Good morning! Today we begin two days reading one of the earliest prophets. Hosea 1-7 calls us back to the time of the divided kingdoms, before northern Israel had been overthrown by Assyria. Hosea the prophet is active in Israel during the final decades of Israel’s independence, when it is threatened by Assyria’s military incursions but not overthrown. 2 Kings 14:23-17:41 recounts this part of Israel’s history, for those who are inclined to reread a political-theological account of the era. It sounds like a time of religious pluralism and Baal-worship. The desire for fruitful harvests leads people to worship Baal as a harvest god, rather than trust in Israel’s own God, who has brought them out of Egypt. Also, the northern kingdom is churning through monarchs one after another. Each king’s hold on power is threatened by coups inside and marauders beyond, so they spend much energy searching for military alliances that shore up their positions. For the prophet, this reveals a lack of faith in God’s providence.
In the first few chapters of the book, Hosea uses notably graphic marriage imagery to describe Israel as God’s unfaithful wife. “Whoredom” is a big word for Hosea! The children born to his wife Gomer have symbolic names that represent God’s rejection of the people. But note also how, just a couple sentences later, Hosea writes that those who were once known as “not my people” will be called “children of the living God”. The child called “Lo-Ammi” changes to “Ammi”, and “Lo-Ruhamah” to “Ruhamah”, as the negating prefix is removed and their names become “my people”, and “comforted”. Even though Hosea passionately writes Israel off for its sins, he also has to show the softer side of God, offering forgiveness on the other side of suffering.
The latter chapters of today’s passage record various sayings of the prophet, in a collection that extends through the end of the book. Note the many condemning references to idolatrous practices: raisin cakes, divining rods, self-mutilation, and offerings under trees or on mountaintops. Ephraim, one of the tribes more aligned to northern Israel than southern Judah, comes in for judgment connected to its suffering at the hands of Assyria. Hosea suggests that Ephraim’s defeat is caused by unfaithfulness, by unwillingness to trust in God for deliverance. Verse 6:6 captures what matters most to God, according to Hosea: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.” In other words, going through the motions of faithfulness, acting as the spouse to God, doesn’t count if you’ve got another deity on the line. Happy reading!
Read Hosea 1-7. (Note that the link here is only for chapters 1-6—for copyright reasons, you will need to click the button at the bottom of the linked page to read Hosea 7.)
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Hosea 8-14. Thanks for reading!