The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Notes on Hosea 1:2-2:1

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 31, 2007

Note: Unless otherwise noted I will be using my own translation of Hosea. This translation should in no way be considered authoritative. It is done by me as a personal exercise. For this reason I also provide links to the RSV. Please also note that some translations of Hosea employ different chapter and verse divisions. I’ll be following the RSV numbering.

Vs 2 The beginning of the Lords speaking by way of Hosea. Go, take to yourself a woman of harlotries and have children of harlotry, for the land is engaging in great harlotry by not following after the Lord.

The first part of verse 2 serves almost as a superscription to the overall text of 1:2-2:1. The prophet is commanded to take a woman of harlotries. The word take often connotes marriage in the bible (see Gen 4:19). The Hebrew text is not as straight forward as English translations render it. The meaning of the Hebrew text is uncertain. Is the prophet being commanded to wed a woman who is already a harlot, or is he being commanded to marry a woman who will become such in the future? Commentators are divided. It should be noted, however, that this action, and the subsequent marriatal experience of the prophet and his wife are meant to mirror God’s relationship with his people. In chapter 2:14-15 we see that Israel, God’s bride, had originally been faithful, and so parallelism suggests that we are to understand that Hosea’s wife was originally faithful but later fell into harlotries.

for the land is engaging in great harlotries by not following the Lord. These words give the reason for the command to marry and suggest that the marital troubles to come have a connection to the land’s great harlotries against the Lord. As already noted, Hosea’s marriage symbolizes God’s relations with his people. Land here is to be understood as a constriction for the people who were known as “the people of the land.” Underlying this reference to the land’s harlotries is the theology of the Baal cults. Baal was a fertility god and the earth was considered as something like a consort of his. By sending the rain (conceived of as his seed/sperm) he impregnated the land and made it fruitful. In order to ensure that this would happen his devotees often engaged in “sacred” sexual rituals in temples dedicated to him. By engaging in this worship the people were making the land engage in harlotries by not following the Lord. The Hebrew wording suggests that this situation has been ongoing for some time.

A note on Baalism:
What the original conception was is most obscure. According to W.R. Smith, the Baal is a local God who, by fertilizing his own district through springs and streams, becomes its lawful owner. Good authorities, nevertheless, oppose this view, and reversing the above argument, hold that the Baal is the genius-lord of the place and of all the elements that cause its fecundity; it is he who gives “bread, water, wool, flax, oil, and drink” (Hosea 2:5; in the Hebrew text 2:7); he is the male principle of life and reproduction in nature, and such is sometimes honoured by acts of the foulest sensuality. Whether or not this idea sprang from, and led to the monotheistic conception of supreme deity, the Lord of Heaven, of whom the various Baals would be so many manifestations, we shall leave to scholars to decide. Some deem that the bible favours this view, for its language frequently seems to imply the belief in a Baal par excellence. (From The Catholic Encyclopedia article Baal. New Advent Catholic Supersite)

Vs 3 So he went and took (wed) Gomer the daughter of Diblaim , and she conceived and gave birth to his son;
Vs 4 And the Lord said to him, “give him the name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will charge the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will bring to an end the kingdom of the house of Israel.
Vs 5 And it will come about on that day that I will break the bow of Israel in the Jezreel valley.

In verse 3 we see the prophet fulfill the command of the Lord by taking a woman named Gomer as his wife. Notice that the verse clearly states that the child she conceived and gave birth to is his (Hosea’s) son. Two more children will be born, and as we will see their paternity is not clearly stated. This is another reason for interpreting Gomer as an originally faithful wife (see comment on verse 2).

In verse 4 the prophet is commanded to name his son Jezreel, a word meaning “God sows”. This is the name of a broad, fertile valley plain which lies south of the Galilee and stretches from mount Megiddo in the west to the Jordan river in the east. It was ancient Israel’s proverbial “bread basket.” Because of its fertility and because much of the northern kingdom of Israel was dependent on its produce it became a center of Baal worship. The people it would seem were uncertain as to which god (El) sowed (zara, the root of Jezreel) the land (i.e. made it fruitful).

The giving of the name is explained in reference to the the charging of the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel. This is a reference to events from the time of the prophets Elijah and Elisha.

During the reign of King Ahab (circa 873-852 BC) the “original sin” of the northern kingdom was maintained. By “original sin” I am referring to the false shrines set up by Jeroboam 1 in and to the syncretistic worship of God which took place in them (1 Kings 12:26-13:34). In addition to tolerating this, Ahab also fostered the worship of Baal in deference to his Phoenician wife Jezebel. The prophet Elijah opposed both these sins vehemently. On one occasion he challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a sacrificial dual on Mount Carmel. Upon defeating them he had them slain and, as a result, he was forced to flee to Mount Horeb (i.e. Mt Sinai) from Jezebel’s wrath. Recall that Horeb/Sinai is the place where God had made his covenant with the chosen people and gave them the ten commandments. While on the mountain Elijah twice declares how zealous he has been for the Lord AND HIS COVENANT. The Lord orders him to anoint Elisha as his successor and to also anoint Jehu as king of Israel.

Jehu is to wipe out the house of Ahab and all the dynasty of Omri (see 1 kings 18-19). This he does with a ruthless efficiency while maintaining how zealous he is for the Lord. This is the same statement made by Elijah, but with an important omission; Jehu never declares his zeal for GOD’S COVENANT. In fact like all the northern kings before him, he does nothing to end the “original sin” of Jeroboam 1 and re-establish the covenant. For this reason he is given only a partial blessing. He is blessed for eradicating the devotees of Baal, but he is criticized for his lack of fidelity to the covenant. For this reason his dynasty will last only four generations. That is the same length as the dynasties of Jeroboam 1 and of Omri (see 2 Kings 9-10). Jeroboam 2 is the fourth generation of the house of Jehu and therefore Hosea is being told the prophecy of 2 Kings 10:28-31 is about to be fulfilled.

But the prophet is also told that the entire kingdom, and not just the reigning dynasty, is going to come to an end. This will take place through military defeat when God will give the people over to their enemies by breaking the bow of Israel in the Jezreel valley.

Vs 6 She conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. The Lord said to him, “give her the name Loruhamah (“not pitied” or “no mercy”) for I will cease to show pity towards the house of Israel and forgive them anymore.

Unlike the description of the birth of Jezreel in verse 3 this child’s paternity is not given. Is she one of the children of harlotry mentioned in verse 2? Given the symbolic named conferred on her it would appear so. One of the special traits of God which he often manifested towards the chosen people was his mercy. The name Loruhamah seems to announce the end of such manifestations. This would have been very shocking to the people since pity, or mercy, is closely connected with God’s self-revelation. In Exodus 34:6 for example, we read: “And the Lord passed before his (moses’) face and proclaimed, ‘Lord, Lord God of mercy (Hebrew= el rahum) and grace, slow to anger and bountiful in lovingkindness and faithfulness.

Vs 7 But on the house of Judah I will show pity, and I, the Lord their God, will deliver them. Not by the bow will I deliver them, nor by sword, nor war, nor horses, nor by horsemen.

The political, religious, and moral situation in the Kingdom of Judah was not ideal but was better than what existed in the north. Unlike the northern kingdom, the southern kingdom was able, and had on occassion, repented of its sins. For this kingdom there is still hope. Apparently the prophet places these words here to insinuate that the only hope for the people of the northern kingdom is a return to the rule of the Davidic kings (see 3:5).

Vs 8 After the weaning of Loruhamah, Gomer conceived and gave birth to another son.
Vs 9 Then God said, ‘give him the name Loammi, for you are not my people and neither am I your God’.

Another son is born and, like his sister, his paternity appears to be in question. This is reflected in his name, Loammi, which means “not a people.” Just as his sister’s name appeared to be establishing a reversal of how God deals with his people so too with his name and its explanation.

The statement “I will be your God, and you will be my people” often appears in various forms in the Old Testament (see Lev 26:12; Dt 26:17-19) and is always used as a fundamental statement about the chosen peoples relationship with God. By having the prophet name the illegitimate boy “not my people” God is signifying the disruption of the relationship between him and the people of the Northern kingdom. The explanation for why the name is given also plays upon the name of Yahweh (“I am who I am) which was revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14. “I am who I am” is in Hebrew ehyeh aser ehyeh. When the Lord explains the meaning of Loammi to mean “I am not your God” the Hebrew is Lo Ehyeh, literally a reversal of the divine name.

Vs 10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sands of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass that, in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘you are the sons of the living God.’
Vs 11 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.
2:1 Say to your brother,’Ammi’; (my people) and to your sister, ‘Ruhamah’ (She has received pity).
(Quoted from the American Standard Version, a public domain work. I’ve modified the text somewhat)

These three verses are sometimes taken as seperate from those that precede them; syntactically, this is incorrect.

First, we will consider these verses in their literal/historical meaning. The prophet is attempting to show the precarious nature of the Northern Kingdom’s (i.e. Israel’s) existence. As an idependent nation it has failed. The only hope for the people now is that they return to political and religious unity with the southern kingdom. Only by doing this will they once again become my people and receive pity.

shall be as the sands of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered. These words of vs 10 allude to another one of the founding traditions of the chosen people. Earlier (vss 6 and 9), some founding traditions were used to illustrate God’s punishment, whereas here they are used as a promise of hope. The prophet is alluding to the promise made to Jacob who, at the time was in Exile from the promised land. As Jacob returned to the land and to a possible confrontation with his brother Esau, whom he feared, for he had cheated him out of both a birth-right and a blessing, he prayed to God and reminded him of the promise he had given to Abraham: and you said, I will surely do good to you. I will make your seed as the sands of the sea, far to numerous to count (Gen 32:12 my translation.) Jacob is here referring to the words God spoke to Abraham after stopping the sacrifice of Issac (see Gen 22:17). These two passages show God’s love for the ancestors of the chosen people and his regard for the promises he had made to them. The fact that they also show

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