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… 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.
The first part of chapter 2 (verses 2-13) outlines Israel’s whoredom—her devotion to the Baals—and the punishment that she can expect Yahweh to inflict. That section ends with these words:
“‘I will visit on her the days of the Baals,
to which she burned incense,
when she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels,
and went after her lovers,
and forgot me,’ says Yahweh” (2:13).
HOSEA 2:14-15. THEREFORE, BEHOLD, I WILL ALLURE HER
14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
15 I will give her vineyards from there,
and the valley of Achor for a door of hope;
and she will respond there,
as in the days of her youth,
and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her” (v. 14a). The introductory word, “Therefore,” connects this verse to verse 13 (see above), and leads us to expect Yahweh to announce a harsh judgment. Instead, Yahweh says that he will allure Israel—entice her—persuade her. This is the language of courtship—of wooing and winning the beloved.
Just as Yahweh commanded Hosea to court a wayward woman, so also Yahweh will court wayward Israel.
“and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (v. 14b). While a desert wilderness might seem forbidding—hardly the sort of place where a man might bring his beloved to speak tenderly to her—it was in the wilderness that Yahweh forged Israel into a nation. It was through the wilderness that Yahweh carried Israel, “as a man does carry his son, in all the way that you went, until you came to this place” (Deuteronomy 1:31). During their forty years in the wilderness, the Lord was with Israel so that they lacked nothing (Deuteronomy 2:7). It was in the wilderness that Yahweh humbled Israel, “and fed (them) with manna, which (they) didn’t know, neither did (their) fathers know; that he might make (them) know that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh” (Deuteronomy 8:3). In other words, the wilderness is inextricably interwoven with the spiritual history and discipline of Israel.
“I will give her vineyards from there” (v. 15a). Viticulture (the cultivation of grapes winemaking) was an important part of Israel’s agriculture. A vineyard requires more preparation than most crop-producing lands. The person establishing a vineyard must carefully select the land for the right climate and soil. The soil must be cleared of stones and hoed. Vine stock must be carefully selected and planted. In many cases, the owner will build a wall enclosure to protect the grapes—and in some cases will even build a watchtower to guard them. After all that work, it will take several years to produce a significant crop. While waiting for the first harvest, the owner must build a winepress and a storage facility for the wine. For these reasons, established vineyards are a sign of prosperity.
In this verse, Yahweh promises to give Israel vineyards—a substantial gift that promises future prosperity—reversing the curse of verse 12, where Yahweh said, “I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees.”
“and the valley of Achor for a door of hope” (v. 15b). The word Achor means “trouble”, and the Valley of Achor was the site of a troubled moment in Israel’s history. The story is told in Joshua 7. Achan stole some “devoted things” (Joshua 7:1), and Yahweh punished Israel for Achan’s sin. Yahweh required Israel to sanctify herself by punishing the offender. The Israelites did as commanded, stoning Achan and burning all of his possessions, including his family. “Therefore the name of that place was called ‘The valley of Achor'” (Joshua 7:26)—the Valley of Trouble.
Now Yahweh points back to that troubled incident to promise that he will turn Israel’s troubles into hope.
“and she will respond there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt” (v. 15c). After leaving her slavery in Egypt, Israel spent her youth in the wilderness. That was not an altogether happy time, but it was a time when Israel enjoyed Yahweh’s highly visible leadership and providential care day by day.
“as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt” (v. 15d). The book of Hosea mentions Egypt thirteen times. In several instances, it couples Egypt and Assyria (7:11; 9:3; 11:5, 11; 12:1), both of which symbolize captivity for Israel. Egypt made slaves of the Jewish people earlier, and Assyria will soon do the same.
However, in this verse, Yahweh mentions the time that Israel came out of Egypt—the time when she obtained her freedom—a happy time—a time of joy.
HOSEA 2:16-17. IN THAT DAY, YOU WILL CALL ME, “MY HUSBAND”
16 It will be in that day,” says Yahweh,
“that you will call me ‘my husband,’
and no longer call me ‘my master.’
17 For I will take away the names of the Baals out of her mouth,
and they will no longer be mentioned by name.
“It will be in that day,” says Yahweh” (v. 16a). This phrase links verses 16-17 to the events of verses 14-15.
“that you will call me ‘my husband,’ and no longer call me ‘my master'” (v. 16b). The word ba’al can mean lord, master, or husband. However, it is also used as the proper name of the most significant Canaanite god (Baal) or gods (Baals).
In this verse, Yahweh addresses people who have called on Baal (“husband”) and tells them that they will, “on that day,” begin to call Yahweh “husband” instead of Baal.
“For I will take away the names of the Baals out of her mouth, and they will no longer be mentioned by name” (v. 17). The use of the plural, Baals, may refer to the many Baal altars in Israel—a fact reflected in the many place names that incorporate the name Baal. These include Baalah (Joshua 15:9, 11, 29), Baalath (Joshua 19:44), Baale-judah (2 Samuel 6:2), Baal-gad (Joshua 11:17), Baal-hazor (2 Samuel 13:23), Baal-hermon (1 Chronicles 5:23), Baal-meon (Numbers 32:38), and others.
But “in that day” (v. 16a), Israel will remember the Baals no longer.
HOSEA 2:18. IN THAT DAY I WILL MAKE A COVENANT FOR THEM
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the animals of the field,
and with the birds of the sky,
and with the creeping things of the ground.
I will break the bow, the sword, and the battle out of the land,
and will make them lie down safely.
“In that day I will make a covenant (berit) for them with the animals of the field,
and with the birds of the sky, and with the creeping things of the ground. I will break the bow, the sword, and the battle out of the land, and will make them lie down safely.” (v. 18). A covenant (berit) is an agreement between two parties, outlining what is required from each party. In a relationship between two parties of unequal power, the more powerful person usually dictates the terms of the covenant. Yahweh initiates the covenants between Yahweh and Israel, which are typically quite generous to Israel.
In this instance, Yahweh assumes that Israel will no longer call Baal “husband” but will call Yahweh “husband”—and that Israel will no longer remember Baal (vv. 16-17). That is Israel’s side of the covenant—her responsibility to Yahweh. In return, Yahweh promises to bestow two benefits on Israel:
• He will establish a benign relationship between wild animals and Israel, reversing the curse of verse 12 where Yahweh said, “the animals of the field shall eat them.”
• He will establish peace—freedom from fear of the bow, the sword, and war, reversing the curse of 1:7 where Yahweh said, “I…will not save them by bow, sword, battle, horses, or horsemen.”
“and will make them lie down safely” (v. 18b). This summarizes the two promises mentioned above. Israel will be safe from both wild animals and war.
HOSEA 2:19-20. I WILL BETROTH YOU TO ME FOREVER
19 I will betroth (Hebrew: erasti—from aras) you to me forever.
Yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness (Hebrew: se·daq)
in justice (Hebrew: mis·pat)
, in loving kindness (Hebrew: he·sed)
, and in compassion (Hebrew: rahamim).
20 I will even betroth you to me in faithfulness (Hebrew: emuna);
and you shall know Yahweh.
“And I will betroth (erasti—from aras—betroth) you to me (erasti—from aras—betrothed) forever” (v. 19a). For Israelites, betrothal is somewhere more than what we call engagement and less than what we call marriage. A prospective groom would bargain (either personally or through a representative) with the parents of the prospective bride. In the event of a successful negotiation, the prospective groom would pay a bride-price to the bride’s parents and the couple would be considered to be betrothed. As a betrothed couple, they would be considered to be husband and wife, but without sexual privileges. The betrothal would typically last for a year, after which a marriage ceremony would be celebrated and the marriage consummated. During the one-year betrothal, the couple would be obligated to each other, and a certificate of divorce would be required to dissolve the relationship, even though the marriage ceremony had not yet taken place. It was considered to be highly irregular to dissolve a betrothal relationship.
In this verse, Yahweh promises to enter into this holy and binding betrothal relationship with Israel—and to do so forever.
“Yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness (se·daq), in justice” (mis·pat) (v. 19b). Righteousness (se·daq) is life lived in accord with ethical principles—life lived in accord with God’s law and God’s will.
Righteousness and justice (mis·pat) are closely related. While both involve right behavior, this right behavior is a natural outgrown of right relationship with God, who is the ultimate righteous one. In the case of Israel, righteousness grows naturally out of the covenant relationship that exists between Yahweh and Israel, and involves the establishment of justice.
God’s law provides very specific guidance with regard to just behavior (mis·pat). It requires witnesses to be honest and impartial (Exodus 23:1-3, 6-8). It requires special consideration for widows, orphans, and other vulnerable people (Deuteronomy 24:17). While Israel is always tempted to define its service to God by the performance of cultic duties (ritual sacrifice, Sabbath observance, etc.), the prophets keep reminding them that justice is a basic duty of the faith community (Micah 6:8).
“in loving kindness” (he·sed) (v. 19c). The word he·sed is has a rich variety of meanings—kindness, lovingkindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, or love. Like the Greek word, agape, in the New Testament, he·sed is a word that involves action—kindness or love as expressed through kind or loving actions rather than just feelings.
“and in compassion” (rahamim) (v. 19d). The word mercy (rahamim) suggests both deep emotion and tender generosity.
Some scholars equate righteousness, justice, steadfast love, and mercy as the bride-price that Yahweh is offering to pay for bride Israel. That is an appealing interpretation, but we dare not press it too far. To whom would Yahweh pay the bride price? Israel already belongs to Yahweh.
“I will even betroth you to me (erasti—from aras—betrothed) in faithfulness” (emuna) (v. 20a). The end product of Yahweh’s righteousness, justice, steadfast love, and mercy is faithfulness. Yahweh promises to be faithful to Israel, even though Israel “went after her lovers, and forgot” Yahweh (2:13).
“and you shall know the Yahweh” (v. 20b). The end product of Yahweh’s wooing and giving is that Israel shall know Yahweh—shall experience Yahweh’s righteousness, justice, steadfast love, and mercy—shall love Yahweh—and shall live faithfully in relationship with Yahweh.
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)
Achtemeier, Elizabeth, 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)
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)
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