Hosea’s Message: Hosea 6, 7, 8, & 9
Shabbat Shalom and Welcome to Bible Fiber where we are encountering the textures and shades of the prophetic tapestry in a year-long study of the twelve minor prophets, one prophet each month. I am Shelley Neese, president of The Jerusalem Connection, a Christian organization devoted to sharing the story of the people of Israel. This week, we are continuing our study of Hosea so be sure to read Hosea chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9 as part of our Bible Reading challenge.
As a refresher, the first three chapters of Hosea are all about the prophet’s marriage to Gomer and how Gomer’s infidelity is an extended metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness. Chapters 4 and 5 begin the message of Hosea. Gomer is never mentioned again and the prophet oscillates back and forth between a message of mercy and a message of judgement. Chapters 6 through 9, however, are almost all judgement. Switching between third person and first-person voice, the prophet offers a litany of metaphors, similes, and analogies for the ways Israel has gone wrong and their coming punishment. More than the other minor prophets, Hosea catalogs the sins of the people with his own unique focus on their inner life, the relational aspect of Israel’s approach to God.
As your tour guide through Hosea, I want to go deeper into the chapters and verses to further explain the concepts that I briefly introduced. Consider this the equivalent of actually reading the placards at the museum and not just breezing through the hallways.
Hosea 6:4 to 11:7 is one long decree, written mostly in first person but occasionally slips into third person. The speech begins with Yahweh speaking directly to the people: “When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your ancestors, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree” (Hos. 9:10). In verses like these, Yahweh is the obvious speaker. But four verses down, in Hosea 9:14, it is no longer the voice of Yahweh but of Hosea uttering a prayer to the Lord. In Hosea 8:13, the voice changes from first to third person within two sentences: “For the sacrifices of My offerings they sacrifice flesh and eat it, but the Lord does not accept them. Now He will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.” These are abrupt changes in perspective writing and can make reading Hosea disorienting. The book of Daniel is written similarly.
Some Bible scholars propose that the changes in point of view prove that there were redactions in the written text which happened over the centuries. However, I hypothesize that the job of a prophet was to be so in tune with reflecting the will and words of Yahweh that sometimes the text conflates the voice of the prophet with the voice of God, mixing and switching speakers. Many of the prophets talked about their poor reception by their communities. They were often thought of as madmen and fools, such was the burden of the prophet’s vocation. Hosea, himself, gave insight into his experience in 9:7: “The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come. Israel knows! The prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is insane, because of the greatness of your iniquity and great enmity.” Hosea did not write about the nature of his prophetic channeling, but the prophet Isaiah described a painful bodily experience that accompanied his visions from the Lord. He cramped, lost vision, struggled to breath, and was seized by pain (Isa. 21). Jeremiah described a feeling of drunkenness (Jer. 23:9) and looseness in his bones. The reception of the prophetic word and the experience of uttering God’s message is a mystery, defying both the rules of composition and outline. I suspect that the oracles of Hosea as written down reflect the complexity of what Rabbi Abraham Heschel calls a “sacred madness.” Speaking through Hosea, God confirms that He spoke to the prophets loudly and frequently at this chaotic point in history. Hosea 12:10 explains that Yahweh is the one who multiplied the prophets’ visions and gave them parables so they could act as His earthly messengers.
Metaphor, simile, and analogy are by far Hosea’s preferred tools for deploying his message of judgement. They are peppered throughout his recitation of judgement. In some cases, Hosea’s rapid-fire use of metaphor makes it seem like he is stacking them all on top of each other without precision. Chapter 7 absolutely sags from the weight of similes and metaphors. If you have the chance, read Hebrew scholar Robert Alter’s translation of Chapter 7 to capture the full force of Hosea’s language. Israel’s capriciousness is compared to the morning dew. Hosea 6:4 says, “your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away.” God compares Israel’s fidelity to “a treacherous bow” (7:16). They are evil like a “band of robbers” (7:1). Israel’s immoral passions are said to blaze like an oven that a baker forgot to tend (7:4). The simile then switches and no longer is Israel the fire but rather the flour cake on the fire that is burned on the bottom but uncooked throughout (7:8). A dying nation, Israel’s decay is compared to the gentle creep of age, like a slowly graying head (7:9).
Animal similes are one of Hosea’s favorites. At one point, Israel is flirting with Assyria like a donkey in heat (8:9). She flits about like a senseless dove (7:11). Israel’s misguided military alliances with Assyria and Egypt will leave her like a bird trapped in a net (7:12). Later, the whole kingdom is a trained heifer about to be yoked by the burden of Assyria’s oppression (10:11). In chapter 13 of Hosea, God is presented as a lion, leopard, and a mother bear (13:7-8).
Despite the metaphorical language in Hosea, the prophet is certain to list out the exact sins of Israel as well so there would be no confusion about her offenses. Hosea, more than the other eighth 8th century BCE prophets like Amos, focused on the sins of the spirit. The people’s failure to pursue Da’at Elohim, “knowledge of God,” is first and foremost on his grievance list. In chapter 7, Yahweh blames the people for fleeing from Him, transgressing against Him, speaking lies against Him, and ignoring Him (7:13-14). These are the glaring signs of a broken relationship, a failed marriage. It is also one of the elements of the Jewish faith which made it so different than the laws of Israel’s neighbors. Sins of the heart mattered. Sins that had no outer repercussion on other human beings still counted in the community law code.
Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” This verse harkens back to the period of the judges and I Samuel 15:22. In the book of Samuel, the issue of obedience over sacrifice is presented as a rhetorical question: “Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” In Hosea, he states it outright. What both Biblical giants, Samuel and Hosea, were preaching is that the people weren’t just failing the opaque laws like mixing wool and linen, they were disregarding the entire beating heart of the law. Samuel and Hosea were not denouncing the sacrificial system as a form of worship. Samuel was a participant in such sacrifices. But ritual acts were void of meaning if they were not accompanied by repentance and humility.
Repeatedly, Hosea reminds Israel that their sin will lead to exile. The prophet obviously knows that the exile will take place at the hands of the Assyrians. What is coming is a dispersion of the ten northern tribes throughout the Assyrian empire. But Hosea choses to use Egypt as a synonym for any form of exile and captivity. Hosea 7:16 says, “There shall be derision in the land of Egypt.” Hosea 8:13 says, “Now He will remember their iniquity and punish their sins. They shall return to Egypt.” (See also Hosea 9:3, 6) Hosea, master of both Israel’s history and the teachings of Moses, is harkening back to a curse God delivered in Deuteronomy. On the plains of Moab, before entering the Promised Land, Moses warned the people that if they lived in disobedience of God’s law, they would be held blame for breaking the terms of the covenant and therefore lose the land God was delivering to them. Moses warned, “the Lord will take you back to Egypt in ships” (Deut. 28:68). In the long story of the Israelites, Egypt was symbolic of every imperial oppressor.
I know that there is very little hope offered in Hosea’s judgement motifs. Hosea felt the immense burden of being the last prophet to try and get Israel to change course before the Assyrian attack. Still, at the very start of the recitation, Hosea’s preamble was a call to repentance. In fact, the Hebrew word shuv means to “turn around” or “repent” and it occurs twenty-two times in Hosea.
Hosea 6:1-3 reads:
Come, and let us return to the Lord;
For He has torn, but He will heal us;
He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
After two days He will revive us;
On the third day He will raise us up,
That we may live in His sight.
Let us know,
Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord.
His going forth is established as the morning;
He will come to us like the rain,
Like the latter and former rain to the earth.
Hosea only offers this brief anticipation of a renewed covenant, a whispered reminder right at the start of the passage. There was still time to turn back. Hosea was on a mission to remind God’s people: If you seek Yahweh, you will find Yahweh. I am obviously not a mouthpiece for God like the minor prophets, but I hope by teaching the prophets and challenging you to read them, you are also feeling a tug to seek Yahweh. If you do, you will find Him.
Please join me next week as we close out our September reading of Hosea with chapters 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14.
Thank you for listening and please continue to participate in this Bible Reading Challenge. Send me a message. I’ll respond. Bible Fiber is available on YouTube or wherever you listen to your podcasts.