- 1 Introduction
- 2 Summary and Comment
- 3 Conclusion
- 4 Recommended Essays in the Commentary
- 5 Bibliography
- 6 Invitation to Comment
More than anything else, the book of Hosea calls for undivided allegiance to one God. It recognizes that rejecting the one true God does not necessarily take the form of deliberate rebellion. It can take the form of syncretism, merging the practices of more than one religion, as when the Israelites worshiped God utilizing the practices of Canaanite religion. Hosea accuses his people of believing that it was Baal not Israel's God who provided the produce of the land (2:8). Hosea invites us to ask if the practices of Western Christians sometimes reveal that they worship the god of Western consumerism as the provider of the "good life," rather than the God of the Bible. (For an analysis of how the mall has come to represent sacred space and shopping a religious ritual, see Smith: 19–27).
Hosea's condemnation of the political establishment for carrying on its affairs without regard for the ways of God challenges us to ensure that our involvement in the political and social arena be shaped not by self-interest but by God's vision of the good life for the broader community. By undermining all other sources of authority, Hosea challenges us to place our fundamental trust in God, not in lesser gods like the capitalist economy, military might, or particular political systems or powers.
The central theme of Hosea is God's punishment of Israel for its unfaithfulness. This invites us to reflect on how we can and must speak of God's judgment today in ways that stand in continuity with the biblical testimony yet also avoid some of its damaging features. After decreeing terrible judgment, each section of the book ends with God pledging to restore Israel. This calls for reflection on what it means to live under both the judgment and grace of God, entrusting divine justice to God while living in nonviolent resistance to false gods.
According to Hosea, what Israel needs more than anything else is knowledge of God (2:20; 4:1, 6; 5:4; 6:3, 6). Such knowledge includes an intimate relationship with God, commitment to God, awareness of the history of God's relationship with Israel, and following the ways of God that are designed to lead to life in all its fullness.
Date, Author, Setting
"Hosea" is a common Hebrew name meaning "God saves." The Hosea behind the book is the son of Beeri (1:1), who is otherwise unknown. Except for his marriage, the book provides no details of Hosea's personal life. This is typical of prophetic books because their focus is not the life of the prophet but the word of the Lord spoken by that prophet. The story of Hosea's marriage (1:2–3:5) is preserved for theological not biographical reasons. Hosea's life becomes the message as his deep wounds from being married to an unfaithful wife mirror God's pain at being married to unfaithful Israel.
Despite numerous references to Judah, there is no doubt that Hosea was a prophet from and to the Northern Kingdom of Israel that had broken away from the Davidic dynasty in 922 BCE after King Solomon's death. Hosea's central message is that Northern Israel will be destroyed by Assyria, which occurred in 722 and confirmed the truth of his core prophecy.
The superscription sets Hosea's ministry in the reign of King Jeroboam II of the Northern Kingdom and Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah (1:1). If Hosea was active during the reigns of the Judean kings listed, then he would have been active well past the death of Jeroboam II (c. 786–746) in the North. The most likely reason for omitting other Northern kings is that the book of Hosea was preserved and edited in Judah long after the prophet's death, and editors who added the superscription sought to link Hosea to kings whom their audience would easily recognize. Hosea's ministry probably began somewhere around 750 and continued until shortly before 722. The book reflects the chaotic last years of the Northern Kingdom and repeatedly announces its defeat by the Assyrians, but never mentions the catastrophic fall of the capital city Samaria in 722 BCE.
During the reign of Jeroboam II Israel experienced relative peace and economic prosperity, largely because of a power vacuum in the larger region. This changed with the rise of Assyrian power and expansionism under Tiglath Pilesar III (c. 745–727). Resisting Assyrian aggression cost Israel large amounts of personnel and finances and caused political turmoil. The ruling families fought over whether the nation should resist Assyria or whether it was best to submit, sacrifice independence, and pay a heavy yearly tribute. This conflict led to political instability as the nation witnessed six different kings in a mere twenty-five years. Several kings ruled only a few months before they were assassinated in a coup. Small wonder Hosea condemns the Israelite elite for devouring its rulers (7:3-7) and appointing kings without consulting God (8:4).
To reconstruct Hosea's historical context we must rely mostly on other sources because the book provides little data. Its individual speeches are no longer linked to the specific location, audience, or event for which they were originally composed, which makes interpretation a challenge. There is general agreement that the book was preserved, edited, and supplemented in Judah, well after the time of the historical Hosea, although there is little consensus about how much of the book represents the work of later editors. The conviction motivating this editorial activity was that God had spoken in powerful ways through Hosea and that his message must be preserved, shaped, and supplemented so that the ongoing faith community would also hear God speaking through it.
Form and Rhetoric
The book of Hosea is difficult to translate. It is the only Old Testament book originating from the Northern Kingdom and may reflect a now unfamiliar Hebrew dialect. A good practice when studying individual passages is to compare translations and pay attention to the footnotes that frequently state that the Hebrew is unclear. An example of a passage that the NIV and NRSV render quite differently is 13:14, which the NRSV and other translations frame as a series of rhetorical questions emphasizing that God will not spare Israel from death. The NIV and other translations convey the opposite meaning by rendering the lines as affirmations of God's deliverance from the power of death. Since 13:14 is embedded in an oracle of horrific judgment (13:9-16) the NRSV reading seems preferable in this case.
Except for the prose narratives of chapters 1 and 3, most of Hosea is in the form of terse poetry, which contributes to the challenges of translation and interpretation. The short, hard-hitting speeches are placed one after the other with no historical background or editorial clues to help the reader interpret or delineate these oracles. It is often difficult to know where one oracle ends and the next begins, a challenge reflected by the different paragraphing in different translations. The book opens with a collection of material focusing on the significance of Hosea's marriage and children, but in chapters 4–14 it is difficult to discern larger thematic units. The book features rapid and unpredictable changes in subject matter, person, and tone, as well as a profusion of images, especially for God, Israel, their relationship, Israel's sin, and God's judgment and redemption of Israel. The book's speeches are in the first person, usually with God as speaker. As is typical of prophetic books, the prophet is portrayed as the direct mouthpiece of God. Even when the "I" of a particular speech is clearly Hosea, the text assumes that Hosea speaks for God.
Most commentators find a clear structure to the book, although some treat all of chapters 4–14 as a single section.
- 1:1 Superscription
- 1:2–3:5 Hosea's Marriage: From Judgment to Deliverance
- 4:1–11:11 From Judgment to Deliverance
- 11:12–14:8 From Judgment to Deliverance Again
- 14:9 Postscript
What occurs three times at the micro level in chapters 1–3, the move from judgment to deliverance, occurs twice more at the macro level in the book, with the promises of deliverance in 11:8-11 and 14:1-8 capping off two longer sections of judgment. The movement in the three larger sections of the book is from Israel's unfaithfulness and resulting punishment, to forgiveness, grace, and rescue from God's side, and repentance, return to God, and physical restoration to the land from Israel's side. The book has been shaped by later editors to affirm that although Israel's deep unfaithfulness brought harsh judgment, God's final purpose for Israel is deliverance and healing.
One of the unique ways in which the book of Hosea functions rhetorically is by highlighting God's passionate engagement with Israel. This passion cuts in two opposite directions. God is Israel's husband who wishes to enjoy the intimacy of a marriage relationship and is devastated when Israel betrays him. God's rage lashes out in what can only be called vicious spousal abuse (2:6-13). Then God has a change of heart and promises to woo Israel and renew the marriage (2:14-23). The book is permeated with God's profound disappointment at the unfaithfulness of Israel, whom God has treated like a beloved son (11:1, 3-4). Despite horrific divine judgment, God's compassion still burns for Israel and will ultimately restore her (11:8-11). Nonetheless, Israel has forsaken her husband and father, and so God will become to her like a vicious lion or leopard, and like an enraged she-bear robbed of her cubs (13:7-8). But God's final word is that his love for Israel will overcome this anger (14:4). God's emotional involvement highlights how seriously God takes Israel's sin and how personally devastated he is by it. It also highlights how passionate God will be in both punishing Israel and then pursuing her in order to restore her.
The major themes of Hosea are:
- God has led Israel out of Egypt and chosen her for an exclusive marriage relationship.
- The benefits of this relationship include fertility, protection, and divine care.
- Israel has been an adulterous wife by participating in Canaanite religious practices and worshiping Baal.
- The priests are particularly responsible because they have failed to teach the knowledge of God.
- Kings and royal officials have governed as if God's desires for Israel do not matter. They have sponsored Baal worship and trusted in foreign alliances instead of seeking God.
- Israel will be devastated as a result of military defeat and exile by Assyria.
- God's restoration will follow judgment.
Summary and Comment
The historical concreteness of the superscription indicates that prophecy represents not generalized theology or philosophy but a message from God originally directed to a particular historical context. The mention of kings from both Judah and the Northern Kingdom testifies to the common prophetic assumption that God's people are one, even if political boundaries have divided them since the break-up of the nation in 922 BCE.
Hosea's Marriage: From Judgment to Deliverance (1:2–3:5)
God commands Hosea to perform the symbolic action of marrying a "promiscuous woman" or a "woman of adultery" (1:2) named Gomer, symbolizing the unfaithfulness of the Israelites. The adjective used to describe Gomer can designate a variety of sexual offences, and so there is speculation about whether Gomer was a professional prostitute, a sacred prostitute based at one of the shrines, an ordinary Israelite woman who had temporarily engaged in sacred prostitution, an ordinary Israelite woman called adulterous because all Israel had forsaken God and was adulterous, or just an ordinary Israelite woman who was sexually unfaithful after marriage. The ambiguity of the text does not permit a firm conclusion, but most important for understanding the larger passage is Gomer's unfaithfulness after marrying Hosea.
The issue is complicated by lack of consensus regarding the nature of Canaanite fertility religion. Commentators frequently assert that Canaanite religion featured various sexual rites and sacred prostitution. Supposedly, in order to ensure the fertility of their fields and flocks, farmers would visit shrines and imitate the sexual activity of the God Baal whose rain gifted the earth with fertility. Some scholars even theorize that Israelite women would also on occasion, perhaps just before marriage, visit the shrine and have sex with a priest or worshiper in order to ensure their own fertility. It is often argued that Gomer's adultery consisted of participation in some such sexual rites. Currently, some scholars claim that there is minimal evidence that prostitution was a common feature of Canaanite religion (Keefe: 42-65). The Hebrew term often translated "shrine prostitute" literally means holy woman, and may just designate a woman who played some nonsexual role at a shrine. Since the existence or nonexistence of sacred prostitution in ancient Israel does not significantly affect the message of Hosea 1–3, the interpretation here will not assume its existence. The main point is that Hosea's painful experience of being married to an unfaithful woman is a window into what God experiences as a result of his relationship with Israel.
Canaanite religion was preoccupied with the fertility upon which life in a subsistence farming economy depended. For Hosea, however, this is not what makes Baalism abhorrent, as one of his fundamental claims is that Israel's God is the only true God of fertility capable of providing agricultural abundance (2:8-9).
After Hosea marries Gomer, she bears three children in rapid succession who each receive a symbolic name. Hosea names the first child, a son, "Jezreel" (think Auschwitz or Hiroshima), the location of a brutal massacre in earlier times (2 Kings 9–10) that God will now avenge through Israel's military defeat (1:4-5). Hosea was probably not the father of the next two children, since the text does not say that Gomer bore them for Hosea (cf. 1:3), and 2:4-5 claims that the children were conceived promiscuously. Hosea names the second child, a daughter, "Not Pitied" because God will no longer have compassion on Israel, although he will have compassion on Judah (1:6-7). The final child, a son, receives the most ominous name, "Not My People," signifying an end to God's covenant relationship with Israel (1:8-9).
Immediately, however, the judgments associated with the children's names are reversed (1:10-11). The Israelites will multiply immensely, thereby fulfilling God's Genesis promises of innumerable descendants. God will restore the broken covenant relationship, exiles will return to the land, and Judah and the Northern Kingdom will be united under a single leader.
In 2:1-2 God commands the children to testify against their unfaithful mother in a court case (the first word of 2:2 should be translated "accuse"). It appears that this might be a divorce proceeding, but the goal is to stop the wife's adulterous actions and restore the relationship. Towards this end God threatens to strip and expose his wife, turn her into a wilderness, and kill her with thirst (2:3). God calls the mother of the children, who now represent individual Israelites who share their mother's character, the equivalent of a slut because she has pursued her lovers, the Canaanite fertility gods (2:4-5). Because Israel has failed to recognize the true source of fertility God now switches from persuasion to punishment, promising to confine Israel, to starve her, to put an end to all her religious festivities, and to expose her naked before her powerless lovers, thereby shaming both her and them (2:6-13). God's withdrawal of the gifts of fertility signifies the powerlessness of Baal to provide what the Israelites were seeking from him.
Then, in an abrupt about face, God decides that because of Israel's unfaithfulness and desolation, he will reromance and love Israel and replay the exodus from Egypt (2:14-15). The result will be a new age characterized by a renewed marriage showered with God's righteousness, love, justice, and mercy, Israel's transformation into a faithful wife who knows the Lord, restoration and security in the land, abundant fertility, and the direct reversal of the judgment associated with the names of the three children (2:16-23). Israel's restoration and healing do not depend on her repentance but on God's initiative and changed disposition towards her. God's ultimate purposes for Israel remain intact and will be achieved despite the obstacle of human sin (Guenther: 49).
The marriage imagery and God's reromancing of Israel highlight the tender, vulnerable, and loving side of God's nature, and male commentators in particular frequently wax eloquent about it. Some focus entirely on God's perspective, accuse Gomer of being emotionally abusive (so Guenther: 65) and describe God's physical and sexual abuse of her as remedial, designed to reform and reeducate Israel (Guenther: 74; Beeby: 25). Precisely here lies a major theological problem. If a human husband, even if his wife had been unfaithful, publically disgraced her by calling her a slut, then starved her, deprived her of water, and exposed her naked in public (posted naked pictures of her on social media), we would label this husband abusive, have him arrested for assault, and counsel the wife never to see him again. To suggest that such actions are intended to reform the wayward wife and restore the relationship feeds into dangerous notions that men have a right to control their wives, using violence and abuse that are a necessary form of "tough love." God's reromancing and restoration of Israel are problematic precisely because they suggest that the kind of abuse displayed in 2:2-13 can ultimately be redemptive and healing.
Anabaptist peace theology resists the claim of just war thinking that the evil means of violence are sometimes necessary to bring about a greater good, claiming instead that means and ends cannot easily be separated, that the means used largely determine the ends achieved. We ought to use this same way of thinking to resist the claims of Hosea that abuse and violence can ultimately bring about reform and a loving relationship. Sometimes Christian faithfulness requires us to resist the claims of biblical texts because these texts do not reflect the fullness of God's will. Similarly, Christians ought to resist the depiction in the book of Joshua of God's people committing genocide and ethnic cleansing when they enter a new "promised land." The atrocities during the medieval Crusades and the process of European colonial expansion, by Christians who were inspired by Joshua, provide painful lessons about why we need to resist some biblical texts. (For a fine example of how to wrestle with the theological problems of Joshua, see Matties: 17–20, 27–37, 421–24, 430–34, 458–61.)
One way to appropriate the book of Hosea is to use it as a teachable moment for reflecting on gender relationships, power dynamics, abuse, the nature of healthy marriages, and appropriate language for speaking about God (Yee: 228–29). The peace theology of the Anabaptist tradition as expressed by its male theologians has often failed to address gender violence and its roots. The writings of the preeminent Anabaptist peace theologian John Howard Yoder, for example, hardly address the issue, and Yoder himself participated in physical, emotional, and sexual violence on numerous women. Developing critical tools to identify, analyze, and challenge gender violence and the theological and social constructions that undergird it are essential for preventing problematic biblical texts, theological convictions, and church practices from bearing bitter fruit as they shape us in both conscious and unconscious ways.
Hosea's marriage imagery is engaging because many of us can identify with it, feel God's pain, and rejoice when God and Israel are reconciled in the end. However, the marriage metaphor both assumes and reinforces ancient Israelite patriarchal understandings of marriage, according to which a wife was under her husband's possession and control. Her sexuality belonged to him and her unfaithfulness publically shamed him and deprived him of his rights. Hosea's description of God abusing his wife was originally intended for a primarily male audience that would have assumed the husband was acting within his rights by abusing his wife, and, as discussed above, this message continues to leak out of the text. (For sensitive treatments of the marriage metaphor, see Yee: 207-11; Birch: 29–32; Nogalski: 59–63.)
Once we honestly name and resist the problems inherent in how Hosea utilizes the marriage metaphor, we can still affirm certain features if we translate them into appropriate terms for our context—the intimacy of the relationship God wishes to have with us, the importance of our loyalty and commitment to God, the pain God experiences when we go astray, God's passion for reconciliation, God's overcoming of human sin, and God's desire for our healing and well-being.
In 3:1-5 we see the new covenant of 2:14-23 acted out in the life of Hosea and his wife as Hosea buys her back. Because God tells Hosea to again go and love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress (3:1), and because the woman is not called Gomer here, numerous commentators claim that Hosea now marries a different woman. However, chapters one and three must be speaking of the same woman because the whole point of depicting Israel as unfaithful wife whom God eventually takes back is to portray God's love for Israel as so intense that he will not divorce her and marry someone else.
Hosea has to purchase his wife, perhaps because she has fallen on hard times and is now a slave, or a kept woman, or controlled by a pimp. For the reconciliation to be complete Hosea's wife must undergo a period of abstinence to allow for a change of heart, symbolizing the period of destruction and exile during which the Israelites will be deprived of the religious and political institutions that sustain their unfaithfulness. Then the reconciliation will be completed as Israel seeks the Lord and his designated Davidic king.
The parallel stories of Hosea's and God's marriages illustrate that Hosea's insight into God's covenant with Israel arises out of his own painful experiences. These stories comprise the entry point into the rest of the book and summarize its message.
From Judgment to Deliverance (4:1–11:11)
Hosea's family experience now fades into the background as the focus becomes Israel's tragic unfaithfulness already introduced in chapters 1–3 (Guenther: 86). God launches a court case charging Israel with lacking faithfulness, loyalty, and knowledge of God, the fundamental virtues of a right relationship with God. Betraying primary loyalty to God leads to betraying loyalty to fellow human beings, thereby unleashing social chaos (4:1-3) (Achtemeier: 35–36). God's creation is one undivided web, and so human sin wreaks havoc on the natural order, even killing the distant fish in the sea. We are beginning to understand such a claim as we become aware of how our current sins of overconsumption destroy ecosystems, plant and animal species, and contribute to intensification of droughts, storms, and flooding that accompany global climate change. Hosea holds the priests and to a lesser extent the prophets responsible for the sad state of affairs because they have neglected the Torah (guidance, teaching, instruction) of God (4:6). Priests have not taught the knowledge of God (4:6) and, together with the people, participate in a multitude of Canaanite religious practices collectively called adultery and prostitution (4:10-19). Such accusations challenge us to ask if our Christian worship is at times overly accommodated to the practices, values, and gods of a consumerist religion that promises fertility and material well-being.
In chapter five Hosea's indictment lumps the political establishment together with the priests, not surprising given that the royal establishment was the primary sponsor of the shrines and priesthood. Sometimes Hosea makes a distinction between the Northern Kingdom and Judah (1:7; 11:12) but here he condemns Judah as equally deserving of punishment (5:5, 10). The references to Judah probably reflect later editorial additions intended to apply the book's message also to the people of Judah where the book was eventually preserved.
After God decides to wait for Israel to acknowledge guilt and seek divine favor (5:15), 6:1-3 begins promisingly with Israel's apparent repentance and return to God who is certain to deliver. However, this repentance is more show than substance, as God rejects Israel's plea for deliverance and expresses disgust that her love has no more staying power than early morning mist (6:4-6). What God desires more than all sacrifices, that is, more than the outward trappings of worship, is true commitment and knowledge of God (see definition in "Relevance" above).
In 7:1-7 Israel's corruption consists of political intrigue. The ruling elite are like a hot oven just waiting for the baker to stoke its fire so that it can consume and replace the reigning king. This passage reflects the assassinations and coups that characterized the last years of the nation. Israel's foreign policy resembles the flight of a senseless dove flitting in every direction (7:11). Historically, at some points Israel sought aid from Egypt to keep Assyria at bay, but when this strategy failed she reverted to appeasing Assyria. God laments that all such strategies will fail because Israel's security can only be found in trusting God (7:12-16). Hosea expects covenant faithfulness in international affairs as much as in internal religious and social life.
The ways of God have been disregarded by Israel's two most powerful institutions, the royal establishment and the official religion, symbolized by the bull image (8:4-6) that was probably set up by Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 12:25-33). Illicit worship and foreign alliances both represent rejection of God's ways, and so Hosea paints both with prostitution language (8:9; 9:1). Israel's worship is so corrupt that the multiplication of altars intended to atone for sin only multiplies sin. Therefore, God will undo the exodus and salvation history and ship the Israelites back to Egypt, Egypt symbolizing military defeat and exile (8:11-14; 9:3, 6). The prophet whom God sends to warn the people, perhaps Hosea himself, is treated as a fool and rejected (9:7-8).
A series of historical retrospectives reviewing God's relationship with Israel begins in 9:10. During the exodus young Israel was as amazing as grapes growing in the desert, but when she reached Baal-peor on the edge of the promised land, she sold herself to Baal (9:10; see Num 25:1-5). This "original sin" continues to infect Israel, and so God will exile her and kill her offspring, annulling the fertility that worship of Baal was intended to safeguard (9:11-17). God will send the nations to defeat Israel, execute her king, and destroy her shrines, especially Bethel ("house of God") which Hosea derisively calls Beth-aven ("house of iniquity"; 10:2, 5-10, 14-15). Another retrospective portrays God as a nurturing, devoted parent who called Israel out of Egypt and lovingly cared for his son, even though that son sacrificed to Baal (11:1-4).
This section of the book concludes with a glimpse into the inner conversation that happens in God's mind and heart. Despite all the ways that Israel has disappointed God and all the punishment he has decreed, God simply cannot surrender Israel to annihilation because he loves her too much (11:8-11). A human being might act in such a way, but God is not mortal and will not. Israel does not repent or change, but her sin is not able to overpower God's love. Therefore, God will summon his people from exile and restore them to their homes.
From Judgment to Deliverance Again (11:12–14:8)
The last section of the book carries on with themes already introduced. God reiterates his persistent care for Israel (13:4-6), but by way of contrast condemns Israel for seeking foreign alliances (12:1), for false worship (12:11; 13:1-2), and for incompetent political leadership (13:10-11). God will consign Israel to defeat, slaughter, and gruesome atrocities that undoubtedly reflect the reality of Assyrian invasion (13:15-16). According to another vivid image, God will tear Israel apart as if God were a ferocious lion, leopard, or she-bear robbed of her cubs (13:7-8).
Then Hosea calls Israel to return to the Lord, even providing the proper words for repenting (14:1-3). Israel must begin by pleading for forgiveness, which assumes a confession of sin. Then Israel must pledge to reject Assyria, military might, and other gods as sources of security, and instead acknowledge God as source of security and source of mercy for the weak and vulnerable. Restoration and healing will be God's gracious gift, but deliverance does not lessen the need for radical change and commitment on the part of those whom God delivers. In response to Israel's repentance God commits to exercise restorative love, claiming that his anger is now turned away (14:4-8). A profusion of fertility images point to ways in which Israel will flourish under God's protective care.
Hosea concludes with a wisdom saying that encourages future readers to take the book's message to heart (14:9). Presumably, this means avoiding the sins highlighted in the book and walking in the way of steadfast love, loyalty, and knowledge of God.
There is little evidence that the historical Hosea gained much of a hearing during his ministry, but the later community of faith in Judah cherished his message enough to preserve and edit the book. Prophecy as a written phenomenon is survival literature that attends to the survivors of the imperial conquests by Assyria and then later Babylon and Persia (Stulman and Kim: 9–23). The book of Hosea speaks to a community that had over a period of centuries been invaded, conquered, plundered, exiled, and lost key symbols of its identity such as temple, kingship, land, and political independence. Prophetic books like Hosea seek to make sense of disaster and "generate hope and a sense of identity in people whose world has collapsed" (Stulman and Kim: 10).
Hosea provides what is often called a theodicy, a defense of God's goodness and power in the face of massive evil. The book explains that Israel was destroyed because of its own sin, and thereby it protects the sovereignty and goodness of God. This sovereignty provides a source of hope and makes ongoing faith possible. God's people are not primarily victims of geo-political forces like superior Assyrian military might. Rather they must deal first and foremost with God, a God who may temporarily punish but whose love and commitment are so intense that not even Israel's worst sins can make God abandon her.
A central feature of Hosea's theodicy is self-blame. Catastrophe struck, not primarily because Assyria was an imperialistic power bent on brutal conquest, but because Israel's unfaithfulness merited punishment. From modern psychological and theological perspectives such self-blame is dangerous and unhealthy. We would be dismayed by any suggestion that Auschwitz was generated by the sins of European Jews. Yet, Hosea and other prophets do not shrink from such bold claims. By asserting that the community's suffering was deserved punishment, Hosea claims that history is not chaotic or meaningless, nor is it shaped primarily by empires. History is firmly in the hands of a sovereign God whose purposes embrace suffering and extend beyond it to a time of future deliverance.
Despite serious problems with self-blame, it may contribute to a shattered community's sense of empowerment (Stulman and Kim: 15). If Israel's defeat was due merely to Assyrian military might, then survivors are at the mercy of imperial forces and have little ability to impact their situation. If the catastrophe represents God's punishment then survivors can heed the words that Hosea provides for repenting and reorient their lives (14:2-3). The fate of Hosea's initial audience was sealed, but the book of Hosea offers later generations a new opportunity for faithful living under God's favor. In the midst of imperial domination prophetic books like Hosea "provide the community a script of nonviolent resistance" (Stulman and Kim: 20). The way to carve out a positive future is not through armed resistance to empire, which would surely be suicidal for a tiny group of Jews. The way forward is to create healthy community in the midst of empire, community centered on loyalty to God and God's ways, steadfast love, and "knowledge of God."
Hosea's harsh images of a punishing God are difficult for many contemporary readers to embrace. Such images can too easily be used to threaten or manipulate vulnerable persons. However, we dare not dispense with divine judgment. The Bible holds together the paradox that God is infinitely loving and gracious yet God is also wrathful. God's wrath and judgment represent the Bible's way of asserting that the sovereign Lord of the universe cannot stand idly by in the face of monstrous evil. We ought to resist overly simplistic claims by biblical writers that God's judgment is easily discernible in natural disasters, illness, or military defeat. Claiming to discern the judgment of God at work in either ancient or contemporary events is always like walking through a minefield. However, dispensing with divine wrath renders God a cosmic teddy bear always ready to give humans warm fuzzies no matter what atrocities we commit. The wrathful side of God reminds us that God simply cannot overlook the sins that individuals, communities, and nations commit and the suffering they inflict on each other and God's good creation. God's wrath and judgment can push us towards sober reflection and repentance, as the book of Hosea ultimately seeks to do, so that we submit to the painful surgery that is the only way to get rid of the cancer of sin that will destroy us if not dealt with by God's restorative, but sometimes painful, love (Guenther: 187).
Recommended Essays in the Commentary
- Achtemeier, Elizabeth. Minor Prophets I. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996.
- Anderson, Francis, I., and Freedman, David Noel. Hosea: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980.
- Beeby, H. D. Grace Abounding: A Commentary on the Book of Hosea. International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989.
- Birch, Bruce C. Hosea, Joel, and Amos. Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997.
- Davies, Graham I. Hosea. New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.
- ______. Hosea. Old Testament Guides. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic, 1993.
- Dearman, J. Andrew. The Book of Hosea. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.
- Guenther, Allen R. Hosea, Amos. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1998.
- Keefe, Alice A. Woman's Body and the Social Body in Hosea. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 338. London: Sheffield Academic, 2001.
- Limburg, James. Hosea–Micah. Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988.
- Macintosh, A. A. Hosea. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997.
- Matties, Gordon H. Joshua. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Harrisonburg, VA: Herald, 2012.
- Nogalski, James D. The Book of the Twelve: Hosea–Amos. Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys, 2011.
- Simundson, Daniel J. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah. Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005.
- Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.
- Stuart, Douglas. Hosea–Jonah. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word, 1987.
- Stulman, Luis, and Kim, Hyun Chul Paul. You Are My People: An Introduction to Prophetic Literature. Nashville: Abingdon, 2010.
- Sweeney, Marvin A. The Twelve Prophets: Vol. 1, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah. Berit Olam. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2000.
- Yee, Gale A. "The Book of Hosea." In New Interpreter's Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. 7:195–297. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996.
Invitation to Comment
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|—Published BCBC commentary by Allen R. Guenther|