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Hosea 11:1-11

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 11:1-11
We find even through to Hosea 9 the imagery of harlotry is still applied to Israel's behaviour and punishment is still pronounced. Their history of infidelity continues to be reiterated and the devastation forecast will leave the land desolate and the people carried off by Assyria. The people are accused in the final verses of Hosea 10 that they have trusted in the things of war and it is now time to seek the Lord. The lectionary reading (Hosea 11:1-11) speaks of the relationship as parent child before it returns to the list of sins with which the nation of Israel has indulged itself. In Hosea 12, Yahweh proclaims that there is an indictment against Judah as well, but v.6 suggests that there is time for Judah to return to God and amend their ways. The final chapter of Hosea is quite different in theology and message. A call to return followed by the first person speech of Yahweh who will heal and restore them to the land of plenty. Yee mentions several connections with themes from earlier in the book: "did not know Yahweh"," the more called more they turned away"," "love is nurturing caring", images of "yoke, calf, heart".

Insights/Message of Hosea 11:1-11
Literary: The question of whether v.12 belongs at the end of Hosea 11 or is the first verse in Hosea 12 is resolved by most scholars by accepting the Hebrew MT (Masoretic Text) in which it is the first verse in Hosea 12 and the lectionary reading has followed this suggestion.

Hosea 11 is often broken up into vv.1-7, 8-11, but it could easily be divided vv.1-4 which give the prehistory of relationship before accusation and punishment in vv.5-11. Yee, suggests another structure: v.1-4 on past journey, vv.5-7 present apostasy and punishment, vv.8-11 future salvation (Yee:277). In v.1, 'my son' bears witness to the close close relationship between God and Israel. The time in the wilderness after the release from Egypt is understood as the idyllic time of loyalty to Yahweh, whereas in Ezekiel apostasy of the people began right back in Egypt. Davies sees the reference to Egypt as recalling the Exodus tradition, and the affirmation, 'I loved him', points to mothering images (Davies: 254). This is the first time "love" is used as part of the election tradition. The verb to call (qara) can mean to summon (v.2). This idea of God calling and waiting is picked up in Isaiah 56-66 in which God calls, but they do not answer.

V.3 narrates the activities of parenthood - walking, holding, feeding - all of which are claimed by God in this affirmation of closeness. This phrase, "they did not know" is very typical in the theology of Hosea. They did not know it was God who had been present in their lives caring and nurturing them.

There are a number of literary comparisons set up in the following verses which differentiate between God's faithfulness and care, and the people's unfaithfulness. In v.4, God will remove the yoke in order that they can feed, but in vv.5-6 no-one will be able to remove the yoke of their punishment. A further comparison between v.4 and vv.5-6 occurs when God bends down to feed them, but in v.7 the people are bent on turning away. In v.5 the play on the root repent/return (shub) tells of their return to Egypt because refused to return to God. Vv.5-7 read as though they were spoken before fall of Samaria 721 BCE. Just to note that theological themes have been picked up from Hosea 2:14ff, which speaks also of close family relationship and includes the accusation that Israel did not know Yahweh.

In contrast to the adamant assertion that the yoke of punishment will not be removed, v.8 begins the series of questions which are rhetorical and which end with the most wonderful declaration of loyalty by God to the Israel. It is sheer grace that enables God to turn and rescue the people and there is an anguish in v.8 which results in the salvific acts of v.9. The two names, 'Admah and Zeboiim' are linked in Dt 29:23 with the names of Sodom and Gomorrah and God doesn't wish to repeat this punishment. 'My heart recoils' indicates a change of purpose. God's 'fierce anger' (v.9) serves to show the depth of compassion which means that God is willing to turn away from such deep feelings against Israel. The implication of the second half of the verse is that God is above the usual vengeful feelings of humans and can show compassion. The 'Holy One of Israel' is used in Isaiah and points to the presence of God as real and positive.

Besides the contrasts picked up in the use of particular literary terms there have been changes from the first person singular (vv.1-4, 8-9) to the third person plural (5-7, 10-11). Some would suggest this is due to redaction or it might be deliberate to emphasise certain parts of the message. God is likened to the image of a lion roaring who is heard by 'his sons' who come running (v.10). The image of lions are used in many different ways and frequently in Hebrew Scriptures. In contrast to the roaring of God, the people will tremble like birds - again the contrast and the final play on the word return (shub) - " I will return them to their homes.

This passage is very carefully crafted and we can only touch on some points of it. The flow begins by recalling Yahweh's goodness to them, then it names their sins and punishment and finally their return through the compassion and love of God.

Message: The relationship God has with this people called Israel, is of such importance that no matter how unfaithful they are this God of love and compassion will heal and restore. God's anger is great, but it can be averted because God is God and is able to live out the unconditional love we know in Jesus Christ. Psalm 107 is a great one for supporting the theology in Hosea 11 in which God seeks us out and wants to be in relationship. To abandon God for whatever reason can leave us bereft and wandering, but to know the love of God is always there calling for us to return is a great comfort for many.x

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 12:13-21, The question asking' 'Who made you a ruler and judge over us?' is from Exod 2:14 when Moses challenges two Israelites quarrelling in Egypt. Jesus uses the same words to answer a query about who inherits. The second part of the answer reflects the tenth commandment and is reflected upon in other places: Job 31:24-25, Ps 49, Eccles. 2:1-11.

Resources/Worship for Hos 11:1-11

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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