Hosea: Chapter 1

Introduction/Background

According to the Rabbis, Hosea was of the tribe of Reuben. His father as stated in the book is Beeri and the Rabbis link that to Beerah, prince of the Reubenites who was exiled to Assyria by Tiglath-Pilneser (1 Chron. 5:6). According to Gen. Rabbah 84, he received the Torah from Elisha, and according to Rambam, from Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. The Rabbis also tell us that if a prophet’s father is mentioned along with the prophet, then his father too was a prophet. They attribute the verses of Isaiah 8:19-20 to Beerah, but since it was so small and not enough for a book it was appended to the book of Isaiah (Leviticus Rabbah 6:6; see Rashi to Isaiah 8:19).

Join me as we look at this first chapter in-depth.

To me, Hosea is one of the most amazing books of the entire Nevi’im (Prophets). The sheer amount of love that he had for his people and his God astounds me. His faith was put on display for all to see and he definitely suffered for it, just as God had anguished over Israel’s rejection of Him. If the Rabbis are correct (and I believe they are), then Hosea had an amazing Rabbi himself, which was as I mentioned above, Elisha. It strikes me as amazing that Hosea probably followed Elisha around for years (Elisha was a talmid of Elijah for 40 years), watching him do mighty miracles, and then when it was finally passed down to him, God asks him not to do wonders but instead to directly partake in His grief. That of course sounds terrible to the average westerner: you follow God for years and years, learning Torah and studying under one of the greatest prophets ever and then he seemingly betrays you and uses you and your feelings as an object lesson to his people. Wow, thanks God. But I think that view is totally backwards: how incredible is it that God invited Hosea to share in His grief? Even God’s grief must be a greater ecstasy than man’s highest “mountain-top” moments, just as the scripture says “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Cor. 1:25).

In light of that, I think it was not only a heartbreaking experience to be God’s prophet Hosea, but also a joyous, amazing and powerful one too. In light of that, let’s look at Chapter 1.

An Adulterous Wife

God commands Hosea to take a wife of harlotry in a mirror image of what Israel has done to Him. It’s interesting to note that Rashi takes this verse literally that Hosea really did take an adulterous wife. However, according to Targum Jonathan we explain this prophecy figuratively: God commanded him to teach the straying people to repent using a word picture the people could all understand. For the sake of this post, I take Rashi’s point of view. I might change my mind as I go along, but for now, that’s my understanding.

God uses the imagery of marriage and then infidelity – whether it was figurative or not – to make a picture to his people, one they could easily understand. Although the obvious implication is that not many were following Torah, that is no excuse for not knowing if you are a Son of Abraham, and thus it is written:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (Deut. 24:1-4)

And so God here implies that Israel has been unfaithful to him and that he shall now write them a certificate of divorce and send them away (into exile). The remez (hint) in this passage is chilling for the hearers of Hosea because God implies that once you are divorced, if you marry another and then divorce that one too, the original cannot take you back. I think the Rabbis would agree that after the exile Israel did not marry another but instead remained faithful to God, for which he took them back and let them go home.

The Land is Guilty

“the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.” (Hosea 1:2) How could the land itself be guilty of adultery against God? What does that mean? First of all, the land is holy to God, as it is written: “Thus he brought them to the border of His holy land, to the hill country His right hand had taken.” (Psalm 78:54). It is of course stated and implied in many other places, but I chose this scripture to say it outright. Okay, so the land is holy to God, it’s often called “The Holy Land”, but how could the land itself be guilty of adultery? It is written: “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” (Lev. 18:24-25) So here we see that God punished the land itself for its sin as it is possible to bring sin upon the land itself, making it guilty. The reason it is thus is, as it is written: “Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.” (Numbers 35:34) So what was it they did to bring guilt upon the land? Adultery, of course, as they passed on that sin to the land. They worshiped and served other “gods” (who are not gods at all).

As a side note, we learn from Jeremiah that the Babylonian exile of Judah would be 70 years. This was of course different from the Assyrian exile of Israel. Judah’s sin, as related in Jeremiah was the same as Israel: they had turned away from the LORD. When it came time to exile them, God demanded 70 years from the land itself as it says in 2 Chronicles 36:21 that the land had not rested as was commanded by God in Lev. 25:4: “But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.” The amount of time that the Israelites had been in the land was 490 years, and the exile lasted 70 years until the land had rested fully. That implies that there had not been ONE Sabbath Year since they had entered the land, and thus if the people would not do it, God would take it from them and give His holy land its Sabbath rests.

The Massacre at Jezreel

The first child that Hosea’s wife would bear, God told him to name the child Jezreel. As it is written:

“Then the LORD said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel.  In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.” (Hosea 1:4-5)

The verse could be literally translated “Call their name the scattered ones,” for that is the meaning of Jezreel. The word Jezreel in Hebrew stems from the root word which means “to sow.” This is a play on words in Hebrew because the people would be scarttered, or sown, among the peoples of the world in their exile. This is important at the end of the chapter, so file this away.

So what happened at Jezreel that the house of Jehu deserves to be punished for? In 2 Kings 10:1-14 we find out that Jehu had killed Ahab’s entire family. In this passage we read that Jehu had Ahab’s 70 sons killed and their heads delivered to Jezreel where he piled them on either side of the gate. The next day he had anyone of Ahab’s household (servants, slaves, etc), priests, and even all of his friends killed. Why would he go to such great lengths to destroy Ahab’s house? God told him to, as it is written:

“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anoint you king over the LORD’s people Israel. You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the LORD’s servants shed by Jezebel. The whole house of Ahab will perish. I will cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free.” (2 Kings 9:6-8 )

But as we read in Hosea, God is angry and will punish Jehu for what he did to the house of Ahab. This sounds confusing. Is the house of Jehu going to be punished for doing God’s will and destroying the house of Ahab? The Rabbis clarify this point: “The blood of the house of Ahab, whom Jehu slew in Jezreel because they worshipped Baal, and he and his sons went afterwards and worshipped pagan deities; therefore I account for them the blood of the house of Ahab as innocent blood.” (Hosea 1:4-5, as paraphrased by Rashi). Redak points to 1 Kings 16:7 where God punished Baasha for the blood of Nadab the son of Jeroboam even though Nadab was wicked. From the Rabbis interpretation, it becomes clear that even when one is given a mission from God himself, you cannot then go and commit the very sin of those you are destorying. It would have been righteous of Jehu to kill all of Ahab’s household as the LORD had said, only if Jehu had then stayed true to the Living God, but he did not, and so it became a sinful act. What does it mean for us today when we expose a liar and then tell a lie later that day? Or when we look down on people who lust with their eyes, only to find ourselves lusting moments later? You can tie any sin into this concept: righteousness can quickly turn into wickedness if we do not stay true to the LORD our God.

Not My People

The next child to be born to Hosea’s adulterous wife Gomer was a daughter, as it is written:

“Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the LORD said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah, for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them.  Yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the LORD their God.” (Hosea 1:6-7)

The NIV puts a foot note under Lo-Ruhamah which says is means not loved. While I think that translation is correct, I do not think it is accurate to the context. The name in Hebrew literally means not pitied, which I find a much deeper meaning than simply not loved. Of course God still loved them, they were his first love as it is written:

“I remember to you the loving kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown.” (Jeremiah 2:2)

Here God compares Mt. Sinai to a wedding where Israel was the bride, giving her nuptials (wedding vows) to the LORD.  There at Mt. Sinai when Israel received the Torah they made a covenant with the LORD, and He with them. The blood of the covenant was sprinkled on them by Moses and was bound to them and their descendants forever. God definitely still loves his people, as is very clear in the context of the end of the chapter. So the question is not “Does God still love them?” but rather “Does God pity them for their disobedience to Him?” and the answer is: no. I think it is clear that Hosea 1:7 is referencing the Messiah who will save the house of Judah. The Rabbis note that this verse refers to God saving Jerusalem from Sennacherib when he attacked (Ibn Ezra, Redak) and I think its interesting to note I have read before that some believe Hezekiah was “the Messiah”. To a follower of Jesus, of course, the imagery is that God did not save His people through the sword (as many hoped Jesus would drive out the Romans), but He saved them through His own blood.

The next child Gomer gave birth to was a boy, as it is written:

“After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the LORD said, “Call him Lo-Ammi, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” (Hosea 1:8-9)

Literally Lo-Ammi means not my people, which again can be confusing for the reader. Is God disowning his people? I would argue, no, that is not the case. Rather, God is declaring through the name of this child: “If you were my people, you would obey me. But since you are not obeying me, you are not my people.” That’s my paraphrase of the scripture.  Jonathan adds his own paraphrase: “But if they will repent, I will forgive them.”

How many times are we not God’s people when we disobey Him and His commands? But The Holy One, blessed be He!, takes us back again and again for as it is written: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

A Promise of Restoration

On this last part of Hosea chapter 1, the Rabbis have much to speak of. Here God reaffirms the covenant he made with Abraham and tells of a better day still ahead of them when they will follow Him.

“Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’  The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.” (Hosea 1:10-11)

This is a powerful picture of the promises that God makes and will keep, as He states later: “For I am God, and not man— the Holy One among you.” (Hosea 11:9, subsection) But why would God have Hosea interpose words of condemnation so close to words of reconciliation? It is an insight into the very nature of God. The Rabbis tell this parable:

“Rabbi says: some sections are close to each other and yet as far apart as east is from west. “For you are not My people … And the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea.” What is the connection of one to the other? This can be compared to a king who became angry with his wife. He summoned a scribe to come and write a bill of divorcement. Before the scribe arrived, the king became reconciled with his wife. Said the king, ” Is it possible that this scribe should leave here divided?” I.e. his heart should be divided and bewildered, saying “Why did the king send for me?” He said to him, “Come and write that I am doubling her kethubah*.” And according to its simple meaning, this is the reason for is juxtaposition.” (Rashi)

God ends this prophecy to His people with words of hope and an amazing metaphor for his continued and unending love. Then He adds onto the end of these words of hope: “for great will be the day of Jezreel.” As mentioned above, God said he would break Israel’s bow in Jezreel. Why would God basically say “I love you, I will keep my promises to you, and I will destroy you.” That doesn’t seem to fit the context. So if that’s not what he meant, then what does He mean? If you recall above, Jezreel hints at being sown among the peoples. God here says (James Paraphrase): “In that day I will keep My promises and reunite Israel and Judah as one. Instead of being called ‘not My people’ they will be called ‘sons of The Living God’, for great is the day of their gathering from all the places they were sown!”

Hosea is a powerful picture of God’s love for us. Even in our disobedience, He still has plans to prosper us, if we would but follow Him. No matter where we go as a result of our disobedience to God, great is the day of our ingathering when He gathers us back up from the places where we were sown! Eschatologically speaking, great is the day of the ingathering of the Judgement Day where those who followed God will be gathered unto Him forever.

Peace to you,

James

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*A ketubah is a Jewish prenuptial agreement. It states that the husband commits to provide food, clothing and marital relations to his wife, and that he will pay a specified sum of money if he divorces her. To double her ketubah was a major sign of love and affection to a woman in a culture dominated by men.

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