Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Hosea the Prophet

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"A vulture (Assyria) is over the House of the Lord, because they (the Israelites) have broken My covenant, and transgressed My Law." (Hosea 8:1)

Hosea the Prophet lived during the tragic and devastating final days of the Northern Kingdom. He is thought to have prophesied around the eighth century BC with his ministry following Amos the Prophet's. Amos was the prophet who threatened God's judgment on Israel at the hands of an anonymous enemy whom Hosea would later adamantly proclaim as Assyria (Hosea 7:11; 8:9). Scholars believe Hosea prophesied for approximately 38 years.

Hosea's prophesies can be found first among the minor prophets in the Biblical division of the prophets. The Major and Minor Prophet division of the Holy Bible does not denote the importance or rank of the writing prophets, but the length of the Holy Books which bear their prophecies.

Hosea was the only writing prophet known to have originated from the Northern Kingdom. We know during the days of Hosea that six kings following Jeroboam II reigned within the course of about 25 years (II Kings 15:8-17:41). Four of the six kings suffered devastating deaths (Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, Pekah) were murdered by their successors while on the throne, one captured in the midst of battle (Hoshea) for disloyalty and only one to reign as king long enough to be succeeded by his son, Menahem. Why did such tragedy continually occur during the ministry of Hosea?

We are told that these earthly kings were selected by God "in anger" and then were taken away "in wrath" (Hosea 13:11), and that they floated away "like a twig on the surface of waters" (Hosea 10:7). We are further given this visual description of the era "bloodshed followed bloodshed" (Hosea 4:2). It is of no great wondering the Northern Kingdom saw its end during the era of Hosea.

"They made kings, but not through Me,They set up princes, but without My knowledgethey sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:4,7).

Hosea ardently warned the Israelites of the external threat of Assyria. Did they listen? He predicted the Israelite Nation would be plunged into certain anarchy! Did they listen? Hosea further fervently preached that all these impending troubles and political unrest was related to the Israel's betrayal of the nations' covenant with the Lord. Did Hosea's dire oracles immediately bring about repentance? No, political unrest would ensue for some time.

Not only did Hosea live during the time of political unrest but in the first part of the Holy Book of Hosea we learn that the prophet himself was ordered by God to marry an adulterous wife, Gomer. The prophet's marriage would serve to be a strong reflection of Israel's transgressions. "Go take yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotryfor the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the Lord" (Hosea 1:2).

Not only was the faithful prophet Hosea forced to marry an adulterous wife but she bore the prophet three children of whom were given foreboding names to carry. The firstborn a son was named "God Sows". The second child a daughter was named, "Not Pitied." The third child another son carried the name, "Not My People". All the names were to emphasize Gods' separation from His chosen people, Israel.

Further family unrest was to be encountered when the children were instructed to drive the unfaithful mother from their home. Yet, the obedient prophet with all this marital discourse was ordered by God to continue loving and caring about his wife. Hosea was instructed to buy back his wife from her paramour for 15 shekels of silver, chastise her, and once more offer her his love and support. How could all this be?

God was using Hosea (under very disturbing circumstances and unrest for especially a prophet) as symbolic representation for the time to demonstrate as a lesson His relation to Israel. When the children drove their mother from the household it was for her benefit not simply cruel punishment. Reform and a change in behavior were sought in the manner appropriate for that day. The prophet was ordered to continue caring for his wife and not to discard her permanently but to take her back in to his home and place her in isolation for a period of time (Hosea 3).

How was this symbolism related to the Israelites? They had been disloyal to God by worshipping Canaanite gods. The Israelites went through exile. The Lord through all of this though continued to keep the Israelite nation in His heart and took them back as Hosea took Gomer back. The Israel exile would not be a final act of God.

Tertullian, a fiery Christian writer from Carthage North Africa (c.200) said, "The principal crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment is idolatry."

The second part of Hosea's prophecies called for repentance. Israelite survival depended upon repentance; they must forsake their idols and return to the Lord their God (Hosea 6 and 14). Hosea envisioned the basic problem of the Israelite nation was that they as a people failed to recognize God (Hosea 4:6; 13:4). Israel was at an extreme in spiritual adultery. They worshipped Baal and sacrificed at pagan sites, associated with pagan prostitutes at the sanctuaries (Hosea 4:14) and worshiped the calf image at Samaria (Hosea 8:5; 10:5-6). Materialism was rampant among the Israelite Nation.

History records that in 721 BC the Assyrians captured the capital of Samaria after a three year strong hold and the Northern Kingdom existed no more.

Chapters 11 through 14 speak of God's love and mercy for the exiled people of Israel. In the Holy Book of Hosea we are told that God's love is so great that even the infidelity of Israel was forgiven. A faithful love, a Fatherly love. Unfaithfulness of the nation went punished, yet Israel was restored in the heart of God after repentance. The major issue of Hosea's prophecies was to proclaim God's compassion on a nation so prone to condemnation of itself.

When we refuse to be children of God just as Hosea prophesied there are consequences to our actions. Hosea warned his listeners to change their ways. They refused to respond to the call of God and had to be brought to repentance.

Is there a lesson to be found in the Holy Book of Hosea for us as well today? Do we fail to listen to the voice of God? In the busyness of life, with full calendars, with an active family life are we too weary to hear the call? Are we praying from our hearts during the Divine Liturgy or do we easily become distracted or tired? Do you take family time in your home for daily Holy Bible readings and Prayers from the Agpeya's or does seeking the material and worldly things become more important? Just as the Israelites were taught the consequences of their actions we will taught the consequences of our own.

As we enter into the Holy Great Fast may we all take time for the Lord with prayer, repentance, and confession. Let us not be too busy and have too many things of the world to do so we can experience the wholeness of life by putting our Lord first.

The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world not to condemn us but to save us all (John 3:16-17).

During this Holy Great Fast may we all give ourselves over to the One Who gave Himself up on the Holy Cross for us.

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

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