Book of Hosea
The words of rebuke and admonition delivered by Hosea, an 8th century prophet in Israel, to the people during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in Judah and Joash in Israel. He, a prophet of both doom and restoration, was the first of the 12 so-called minor prophets who prophesied before Isaiah as well as Micah and Amos.
A. Read 1:2. This verse at the start sets in motion the theory of action in the book. Do you have a sense of what’s going on here?
(Hosea weds a harlot at the bidding of God and has three children.
Some say this is purely metaphorical and is designed to be the medium through which he delivers his message about infidelity within the covenant.
Ibn Ezra takes the middle ground – it didn’t happen, but it was delivered in a vision in a dream to give him the image through which he would prophecy. Radak and Rambam share the view that God would not actually put a prophet through this degrading behavior.
The sages of the Talmud (Pesachim 87a) opine it literally, a view that’s shared by Rashi and the Malbim. They have it that God first told Hosea that “your children sinned.” Hosea, instead of merely saying, “no, they’re Your children,” went further to say that “the whole world is Yours, exchange them all for a different nation.”
God, frustrated, then decided to tell Hosea to go marry the harlot and have children, and later “I’ll tell him to send them away.” “If he’s able to do so, I’ll then send away Israel.” Malbim.
Later, of course, Hosea realizes he has sinned and asks for mercy and is changed, including having a feeling of mercy for the wife, the children, and, then of course, Israel.)
B. After some discussion of straying and returning, and mention of their children, we read in Hosea 2:4-6 language of the behavior of a harlot and a response: “adulteries between her breast,” “make her like a wilderness and render her like a parched land,” “cause her to die of thirst,” and “upon her children I will not have mercy.” (It continues throughout, such as in 5:7, where we see “they begot alien children.”)
How does such language relate metaphorically to the people?
(This obviously relates to abandoning HaShem, idolatry, pagan statues in lieu of the two elements of the law, written and oral, desires for licentiousness concealed between breasts, children as byproducts of harlotry. The consequences will be God’s abandoning her and returning her where they were taken up by God after redemption from Egypt. There they’ll be unprotected, unnourished.
They will see that, after being fooled by false prophets and the like, their only source of true sustenance will be God, and, after great loss, they’ll return to the “first husband.”)
C. Read and explain 2:14-25. We’ll go slowly through these amazing verses.
(This is the reconciliation, which will come in the future, in contrast to the previous verses as well as subsequent verses. There are several parts:
1. God “seduces” the people, which is an interesting word, suggesting a drawing, a luring back into love, a speaking to the heart. Once the people repent, God seeks a full restoration, even more, in love. Ibn Ezra.
The people will see how much better to go this way. This will be far more than a sheepish return. Soothing and comforting, presumably beginning even in exile. Enticements, a sort of Torah “anew.” A return to vineyards and orchards in promised land. Vilna Gaon.
2. Note verses 16 and 17, where the Valley of Achor (Troubling) becomes a portal of hope, for a better future in a flourishing land!
What might this mean?
(Abarbanel. Metzudos. There is a story about the execution of Achan, after his sin caused a loss in battle for Joshua and his troops.
Sin is eradicated in this place. Land that had blocked the way to successful entry now will be the highway to it, to renewal..
Death under God’s judgment becomes life under His mercy.
A doorway of hope? Scholars see the story of Rahab in the text close to Achor. There we see the radical conversion to God of a Canaanite where the same word, tiqwa, used here for hope, is the scarlet cord placed in the window as a sign to proceed. So, we see a prostitute return to respectability in both situations.
The people can be brought back from death.
There’s also the promise of a new marriage that is faithful and fruitful.
Alternatively, Rashi teaches that the people are moved through exile to want to return to God and their torment is transformed into a portal of hope.)
3. She’s restored as to the days of her youth. That’s as full a restoration as one could want, well more than just being able to move forward from a new spot.
4. The relationship moves to one purely of love (with a husband) as opposed to one largely of subservience (with a master). Love, directly, not through intermediaries. Rashi.
It will be a covenant on that day, which we also see in verse 20.
5. The names of the idols will be forgotten and not be mentioned again.
6. “I will banish bow and sword and warfare from the land.” This (20) has the feel of Micah.
(Note the covenant that involves wild animals seems to some observers to reverse the threat in 14 that threatened children with wild beasts.)
7. The text appears to say on the surface that God betroths the people in all of these four qualities. Rashi says relationship will be grounded in righteousness and justice coming from the people and kindness and mercy coming from God. Abarbanel and Ibn Ezra say the people will go beyond the former to do the latter.
8. The betrothal will be granted in return for faith in the promises of the prophets and maintained through the exile. The people will heretofore know God. Perhaps this will manifest in the day of the Third Temple.
9. God will respond to the heavens, and they’ll respond to the earth. The seeds will respond. It’s as if there’s a sense of all being in sync to make for life and production and dynamics working together.
10. God will love the one called “Not My Loved One,” pity the “Not Pitied,” and the “Not My People” will become “My People.” And the people will serve God with a full heart.
(This could be both Israel and Judah or only Israel.)
D. At the outset of Chapter 4, verses 1-3, we see again the indictment of the people, likely in the Northern Kingdom. In addition to the lack of truth and kindness, we see no “knowledge of God” and a “breaching of standards.”
THIS LEADS TO: abundance of lying, murdering, stealing, adultery, and blood.
1. What does it mean to have no truth, lovingkindness, and knowledge of God? Specifically?
Emet, chesed, da’at expressed in relationship with others -
• no genuineness, integrity, reliability.
• ingredients of kindness and mercy, which – going beyond covenant - make coexistence with other people possible through justice and mercy.
• knowledge/understanding of ways of God as revealed in the covenant.
(This could at least partly be a lack of study of the Bible or ethics as taught and modeled by God in sacred text or tales. It could be the lack of drawing near in worship and experience. It could be what we don’t know as a result of our failure to follow and do of the mitzvot, etc.)
2. What’s the connection between the loss of these three things and the awful things that happen in the land? How might it be happening in our own time?
(No one pursues knowledge of God and His eternal truths. Alshich.
Further discussion - AS A RESULT, WE SEE A BREAKDOWN IN SOCIAL ORDER, CRIME, AND MISTREATMENT OF OTHERS, as we see in verses 2 and 3.)
E. Read verses 4:4-7.
1. What are the consequences of this?
(Once we know less and less of God, we don’t have the knowledge it takes to follow God. So, we either make it up to suit our own ideologies and needs, flat-out don’t care and err, or actually oppose. We no longer learn and teach. As a result, we forget Torah, and God forgets us and our children.
We, thus, oppose the religious leadership either because we know no better or we have no God-based leadership to follow because it’s off base, too!
And we’re prone to being misled by false prophets and religious leaders and then even supporting them. Then we are ruined for it, for both – for not following true leaders AND for following/supporting the false.)
2. What does it mean in verse 5 when it says, “I will silence (or destroy) your mother.”
(There are several possibilities:
a) She is representative of the nation that will be exiled. Or she is representative of cultural or social institutions who’ve failed to “parent” the people, to “turn the cake in the oven.” 7:8
b) Or leaders will be intimidated and won’t engage out of fear, leading to further spread of ignorance and corruption. The community will be bewildered into silence.
c) Or it could be the mother of the priest or others who’ve misled the community, and she is also being held accountable.)
God thus spurns those who spurn Him.
3. Read 4:7-11. Do you see the ways of a well-heeled harlot in the behavior of the people?
(They are given much, yet, they must have more. They’re never satisfied, and their promiscuity never satisfies. They want whoredom, wine and still more fresh wine “to capture the heart.”)
E. See Chapter 5’s judgment against Israel.
By wrongdoing, we further breach God’s standards and the protection their being there provides us in life.
Note, too, the idea that when people no longer follow the virtues that God teaches, the more inevitable is the committing of these crimes.
F. Read 6:3-6. We now move forward again to prophecy about how we can return to God and how God will receive us.
What do we learn about God’s expectations of us and ways we can return when we stray?
(His coming is as the rain, nurturing and refreshing and a bit out of the blue. There’s a feel of a sort of revival or resurrection, certainly at least covenant renewal, effected in sunrise.
We can learn of and seek knowledge of God, His ways of righteousness and justice, and to follow them. We must strive for it and avoid temptations or lures away. It’s there as certain as the dawn of the day, which also clears away the darkness. His blessing (with this knowledge) is as nourishing as the rain, or sometimes dew (14:6). This is also healing and reviving.
We also get this through the clear speech of the prophets. God desires kindness and knowledge of Divine ways, not just sacrifices and offerings, which alone are insufficient. They’re there rather to stimulate kindness
If we stray (and these people have strayed badly), we can and must repent and turn back. But it must be grounded in true kindness and knowledge of, and living true to, God’s word.
Yet, we sense in verse 4 that God is dubious about how real the people’s chesed will be. Prophets were sent. But priests were evil, as were the people.)
F. We won’t study Chapters 7-9, but they’re explicit, fascinating indictments of the people as to their idolatrous ways and their consequences. You might take a look on your own.
G. Read 10:1-2, 4. Can you describe the theological/ethical attitude that these verses are describing?
Talk about the dynamics of this: the more God blessed the people, the more they became tempted to be wayward with their riches. Why would God ever want to reward people if this were the way they responded to abundant blessing?
(Israel was like a vine that had shed fruit that was abundant and made possible Divine service (Rashi), ways of righteousness (Malbim), wealth and progeny (Radak), and actual produce of the field (Mahari Kara).
But the more it produced the more the people prepared offerings for idols, the more and stronger they built pillars and altars for the idols.
Over time the vine became devoid of moisture and potency, as God departed, and the enemies plundered it.
It’s as if we begin to think we’re the source of our riches the richer we become. We become more independent and sure of ourselves, and less grateful to the True Cause.
The people’s judgment “sprouts up like hemlock in the furrows of the field.” God planted, hoping to yield righteousness and love, but instead sees the yield in the “hemlock” of corruption, injustice, misfortune for the poor and others.
“The misuse of worldly wealth and the tendency of success to draw us away from God, and to blind to the true source of all blessing, are as rife now as then.” MacLaren
“Men who are wrong with Him cannot be right with one another.” MacLaren
It’s hard to know a better way, given human nature and temptations. If God has control, perhaps more moderation in blessings would be in order. Other thoughts?)
H. Read 10:11-12. We’ve seen this imagery to explain key ethical principles before. Explain.
(Agricultural imagery shows the people as trained to thresh (live) as part of a covenant relationship. The yoke is perhaps Torah as well as being bound to God. We plow in our heart and in our work and deeds.
We’re to live in the right ways that God has taught us. We sow in righteousness and reap in love. We reap the fruit of kindness – God’s and those whom we’ve treated with love. God will then heap abundant reward on us.
If we’ll but break up the fallow ground (in all manner of living and serving) and take the time to seek God and study and learn and summon Him, God will rain righteousness on us.
(See Psalms 85. Lovingkindness and truth meet. Righteousness and peace kiss. Truth springs from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.))
I. We see these themes struck again in 12:4-7. Read these verses. Explain how the covenant understanding expressed here evolves from referenced stories of Jacob in the Bible.
(God selected Jacob in the womb for the birthright and leadership of the nation. He wrestled with the angel, coming through repentance and return to a mature understanding of his relationship with God (and his brother).
Radak teaches that this attachment to the Divine, which this represented, made him and his people impervious to attack (so long as they remained committed to fulfilling His will). Further, he says that God sends His angels to assist and uphold the will of the truly righteous.
The angel makes clear that God will name him Israel in Beth-el. Rashi.
If we go with Hashem and follow in His ways, we will have the God of Hosts and Master of all, as from the beginning, with us still, as we remember Him. And He will deal with us in the same miraculous manner as He did with Jacob. Rashi.
Return/repentance is available and open to us. And then we are to “observe loving-kindness and justice, and continually wait on your God.”
Ibn Ezra: if we return to God, God will help us come back.
Kimchi: as the seed of Jacob, if we’re willing, we can return and be saved.
The Targum: we shall be strong in the worship of God. And wait for the redemption or salvation of thy God continually.
Rashi: If we practice benevolence and justice, you may rely on the promise and support of Hashem, who will enable you to return to Him.
Others say we must return to God, practice benevolence and justice, and place our hope and faith in God rather than any other force.
See Jeremiah 9:23. The traits by which God describes his actions in the world are also the qualities which He expects from His creations. Kindness, righteousness, and justice are mentioned explicitly, and righteousness is connoted in “hope to Hashem always,” since one always looks to God for righteousness. Radak.)
J. Read 14:2-10. Let’s work our way through the final verses of the book. These words are recited in most congregations on the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. How would you explain the meaning of these verses?
(1. It begins with repentance and return to God, with good intentions (to improve) and a renewal of vows.
Malbim > regret for past deeds, commitment to do better, focus on those things that stand in our merit, such as mitzvot, and close with a final word of repentance in love of God.
There’s the parable of the young, wayward prince who is advised to go to his father, the King, and repent before the punishment decree is issued. Since mercy is available, it’s far better to return and avoid the bitter fate. (Yalkut Shimoni)
2. This includes allegiance only to God, not in the work of our hands, not in foreign alliances, but instead with a commitment to fulfill promises, and hope only there, with God, (not in a nation’s power), for salvation.
3. God’s anger cools, leading to mercy, and then God forgives, heals, and loves.
4. God nourishes like the dew, and the people will flourish like the olive tree, grain, the vine, beautiful flowers, with deep roots that are strong and thick.
Some say that just as the rose looks up, so must our hearts in seeking God in repentance. We pledge not “to deal in idols anymore.” (verse 9)
Our children will multiply (Abarbanel), and they will shine with a beauty like the light of the olive, glow like the Menorah in the Temple (Rashi).
Branches that extend out are like knowledge and fulfillment of the Torah. The leaves of the olive tree all year are suggestive of freshness and vitality.
God’s name will spread out across the globe like the fragrance of the trees and flowers of Lebanon. Also, the people’s lives will be filled with benefits and pleasures, like the sweet aroma of those fragrant trees.
This reference to Lebanon could be to the Temple. The people will be fragrant with the flavor of holiness like that of the Temple. (Malbim)
Those who dwell in His shade will return, that is, to the Promised Land, under His protection, enjoying serenity and protection. They will revive as by energy-producing grain and sprout like vines that renew annually.
Their repute will be like highly lauded wines of Lebanon.
5. God is a luxuriant fir tree from Whom our fruit comes. This is a tree that provides great shelter and shade, and its branches bend down to make it easy to procure fruit. Abarbanel.
6. This is source of understanding and wisdom for the wise and intelligent: the paths of God are upright, and righteous will walk in them. Like Psalm 1. Like the introduction to Proverbs.
(Fruit of lips > praise of God, vows and promises made, including offerings, now in the form of worship and service and repentance))
MacLaren: “The teaching of the whole is the certainty that suffering dogs sin, but yet does so by no iron, impersonal law, but according to the will of God, who will rain righteousness even on the sinner, being penitent, and will endow with righteousness from above every lowly soul that seeks for it.”
III. Conclusion – what are our prime takeaways from our study of this extraordinary book of the Bible?