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Hosea 1:2-10

Background to the Book of Hosea

Literary Structure:
1:1 Title
1:2 - 3:5          Sexual Imagery: Hosea's Marriage & Children + their names. Yahweh's marriage to
                        Israel. Hosea is commanded to love a whore + disciplining of the beloved4:1 - 9: 9  
                        Prophesies of Judgement against Israel
4:1 - 5: 7        Legal proceedings
5:8 - 6: 6       Warning, lament, God's reply
6:7 - 9: 9       Prophesies of judgement
9:10 - 13:16   Historical Review: God found Israel: Israel sinned from the time of Gibeah. God
                        loved Israel as a child: God is faithful: Apostasy of the people: Will your kings save
                        you now?
14:1 - 8          A Promise concerning salvation
14: 9              Wisdom saying.

Blenkinsopp thinks the book is structured along a chronological timeline in which discourses are gathered together which end with the description of the fate of Hoshea in Hosea 13 (Blenkinsopp:101). Yee suggests C3, 11 and 14 are important structurally. Each represents a story about the God/Israel relationship through metaphors of husband /wife (1-3), parent/child (4-11), husband/wife/rebellious son( 12-14) (Yee:198). Each section highlights human repentance, divine forgiveness and mercy. Journey is important, both spiritual and physical, are part of the message. It is very hard to find clear breaks in the book as it doesn't have the message formula in the same way as in the Book of Amos. Furthermore, it is a mixture of poetry and prose. Authorship of the book is disputed. Earlier scholarship is keen to find those oracles which they believe are the 'words of the prophet' but while there can be calculated guesses it is difficult to be rigid about the exact words of the prophet. No matter how we view it, Hosea probably spoke the oracles to an audience in the first instance. Later, the oracles were collected and put into a written document, rather like the gospels. Hosea and Amos are described as the earliest of the writing prophets, which means the literature is presented as though they are speaking about their experience unlike Elisha and Elijah who are spoken of within narrative. The writer who created this book has been very creative in using the elements from different forms. So we have divine speech woven into law court type disputations, complaints, direct and indirect speech (Davies. NCB: 35).

Amos and Hosea have different emphases. While Amos does mention the issue of cultic apostasy, for Hosea this is the major emphasis in the book. The people have no knowledge of God and prophet, priest and king are condemned in the book of Hosea. Again, while Hosea talks of ethical issues, it is Amos who has the unjust practices as the major emphasis. The images of judgement which are quite prolific in each book have many similarities using the devastation of land as a primary one.

Nicholson (God and his People) makes an interesting comment about the theology of these earlier writing prophets. He claims that it is only these prophets who announced Yahweh's rejection of Israel and the "social order as a whole was relativized in the face of a radicalized perception of Yahweh's righteousness" (pp 206 -207). What he is saying is that in light of God's righteousness the present social order is no longer appropriate and it has to be viewed from the perspective of God's transcendence and God's will for righteousness. (Hosea 4:1, 6:6-7, 7:1-7, 8:3). Therefore, Hosea and Amos are confronting their contemporaries as well as society and we see this in many texts in these prophets.

History within the Text:Historical Context for this prophetic period shared by the following prophets:
750 - 700 BCE =, Amos, Hosea (Israel) Micah, Isaiah (Judah)

Hosea is presented as active in the public arena for 30 years, 754-724 (750-720 BCE depending which scholar one wants to follow ) and was a contemporary of Amos. Unlike Amos, Hosea does not disclaim any connection with earlier prophets, and makes reference to them 9:7-9, 12:10. He is identified as the son of Beeri (my well), from Samaria. There are references to Ephraim which is the name used by those of the Northern Kingdom and the book contains those traditions which are often identified with a northern genesis, for example, references to "the wilderness tradition, no knowledge of God, broken the covenant".

Some scholars think that Hosea 1-3 equals a period of political stability in which the condemnation of Jehu precedes the coup of Shallum in 745 BCE. The remainder of book fits the period of destabilisation when 4 out of 6 kings were assassinated. Hosea 5:8-6:6 may reflect the time of 734-733 when Israel and Damascus attempted to force Judah into an anti-Assyrian coalition. Hosea 8:8 sounds like post 722 BCE when Assyria took control of the Northern Kingdom and decimated the ten tribes of Israel leaving only Judah and Benjamin in the south. Hosea 13:9-11 refers to the deposition of Hoshea and the end of monarchy 2-3 years before the fall of Samaria. Chronology Kings From reading the book one cannot but be overwhelmed with the message that for all of Elijah and Elisha's warnings a hundred years previously the Canaanite religion has flourished in the Northern Kingdom. The references to sacrifices on hills and under trees, sacrifices with cult prostitutes and references to Baal all point to a people who are participating in Canaanite worship practices. Even if the message is exaggerated to make a point there is enough repetition of their apostasy to see it is of great concern to the writer of Hosea
As the approaching threat of Assyria grows ever stronger so does the message of Hosea become correspondingly urgent. He warns the people of the their impending doom. The passage which speaks of incredible God's love for the Israel in which God will never be able to give them up completely is probable reflecting a later period (14:4-8) and certainly by the time Judah has gone into exile in 587 BCE it would be a word of hope in a new situation.

Context of Hosea 1:2-10
Hosea 1:1 acts as an historical marker for those later readers who don't know for sure when the prophet Hosea lived and prophesied. V.1 identifies this particular Hosea and places him in the reigns of both Judah and Israel. It is interesting to note the kings of Judah are mentioned first. Whether this indicates the setting or final author was in Judah and names those kings with whom he is familiar, we cannot know. It is interesting also to note that the kings of the Northern Kingdom who reigned in the last days of the kingdom fail to be acknowledged. The lectionary reading is part of a block of material which is frequently understood to be read together, that is, Hosea 1-3. The enacted prophecy or marriage metaphor depending on one's viewpoint is continued through Hosea 2-3. The difficulties relating to the person of Gomer will be expanded in the next section. The prophecies in Hosea 4 ff call on the people to hear what the prophet, who speaks God's word to them, has to say. He confronts their unethical behaviour making special mention of the priests and prophets who have forgotten their God and God's faithfulness towards them. The metaphor of adultery continues to be used through the chapters. Hosea 4 appears to suggest that Judah still had a chance to escape punishment (Hosea 4:15). The priests are mentioned again in Hosea 5 in very derogatory terms and judgement pronounced against them for their inappropriate leadership. In the later verses in Hosea 5 Judah is included in the judgement of Ephraim.
Insights/Message of Hosea 1:2-10
A great deal is written about the metaphors which are used in Hosea 1-3. I will attempt a summary for those who might be interested at the end of this section.
Literary Structure:

1:1-11 = Hosea's marriage to Gomer and birth, naming of the children
2:1-23 = Yahweh and his unfaithful wife
3:1-5 = Resolves conflict by loving the woman like Yahweh loves Israel
Some see Hosea 1-3 as originally an independent piece of literature. Verses 1-2 begin with God's commands to the prophet with a peculiar explanation about the land committing harlotry, "go, take, have children" (v.1). V.2 has the prophet acting obediently without question, "he went, he took" and she conceived a son: Hosea is the obedient model as opposed to the people who are disobedient. The Hebrew word 'took' is a word often used in this context for sexual intercourse and part of marriage (Jacob & Leah, Rachel). Some scholars want to say Hosea did not marry but only took her sexually and it is not intended to parallel marriage between God and Israel in C.2. Because marriage is spoken of in C.2 I would hold to the idea that Hosea's marriage was intended. The name of Gomer's ancestor (Diblaim) may have play on "yam", a Canaanite deity. The Hebrew word for harlotry (zana), a verb which means 'sexual relations outside marriage', is used three times in v.2 - a wife of harlotry, children of harlotry, and the land has committed great harlotry. The implication by the use of this word means that this wife will be a person who has become habitually promiscuous. So, Hosea's wife, children and land are all equated with harlotry which emphasises the sin of Israel: Hosea is to live out Yahweh's predicament.Vv.4-5 have the command to call his son,Jezreel (El, (god) sows). Elijah prophesied the end of the house of Ahab & Jezreel on God's command, so why now is the house of Jehu punished for massacre of house of Omri. This is another of those examples where there are conflicting voices within scripture. Jezreel is the name of plain and town.v.5 "on that day" may have references to Assyrian invasion in 721 BCE in which the phrase, 'break the bow' is a literary symbol of strength, which may be easily broken and therefore a symbol of defeat.v.6 Lo-ruhamah means, "she is not pitied" and follows on from desolation of north spoken of in vv.4-5. By comparison all the things denied Israel will be offered to Judah (v.7), but their deliverance will come by the Lord. Hebrew noun for "pitied" (ruhama ) has associations with the word for womb (rehem) which is often translated as compassion. So the play on words in vv.6-7 have God no longer showing compassion to Israel, but God will have compassion on Judah. The denial of compassion encompasses the denial of forgiveness which has the meaning, to take away (nasa). We are unsure of the significance of v.8. It may be that weaning occurs usually after 3 years which is evidence of God's patience.

The name of the 3rd child is the symbol of the utter denial of the covenant relationship between God and Israel - it is quite a horrendous rejection. Apparatus suggests "your God"and this combined with the Hebrew verb "to be" (I am) as in Exodus 3:14, could recall for people this instance, of revelation. There is also a shift to 2nd Person plural direct address to the people. In the Hebrew Scriptures, v.10 is the beginning of Hosea 2:1. It has neither God nor the prophet speaking a direct address, nor is Yahweh named. It is very difficult verse to understand - does it offer hope, or is it a response to the punishment of rejection in v.9. "Like sand of the sea" has memories of promise to Abraham and Jacob. "In the place where it was said" is a rare phrase and may imply the exile, and "sons of the living God" (a phrase unique in OT) signifies a return to relationship (Mays:33). Finally, v.11, addresses north and south and the reference to a head rather than king points to exile, especially if last of the line of David has died in exile. The phrase, "go up from land" is one that refers to return from exile and the last word is the name given to the first child -"God sows" (Jezreel) which is picked up again Hosea 2:22-23.

Message:  The marriage is an indictment against Israel and the names of the children are the judgement. Hosea in his obedience becomes like God who loves the unfaithful people. If we wanted to shock people today who are unfaithful, we could use the love of God for terrible murderers or rapists with whom God still wants to be in relationship. However, we need to remember God offers us grace, and in the relationship there is a responsibility on our parts to live as Jesus lived his life. We are called to live out of a relationship which means care and justice are part of everyday living.

Notes on Hosea 1 - 3:

Targum has Hosea 1-3 as symbolic in which the taking of Gomer and the birth of the children is a symbol for preaching against sinful Israel. Hosea 3 is speech of God of his love for Israel.
Issues re Gomer:
a. Is it Gomer in Hosea 3?
b. Is it different accounts of the same event?
c. Is it accounts of different events in Hosea's relationship? (This view predominates)
1. Rudolph rejects Wolff's view that Gomer was a respectable woman who followed the wrong religion and was forced to be a cultic prostitute. Neither biblical or extrabiblical material supports this view, see Deuteronomy 22:13-21, 23-29 (Davies.OTG:81) My comment - Which is why it could be so shocking because it contradicts the law
2. Is it a reflection on what happened to the prophet?
3. Or is the message in Hosea 1 to be accepted at face value? Does the symbolic idea fail because Israel was pure when God took her from Egypt which is not the message in Hosea 1:2
4. Rudolph ends up with Gomer as respectable wife, children given symbolic names and Hosea buys a prostitute whom he locks up in house. Davies critiques this position, p.86
5. G.Davies arrives at a decision in which Hosea doesn't marry but gets children from a prostitute and Hosea stands for Baal and Gomer for Israel. In Hosea 3, Hosea is to find another women who can't be Gomer because this one has committed Adultery. This action symbolises Yahweh seeking out a faithless Israel (Davies. OTG:88ff).

1. A metaphor may be based on personal experience. It seems quite contrived with the symbolic names of the children
2. If it is a metaphor, what then is its purpose?
Metaphor has power in itself and conveys truth (Graetz, p.135). One can lose sight of it just as a metaphor so 'God is no longer like a husband; God is a husband'. If God's covenant with Israel is like marriage ...then a husband's physical punishment against his wife is as warranted as God's punishment of Israel. A slide takes place!
If Israel is the bride/ wife and it is based on the marriage idea of that time then Israel is the harlot. One wonders whether the men of that time were able to really understand this sort of relationship that was espoused in the metaphor. It would have shocked them to the core.

In the article by GRAETZ, ' The Metaphoric Battering of Hosea's Wife', in Brenner, p.139 Fokkelien van Dijk-Hemmes asks the salient question: Why is Israel, first the land, but then also the nation, represented in the image of a faithless wife, a harlot and not in the image of e.g. a rapist? This would have been more justified when we look at Israel's misdeeds which YHWH/Hosea points out in the following 4.1-5.7... And beyond that, it is the men who are held responsible for social and religious abuses; it is the priests who mislead the people (4.4-6) and the fathers who force their daughters to play the harlot (4.13-14).1

The use of the harlotry image/metaphor is used throughout the book of Hosea, certainly to confront Israel in the way it has committed idolatry. Any wonder how it would be for women of the day to hear the scriptures, most wouldn't, and especially those who would be cast out if they were harlots and so probably the faithful women would not even identify with the image. Having said all that, the image is one we have to realise at least has perpetuated wrong.

Why should the use of this image this concern us at all, since presumably the metaphor only expresses the social reality of the biblical period? In fact one can argue that understanding 'the historical setting of prophetic texts may provide a perspective of "moral realism" which allows them to be read as sacred writing? However, the argument for a historical setting recedes if we realise that because of the sanctification of Hosea 2 the attitudes have become fixed in the tradition, the metaphor plays a role in perpetuating biblical patriarchalism into our own day. Because of its morally flawed allegory, the message of the prophets can be understood as permitting husbands to abuse.

The imagery has been used in the Midrash material to continue a justification of subordination
The picture of the women when the particular Hebrew root znh emphasises promiscuity rather than infidelity.
OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 11:1-13. There are no direct parallelsin the OT to this petition in Luke 11:1-4.

Resources/Worship for Hos 1:2-10

This reading in the Dramatised Bible has only two voices and may not enhance the reading significantly.

Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Anderson, Francis I., and David Noel Freedman. Hosea A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. AB. New York: Doubleday, 1980.
Brenner, Athalya, ed., A Feminist Companion to the Latter Prophets. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.
Davies,G. I. Hosea. NCB. London: Marshall Pickering; Grand Rapids Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1992.
Limburg, James. Hosea-Micah, Int. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988.
Mauchline, John, and Harold Cooke Phillips. "The Book of Hosea." In IB. 6:551-760. New York: Abingdon, 1956.
Mays, James Luther Hosea: A Commentary. OTL. London: SCM, 1969.
Stuart, Douglas. Hosea-Jonah. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
Wolff, Hans Walter. Hosea: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Hosea. Herm. Philadelphia Fortress, 1974.
Yee, Gail A. Composition and Tradition in the Book of Hosea: A Redaction Critical Investigation. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1987.
Yee, Gail A. "The Book of Hosea: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections." In NIB. 7:195-297. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.
Brueggemann, Walter. Tradition for Crisis: A Study in Hosea. Richmond, Va.: John Knox, 1968.
Davies, Graeme I. Hosea. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.
Morris, Gerald. Prophecy, Poetry and Hosea. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.
Sherwood, Yvonne. The Prostitute and the Prophet: Hosea's Marriage in Literary-Theoretical Perspective. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.
Weems,Renita J. Battered Love: Marriage, Sex and Vilence in the Hebrrew Prophets, Mineappolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:


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