Study Guide

Hosea in The Twelve Minor Prophets

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What do you call the man who has a thing for women who openly cheat on him? Well, lots of things, actually, but the one that’s suitable for biblical Shmoop is none other than “the prophet Hosea.” Existentialist theologian Martin Buber says that marrying a prostitute is the quintessential expression of the way that faith blends physical experience with spiritual mystery, but try explaining that to your parents.

Hosea lived and prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE. What’s alleged to be his tomb is located in the town of Safed in the north part of present-day Israel. He probably lived through the Assyrian invasion of Israel.

Say what one will about Hosea, he sure knows how to get folks’ attention. Check out the verses that open his book after the scene-setting intro:

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.’ So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. (NRSV 1:2-3)

From there it only gets wackier and even a bit disturbing, as Hosea sinks into a pattern of stalkerish domestic abuse to make a bigger point about how God is going to punish Israel for its unfaithfulness and treachery. What makes Hosea’s prophecies even more bizarre is that he expresses them as a series of breach of contract, or covenant, lawsuits, with God simultaneously playing the roles of prosecutor, judge and Nancy Grace.

Nonetheless, Hosea isn’t only just about exposing and condemning Israel’s sins. He is also a prophet of restoration: if the Israelites turn back to God, he will rescue them from the horrible consequences of their disobedience, such as foreign invasion, the destruction of their land, the humiliation of their families and years of bitter exile.

They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon. (NRSV 14:7)

See, that’s not so bad now, is it?

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