Read an Excerpt
COMMENTARY ON THE TWELVE PROPHETS VOLUME 1
By ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA
THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA PRESS
Copyright © 2007
THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA PRESS
All right reserved.
Chapter One COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
Word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Achaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel (v.1).
BLESSED HOSEA, then, is prophesying in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Achaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel. While the period of prophecy is understood as taking its development up to this point, my view is that a clear explanation should now be given of the events in each case, as far as we can understand it, involving, as I said before, what kind of people they proved to be, whether good and well-disposed towards God, or inclined to the opposite, and what befell each of them, both those in Samaria and those in Jerusalem. This is the way, in fact, that we shall understand in quite easy fashion what the purpose of the prophecy had in view.
Although the last to be mentioned is Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel, he lived before Azariah, or Uzziah. It should be realized that he is different from the first king of that name, who lived in the time of the reign of Rehoboam son of Solomon, though of like mind and similar to him in impiety; it is written of him these terms: "In the fifteenth year of Amaziah son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam son of Joash began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, not departing from all the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin." Do you see how he imitated the ways of his predecessor, (9) following the same course, as it were, and, so to speak, treading in the footsteps of the other's impiety? What does the sacred text say next? "In the twenty-seventh year of King Jeroboam of Israel, Azariah son of Amaziah, king of Judah, began to reign. He was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. He did what was right in the Lord's eyes, just as his father Amaziah had always done. But he did not take away the high places; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. The Lord struck the king, and he was leprous to the day of his death."
While Uzziah was pious and godly, he was not completely so; he did not abolish the high places, the text says; instead, those who were in error made offerings on them and offered sacrifices to the demons. Azariah, or Uzziah, was then carried away to such a degree of improper thinking as to believe that it belonged to the status of the king to perform the rites sanctioned by God and to maintain the sacred liturgy; and of course he sacrificed on his own authority in defiance of the laws of Moses. When he went up to the ritual that was in no way proper to him, however-namely, the priestly ritual-"the Lord struck him, and he was leprous to the day of his death." By law the leper was unclean, and those affected by the disease were expelled from the camp; God had said to the revealer Moses, "Tell the children of Israel to banish from the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge, and everyone who is unclean through contact with a corpse." He was punished with the disease for having presumed to do what was not proper for him, and God sentenced the king to dishonor for usurping priestly status.
Now, since the force of the prophecy bears not only (10) on Judah-that is, those in Jerusalem-but applies also to Israel-that is, the ten tribes in Samaria-come now, let us in consequence mention those who reigned over it in the time of Azariah, or Uzziah, and the awful disasters in which they were caught up for succumbing improperly to loathsome idolatry. Already in the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Uzziah, or Azariah, a different Azariah, son of Jeroboam, reigned over Israel for six months. But since he, too, walked in the way of his father, and did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord, he was given over to slaughter at the hands of some of his own family, and perished.
After a lapse of time, in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of Uzziah, Shallum was anointed king over Israel and reigned one month; he was immediately done away with by Menahem son of Gadi in Tirzah. The sacred text indicated that he had sons, and both were of the line of Jehu, who killed Ahab, his sons, and Jezebel; God had promised him, "Your sons of the fourth generation will sit upon your throne." Accordingly, Menahem reigned over Israel after killing Shallum; "he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord," the text says; "he did not depart from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin." While he was reigning-Menahem, I mean-and offending God with his extreme inclination to the false worship of idols, Pul, king of Assyria, took control of Samaria; unable to resist him by force of arms, [Menahem] persuaded him with much money to leave his country and desist from fighting.
When Menahem died, (11) however, in the fifty-second year of the reign of Uzziah, Jotham was anointed king over Judah in Jerusalem on the death of his father, of whom Scripture says, "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had always done. But he did not remove the high places, the people still sacrificing and making offerings on the high places." Over Israel, on the other hand, there reigned Pekahiah son of Menahem; "he reigned two years, and did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. Then Pekah son of Remaliah, his captain, conspired against him," the text says, "attacked him in Samaria, and reigned in his place over Israel. He did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did not depart from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin."
It was during his reign that Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, who took control of all Samaria, deported Israel to Assyria. Pekah also died when a conspiracy was made against him by Hoshea son of Elah, who came to the throne in his place in the twentieth year of Jotham son of Azariah. But, the text says, "in those days the Lord began to send against Judah Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah." In these verses the story has gone backwards; we mentioned that Pekah had died when Hoshea son of Elah raised a conspiracy and plot against him; but the story inserts what happened in his lifetime: "In those days the Lord began to send against Judah Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah." Pekah son of Remaliah in fact waged war on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, though they were his neighbors; but when he saw their resistance to be fierce and unrelenting, he persuaded Rezin king (12) of the Syrians to be his ally and accomplice in mounting a joint siege against Jerusalem.
When the war broke out, then, Jotham son of Azariah died, and his son Ahaz succeeded to the kingship, a very wicked man and an idolater, so far under the influence of idolatrous errors as to make his own son pass through fire; he also acquiesced in every kind of deviant behavior and sacrificed "on the high places and under every leafy tree," as Scripture says. Taking fright therefore, Ahaz collected all the riches to be found in the house of the Lord, and sent word through messengers to Tiglathpileser, king of the Assyrians, asking to be rescued by him. So the Assyrian took up arms against the kingdom of Rezin, captured Damascus, the capital of Syria, and did away with Rezin. Ahaz then went down from Jerusalem to Damascus to see the Assyrian; noticing an altar in the shrines of the idols with novel and unusual features, he was fascinated by it, took a copy, and sent it to Uriah the priest in Jerusalem with orders to have one made like it. He brought it into the house of the Lord, showing scorn, as it were, for the one made according to God's wishes conveyed through Moses, and bade the prescribed rituals be performed on it; he also introduced other novelties in addition to this in the Temple as he chose in a manner inconsiderate and disrespectful to God.
Now, in his time, when Hoshea son of Elah was still king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of the Assyrians invaded Israel, devastated Samaria, and deported Israel to the mountains and rivers of the Medes; he also killed Hoshea. What was the reason? Because, the text says, he had not sent him tribute, a sign (13) of subjection, instead summoning to his aid the ruler of Egypt.
Then after this on the death of Ahaz, his son Hezekiah became king over Judah in Jerusalem; he was a pious man, so devoted to righteousness as to be without peer. "He demolished the high places, and cut down the groves," the text says, "and the Lord was with him." While he was king, Sennacherib king of Assyria invaded as far as the fortified cities of Judea, besieged and took them effortlessly. At that time the Rabshakeh also made an assault on Jerusalem, opening his mouth in unbridled fashion against God and uttering those blasphemous words. At that time also a hundred and eighty-five thousand from the Assyrian camp fell in one night, slain by the hand of an angel.
So much of relevance for the time being; by anyone with skill the text of the prophecy can be fitted to each of the events, sometimes delivering a rebuke to those in Samaria, sometimes threatening those in Jerusalem with attacks. It forecasts the captivities, it foretells the fear, it promises assistance, it calls to reform; no statement or genre required for the benefit of those in error at the time is missing from the prophecy.
So the text goes on, Beginning of the word of the Lord to Hosea. The Lord said to Hosea (v.2). God begins in fact by revealing mysteries to the prophet, as was clearly said in another prophet: "I shall stand at my watchpost, and station myself on a rock, and shall keep watch to see what the Lord God will say in me." The God of all, you see, reveals to the saints by imparting to their minds knowledge of the future; (14) blessed David, for example, says, "I shall listen to what the Lord God says in me, because he will speak peace to his people," and the blessed prophet Zechariah no less clearly comes to us in similar terms: "The angel speaking within me replied." It was, in fact, the custom with the holy prophets to refer to the Word of God as an angel insofar as he announced to them and made clear the will of the God and Father. The prophet Isaiah also confirms this in saying of him, "Every garment assembled with deceit they will return with compensation, and they would prefer to be burnt alive, because a child is born to us, and he will be called angel of great counsel." Now, the fact that the revelation was sketchy and ambiguous in the saints, and not conveyed in language and words like ours, Paul will confirm in his letter: "Do you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me?" So the coming of the word of God in Hosea would mean, in the way I understand it, nothing else than his conveying to the listeners that a revelation was given to Hosea, and knowledge of the future flashed like light, illuminating not his bodily eyes but his mind and heart.
His saying again, The Lord said to Hosea, leads us to the same conclusion: the instruction given did not apply generally to all the readers, nor was it proposed to those willing to carry it out at various times; it was said only and specifically to the prophet. It was, in fact, not like the command of general application and usefulness, "Thus says the Lord, Do not learn the ways of the nations, or be dismayed at the signs of heaven," by which it would be understood as right and proper to take a wife of prostitution and have children of prostitution. Instead, while the former text would usefully be applied to everyone, (15) the latter would properly be referred by God specifically to Hosea alone. The clause The Lord said to Hosea is in my view of such a kind as if you were to claim that it refers not simply to everyone but only to Hosea. What was said in the scheme of things to one person at a particular time, you see, should not be a pretext for many people to live a shameful and pleasure-loving life.
What, then, did God say to blessed Hosea? Go, take for yourself a wife of prostitution and children of prostitution, because the land in its prostitution will prostitute itself by forsaking the Lord. He went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son (vv.2-3). No argument would persuade us to repudiate the text, to condemn the unlikelihood of the facts, to dismiss the tastelessness of the event itself, or even to think (as some commentators do) that there was no marriage or marital intercourse with Gomer, when the sacred text says that the conception took place and the birth as well, cites also the child's name, and mentions the woman's father and in addition to that the woman's actual name. Since, however, it would be necessary to assert to those willing to concede the reality of what happened that it really happened this way, come now, by exposing the customary arguments let us finally provide an apposite explanation of the divine plan.
I came across a man of some distinction, then, who wanted to clarify the question of this passage. He poured great scorn on its factuality and on those who say that things happened that way, and claimed it was clearly necessary in the case of this very chapter not to be afraid to shout aloud to the (16) lovers of continence, "The letter kills"; ravaging the text and, as it were, leaving it a desert, and, so to speak, falling on his face, he assembled some such texts as these. He claimed, "The divinely inspired Moses was once ordered to bring Israel, once it had been rescued from the slavery of the Egyptians, into the holy land promised of old to the fathers-I mean, the land of promise. The prophet Jeremiah also heard God saying clearly, 'Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you emerged from your mother I consecrated you, I appointed you a prophet to the nations.' How, then (he asked), are those men not commendable despite their declining such an august and fine ministry and not being averse to a delay? One said, 'O Lord, please appoint someone else fit to be sent,' while the other, citing his youth, tried to shame God. The prophet Ezekiel also (he says), when bidden to make loaves for himself on droppings of human dung, showed no little displeasure and was therefore told, 'See, I let you have cattle droppings instead of human droppings, and you can cook your loaves on them.' The divinely inspired Peter, too, when the sheet was let down from heaven on which all the quadrupeds and cattle were discernible, and God was heard to say, 'Get up, Peter, sacrifice and eat,' declined in the words, 'By no means, Lord, I have never eaten anything common or unclean, nor has any profane meat gone into my mouth.'
"Hosea, by contrast, on hearing that he had to have relations with a vile prostitute of execrable life, did not actually decline, did not show any reluctance, did not fall to supplication and beg an exemption. Instead, like someone quite inclined to lewd behavior, and, as it were, with no reservations, he grasped the opportunity, perhaps attracted to sexual pleasures."
Then, to reduce (17) the topic to the level of the absurd, he proceeded to add to this some unconvincing remarks, pretending to act as advocate for the prophet: "He would have shown the greatest reluctance if he thought God required physical intercourse. But since the action was a spiritual thing, he proceeds with profound godliness, as it were, and voluntarily to the execution of what was commanded. Otherwise (he claimed), the God of continence would have wanted something done of such a kind that a man like him would have been defiled by such shameful and loathsome intercourse-with a woman, I mean, who was a lewd prostitute. By transposing the drift of the text from factuality to spiritual import, however, he said Gomer was a type of those souls who opted for a shameful and ungodly life, while the prophet filled the role of the one from heaven above, that is, the Word of God the Father, who in a spiritual relationship with our souls imparts the seeds of a virtuous life."
Excerpted from COMMENTARY ON THE TWELVE PROPHETS VOLUME 1 by ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA Copyright © 2007 by THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA PRESS. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.