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STUDIES IN THE MINOR PROPHETS.
HOSEA, CHAPTERS iv. xiv. THE Second Book of Hosea's prophecy may be regarded as a reproduction and condensation of the messages which from time to time he had delivered. Our idea of a prophetic ministry must be built up of many elements, united in uncertain and varying proportions; no single aspect will suffice to express the whole service of the goodly fellowship of the prophets, or of any single member, it may be, during the whole course of his commission. There is the early ecstatic manifestation in the band of Nebi'im, to whom Saul joined himself; or the ascetic ministry, free from fear or earthly anxiety, of Elijah the Gileadite. There is the prophetic commission that is occasional, issued for brief and special exercise, as in the case of Jonah and “the disobedient prophet.” At times this ministry dealt even with the high affairs of State and foreign policy, as in the cases of Isaiah and Jeremiah ; or there is the purely literary prophetic vocation, which is displayed most fully in the latter chapters of the Book of Isaiah. How many of these aspects Hosea may have united in himself it is impossible to say; but it is probable that a record of his ministry, fulfilled partly in word, partly perhaps in symbolic action, is presented to us in finished literary form, condensed and polished, in the book which bears his name.
Such a theory will shed light upon one or two points. Many of the figures are too much in outline to have made a deep impression upon a popular audience. But granted that, at their first utterance, they were worked out with all due elaboration and in the richness of Oriental colouring, it is not difficult to understand that to his contemporaries who heard him, and in some measure, by the exercise of imagination, to us also, the brief mention in the book would recall to memory the more highly finished picture presented by the speaker. The same hypothesis of subsequent reproduction should account for the chronological uncertainties of the book. It is practically admitted that the period embraced in this section lies between the limits of the fall of the dynasty of Jehu in B.c. 746, and the capture of Samaria by Sargon in B.c. 722. Dr. Sayce brings the date of some parts nearly to this lower limit; Dr. Driver argues that a middle period must be chosen as the terminus ad quem. The arguments upon which both base their conclusions are derived from occasional references in the book itself. If, however, this is a mosaic of fragments of prophetic utterances previously spoken, it does not seem unreasonable that inconsistent data of this character should be found-unless, indeed, we judge a writer of Hosea's time and nation by the standard of a modern European annalist.
An inhabitant of Northern Israel, like the author of the Song of Songs,
Hosea, with the true poetic soul, revels in the rich natural beauty, the flora and fauna of the luxuriant plain of Esdraelon, or in the sterner features of Gilead, the pasture and forest-land of Palestine, or in the solemn majesty of Lebanon. He speaks of the quieter aspects of nature, of the morning cloud and the dew disappearing at the sun's first rising. He pictures, too, her more terrible aspect in storm and tempest; tells of violent hurricane, coming with irresistible might, wrapping up in its wings, and snatching away the effete northern kingdom ; of the torrent swollen with winter rains or melting snows, which-like the famous Kishon of Deborah's pæan-would sweep away as a chip upon its rushing, churned waters the helpless Ephraimite king.” He sketches the operations of agriculture : the chaff blown away from the threshing-floor ; the once tilled, but now neglected, field in whose furrows the hemlock springs up; the stones of the poor soil, which have to be gathered into heaps; the unbroken heifer, which must at last be yoked to the plough ; the tender-hearted ploughman, who lifts the yoke that the tired beast may the more easily eat the proffered food. He reminds us of the sparrow's flight; of the startled, silly wandering of the timid dove, upon which the peasant brings down the net and captures it. Even the tiny moth fretting the garment does not escape his notice. But the fiercer creatures, such as were more probably found in the forests of Bashan, are also used to illustrate the prophetic utterance. He sketches the rapid flight of the eagle towards the helpless, wandering, shepherdless sheep; the wild ass sniffing the air to find out its kind ; the crafty leopard lurking in the long dry herbage near the wayside, but not to be detected by the eyes; the bear, fierce to revenge because robbed of her whelps, and rending the corpse to the very heart; the lion roaring his challenge to his fellows till the echoes spread through the forest, or striking his prey, and then carrying it off to his lair to devour it. But it is in the closing chapter of the prophecy that Hosea, in a profusion of figure, touches the highest point of his poetic love of nature. All the sterner aspects of nature are now forgotten ; the storm, the hurricane, the torrent, the beasts of prey are no ionger preser thought; the winter of discontent, rebellion, and retribution is past; it is a glorious summertide of faultless beauty, or an autumn of perfect fruitfulness and unalloyed joy; no
“Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieks against his creed." The dew to him is not the symbol of a fleeting grace, but the source of a Divine
a and abiding life. The fir-tree is full of sap, its dull foliage is decked with glory like that of the lily, but more permanent than any “flower of the field,” its roots go down like those of Lebanon, that everlasting mouut. Grace like that of an olive grove—“ spreading like a silver sea along the base of the hills, and climbing their ascending terraces " 7—is now granted to Israel.
liv. 9. ? x, 7. See Commentaries. 3 xiii. 3 ; x. 4 ; xii. 11 ; x. 11 ; xi. 4. 4 vii, 11, 12 5 Land and the Book, p. 444. 6 viii. 1 ; xiii. 7, 8; xi. 10 ; v. 14.
7 Land and the Book, p. 52.
Iler valleys bring forth corn in abundance, the hillsides are beauteous with the vineyards of choice grapes," her presses run with new wine, her thickets exhale the choicest fragrance. Far and wide the eye beholds a vision of peace, wealth, gladness. A nation that under Divine wrath was as a “wilderness and a solitary place” (parched land, margin R.V.) will “ rejoice and blossom as the rose; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it; the excellency of Carmel and Sharon"; till from valleys girded with joy, from pastures clothed with flocks, from valleys covered over with corn, there shall heavenward ascend one loud hallelujah, “they shout for joy, they also sing.” 2
But Hosea is far more than the poet-prophet of Northern Israel. The laurel of the poet he sacrificed to enter upon a mission, solemn to sadness, unapplauded even where it fails to excite persecution, that of the ethical and religious reformer. In the pursuance of this, while evidence of poetic power is ever present, in another sense he uses great plainness of speech." His figures are not introduced to indulge a taste, they are used to depict sin, to give point to sarcasm, to drive home a lesson. Four utterances may be regarded as an epitome of his prophecy. The northern kingdom was “ bound to two transgressions”3: it had rejected the Davidic kingship; it had cast off the Aaronic priesthood, even going so far as to make provision, unauthorized, material, superstitious, semi-heathen provision for an independent cultus within its own borders. This political and religious disruption had produced a terrible crop of evils : political discord within, complications with foreign powers, serious and increasing moral evils, a widening separation from the spirituality and purity of the primitive Israelitish religion. With the inhabitants of such a land Jehovah had “a controversy.” 4 An illegitimate
' political establishment, an unhallowed worship and priesthood had borne their own terrible effects, social and religious, in all the vile obscenity of Canaanite idolatry. With apostates such as these God might well contend.
But should this controversy prove fruitless, should all this discipline and retribution prove unavailing, there remained one sad, solemn utterance not to be suppressed—“Ephraim is joined to idols ; let him alone"&_ abandoned of God, let him know the horrors of invasion, conquest, exile. Or if he will “hear the rod, and who hath appointed it,” then should he also hear that message of love which naught but the strength of obedience to duty kept so long unspoken—"I will love them freely."7 The further consideration of these points must engage our attention.
It was a period of political unsettlement. Dynastic changes and brevity of reigns characterize the history of the northern kingdom. Dr. Pusey has well condensed the miserable record. “Jeroboam's house ended in his son ; that of Baasha, who killed Jeroboam's son Nadab, ended in his own son Elah ; Omri's ended in his son's son, God having delayed the punishment
1 "The vineyards under Hermon are more picturesque than those of Southern Europe."Tristram's Land of Israel, p. 610. * Isa. xxv. 1, 2; Ps. Ixv. 12, 13.
x. 10 R. V.
4 iv. 1. Siv. 12.
? xiv. 4.
on Ahab's sins for one generation, on account of his partial repentance; then followed Jehu's, to whose house God, for his obedience in some things, continued the kingdom to the fourth generation. With these two exceptions, in the houses of Omri and Jehu, the kings of Israel either left no sons, or left them to be slain. Nadab, Elah, Zimri, Tibni, Jehoram, Zachariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, Pekah were put to death by those who succeeded them. Of all the kings of Israel, Jeroboam, Baasha, Omri, Menahem alone, in addition to Jehu and the three next of his house, died natural deaths. The captivity was the tenth change after they had deserted the house of David."1 Perhaps no period showed greater instability than that of Hosea's ministry, and in civil discord one may suspect there lies the explanation of chronological difficulties. Their rulers came to the throne without Divine appointment, without even the sanction of an overruling Providence—“they have set up kings, but not by Me; they have made princes, and I knew it not." But those who made destroyed; they cast down the rulers they set up; " they have devoured their judges, all their kings are fallen."2 The picture of the court-life contained in the seventh chapter is full of terrible and sickening details. The palace is full of the basest parasites, pandering to the royal dishonour, false of speech and reprobate of morals, making the king glad by means of lies, drunken with wine; while the customs, morals, and religious rites of foreigners sap the moral and economic strength. The royal birthday means to the king and his flatterers no more than a less-bridled debauch. The whole court joins in the dissipation ; the fever of intoxication is soon kindled; all the physical signs of a carouse are seen : “the princes made themselves sick with the heat of wine" (R.V.); the hangers-on of the court become more defiant, less discreet, more daringly impious; and of these men at their worst the king makes himself the boon companion, and “ stretches out his hand with scorners." 4 But let the king beware. These apostates from God, these parasites of the court, have ends of their own to gain, and the revel is but the covering of their plots. They are as disloyal to the king they flatter as to the God whom they mock. Already one king of Northern Israel had fallen in a drinking-bout, when Zimri, the general of Elah, son of Baasha, slew his master as he caroused—“ drinking himself drunk”.
"in the house of Agra his steward. The spirit of disloyalty is as one heating an oven; it has kneaded the dough, and leavened it with the yeast of sedition ; it is content to bide its time; the sedition mixed in must ferment while the circumstances become as a glowing oven, ready to complete the process. But when the hour is come, when circumstances are ripe for action, when the oven is ready for the dough, the dough leavened for the oven, he whose work it is will no longer forbear to act. Perhaps, flushed
1 Pusey's Minor Prophets ; who infers a violent death for Hoshea. 2 viii. 4 ; vii. 7.
3 vii. 3, 9. 4 vii. 5. The reduplicate form (of the word scorners) is intensive, and expresses the awfully profligate character of the persons described (Henderson).
51 Kings xvi. 9.
with wine, the princes will pick a quarrel with their treacherous companions; they “ fall by the sword for the rage of their tongues"; and the story of the successful conspiracy and of the overthrown Cabinet shall call forth the derision of rejoicing Egypt. No better comment on the prophetic utterance, or illustration of the perils of a Samaritan court, could be given than the facts that Zachariah, son of Jeroboam II., was publicly slain by Shallum after a reign of six months, and that his murderer and successor himself became the victim of a conspiracy at the end of his first month upon the throne.
It could not escape the notice even of the dissolute parasites of the Samaritan court, that the future of the kingdom, now that they had rejected Jehovah, lay in successful diplomatic relations with Assyria and Egypt.
A generation or so later the contention between these powers had become acute; even now they could not be left out of the reckoning. If at that time the power of Egypt was crippled by the internal struggle which preceded the rise of the Ethiopian dynasty, she would afterwards become more aggressive; while Assyria, since the accession of Tiglath Pileser II., had been raised from the feebleness to which earlier rulers had brought the country, and launched upon a new career of splendour and success.
Menahem so far recognized the Eastern power as to give 1,000 talents of silver to be confirmed in his kingdom.? Yet it seems the state did not feel itself safe in the promised protection of either power. There were Egyptophobists and Assyrophobists among the people, and the national policy was inconstant. Although the crisis never became as acute as that of Isaiah's time during Hezekiah's reign, while also Hosea's connection with the politics of the northern kingdom was not-and since it was a secession from the divinely authorized Davidic monarchy could not be—as intimate as that of Isaiah with those of Judæa, yet here and there the facts come to the surface. Conscious of the disease which affected the body politic, “then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb; yet could not he heal you, nor cure you of your wound." The terribly shaken and unsteady state of the monarchy, the unreliableness of the courtiers, the disloyalty of a people who were content to see a king smitten before their eyes, were serious ailments, an all but hopeless paralysis, in any state. So far as the more enduring possession of the throne by one monarch is concerned, the application of Menahem to Assyria was not without result, inasmuch as he alone of five successive monarchs—Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, and Pekah-died a natural death. But the more serious mischiefs, as the subsequent conspiracies proved, were unremedied; there was no enthusiasm for the reigning monarch, no growth in the nation of those high principles which alone give stability to a throne.
But Assyria was not the only object of Israel's subservience. In the hour of their penitence they will have to confess and renounce a twofold
1 vii. 16. It may be suggested that Hosea is pointing to a court-conspiracy, encouraged and paid for by Egypt, during the times when the northern kingdom was the tributary of Assyria, the natural foe of Egypt.
2 2 Kings xv. 19.
3 v. 13.