Lesson 34: Hosea 1-3; 11; 13-14
The book of Hosea is an excellent example of a book that we often find difficult because we don’t understand “the manner of prophesying among the Jews” (2 Nephi 25.1). One of the most important of those ways of prophesying was the use of types and shadows. (See Romans 5:14; Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5, 9:9 and 24, and 10:1; and Mosiah 3:15, 13:10, and 16:14.) The key to understanding Hosea is to recognize that the relation of Israel to the Lord is typified by the marriage relation and that Israel in apostasy is typified by an unfaithful wife. That relation is used in this book to call Israel to repentance.
Initially Hosea uses a negative version of the bride-and-groom metaphor to teach Israel that, though they are unfaithful to him, he will remain faithful to them. For us, the surprising thing about the book of Hosea is that Hosea does not only use the metaphor of the faithful husband and the unfaithful wife linguistically, he acts it out by marrying an unfaithful woman.
Some have insisted that we cannot understand Hosea’s story literally. Most readers have argued that we should. Some have argued that the Lord commanded Hosea to marry a woman who was not a harlot at the time, but whom he knew would become one. But, whatever side of that argument you wish to defend, it is important to remember that such arguments are beside the point. They take us away from the lesson of Hosea to other issues. We will read the story as we have it in scripture, looking to learn the lessons that story teaches us, and we will not worry about whether the Lord really commanded Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman.
Hosea was a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II (approximately 750-790 B.C.), king of Israel, and during the reign of those who followed. The traditional dates given for the years of his prophetic work are 760-720 B.C. Jewish tradition says that his father, Beeri, was also a prophet and that one of Beeri’s prophecies was included in Isaiah’s prophecies (Isaiah 8:19-20). Micah, Isaiah, and Amos were contemporary with Hosea, and all four of these prophets agreed in what they said about Israel and Judah: they were morally and spiritually ill. Hosea 4 gives a bleak description of Israel, summarized in verse 1: “There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” Israel’s spiritual illness was reflected in her politics: she was constantly quarreling with her neighbors, winning and losing unending battles, while at the same time she and those neighbors were threatened by the huge power of Assyria. And the political strife was not only between Judah and Israel, on the one hand, and other nations, on the other. It was also internal. In the south, Judah was at war with Ephraim (see chapter 5). And, after Jeroboam II died, there were three kings on Israel’s throne within one year, followed by continual fighting by those who claimed to be king and, shortly, the end of the kingdom. (See 13:11.)
Verses 4-5: The first son is born and named Jezreel, or “I will sow.” What connotations does this name have? Can it have positive connotations? Why isn’t his name changed after Gomer repents? What does it mean that the Lord will “break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel”?
Verses 6-7: The name “Lo-ruhamah” is the name “Ruhamah,” mercy, with a negative prefix. So it means “no mercy” or “no compassion.” What does it mean that the Lord will have mercy on Israel, but not on Judah? What is the division between Israel and Judah? What does it mean to say that the Lord will not save Judah “by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, . . .”? How will he save them?
Verses 8-9: Like Lo-ruhamah, Lo-ammi, is the name “Ammi” with a negative prefix. “Ammi” means “my people.” Notice that verse 3 says Gomer “conceived, and bare him a son,” but verses 6 and 8 just say that she “conceived, and bare a [child].” Many have understood this to be a way of saying that Hosea was not the father of the second two children.
Verses 10-11: What do these two verses have to do with the rest of the chapter? What promise is made? To whom? Does remembering the meaning of the name, “Jezreel,” add a dimension to the meaning of the phrase “great shall be the day of Jezreel”?
Verse 1: Why has Hosea dropped the negative prefix from his daughter’s and his son’s names? Why change their names? What does this say about him? What might it show Israel?
Verses 2-5: What does Hosea ask in verse 2? Verse 3 describes the punishment of adultery (compare Ezekiel 16:39), and verse 4 continues that description. Notice that the description of these children at the end of verse 4 is paralleled by Gomer’s description of them in verse 12 where she describes the children as the rewards of her lovers rather than the children of Hosea, adding weight to the usual interpretation of verses 3, 6, and 8, that Hosea was not their father. In verse 5, what does she say she wanted from her lovers? What do these verses say to Israel? What do they say to us?
Verses 6-13: This section begins with Hosea speaking of what he will do to convince Gomer to return and it ends with the Lord speaking of Israel forgetting him. This change in voice may seem odd to us, but it is perfectly appropriate in typological writing: Hosea the prophet is a shadow of the Lord.
What is Hosea going to do to convince Gomer to return? Who has been providing her with her needs? Compare what Hosea has been giving her with what she wants from her lovers. Notice that she thinks of her children as gifts of her lovers, just as she thought the necessities of life came from them. What does this show us about her? What do these things tell us about Israel? About ourselves?
Notice, in verse 11, that her mirth (her joy or rejoicing) is defined by her feast days and so on, indications of her idolatry. Notice, too, that the trees of a forest (to which she compares her children) are non-bearing trees. They have no fruit.
Verses 14-15: The word translated “allure” could also be translated “persuade her with endearing words.” What does this say about how the Lord deals with Israel? In verse 15, why does the Lord offer marriage presents to someone to whom he is already married?
Compare the reference to the wilderness here with the reference in verse 3. How do they differ? The reference here is an allusion to the Exodus from Egypt. How is that relevant? As the footnotes point out, in verse 15, the word “Achor” can also be translated “trouble.” How does that translation help us understand the point of these two verses? In addition, the valley of Achor was a valley the children of Israel had to pass through on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. How is that significant to this verse? Why is the Exodus such an important type for scripture?
Verses 16-17: What is the significance of this change in the form of address? What is the difference between a husband and a master? The word “Baali” is connected with idolatry, with Baal worship. So what?
Verse 18: What is the point of this verse? What is the Lord promising?
Verses 19-20: What does the word “betroth” mean? What does it mean to be betrothed to the Lord? How does the image of betrothal compare to that of being the Lord’s children (compare 1:10)? What does each image teach us?
Verses 21-22: Perhaps a better translation of the word translated “hear” in these verses would be “pay attention to” or “respond to.” What is the Lord promising in these verses? Does the fact that the verse ends with the name Jezreelâ€””I will sow”â€”help us understand the promise made? Is there more than one level of this promise? In other words, can it be read as meaning more than one thing? Corn, wine, and oil may be an oblique reference to the temple ritual and sacrifices. If so, how might that be relevant to the promise made here?
Verse 23: In the last verses of this chapter, the names of Hosea’s and Gomer’s children are important. For example, verse 19 ends with a reference to mercy or compassion, the name of their daughter (Ruhamah, 1:6). As we saw, verse 22 ends with the mention of their first son, Jezreel, and, if we remember the meaning of the first son’s name, verse 23 begins with a mention of him. Then this verse mentions their daughter, Ruhamah, and finally it mentions their second son, Ammi. So, if we recognize the connection of the names to the meanings of the names, verse 23 mentions each child in order of birth and could be translated like this:
Then I will sow her (Jezreel) unto me in the earth and I will have mercy on She-Who-Did-Not-Receive-Mercy (Lo-Ruhamah); and I will say to He-Who-Is-Not-My-People (Lo-Ammi), Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.
How does this bring together the shadow (Hosea’s experience with his wife, Gomer) and the original (the Lord’s experience with Israel)? So what?
Verse 1: What is the Lord commanding Hosea to do when he says “Love the woman who is beloved of another and an adulteress”? (I’ve used another translation to make the King James translation more clear.) Deuteronomy 4:4 forbids a man whose wife has become the wife of another person from remarrying her, so what Hosea does here seems, strictly speaking, to be illegal. What do you make of that? How does that add depth to the story?
Verse 2: In ancient Israel, as in many other ancient cultures, women were considered the property of their husbands. Since Gomer now “belongs” to someone else, if Hosea wants her back, he must compensate her lover and buy her back. How is that an image of our own situation?
Verse 3-5: What is Hosea’s message to Omer? What is the Lord’s message to Israel?