Avraham ben Yaakov
HOSEA CHAPTER 1
WHY START THE TWELVE "MINOR" PROPHETS NOW?
According to an ancient tradition, the order of the NEVI'IM ("prophets") as written in the scroll of the TaNaCh was: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and "the Twelve" (="minor" prophets). The Talmud asks why Isaiah is placed AFTER Jeremiah and Ezekiel, since he lived several generations earlier. It answers that since the book of Kings ends with the destruction of the Temple , it is fitting to read Jeremiah directly after it since his main theme is destruction. Ezekiel begins with destruction and ends with comfort, while Isaiah is all comfort, and thus destruction comes next to destruction and comfort next to comfort (Bava Basra 14b).
The Twelve "minor" prophets are not minor in the sense that they were any less in spiritual stature than the "major" prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel but only because their surviving written prophecies are much shorter. These twelve short prophetic works are accounted as one book and written together in a single scroll so that they should not get lost, which would be easy if each was on a separate small scroll.
The first of The Twelve is Hosea. The Talmud (ibid.) explains that the book of Hosea ought to have been written before that of his contemporary Isaiah because Hosea started prophesying first. However, since, for the reason given above, Hosea's prophecy was included in the same scroll as Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, who came well after Isaiah at the end of the period of the prophets at the time of the building of the Second Temple, the entire book of the twelve "minor" prophets is placed after Isaiah in the traditional order of the books of the Bible. [The Talmud states that it was Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and the Men of the Great Assembly who wrote the twelve "minor" prophets in one scroll when they saw that Holy Spirit was departing from the world: they wrote down their own prophecies and included with them those of the earlier "minor" prophets in order to ensure they would not get lost. Bava Basra 15a, Rashi ad loc.]
Despite the fact that in the traditional order Ezekiel comes after Kings, we have followed a different order in our Bible study, because after completing Kings II we went directly to Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, which are contained in KESUVIM (=writings), the third component of TaNaKh. The reason for doing so was to study the HISTORY of Israel consecutively, since Daniel picks up the narrative of the exile to Babylon exactly where the last two chapters of Kings II leave off. (When people follow Kings II with Isaiah or Ezekiel etc. they normally reach Daniel etc. only very much later and easily become confused about the history and chronology.)
Having completed our study of the biblical books that are mainly devoted to historical narrative (with the exception of II Chronicles, which retells for a somewhat different purpose the history of Israel until the exile in Babylon), we should now have an overall grasp of the historical framework within which to gain deeper understanding of the prophets. They were addressing the people of their time in the historical conditions in which they were caught up - and thus make constant references to the national and international realities of their times. At the same time, their prophecies are the Word of God as addressed to all the generations to come, and they are as relevant today as they were when they were first spoken. Through clearer understanding of the historical context in which they prophesied, we can better know how their message applies to us in the world we live in today. Since history is cyclical, the spiritual roots of the situation we face today lie deeply embedded in the situation addressed by the prophets.
The reason for studying The Twelve "minor" prophets before approaching the lengthy books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel is that the study of The Twelve serves as an excellent introduction to the language and methods of the prophets, which are very different from most of the historical narratives we have studied until now.
WHO WAS HOSEA?
Verse 1 of our present chapter tells us that Hosea ben Be'eri prophesied in the days of Uziah, Yotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah , and Yerav'am ben Yo'ash king of Israel (see Kings II chs 14-20). Uziah came to the throne 223 years before the destruction of the First Temple . It was in the time of Hezekiah, who died 110 years before the destruction, that the Ten Tribes were taken into exile in the year 3205 (555 B.C.E.).
Hosea's father Be'eri is Be'erah mentioned in I Chronicles 5:6 as prince of the tribe of Reuven, and he was also a prophet (Isaiah 8:19-20). From verse 2 of our present chapter the rabbis learned that Hosea was the first of four great prophets who prophesied in the same period. The other three were Amos, Isaiah, and Michah. Hosea received Torah from Zechariah son of Yehoyada the High Priest, who received it from Elisha. Hosea was the greatest of the four prophets of his time, and he taught Amos, who in turn taught Isaiah, who taught Michah (Rambam, Introduction to Mishneh Torah). Hosea prophesied for ninety years (Pesachim 87a). "Said the Holy One blessed be He to Reuven: You were the first to repent. By your life, your son's son will stand up and be the first to open up with Teshuvah, as it is written, Return, Israel to the Lord your God" (Hosea 14:2, Bereishis Rabbah 84:18). Hosea's reproofs were primarily directed against the Ten Tribes under the leadership of Ephraim. The gravesite of Hosea is said to be in a burial cave in the old cemetery of Safed in the Galilee , which can be visited until today. However some authorities dispute this identification, stating that the grave in question is that of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiya. Some believe the grave of the prophet Hosea to be east of the River Jordan.
"GO TAKE FOR YOURSELF A WIFE OF HARLOTRY AND CHILDREN OF HARLOTRY" (v 2)
Z'NOOS (="harlotry"), a recurrent theme in Hosea, is a metaphor for faithlessness to God - forsaking one's true "husband" and going after other "lovers"=idols (cf. Numbers 15:39, recited twice daily in the third paragraph of Shema). In Hosea's time the Children of Israel reached the lowest level both in relation to God and in their behavior to one another. The rabbis stated that God hinted to Hosea that he should pray for the people, but he replied that God should change them for another people (an early example of "replacement theology"). "The Holy One blessed be He said, What can I do with this elder. I'll tell him to take a harlot who will bear children who may nor may not be his, and I'll tell him to send them away. If he agrees, I too will send Israel away. So it was: Hosea married Gomer bas Divlayim, a known harlot, who bore him children who were given names alluding to their future fate, but when God asked Hosea to divorce and send them away, Hosea began asking for mercy so that they could stay with him. The Holy One blessed be He said to Hosea: This wife is not loyal to you and the children are not definitely yours but you still want them. How then can you tell me to send away Israel , the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, one of the possessions I have acquired in the world? Hosea immediately understood that he had erred in what he said and begged for mercy on Israel " (Pesachim 87a).
Some of the rabbis took Hosea's marriage with this harlot as having happened literally (Pesachim 87a), while others saw it as essentially a prophetic allegory (see Targum Yonasan and RaDaK on v 2).
The prophecy in the present chapter deals with:
vv 1-3: Hosea's marriage with the harlot.
vv 4-5: The birth of the son Yizra'el (="God will scatter") and the prophecy of the punishment that would be visited on the house of Yehu ben Nimshi, who had shed the blood of the house of Ahab (="the blood of Yizra'el", the location where they were killed, II Kings ch 9) but who later practiced idolatry himself.
vv. 6-7: Birth of the daughter Lo-Ruhamah (="not shown love"), a prophecy of the punishment of Israel and comfort to Judah .
vv. 8-9: Birth of the son Lo-Ami (="not My people"), a metaphor of God's abandonment of Israel .
This chapter of consolation follows directly after the first chapter dealing with punishment as if to indicate that after God told him to marry a harlot etc. Hosea realized he had sinned in having earlier said that God should divorce the unfaithful nation (Pesachim 87b; Rashi on v 1). "What connection is there between chapters 1 and 2? It can be compared to a king who was angry with his wife and summoned the scribe to write her a GET (=bill of divorce), but by the time the scribe arrived, the king was reconciled with his wife. He said, How can I send this scribe away wondering why I summoned him? The king told the scribe to write a new KESUBAH (marriage contract) double the value of the first" (Sifrei quoted by Rashi on v 1).
Vv. 1-3: Prophecy of consolation and redemption, opposite of the harsh prophecy of the previous chapter. Verse 2 prophecies the reunification of Judah and Israel , who will appoint over themselves "one head" (=Mashiach) and come up from "the land" (=exile). ".for great is the day of Yizre'el, i.e. the day of their ingathering from having been "sown" (ZARA) and "scattered" by God. Thus Hosea, who lived even before the exile of the Ten Tribes, was looking at the entire sweep of history that will culminate in the healing of the split between Judah and the Ten Tribes and their reconciliation under King Messiah.
"Say to your brothers, My people and to your sisters, Shown love" (v 3). Metzudas David and RaDaK (in the name of Rav Sa'adia Gaon) interpret: "You, the children of Judah and Benjamin, say of your brothers, the children of the Ten Tribes, that they are My People just like you. and likewise say Shown-Love of the women of the Ten Tribes". In this verse Jews thus have a clear directive to reach out to the returning members of the Ten Tribes and help them return to their Israelite roots.
Vv. 4-7: God reproves Israel as a "harlot" for having replaced him with idols. He threatens that this will lead to her returning to her condition of nakedness as it was prior to the redemption from Egypt (v 5).
"For their mother has played the harlot. She who conceived them has acted shamefully" (v 7): "Their very sages and teachers are ashamed before the people because they say to them 'Don't steal' while they themselves steal, and they preach, 'Don't lend upon interest' while they do precisely that" (Rashi ad loc.
"For she said, I will go after those who love me" (v 7). RaDak (ad loc.) explains that on one level "those who love me" are Egypt and Ashur, with whom Israel tried to make a covenant [just as today Israel thinks U.S. and the European Union etc. are her "friends"], while on another level they refer to the sun, moon and constellations which they worshipped idolatrously.
Vv. 8-15: Specifies the penalty for abandoning God. V 13 is explained by the rabbis as alluding to the destruction of the Temple , turning the month of Av into a time of mourning (Taanis 29b).
Vv. 16-20: God's attempt to bring the Assembly of Israel back to him. "I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her" (v 16): Targum explains that in the future redemption God will do wonders and miracles just as He did in the wilderness. (Those of us who feel we are living in a kind of wilderness today can also constantly see and feel His miracles as He draws us to him!)
Vv. 21-22: God strikes a renewed, eternal Covenant with Israel . When men wind the leather RETZUA-strap of the arm TEFILIN as a "wedding ring" around the fingers and hand to form the letters SHIN-DALET-YUD, it is customary to recite these verses.
Vv. 23-25: Prophecy of consolation and restoration of the nation to its previous status. "And I shall sow her for me in the land." (v 25). Just as one sows a small measure of seed and harvests a very great measure, so through God's "sowing" the Children of Israel in their lands of exile, they will bring back very many converts (Pesachim 87b).
This whole chapter, which tells how Israel are numberless as the sand of the sea, is read as the Haftara to parshas Bamidbar, which is read in May-June just before the festival of Shavuos, and which speaks of the counting of the Children of Israel by Moses in the wilderness .
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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