The text places Hosea in relation to Uzziah through Hezekiah, kings of Judah in the south in the later 700’s BCE, and of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of the north in the mid 700’s. That’s what later readers like us need, to connect this voice to context shared with Isaiah’s call, for instance, and the ‘former prophets’ or histories of what I call ‘the decline and fall of Judah’.
On Sunday, I suggested that we imagine Hosea beginning while Israel still stood strong, but speaking in the south to the south with warnings, and surviving into the time between Assyrian conquest of Israel and Babylonian exile of Judah’s elite. The dates of the kings don’t quite match, but their meaning fits.
Without that clue, you could reduce this to an all-too-familiar complaint of a husband that his wife didn’t understand him, and was promiscuous through their marriage. With the clue, you might ‘get it’ that God feels like this people has been like an unfaithful spouse, and Hosea should get some empathy.
Without the clue, you might think Gomer and Hosea just thought Jezreel was a nice name for their first son, the name of a pretty royal residence up north. With the clue, you might ‘get it’ that Jehu assassinated King Jehoram, son of Ahab, in Jezreel. With Elisha’s blessing, Jehu then killed Queen Jezebel the widow, in the gory scene of a plunge off a tower, and dogs licking blood.
Jehu’s heirs and successors were less memorable than he and his father had been – but the lineage would be allowed by God to fall, says Hosea, because of the original regicide – even though it was sanctioned by Elijah and by Elisha, the radical northern opponents of Ahab and Jezebel. This is religion, not politics.
The next two children of Gomer and Hosea, named Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi, ‘not-loved’ and ‘not-my-people’, are not simply individual victims of child abuse any more than Gomer is simply a victim of misogyny and patriarchy. They stand for the vulnerable divided nations, doomed to fall – and for the hope that in some future, the nations may reunite under one king in Jezreel. Then the younger kids will lose the prefixes on their names, known as loved, my people.
At least, that’s what I read in Hosea chapter 1 – what do you hear?
Hosea Chapter 1
1 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea son of Beeri, in the days of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah, and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel.
2 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.’
3 So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
4 And the LORD said to him, ‘Name him Jezreel;* for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.
5 On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.’
6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the LORD said to him, ‘Name her Lo-ruhamah,* for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them.
7 But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.’
8 When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son.
9 Then the LORD said, ‘Name him Lo-ammi,* for you are not my people and I am not your God.’*
10 *Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’, it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’
11 The people of Judah and the people of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head; and they shall take possession of* the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel