The contents of the Book of Hosea seem to be arranged in a more or less chronological fashion. For example, Chapter 1, the earliest datable part of the book, predicts the demise of the nation of Israel by means of the names that Hosea gave his children, as God commanded him, during the 750s B.C. By Chapter 5, the Syro-Ephraimite war of 733-32 B.C. is under way (5:8-10). By Chapter 10 the nation is losing its king, an event that occurred in 725 B.C. (10:3-7). By Chapter 11, the “retrospective” portion of the book has begun, so that reflection on Israel’s past, as it was and as it might have been, dominates the remainder of the prophecy, including Chapters 13 and 14. In all likelihood then, though it is not strictly provable, Chapters 13 and 14 come from a time near the end of Hosea’s long, faithful ministry for the Lord as a prophet, i.e., from the months and years just prior to the fall of Samaria at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The Assyrian conquest brought to an end the nation of northern Israel and plunged the people of the ten northern tribes into the darkness of foreign domination that was to last until God’s people would be transformed in nature from ethnic nation to people of faith by the appearance of the Messiah (Isa. 9:1-7).
Chapters 13 and 14 were first spoken, then, at a time when Hosea’s country was falling apart, and he was facing, along with his family and friends, the imminent conquest and exile that he well knew was coming (he had prophesied it repeatedly). Yet Hosea continued to carry out his call from God, preaching earnestly to a lost generation, a people who had become so habituated to ignoring and/or rebelling against God that they were destined for destruction. What message did God give him in this time of upheaval and terror?
Among other things, he gave to his prophet the two major oracles and one very short one that we identify by the English translation references 13:2-16;In our judgment, the first verse of the chapter, Hosea 13:1 is actually the conclusion of the oracle that begins in the prior chapter in 12:1, an oracle about Israel’s deceit in contrast to God’s faithfulness. See Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 186-88 and 200-2. The chapter division between Chapters 12 and 13 (made, like most other chapter divisions, in the Middle Ages) is, in other words, off by one verse. 14:1-8; and 14:9. The first of these is a prediction of Israel’s destruction (13:2-16). Thus the book draws near to a conclusion with a lengthy depiction of what was by Hosea’s day absolutely inevitable: God would honor his promises of old to punish his people by removing them from his presence if they failed to keep his covenant (chapter 13; cf. Deut. 4:25-31 and Hos. 1:6-9). But then the message brightens toward hope: God will, solely by his grace and without any earned worthiness on the part of his people, cause a remnant of the conquered, destroyed, and exiled people to return from captivity, to turn to righteousness away from the nonsense of polytheistic idolatry, and to honor him again (14:1-8). The final short oracle is a challenge to the wise reader (14:9) to understand the ways of the Lord and to follow them.
A Promise of Destruction: Hosea 13:2-16
The General Structure
Several of Hosea’s prophecies are structured in such a way as to be closely cognizant of the history of God’s relationship with his people. These prophecies combine (a) a review of some aspects of the past with (b) a description of some aspects of the present in such a way as to explain (c) what is coming in the future. The oracle that we call 13:2-16 also follows this past-present-future pattern. The prophet was inspired to contrast Israel’s past and present sinful attitude (e.g. vv. 2, 6, 15) with Yahweh’s past and present faithfulness (vv. 4-6), leading to the clear implication that the rebel nation deserved to die in the near future (vv. 3, 7-14). Prior oracles in the book provided warning after warning that God would not ignore the nation’s breach of his covenant. His contract with Israel was a binding one, and it could not be broken by his people with out severe consequences, including their rejection as his people. Hosea had been hammering this message home for three decades by the time he preached the words of the present oracle, and during those thirty years God’s solemn word had been largely ignored. Now the warnings and threats that comprise the majority of the book come to a crescendo.
Hosea’s own voice is what we hear in the introduction to the oracle (vv. 2-3); then it is the Lord’s voice that he quotes in verses 4-14, followed again by the prophet in verses 15-16. By this we do not mean that part of the oracle is not the word of the Lord. It is all divinely inspired, delivered by the prophet just as he was told to give it to his audience. Rather, the direct quotation of divine speech is merely introduced and concluded by inspired prophetic speech.
There are two sins that this oracle particularly mentions as being the reasons for the coming destruction of the nation by its God: idolatry and polytheism. These are, of course, blatant violations of the first two commandments of the Decalog. The structure of the passage may be indicated by the following outline:
- vv. 2-3 Judgment for Idolatry. The prophet is the speaker.
- v. 2 Evidence of idolatry
- v. 3 Resulting punishment: annihilation
- vv. 4-14 Judgment for Polytheism. Yahweh is the speaker.
- v. 4 The covenant’s obligation of sole loyalty to Yahweh
- vv. 5-6 Israel’s refusal to remain loyal
- vv. 7-8 Punishment by wild animals
- vv. 9-11 Punishment by loss of the king
- vv. 12-13 Inevitability of punishment
- v. 14 Punishment via Sheol
- vv. 15-16 The Necessity of Judgment. The prophet is once again the speaker.
- v. 15 Punishment by drought
- v. 16 Punishment by the horrors of war
Three Main Ingredients
In addition to the fact that it refers to three time periods (past, present, future) this oracle also has three other components that characterize its content. They are, in fact, the three basic ingredients that are found in most of the hundreds of prophetic oracles of judgment against Israel in the prophetical books: (1) accusation of sin; (2) evidence of sin; (3) prediction of punishment. It is important to appreciate, however, that in virtually every case, these three elements are presented in a paradigmatic or sampling manner. In the same way that we would not expect a criminal to break every law in order to be recognized as a “law breaker,” God did not expect the Israelites to break every commandment of the Mosaic covenant in order to be found guilty of breaking his covenant. One violation was enough; two or three more than enough.
Thus prophetic judgment oracles typically contain accusations of one or two sins-rarely more-as proof that the covenant has been broken. It is not necessary to accuse the Israelites of every sin they have done; one or two will do nicely to make the point. Likewise, the evidence of sin is also normally cited in a sampling manner. One or two instances of sinful behavior or attitude suffice to make the point that the nation is guilty and deserving of punishment under the provisions of the covenant. The same sampling approach applies to the punishments as well. The full range of punishments is never listed (there are 27 types, found in various permutations in Lev. 26, Deut. 4, and Deut. 28-32)On the grouping of curses into 27 categories, see Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, xxxii-xl. but one or two usually are actually described in any given oracle.
In this regard, Hosea 13:2-16 is a bit unusual, since it lists six different types of punishments that Israel will experience for violating God’s covenant: annihilation (v. 3); attacks from wild animals (vv. 7-8); loss of king (vv. 9- 11); death in Sheol (v. 14); drought (v. 15); and war (v. 16). All of these types are well known from the Pentateuchal passages cited above. The fact that six are listed here instead of the usual one or two is something like the equivalent of saying “Brace yourself, Israel, because you are in for some heavy duty punishment!” In other words, these six punishment types are not listed because they are the ones that especially fit the particular sins of which Israel is accused in this oracle, but they are listed as suggestive samples of the great range of miseries that the nation will have to endure as a result of their unfaithfulness to God. As Deuteronomy 28:61 puts it, after describing a long list of punishments, “Every other malady and affliction, even though not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will inflict on you until you are destroyed.” The prophets mentioned punishments in the same fashion, to suggest rather than specify the considerable range of troubles and trials that disobedience of the divine covenant would inevitably bring.
Comments on Individual Verses
Verse 2. The prophets routinely condemn idolatry as stupid. Hosea also does so, pointing out that idols are just things that humans make. He adds the exclamation, “People are kissing calves!” to show just how ridiculous idolatrous practice was. The calves in question were the golden bull calves worshipped at Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-33). When a worshiper gave his or her sacrifice at an idol shrine, it was the practice to bow before the idol and kiss it (1 Kings 19:18).
Why was idolatry such an attraction to the Israelites, so much so that most of them practiced it at any given time during this history of the nation? There are nine reasons. (1) It was believed to guarantee the notice of the god(s). Idols were thought to capture the presence of the god/goddess in question, so that he/she had to pay attention to the worshiper. (2) It was selfish. It involved a materialistic system in which the gods favored the worshiper in return for the food given in sacrifice. (Ancient peoples tended to believe, interestingly enough, that the one thing the gods could not do was feed themselves-this was the one “hold” that humans had on the gods.) (3) It was easy. Frequency and generosity of worship were the sole requirements. Living a godly, upright life (keeping the terms of a covenant) was not required by idolatry. (4) It was convenient. Worshipping Yahweh required three yearly pilgrimages to a central location (the temple). Idol shrines were “on every hill and under every green tree” (Deut. 12:2). Idol worship could occur almost any place, at almost any time. (5) It was “normal.” Idolatry was the common mode of worship without exception in the ancient world other than among orthodox Israelites. It was assumed to be the basis for successful Canaanite farming of the same land that the Israelites wanted to be fertile, and it was assumed to be the practice behind the success of the various military and economic superpowers of the day (Assyria, Babylonia, Tyre, among others). (6) It seemed logical. Idolatry, which went hand in hand with polytheism, accorded to each god a specialty. By comparison, Yahweh looked like a generalist, whose only real ability lay in his having functioned to bring Israel out of Egypt, an appreciated, but currently unneeded, skill. (7) It was pleasing to the senses, involving icon worship of all sorts (cf. Ezek. 8:9 ff) and rituals like bowing and kissing. By contrast, worshipers of Yahweh had to put up with an in visible God who forbade any depiction of him self. (8) It was indulgent, involving frequent meat meals, gluttony, and heavy drinking (cf. e.g. Amos 2:8; Dan. 5:1ff; Isa. 5:11-12). (9) It was erotic. Sex with a prostitute (male or female, depending on your sexual preference) was not merely allowed, but encouraged as an act of worship symbolizing agricultural fertility. (Cf. Amos 2:7; Hos. 4:14; Gen. 38:21-22; 1 Kings 22:46; 2 Kings 23; 7; Jer. 2:20; 5:7.) Little wonder, then, that idolatry captured the allegiance of so many Israelites. It was worldliness per se, just as the NT indicates (e.g. 1 John 5:19-21).
Verse 3. Mist, dew, chaff, and smoke are all things that disappear, symbolizing the coming disappearance (annihilation as a nation) of the Israelites.
Verse 4. The language echoes the first two commandments (Exod. 20:2-4).
Verse 5. Via the manna and quail (cf. Exod. 16; Num. 11).
Verse 6. “Forgot me” summarizes the whole history of Israel’s ignoring God’s covenant.
Verses 7-8. On punishment via wild animals (cf. Lev. 26:22; Deut. 32:24).
Verse 9. One of Hosea’s-and the prophets’-frequent themes is that Israel seemed always to seek help from other gods and nations rather than the only one who could help, their own God Yahweh.
Verse 10. By this time (725 B.C. or later) Shalmaneser V or Assyria had already taken captive northern Israel’s last king, Hoshea (2 Kings 7:14). It was Assyrian practice to take royalty and nobility into exile as well, as the present verse indicates.
Verse 11. Hoshea was not a good king, properly given to the people by God, but a godless king chosen by the people and allowed to rule, for a time by God (i.e. “given in anger”) one whom they deserved ruling over them as part of their punishment for sin (cf. Hos. 7:7; 8:4).
Verse 12. “Ephraim” is an alternative name for northern Israel. Sin “stored up” is a way of saying that the nation had for a long time been committing more than enough sin to deserve destruction under the terms of the Mosaic covenant.
Verse 13. The verse employs metaphorical language for death; a child that cannot make it out of the womb dies in childbirth, its potential lost.
Verse 14. In the present context, death is the outcome for sin. Paul was inspired to take this same wording and show that by reason of the resurrection, Sheol’s power could be avoided (1 Cor. 15:55).
Verse 15. Lack of water produces famine and death in any country, and here this classic type of punishment prediction is made to apply to Israel (cf., Lev. 26:19-20, 32, 35; Deut. 28:22-24; 29:23; 28:12; 42:34).
Verse 16. “Samaria” is yet another way of referring to northern Israel. Conquest in war and its attendant brutalities is a standard type of covenant curse (e.g. Lev. 26:17, 25, 33, 37; Deut. 28:25, 49, 52; 32:23, 24, 25, 30, 41, 42).
Suggestions for Preaching or Teaching the Passage
This passage is about the wrath of God finally unleashed, after centuries of divine patience, on people who have disobeyed his covenant. That is the overall theme. But how does it play out for those of us who are believers in the true and living God via the New Covenant? Here’s a very brief summary of one way you might approach it.
First, note for your audience how the dis obedience happened. The people of Israel had been willing to disobey the covenant because they had been willing to reject the exclusive status of its author, the Lord. In some ways, verse 4 provides a central summary of this reality: Israel was supposed to acknowledge Yahweh alone. Because they would not, they lost the protection that Yahweh alone could give.
Second, not the result. Detached from their only real source of life, they were headed for death. Israel, then, got just what it deserved as the wages of its sin: death (cf. Rom. 6:23).
Third, note the difference between their corporate situation as a nation and ours as members of Christ’s body, because of the work of Christ. This same death penalty would be automatic today for any people or any individual except for the fact, as Paul brings out in Romans 6:23b, that God has given the possibility of life as a gift of grace. Thus Christ, who fulfilled in himself the very covenant law that condemned the disobedient to death (1 Cor. 15:56) provided a way to escape that death. Therefore all who are in Christ can say along with Paul, “Thanks be to God!” (1 Cor. 15:57).
A Promise for a Returning Remnant: Hosea 14:1-8
The General Structure
This passage contains two major themes: repentance and restoration. It includes (1) a prayer of repentance that Hosea was inspired to compose for the people to pray to God when they tum back to him (verses 2-3), and (2) God’s promise to answer the people’s prayer by restoring them to abundant blessing (verses 4-8). Thus Hosea was inspired to combine in this oracle both his own exhortation to the people (“Return, Israel, to Yahweh your God!”, v. 1) with God’s promise to restore the people (e.g. “I will heal.. .I will love…my anger will have turned from them”, v. 4).
One of Hosea’s most important vocabulary words is used several times in this passage. It is the Hebrew word שׁוב (sub, pronounced shoov), meaning literally “turn” and having the derived meanings of “repent, return, turn away, change.” Indeed, this verb is a major theological term not just in Hosea, but in the entire Old Testament,See W. Holladay, The Root SUBH in the Old Testament, Leiden: J. Brill, 1958. because of the difference between human nature and divine expectation. Humans never please God automatically, because their fallen human nature makes it impossible for them to do those things that God, whose divine nature abhors sin, desires. Thus only by turning/repenting/changing can humans begin to do those things that are unnatural from the point of view of fallen humanity but are righteous before God. Moreover, Israel’s future, as Hosea had been inspired repeatedly to predict it, involved exile to a foreign land. Therefore in addition to a spiritual return to Yahweh their God, the Israelites would eventually be in need of a physical return to the land of Israel. Both of these turnings are referred to in the passage. The need of the people to return to God spiritually is expressed via the verb שׁוב (sub) in verses 1 and 2. God’s forgiveness (i.e. turning their status from punishment to favor) is expressed via שׁוב again in verse 4 (“my anger will have turned from him” – in the context, not a past tense grammatically, as some of the translations interpret it, but a future); finally, Israel’s physical return to the promised land from exile is foreshadowed by שׁוב in verse 7 (“those who dwell in his shade will return…”).
It is important to be aware that this promise of restoration was not to be fulfilled immediately, but eventually. The prophets all follow the Pentateuch in declaring that the restoration of Israel will come only after its conquest and exile (cf. Deut. 4:25-31; 30:1-10). So the promise of “return” was for a future generation, and no guarantee at all to the people of Hosea’s day that they personally would escape being overrun by Assyria and deported to die in a strange land.
Here is a thematic outline of the passage:
- vv. 1-3 A Call to repentance
- v. 1 Invitation to return to Yahweh
- vv. 2-3 A suggested prayer of repentance, including a vow of penitence and a confession of trust
- vv. 4-8 A divine promise of restoration
- v. 4 Divine healing will replace divine anger
- vv. 5-8 Israel’s future prosperity in their Lord
A Dominating Confidence: The Grace of God
In connection with this passage we ought to remind ourselves of one of the profound truths of Scripture: Although God’s punishment is never undeserved, his grace is never deserved. This concept is everywhere reflected in the prophetical books, as the prophets speak of Israel’s history, past, present, and future. When a prophet’s message is judgment, it is common for him to include some illustrations of the sort of behavior that has led or will lead to God’s judgment, since there is always a reason for God’s wrath. God is never angry with out cause and never punishes without good reason. But when a prophet’s message is about God’s future blessing, he never includes illustrations of the behavior that will lead to that blessing. He cannot. There are not any.
Future blessing for Israel, in Hosea’s day or in any other time, was not a matter of some thing earned. It was purely a matter of grace. Of course, the prophets do not expect that God’s saving grace will be given to those who reject it, and thus repentance and contrition (what we typically call conversion) must be present in God’s people if they are to enter into his blessing. But that blessing is always unearned, always unmerited. This theological reality lies behind the passage. Israel cannot make God restore her, but she can confess her sins and accept his free gift. Thus the beginning of verse 4 is properly translated:
I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them voluntarily…
Comments on Individual Verses
Verse 1. Note the opening command to “return” (i.e. be converted). This is the call with which the book of Hosea draws to a close.
Verse 2. What Israel needs to bring to God is not offerings of material things, but simply “words.” There is nothing they can do but confess their sin and ask for forgiveness. And that is exactly what they must do. To “repay/ offer the fruit of our lips” means to begin living in accordance with their words of repentance.
Verse 3. The people are to renounce seeking salvation in foreign alliances (“horses” is a standard OT symbol of the power of other nations) and in idolatry, which involves worshipping something inferior to yourself, something your own hands made. They must come to God like orphans, entirely dependent on his compassion.
Verse 4. Note God’s promise to love them “voluntarily/freely”-since they have not earned his love in any way.
Verses 5-7. Lebanon was more lush agriculturally than Israel, and it serves here as a symbol of the various blessings of God that will come in the future for those who turn in faith to him. Since the vast majority of people in the ancient world were farmers, it is extremely common for prophetic predictions of restoration blessings (blessings that would follow the conquest and exile of Israel) to be couched in terms of agricultural abundance. Hosea’s audience knew that this kind of language was symbolic of many other sorts of blessings as well, and was not limited to or even primarily indicative of mere material things.
Verse 8. “Ephraim” is merely an alternative term for “northern Israel,” used often because Ephraim was the heartland of the north. The promise of God looks forward to the day, after the exile is over, when his people would no longer practice the idolatry that had so long led them astray, then those who had brought the fruit of their lips (words of confession, v.2) would enjoy the fruit of God (his many rich blessings, v.8).
Suggestions for Preaching or Teaching the Passage
This passage is about repentance and restoration. Even though it addresses these matters in terms of the corporate Israel of the Old Covenant, it has direct relevance to Christian believers, because the general principle of how human beings receive God’s grace has not changed from the Old Covenant to the New. Christ died for believers in both covenants, and he provided the means under which repentance and forgiveness operate today, as in Hosea’s day.
As you preach or teach on this passage, then, make the comparable particulars clear. Emphasize that there is nothing we, also, can bring to God whenever we sin to convince him to forgive us, except our own heartfelt confession. Emphasize as well his compassion, his willingness to love freely. Make clear that the plan of God for his people includes a glorious future even if the present is far from desirable. Hosea and his audience were not about to start experiencing the blessings contained in these promises of restoration. Rather, they were about to be conquered and to go into exile, where they would die, as pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land. But God would bless his people eventually as the passage states. The hope held out in this passage was a hope for the faithful of things to come in the plan of God, not necessarily things to come in their own personal lives on earth. By way of analogy, consider how we are comforted about the teaching of Christ’s second coming; even though we realize that we may not personally be living on the earth at the time it occurs.
Ultimately, we will all know God’s fruit if we trust in him. The eternal blessings await us. For the present, however, a pleasant life is guaranteed to no one-then or now. Our own days on earth may be as difficult as those to whom Hosea preached these words; our future days in God’s plan will be as wonderful as everything they also hoped for and heard about via Hosea’s faithful preaching.
A Word to the Wise: Hosea 14:9
This final verse of Hosea’s prophecy provides good, old-fashioned advice to the reader. It refers not just to the final chapters, but to the whole book: Here is information from which a wise person will benefit. Here is knowledge that can guide the steps of the righteous.
It picks up one of the vocabulary words that is featured in the prior passage, “stumble” (cf. 14:1, “you have stumbled” [NIV “…downfall”]). The rebels/ transgressors will “stumble” in the “ways of the Lord.” But it need not be so for those who are wise enough to choose to believe and obey God. For these people, Hosea’s inspired prophecies are full of revelation from God of how to think and live, and full of challenge to reap the blessings of a life long walk with the Lord who loves and cares for his people.
Suggestions for Preaching or Teaching the Passage
Some might choose to preach or teach on a single verse like this, but most would probably decide to use Hos. 14:9 consistent with the way it was originally intended. At the end of a series on the book, take just a few minutes to challenge the hearers to live their lives by the guidance of the word of God. Where else is the truth to be found? Who else knows how we ought to shape our lives? If “the ways of the Lord are right,” following him by following them can never be wrong.
|↑1||In our judgment, the first verse of the chapter, Hosea 13:1 is actually the conclusion of the oracle that begins in the prior chapter in 12:1, an oracle about Israel’s deceit in contrast to God’s faithfulness. See Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 186-88 and 200-2. The chapter division between Chapters 12 and 13 (made, like most other chapter divisions, in the Middle Ages) is, in other words, off by one verse.|
|↑2||On the grouping of curses into 27 categories, see Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, xxxii-xl.|
|↑3||See W. Holladay, The Root SUBH in the Old Testament, Leiden: J. Brill, 1958.|