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Hosea 1-4



Here is Lawrence Boadt’s introduction to Hosea….

We know as little about Hosea as we do about Amos. He was born and raised and preached in the northern kingdom all his life, unlike Amos, and so he is unique among the prophets whose words have come down to us since he alone represents the thinking of a purely northern prophet. The opening label in Hosea 1:1 tells us that he workded from about 745 down to at least the fall of the north in 722 B.C. and perhaps longer. This makes him a younger contemporary of Amos, and they do share a common passion for the commandments of the covenant. From the personal details in chapters 1-3, it seems that he experienced a very painful marriage in which his wife proved unfaithful on more than one occasion. If the story reflects his real-life situation, then it may help us to understand the special emphasis that this prophet gives to the tender bond of love between God and Israel and how seriously sin affects the covenant relationship. But Hosea, like all the prophets, uses a colorful language that shares images and words with the psalms and treaty curses and the law courts, and it is just possible, though unlikely, that he used a parable of married love to get across the revelation he had received from Yahweh without ever having been through the great trial himself.

The book is divided into three sections:

(A)          Chapters 1-3 describe in different ways the broken marriage between God and his people and serve as a kind of preface to the rest of the book.
(B)          Chapters 4-13 gather the actual oracles delivered by Hosea throughout his ministry.
(C)          Chapter 14 stands as a closing vision of hope after judgment.

When considered as a whole, Hosea preaches the same message of judgment that Amos uttered, listing the violations of justice and the oppression of the poor, pointing to the broken commandments and calling for a return to covenant fidelity and obedience to God. But there are many differences as well. Hosea brings out the compassion of Yahweh and his sorrow at having to punish Israel for its sins much more than does Amos. He really hopes that Israel will return to the Sinai covenant, and he uses many images taken from the desert wanderings to recall people’s memory to Yahweh. He also borrows freely from the language of the law case and the courtroom to demand that Israel live up to is legal duty in the covenant.

All of this is summarized beautifully in the opening oracle of the collection that comprises chapters 4-13….

Not only does the prophet recite most of the ten commandments here, but he also singles out three special covenant qualities that cannot be found anywhere: fidelity, loving compassion and the knowledge of God. Of these, the most important for Hosea is knowing God. This does not refer to book learning or memorizing the laws and the history of the exodus, but to personal relationship. We really understand those who are close to us—I know my friend well, or my wife, my husband, my child, my parent. This realization leads Hosea to utter very strong words against the kings, nobles, preists and other prophets who are in special positions and should know God and God’s will more deeply than most. It also leads him to some of the strongest oracles in the Bible against an empty and vain church-going in which a person continues to sin and do evil while never missing a Sabbath or a feast day.

Can you imagine being Hosea and having God command you to take a prostitute as your spouse? How would you have reacted? Would you have thought God was out of his mind? Would you have wondered if it was really God talking to you? Would you have obeyed? If so, why?

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