|For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will rend and go away, I will carry off, and none shall rescue~Hos 5:14|
It is important to remember that after the death of Solomon-and as punishment for his sins-the Kingdom of David split in two (see 1 Kings 11:1-12:32). Ten tribes in the north of the Holy Land formed a new kingdom which retained the name of “Israel,” and it is commonly referred to by modern scholars as “the Northern Kingdom.” Two tribes remained under the davidic monarchs and become know as “Judah” (Juda), or as “the Southern Kingdom” by modern scholars. For the history of this era one can profitably consult Section 6 of John Bright’s A HISTORY OF ISRAEL; the section is entitled The Independent Kingdoms of Israel and Judah: From the Death of Solomon to the Mid-Eighth Century. For dated but still useful background on the prophet and his book you can consult the Catholic Encyclopedia article “Osee.” “Osee is the Greek spelling of Hosea.
Hosea was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel. On the basis of the superscription (Hosea 1:1) and other evidence in the book his ministry is usually dated from circa 750 through 725 BC.
Israel has been committing “harlotry” against her husband, God, but he is intent on having her back. This is the basic message of Hosea 1-3. Through the prophet the people are summoned to here God’s complaint against them (Hosea 4:1-3). The complaint includes the fact that priests have been leading the people astray (Hosea 4:4-14), and they are exhorted to give up the idolatrous sites at Gilgal and Bethel (Hosea 4:15-19). Three groups of people are then called upon to “hear” what the Lord has to say (Hosea 5:1-7); they are: 1. the priests; 2. the House of Israel; 3. the house of the king. They have become their own snare, their own net, their own pit in which they have trapped themselves (Hosea 5:1-2). Their Whoring, deeds and pride hinder at best, and make impossible at worst, any relationship with God (Hosea 5:3). They no longer even know God, but he knows them and their doings (Hosea 5:3-4). Their pride witnesses against them, and their guilt will be their downfall (Hosea 5:5). They still seek with sacrifices this God they no longer know, unaware that he has drawn away from them (Hosea 5:6). By whoring against the Lord with whom they had covenanted, the leaders have raised up illegitimate children.
Israel (and Judah too) have failed to trust in God and have turned to political alliances instead (Hosea 5:8-14). The political savvy of the nation’s leaders, and the military clout of foreign empires have replaced trust and confidence in God. What the people do not understand is that their troubles (i.e., hostile enemies, political upheavals) are the result of the covenant infidelities (see Deut 28:25; Deut 28:49-57). And what they especially do not understand is that these troubles are their God’s doing as punishment (Hosea 5:12; Hosea 5:14).
As already indicated, the people do not really know God (Hosea 5:4), even though they seek for him with sacrifice (Hosea 5:6). It is no surprise then that the beautiful prayer of repentance attributed to them (Hosea 6:1-3) is without meaning (Hosea 6:4-6). True devotion and knowledge of God are better than sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).
This lack of knowledge and the false repentance are at the heart of what troubles the kingdom. Protestant scholar, James Luther Mays, entitles Hosea 6:7-7:2 “A Geography of Treachery.” The places named in this passage were often associated with treachery, deceit, and especially, idolatry. Things have gotten so bad that even when God attempts to heal his people they commit more sins (Hosea 7:1). Their lack of knowledge leads to the failure to consider that God remembers their evil deeds: Now their deeds encompass them, they are before my face (Hosea 7:2 RSV).
The politics of Israel are the politics of sin (Hosea 7:3-7). The king and the princes of the kingdom are wicked and this suits the people fine. Intrigue is hidden behind joy and drunkenness and leads to assassination. In Hosea’s day six kings rose and fell; four by assassination (Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, Pekah). A fifth king, Menahem, reigned ten years only because he paid huge amounts of protection money to Assyria to ensure this. The last king (Hoshea) was deposed and arrested by the Assyrians after intriguing against them. Because of their political machinations the people are compared to a heated oven left unattended and fueled by wine (Hosea 7:4-5); for like an oven their hearts burn with intrigue; all night their anger smolders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire (Hosea 7:6). In the heat of their anger they consume their kings; none think of calling upon the Lord (Hosea 7:7).
Ephraim (another name of the northern kingdom) mingles with pagan peoples. A cake (a flat loaf of bread) when left unturned in a smoldering oven slowly burns (Hosea 7:8), and this is seen as a fitting image for the nation, for a cake unturned slowly burns. The pagan peoples it is relying on are slowly devouring them; slowly the kingdom is aging like a man whose hair gradually turns gray (Hosea 7:9).
Like a silly dove which can’t make up its mind which way to fly, bird-brained Ephraim goes cooing after both Egypt and Assyria. Some of the kings in the north (and the people who supported them) depended on Egypt to aid them against Assyria, others sought to ingratiate themselves with Assyria in order to maintain power (Hosea 7:11). All merit the divine punishment for not relying on God as their protector (Hosea 7:15), an act of rebellion (Hosea 7:12-13). Rather than cry to God from the heart they practice pagan mourning rituals, gashing themselves (Hosea 7:14; 1 Kings 18:28; and see Lev 19:28, Deut 14:1), as if their God was just one of the Baals’ (Hosea 7:16).
The situation is desperate, a bird of prey hovers over the silly dove, Ephraim,. It is a dying kingdom because it has broken Covenant with the Lord (Hosea 8:1). The people call to God, claiming to know him, but their deeds speak the real truth, and pursuit by enemies is to be their recompense (Hosea 8:2-3; see Deut 28:25).
By intrigue, power politics, deceit and murder, kings and princes have been made and broken, this has not been the Lord’s doing. It was a king’s duty to protect the integrity of worship, but the people who made kings for themselves have also made idols. (Hosea 8:4). The premier idol in the land, the bull calf at Samaria, God rejects, and his anger burns against its devotees: How long will it be till they are pure (Hosea 8:5 RSV). It is the work of an artisan and it shall come to naught (Hosea 8:6). He who sows wind (idols, see Isa 41:29) reaps the whirlwind, God’s wrath (Hosea 8:7). Because they relied on the Baals to give them grain God will keep it from them (Hosea 8:7, and see Hosea 2:8-9). And what grain is produced will be consumed by strangers, one of the covenant curses (Hosea 8:7, and see Deut 28:33-34).
The kingdom itself is being devoured by the alien lovers it has sought help from (Hosea 8:8-10). Their altars serve their sins (Hosea 8:11), for foreign lovers and foreign alliances both lead to idolatry (for lovers, see Exodus 34:16; 1 Kings 11:1-2. For alliances see 2 Kings 16:7-18).
The law was given to God’s people for wisdom, to make of them a great nation (Deut 4:6-8), but in Hosea’s day, if that law were increased ten-thousand times, the people would be unable to comprehend it (Hosea 8:12). They love sacrifice in which the Lord has no delight, and they have forgotten the Lord who made them. But God will not forget their iniquity, or leave them unpunished. Having rejected their maker they have made palaces and fortresses for themselves, these shall be destroyed (Hosea 8:13-14).
A summary cannot possibly do justice the the content of Hosea 1-8, for this reason I have appended a few suggestions for study.
SUGGESTED READINGS AND ONLINE RESOURCES
Posts marked with three asterisks *** indicate online material
*** Father Mike's Bible Study Podcast. On Hosea and Amos.
*** Father Mitch Pacwa's Old Testament Prophets Series. From EWTN. Listen to episodes 22-25.
*** Brief Introduction to Hosea. From the Catholic News Agency.
Jerome Biblical Commentary. Succinct commentaries on all the books of the bible, plus essays on a wide range of related subjects. Use with some caution. The work has engendered controversy, and the updated version even more so.
New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. Like the previous commentary this one offers succinct commentaries on all the books of the bible, plus essays on related subjects. an extensive revision of an older work, it has caused much less controversy.
Amos, Hosea, Micah. Old Testament Message, Volume 7. By Father Bruce Vawter.
The Twelve Prophets: Berit Olam Series. By Marvin A. Sweeney. I believe the author is Jewish. The series employed authors from a variety of theological traditions. I cannot recommend all the books in the series. This is the first of two volumes on the Twelve Prophets.
The Minor Prophets: Navarre Bible Commentary Series. A good place to begin. This series was the brain child of Saint Jose Marie Escriva and was compiled by the faculty of the University of Navarre.
Hosea: Anchor Yale Bible Commentary. By Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman. Non-Catholic authors. The series employed authors from a wide variety of theological backgrounds, including a number of well known Catholic scholars. This work is lengthy and somewhat technical.
Grace Abounding: A Commentary on the Book of Hosea: International Theological Commentary Series. Non-Catholic author. The series did employ a few Catholic scholars.