Hosea has come down through history as the prophet deceived by his wife whom he never stopped loving, in spite of her infidelities. God, who called him to speak on his behalf to an idolatrous and materialistic people, wanted his prophet to experience the grief and the shame of a betrayed husband. The prophets reveal a God who feels a love so real and so personal for us that it can be expressed in human words. Hosea was about to carry the same cross as God’s: constantly loving and forgiving a fickle and unfaithful wife. Hosea will also shout God’s indignation at Israel because of their sins.
Hosea began to preach around the year 746, that is to say, at the end of the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II, in the northern kingdom of Israel. Right after that would begin the twenty years of decadence which would conclude with the capture of Samaria and the deportation of its inhabitants (721).
Hosea rises to accuse and threaten the people who are unconcerned. He continues to preach while the kingdom is collapsing and predicts the punishment of the people who are irresponsible and unfaithful to the covenant with their God. He understands that God is an educator and does not allow the misfortunes and even the destruction of the nation without his reasons. Through such means, Israel will again become what they once were when the Lord took them by the hand and brought them out of Egypt: they will become a poor and humble people, able to follow their God with faith and love.
The book of Hosea begins with the story of the failure of his married life. From that he draws a lesson for Israel, unfaithful to the Lord (chapters 1-3).
Then in chapters 4–13 we have a mixture of reproaches, threats, invitations to conversion and predictions of the exile. The final passage 14:2-10 offers hope for the future, when the Lord will have taken away all the riches in which Israel had trusted.
• 1.2 Yahweh asks Hosea to marry one of the women involved in sacred prostitution of pagan worship. Those wishing to obtain the favors of the god Baal for their fields and their cattle would come to them.
This happened often in Israel and only Yahweh’s true faithful were scandalized. Deep down, Hosea is torn apart, always hoping that his fickle and idolatrous wife would change her ways, but also consumed by jealousy and anger, and tired of always forgiving.
Name her Unloved. In Israel every name had some meaning, usually a religious meaning. Here Hosea calls his children names which must shock everyone, but which convey what he is teaching the people; Israel will be defeated; they are a people whom Yahweh does not love and does not acknowledge as his people.
The family of Jehu (v. 4). Jeroboam II would be the last king of this dynasty.
Take note of nor AM-I for you (v. 9): here, there is an allusion to the name of Yahweh (Ex 3:15).
After Hosea, the prophets used the terms “prostitution” and “adultery” when speaking of idolatry. See Jeremiah 2:2; 3:1; Ezekiel 16:23.
They also say that God calls Israel to be his spouse: Isaiah 50:1; 54:6; 62:4 and the Song. See also Rev 21:2. This conviction is found all along the prophetic books and the last chapters of the New Testament will picture the heavenly Jerusalem, figure of the Church and the redeemed humankind coming towards her husband (Rev 21:2).
The paragraph 2:1-3 is not in place: it should be read after Chapter 3. My people and the One I pity: it is another version of the names given in 1:6 and 1:9.
• 2.4 In this discourse we have a merging of Hosea threatening his wife and Yahweh reproaching his people. (2:1-3 after Chapter 3)
In Israel nobody denied Yahweh, the God of their race. Yet even though they accepted him as savior in the national crises, they thought that the fertility of the earth and of cattle depended on other gods, the Baals, and that Yahweh had no power in these matters. So Yahweh threatens to deprive them of all the fruits of the earth and of the land itself in order for them to see that all these riches come from God alone.
In all ages we tend to entrust various areas of existence to various gods. Some have “great faith” in Christ to solve their problems, but they worship sex in a way very similar to that of the devotees of Baal. Others revere God publicly, but establish an oppressive society in which money and strength confer all rights.
So I am going to allure her, lead her once more into the desert, where I can speak to her tenderly. Yahweh is going to deprive Israel of everything so they will again be poor as they were in the desert in the days of Moses. Thus they will know that everything comes from God and will put their trust in him. I was better off then than now (v. 9). This is what the prodigal son will also say in Luke 15:17.
She will no longer call me my Lord. Here Hosea uses the word my Baal. In Hebrew, Baal means Lord. This was the name given to the Canaanite gods, but the Israelites also honored Yahweh with this title. However, Yahweh does not want to be a “Baal” among many, but “The” only husband.
You will be my spouse forever. God is offering his people a new covenant, a new alliance with him: Not a new religion with different commandments, but rather a personal relationship born of a purified and renewed heart (Jer 31:31).
John refers to this union “in enduring love” in Jn 1:17: Jesus is the one who brought it to humankind.
That day on her behalf I will make a covenant with beasts of the field (v. 20). After the trials, Hosea foresees a happy period when Yahweh would give the land back to his renewed people. There will be no more hostile forces from nature, no more wars. I will make people rest safe and secure.
• 4.1 Other prophets will also condemn the faults and lack of responsibility of the civil and religious authorities: they are causing the suffering of the people (see Is 5:13; Mic 3:1).
In 4:11-14 Hosea continues to accuse the priests who are imitating the practices of the pagan priests: fortune-telling and prostitution.
• 5.1 Let us not forget that the northern people, called kingdom of Israel, were formed by the tribes of Jacob or the tribes of Joseph (see Gen 35:23). There were two tribes of Joseph: Ephraim, the most important, and Manasseh. When Hosea uses Ephraim, Joseph, Jacob, Israel, he is, in fact, addressing only one people.
• 8. This deals with Israel’s wars. Note the last sentence: Yahweh is hiding and leaves his people in darkness so they may come back to seek him.
• 6.1 People regret their errors, but they are not so sincere as to abandon their sins. They think they will please God by offering a few sacrifices but are far from real love which manifests itself in obedience; they prefer to offer the costly sacrifices which they choose rather than to do what God asks of them.
It is love that I desire, not sacrifice. On several occasions Jesus refuted the Pharisees by quoting this saying (see Mt 9:13).
• 7. Adam, Gilead, Bethel: places where the worship of Yahweh is mixed with pagan customs.
• 8.1 The prophet is like a guard (see Ezk 3:17). Hosea condemns the kings who do not come from God since they were self-appointed: only David’s sons in the south were the chosen ones of God. Moreover, they were never concerned about representing God before the people, nor about fulfilling his designs.
Then we have the condemnation of the golden calves placed in Bethel to honor Yahweh (see 1 K 12:28).
• 11. External practices and sacred banquets following the sacrifice do not make God forget their sin.
Hosea looks at Israel’s past. “You will go back to Egypt” (9:3), namely, you will be captive again.
• 11.1 Israel is God’s spoiled child. In former days God brought them out of Egypt, and ever since then, has been calling them and trying to draw them to himself, but they continue their depraved ways which bring punishment upon them.
I am God and not human (v. 9). Our setbacks which seem to be God’s punishment are, in fact, what God considers the most suitable ways to teach us (see Heb 12:7; 2 Mac 6:16; Wis 11:23).
• 14.2 The book of Hosea ends with these encouraging words. After the trials, Israel will seek Yahweh who will allow himself to be found. Humanity’s reconciliation with God will be an authentic marriage and it will be accompanied by a reconciliation of humanity with nature. This was already said in 2:17-22 and will be developed in the Song of Songs which will use some images taken from Hosea.