Book of Hosea
The Book of Hosea is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

. It stands first in order among what are known as the twelve Minor Prophets.

Background and Content

Hosea was the son of Beeri and a prophet in Israel in the 8th century BC. He is one of the Twelve Prophets of the Jewish Hebrew Bible, also known as the Minor Prophets of the Christian Old Testament. Hosea is often seen as a "prophet of doom", but underneath his message of destruction is a promise...

  prophesied during a dark and melancholic era of Israel's history, the period of the Northern Kingdom's decline and fall in the 8th century BC
8th century BC
The 8th century BC started the first day of 800 BC and ended the last day of 701 BC.-Overview:The 8th century BC was a period of great changes in civilizations. In Egypt, the 23rd and 24th dynasties led to rule from Nubia in the 25th Dynasty...

. The apostasy
Apostasy , 'a defection or revolt', from ἀπό, apo, 'away, apart', στάσις, stasis, 'stand, 'standing') is the formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. One who commits apostasy is known as an apostate. These terms have a pejorative implication in everyday...

 of the people was rampant, having turned away from God in order to serve the calves of Jeroboam II
Jeroboam II
Jeroboam II was the son and successor of Jehoash, , and the fourteenth king of the ancient Kingdom of Israel, over which he ruled for forty-one years according to 2 Kings . His reign was contemporary with those of Amaziah and Uzziah , kings of Judah...

 and Baal
Baʿal is a Northwest Semitic title and honorific meaning "master" or "lord" that is used for various gods who were patrons of cities in the Levant and Asia Minor, cognate to Akkadian Bēlu...

, a Canaanite
Canaanite religion
Canaanite religion is the name for the group of Ancient Semitic religions practiced by the Canaanites living in the ancient Levant from at least the early Bronze Age through the first centuries of the Common Era....

During Hosea's lifetime, the kings of the Northern Kingdom, their aristocratic supporters, and the priests had led the people away from the Law of God, as given in the Pentateuch. Forsaking the worship of God, they worshiped other gods, especially Baal, the Canaanite fertility god. Other sins followed, including homicide, perjury, theft, and sexual sin. Hosea declares that unless they repent of these sins, God will allow their nation to be destroyed, and the people will be taken into captivity by Assyria, the greatest nation of the time.

The prophecy of Hosea centers around God's unending love towards a sinful Israel. In this text, God's agony is expressed over the betrayal of Israel. Stephen Cook asserts that the prophetic efforts of this book can be summed up in this passage "I have been the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior" Hosea's job was to speak these words during a time when that had been essentially forgotten.


First, Hosea was directed by God to marry a promiscuous woman of ill-repute, and he did so. Marriage here is symbolic of the covenantal relationship between God and Israel. However, Israel has been unfaithful to God by following other gods and breaking the commandments which are the terms of the covenant, hence Israel is symbolized by a harlot who violates the obligations of marriage to her husband.

Second, Hosea and his wife, Gomer
Gomer (wife of Hosea)
Gomer was the adulterous wife of the prophet Hosea, mentioned in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Hosea. Hosea 1:2 refers to her alternatively as a "promiscuous woman" , a "harlot" , and a "whore" but Hosea is told to marry her...

, have a son. God commands that the son be named Jezreel. This name refers to a valley
Jezreel Valley
-Etymology:The Jezreel Valley takes its name from the ancient city of Jezreel which was located on a low hill overlooking the southern edge of the valley, though some scholars think that the name of the city originates from the name of the clan which founded it, and whose existence is mentioned in...

 in which much blood had been shed in Israel's history, especially by the kings of the Northern Kingdom. (See I Kings 21 and II Kings 9:21-35). The naming of this son was to stand as a prophecy against the reigning house of the Northern Kingdom, that they would pay for that bloodshed. Jezreel's name means God Sows.

Third, the couple have a daughter. God commands that she be named Lo-ruhamah; Unloved, or, Pity or Pitied On to show Israel that, although God will still have pity on the Southern Kingdom
Kingdom of Judah
The Kingdom of Judah was a Jewish state established in the Southern Levant during the Iron Age. It is often referred to as the "Southern Kingdom" to distinguish it from the northern Kingdom of Israel....

, God will no longer have pity on the Northern Kingdom; its destruction is imminent. In the NIV translation, the omitting of the word 'him' leads to speculation as to whether Lo-Ruhamah was the daughter of Hosea or one of Gomer's lovers. James Mays, however, says that the failure to mention Hosea's paternity this is "hardly an implication" of Gomer's adultery.

Fourth, a son is born to Gomer. It is questionable whether this child was Hosea's, for God commands that his name be Lo-ammi; Not My People, or more simply, Not Mine. The child bore this name of shame to show that the Northern Kingdom would also be shamed, for its people would no longer be known as God's People. Also God says that "I am not your I am
I Am that I Am
I Am that I Am is a common English translation of the response God used in the Hebrew Bible when Moses asked for His name . It is one of the most famous verses in the Torah...

"; in other words, God changes His own name in connection with his current relationship with Israel.


A brief outline of the concepts presented in the Book of Hosea exist below
  • Chapters 1-2; Account of Hosea's marriage with Gomer
    Gomer (wife of Hosea)
    Gomer was the adulterous wife of the prophet Hosea, mentioned in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Hosea. Hosea 1:2 refers to her alternatively as a "promiscuous woman" , a "harlot" , and a "whore" but Hosea is told to marry her...

     biographically which is a metaphor for the relationship with Yahweh and Israel.
  • Chapter 3; Account of Hosea's marriage autobiographically. This is possibly a marriage to different women
  • Chapters 4-14:9; Oracle judging Israel, Ephraim in particular, for not living up to the covenant
    Covenant (biblical)
    A biblical covenant is an agreement found in the Bible between God and His people in which God makes specific promises and demands. It is the customary word used to translate the Hebrew word berith. It it is used in the Tanakh 286 times . All Abrahamic religions consider the Biblical covenant...


No further breakdown of ideas is clear in 4-14:9
Following this, the prophecy is made that someday this will all be changed, that God will indeed have pity on Israel.

Chapter two describes a divorce. This divorce seems to be the end of the covenant between God and the Northern Kingdom. However, it is probable that this was again a symbolic act, in which Hosea divorced Gomer for infidelity, and used the occasion to preach the message of God's rejection of the Northern Kingdom. He ends this prophecy with the declaration that God will one day renew the covenant, and will take Israel back in love.

In Chapter three, at God's command, Hosea seeks out Gomer
Gomer (wife of Hosea)
Gomer was the adulterous wife of the prophet Hosea, mentioned in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Hosea. Hosea 1:2 refers to her alternatively as a "promiscuous woman" , a "harlot" , and a "whore" but Hosea is told to marry her...

 once more. Either she has sold herself into slavery for debt, or she is with a lover who demands money in order to give her up, because Hosea has to buy her back. He takes her home, but refrains from sexual intimacy with her for many days, to symbolize the fact that Israel will be without a king for many years, but that God will take Israel back, even at a cost to Himself.

Chapters 4-14 spell out the allegory at length. Chapters 1-3 speaks of Hosea's family, and the issues with Gomer. Chapters 4-10 contain a series of oracles, or prophetic sermons, showing exactly why God is rejecting the Northern Kingdom (what the grounds are for the divorce). Chapter 11 is God's lament over the necessity of giving up the Northern Kingdom, which is a large part of the people of Israel, whom God loves. God promises not to give them up entirely. Then, in Chapter 12, the prophet pleads for Israel's repentance. Chapter 13 foretells the destruction of the kingdom at the hands of Assyria
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

, because there has been no repentance. In Chapter 14, the prophet urges Israel to seek forgiveness, and promises its restoration, while urging the utmost fidelity to God.

Matthew 2:13 cites Hosea's prophecy in that God would call His Son out of Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 as foretelling the flight into Egypt
Flight into Egypt
The flight into Egypt is a biblical event described in the Gospel of Matthew , in which Joseph fled to Egypt with his wife Mary and infant son Jesus after a visit by Magi because they learn that King Herod intends to kill the infants of that area...

 and return to Israel of Joseph
Saint Joseph
Saint Joseph is a figure in the Gospels, the husband of the Virgin Mary and the earthly father of Jesus Christ ....

, Mary
Mary (mother of Jesus)
Mary , commonly referred to as "Saint Mary", "Mother Mary", the "Virgin Mary", the "Blessed Virgin Mary", or "Mary, Mother of God", was a Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee...

, and the infant Jesus Christ.

The capital of the Northern Kingdom, in 722 BC. All the members of the upper classes and many of the ordinary people were taken captive and carried off to live as prisoners of war.

Interpretation and Context: Hosea 2 Marriage Metaphor

While most modern scholars suggest the marriage metaphor presented in Hosea describes the relationship between Israel and Yahweh, the metaphor itself remains controversial in its meaning and interpretation in modernity. This is particularly true among feminist Biblical scholarship. In Hosea 2, the woman in the marriage metaphor is Hosea’s wife Gomer
Gomer (wife of Hosea)
Gomer was the adulterous wife of the prophet Hosea, mentioned in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Hosea. Hosea 1:2 refers to her alternatively as a "promiscuous woman" , a "harlot" , and a "whore" but Hosea is told to marry her...

. Gomer is not portrayed in a positive light, and since Gomer represents the role of the wife in a marriage covenant, women themselves are not portrayed in a positive light. This is reflected throughout the beginning of Hosea 2. “I will strip her naked and expose her as in the day she was born” (Hosea 2:3). “Upon her children I will have no pity, because they are children of whoredom” (Hosea 2:4). “For she said, I will go after my lovers...” (Hosea 2:5).

Biblical scholar Ehud Ben Zvi reminds readers of the socio-historical context in which Hosea was composed. In his article Observations on the marital metaphor of YHWH and Israel in its ancient Israelite context: general considerations and particular images in Hosea 1.2, Ben Zvi describes the role of the Gomer in the marriage metaphor as one of the “central attributes of the ideological image of a human marriage that was shared by the male authorship and the primary and intended male readership as building blocks for their imagining of the relationship.” This is important to consider when reading and interpreting the text in that the author was writing in a particular time during which the role of women in marriage was to be submissive and respect the authority of their husbands.

Feminist Biblical scholar Tristanne J. Connolly makes a similar observation, stating that the husband-wife motif reflects marriage as it was understood at the time. Connolly also suggests that in context the marriage metaphor was necessary in that it truly exemplified the unequal interaction between Yahweh and the people Israel. Biblical scholar Michael D. Coogan makes an interesting point regarding genre that can also lend a hand to the interpretation of this metaphor. Coogan describes the importance of understanding the covenant in relation to interpreting Hosea. Hosea falls under a unique genre called “covenant lawsuit” where God accuses Israel of breaking their previously made agreement. God’s disappointment towards Israel is therefore expressed through the broken marriage covenant made between husband and wife.


Hosea is believed to be the first prophet to use marriage as a metaphor of the covenant between God and Israel, and he influenced latter prophets such as Jeremiah. He is among the first writing prophets, and the last chapter of Hosea has a format similar to wisdom literature
Wisdom literature
Wisdom literature is the genre of literature common in the Ancient Near East. This genre is characterized by sayings of wisdom intended to teach about divinity and about virtue...


Feminist perspective

According to Kirsten Abbott, feminist interpretation regards the story of Hosea and his relations with his wife Gomer as a metaphor for the conflict between a Covenant Theology
Covenant Theology
Covenant theology is a conceptual overview and interpretive framework for understanding the overall flow of the Bible...

 (Israel violating the covenant relationship with YHWH) and a Creation Theology (YHWH will undo the fertility of the earth in response to Israel following other fertility gods).

"The relationship between husband and wife was one of unequal power, in which the husband initiated both marriage and divorce". As always, the historical context of the writer is key to understanding this book of the Bible. For the writer of the Book of Hosea, this idea of marriage is not far from the truth, but it is a "male perspective" that is being endorsed here.

External links

  • Jewish
    Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

    • Hoshea - Hosea (Judaica Press) translation [with Rashi
      Shlomo Yitzhaki , or in Latin Salomon Isaacides, and today generally known by the acronym Rashi , was a medieval French rabbi famed as the author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as a comprehensive commentary on the Tanakh...

      's commentary] at

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