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Introduction to the Book of the Prophet Hosea


Our commentary this week is taken from the Bible Commentary by Adam Clarke (1762–1832), a British Methodist minister and theologian. It is interesting sometimes to get a historical perspective on some of the more difficult or controversial topics in the Bible, and there are few more “difficult” than Hosea.

Hosea, the son of Beeri, is the first of the minor prophets. Epiphanius says that he was of the town of Belemoth, in the tribe of Issachar; which is no other, in all probability, than Beelmeon, towards Esdraelon, in this tribe. The rabbins say that Bura was his father, who is mentioned in the Chronicles, and was prince of the tribe of Reuben at the time when Tiglath-pileser carried some of the tribes of Israel into captivity. But if it be so, Hosea must be said to be of the tribe of Reuben; and a native of Beelmeon, beyond Jordan. This prophet lived in the kingdom of Samaria; and his prophecies for the most part have a view to this state, though there are likewise some particular things which concern the kingdom of Judah.

We read, in the introduction to his prophecy, that he prophesied under the kings of Judah, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and under Jeroboam II., king of Israel. If he prophesied in the reign of all these princes, he must have lived a very long time; for there are a hundred and twelve years from the beginning of Uzziah‘s reign to the end of Hezekiah‘s reign. Uzziah began to reign A.M. 3194, and Hezekiah‘s reign ended in 3306. Add, if you please, twenty or five and twenty years, which might be the age of Hosea when he began to prophesy; and this will make one hundred and thirty-two, or one hundred and thirty-seven years. And if we were to take ten years from Uzziah, and as many from Hezekiah, during which Hosea might not have prophesied, there will still remain one hundred and twelve, or one hundred and fifteen years.
In the whole collection of Hosea‘s prophecies, we find nothing which proves that he prophesied so long. And, besides, why should his prophecies be dated in the title by the reigns of the kings of Judah, when he did not live under their dominion? It is therefore very probable that this title is not Hosea‘s, but some ancient transcriber‘s; and that the true beginning of this prophet‘s work is at these words: “The beginning of the word of the Lord by Hosea.” It is our opinion that he began about the end of Jeroboam‘s reign, who was the second king of Israel of this name. See Calmet.

St. Jerome and many others believe Hosea to be the oldest prophet, whose writings are in our possession; and that he was witness to the first captivity of the four tribes carried away by Tiglath-pileser, and the extinction of the kingdom of Samaria by Shalmaneser. St. Jerome will have it that he prophesied even afterwards. The first verses of 1: have a view to the death of Zechariah, king of Israel, and son of Jeroboam II: From the sixth verse of the first chapter to the third chapter, is a prediction of the captivity of Israel: but after he has foretold this captivity, he declares the return and end of it. He inveighs strongly against the disorders which prevailed in the kingdom of the ten tribes. It appears that in his time there were idols; not only at Dan, Beth-el, and Samaria, but likewise at Gilgal, upon Tabor, at Sichem, Beer-sheba, and upon the mountains of Gilead. He speaks of the Israelites as of a people entirely corrupted, and the measure of whose sins was filled up; he foretells that their golden calves should be pulled down, cast upon the ground, and carried into Assyria.
He reflects, with the same severity, upon the irregularities which reigned in Judah. He stands up against those who went to worship false gods at Gilgal. He speaks of Sennacherib‘s invading the territories of Judah. He foretells that the people of Judah should still continue some time in their country after the captivity of the ten tribes; but that after this they themselves should likewise be carried captives beyond the Euphrates, from whence the Lord would bring them back after a certain number of years. The style of Hosea is obscure, and his expressions often dubious and perplexed. The things whereof he speaks contribute farther to his obscurity, by reason of their distance, and our ignorance of the history of those times.

In the beginning of Hosea‘s prophecy, we read that the Lord directed him “to take unto him a wife of whoredoms, and children of whoredoms;” that is, to marry a woman who, before her marriages had lived a debauched life, but who, after her marriage, should retire from all bad conversation, and whose children should be legitimate, notwithstanding that, by reason of the blemish which their mother had contracted by her former life, they were called the children of whoredoms. This prostitute woman, and the children who were to be born of her, were a figure and a kind of real prophecy which described the idolatry and infidelity of Samaria and the ten tribes, formerly the Lord‘s spouse, but who afterwards became idolatrous and corrupt.
The children of this faithless woman are children of prostitution, since they imitate the idolatry of their mother. God gives these children the names of Jezreel, God will disperse; Lo-rechamah, or Without mercy; and Lo-ammi, Thou art no longer my people; to show, –

1.That God was going to revenge upon the house of Jehu, king of Israel, the sins which he had committed at Jezreel, when he usurped the kingdom of the ten tribes.

2.That the Lord would treat his idolatrous and sinful people without mercy.

3.That he would reject them, and no more look upon them as his people.

Hosea is concise, sententious, and abrupt. It is his manner to omit the connexive and adversative particles; an observation which we should recollect when we observe them occasionally supplied by versions or manuscripts. These are among the causes of that obscurity for which he is remarkable: but the greatest difficulties arise from the corrupt readings which deform the printed text. He chiefly addresses Israel; but introduces frequent mention of Judah. He not only inveighs against the vices of the people, but sharply arraigns the conduct of their kings, princes, and priests.
Like many of the Hebrew prophets, he tempers denunciations of God‘s vengeance against an idolatrous and vicious people, with promises of abundant mercies in store for them; and his transitions from one of these subjects to the other are rapid and unexpected. He abounds with short and lively comparisons; and, like the best Greek and Roman writers, often omits the particle of similitude. These comparisons he sometimes accumulates in the spirit of that poetry which is most admired. See Hosea 6:3, Hosea 6:4; Hosea 9:10; Hosea 11:11; Hosea 13:3; Hosea 14:5-7. He has often a Great Force of Expression. See Hosea 1:7; Hosea 2:3, Hosea 2:18, Hosea 2:21, Hosea 2:22; Hosea 4:2; Hosea 6:5; Hosea 11:4; Hosea 12:1. He is sometimes Highly Animated. See Hosea 4:14; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 8:1; Hosea 9:5, Hosea 9:14; Hosea 13:10, Hosea 13:14. Many Beautiful Passages occur in this prophet, as in the Similes throughout; in the Allegories, Hosea 2:2, Hosea 2:20; Hosea 7:11, Hosea 7:12, Hosea 8:7; Hosea 10:11, Hosea 10:12, Hosea 10:13; Hosea 13:15; in the Pathos, Hosea 11:3; and Hosea 11:8, Hosea 11:9; in the Figures, Hosea 13:12; Hosea 14:2. There are also some parts which are truly Sublime, as Hosea 5:14, Hosea 5:15; Hosea 8:7; Hosea 10:8; Hosea 13:7, Hosea 13:8.

Order and Time in Which the Twelve Minor Prophets Flourished

1.Jonah Prophesied between 823 b.c. and 783 b.c. in the reign of Jeroboam II., king of Israel. See 2 Kings 14:25.

2.Amos prophesied from about 823 b.c. to about 785 b.c. in the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah, and in that of Jeroboam II., king of Israel. See Amos 1:1.
3.Hosea flourished from about 809 b.c. to about 698 b.c., in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in that of Jeroboam II., king of Israel. See Hosea 1:1. [But see the observations in the preceding page].
4.Micah flourished between 757 b.c. and 698 b.c., in the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. See Micah 1:1.
5.Nahum is supposed to have prophesied between 720 b.c. and 698 b.c., in the reign of Hezekiah.
6.Joel is supposed to have prophesied between 697 b.c. and 660 b.c., in the reign of Manasseh.
7.Zephaniah prophesied between 640 b.c. and 609 b.c., in the reign of Josiah. See Zephaniah 1:1.
8.Habakkuk is thought to have prophesied between 606 b.c. and 598 b.c., in the reign of Jehoiakim.
9.Obadiah prophesied soon after 587 b.c., between the taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the destruction of the Edomites by the same prince.
10.Haggai prophesied about 520 b.c. after the return from Babylon. See Haggai 1:1.
11.Zechariah prophesied from 520 b.c. to about 518 b.c.; and was contemporary with Haggai. See Zechariah 1:1.

12.Malachi is generally believed to have prophesied about 436 b.c.


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