5:10-14; 6:4, 11; 8:14). At times, he addressed particular groups such as the priests (4:4-9; 5:1) and the royal house (5:1), all Israel/Ephraim (5:1; 9:1; 11:8) or Judah (6:4, 11), and even particular cities (8:5; 10:15). Whether or not Hosea delivered his oracles personally to these audiences, his words were obviously intended for them and no doubt ultimately reached them.
Hosea spoke to a people in need of a word from God. In the early years of his ministry, he addressed a society that had experienced outward success and renewed prosperity under the long reign (792-752 BC) of Jeroboam II (2 Kgs 14:23-29). Politically, the relative weakness of their traditional Assyrian enemies allowed the northern kingdom to extend its borders to nearly the same size as that enjoyed in the Solomonic era. Economically, it was a time of renewed commerce, building activities, and the amassing of personal wealth (8:14; 12:7-8). But unfortunately, such wealth was often accrued at the expense of common folk (12:7; cf. Amos 4:1-2; 8:4-6) and was a reflection of an immoral and unjust society that had been loosed from its spiritual moorings. Such conditions only worsened as political disintegration set in, first with the assassinations of Zechariah and Shallum in 752 BC and the bloody contests that followed in the days of Menahem, Pekahiah, and Pekah (2 Kgs 15:16-31).
The long history of prevailing sin that characterized Israel's history finally reached its climax during the reign of its last king, Hoshea (732-722 BC). When the spiritual degeneration of the northern kingdom had reached intolerable limits (2 Kgs 17:7-17, 20-23), God brought judgment upon his unfaithful people in the form of the defeat and deportation of its populace at the hands of the Assyrians (2 Kgs 17:1-6). Conditions at this time were not much better in the southern kingdom (2 Kgs 17:18-19); only the rising prominence of Hezekiah stemmed the tide of God's eventual judgment on Judah.
To such an era and such a people, God's prophet was sent with the message of God's undying love for them, as well as a declaration of his unwavering standards and conditions for spiritual success. No doubt it was too often a discouraging ministry. Yet through it all, Hosea, like God himself (11:1), loved his people and held out the consoling prospect of God's ultimate blessing to his repentant and restored people (14:4-7).
CANONICITY AND TEXTUAL HISTORY
The canonicity of Hosea has never been in doubt. It appears as the first of the Minor Prophets in the listing of 2 Esdras 1:39-40 (c. second century AD). It was also accepted as Scripture earlier by the Qumran community, where Hosea was read and a commentary (or pesher) was written about it. Hosea was fully accepted by Jesus himself (Matt 9:13; 12:7) and is cited or alluded to by several of the New Testament writers (e.g., Matt 2:15; Luke 23:30; Rom 9:25-28; 1 Cor 15:55; 1 Pet 2:10; Rev 6:16). Its canonicity was also traditionally received by the Jewish and early Christian communities, being cited in Philo, Josephus, the Talmud (b. Bava Batra 14b), and such early Christian Fathers as Melito of Sardis, Origen, Jerome, and Athanasius.
The text of Hosea is another matter. Even so conservative a scholar as Stuart (1987:13) has said, "With the possible exception of the book of Job, no other OT book contains as high a proportion of textual problems as does Hosea." While Andersen and Freedman (1980:66-67) emphasize the many difficulties of the Masoretic Text versions of Hosea, they also note that the early versions are seldom of much help in establishing the text. They go on to point out that "the knowledge of ancient Hebrew gained through epigraphic studies and related disciplines has provided new ways of explaining the text without changing it.... As a result, there is less need to alter the text to remove a supposed difficulty." Moreover, R. K. Harrison (1969:872) demonstrates that "many of the alterations appear to be accidental," often consisting of such matters as confusion of one consonant for another, or the transposing of consonants, and differing word divisions. Recognizing the long history of the transmission of the Masoretic Text and armed with the cautions and observations of Andersen and Freedman, one can move with cautious optimism in suggesting reconstructions in those places in the text that prove troublesome.
Hosea used both literary modes, prose and poetry, to deliver his messages. His style in either case, however, is so high that even his prose has been termed elevated (Wolff 1974:xxiv). Scholars have often disagreed as to whether the prophet was writing in prose or poetry. Andersen and Freedman (1980:60-66) concluded from evidence based upon syntactic devices typical of poetry that chapters 4-14 are poetic, while the first three chapters are largely prose narrative (especially 1:2-2:3 and 3:1-5). Although one may not concur in every detail with this estimate, it does nicely demonstrate the soundness of the reader's natural impression that chapters 1-3 and 4-14 form distinct units in the book. The oracles embedded in the prose narrative of the first three chapters are clustered around the chiastically constructed marriage theme. The oracles of judgment and warning that comprise chapters 4-14 are presented in a collage of divine speeches intertwined with prophetic pronouncements.
It is generally conceded that the most distinctive feature of Hosea's work is his use of simile and metaphor. Dillard and Longman (1994:359) observe that these two literary devices can be viewed with reference to God or Israel, and also as to "whether God's attitude toward Israel is positive or negative." Thus, for example, God can be viewed as a jealous (2:2-13) or forgiving husband (3:1-5). On the one hand, he is a dispenser of judgment who comes against his people like a hungry moth or advancing rot (5:12), like a lion (5:14), or a trapper with his net (7:12). On the other hand, he proceeds as a father forgiving his wayward son (11:1-3) or a redeemer who tenderly cares for his liberated people (11:4; 12:9; 13:4).5
Israel, for its part, is portrayed spiritually as an unfaithful wife (chs 1-3) whose love is like a morning cloud or early dew that quickly disappears (6:4). Blithely unaware of their mortal danger, God's people are likened to a man with gradually graying hair or an unturned pancake over a fire (7:7-9). These figures and images, and others, make the book colorfully picturesque and its messages distinctively poignant-hence Hosea is of high aesthetic as well as theological value.
Hosea's imagery is incorporated into several important literary themes. Especially significant are those dealing with family relations, such as God being portrayed as a loving father longing for his wayward son (11:1-3). The best known of these images is, of course, that of marriage, centered in Hosea's relation to Gomer (chs 1-3). While several interpretations (discussed later in the commentary) have been put forward as to that relationship, the whole marriage scenario is obviously intended to dramatize the relationship between God and Israel. Much as adulterous Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea, so Israel had proven to be unfaithful to God.
Closely related to the theme of infidelity is that of prostitution. It is used not only in the case of Gomer but to describe Israel's own spiritual condition (4:14-15, 18; 5:3-4; 6:10; 7:4; 8:9; 9:1; 11:7; 14:4). Spiritually speaking, Israel was a harlot; God's people had been untrue to their heavenly husband and gone into pagan idolatry (4:10-17; 8:4-6; 9:10, 15; 10:5; 11:2; 12:11).
All of this underscores yet another theme-that of the covenant. Despite the fact that God had redeemed his children by bringing them out of Egyptian bondage (11:4; 12:9; 13:4), they had broken the covenant with their God and become unfaithful to him, no longer meeting his conditions for blessing (6:7; 10:1-3). The people of the northern kingdom persisted in covenant violations (8:1-14; 13:16). Israel's hope lay solely in God's redeeming love (3:1-5), through which they could, as a restored people, enter into the blessings of a new covenant born in righteousness, justice, love, and compassion (2:18-23).
Several of the themes in the book have their origin in the agrarian and animal worlds. Hosea spoke of sowing and reaping (2:23; 8:7; 10:12-13), of vine, vineyard, and wine (2:9, 12, 15; 9:2, 4, 10; 10:1; 14:7), and of threshing and harvest (2:6, 8-9, 11, 22; 6:11; 9:2). Although Israel was once a trained heifer that continually fed as she threshed the grain (10:11), she had become stubborn and unruly and was therefore in danger of God's correction (4:16). In her lust to chase after other nations and their gods, she had become like a wild donkey in heat (8:9-10) or a senseless dove, flitting back and forth to this nation or that (7:11). Accordingly, God would be required by the covenant to bring severe judgment on his people. He would come like a great lion that tears its prey (5:14-15; cf. 13:7-8 where God is compared to a stalking leopard or an angry bear robbed of its cubs). Yet, in a future day the lion would roar and his young would then hear his voice and come trembling homeward (cf. 11:10-11 where the exilic returnees are likened to trembling birds-doves seeking their nest).
These themes, often woven into the fabric of Hosea's messages under a variety of figures (see "Literary Style"), provide a vividness that portrays the desperate condition of God's people. The careful reader will be impressed with the need to apply the truths of Hosea's prophecies to our own contemporary world. Grammatical, historical, and literary information thus combine with theological data to guide the reader in the interpretative process.
Theologically, Hosea reminds his hearers that God is a God of faithfulness, love, and mercy (2:18-23; 11:1, 3, 8; 14:1-4). He is also a God of redemption (11:4; 12:9; 13:4) who cares for (13:5) and blesses (2:8) his own. Nevertheless, where sin and injustice abound, he is also a God of justice who moves in judgment against sin, even against his own people (8:14; 9:7). For Israel, such could mean desolation of land (4:3), destruction of city and countryside (5:8-9), and exile (9:3, 6; 10:6).
Through all of God's dealings with Israel, his people were challenged to regard the high standards expected of a covenant people (4:1-9; see "Major Themes" above). As such, they were reminded both of the primacy and sufficiency of God's word and of the binding nature of its precepts. Stuart (1987:6-7) puts it well: "Understanding the message of the book of Hosea depends upon understanding the Sinai covenant. The book contains a series of blessings and curses announced for Israel by God through Hosea. Each blessing or curse is based upon a corresponding type in the Mosaic law."
So serious was Israel's spiritual condition that Hosea used 15 different words for sin in cataloging its crimes. Through Hosea, God called upon his people to repent and pursue genuine righteousness and godliness (10:12; 12:6). He alone can and will restore such a people (6:1-3) and once again pour out his blessings upon them (2:21-23; 14:4-7). In announcing these hoped-for blessings of the end times, Hosea may well have been including a veiled hint of the means of their achievement: One would come who alone is the redeemer and founder of a new and better covenant for all humanity (1:10-11; 2:18-20; 3:5).
Excerpted from CORNERSTONE BIBLICAL COMMENTARY by Richard D. Patterson Andrew E. Hill Copyright © 2008 by Richard Patterson. Excerpted by permission.
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