Criswell Theological Review 7.1 (1993) 15-38

[Copyright © 1993 by Criswell College, cited with permission;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon and Criswell Colleges and elsewhere]











El Seminario Teologico Centroamericano

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                                                Defining the Approach


The issue of religion is central to any understanding of the background

and message of the Book of Hosea. In this prophetic text both the per-

sonal life of the prophet, as well as national religious life, have drawn

scholarly interest. The most celebrated interpretative problem, of course,

concerns the first three chapters and the relationship of the prophet with

Gomer (and, some would argue, with another woman in chap. 3), and the

connection of this narrative to Canaanite religious practice.l

            In years past, certain scholars also highlighted the harsh critique

of ritual in 6:6 (cf. 4:1-2, 15; 5:5; 8:13; 9:4; 12:11) and other prophetic

texts (e.g., Amos 4:4-5; 5:4-5, 21-26); ethical monotheism was claimed


            1 For recent detailed surveys of scholarly opinions, see, e.g., R K. Harrison, Intro-

duction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969) 861-68; R E. Clements,

Understanding the Book of Hosea,  Rev Exp 72 (1975) 408-12; G. I. Davies, Hosea (Old

Testament Guides; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993) 79-92. Cf. H. Ringgren,

"The Marriage Motif in Israelite Religion in Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor

of Frank Moore Cross, eds. P. D. Miller, Jr., P. Hanson, S. D. McBride (Philadelphia: For-

tress, 1987) 421-28. H. L. Ginsberg, following Kaufmann, believes that chaps. 1-3 come

from another prophet and refer to the Baal worship of the ninth-century under Ahab:

chaps. 4ff. would reflect later struggles within Yahwism (“Hosea, Book of,” Encyclopaedia

Judaica [New York: McMillan, 1971], Vol. 8, cols. 1012-19). M L. Chaney has recently

offered a materialist reading of these chapters and concludes that they are a metaphoric

description of the political economy: the wife alludes to the warrior elite and the children

to the peasant classes ("Agricultural Intensification as Promiscuity in the Book of Hosea;

unpublished paper, Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, 1993; for a sum-

mary, see AAR/SBL Abstracts 1993, 137).




to be the unique and lasting contribution of those who spoke for Yah-

weh. Accordingly, textbooks on prophetism sometimes have dedicated

space to clarifying that the prophets did not desire the eradication of

all formal religion, but rather exhorted the people to live out their

faith in mercy and justice and not to limit belief in God to mere exter-

nal religious rites.2

Recent research into the nature of religion in eighth-century Pal-

estine and the analysis of the textual data of Hosea have moved beyond

simply attempting to establish the practice of certain non-Yahwistic rit-

uals, such as cultic prostitution,3 to a broader investigation of mono-

theism in ancient Israel. Archaeological findings increasingly point

to widespread syncretism, popular as well as official, throughout the

monarchical period. New approaches posit a contested and difficult rise

of monotheism, which would contrast with the biblical picture of the

revelation of a single deity at the very beginning of Israel's history.4

Lang, for instance, postulates that the prophet Hosea is an important

figure in the development and eventual success of what he labels the


2 E.g., J. Lindblom, Prophecy in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1962) 351-

60 (Interestingly, some of the concerns of Wellhausen and Duhm have been raised again

by J. Barton in Oracles of God: Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in Israel after the Exile

[London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1986]). Speaking from the perspective of Latin

American Liberation Theology, J. P. Miranda defends the strict anti-cultus stance that a

first reading of certain prophetic passages might suggest: according to his critical recon-

struction, God can only be found in interhuman justice (Marx and the Bible: A Critique

of the Philosophy of Oppression, trans. J. Eagleson [Maryknoll: Orbis, 1974] 44-67; cf.

J. Pixley," dExige el Dios verdadero sacrificios cruentos?,Revista de interpretaciOn biblica

latinoamericana 2 [1988] 109-31). On the other hand, some suggest a close tie between

Hosea and the cult. H. W. Wolff has proposed that Hosea was a member of a Levitical circle

in Hosea (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974) xxii-xxiii (cf. R R Wilson, Prophecy and Society

in Ancient Israel [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980] 22 & 31), but his hypothesis has not re-

ceived widespread acceptance.

3 See below, n. 37.

4 For a helpful introduction to issues involved in the larger debate, see D L. Petersen,

"Israel and Monotheism: The Unfinished Agenda" in Canon, Theology, and Old Testament

Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Brevard S. Childs, eds. G. M. Tucker, D L. Petersen, R. R.

Wilson (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988) 92-107. Those sympathetic to the idea of the gradual

growth and official imposition of monotheism and who provide helpful bibliography, al-

though defending different reconstructions, include M S. Smith, The Early History of God:

Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990);

O. Keel and C. Uehlinger, Gottinnen, Gotter und Gottessymbole. Neue Erkenntnisse zur

Religionsgeschichte Kanaans und Israels aufgrund bislang unersschlossener ikonogra-

phischer Quellen (Freiberg: Herder, 1992); and various essays in part one of Ancient

Israelite Religion, 3-299. A helpful survey of the archaeological data, which does not deal

directly with the thorny issue of development, is found in R. S. Hess, "Yahweh and his

Asherah? Epigraphic Evidence for Religious Pluralism in Old Testament Times" in One

God, One Lord in a World of Religious Pluralism, eds. A D Clarke and B. W. Winter (Cam-

bridge: Tyndale House, 1991) 5-33.



"Yahweh-alone movement."5 Some scholars, accordingly, would also

question the objectivity of the presentation of the nature of Canaanite

religion in OT texts, as these are now evaluated as evidence of this con-

certed effort to give an aggressively negative view of a competing faith.

This article, however, does not try to tackle the complex task of trying

either to define precisely what were the elements of Canaanite religion

that the prophet Hosea found distasteful, or to locate his ministry and

message within the current debate on monotheism.

In addition to this issue of uncertainty in the establishing of a pre-

cise religious setting for the background of the Book of Hosea, is the

problem of ascertaining clear historical referents. The lack of explicit

historical information and the fact that the title (1:1) suggest a ministry

spanning decades sometimes can make confident identification of tex-

tual particulars difficult.6

The following discussion of chaps. 4-7 takes a more literary ap-

proach to the final form of this prophetic text.7 The goal is to try to

understand the world within the text, instead of focusing on the rela-

tionship of the biblical data to eighth-century Israel to which it refers and

which lies behind the text. Space will not permit a detailed reading,

which would involve a careful investigation of the poetics of the book--

that is, elements such as detailed structural analysis, style, figurative


5 B. Lang, "The Yahweh-alone Movement and the Making of Jewish Monotheism;

Monotheism and the Prophetic Minority (The Social World of Biblical Antiquity Series 1;

Sheffield: Almond, 1983) 13-56. Other recent studies dealing with the religious critique of

Hosea include G. I. Emmerson's attempt to differentiate the prophet's original religious cri-

tique from the one embodied in the present form of the text, which is claimed to be the

work of Judaean redactors (Hosea, An Israelite Prophet in Judaean Perspective [Sheffield:

JSOT, 1984] chap. 3); W. I. Toews analyzes Hosea's critique within the larger framework of

the reforms of Jeroboam I (Monarchy and Religious Institution under Jeroboam I [Atlanta:

Scholars Press, 1993] 151-72).

6 Note, e.g., the comments by F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Hosea (Garden City:

Doubleday, 1980) 313. Their reluctance to specify historical details with absolute certainty

goes beyond just facile identification of historical referents (names, places and events) to

include avoiding speculation about possible cultic or social settings of the prophetic oracles

(72-74, 313-17), which is a major concern of the form critical approach utilized by com-

mentators such as Wolff and Mays. Attempts to coordinate oracles with particular moments

in the prophet's ministry abound. For a recent effort, see Davies, Hosea, 30-37. Another

related issue is how the book itself portrays Israel's history; note, e.g., D. R Daniels,

Hosea and Salvation History (Berlin: Walter de Groyter, 1990) 117-30.

7 The phrase "the final form of the text" distinguishes our approach from others that

concentrate on sorting out what are considered to be original from later material (For a

defense of the canonical form, see Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament 868-72,

and some conservative commentaries such as D. A. Hubbard, Hosea [Downers Grove, IL:

InterVarsity, 1990] 31-34; cf. Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 52-76, 316f.). Some evan-

gelicals would defend the integrity of the text on theological grounds. Elsewhere I argue

for taking the prophetic text (in that case, Amos) as literature for methodological and



language, point of view, plot, and characterization.8 Rather, some atten-

tion will be paid to the shape of these four chapters and to how that might

contribute to the highlighting of thematic aspects of the prophetic mes-

sage. In other words, this presentation combines a literary with a topical


The issue to be explored is the nature of Yahweh religion within

the world of the text of Hosea 4-7. Several questions spark the reading

of these chapters. For example, what is the nature of Israel's Yahwism

in these chapters? What is Yahweh himself perceived to be like in this

religious world? Why does the prophet condemn this religion which

claims to worship Yahweh? Who are those most responsible for prac-

ticing and propagating this kind of belief in Yahweh?


pastoral reasons (M. D Carroll R, Contexts for Amos: Prophetic Poetics in Latin Ameri-

can Perspective [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992] 140-56). Of course, several

different kinds of reading strategies deal with the final form of the biblical text. Note the

helpful methodological discussions by D. J. A. Clines ("Reading Esther from Left to Right:

Contemporary Strategies for Reading a Biblical Text") and M. G. Brett ("Four or Five

Things to do With Texts: A Taxonomy of Interpretive Interests") in The Bible in Three Di-

mensions: Essays in Celebration of Forty Years of Biblical Studies in the University of

Sheffield, eds. D. J. A. Clines, S. A Fowl, S. E. Porter (Sheffield: JSOT, 1990) 31-52 and 357-

77, respectively. For recent surveys of critical approaches, see G. A. Yee, Composition and

Tadition in the Book of Hosea: A Redactional Critical Investigation (Atlanta: Scholars

Press, 1987) 1-25, and Davies, Hosea, 93-106. Finally, it should be emphasized that this

is a reading of Hosea alone. No effort will be made to pursue the fruitful insights gener-

ated by intertextual readings; cf. D N. Fewell, ed., Reading Between Texts: Intertextuality

and the Hebrew Bible (Louisville: WestminsterlJohn Knox, 1992). For an example of such

an approach to the Book of Hosea, see the essay in the same volume by D Krause, "A

Blessing Cursed: The Prophet's Prayer for Barren Womb and Dry Breasts in Hosea 9,”


8 For a general bibliography for these features, see Carroll R, Contexts for Amos,

178-80. For some poetic details in this particular prophetic text, note, e.g., R. B, Chisolm,

Jr., "Wordplay in the Eighth-Gentury Prophets," BS 144 (1987) 44-52; P. A. Krueger,

"Prophetic Imagery: On Metaphors and Similes in the Book Hosea,"  JNSL 14 (1988)

143-51; P. J. Botha, "The Communicative Function of Comparison in Hosea," Old Testa-

ment Essays 6 (1993) 57-71; Davies, Hosea (OTG), 107-115; 1: Jemielity, Satire and the

Hebrew Prophets (Louisville: Westminster/ John Knox, 1992) 84-116; H. Fisch, Poetry

with a Purpose: Biblical Poetics and Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University

Press, 1988) 136-57. P. R House has touched on characterization and plot in the book of

Hosea, but within the larger literary framework of the Book of the Twelve (The Unity

of the Twelve [Sheffield: Almond, 1990]). Others argue that the unity and coherence of

the prophetic text, which some literary readings suggest, should not ignore supposed re-

dactional development Note, e.g., Yee, Composition and Tradition in the book of Hosea

(cf. D. Carr, "Reaching for Unity in Isaiah," JSOT 57 [1993] 61-80). H. Marks connects

his views on the literariness of each of the Twelve with observations concerning per-

ceived redactional layers and the possible canonical markers of the final compilers

("The Twelve Prophets," The Literary Guide to the Bible, eds. R. Alter and E Kermode

[Cambridge: Belknap, 1987] 207-33).



In the discussion, Hosea 4-7 is divided into three principle parts.

These chapters open with 4:1-3, which offers an introduction to what fol-

lows; 4:4-5:7 describes the worship in Israel that is found to be so con-

trary to the divine demands; and, lastly, 5:8-7:16 critiques Israel's internal

politics and foreign policy and their relationship to Israelite religion.


Introductory Accusation and Judgment (4:1-3)


Most commentators consider this passage to be the introduction

which sets the tone and lists the basic violations deserving of judgment

which will be developed in the following chapters.9 The theological

framework for this pericope is the Mosaic Covenant,10 whether in a

formal sense as a covenant lawsuit11 or simply in a broader manner of

an Indictment because of covenant violation.12

4:1 opens the accusation by mentioning the lack of three key cove-

nantal qualities: tm,x< ('emet), ds,H, (hesed), and tfaDa (da'at). The first has

been translated in the versions as "good faith" (NEB) and "faithfulness"

(NASB, NIV, NRSV). This term is related to the concept of truth and car-

ries the notions of constancy, reliability, and integrity in word and deed.

Yahweh himself is the standard by which this faithfulness is measured

(2:20 [MT = 2:22]).13 The second term, dsH, appears in the versions as


9 E.g., for Andersen and Freedman, 4: 1-3 is the introduction to chaps. 4-7 (Hosea,

331); for D. A. Hubbard it introduces chaps. 4-11 (Hosea, 95-96); for J. L. Mays these

verses introduce chaps. 4-14 (Hosea [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969] 61).

10 For an extensive exposition of the notion of covenant in Hosea, see W. Bruegge-

mann, Hosea: Tradition for Crisis (Atlanta: John Knox, 1968). Besides commentaries such

as D. Stuart, Hosea-Jonah (Waco: Word, 1987), which makes extensive use of covenant

theology, also note J. Bright, Covenant and Promise: The Prophetic Understanding of the

Future in Pre-Exilic Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976) 87-94; K. Koch, The Proph-

ets, Vol. I: The Assyrian Period, trans. M. Kohl (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) 90-93;

J. Day, "Pre-Deuteronomic Allusions to the Covenant in Hosea and Psalm lxxviii; VT 36

(1986) 1-12. Those not supporting a well developed covenant background for the proph-

ets include D. J. McCarthy, Old Testament Covenant: A Survey of Current Opinion

(Atlanta: John Knox, 1972) 35-40, 78f.; R E. Clements, Prophecy and Tradition (Oxford:

Basil Blackwell, 1978) 8-23. Cf. the discussion on recent developments in covenant stud-

ies in K. Kitchen, "The Fall and Rise of Covenant, Law and Treaty; Tyn Bul 40 (1989)


11 Bright, Covenant and Promise 89-90; K. Nielsen, Yahweh as Prosecutor and

Judge: An Investigation of the Prophetic Lawsuit (Rib Pattern), (Sheffield: JSOT, 1978)

32-34; Mays, Hosea, 61; Wolff, Hosea, 66; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 7&-75 (Stuart extends the

lawsuit to the end of the chapter). Note, however, M. De Roche, "Yahweh's RIB against

Israel: A Reassessment of the So-Called 'Prophetic Lawsuit' in the Preexilic Prophets;

JBL 102 (1983) 563-74.

12 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 331; Hubbard, Hosea, 96.

13 See A Jepsen, "Nmx,"  Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 1: 292-323; W. C. Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand



"mutual trust" (NEB), "kindness" (NASB), "love" (NIV), and "loyalty"

(NRSV). A reciprocal relationship is presupposed, and this bond is to be

made manifest in actions. In the context of the prophets, this relationship

is the covenant: Yahweh has committed himself to a particular people,

and they are called to reflect this love and grace concretely with one an-

other in the community.14 The last quality that is mentioned is tfd or

"knowledge."15 In the context of the book, this knowledge certainly does

refer to a certain theological content, such as the traditions of the Patri-

archs (12:3-4, 12 [MT = 12:4-5, 13]), of the Exodus (2:14-15 [MT = 2:16-

17]; 11:1-4; 12:9, 13 [MT = 12:10, 14]; 13:4) and of the Wilderness (9:10;

13:5) and the teachings of the Torah (4:6; 8:1, 12). But the term includes

as well an understanding of Yahweh's covenantal demands which is to

be reflected in obedience and moral conduct. Hence, the NIV translates

the phrase Myhlx tfd here as "acknowledgement of God."

The list of five charges that follow in 4:2a offer an application of the

three sins of omission in 4:1 within human relationships.16 Although

the knowledge of God is a more general concept, the lack of faithfulness

(tm,x<) probably could be taken as fleshed out in cursing and lying, and

the absence of steadfast love (ds,H,) in murder, stealing, and adultery.

Each of these five corresponds to one of the Ten Commandments.17 The

last line of this verse is very problematic,18 but it is possible that the


Rapids: Zondervan, 1983) 222-34. tmx and dsH often appear in hendiadys, but the fact

that these terms appear as part of a list of three and each is prefixed by the conjunction

+ negative particle would suggest that here they be considered separately.

4 See N. Glueck, Hesed in the Bible, trans. (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College,

1967); H.-J. Zobel, "dsH," Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1986) 5.44-64; Davies, Hosea (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) 94-97; B. C.

Birch, Let Justice Roll Down: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Christian Life (Louis-

ville: Westminster John Knox, 1991) 151.-53.

15 See J. Bergman and G. J. Botterweck, "fdy," Theological Dictionary of the Old

Testament, 5.444-81; H. B. Huffmon, 'The Treaty Background of Hebrew YADA'";

BASOR 181 (1966) 131-77; Daniels, Hosea and Salvation History, 111-16.

16 Some commentators hold that the last term, "knowledge," summarizes and is the

basis of the preceding two. See Glueck, Hesed in the Bible, 57; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 75;

C. E Keil, The Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) X: 74f.; W: R. Harper,

Amos and Hosea (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1979) 250.

17 For details, note especially Brueggemann, Hosea, 38-43; Hubbard, Hosea, 97.

Cf. Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics, 17f.

18 The three primary options concerning the difficult vcrp are to consider it as: (1)

the finite verb for the preceding five infinitive absolutes (Wolff, Hosea, 68; Mays, Hosea,

65; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 72; Davies, Hosea, 116; NRSV); (2) connected with the following

clause describing the bloodshed (Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 338f.; Hubbard, Hosea,

98); (3) a separate item with its own meaning (T. McComiskey, The Minor Prophets: An

Exegetical & Expositional Commentary, I: Hosea, Joel, and Amos [Grand Rapids: Baker,

1992] 57; Keil, The Minor Prophets, 75; Harper, Amos and Hosea, 250; NEB, NASB, NIV).

We take this last option.



reference is to two acts of cruel violence, making a total of seven viola-

tions. Thus the indictment is poetically emphasized, as the sins of Israel

add up to a perfect number; their wickedness is complete.19 Several of

these seven sins will be mentioned again in the following two major

sections. They will be evident in cultic deviation and in the degrading

activities of the people's worship (4:4-5:7), and then both in the refusal

to trust him in national political affairs and in the struggles for power

and influence (5:8-7:16).

If the discussion of 4:1-3 thus far has summarized the reasons for

the denunciation (the "what" and the "why" in 4:1-2), there still remain

to be identified the "who" and "where"--that is, those that practice and

are responsible for the sin and the place of the sin and of the coming

judgment. 4:1 is a call to the "sons of Israel" and to the "inhabitants of

the land; and 4:3a announces chastisement on "all who dwell in it."

This thematic inclusio in this introductory pericope helps to emphasize

that the whole population stands guilty before Yahweh. The transgres-

sors are not limited to certain groups; all in one way or another are

involved in the conduct condemned by the prophet. Yet, even if the

society as a whole is in rebellion against God and its members sin

against one another, might there not be some who are held particularly

accountable before the divine tribunal for the paths that the nation has

chosen to pursue? The following oracles will develop the tension be-

tween universal guilt and more circumscribed responsibility.

The mention of "the land" in 4:3aa also forms an inclusio with its

double use in v 1. It is the land of the covenant that will suffer the effects

of the covenant curses.20 The vocabulary of judgment reaches cosmic

dimensions in the last line of v 3 to emphasize the awful devastation

that awaits Israel because of the indictment that Yahweh announces

through his prophet (cf. Isa 24:1ff., 33:8-9).21 If future blessing beyond


19 J. Limburg, Hosea-Micah (Atlanta: John Knox, 1988) 17.

20 For a theology of the land and the importance of obedience for blessing there, see

especially W. Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical

Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977) 90-129. Unlike Brueggemann, however, I believe that

the guilt cannot be limited almost exclusively to the leadership. Also note P. D. Miller, Jr.,

Sin and Judgment and the Prophets: A Stylistic and Theological Analysis (Chico: CA:

Scholars Press, 1982) 9-11; and D. I. Block's discussion of the relationship between a deity

and the land and its people against the background of the Ancient Near East, The Gods

of the Nations: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern National Theology (Jackson: Evangelical

Theological Society, 1988). For the specification of the corresponding covenant curses and

blessings here and elsewhere, note especially Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, xxxi-xlii and ad loc.

Not all take the verbs in 4:3 as future. Those who understand a reference to the present

state of affairs include Keil, The Minor Prophets, 75f.; Harper, Amos and Hosea, 251 (cf.

NASB, NIV; NRSV). Note Wolff's arguments for assuming the future, Hosea, 65f.

21 For the idea of a cosmic dimension, the reversal of creation itself, which would

go beyond the idea of simply the rhetorical use of such vocabulary, see M. Deroche, "The

Reversal of Creation in Hosea," VT 31 (1981) 400-409; Hubbard, Hosea, 98.



the judgment will mean the restoration of blessing and prosperity (cf.

2:16-23 [MT = 2:18-25]; 11:8-11; 14:4-8 [MT = 14:5-9]), the judgment

itself will bring drought and terrible loss of life. Though not made ex-

plicit in this verse, these references to the abrogation of rain and fer-

tility could very well be an indirect attack on other deities and the belief

in their power in nature by the nation (cf. 2:3,5-13 [MT = 2:5, 7-15]).

In sum, through its vocabulary and literary devices, this opening

pericope announces the accusations of Yahweh against his people and

the judgment that Israel's sin deserves. The closing verse, however, in

its proclamation of the end of the nation actually is pronouncing the

end of a world--that is, of this people and this land. Transgression

against the deity and thus against others in the covenant community

will mean that Israel will be no more. Why is religious belief and prac-

tice taken so seriously in the world of this prophetic text. Why is the

prophetic decree so all-consuming?

At this point a digression will prove helpful. Although the focus of

this article is textual and literary, insight into the prophetic complaint

can be gained by appealing to the theoretical perspectives of the social

sciences.22 From this perspective, religion is understood as a system of

beliefs, traditions, symbols, and rituals that work together to explain to a

people how nature, life, and death function and why things are the way

they are. This religious system provides an intelligible order for individ-

ual and social relationships, helps locate social identity, and gives tran-

scendental reasons for disasters and success in every human sphere.

Religion, in other words, helps to establish and to maintain what people

would consider to be the "natural order" of things.

The sociology of knowledge would label this assumed natural order

of existence the "social construction of reality"--that is, the shared fab-

ric which is society, where a language, socially defined roles and be-

havior, certain institutions, and a complex set of beliefs are held in

common. This humanly crafted "world" is held together and legitimated

in part by religion: this social world is believed to have been estab-

lished by divine decree, to be blessed by divine grace, and to be pro-

tected by divine promise. Participation in religious rites is understood as

a means of assuring the deity's favor and succor, of securing the main-

tenance of the way life "truly is" and "should be." Moreover, the reli-

gious establishment of temple and priesthood are a constant visible


22 For what follows regarding the use of other disciplines, see the discussion and

bibliography in Carroll R, Contexts for Amos, 48-91, 122-35. The theoretical issues

presented there are then applied to the book of Amos and modern Latin America. For

Hosea, see Davies, Hosea (OTG), 58-62. Cf. G. V. Smith, "The Application of Principles

from the Sociology of Knowledge for Understanding the Setting, Tradition and The-

ology of the Prophets," JETS 32 (1989) 145-57; and the different social science frame-

work for R S. Hendel, "Worldmaking in Ancient Israel," JSOT 56 (1992) 3-18.



reminder of the supposed correctness and divine approval of this soci-

ety and its worldview.

This religious world, though, is not monolithic. To begin with, an

official theology, cult, and religious personnel support and sanction the

status quo for the society's leadership and institutions. At a popular

level, however, faith might embrace this official religion as well as

move beyond it and hold to beliefs and superstitions from other sources,

which are accepted on the basis of experiences, folklore, and commu-

nity tradition.

This picture of religious life accords well with the phenomena

attacked by the classical prophets. On the one hand, they decry how

religious officials do not question the sad state of affairs in Judah and

Israel, and condemn the priests for benefiting from and defending the

social construction of reality; they censure rival prophets who claim to

speak for Yahweh, yet proclaim nothing that would criticize national

life and how politics are pursued. The traditions of the mighty acts of

God, the classical prophets claim, are manipulated to convince the

people and the government of continued and unfailing divine help.

What is more, political and economic alliances with surrounding nations

or empires demonstrate an inadequate perception of the power of Yah-

weh and also lead to the acceptance and support of other deities and

their cults. In other words, the official religion has offered a distorted

Yahweh faith and does not even limit worship to Yahweh as the only

true god of Israel. On the other hand, the general populace crowds the

cult centers and is actively involved in the official ceremonies and rit-

uals, but also follows after other deities and celebrates at other cult cen-

ters without fear of condemnation from the religious establishment.

What the classical prophets announce is the coming destruction of

the social world that claims to be Yahweh's. The prophets are not just

saying that certain aspects of national life must come to an end, but that

national life itself is to be no more. Yahweh will need to begin all over

again in the future, beyond the judgment. There will be no reform or

revolution to transform the present order; the prophetic hope is of a new

and different social construction of reality, of another "world" of justice,

holiness, and proper worship. Brueggemann has coined the phrase "the

prophetic imagination" to describe how these spokespersons judged re-

ality differently than the regimes of their day. They declared the guilt of

the leadership and the terrible inadequacies of national worship, while

at the same time offering a vision of hope of a new world beyond the im-

minent disaster of the divine visitation.23


23 For bibliographic details of some of Brueggemann's works dealing with the imag-

ination and an interaction with his construct, see Carroll R., Contexts for Amos 140-43.



Ultimately, what is at stake in the prophetic mind is the very nature

of Yahweh himself. It is not that Judah and Israel are not religious or that

they do not believe in Yahweh. The issue, rather, is what sort of Yahweh

do they believe in and what kind of Lord is worshipped in the cult The

canonical texts continually emphasize that the Yahweh of the prophets

is not the Yahweh of the temples and of the masses. The Yahweh of the

prophets is neither some sort of appendage to daily realities nor a god to

be fashioned according to human designs. It is because Yahweh is the

sovereign Lord, who demands to be at the very heart of individual life

and national existence, that the prophets do not separate religious cri-

tique from the denunciation of social and political evil. The "worlds" of

Judah and Israel's making have come under prophetic scrutiny and have

been found deserving of severe punishment.

The Book of Hosea, therefore, asserts that the issue of religion is

fundamental. To evaluate religion is to get at the heart of Israel's self-

understanding and to touch the basis of national survival. 4:1-3 intro-

duces the primary concerns of Yahweh and declares his judgment. What

follows in chaps. 4-7 are more details regarding primarily the sins of

Israel, and to a lesser extent those of Judah. These chapters present

almost exclusively the prophetic accusations. Little is said regarding the

judgment or future hope, aspects of the divine message expounded

more fully elsewhere in the book.


The Perversion of Worship (4:4-5:7)


The section of Hosea that extends from 4:4 to 5:7 provides the divine

and prophetic condemnation of the worship of the nation of Israel. At-

tention here will be directed primarily at 4:4-10, which serves both to

layout the basis of the nature and guilt of this worship and to announce

the judgment that awaits the veneration that Yahweh so deplores.

4:4-10 is a notoriously difficult passage to interpret Textual prob-

lems abound, and changes in pronouns make it hard to specify who is

coming under the ire of Yahweh.24 Most commentators believe that these

verses refer to the priesthood (in the person of a particular individual


Most recently, his concept of imagination is developed in idem, Texts Under Negotia-

tion: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993). Even if one

might not agree with some of Brueggemann's commitments and convictions, his notion

of the imagination is helpful and full of fresh and challenging insights.

24 H. Fisch holds that the complexity and apparent incoherence in the language of

the Book of Hosea voice the passions of the "covenantal discourse" of a God, who in his

holiness hates the state of the nation but who at the same time desperately loves his

chosen people (Poetry with a Purpose, 138f.).



like the high priest or the priests in general)25 and will suggest textual

emendations to support a consistent interpretation along these lines.26

The Masoretic Text, however, can point to the people throughout.27

The first thing that is important to notice are the lexical links that

4:4-10 have with 4:1-3. Key terms reappear: "accuse, bring charges'" (the

root: byri [rib]; 4:1, 4 [twice]), "knowledge" (tfaDa; 4:1, 6), and "break out,

increase" (CrP [prs]; 4:2, 10). These verses can be taken, therefore, as going

into more detail regarding the accusations against the people mentioned

in the introduction. At the same time, however, the lexical continuity is

the vehicle for expressing a sharp contrast through a wordplay. This

contrast is between the actions and character of Yahweh and Israel. 4:4

declares that none can question ("contend,” the root byri) the divine accu-

sation (Yahweh's byri of 4:1), as Yahweh's evaluation of the state of the

nation is just.28 The people also are "like those who contend (the root byri)

with a priest" (NASB, NIV). On the one hand, these words could mean that

Israel has a stubborn heart, which is unwilling to submit to divine direc-

tives (cf. Deut 17:12-13). On the other hand, why use this phrase if the

priests themselves will come under divine scrutiny later for several kinds

of sin? The point is to focus on the contentious character of the people,

not on the character of the priests of the official cult. The literary irony of

the choice of "priest" will become more apparent in the course of the

literary reading.

The passage continues, saying that the people will "stumble" con-

tinually ("day and night" can be taken as a merism to denote "all the

time") in their sin (v 5; cf. 5:5; 14:1, 9 [MT = 14:2, 10]) accompanied by


25 Note the commentaries by Harper, Mays, Wolff, Andersen and Freedman, Stuart,

Hubbard and Davies. Because of the change to the third person plural pronoun in 4:7,

Andersen and Freedman hold that 4:7-10 refer to the children of the priests (Hosea,

354, 358); Hubbard agrees (Hosea, 101). The difficulty in interpretation is also evident in

the Targum, which sees references to both the people (4:4-7, 9-10) and the priests (4:8).

See The Targum of the Minor Prophets, eds. K. J. Cathcart, M. Maher, M. McNamara

(Edinburgh: or & or Clark, 1989) 14.36f.

26 The two most important emendations are at 4:4b, which is changed to read "with

you, O priest, is my contention" (cf. NEB, NRSV), and at 4:7b, where "I will exchange"

becomes "they exchange" (cf. NIV, NRSV). Note BHS and especially the discussions in

Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 344-50 and 355-58, respectively.

27 For this interpretation, see the commentaries by Keil and McComiskey ad loc, as

well as M. Deroche, "Structure and Meaning in Hosea IV 4-10; VT 33 (1983) 185-98.

28 Some have suggested that Yahweh's (or the prophet's) discourse in 4:4a is a

response to a complaint or an objection by a priest in the style of Amos 7:10-17. For An-

dersen and Freedman (Hosea, 345f.) and Davies (Hosea, 117), 4:4a could be the words of

the priest; for Mays (Hosea, 67), Stuart (Hosea-Jonah, 77), and Limburg (Hosea-Micah,

19), all of the verse is from the deity; Hubbard suggests that either view is possible (Hosea,

99f.). Of course, this point of view is intimately linked to the interpretation of 4:4-10 as

an indictment of the priesthood.



some of the prophets, who ideally were to be an example of holiness and

truth.29 Once again, one encounters the unexpected, but in reverse.

Whereas in 4:4 the reader at first glance wonders why the character of

the nation is connected with the wayward priests, here the mention of

the prophets does not seem to cohere with the other allusions to proph-

ets in the book, which are positive (6:5; 9:7-9; 12:10, 13 [MT = 12:11, 14]):

the supposed divine spokesperson accompanies the people in both guilt

and judgment. The literary effect is to communicate a world turned

upside down and full of contradictions. Israel argues with sinful priests,

yet will participate in their cult; prophets (perhaps just some of them?)

can proclaim Yahweh's message, while joining in sin. The power of the

passage is grounded in the incoherence and the opposing images: this is

a world bound for self-destruction, not only divine judgment.

This negative description of 4:4-5a is born out by the following

series of pictures; the multiplication of accusations cannot but under-

line the waywardness of the people. 4:5b-6 demonstrate a structure

of alternating indictment and punishment in which the repetition of

the verbs suggests a close correspondence between sin and chastise-

ment.30 The list marks its beginning and close with Yahweh's actions

against Israel.


5b I will destroy your mother          6a my people are destroyed

6ba you rejected knowledge            6bb I will reject you

6ca you ignored the Torah               6cb I also will ignore your


In addition to this structure, which shows graphically how the na-

tion is deserving of punishment, the content of these lines also proves

Israel's wilful guilt. There is no heeding the voice and instruction of God

(v 6): knowledge is lacking, even rejected, and the Torah is ignored. The

totality of Israel is to be judged, a fact metaphorically presented by the

use of "mother" (v 5b; observe the parallelism between "I will destroy

your mother" and "my people are destroyed") and "children" (v 6cb) to

refer to the nation.31 "Mother" and "children" form an inclusio to this se-

quence, serving as a reminder of the powerful image of fami1y through-


29 Because of the contrast with other references to the prophets, Wolff (Hosea, 77f.)

and Davies (Hosea, 118) see this phrase as a later gloss. Commentators who do not excise

the reference postulate that the criticism was directed at cult prophets (e.g., cf. Jer 2:8,

5:31, 14:18, 18:18).

30 Cf. Miller, Sin and Judgment in the Prophets, 12-14. Miller, however, takes 4:4-6

to be speaking of the priesthood.

31 Some who see 4:4-10 as referring to the priesthood will suggest that, along

with the direct condemnation, the mention of the mother and children would imply a

judgment upon three generations (cf. Amos 7:17; 1 Sam 2:27ff.). Note Mays, Hosea, 68f.;



out the book. Israel as mother echoes the opening chaps. (e.g., 2:2, 5

[MT = 2:4, 7]; cf. Isa 50:1), where the nation is chastened and put aside

for a time. The mention of children also turns the reader back to those

same chapters in which the names of the children of the prophet and

Gomer reflect the fate of Israel (also note 9:12, 13, 16; 10:14; 13:13). In

contrast to the character and fate of this mother and children at this time

Yahweh in the future will restore her and her children (1:10, 2:14-23

[MT = 2:1,16-25]). Yahweh is a loving parent who yearns to bring Israel,

his child/children, back to himself (11:1-4, 8-11; 14:7-8 [MT = 14:8-9]).

4:6 also declares that Israel's privileged position as "priest" (cf.

Exod 19:6, Isa 61 :5-6) among the nations is being rescinded. Once again

the term "priest" is utilized, and the literary play adds to the irony: the

people, who are like those who contend with a priest (v 4), will them-

selves no longer be Yahweh's priest. The rejection of tfaDa, with all that

this implies, disqualifies Israel from its special role. The use of "priest"

could also refer to the concept of Israel as a nation coming before Yah-

weh at the sanctuaries and during the holy days to offer sacrifices. The

Book of Hosea is replete with divine accusations against false worship

both at historic cult centers and the high places and Yahweh's rejection

of Israel's devotion.

The next pericope, 4:7-10, emphasizes the nation's lusting after

sin.32 Prosperity33 did not yield gratitude to Yahweh, but rather the

multiplication of sin (4:7a), its devouring ("feed on") and craving (4:8).

Thus Yahweh will humiliate the people, by exchanging their glory as

a successful nation for the shame of judgment (4:7b),34 and will punish

according to the measure of their evil deeds (4:9b). The last verse serves

as a transition to later prophetic words. 4:10 reintroduces the theme of


Wolff, Hosea, 78; Limburg, Hosea-Micah, 19. For a helpful discussion of the family

metaphor, although from a feminist perspective, see G. A Yee, “Hosea,” in The Women's

Bible Commentary, eds. C. A Newsom and S. H. Ringe (Louisville: Westminster/John

Knox, 1992) 198-202.

32 Deroche suggests that 4:7-10 have a chiastic structure ("Structure, Rhetoric, and

Meaning in Hosea IV 4-10, 195).

33 Those assuming 4:4-10 to speak of the priesthood take the “increase” in several

ways. E.g., Wolff (Hosea, 80f.) and Hubbard (Hosea, 102) see a reference to the increase in

the number of priests; Andersen and Freedman to their pride (Hosea, 354); Stuart to their

wealth (Hosea-Jonah, 78f.). NEB and NIV even interpolate the word “priests” at 4:7 (note

also that at v 6 the singular MT “priest” is altered in NIV to the plural, again injecting an

interpretation into the translation).

34 For the textual change proposed by BHS and several commentators, see above

n 26. If “increase” refers to national prosperity, then "glory” probably should be taken as

its parallel (cf. Keil, The Minor Prophets, 78; and McComiskey, The Minor Prophets, 63).

Deroche takes the term to mean Israel's fertility ("Structure, Rhetoric, and Meaning in

Hosea IV 4-10; 196).4:7 is by rabbinic tradition a tiqqune sopherim, a scribal change

from “my glory” to "their glory.”



Israel's promiscuity which had been dramatically portrayed in the first

three chapters. The next section (4:11-19) will return to the description

of the nations following after other gods instead of maintaining loyalty

to Yahweh alone, and other oracles will also use the metaphor for the

political arena (e.g., 7:4).

At the same time, it is important to notice three theoretical links

between these verses and the preceding pericope (4:4-6), which dem-

onstrate that the nation continues in view. To begin with, there is the

mention of the taking away of Israel's special status, as a priest in 4:6 and

as the recipient of glory in 4:7. Second, the punishment corresponds to

the sin. In 4:5b-6 this is expressed by an alternating structure, in 4:9b by

the two statements about suffering the just consequences of the sinful

"ways" and "deeds." Third, "priest" is used yet once more, here in the pro-

verbial comparative phrase "like people, like priest" (4:9). Still another

facet of the word play is added: the people, whose nature is to contest

priests and who no longer merit the privilege of serving as priest before

God, also set the pattern for the punishment of the priests, as the latter

are involved in the same sort of transgressions and are incorporated into

the same fate (notice that it is not the other way around). This juxtapo-

sition of people and priest in prophetic condemnation also appears at 5:1

and 6:8-9.

In sum, 4:4-10 is a message directed at the entire nation. In God's

view Israel has deliberately turned its back on him and enjoyed its sin.

These verses paint a dark picture of the heart of the people. The sin

which particularly deserves punishment is described in 4:11-19 and


A quick look at 4:11-19 reveals several items that are worthy of

judgment. Structurally it should be noticed that 4:11-14 are marked by

an inclusio which describes the people's lack of understanding (cf. 4:1,

6).35 Within this set of verses the prophetic word condemns several wor-

ship practices which reflect and perpetuate this blindness. The refer-

ence to drink that dulls the mind (4:11) should probably be understood

in a cultic context (cf. 2:8, 9, 22 [MT = 2:10, 11, 24]; 7:14; 9:1-2); the people

consult idols of wood (4:12; cf. Isa 44:8-20; Jer 2:2-3:9; Deut 18:9-22)

and offer sacrifices at non-Yahwistic cult centers (4:13). But who is being

worshipped at these places? Chapter two specifically mentions follow-

ing after the Baals, but does this signify that the veneration of other

deities was limited to the hilltop groves or simply that these were the

only gods worshipped there? Is some sort of Yahweh also adored at the

high places along with other deities? The text is neither clear nor specific.


35 Note, e.g., J. R Lundbom, "Poetic Structure and Prophetic Rhetoric in Hosea," VT

29 (1979) 300-308.



Israel is also described as being under the influence of a "spirit of

whoredom" (4:12, NRSV).36 In other words, this blameworthy ritualis-

tic activity is more than a passing phenomenon. Its hold goes much

deeper; it has seductively captured the heart and mind of the nation.

But, whereas vv 11 and 12 could very well be a metaphoric description

of the nation deserting the proper worship of Yahweh and seeking out

other deities or adoring Yahweh in an improper fashion, 4:13-14 do ap-

pear to be an account of some sort of sexual perversion within the cult.

Opinions differ over exactly what is being referred to, whether sacred

prostitution, a bridal initiation rite, general debauchery, or a combina-

tion of these activities.37 Whatever the precise charge, perversion is tied

in with worship, and both female and male take part.38

This picture of deplorable worship continues in 4:15-19. Drinking

is referred to again (v 18); the harlotry language reappears (vv 15, 19);

the term "spirit" is utilized once more to describe the grip of the false

worship that pushes Israel inexorably to ruin (v 19);39 and the idols of

v 17 connect back to the objects of v 12. The inability and unwillingness

to follow the guidance of the Yahweh of the prophet and appreciate his

nurture is underscored in 4:16 by the sharply sarcastic comparison of


36 Whereas the Hvr, ("spirit") in 4:12 is usually taken to refer simply to the strong

influence of idolatry upon the nation, Andersen and Freedman see other deities in the

verse (Hosea, 365-67; 650). Hubbard does not go that far, but does use the phrase "de-

monic power" both at 4:12 and 5:4 (Hosea, 105, 115, respectively).

37 See the discussion and references in H. M Barstad, The Religious Polemics of

Amos: Studies in the Preaching of Am 2, 7B-8; 4,1-13; 5,1-27; 6,4-7; 8,14 (Leiden: E. J.

Brill, 1984) 17-36. Barstad does not believe that cultic prostitution was practiced in the an-

cient Near East and suggests that Hos 4:14 is a metaphoric description of worshipping

other gods (cf. Toews, Monarchy and Religious Institution under Jeroboam 1; 162-65).

Commentators who do hold to the practice of cultic prostitution include: Harper (Amos

and Hosea, 261f.), Mays (Hosea, 74f.), Stuart (Hosea-Jonah. 82f.), Hubbard (Hosea, 81f.),

Andersen and Freedman (Hosea, 157-69,370-72). Cf. Marvin H. Pope, Song of Songs (Gar-

den City: Doubleday, 1977) 210-29; Phillip J. King, Amos, Hosea, Micah--An Archaeo-

logical Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1988) 88-107. Wolff has proposed the

idea of a bridal initiation rite (Hosea, 14-15, 86-87) and is followed by Koch (The Proph-

ets, 80,83-85), and Hubbard (Hosea, 106). For a combination of these options, see Davies,

Hosea (OTG), 48-50.

38 Some who understand chap. 4 as speaking of the priesthood take those men-

tioned in 4:13-14 to be the family members of the priesthood (Wolff, Hosea, 86-88; An-

dersen and Freedman, Hosea, 369f.; Hubbard, Hosea, 106).

39 Hvr, can mean both "wind" (8:7; 12:1 [Heb 12:2]; 13:15) and "spirit" (as in 4:12;

cf. 5:4). This could be a double entendre, which describes the power of the wind/spirit.

Our reading, in light of the proximity to 4:12 and 5:4, is to understand the term here to

be another reference to the "spirit of whoredom" (cf. Mays, Hosea, 79; Hubbard, Hosea,

111). Not all commentators would agree, however. E.g., Andersen and Freedman see an

allusion to a deity (Hosea, 376, 650). Stuart takes the reference to be to literal destruction

(Hosea-Jonah. 86; cf. Keil, The Minor Prophets, 84), McComiskey to the flow of events be-

yond the nation's control (The Minor Prophets, 73).



Israel to a "stubborn heifer" (cf. 10:11). Elsewhere this prophetic book

will describe the nation as a dove (7:11f., 11:11) and as a donkey (8:9).

Each of these metaphors gives a different nuance to the character of

Israel: In this case, the import of the description is to vividly emphasize

that the nation cannot and will not heed its shepherd.

What is particularly striking is the mention of two historic shrines

in 4:15 (though note the ironic change of Bethel to Beth-Aven, "house

of evil") in the midst of this diatribe against Israel's religious practices.

This prophetic word commands Israel not to go to the ancient Yah-

wistic holy places and forbids the people to make traditional oaths.

What actually is being communicated? Is this a denunciation of these

cultic centers per se? Is the problem that the kind of worship decried

in the preceding verses is also evident at these sites? Or, is it that the

veneration at the high places disqualifies the people from being able

to go to the Yahwistic centers? On the other hand, what is the Yahweh

worshipped at Gilgal and Bethel like? Is he the Yahweh of the official

religious establishment and/or one of the people's making? How do

these differ from each other and how does each match up with the god

of the prophet? Questions abound and serve to complicate even more

the picture of religious faith and practice in this textual world.

Although the entire nation is the target in 4:11-19, could there be

those who are most directly responsible for this state of affairs? 5:1-7

could provide the answer. The opening verse to this pericope mentions

three groups: the priests, the people ("house of Israel"),40 and the po-

litical bureaucracy of the monarchy ("house of the king"). Because 5:1

mentions two other important sites in Israel's traditions, Mizpah and

Tabor,41 some commentators see that this pericope is directed at the na-

tional leadership, especially the religious functionaries. This view could

find support in that cultic activities are listed in vv 6 and 7.42 However,

though 5:1 does cite the leadership, this section seems to have a broader


40 Some take "house of Israel" to mean just the North (Keil, The Minor Prophets,

85; Harper, Amos and Hosea, 268; Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 384; McComiskey,

The Minor Prophets, 95; Davies, Hosea, 137), others both Israel and Judah (Hubbard,

Hosea, 112). Our reading accepts the former point of view. Mays (Hosea, 80f.), Wolff

(Hosea, 97f.), and Stuart (Hosea-Jonah, 91) would see the phrase as another reference to

the leadership.

41 The first line of 5:2 is an interpretative crux. Many commentators would emend

the text to create a triple accusation and a third place name (Shittim; cf. 9:10; Num 25)

to parallel the three indictments of 5:1 (cf. NRSV). Those suggesting the changes in-

clude Harper (Amos and Hosea, 269), Wolff (Hosea, 98), Mays (Hosea, 81), Stuart

(Hosea-Jonah, 90-92), and Yair Mazor, "Hosea 5.1-3: Between Compositional Rhetoric

and Rhetorical Composition," JSOT 45 (1989) 115-26. Our reading retains the MT See

Andersen and Freedman, Hosea. 386-88.

42 E.g., Hubbard, Hosea, 112.



scope. Not only is the nation referred to in 5:1, a number of words and

phrases echo the earlier descriptions of Israel in chap. 4. Notice, for

example, the reference to prostitution (v 3; 4:10-15, 18), "their deeds"

(v 4; 4:9), "do not acknowledge Yahweh" (v 4; 4:1; cf. 4:11,14), "spirit of

whoredom" (v 4: 4:12), "stumble" (v 5; 4:5), and "children" (v 7; 4:6). As

in 4:9, others in 5:1- 7 are mentioned and incorporated into the broader

population's sin and judgment.

5:1- 7 once again demonstrates that a lack of religious zeal is not the

problem. These verses imply worship at Yahweh cult centers, because of

the mention of Mizpah and Tabor (5:1) and because the nation is pic-

tured as bringing animals for sacrifice (5:6) and celebrating the New

Moon festival (5:7).43 Even so, the stiff-necked and self-indulgent nature

of the religious activity emphasized by the character traits alluded to in

the previous paragraph make communion with Yahweh based upon

repentance impossible ("return,” bUw [sub]; 5:4a). The prophetic invec-

tive, as in 4:11-19, is full of irony: Yahweh "knows" the depth of Israel's

sin (5:3), though the nation refuses to "acknowledge" him (5:4); they

"seek" him at the sanctuaries, but he has withdrawn himself from them

(5:6); their cult symbolizes unfaithfulness, thus the New Moon will

destroy crop yields and not be a celebration of divine blessing (5:7).

4:4-5:7; therefore, is a sustained attack on religious activity in Is-

rael (with the occasional remark for Judah--4:15, 5:5). Though precise

reconstruction is difficult, several impressions stand out. To begin with,

this is a very religiously active people. The nation goes to a variety of

sanctuaries, both those linked with the historical traditions (4:15; 5:1,6)

as well as the high places (4:13). In addition, the activity is varied: Israel

offers sacrifices (4:13, 14; 5:6) and consults different cult articles (4:12).

Yet, this worship is censured, as it is based on blind ignorance (4:6, 11,

14, 16; 5:4) and characterized by debauchery (4:13-14, 18). Their efforts

are considered to be mere harlotry, the forsaking of Yahweh to follow

after other gods and customs (4:10-12, 15, 17; 5:4).

But, understanding the divine object of all this religiosity is more

difficult. Earlier chapters give notice that the nation venerates other

deities and 4:17 mentions idols, but other issues surface. How, for in-

stance, do these beliefs affect faith in Yahweh, at both official and popu-

lar levels? Is Yahweh worshipped solely at the sanctuaries, or also at the

high places? At the very least, it can be said that the nation does not ap-

pear to see any contradiction of faith in worshipping various deities and


43 5:7b has been interpreted in various ways, and several have suggested emenda-

tions (e.g., Wolff, Hosea, 95, who follows LXX; cf. NEB). Although some recent commen-

tators understand Yahweh to be the subject (Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 396-98;

Davies, Hosea, 144-45), a more natural grammatical reading is for New Moon (wdH) to

be the subject.



feels that Yahweh will be pleased with their offerings. The Yahweh of

the prophet, however, brooks no rivals and thus announces judgment.

Sometimes this word of chastisement is vague (4:5, 9, 14; 5:2), but in one

verse Yahweh declares that he will withdraw and not meet them at the

cult centers (5:6). On two occasions he says that punishment will affect

provisions and crops (4:10; 5:7), thus repeating the message in chap. 2

of a judgment of want that challenges the pretensions of the baals (2:8-

13, 22 [MT = 2:10-15, 24]). Whatever the various theologies of the na-

tion, changing the people's comprehension to a truer picture of Yahweh

seems practically impossible. The spirit of whoredom has dug deep

roots (4:12, 19; 5:4); Yahweh can only reject this incorrigible and per-

verse religious farce and depart.


Religion and Politics (5:8-7:16)


The long section that begins at 5:8 with a change in imagery and

a series of imperatives and extends through chap. 7 redirects attention

from the practice of worship to the political arena. Religion, however,

is still a central concern, as demonstrated, for instance, by the well-

known divine demand in 6:6 for an ethical faith. Religion signifies more

than cultic activity; it encompasses the interweaving of that activity and

theology into different spheres of national existence.

Even though the general scholarly consensus is that the first set of

verses of this section (5:8-15) has as its historical background the events

surrounding the Syro-Ephraimite War of 734-732 B.C.,44 the particular

allusions can be difficult to confidently identify. 5:8-11 are often under-

stood as a reference to a counter-attack on Israel by Judah in the war's

aftermath,45 and 5:13 (also 7:8-13) would point to appeals to the super-

powers Assyria46 and Egypt in the context of that turmoil. Whatever the

exact historical setting, it is clear that the national political leaders and


44 See, e.g., H. Donner, "The Separate States of Israel and Judah; Israelite and

Judaean History, eds. J. H. Hayes and J. M. Miller (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977) 422-

32, and J. M. Miller and J. H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (Philadelphia:

Westminster, 1986) 314-39. Among commentators, note especially Wolff, Hosea, 110-12;

Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 99-101; Hubbard, Hosea, 118-20, Davies, Hosea, 145-48. Andersen

and Freedman are more cautious Hosea, 401-05.

45 When taken in the context of the Syro-Ephraimite War, the moving of the

boundary stones (cf. Deut 19:14, 27:17) in 5:10 could refer to Judah making inroads into

Israel. See the commentaries and J. A. Dearman, Property Rights in the Eighth-Century

prophets: The Conflict and its Background (Atlanta: Scholars, 1988) 34-37. For a con-

trary opinion regarding this historical reconstruction, see P. M. Arnold, "Hosea and the

Sin of Gibeah," CBQ 51 (1989) 447-60.

46 Commentators usually take bry jlm (also at 10:6) as a title for the Assyrian mon-

arch: "the great king" (cf. NEB, NIV; NRSV). Exceptions include seeing the phrase as a



the people look to other empires, not Yahweh, when facing this major

crisis. No matter what they might espouse about Yahweh, the experience

of the alliances reveal a lack of faith and a limited view of God. In a

sense, Assyria and Egypt take Yahweh's place as Israel's protector and

savior. On the other hand, the turning to others exposes the nation to the

arrogance of the superpowers and puts Israel at the mercy of these em-

pires' plans and ambitions.47 The disfavor of Yahweh is vividly por-

trayed by two metaphors of judgment: He is like putrefaction to both

Israel and Judah (5:12), and like a vociferous lion that rips the flesh of

his people who have sought help elsewhere (5:14; cf. 13:7-8). Later, the

metaphor of judgment will change: Yahweh is a hunter who entraps the

silly dove that is Israel (7:11-12).

The natural flow of these initial verses to 6:6 suggests an inter-

change between Yahweh and Israel: Yahweh accuses (5:8-15), the

nation responds (6:1-3), and Yahweh replies (6:4-6).48 Catchwords

bind Israel's speech in 6:1-3 with Yahweh's earlier criticism: bUw (sub,

"return,”6:1a, 5:15a),  JrF (trp, "tear to pieces; 6:1b, 5:14b), and xpr

(rp', "heal;" 6:1b, 5:13c). Yahweh has brought suffering to Israel, but he,

unlike Assyria, can heal the nation's wounds; he rends them asunder

and then returns to his place until they repent, so they issue a call to

return to Yahweh. The mimicry of Yahweh's vocabulary by Israel in

6:1-3 can give the impression that the nation sincerely does desire, or

at least is open, to respond to Yahweh's demands.49 A more careful

reading, however, yields a different interpretation.

To begin with, it is important to place 6:1-3 within the broader con-

text of the world of the book. This is a religious nation that worships


proper name ("King Jareb," NASB [cf. LXX]) or as a name with special prophetic

significance ("king of Yareb" with Yareb meaning "let him contend,” McComiskey, The

Minor Prophets, 85).

47 J. L. Sicre, Los dioses olvidados. Poder y riqueza en los profetas preexilicos

(Madrid: Cristiandad, 1979) 34-50; M. C. Lind, "Hosea 5:8-6:6," Int 38 (1984) 398-403.

Also note the different contributions to the discussion of Israelite faith and intema-

tional relations by N. K. Gottwald, All the Kingdoms of the Earth: Israelite Prophecy

and International Relations in the Ancient Near East (New York: Harper & Row, 1964)

351-92; W McKane, Prophets and Wise Men (London: SCM, 1969); Toews, Monarchy

and Religious Institution in Israel under Jeroboam I 159-66.

48 Though some identify 6:1-3 as the prophet's speech (e.g., McComiskey, The Mi-

nor Prophets, 88; Davies, Hosea, 150-52, 160), most commentators see these as repre-

senting the nation's words. LXX makes this latter option clear by adding le<gontej to

5:15 to introduce 6:1-3.

49 So Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 416; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 107; McComiskey,

The Minor Prophets, 88; Davies, Hosea, 150-52; J. Wingaards, "Death and Resurrection

in Covenantal Context (Hos VI 2)," VT 17 (1967) 226-39. Mays (Hosea, 94) and Wolff

(Hosea, 117) believe that these lines are drawn from a liturgy of repentance and are a

later addition by redactors.



Yahweh, that has priests who fulfill cultic obligations, and that cele-

brates traditional feast days. The mere fact, therefore, that Israel

mouths proper jargon is no proof of a true commitment to change. These

lines also do not contain any hint of repentance (contrast especially

14:1-3 [MT = 14:2-4]). Other oracles in chaps. 4-7 stridently declare

that, no matter what Israel might say, the nation does not acknowledge

Yahweh (4:1, 6; cf. 4:11, 14); their seeking is only cultic (4;15, 5:6-7), so

any confidence that restoration automatically will follow in the manner

of nature's rain cycles (6:2-3) is misplaced; and their return to him (6:1)

is impossible because of rebellion (5:4; 6:11-7:2; 7:10, 14-16; cf. 11:7).

Therefore, 6:1-3 are consistent with the picture of a religious people

who claim Yahweh as their own but who have strayed far from his

demands and ideals.

The ambivalence of Yahweh's reaction in 6:4 reflects the tension

between the desire to accept the people's religious gesture and his re-

alization of its emptiness.50 Yahweh's frustration is rhetorically empha-

sized by the double question of v 4 (cf..11:8), and the divine displeasure

is marked by the ironic words which follow. Drawing upon the earlier

allusion to nature's rains (6:3), Yahweh compares Israel's fickle love to

mist and dew (6:4; cf. 13;3, 14:5 [MT = 14:6]). While they expect him to

go forth (xcy, [ys']) and appear as the dawn (6:3), he declares that his

piercing judgment,51 as it had done in the past through the prophets,

goes forth (xcy) like the light (6:5). And, instead of the self-assured

recourse to ritual, he desires the covenant qualities ds,H, and tfaDa (6:6)

that is, those virtues which introduce chaps. 4-7.

The desire for mercy and acknowledgment of God in 6:6 cannot be

limited to individual ethics. 5:8-7:16 locate this requirement within the

political sphere, and this at two levels: 5:8-15 and 7:8-13 refer partic-

ularly to international relations, whereas 6:9-7:7 allude to problems

within Israel's borders. This positioning of 6:1-3 within this context

suggests a view of Yahweh within this political framework, possibly as

the national deity at the official cult. There is then at least a formal turn-

ing to Yahweh at the cult in time of national need. The words of the

people, though, betray a theology that could reflect belief in the effica-

ciousness of traditional ritual and doctrinal formulas, rather than a sub-

stantial trusting in Yahweh. In other words, religion and Yahweh

himself are placed at the service of the state and the status quo.

The denunciation continues in 6:7-7:7. Differences in interpreta-

tion arise over the nature of the crimes mentioned in 6:7-11a,52 but


50 Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose, 149-57.

51 Reading "my judgment" with LXX for MT "your judgments." See the commen-

taries and versions.

52 Important interpretative issues in 6:7-9 include (a) the meaning of Mdxk

(k'dm) in 6:7; (b) the question as to the meaning of the reference to "covenant" in 6:7; and



whatever their exact details, it is clear that violence reigns and that the

priests are somehow involved. Lexical links to 5:1-7 suggest that the in-

volvement of the religious hierarchy in the rebellion alluded to there is

given greater explanation here in chap. 6. Space will only permit the

listing of some of these connections. Note, for example: "deal falsely"

(dgB [bgd]; 6:7; 5:7), the explicit condemnation of the priests (6:9; 5:1),

the mention of a sanctuary (Shechem, 6:9; 5:1), the defilement of

Ephraim-Israel (6:10; 5:3), the metaphor of harlotry (6:10; 5:4), and the

juxtaposition of Israel-Ephraim-Judah (6:10-11a; 5:5). These literary

observations signal the interweaving of various spheres of national life

within this textual world. Religion is not an isolated area of existence,

sanctuaries are places of both worship and intrigue, and religious per-

sonnel are not piously removed from the harsh realities of the struggles

of greed and power.

The priests also could very well be involved in the political violence

that is described in 6:11b-7:7. There are similarities in vocabulary and

ideas between 7:1-2 and 6:7-9, and the third person plural verbs and

suffixes in this passage might continue the accusation of the preceding

pericope.53 7:3-7 appear to refer to a plot to assassinate the king and re-

move his princes,54 and the passion of the protagonists of the coup is viv-

idly depicted with the metaphor of a heated oven.55 The denunciation


(c) whether these verses refer to three separate crimes at the three places mentioned or

to three episodes of a single atrocity. Concerning (a): most commentators read Mdxk as

Mdxb--i.e., as reference to a place called Adam (Josh 3:16). Harper, though, reads "like

men" (Amos and Hosea, 288), and McComiskey ''as Adam" and understands the phrase

as an allusion to Genesis 2-3 (Minor Prophets, 95; cf. idem, The Covenants of Promise:

A Theology of Old Testament Covenants [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985] 213-16; cf. Keil,

The Minor Prophets, 99f.). (b) see the references in supra, n. 10. (c) Most see three sepa-

rate sins in 6:7-9. Andersen and Freedman (Hosea, 438f.) and Hubbard (Hosea, 128f.)

relate these lines to the conspiracy against the throne in 7:3-7. If 6:9 is a separate crime,

perhaps the allusion is to priestly violence against any opposition to their status and role

(Mays, Hosea, 101; Wolff, Hosea, 122; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 111f.).

53 Note Nvx ylfp (p'ly 'wn "doers of evil," 6:8) and rqw vlfp (p'lw sqr "they do false-

hood; 7:1);  dvdg (gdwd "robber") in 6:9, 7:1. In addition, if 6:7-11a refer to the coup in

7:3-7, then the mention of Gilead in 6:8 might allude to those of Gilead who participated

in Pekah's conspiracy (2 Kgs 15:25). Cf. Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 447f.; Hubbard,

Hosea, 129, 132. Most commentators speak in a more vague way of "conspirators."

54 The scenario of 7:3-7 is most often taken as the coup of Hoshea against Pekah

(2 Kgs 15:30), though some would also consider Pekah's revolt (2 Kgs 15:25) a possibility.

"The day of our king" of 7:5 is vague and has been understood as a reference to the

royal coronation, the anniversary of the king's birthday, or the day of his death. "All their

kings have fallen" in 7:7 could be more general and include all or some of the coups of

the final decades of Israel's existence as a state.

55 See S. M. Paul, "The Image of the Oven and the Cake in Hosea Vii 4-10," VT 18

(1968) 114-20 and the commentaries. There is disagreement on some details and their

meaning. E.g., Is the baker part of the metaphor or an allusion to a particular official?



of this tumultuous scene explains in part the text's aversion to Israel's

monarchy.56 What is of concern here, however, is not a decision regard-

ing Hosea's evaluation of the institution of the monarchy, but rather the

relationship of politics to faith and religious practice.

On the one hand, the cult functionaries take part in the political vio-

lence. They lead the people in the religious ceremonies and in the con-

fessions of faith at the sanctuaries, but do not themselves practice mercy

or exhibit the knowledge of God.. Their involvement in the intrigue

results in the sanctuaries and traditional centers being included in the

prophetic condemnation. On the other hand, 6:7-7:7 confirm the nation's

refusal to truly seek Yahweh in the midst of political turmoil and

upheaval. 7:7 ends with "and none of them calls upon me." This refusal

is repeated in 7:10 within the broader context of international politics.

In 7:14-16, when the people do callout, it is in some sort of entreaty to

another deity.57 This final accusation at the end of this section is an echo

of 6:4-6: Yahweh would wish for repentance and trust, instead of the

misdirected and inappropriate cries of Israel's religiosity. Perhaps 7:14-

16 also returns to scenes of more popular belief and practice described

in earlier chapters.

Religion, therefore, is tied in with politics and foreign policy. If 4:4-

5:7 condemned primarily the rituals of Israel's worship (both official and

popular), 5:8-7:16 concentrate on the nation's incorrect perception of

Yahweh's relationship to national decision making and politics. The dis-

cussion has demonstrated that the shared vocabulary and themes under-

score that these two major sections of chaps. 4-7 hit at different elements

of a large picture of religious life and understanding. Two other links are


56 For discussions on the book's evaluation of the monarchy, see for instance,

A Caquot, "Osee et la Royaute," RevQ 7 (1960) 123-46; J. A. Soggin, "Profezia e Rivo-

luzione Nell'Antico Testamento: L'opera di Elia e di Eliseo nella valutazione di Osea,"

Protestantesimo 25 (1970) 1-14; M. A Cohen, "The Prophets as Revolutionaries: A

Sociopolitical Analysis,” BAR 5 (1979) 12-19; Emmerson, Hosea, 105-13; Davies, Hosea

(OTG), 62-65; L McComiskey, "Prophetic Irony in Hosea 1:4: A Study of the Collocation

lf lqp and its Implications for the Fall of Jehu's Dynasty; JSOT 58 (1993) 93-101. The

basic options are: opposition to the institution of the monarchy, antipathy to the turbu-

lent politics of the North but not to the monarchy as such, and support of a Davidic dy-

nasty instead of the Northern monarchy. J. Pixley contextualizes the topic to Latin

America in "Oseas: Una propuesta de lectura desde America Latina," Revista de inter-

pretacion biblica latinoamericana 1 (1988) 67-86.

57 The difficult lf xl vbvwy (yswbw l' 'l) of 7:16a has been taken in several ways,

though all interpretations communicate in their own way the condemnation of Israel's

religious rebellion. E.g., BHS, Harper (Amos and Hosea, 307), and Davies (Hosea, 192)

suggest emending to "to Baal," Wolff (Hosea, 108) to "not to me"; Andersen and Freed-

man (Hosea, 477f.) and Hubbard (Hosea, 142) understand lf xl as an epithet ("no god")

for Baal; Keil (The Minor Prophets, 110) and McComiskey (The Minor Prophets, 116)

take lf as "upward" ("they do not turn upward," i.e., to Yahweh).



especially telling. First, the arrogance of Israel which is condemned in

5:5 reappears verbatim in 7:10. Unsuccessful cultic seeking (wqb [bqs,

5:6-7) immediately follows these words in 5:5; 7:10, though, says there

is no seeking (wqb). This is not a contradiction. Both statements are true:

Israel does come to a Yahweh of its own making according to its own

desires and preconceived theology, but the Yahweh of the prophet

rejects this manipulative ritual and erroneous faith. Second, 6:10 clearly

picks up the vocabulary of 5:3. This coupling reveals that the spirit of

harlotry is also to be found in politics (5:8-7:16) and not only in cultic

irregularities (4:4-5:7).

The accusations and condemnation are both particular and broad.

Though certain groups, such as the priests and the political leaders are

singled out in 5:8-7:16, it is evident that the nation stands condemned.

"Ephraim" appears in parallel to "Israel" (note 5:9, 6:10; 7:8-10)58 and

in 5:12-14 and 6:4, 10-11 is juxtaposed to the nation of Judah; "all" is

used repeatedly in chapter 7 (7:2, 4, 7, 10), and at least in 7:7b most

probably refers to the entire nation; and the descriptions of stubborn-

ness and sin echo other passages in the book. The references to the

"tribes of Israel" (5:9), the "house of Israel" (6:10) and "my people"

(6:11) also show that the prophetic word is directed at the entire nation.

That is, although 5:8-7:16 focuses on the leadership more clearly and

consistently than 4:4-5:7, in both sections the tension between general

and more circumscribed guilt and responsibility remains. The leader-

ship is held especially accountable for the sin and resulting disasters,

but the people are accused because they too participate in and support

this social construction of reality. This world stands condemned to de-

struction. Yahweh himself has made them ill and exposed their internal

rot and silliness (5;12-13; 7:8-11); they will be devoured and carried off

(5:14; 7:9, 12-13, 16). This world which presents itself as Yahweh's and

which comes to offer him worship can no longer continue.




This brief perusal of Hosea 4-7 has attempted to demonstrate the

breadth of the comprehensive prophetic condemnation of religion in

the textual world of this prophetic book. What is denounced is an

incorrect view of God that is manifest in the cultic centers and feasts

(4:4-5:7), as well as fleshed out in national politics and international

relations (5:8-7:16). This misconstrual of the nature of Yahweh and

the perverse consequences are visible in all the interconnected facets


58 Some try to distinguish between Israel and Ephraim at several points. Note, e.g.,

Hubbard on 6:10-11 (Hosea, 130).



of Israel's life and cannot be limited to any one realm. This religious

"world," which is the complex socio-political, cultic and cultural entity

called "Israel" (or "Ephraim"), is to be judged. It claims in some way to

be Yahweh's, yet for Yahweh, all is harlotry, hypocrisy, and defilement.

The entire nation, and especially the religious and political leadership,

stand charged before the prophetic tribunal as worthy of divine chas-

tisement, even abandonment by the covenant God.



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