The prophet Hosea, a native of the northern kingdom of Israel, ministered to that nation (called Ephraim or the house of Israel, as opposed to the southern kingdom, called Judah or the house of Judah) for about 38 years during the middle part of the eighth century b.c. (from about 770–725 b.c.). He lived in the final tragic days of the house of Israel and prophesied that Israel’s enemy, the Assyrians, would be instruments in YHVH’s hands to bring judgment against Israel if that nation did not repent and cease its spiritual harlotry and idolatry. That the book contains references to the kingdom of Judah is probably due to the fact that the northern kingdom fell in 721–722 b.c. while Hosea was still ministering and that he most likely transplanted to Judah where he may have finished writing his book (NIV Study Bible, p. 1312).
The theme of the Book of Hosea revolves around the prophet’s personal family life. YHVH’s prophets were often required to act out in their personal life something that would serve as a prophetic allegory of what would happen to the people of Israel if they failed to repent of their sin and return to YHVH. In Hosea’s case, YHVH required him to act out what had already happened to the northern kingdom. Because they had turned from YHVH, their spiritual husband, and taken to consorting with foreign spiritual lovers characterized by their forsaking the Torah, turning to serve pagan gods, and succumbing to heathen religious rituals and lifestyles, YHVH instructed the prophet to marry a harlot. In this way, the family life of Hosea would become a spiritual mirror that could be held up in front of the nation so that it could see itself as YHVH’s saw it. Furthermore, being married to an unfaithful wife gave Hosea direct insight into the emotional turmoil a husband endures when married to an adulterous woman that would provide the passion and impetus when defending YHVH in writing about the spiritual plight of adulterous Israel.
Hosea’s life must have been a sad one, for his adulterous wife bore him three children. From the text, it cannot be determined whether they were his children, or another man’s. Despite this, Hosea accepted his wife and children with an unconditional love representing YHVH’s love for Israel, despite her refusal to be faithful to him. The nation of Israel (the northern kingdom) did not heed the prophet’s warnings resulting in her falling to her Assyrian enemies. The Soncino Pentateuch aptly summarizes Hosea’s life this way:
A heavy domestic sorrow darkened Hosea’s life. He had married a woman called Gomer; and she rendered him deeply unhappy. He found that he had wasted his love on a profligate woman. She fled from the Prophet’s house, and sank lower and lower until she became the slave-concubine of another. But Hosea’s love was proof even against faithlessness and dishonour. He, the deeply aggrieved husband, buys her back from slavery, and brings her into his house—as a ward, pitied and sheltered, but subjected to a period of probation that shall show whether her better self can be awakened. (p. 581)
The terms house of Israel and house of Judah are initially used (in chapter one) in this book followed by the simplified terms Ephraim and Judah used throughout the remainder of the Book of Hosea. So that the reader can understand the context of this passage, let’s define these terms:
House of Israel: This term is used 146 times in Scripture. Prior to the division of the united kingdom after the death of Solomon, this phrase referred to all twelve tribes of Israel. Afterwards (during the time of the prophets), it was used in contradistinction to the phrase “house of Judah” in reference to the northern kingdom. In the Apostolic Scriptures, Yeshua makes reference to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10:6; 15:24). Elsewhere in the Apostolic Scriptures this term refers to all twelve tribes of Israel (Acts 2:36; 7:42; Heb 8:10), and in some references it refers to just the northern kingdom (Heb 8:8). The context of the passage of scripture surrounding this phrase determines its meaning.
Ephraim: This name is used 180 times in the Tanakh and is referring to this specific Israelite tribe or as a metaphor for the northern kingdom of which the tribe of Ephraim was the leading and largest tribe (Isa 7:9,17; 9:9; 11:13; Ezek 37:19; Hos 4:17; 5:12, 13, 14; 6:4; 7:1; 10:11: Zech 9:13). When blessing the two sons of Joseph, Jacob placed his right hand of power and strength upon the head of Ephraim signifying the position of primogeniture for him and his descendants (Gen 48:17–19).
House of Judah: This term is found 41 times in Scripture and is always referring specifically to the tribe of Judah (e.g., 2 Sam 2:4, 7, 10) or to the southern kingdom, which included the tribes of Benjamin and Levi (1 Kgs 12:21, 23; 2 Chr 11:1). In addition, this term can refer to a remnant of Israelites from the northern ten tribes who refused to submit to the spiritual apostasy of Jeroboam and defected to the southern kingdom (2 Chr 11:16). The phrase “house of Judah” is used in contradistinction to the phrase “house of Israel” eleven times in the Scriptures including once in the Apostolic Scriptures (1 Kgs 12:21; Jer 3:18; 5:11; 11:10,17; 13:11; 31:27, 31; 33:14; Zech 8:14; Heb 8:8).
Judah: This name refers to both the tribe of Judah and to the southern kingdom. Scriptural context will determine which is meant.
Listed below are other prophetic allegorical terms found in this scripture passage with their accompanying definitions. Review these terms and their definitions, and then notice how the authors of the Apostolic Scriptures employ these terms applying them to the “Gentile” believers of the first century.
No Compassion or Mercy (Lo-ruhamah): This is the name of one of Hosea’s three children and is a prophetic reference to the house of Israel who, because of their apostasy, would be rejected by YHVH (Hos 1:6).Continue reading