Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentHOSEA 1
This chapter details the prophecy of the doom of Israel as typically enacted in the tragic marital experience of the prophet himself. The infidelity of Hosea's wife, Gomer, portrayed the apostasy of Israel; and Hosea's altruistic and unfailing love depicted the unmerited love and favor of God which continued to be lavished upon faithless Israel. The names given through inspiration to the three children also foreshadowed the ultimate rejection and destruction of the once "chosen people." Thus, the word of the prophet took on new power and validity because, "It was a word spoken by one whose life authenticated the word."F1 Overwhelming interest in this chapter and in the two succeeding chapters focuses upon the enigma of Hosea's marriage, which was contracted according to the "commandment of the Lord." Ward was of the opinion that the mystery is insoluble; and he suggested that, "The scholarly preoccupation with the enigma of Gomer has distracted from the primary task of interpreting what these chapters actually say."F2 Regarding the reason why Gomer's marriage to Hosea is regarded here as historical fact, rather than as an allegory or vision, see the introduction, above.
The word of Jehovah that came unto 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.
Word of Jehovah unto Hosea
It would be far better to translate through Hosea here, instead of unto Hosea. Of course, scholars are divided on this; but, as Ward pointed out, Through Hosea is the correct meaning of the preposition,F3 thus making it clear that the word given in this prophecy is the Word of God, and not merely the word of Hosea.
Nothing is known either of Hosea or his father Beeri, except the information that may be derived from the prophecy itself.
Uzziah, Jotham, etc.. kings of Judah ..
It has seemed strange to some that a prophet of the northern kingdom should have dated his prophecy primarily by the kings of Israel; but all of the prophets realized that Israel's doom was imminent and that the true seat of the theocracy was in Jerusalem, not in Samaria. The minimum and maximum dates indicated by this whole list of kings is 27 years (742-715 B.C.) and 96 years (783-687 B.C.). Homer Hailey's assumption of a date from 750 B.C. and for some indefinite period afterwardsF4 is as practical as any that may be assigned.
Jeroboam the son of Joash
is the same as Jeroboam II.
This name means deliverance, or salvation,F5 indicating that Hosea himself stands in the prophecy as a type of God Himself, especially in the matter of his unselfish and constant love for his sinful wife.
The historical background indicated in this first verse was one of great turbulence and instability. Following the long and prosperous reign of Jeroboam II (in the northern kingdom), no other really strong monarch appeared. He was succeeded by his son Zechariah who was murdered after only six months by Shallum who took the throne, thus ending the dynasty of Jehu; but Shallum was murdered and succeeded by Menahem after only one month. Menahem reigned ten years and was succeeded by his son Pekahiah, who after two years was murdered and succeeded by Pekah; he was murdered and succeeded by Hosea whose nine year reign ended in the disastrous overthrow of Israel in 722 B.C. when the nation was destroyed and carried into Assyrian captivity. Details of all these things are found in 2 Kings 15--17 and related passages of the Old Testament. "Although Hosea predicted the defeat and captivity of Israel, he still may have lived through that event. He would have been very old."F6
When Jehovah spake at the first by Hosea, Jehovah said unto Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom; for the land doth commit great whoredom, [departing] from Jehovah.
There can be no doubt from this verse that God actually commanded Hosea to marry a "woman of whoredom"; but it is definitely not stated that he was commanded to marry a harlot, a widespread assumption which appears to be unjustified. As more thoroughly discussed in the introduction, our viewpoint is that Gomer was at first innocent. Her representation of Israel in the analogy would appear to demand this, for Israel "fell away" from God; they were not apostates already, a truth cited by Hosea himself in Hos. 9:10; 11:1; and Hos. 13:1. We believe, therefore, with Polkinghorne that, "At the time of the wedding, Gomer was a virgin but later proved unfaithful."F7 This, of course, does not remove what some are pleased to call the "moral problem" of God's commanding Hosea to marry a woman whom God certainly knew would prove to be faithless; but, actually, there is no problem at all. There was absolutely nothing wrong with Hosea's marrying a known harlot (if God had commanded it). Rahab the famous harlot of Jericho married a prince of Israel and stands with honor in the lineage of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only the priests were commended not to marry a harlot, as pointed out by Butler.F8 See Lev. 21:7. There is not a word in Hosea to sustain the notion that Hosea was a priest. He was a prophet of God.
We refuse, therefore, to allegorize the factual narrative given in these chapters or to engage in any other of the gymnastics calculated to remove this alleged "difficulty." Keil, for example, took the view that the children of whoredom, mentioned here, were Gomer's already at the time of the marriage; but, as their names were given to them in succession by Hosea, such a view seems to be untenable. If we accept the view that God by some specific commandment told Hosea to marry a woman of the pagan culture where he lived, that Hosea chose to marry Gomer, and that she quickly fell into the excesses of the environment in which she was reared, all of the requirements of this passage are fully met. God's knowing in advance what would happen is no more of an impediment than may be found in Jesus' choice of Judas to be numbered with the Twelve, which was done after an entire night of prayer. Despite our own preference for the view that considers Gomer a virgin at the time of her marriage, we find no difficulty at all in the possibility that God might have commanded him to marry one of the religious prostitutes associated with the worship of Baal. This is surely one of the great mysteries of God's Word; and almost any view of it that may be accepted is subject to question. Hosea's experience in these chapters is "a portrait in miniature of Israel's relationship to the Lord."F9 Thus, some light may be derived from what happened in Israel, the antitype, to illuminate some of the events in the type. It is principally upon this that we base the idea of Gomer's innocence at first.
Great as was Hosea's love and unwavering affection for unfaithful Gomer, in spite of her sins, even such great love as that is but a dim and feeble type of God's great love for his children. As Ironside expressed it: "His all-conquering love is but a faint picture of God's affection for Israel, his earthly bride, for the cross was where the purchase-price was paid for both the earthly and the heavenly people."F10
When Jehovah spake at the first
This resists the attempt of some to place Hos. 3 before Hos. 1.F11 Clearly, the events narrated in this chapter stand first chronologically in Hosea's remarkable marriage.
Wife of whoredom. children of whoredom ... the land doth commit great whoredom, departing from Jehovah ..
The triple use of whoredom in this passage is instructive, because in the third instance it is defined as departing from Jehovah. What it certainly means in the last instance, therefore, it may very well mean the same in the first two instances, strongly supporting the conclusion of Haley: The word in the first part of this verse may mean, as it certainly does in the last part, simply spiritual whoredom, or idolatry.F12 This kind of whoredom is therefore very widespread even now. As Morgan put it:
"The harlotry of worldliness is in all the churches at this present moment. Thousands who name the name of Christ are taking possessions bestowed upon them by God and spending them in the pursuit of worldly ambitions and pleasures.F13
So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; and she conceived, and bare him a son.
This is one of a number of names in the Bible that were given to both men and women. Gomer was the firstborn son of Japheth and the head of many families (Gen. 10:2-3; 1 Chr. 1:5-6; and Ezek. 38:6). The name Crimea, familiar in English history, is derived from Gomer whose descendants conquered and settled Cappadocia by the time of the seventh century.F14 Diblaim is said to mean daughter of fig-cakes, or daughter of embraces.F15 From this, some have alleged that Gomer was a Baal prostitute whose favors were bought with a couple of fig-cakes; but this is by no means certain. Gomer means completion, i.e., completed whoredom.F16 However, There is not the slightest indication from the text that these two names were to have any symbolical significance. We have here a simple statement of historical facts.F17 In fact, the impression of simple, factual narrative throughout the passage is overwhelming. Mays emphasized this thus:
"Gomer and Diblaim are personal names, not sign-language for some reality other than a person. The story is laconic and matter-of-fact. The children came in the irregular order of son-daughter-son. The third child was conceived just after the second was weaned. The story reports the real."F18
George DeHoff gave the meaning of this verse as, He married an Israelite who had doubtless worshipped the golden calves at Bethel.F19 And she conceived and bare him a son
This explodes the notion that the children were already Gomer's at the time of the marriage. The first of the three children named was most certainly Hosea's.
And Jehovah said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause the kingdom of the house of Israel to cease.
Call his name Jezreel
This town gave its name to the eastern portion of the great plain between Galilee and Samaria, the western part being called Esdraelon. Megiddo, the ancient stronghold of the pre-Israelite Canaanites, from which is derived the name Har-Megiddo, or Armageddon, was also on this plain. The town of Jezreel was where Ahab and Jezebel established their summer residence, and there the shameful murder of Naboth occurred. The place was especially associated with the massacre of Ahab's seventy sons by Jehu who replaced Ahab's dynasty with his own. It was in Jezreel that the dogs licked the blood of Ahab and Jezebel's body was dishonored and eaten by the dogs. What a horrible name to give an innocent little child! But God had a purpose in this. It was the signal that the atrocities of Jezreel were not forgotten and that the divine vengeance was soon to fall upon the whole nation.
I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu
The blood of Jezreel probably refers to all of the many vicious and godless crimes perpetrated there, but the particular application would seem to be to Jehu's inhumane and ruthless murder of the house of Ahab, in which one of the kings of Judah, Ahaziah, was also slain. God, through one of his prophets, had commanded Jehu to destroy the house of Ahab; but the brutal and inhuman manner in which he did it showed that:
"He had been motivated by selfishness and an unholy aim and desire on his part. He had no concern for the will of God, but only for his own will."F20
Jehu promptly adopted the very sins for which God had decreed the destruction of the house of Ahab. "He took no heed to walk in the way of Jehovah, the God of Israel" (2 Kings 10:31).
The actual meaning of this name, as pointed out by many, is God sows; but Given also noted that there also appears to be the perversion of the name Israel in it. Israel to Yisrael to Yizreel to Jezreel, which means literally, scattered by God, which also, of course, means God sows, in the sense that God scatters seeds.F21 This type of perverting an ancient and honorable word into one with an opposite meaning is called paronomasia, of which there are many examples. Thus Beth-el (house of God) was called Beth-aven (house of vanity). Attractive as this possibility is, it would seem that the simple historical fact of the shameful massacres at Jezreel is in focus here, for the blood of Jezreel is mentioned in the same breath.
I will cause the kingdom of the house of Israel to cease
Not merely a dynasty was to fall but the kingdom itself. The end of the northern kingdom was imminent in the naming of Hosea's firstborn son, Jezreel.
And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.
Break the bow
By metonymy, this means that the total military power of Israel will be destroyed in the valley of Jezreel. This occurred exactly as Hosea prophesied, for it was in that very valley that the crushing defeat of Israel by Shalmanezer resulted in the final ruin of the kingdom and the deportation of its inhabitants to Assyria, from which disaster Israel never recovered.
And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And [Jehovah] said unto him, Call her name Lo-ruhamah; for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel, that I should in any wise pardon them.
Conceived and bare a daughter
Note that it is not stated here that Gomer bare Hosea a daughter. Some have considered this an unimportant variation, pointing to the economy of words in the narrative and the obvious purpose of focusing attention upon the symbolical names of the children; but the very names given by the Lord to the last two children certainly raise the question of their true father, especially in connection with the fact that children of whoredom were prophesied from the very first.
Call her. Lo-ruhamah ..
This name means unpitied, or no pity, leading to the deduction that Gomer herself refused to bestow a mother's love upon her infant daughter. Myers rejected these commonly understood meanings of the name saying, They are a weak rendering of the Hebrew which means unloved, or disliked.F22
Again from Myers, "The name of this child signifies the breach of the Covenant love which existed between God and Israel."F23 This is indeed true and points up the extensive shadow of the entire prior history of Israel which falls over this tragic story. The unfaithful wife presupposes a covenant marriage between God and Israel, and the whole impact of Hosea has meaning only in the light of that prior relationship. Not only did the divine covenant with Israel exist at this time, it had existed for centuries and was at the point of being abrogated by God Himself. All of the profound teachings of the Torah lie behind this narrative, the inference being absolutely undeniable that the Torah (or Pentateuch) not only existed, but that it was known thoroughly by Israel, as witnessed by their breaking of its specific terms. Brueggmann is correct in pointing out that:
"The new direction of scholarship, which is not the movement of any special school or tradition of scholars, makes it clear beyond doubt that we cannot understand the prophets except in relation to the old and legal traditions preserved in the Torah."F24
Hosea's domestic experience is meaningless in its application to the affairs of the nation of Israel, except in the context of the violated covenant between God and Israel.
But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by Jehovah their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.
This prophecy of exemption for Judah should be understood as merely a temporary reprieve from the promised destruction of Israel. That reprieve was indeed glorious, and Judah enjoyed prosperity for an extended period after the fall of the northern kingdom; but Judah also, in time, would fall into the same debaucheries and idolatry as that which had overcome Israel; and they also would go into Babylon as captives.
I will save. not by bow ... sword ... or horseman ..
This remarkable prophecy was literally fulfilled when the army of Sennacherib came up against Jerusalem and king Hezekiah in the sixth year of that monarch's reign, only to be destroyed in a single night by a miraculous deliverance brought about by the sudden death of 185,000 of Sennacherib's troops, as recounted in 2 Kings 18--19.
Verses 8, 9
Now when she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived, and bare a son. And [Jehovah] said, Call his name Lo-ammi; for ye are not my people, and I will not be your [God].
Conceived and bare a son
Again, it is not stated that she bare a son to Hosea, the inference certainly being allowable that the child belonged not to Hosea, but to another. The name which God pronounced upon that second son was Not my People, indicating the completeness and finality of the breachF25 between God and the covenant nation. There is a specific reference in this to the covenant itself. Jeremiah had stated the essential heart of the covenant thus: I will be your God, and you shall be my people (Jeremiah 7:23); and in the name of the third child, God specifically cancelled it. The names of all three children tend to this inevitable conclusion. The people had wandered far away from the teaching of God. Myers interpreted the meaning of Jezreel as defection, a falling away from God.F26 Lo-ruhamah, unloved, documented the rejection of God's love by the people; and Not my People is the symbolical announcement of the covenant's abrogation by God as a consequence of the prior action on Israel's part. The progressive deterioration of the people's relationship with God was thus most circumstantially and effectively symbolized by the successive names given to Gomer's children. Given likewise described the meaning of these three names: They are national ruin, the loss of divine favor, and the forfeiture of their proud position as the chosen people of Jehovah.F27 The great significance of this narrative clearly lies in the deliberate choice by Hosea of the intimate terminology of the divine covenant with Israel; And in doing so, he clearly announced the fracture of the covenant between Yahweh and his bride Israel.F28 The close connection of all this with the Pentateuch was pointed out thus by Mays:
"Hosea here uses a verbal form for the divine name which is found only in Exo. 3:14, where the name Yahweh is revealed to Moses, literally saying, "I am not your I-AM. This use, instead of the expected "your God" heightens the radical character of the declaration ... an outright declaration by Yahweh that the covenant is no longer in force!"F29
With unusually clear discernment, Ironside noted that:
"This Lo-ammi sentence remains unrepealed to the present day. At the Babylonian captivity, Judah also came under it, and all Israel have been in its shadow ever since."F30
The only chosen people God has ever had at any time throughout the present dispensation of his grace is to be fond in the "New Israel," or church of the living God "in Christ." Even a casual reading of the New Testament reveals that all of the terminology once employed to describe God's relationship with fleshly Israel has been preempted and applied without equivocation to the church of Jesus Christ. Thus it is called the royal priesthood, the holy nation, the heirs of the promise to Abraham, etc., even the term "chosen people" being thus applied in 1 Pet. 2:9. Only the souls "baptized into Christ" are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-28).
Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass that, in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, it shall be said unto them, [Ye are] the sons of the living God.
This is a definite promise and prophecy of the coming of the Gentiles into the favor of God, as indicated by Paul's quotation of this very passage in Rom. 9:25, where he declared:
"And it shall be, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people,
Then shall they be called sons of the living God."
No possible fulfillment of this may be sought for in the subsequent history of the Jews after captivity, for the clear reference to the call of the Gentiles is undeniable.
As the sand of the sea
The significance of this appears in the fact of its repetition of the Father's promise to Abraham in Gen. 15:5; 17:22 where exactly this same terminology is used. Although the covenant with Abraham's fleshly descendants was broken and abrogated, the promise to Abraham was not so terminated; but, as this verse shows, it will be fulfilled by the bringing in of Gentiles, without in any sense excluding any of the fleshly posterity of Abraham who might desire to be included, provided only that they would abide by the terms of the promise. That spiritual posterity of Abraham will indeed be innumerable (Revelation 7:9). The appeal to this promise also shows that God's prior covenant with Abraham regarding the seed singular in whom all the nations were to be blessed was superior in every way to that of the law of Moses which was merely added because of transgressions until the seed, which is Christ, should come. Such quotations from the New Testament as those cited above, and there are many others, must be understood as indicating the divine authority and authenticity of Hosea.F31 We believe that scholars like Dummelow who think that, Hosea cannot bear to dwell upon God's punishments without going beyond them to contemplate a restored people fulfilling the promise of earthly greatness to Abraham, etc.F32 are mistaken. It was not earthly greatness of which God spoke, but spiritual greatness. There are no Biblical promises of the restoration of physical Israel.
And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint themselves one head, and shall go up from the land; for great shall be the day of Jezreel.
The fulfillment of the prophecy that the children of Judah and of Israel should be gathered together was fulfilled on Pentecost, "the one head," being none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. "The Gentiles were adopted into the Church, which, at the Day of Pentecost, was formed of Jews and Gentiles become one in Christ."F33 Not only were there Jews incorporated into the church on that occasion; but many Jews of the dispersion (the ten tribes) were also included (See James 1:1). Thus Jews who were the children of both Judah and of Israel were included among the very earliest members of the church, the holy apostles themselves being Jews.
Great shall be the day of Jezreel
It was at Jezreel that the sinful kingdom ended (although that of Judah was for a time deferred); and this made the way for the reunification of the true (the spiritual) Israel. It was there that the middle wall of partition began to be broken down, from that time forward being consigned to destruction. Hailey accurately discerned this thus:
"This refers back to Hos. 1:4; for inasmuch as the kingdom had been brought to an end, now Israel and Judah (and the Gentiles) could be brought together as one."F34
This gathering of Judah and Israel unto one head cannot refer to the return from Babylonian captivity, for as Given pointed out, "There went up unto that second house (temple) only Judah and Benjamin."F35 "That restoration was far too meager in its dimensions to come up to this splendid prophecy,"F36 although of course, such a token restoration serves as a fulfillment in miniature of the far greater thing that has taken place under the glorious reign of the Messiah.
In closing the notes on this chapter, it should be noted that these last two verses (Hosea 1:10,11), do not actually close chapter 1, which properly ends with verse 1 of chapter 2 (Hosea 2:1).F37 We shall discuss Hos. 2:1, however, in the place where it appears in our version.
Footnotes for Hosea 1
1: Walter Brueggmann, Tradition for Crisis (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1968), p. 109.
2: James M. Ward, Hosea; A Theological Commentary (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 8.
3: Ibid., p. 5.
4: Homer Hailey, Commentary on the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), p. 129.
5: William Rainey Harper, International Critical Commentary, Hosea (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910), p. 202.
6: Paul T. Butler, Minor Prophets (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1968), p. 427.
7: G. J. Polkinghorne, The New Layman's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 928.
8: Paul T. Butler, op. cit., p. 435.
9: Ralph L. Smith, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. VII (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), p. 10.
10: H. A. Ironside, Notes on the Minor Prophets (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1909), p. 10.
11: J. B. Hindley, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 705.
12: John W. Haley, Discrepancies of the Bible (Nashville: B. C. Goodpasture, 1951), p. 255.
13: G. Campbell Morgan, The Minor Prophets (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1960), p. 28.
14: Herbert Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), p. 130.
15: Paul T. Butler, op. cit., p. 436.
18: James Luther Mays, Hosea (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969), P. 23.
19: George W. DeHoff, Old Testament Commentary, Vol. IV (Murfreesboro, Tennessee: DeHoff Publications, 1978), p. 394.
20: Homer Hailey, op. cit., p. 317.
21: J. J. Given, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 13, Hosea (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 4.
22: Jacob M. Myers, The Layman's Bible Commentary Vol. 14 (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1959), p. 12.
24: Walter Brueggmann, op. cit., p. 13.
25: Jacob M. Myers, op. cit., p. 13.
27: J. J. Given, op. cit., p. 3.
28: Ralph L. Smith, op. cit., p. 12.
29: James Luther Mays, op. cit., p. 29.
30: H. A. Ironside, op. cit., p. 16.
31: Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1957), p. 502.
32: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 547.
33: Albert Barnes, Notes on the Old Testament, Minor Prophets, Vol 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1937). p. 25.
34: Homer Hailey, op. cit., p. 140.
35: J. J. Given, op. cit., p. 9.
36: Ibid., p. 8.