Christology of the Old Testament: And a Commentary on the Messianic Predictions, v. 1
by Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg
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Ver. 2. "The Spirit of the Lord spake to me, and His word is upon my tongue."

That [Hebrew: dbr] refers to the communication which David promulgates in the sequel, and not to other revelations which he had formerly received, appears from its relation to the [Hebrew: naM] in ver. 1. We should lose the new revelation announced in ver. 1, if ver. 2, and, hence, ver. 3 also—for the [Hebrew: amr] there evidently resumes the [Hebrew: dbr]—refer to divine revelations which David, or, as Thenius supposes, even some other person, had formerly received.—[Hebrew: bi] is not "through me," for in that case the Participle would have been used instead of the Preterite; nor "in me," for that is contradicted by the parallel passages in which [Hebrew: dbr] occurs with [Hebrew: b]; but "into me," which is stronger than "to me," and marks the deeply penetrating power of the revelation by the Spirit; compare remarks on Hosea i. 2. Such being the case, the Preterite is quite in its proper place; for the inward revelation, the [Hebrew: naM ihvh] precedes the communication—the [Hebrew: naM dvd]. (On the whole verse, 1 Pet. i. 11, 2 Pet. i. 21, are to be compared.)

Ver. 3. "The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me: a Ruler over men—just; a Ruler—fear of God."

The omission of the verb, "will be or rise," is quite suited to the concise and abrupt style of the divine word. The mention of God, the Rock of Israel, shows that the revelation has a reference to what is done for the good of the people of God,—of His Church. For her good, the glorious Ruler shall be raised. (Compare the words, [Greek: antelabeto Israel paidos hautou], in Luke i. 54, as also ver. 68, and ii. 32.) The appellation. Rock of Israel, indicates God's immutability, trustworthiness, and inviolable faithfulness; compare my comment, on Psalm xviii. 3, 32-47. The connection betwixt Ps. xviii. and the "last words of David" here also clearly appears. The fundamental passage is Deut. xxxii. 4.—That men must be conceived of as the subjects of dominion, is proved by Ps. xviii. 44, where David is made the head of nations, and people whom he has not known [Pg 156] serve him,—and by ver. 45, where the sons of the stranger do homage to him,—and by ver. 48: "Who subdues people under me."—A Rulerfear of God, i.e., a Ruler who shall, as it were, be fear of God itself—personified fear of God. We must here compare the expression, "This man is the peace," Mic. v. 4, and, as to the substance of the expression. Is. xi. 2, "And the Spirit of the Lord rests upon him ... the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord." We might be disposed to refer this exclusively to the person of the Messiah, especially when those Psalms are compared which refer to a personal Messiah. But Ps. xviii.—which here receives, as it were, its prophetic seal—and especially the relation of ver. 3 and 4 to ver. 5, where David speaks of his house, prove that the Ruler here is, primarily, only an ideal person, viz., the seed of David spoken of in Ps. xviii. 51. Things so glorious can, however, be ascribed to it only with a reference to the august personage in whom that seed will centre at the end of days,—the righteous Branch, whom the Lord will raise up unto David (Jer. xxiii. 5), who executeth judgment and righteousness on earth, Jer. xxxiii. 15. David knew too well what human nature is, and what is in man, to have expected any such thing from the collective body, as such.

Ver. 4. "And as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, a mourning without clouds; by brightness, by rain,—grass out of the earth."

In the first hemistich we have to supply: will be His appearance in its loveliness and saving importance. The morning elsewhere also, especially in the Psalms (compare remarks on Ps. lix. 17; Song of Sol. iii. 1), is used as the emblem of salvation. The condition of men before the appearance of the Ruler among them, is, in its destitution, like dark night.—The brightness is that of the Ruler, as the spiritual Sun, the Sun of Salvation. (Compare Mal. iii. 20 [iv. 2], where righteousness is represented as the sun rising to those who fear God.) The rain—the warm, mild rain, not the winter's rain which, in the Song of Sol. ii. 11, and elsewhere, occurs as an emblem of affliction and judgment—is the emblem of blessing (compare Is. xliv. 3, where "rain" is explained by "blessing"). The grass, which springs up out of the earth by means of sunshine and rain, is emblematical of the fruits and effects of salvation. [Pg 157] (Compare Is. xlv. 8, where, in consequence of the rain of salvation pouring down from the skies, the earth brings forth salvation and righteousness.) The passage in Ps. lxxii. 6 is parallel, where Solomon says of his Antitype, "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers watering the earth." The figure of the rain making fresh grass to spring up is there likewise employed to designate the blessings of the Messianic time.

Ver. 5. "For is not thus my house with God? For He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and kept; for all my salvation, and all pleasure,—should He not make it to grow?"

The special revelation which David received at the close of his life (compare the remarks on [Hebrew: naM] in ver. 1) is here connected with the fundamental promise in 2 Sam. vii., which was thereby anew confirmed to him. Those who, like De Wette and Thenius, mistake the correct sense of vers. 3 and 4, are not a little perplexed by the "for" at the beginning of this verse, and attempt in vain to account for it.—Thus, i.e., as it had been told in what precedes.—[Hebrew: ervkh], "prepared," "ordered," forms the contrast to what is only half finished, indefinite, depending upon circumstances and conditions, admitting of provisions and exceptions. The extent to which all interposing obstacles were excluded, or rather, had been considered and calculated upon beforehand, appears especially from 2 Sam. vii. 14, 15, according to which, even the most fatal of all interpositions—the apostasy of the bearers of the covenant—should not destroy the covenant,—should not annul the gracious promise made to the race. Kept, i.e., firm, inviolable, because given by Him who keepeth covenant and mercy, Deut. vii. 9; Dan. ix. 4. In 1 Kings viii. 25, Solomon prays, "And now, Lord God of Israel, keep with Thy servant David my father what Thou promisedst him when Thou saidst. There shall not be cut off unto thee a man from My sight to sit on the throne of Israel." The second "for" points out the cause of kept. All pleasure, i.e., all that is well-pleasing to me, all that my heart desires. The preceding [Hebrew: iwei] serves the purpose of qualifying it more definitely. The object of David's desires is, accordingly, his salvation, the glory of his house.

Ver. 6. "And wickedness, like thorns, they will all be driven away; for not will any one take them into his hands."

The subject treated of in this verse is: the Ruler among men [Pg 158] in His relation to His enemies. To those He is as formidable as His appearance is blessed to those who surrender themselves to Him. In Ps. xviii. also, there is a celebration of the indomitable power which the Lord grants to David, His anointed, and to his seed against all their enemies; compare ver. 38: "I pursue mine enemies and overtake them, and do not turn again till they are consumed; ver. 39, I crush them and they cannot rise, they fall under my feet." In the cycle of Psalms from cxxxviii. to cxlv., David likewise speaks of the dangers which threaten his house from enemies, and the leading thought of Ps. ii. is: the Messiah as the conqueror of His enemies. The eyes of David were the more opened to this circumstance, the more he himself had had to contend against adversaries.—[Hebrew: bliel] always means unworthiness in a moral point of view, "wickedness," "vileness." Wickedness is here used in the concrete sense = the wicked ones, the sons of wickedness, Deut. xiii. 14. The wicked ones, the enemies of the Church, are compared to the thorns, on account of their pricking nature; and therefore their end is like that of thorns, they will be thrown aside like them. In Ezek. xxiv. 28, after the judgment upon the neighbouring people has been proclaimed, it is said, "And there shall remain no more a pricking brier everywhere round about the house of Israel, where their enemies are, nor a grieving thorn;" compare Num. xxxiii. 55; Song of Sol. ii. 2; Is. xxvii. 4; Nahum i. 10.—[Hebrew: mnd], the Partic. Hoph. of [Hebrew: nvd], "thrust out," "put to flight" (compare Ps. xxxvi. 12), cannot be applied to the thorns, but only to the men. Like thorns, i.e., so that they become like thorns, of which the land is cleared. For not will any one take them into his handsMichaelis: Intractabiles sunt.

Ver. 7. "And if any one toucheth them, he is filled with iron, and the staff of a spear; and they shall be utterly burnt with fire where they dwell."

The two members of vers. 6 and 7 stand in an inverted relation to each other. In ver. 6, we have, first, the punishment described, and then their hostile nature, by which the punishment was called forth. In ver. 7, we have, first, the cause, and then the consequence. The thought in the first member is: every touch of them bears a hostile character. Iron—instead of weapons fabricated of iron; comp. 1 Sam. xvii. 7; Job xx. 24, xli. 19 compared with vers. 18, 20; Jer. xv. 12. [Pg 159] [Hebrew: bwbt], literally, "in the dwelling" (compare Ps. xxiii. 6, xxvii. 4; Deut. xxx. 20) instead of "where they dwell," shows that in their own borders they shall be visited and overtaken by retribution. [Hebrew: bwbt] cannot have the signification, "without delay," ascribed to it by Thenius.

Footnote 1: [Hebrew: tHt], "below," "beneath," "under," is often used adverbially, e.g. Gen. xlix. 25. [Hebrew: el], in the signification "on high," occurs also in Hosea xi. 7,—less certainly in Hos. vii. 16. For, according to 2 Chron. xxx. 9, that passage may be explained; "they return, not to," i.e., there is the mere commencement of conversion, but not the attainment of the end. On [Hebrew: hvqM] Deut. xxviii. 36 is to be compared.


An important link in the chain of the Messianic hopes is formed by the Song of Solomon. It is intimately associated with Ps. lxxii., which was written by Solomon, and represents the Messiah as the Prince of Peace, imperfectly prefigured by Solomon as His type. As in this Psalm, so also in the Song of Solomon, the coming of the Messiah forms the subject throughout, and He is introduced there under the name of Solomon, the Peaceful One. His coming shall be preceded by severe afflictions, represented under the emblems of the scorching heat of the sun, of winter, of rain, of dark nights, and of the desert. Connected with this coming is the reception of the heathen nations into His kingdom, and this, through the medium of the old Covenant-people.

Thus far the first part, down to chap. v. 1. The subjects contained in the second part are, the sin of the daughter of Zion against the heavenly Solomon and the judgment; then, repentance and reunion, which will be accomplished by the co-operation of the daughters of Jerusalem, i.e., of the very heathen nations who had formerly received salvation through them; the complete re-establishment of the old relation of love, in consequence of which the daughter of Zion again occupies the centre of the kingdom of God; and the indissoluble nature of this covenant of love now anew entered into, in contrast with the instability of the former.

The Song of Solomon does not, strictly speaking, possess a prophetical character. It does not communicate any new revelations; like the Psalms, it only represents, in a poetical form, things already known. It sufficiently appears from our former statement, that, in the first part of this book, not one feature occurs which did not form a part of those Messianic prophecies [Pg 160] which we can prove to have been known at the time of Solomon. In the second part, however, it is somewhat different. No corresponding parallel can be adduced from any former time to the view, that a great part of the people would reject the salvation offered to them in Christ, and, thereby, draw down judgment upon themselves. Yet, all that the book under consideration contains upon this point, is only the application of a general truth, the knowledge of which the covenant-people had received at the very beginning of their history. A consideration of human nature in general, and more especially of Israel's character, as it had been deeply and firmly impressed upon the people by the Mosaic law, joined to the ample experience which history had afforded in this respect, sufficiently convinced those who were more enlightened, that it could not be by any means expected—that, indeed, it was even impossible—that, at the coming of the Messiah, the whole people would sincerely and heartily receive Him, and do homage to Him. And there existed, on the other hand, at the time of Solomon also, the foundation for the doctrine of the final restoration of the people. For, even in the Pentateuch, the election of Israel by God is represented as irrevocable and absolute, and which, therefore, must at last triumph over all apostasy and covenant-breaking on the part of the people.

The Song of Solomon, then, is no apocalypsis, no revelation of mysteries till then unknown. There is in it no such disclosure as is, e.g., that in 2 Sam. vii., on the descent of the Messiah from David; or, as is that in Mic. v. 1 (2), on His being born at Bethlehem; or even as is that in Is. liii. on His office as a High Priest, and His vicarious satisfaction. But, nevertheless, we must not imagine the case to have been thus, that the contents of the Song of Solomon could have originated merely from reflection on the part of Solomon. The truths hitherto revealed had too much of the character of mere germs to allow us to suppose that from them, and in such a way, we could account for the clearness and certainty with which they have been blended into one whole. Another element, moreover, must be joined to the historical ground—viz., an elevated condition of the soul, a "being in the Spirit,"—a breathing of the divine Spirit upon the human. History bears witness that such prophetic states, in the wider sense, were not strange to Solomon. It twice [Pg 161] reports about the Lord's having appeared to him, 1 Kings iii. 5, ix. 2. From such an elevated state of soul, his dedicatory prayer, in 1 Kings viii., and Ps. lxxii., also originated.

We must content ourselves with these hints as regards Solomon's Song. As it moves throughout on Messianic ground, the Author must consider his commentary on this book (Berlin, 1853) as an appendix to the Christology.

[Pg 162]


After the time of Solomon, the Messianic prediction was for a considerable time discontinued. It was first resumed, and farther expanded, by the Canonical prophecy which began under Uzziah. There cannot be any doubt that that which appears as an interval was really such. There is no ground for the supposition that any important connecting links have been lost. The Messianic prediction in the oldest canonical prophets is immediately connected with that which existed previously at the time of David and Solomon.

It is not a matter of chance that, whilst the blossom of prophetism appeared as early as Samuel, the canonical prophetism took its rise at a much later date. Nor is it the result of accident, that we do not possess any written prophecies, either by Elijah, who, at the transfiguration of the Lord, appeared as the representative of all the Old Testament prophets, or by Elisha. Nor is it merely accidental that, at the time of Uzziah, there appears all at once, and simultaneously, a whole series of prophets. All these things are connected with the circumstance, that it was only at that time that great events for the Covenant-people were in preparation,—that, only then, those catastrophes were impending which were to be brought about by the Asiatic kingdoms, and which kept equal pace with the sin of Israel, the measure of which was being more and more filled up. Canonical prophecy is closely linked with these catastrophes. It is called to disclose to the Church the meaning of these judgments, and, thereby, to secure to them their effects in all time coming. The Messianic predictions uttered by the prophets are likewise closely connected with the announcement of these judgments. Whilst false security was shaken by the threatenings, despondency—which is as [Pg 163] hostile to true conversion—was prevented by pointing to the future coming of the Saviour.

The prophets do not deliver the Messianic prediction in its whole compass, any more than do the writers of the Messianic Psalms. On the contrary, it is always only certain individual aspects which they exhibit. The writers of the Messianic Psalms take up those features which presented points of contact with their own lives and their own experiences, or at least the circumstances of their times. This is quite in keeping with the more subjective origin of Psalm-poetry. Thus David describes the suffering Messiah surrounded by powerful enemies, and who, after severe struggles, at length obtains victory and dominion. To Solomon, He appears as the Ruler of a great and peaceful kingdom, and he beholds the most distant nations reverentially offering presents to Him and doing Him allegiance. But the Prophets, in pointing out this or that feature, are not so much guided by their own experience, disposition of mind, and peculiar circumstances, as by the wants of those whom they are addressing, and by the effect which they are anxious to produce on them. When they have to do with pusillanimity, desponding at the sight of the heathen world as it seems to be all-powerful,—they then represent the Messiah as the invincible conqueror of the heathen world, who shall subject the whole earth to the kingdom of God. When they have to deal with pride, trusting in imaginary prerogatives of the Covenant-people, and boldly challenging the judgments of God upon the heathen,—they then represent the Messiah as Him who shall make a great separation among the Covenant-people themselves, and who shall be a consolation to the godly, while He brings inexorable judgments upon the wicked when they have to do with those who mourn in Zion, who through the inflicted judgments of the Lord have been brought to a deep sorrow on account of their sins,—they then represent the Messiah as Him who shall one day take away the sins of the land, who is to bear their griefs and carry their sorrows. Now, as canonical prophecy extends over several centuries, during which circumstances, wants, and dispositions the most diverse, must have taken place, and as the Messianic prophecy is in harmony with these, it displayed, more and more fully, its riches, and did so in a manner far more effective and vivid than it could possibly have [Pg 164] done had it been proclaimed in the form of a discussion or treatise. As the Messiah was thus represented from the most various points of view, and in the way of direct perception, and divine confidence,—as He was thus everywhere pointed out as the end of the development. He could not but become more and more the soul of the nation's life.

In the Messianic announcements by the prophets, no such gradual progress in clearness and distinctness can be traced, as in those of the Pentateuch. The assertion that there existed with them at first, only a general hope of better times, unconnected with any person, rests on the unfounded hypothesis that Joel is the oldest among all the prophets,—and at the same time on the erroneous assumption that he was ignorant of a personal Messiah,—and, further, on the incorrect supposition that the prophets, who write only what presents itself immediately to their view, have not in their creed all that they omit to say. It is, moreover, opposed by the prospect of a personal Messiah held out in the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the Song of Solomon. How very slender is the ground for inferring that, because many essential points are not touched upon by Hosea, Joel, and Amos, they, therefore, did not know them, is shown by the fact that neither do several among the later prophets—as Jeremiah and Ezekiel—touch upon them, although the previous more distinct prophecies of Isaiah were certainly known and acknowledged by them. We must never forget that it is from above that each of the prophets received his share of the prophetic spirit, and that this depended partly upon the measure of his receptivity, which might have been greater with the former than with the latter prophets,—and, partly, upon the wants and capacities of those for whom the prophecy was destined.

A central position, as regards the Messianic predictions, is occupied by Isaiah. Even his Messianic prophecies, however, when viewed detached and isolated, bear the character of onesidedness. He nowhere gives us a complete image of the Messiah. But, whilst the other prophets were permitted to give only single disclosures, he gives us, in the whole body of his Messianic prophecies, the materials for a full and entire image, although not the image itself. The Fathers of the Church have, therefore, rightly designated him as the Evangelist among the prophets. But the transition to him from the Psalms and [Pg 165] the Song of Solomon could not be Immediate. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah form, as it were, the connecting links. Proceeding from the Messianic promise, in the shape which it had received at the time of David and Solomon, they give it a standing in the prophetic message, and infuse into it new life by means of the connection into which it is brought by them, and supplement it by adding single new features.

It is our intention to give an exposition of the Messianic passages in the prophets, according to their chronological order. In placing Hosea at the head, we follow the example of those who collected the Canon, and who, regarding not so much the succession of years as that of the governments, may have assigned the first place to Hosea, because he is the most important among the prophets at the time of Jeroboam in Israel, and of Uzziah in Judah, or because he really appeared first, and the prophecy in chap. i.-iii. is the beginning of written prophecies. The latter supposition most naturally suggests itself; the analogies are in its favour, and no decisive argument has been brought forward against it.



That the kingdom of Israel was the object of the prophet's ministry is so evident, that upon this point all are, and cannot but be, agreed. But there is a difference of opinion as to whether the prophet was a fellow-countryman of those to whom he preached, or was called by God out of the kingdom of Judah. The latter has been asserted with great confidence by Maurer, among others, in his Observ. in Hos., in the Commentat. Theol. ii. i. p. 293. But the arguments by which he supports this view will not stand the test. He appeals (1) to the inscription. The circumstance that, in this, there is mention made of the kings of Judah under whom Hosea exercised his ministry,—that they are mentioned at all,—and that they are mentioned first and completely, while only one of the kings of Israel is named, [Pg 166] proves, according to him—especially on a comparison with the inscription of Amos—that the prophet acknowledged the kings of Judah as his superiors. But this mode of argumentation entirely overlooks the position which the pious in Israel generally, and the prophets especially, occupied in reference to Judah. They considered the whole separation—the civil as well as the religious—as an apostasy from God. And how could they do otherwise, since the eternal dominion over the people of God had been granted, by God, to the house of David? The closeness of the connection between the religious and the civil sufficiently appears from the fact, that Jeroboam and all his successors despaired of being able to maintain their power, unless they made the breach, in religious matters also, as wide as possible. The chief of the prophets in the kingdom of the ten tribes—Elijah—by taking twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of Israel (1 Kings xviii. 31), plainly enough declared, that he considered the separation as one not consistent with the idea of the Jewish kingdom, and that therefore, in reality, it must at some future period be done away with; that he considered the government in Israel as existing de facto, but not de jure.

By none do we find this view so distinctly brought out as by Hosea. "They have set up kings, and not by Me"—says the Lord by him, chap. viii. 4—"they have made princes, and I knew it not." In his view, then, the whole basis of the government in Israel is ungodliness. Because they have chosen kings and princes without God, and against the will of God, they shall be taken from them by God, chap. iii. 4. Salvation cannot come to the people until Israel and, Judah set over themselves one head, ii. 2 (i. 11), until the children of Israel seek Jehovah their Lord, and David their king, iii. 5. These two things are, in his view, intimately connected; no true return to the invisible head of the Theocracy is possible without, at the same time, a return to the visible one—the house of David. What, at some future time, the mass of the people, when converted, were to do, the converted individual must do even now. He even now recognised the kings of the tribe of Judah as truly his sovereigns, although he yielded civil obedience to the rulers of Israel, until God should again abolish the government which He gave to the people in wrath, and set [Pg 167] up in opposition to the government of the house of David in His anger, on account of their apostasy. From all this, it clearly appears that, in order to account for the peculiarity of the inscription, we need not have recourse to the conjecture, that Hosea was a native of Judah. One might, with as much reason, maintain that all the prophets in the kingdom of Israel, who rejected the worship of the calves—and hence all the prophets without exception—were natives of the kingdom of Judah. For the worship of the calves is quite on a par with the apostasy from the anointed of God. Hosea mentions, first and completely, the kings of the legitimate family. He then further adds the name of one of the rulers of the kingdom of Israel, under whom his ministry began, because it was of importance to fix precisely the time of its commencement. Uzziah, the first in the series of the kings of Judah mentioned by him, survived Jeroboam nearly twenty-six years; compare Maurer, l. c. p. 284. Now, had the latter not been mentioned along with him, the thought might easily have suggested itself, that it was only during the latter period of Uzziah's reign that the prophet entered upon his office; in which case all that he said about the overthrow of Jeroboam's family would have appeared to be a vaticinium post eventum, inasmuch as it took place very soon after Jeroboam's death. The same applies to what was said by him regarding the total decay of the kingdom which was so flourishing under Jeroboam; for, from the moment of Jeroboam's death, it hastened with rapid strides towards its destruction. If, therefore, it was to be seen that future things lie open before God and His servants "before they spring forth" (Is. xlii. 9), it was necessary that the commencement of the prophet's ministry should be the more accurately determined; and this is effected by the statement, that it happened within the period of the fourteen years during which Uzziah and Jeroboam reigned contemporaneously. That this is the main reason for mentioning Jeroboam's name, is seen from the relation of ver. 2 to ver. 1. The remark there made,—that Hosea received the subsequent revelation at the very beginning of his prophetic ministry, corresponds with the mention of Jeroboam's name in ver. 1. But this is not all; nor can we say that, had it not been for this reason, Hosea would not have mentioned any king of Israel at all, in order that, from the outset, he might exhibit [Pg 168] his disposition. There was a considerable difference between Jeroboam and the subsequent kings. Cocceius remarked very strikingly: "The other kings of Israel are not considered as kings, but as robbers." Jeroboam possessed a quasi legitimacy. The house of Jehu, to which he belonged, had opposed the extreme of religious apostasy. It was, to a certain degree, acknowledged, even by the prophets. Jeroboam had obtained the throne, not by usurpation, but by birth. He was the last king by whom the Lord sent deliverance to the people of the ten tribes; compare 2 Kings xiv. 27: "And the Lord would not blot out the name of Israel from under heaven; and He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam, the son of Joash." (2.) The internal reason adduced by Maurer (S. 294) is equally insignificant. "The morum magistri," he says, "are wont more slightly to reprove, in the case of strangers, that which they severely condemn in their own people; but Hosea rebukes with as much severity the inhabitants of Judah, when he comes to speak of them, as he does the Israelites." But no certain inferences can be drawn from such commonplaces; for, in this way we might as reasonably infer, that Isaiah and the writer of the Books of Kings were natives of the kingdom of the ten tribes, because they censure the sins of the Israelites as severely as they do those of the inhabitants of Judah. To this commonplace we might as easily oppose another equally true, viz., the "morum magistri, from a partiality for their own people, are wont to judge more leniently of their faults than of those of strangers." Such maxims require to be applied with the utmost caution, even in the territory to which they belong, because one consideration may be so easily outweighed by another. Here, however, its application is altogether out of the question. The prophets, as the instruments of the Spirit, spoke pure and plain truth without any regard to persons. Whether Hosea was a native of Judah or of Israel, he would express himself in the same way concerning the inhabitants of Judah. He would severely rebuke their sins, and at the same time readily acknowledge, as he does, their advantages,—for "Salvation cometh of the Jews."

If, then, these be the arguments in favour of the Judean origin of Hosea, it readily appears that the probabilities of such an origin, compared with that of his Israelitish descent, are not [Pg 169] even in the proportion of one to a hundred. The prophets were almost more numerous in the kingdom of Israel than in that of Judah; and yet the entire history knows of only two instances of prophets being sent from the kingdom of Judah to that of Israel, viz., the prophet spoken of in 1 Kings xiii. and Amos. And the former of these even scarcely belongs to this class, inasmuch as he received only a single mission into the kingdom of Israel, and that, at a time when the prophetic institution was not as yet organized there. In the case of Amos likewise, it is manifest not only that he was only an exception to the rule,—as appears from the transactions with the priest Amaziah, reported in Amos vii. (compare especially ver. 12),—but still more plainly, from the mention in the inscription of his having been a native of Judah.

With regard to the time of the prophet, the inscription places his ministry in the reigns of the kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. A long period is, no doubt, thus assigned to it,—a period embracing at least twenty-six years of Uzziah's reign, and, in addition, the sixteen years of that of Jotham, the sixteen years during which Ahaz reigned, and at least one or two years of the reign of Hezekiah, making, at the lowest calculation, a period of sixty years in all.

This exceedingly long duration of the prophet's ministry might easily excite suspicion regarding the genuineness and correctness of the inscription; but such suspicion is at once set at rest by the fact, that the statements contained in the book itself lead us to assume a period equally extended. The beginning of the prophet's ministry cannot be assigned to any later period; for, in chap. i. 4, the fall of Jeroboam's house, which took place soon after his death, is announced as a future event. Moreover, the condition of the kingdom appears still, throughout the whole first discourse, as a very flourishing one. Nor can the end of his ministry be assigned to any earlier period. For in chap. x. 14, an expedition of Shalman or Shalmaneser against the kingdom of Israel (Vitringa, Proleg. in Is. p. 6) is described as being already past, and a second invasion is threatened. But the first expedition of Shalmaneser, reported in 2 Kings xvii. 1 seqq., is almost contemporaneous with the beginning of Hezekiah's reign. For it was directed against Hoshea, king of Israel, who began his reign in the twelfth [Pg 170] year of that of Ahaz, which lasted sixteen years. The exact harmony of the passage in Hosea with that in 2 Kings xvii. is very evident. In 2 Kings xvii. 3, it is said: "Against him came up Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, and Hoshea became his servant and gave him tribute." This was the first expedition of Shalmaneser. Then followed the second expedition, which was caused by the rebellion of Hoshea,—in consequence of which Samaria was taken and the people carried away. In Hos. x. 14, 15, it is said: "And tumult ariseth against thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled, as Shalman spoiled Beth-arbel in the day of battle; the mother was dashed in pieces upon (her) children. So shall he do unto you, Bethel, because of your great wickedness in the dawn of the morning, destroyed, destroyed shall be the king of Israel." Hosea here declares that the beginning of the destruction by Shalmaneser is the prophecy of the end of the kingdom of Israel. The "morning dawn" is the time of apparently reappearing prosperity, when, according to Cocceius, a time of peace begins to shine. In Amos iv. 13, v. 8, the prosperity again dawning upon the kingdom of Israel is likewise expressed by "morning" and "morning dawn." The identity of Beth-arbel and Arbelah in Galilee can the less be doubted, because recent researches have rendered it certain that this place, now called Irbid, was an important fortress. (Compare Muenchener gelehrte Anzeigen 1836, S. 870 ff.; Robinson, iii. 2, p. 534; v. Raumer, S. 108.) The use of Beth-arbel, instead of the more common Arbelah, as well as that of Shalman instead of Shalmaneser, belongs to the higher style. At the first expedition, the decisive battle had, no doubt, taken place at Arbelah. They who disconnect this passage from 2 Kings xvii. do not know what to make of it. Simson complains of the darkness resting on the passage under consideration.—But Hos. xii. 2 (1) likewise leads us to the very last times of the kingdom of Israel,—those times when Hoshea endeavoured to free himself from the Assyrian servitude by the help of Egypt. "Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east-wind; he daily increaseth lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried into Egypt." Their sending oil to Egypt, notwithstanding the covenant made with Assyria, is the lie, which goes hand in hand with desolation, while they imagine thereby to [Pg 171] work deliverance. This explanation has been already given by J. H. Manger, of whose Commentarius in Hoseam, Campen, 1782—a commentary in many respects excellent—most of the recent commentators, and, lastly, Simson, have, to their great disadvantage, not availed themselves. Manger says: "These words refer to the ambassadors who were sent with splendid presents by king Hoshea to the king of Egypt, in order to win him over to himself, and induce him to assist him against the Assyrians, to whom he had become subject by a solemn treaty."—To the last times of the kingdom of Israel we are likewise led by what occurs in other passages concerning the relation of Israel to Egypt and Asshur. The matter has been falsely represented by very many as if two parties among the people were spoken of,—an Assyrian and an Egyptian party. Nor is it so, that the whole people turn at one time to Egypt in order to free themselves from the Assyrians, and at another time to Assyria to assist them against Egypt. The position is rather thus: The people, heavily oppressed by Asshur, at one time seek help from Egypt against Asshur, and, at another, attempt to conciliate the latter. Precisely thus is the situation described in vii. 11: "They call to Egypt, they go to Asshur." That by which Israel was threatened, was, according to viii. 10, "the burden of the king of princes, the king of Asshur," ver. 9. This they seek to turn off, partly by artifices, and partly by calling to their help the king of Egypt. Asshur alone is the king "warrior" (Jareb), v. 13, x. 6; he only has received the divine mission to execute judgment; compare xi. 5: "He, i.e., Israel, shall not return to the land of Egypt, and Asshur, he is his king." As an ally not to be trusted, Egypt is described in vii. 16, where, after the announcement of their destruction on account of their rebellion against the Lord, it is said: "This shall be their derision on account of the land of Egypt," i.e., thus they shall be put to shame in the hope which they place on Egypt. Is. xxx. 1-5 is quite analogous. In that passage the prophet announces that Judah's attempt to protect themselves against Asshur by means of Egypt would be vain; compare, especially, ver. 3: "And the fortress of Pharaoh shall be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt, your confusion;" and ver. 5: "Not for help nor for profit, but for shame and for reproach." Such historical circumstances, [Pg 172] however, had not yet occurred under Menahem. At that time, Israel was not yet placed in the midst betwixt Asshur and Egypt. It is expressly mentioned in 2 Kings xv. 20, that the invasion of Pul was only transitory, and that not conquest, but spoil, was its aim. The real commencement of the Assyrian oppression is formed by the invasion of Tiglathpileser at the time of Ahaz. Isaiah, in chap. vii., points out the pernicious consequences of Ahaz's calling the Assyrians to his assistance against Syria and Israel. The very fact of this war carried on against Judah by Syria and Ephraim shows, that up to that time, Asshur had not laid his hand upon these regions. It was only with the invasion under Ahaz that there was any display of Asshur's tendency to make permanent conquests on the other side of Euphrates, which could not fail to bring about the conflict with the Egyptian power.—"King Jareb,"—such had already become the historical character of the king of Asshur, at the time when Hosea wrote; but prior to the times of Ahaz and Hezekiah, he did not stand out as such.

There is no decisive weight to be attached to what Simson advances in order to prove that we must fix an earlier date. He argues thus: "Gilead, which, according to 2 Kings xv. 29, was taken and depopulated by Tiglathpileser, whom Ahaz had called to his assistance, appears in vi. 8, xii. 12 (11) to be still in the possession of Israel. Hence, the ministry of the prophet cannot have extended beyond the invasion of Judah by the Syrians and Ephraim." But since the book gives the sum and substance of Hosea's prophecies during a prolonged period, there must necessarily occur in it references to events which already belonged to the past, at the time when the prophet wrote. In chap. i. 4, even the overthrow of the house of Jeroboam appears as being still future.

But even although we could not establish, from other sources, the statement contained in the inscription, the inscription itself would nevertheless be a guarantee for it; and the more so, because there are other analogies in favour of so long a duration of the prophetic office, which was sometimes entered upon even in early youth. The inscription has the same authority in its favour as every other part of the book; and it is hardly possible to understand the levity with which it has, in recent times, been pretty generally designated as spurious, or, at least, suspicious. [Pg 173] It is altogether impossible to sever it from the other parts of the book. There must certainly have been some object in view when, in ver. 2, it is expressly remarked, that what follows took place at the beginning of Hosea's ministry. But such an object it will be possible to point out, only in the event of its being more accurately determined at what time this beginning took place—viz., still under the reign of Jeroboam, when the state of things as it appeared to the eye did not yet offer any occasion for such views of the future as are opened up in the first three chapters. Ver. 1 cannot, therefore, be regarded as an addition subsequently made, unless the words in ver. 2, from [Hebrew: tHlt] to [Hebrew: bhvwe] be so likewise. But these again are most closely connected with what follows by the Future with Vav convers., which never can begin a narrative. There remains, therefore, only this alternative:—either to regard the whole as having been written at a later period, or to claim for Hosea the inscription also. We cannot agree with the view of Simson, that the remark by which the beginning of the book is assigned to the beginning of the prophet's ministry, originated from a chronological interest only; and we can the less do so, because the prophet does not pay any attention to chronology in any other place, but is anxious to give only the sum and substance of what he had prophesied during a series of years. The only exception which he makes in this respect must have originated from strong reasons; and such do not exist, if the inscription in ver. 1, or the mention of the kings in it, be spurious. The mention of the beginning in ver. 2 would, in that case, be so much the more groundless, as we could know nothing at all regarding the length of his ministry.

Much more fruitful, certainly, than all such vain doubts, are the reflections of Calvin on the long duration of the prophet's ministry: "How grievous is it to us when God requires our services for twenty or thirty years; and, especially, when we have to contend with ungodly people, who would not willingly take upon them the yoke, yea, who even obstinately resist us! we then wish to be freed at once, and to become pensioned soldiers. But, seeing this prophet's long protracted ministry, let us take from it an example of patience, that we may not despair although the Lord should not at once free us from our burden."

Many interpreters have zealously attempted to determine the [Pg 174] particular portions of this lengthened period to which the particular portions of this book belong. But such an undertaking is wholly vain in the case before us, as well as in that of Micah, and most of the minor prophets generally. The supposition upon which it rests is false—viz., that the collection consists of a number of single, detached portions. We do not possess the whole of Hosea's prophecies, but only the substance of their essential contents,—a survey which he himself gave towards the end of his ministry. This appears (1) from the [Hebrew: dbr ihvh] in the inscription. In itself, this would not be a decisive argument, as the prophet might also have comprehended in an ideal unity, discourses outwardly distinct; but, nevertheless, as long as no reason appears for the contrary, it is more naturally referred to a continuous discourse with an external unity also. (2.) It appears from the entire omission of all chronological data. The only exception is in ver. 2; but this exception serves only to strengthen the argument drawn from the omission everywhere else. (3.) It is proved by the absence of all certain indications about the beginning and ending of the particular portions. There occur, just as in the second part of Isaiah, new starting points only; but, with these exceptions, the discourse always moves on in the same manner. (4.) It is seen from the indefiniteness and generality of the historical references, which must necessarily arise if the prophet referred, in like manner, to the whole of this lengthened period. That the facts, upon which the last two arguments rest, really exist, is made sufficiently apparent from the immense diversity of opinions as to the number and extent of the particular portions, and as to the time of their composition. There are not even two of the more important interpreters who agree in the main points alone. Such a diversity does not exist in reference to any of the prophetical books which actually consist of detached prophecies. (5.) The style and language are too much the same throughout the whole, to admit of the idea that any long period could have elapsed between the particular prophecies. This, indeed, is only a subordinate argument; but it acquires its full importance, when connected with the foundation of the third and fourth proofs.

It now only remains to give a survey of the historical circumstances at the time of the prophet. This is the more necessary, as a knowledge of these is required for the exposition of [Pg 175] the Messianic prophecies, not only of Hosea, but also of Amos, his contemporary.

The kingdom of Israel carried within it, from its very commencement, a twofold element of destruction—viz., the establishment of the worship of the calves, and the rebellion against the dynasty of David. With regard to the former,—the consequence of this apparently so much isolated transgression of a Mosaic ordinance extended much further than would appear upon a superficial view. In this case also it was seen that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Of far higher importance than the low conceptions of God produced by this symbolical representation of Him, was another aspect of the transaction. The prohibition of image-worship in the Pentateuch was as distinct and clear as it was possible to make it. The kings of Israel were far from rejecting it; but still, how difficult soever it may appear, they found out an interpretation by which they evaded the application of it to their institution. Such a course once entered upon, could only lead them further and further astray. As, in so important a case, they had, in opposition to their own better convictions, allowed themselves to pervert and explain away the law—asserting, probably, that it was given only on account of the coarse sensuality of former generations—the same was done in other things also, as often as it was called for by the disposition of the corrupted heart. All unfaithfulness which is known to be so, and yet is cherished, and excused to the conscience and before men, must draw after it entire ruin, in a community, not less than in an individual. As a reason for this ruin, it is very strikingly said in 2 Kings xvii. 9: "And they covered (this is the only ascertained signification of [Hebrew: Hpa]) words that were not so, over the Lord their God;" i.e., they ventured, by a number of perversions and false interpretations of His word, to veil its true form. To this, the following consideration must be added:—That first change of the religious institutions proceeded from the political power which secured to itself, for the future, an absolute influence upon the religious affairs, by subjecting to its control the ecclesiastical power, which had hitherto been independent of it. Those Levites who, having no regard to the miserable sophisms invented by the king as an excuse, declared against the worship of calves, were expelled, and, in their stead, creatures of the king [Pg 176] were made ministers of the sanctuary. This became now the king's sanctuary (compare the remarkable passage, Amos vii. 13), and all the ecclesiastical affairs were, in strict contradiction to the Mosaic law, submitted to his arbitrary power. The consequences of this must necessarily have been all the sadder, the worse the kings were; and they must inevitably have become so, because of the bad foundation on which the royal power rested.

Image-worship was very speedily followed by idolatry,—which is, however, in like manner, not to be looked upon in the light of an undisguised opposition to the true God. Such an opposition took place during the reign of only one king—Ahab—under whom the matter was carried to an extreme. Holy Scripture, however, with a total disregard of the whole multitude of miserable excuses ordinarily made, designates as direct apostasy from God, everything which was substantially such, although it did not outwardly manifest itself as such. Externally, they remained faithful to Jehovah; they celebrated His feasts,—they offered the sacrifices prescribed in the Pentateuch,—they regulated, in general, all the religious institutions according to the requirements there laid down, as may be proved from the Books of Kings, and, still more plainly, from Amos and Hosea. But in all this they discovered a method by which light and darkness, the worship of idols with that of the Lord, might be combined. Nor was this discovery so very difficult, since their eye was not single. They had before them the examples of heathen nations, who were quite prepared reciprocally to acknowledge their deities, in all of whom they recognised only different forms of manifestation of one and the same divine being; and they were quite willing to extend this acknowledgment even to the God of Israel also, as long as they did not meet with intolerance on the part of those who professed to worship Him, and were therefore not roused to the practice of intolerance in return. This reciprocal recognition of their deities by the nations in the midst of whom the Israelites lived, is sufficiently evident from the circumstance, that they all called their highest deity by the same name—Baal—and expressed, by some epithet, only the form of manifestation peculiar to each. Now, the Israelites imagined that they might be able, at one and the same time, to satisfy the demands of their God, and to propitiate [Pg 177] the idols of the neighbouring mighty nations—especially of the Ph[oe]nicians—if they removed the wall of separation betwixt the two. Jehovah and Baal were, in their view, identical as to their essence. The former was that mode of manifestation peculiar to them, and the main object of their worship according to the method prescribed by Himself in His revelation. But the latter was not to be neglected; inasmuch as they imagined that they might thereby become partakers of the blessings which this form of manifestation of the deity was able to bestow. And thus to Jehovah they gave the name of Baal also, Hos. ii. 18 (16); they celebrated the days appointed by Jehovah, ver. 13 (11), but those also devoted to Baalim, ver. 15 (13). In this way we receive an explanation of the fact which, at first sight, is so startling, viz., that according to Hosea and Amos, all is filled with the service of Baal; while the Books of Kings would lead us to think that, with the reign of Ahab, the dominion of this worship had ceased. But it was only its hostile opposition to the worship of Jehovah that had disappeared, while a far more dangerous religious compromise took its place. No doubt can be entertained as to the party on whose side lay the advantage in this compromise. It was plainly on that side on which it always lies, whensoever the heart is divided betwixt truth and falsehood. Externally, the worship of Jehovah remained the prevailing one; but, inwardly, idolatry obtained almost the sole dominion. If only the limits betwixt the two religions were removed, that religion would of course come with the highest recommendation, the spirit of which was most in accordance with the spirit of the people. But, owing to the corrupt condition of human nature, this would not be the strict religion of Jehovah, which, as coming from God, did not bring God down to the level of human debasement, but demanded that man should be raised to His elevation,—which placed the holiness of God in the centre, and founded upon it the requirement that its possessors should be holy;—but it would be the soft, sensual, idolatrous doctrine which flattered human corruption, because from that it had its origin. Thus the Jehovah of the Israelites became in reality what they sometimes called Him by way of alternation—a Baal. And the matter was now much more dangerous than if they had deserted Him [Pg 178] externally also, inasmuch as they now continued to trust in His covenant and promises, and to boast of their external services,—thus strengthening themselves in their false security.

The natural consequence of this apostasy from the Lord was a frightful corruption of manners. The next result of spiritual adultery was the carnal one. Voluptuousness formed the fundamental characteristic of the Asiatic religions in general, and, in particular, of those with which the Israelites came in contact. But the pernicious influence extended still further over the whole moral territory. Where there is no holy God, neither will there be any effort of man after holiness. All divine and human laws will be trampled under foot. All the bonds of love, law, and order, will be broken. And, as such, the condition of the country in a moral point of view is described by its two prophets throughout. Compare, e.g., Hosea iv. 1, 2: "There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery—they break through, and blood toucheth blood." There then followed, from the moral corruption, the internal dissolution of the state, and its external weakness.

The supernatural consequences of the apostasy from the Lord, were the severe punishments which He inflicted upon the people. With whomsoever God has entered into a closer connection, whomsoever He thinks worthy of His grace, in him the Lord will be glorified by the infliction of punishment upon him, if, through his own guilt. He has not been glorified by sanctification in him. Just because Israel formed part of the Covenant-people, they could not be allowed to continue to retain the outward appearance of it, when, inwardly, they did not retain a vestige.

As the second element of the ruin, we mentioned the rebellion against the dynasty of David. Their dominion rested on divine right, while the new Israelitish kingdom rested upon the sandy foundation of human caprice. The first king had raised himself to the throne by his own power and prudence, and through the favour of the people. Whosoever had the same means at his disposal, imagined that these gave him the right to do likewise. And thus dynasty supplanted dynasty, regicide followed regicide. In the bloody struggles thereby occasioned, the people became more and more lawless. Sometimes interregna, [Pg 179] and periods of total anarchy took place; and by these internal struggles the power to resist external enemies was more and more broken. No king was able to stop this source of mischief, for such an effort would have required him to lay aside his position as a king. And as little was any one able to put a stop to that source of evil formerly mentioned: for, if the religious wall of partition which was erected between Israel and Judah were once removed, the civil one likewise threatened to fall.

Such were, in general, the circumstances under which Hosea, like the other prophets of the kingdom of Israel, appeared. There cannot be any doubt that these were much more difficult than those of the kingdom of Judah. There, too, the corruption was indeed very great; but it was not so firmly intertwined with the foundation of the whole state. Thorough-going reforms, like those under Hezekiah and Josiah, were possible. The interest of a whole tribe was closely bound up with the preservation of true religion.

The reign of Jeroboam II., which was externally so prosperous, and in which Hosea entered upon his prophetic ministry, had still more increased the apostasy from the Lord, and the corruption of manners, and thus laid the foundation for the series of disastrous events which began soon after his death, and which, in quick succession, brought the people to total ruin. The prosperity only confirmed them still more in their security. Instead of being led to repentance by the unmerited mercy of God (compare 2 Kings xiv. 26, 27), they considered this prosperity as a reward of their apostasy, as the seal by which Jehovah-Baal confirmed the rectitude of their ways. The false prophets, too, did what was in their power to strengthen them in their delusion, whilst the true prophets preached to deaf ears.

Immediately after the death of Jeroboam, it soon became apparent on which side the truth lay. There followed an interregnum of from eleven to twelve years.[1] After the termination [Pg 180] of it, Zachariah, the son of Jeroboam, succeeded to the throne; but he was murdered by Shallum, after a short reign of six months, 2 Kings xv. 10. Shallum, after he had reigned only one month, was slain by Menahem, ver. 14. Menahem reigned ten years at Samaria. Under him, the catastrophe was already preparing which brought the kingdom to utter destruction. He became tributary to the Assyrian king Pul, vers. 19-21. He was succeeded by his son Pekahiah, in the fiftieth year of Uzziah. After a reign of two months, he was slain by Pekah, the son of Remaliah, who held the government for twenty years (ver. 27), and, by his alliance with the kings of Syria against his brethren the people of Judah (comp. Is. vii.), hastened on the destruction of Israel. The Assyrians, under Tiglathpileser, called to his assistance by Ahaz, even at that time carried away into captivity part of its citizens,—the tribes who lived on the other side of the Jordan. In the fourth year of Ahaz, Pekah was slain by Hoshea, who, after an interregnum of eight years, began to reign in the twelfth year of Ahaz, xvii. 1. He became tributary to Shalmaneser; and the end of his government of nine years was also the end of the kingdom of the ten tribes. His having sought for an alliance with Egypt drew down, upon himself and his people, the vengeance of the king of Assyria.

We have already proved that the historical references in the prophecies of Hosea extend to the time when the last king of Israel attempted to secure himself against Asshur, by the alliance with Egypt. It is very probable that the book was written at [Pg 181] that time. At the time when the sword of the Lord was just being raised to inflict upon Israel the death-blow, Hosea wrote down the sum and substance of what he had prophesied during a long series of years, beginning in the last times of Jeroboam, when, to a superficial view, the people were in the enjoyment of the fullest prosperity. When at the threshold of their final fulfilment, he condensed and wrote down his prophecies, just as, in the annus fatalis, the fourth year of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah, according to chap. xxv., gave a survey of what he had prophesied over Judah during twenty-three years.

In the prophecies of Hosea, as in those of Amos, the threatening character prevails. The number of the elect in Israel was small, and the judgment was at hand. In Jeremiah and Ezekiel, too, the prophecies, previous to the destruction, are mainly minatory. It was only after the wrath of God had been manifested in deeds, that the stream of promise brake forth without hindrance. Hosea, nevertheless, does not belie his name, by which he had been dedicated to the helping and saving God, and which he had received, non sine numine. ([Hebrew: hvwe], properly the Inf. Abs. of [Hebrew: iwe], is, in substance, equivalent to Joshua, i.e., the Lord is help.) Zeal for the Lord fills and animates him, not only in the energy of his threatenings, but also in the intensity and strength of his conviction of the pardoning mercy and healing love of the Lord, which will, in the end, prevail. In this respect, Hosea is closely connected with the Song of Solomon—that link in the chain of Holy Scripture into which he had, in the first instance, to fit. There are in Hosea undeniable references to the Song of Solomon. (Compare my Comment. on the Song of Solomon, on chap. i. 4, ii. 3.) It is certainly not by accident that the brighter views appear with special clearness at the beginning, in chap. i. 3 (compare ii. 1-3, 16-25 [i. 10, ii. 1, 14-23], iii. 5), and at the close, xiv. 2-10 (1-9), where the fundamental thought is expressed in ver. 4 (3): "For in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy." But even in the darker middle portions, they sometimes suddenly break through; compare v. 15, vi. 3, where the subject is: "He teareth and He healeth us; He smiteth and He bindeth up;" vi. 11, where, after the threatening against Israel, we suddenly find the words: "Nevertheless, O Judah! He grants thee a harvest, when I (i.e., the Lord) return to the prison of My people." (Judah is [Pg 182] here mentioned as the main portion of the people, in whom mercy is bestowed upon the whole, and in whose salvation the other tribes also share.) Compare also xi. 8-11, where we have this thought: After wrath, mercy; the Covenant-people can never, like the world, be altogether borne down by destructive judgments; xiii. 14, where the strong conviction of the absolutely imperishable nature of the Congregation of the Lord finds utterance in the words, "I will ransom them from the hand of hell; I will redeem them from death: O death! where is thy plague? O hell! where is thy pestilence? repentance is hid from Mine eyes." Simson is perplexed "by the sudden transition of the discourse, in this passage, from threatening to promise,—and this without even any particle to indicate the mutual relation of the sentences and thoughts." But the same phenomenon occurs also in vi. 11 (compare Micah ii. 12, 13), where, likewise, several expositors are perplexed by the suddenness and abruptness of the transition. It is explained from the circumstance, that behind even the darkest clouds of wrath which have gathered over the Congregation of the Lord, there is, nevertheless, concealed the sun of mercy. In the prophets, it sometimes breaks through suddenly and abruptly; but in this they are at one with history, in which the deepest darkness of the night is oftentimes suddenly illuminated by the shining of the Lord: "And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold, the bridegroom cometh."

The sum and substance of Hosea's prophetic announcement is the following:—Israel falls, through Asshur: Judah, the main tribe, shall be preserved from destruction in this catastrophe. (The prophet's tender care for Judah is strikingly brought out in his exhortation to Israel, in iv. 15, that they should desist from their compromises in religion, and that, if they chose to commit sin, they should rather desert the Lord altogether, lest by their hypocrisy Judah also should be seduced and infected.) But at a later period, Judah too is to fall under the divine judgment (ii. 2 [i. 11], where it is supposed that Judah shall also be carried away into captivity; v. 5: "Israel and Ephraim fall by their iniquity, Judah also falleth with them;" v. 12: "I am unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness;" compare also xii. 1, 3), although the immediate instruments of the judgment upon Judah are not mentioned [Pg 183] by Hosea. But the judgments which the two houses of Israel draw upon themselves by their works (ii. 2 [i. 11], iii. 5, indicate that even Judah will, at some future time, rebel against the house of David) shall be followed by the deliverance to be accomplished by grace. Judah and Israel shall, in the future, be again gathered together under one head, ii. 2 (i. 11); a glorious king out of David's house not only restores what was lost, but also raises the Congregation of the Lord to a decree of glory never before conceived of, iii. 5: "Afterwards shall the children of Israel return and seek the Lord their God, and David their King, and shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days."

The peculiarity of the Messianic prophecies of Hosea, as compared with those of the time of David and Solomon, consists in the connection of the promise with threatenings of judgments, and in the Messiah's appearing as the light of those who walk in the deepest darkness of the divine judgments. It was necessary that this progress should have been made in the Messianic announcements, before the breaking in of the divine judgments; for, otherwise, the hope of the Messiah would have been extinguished by them, because it was but too natural to consider the former as, in fact, an annihilation of these dreamy hopes. But now there was offered to the elect a staff on which they might support themselves, and walk with confidence through the dark valley of the shadow of death.

The Book of Hosea may be divided into two parts, according to the two principal periods of the prophet's ministry,—under Jeroboam, when the external condition was as yet prosperous, and the bodily eye did not as yet perceive anything of the storms of divine wrath which were gathering,—and under the following kings, down to Hosea, when the punishment had already begun, and was hastening, by rapid strides, towards its consummation.—Another difference, although a subordinate one, is this:—that the first part, which comprehends the first three chapters, contains prophecies connected with a symbol, while the second part contains direct prophecies which have no such connection. A similar division occurs in Amos also,—with this difference, that there, the symbolical prophecies form the conclusion. The first part may be considered as a kind of outline, which all the subsequent prophecies served to fill up; just [Pg 184] as may the 6th chapter in Isaiah, and the first and second in Ezekiel. We shall give a complete exposition of this section, as it will afford us a vivid view of the whole position of Hosea, and as it is just there that the Messianic announcement meets us in its most developed form.

Footnote 1: Ewald, Thenius, and others, will not grant that such an interregnum took place. As numbers were originally expressed by letters, in which an interchange might easily happen, we cannot deny the possibility of such an error having occurred in 2 Kings xiv. 23. It is quite possible that the duration of Jeroboam's reign was there originally stated at fifty-two or fifty-three, instead of forty-one years. But strong reasons would be required for rendering such a supposition admissible,—the more so, as the interchange would not have been limited to one letter, as Thenius supposes, but must have extended to both. But no such reasons exist. The silence of the Books of Kings upon the subject of this interregnum cannot be urged as a reason, since these books are so exceedingly short as regards the history of the last times of the kingdom of Israel. Sacred historiography has no interest in the details of this process of decay, which began with the death of Jeroboam,—which also is represented by Amos as if it were the day of Israel's death (Amos vii. 11: "Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall be led away captive out of their own land"), although bare existence is still, for some time, spared. By the rejection of this interregnum, Hosea's ministry would be shortened by twelve years; but this gain—if such it be—can be purchased only at the expense of a most improbable extension of the duration of Jeroboam's reign. Simson, S. 201, has defended the interregnum.


The question which here above all engages our attention, and requires to be answered, is this: Whether that which is reported in these chapters did, or did not, actually and outwardly take place. The history of the inquiries connected with this question is found most fully in Marckius's "Diatribe de uxore fornicationum," Leyden, 1696, reprinted in the Commentary on the Minor Prophets by the same author. The various views may be divided into three classes.

1. It is maintained by very many interpreters, that all the events here narrated took place actually and outwardly. This opinion was advanced with the greatest confidence by Theodoret, Cyril of Alexandria, and Augustine from among the Fathers of the Church; by most interpreters belonging to the Lutheran and Reformed Churches (e.g. Manger); most recently, by Stuck, Hofmann (Weissag u. Erf. S. 206), and, to a certain extent, by Ewald also, who supposes "a free representation of an event actually experienced by the prophet."

2. Others consider it as a parabolical representation. Thus does Calvin, who expressly opposes the supposition not only of an external, but also of an internal event. He explains it thus: "When the prophet began to teach, he commenced thus: The Lord has placed me here as on a stage, that I might tell you, I have taken a wife," etc. Entirely similar was the opinion of the Chaldee Paraphrast, by whom the words, "Go," etc., are thus paraphrased: "Go and prophesy against the inhabitants of the adulterous city." Of a like purport is the view held, from among recent interpreters, by Rosenmueller, Hitzig ("that which the prophet describes as actual, is only a fiction"), Simson and others. The strange opinion of Luther, which, out of too great respect, was adopted by a few later theologians (Osiander, [Pg 185] Gerhard, Tarnovius), is only a modification of this. It is to the effect, that the prophet had only ascribed to his own chaste wife the name and works of an adulteress, and, hence, had performed with her, before the people, a kind of play. (Compare, against this view, Buddeus, de peccatis typicis in the Misc. s. t. i. p. 262.) The same opinion is expressed by Umbreit: "His own wife is implicated in the general guilt, and hence she is a representative of the whole people." In opposition to this view, compare Simson's Commentary.

3. Others suppose that the prophet narrates events which took place actually, indeed, but not outwardly. This opinion was, considering the time at which it was advanced, very ably defended by Jerome in Epist. ad Pammachium, and in his commentary on chap. i. 8. According to Rufinus, all those in Palestine and Egypt who respected the authority of Origen, asserted that the marriage took place only in spirit. The difficulties attaching to the first view were made especially obvious by the ridicule of the Manicheans (Faustus and Secundinus in Augustine, t. vi. p. 575) on this narrative. The most accomplished Jewish scholars (Maimonides in the More Nebuch. p. ii. c. 46, Abenezra, Kimchi) support this opinion. Some new arguments in defence of it have been adduced by Marckius.

Of these three views:—actually and outwardly; neither outwardly nor actually; actually, but not outwardly,—the second must be at once rejected. Those who hold it supply, "God has commanded me to tell you." But there is not the slightest intimation of such an ellipsis; and those interpreters have no better right to supply it in this, than in any other narrative. There is before us action, and nothing but action, without any intimation whatsoever that it is merely an invention.

But the following arguments are decisive in favour of the third, and against the first view.

1. The defenders of an outward transaction rely, in support of their view, upon the supposition, that their interpretation is most obvious and natural;—that they are thus, as it were, in the possession of the ground, and in a position from which they can be driven only by the most cogent reasons;—that if the transaction had been internal, it would have been necessary for the prophet to have expressly marked it as such. But precisely the reverse of all this is the case. The most obvious supposition [Pg 186] is, that the symbolical action took place in vision. If certain actions of the prophets, especially seeing, hearing, and their speaking to the Lord, etc., must be conceived of as having taken place inwardly, unless there be distinct indications of the opposite, why not the remainder also? For the former presupposes that the world in which the prophets move, is altogether different from the ordinary one; that it is not the outward, but the spiritual world. It is certainly not a matter of chance, that the seeing in the case of the prophets must be understood spiritually; and if there be a reason for this, the same reason entitles us to assert that the walking, etc., also took place inwardly only. By what right could we make any difference between the actions of others, described by the prophet, and his own? Vision and symbolical action are not opposed to each other; the former is only the genus comprehending the latter as a species. By this we do not at all mean to assert, that all the symbolical actions of the prophets took place in inward vision only. An inward transaction always lay at the foundation; but sometimes, and when it was appropriate, they embodied it in an outward representation also (1 Kings xx. 35 seq., xxii. 11; Jer. xix. xxviii.; and a similar remarkable instance from modern times, in Croesi Hist. Quakeriana, p. 13). For this very reason, however, this argument cannot be altogether decisive by itself; but it furnishes, at least, a presumptive proof, and that by no means unimportant. If regularly and naturally the transaction be internal only, then the opposite requires to be proved in this case. If this had been admitted, no attempt would have been made elsewhere also, e.g., Is. xx., by false and forced interpretations to explain away the supposition of a merely internal transaction.

2. No one will certainly venture to assert that a merely internal transaction would have missed its aim, since there exists a multitude of symbolical actions, in regard to which it is undeniable, and universally admitted, that they took place internally only. For the inward action, being narrated and committed to writing, retained the advantage of vividness and impressiveness over the naked representation of the same truth. Sometimes, in the case of actions concentrated into a single moment, this advantage may be still further increased by the inward transaction being represented outwardly also. But, here, just the [Pg 187] opposite would take place. We have here before us a symbolical transaction which, if it had been performed outwardly, would have continued for several years. The separation of the single events would have prevented its being taken in at a single view, and have thus deprived it of its impressiveness. But, what is still more important, the natural substratum would have occupied the attention so much more than the idea, that the latter would have been thereby altogether overlooked. The domestic affairs of the prophet would have become the subject of a large amount of tittle-tattle, and the idea would have been remembered only to give greater point to the ridicule.

3. The command of God, when considered as referring to an outward transaction, cannot be, by any means, justified. This is most glaringly obvious, if we understand this command, as several do, to mean that the prophet should beget children with an unchaste woman, and without legitimate marriage. Every one will sympathize with the indignation expressed by Buddeus (l. c. p. 206) against Thomas Aquinas, who, following this view, maintains that the law of God had been, in this special case, repealed by His command. God Himself cannot set us free from His commands; they are an expression of His nature, an image of His holiness. To ascribe arbitrariness to God in this respect, would be to annihilate the idea of God, and the idea of the Law at the same time. This view, it is true, is so decidedly erroneous as to require no further refutation; but even the opinion of Buddeus and others presents insurmountable difficulties. They suppose that the prophet had married a woman who was formerly unchaste. In opposition to this, Calvin very strikingly remarks: "It seems not to be consistent with reason, that God should spontaneously have rendered His prophet contemptible; for how could he ever have appeared in public after such ignominy had been inflicted upon him? If he had married such a wife, as here described, he ought rather to have hidden himself all his lifetime than have assumed the prophetic office." In Lev. xxi. 7 the law forbids the priests to take a wife that is a whore, or profane. That which, according to the letter, referred to the priests only, is applicable, in its spirit, to the prophets also,—yea, to them in a higher degree, as will be seen immediately, when the ordinance is reduced to its idea. The latter is easily inferred from the reason stated, [Pg 188] viz., that the priests should be holy to their God. The servants of God must represent His holiness; they are, therefore, not allowed, by so close a contact with sin, to defile or desecrate themselves either inwardly or outwardly. Although the inward pollution may be prevented in individual cases by a specially effective assistance of divine grace, yet there always remains the outward pollution.

It is inconceivable that, at the very commencement of his ministry, God should have commanded to the prophet anything, the inevitable effect of which was to mar its successful execution. Several—and especially Manger—who felt the difficulties of this interpretation, substituted for it another, by which, as they imagined, all objections were removed. The prophet, they say, married a person who had formerly been chaste, and fell only after her marriage. This view is no doubt the correct one, as is obvious from the relation of the figure to the reality. According to ver. 2, it is to be expressed figuratively that the people went a-whoring from Jehovah. The spiritual adultery presupposes that the spiritual marriage had already been concluded. Hence, the wife can be called a whoring wife, only on account of the whoredom which she practised after her marriage. This is confirmed by chap. iii. 1, where the more limited expression "to commit adultery" is substituted for "to whore," which has a wider sense, and comprehends adultery also. The former unchastity of the wife would be without any meaning, yea, would be in direct contradiction to the real state of the case. For before the marriage concluded at Sinai, Israel was devoted to the Lord in faithful love; comp. Jer. ii. 2: "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, thy walking after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown." Compare also Ezek. xvi., where Israel, before her marriage, appears as a virgo intacta. But how correct soever this view may be—and every other view perverts the whole position—it is, nevertheless, erroneous to suppose that thereby all difficulties are removed. All which has been urged against the former view, may be urged here also. It might have been better for the prophet to have married one who was previously unchaste, in the hope that her subsequent better life might wipe out her former shame, than one previously chaste, who was required to become unchaste, and to remain so for a long time, because, [Pg 189] otherwise, the symbolical action would have lost all its significance. The objection brought forward, that whatever is unbecoming as an outward action, is so likewise though it were only an internal action, can scarcely be meant to be in earnest. For, in this case, every one knew that the prophet was a mere type; and, with regard to his wife, this circumstance was so obvious, that mockery certainly gave way to shame and confusion. But a marriage outwardly entered into is never purely typical. It has always its significance apart from the typical import, and must be justifiable, independently of its typical character. Ridicule would, in this case, have been not only too obvious, but to a certain extent also well founded.

4. If the action had taken place only outwardly, it would have been impossible to explain the abrupt transition from the symbolical action to the mere figure, and again to the entirely naked representation as we find it here, and vice versa. In the first chapter, the symbolical action is pretty well maintained; but in the prophecy ii. 1-3 (i. 10-ii. 1), which belongs to the same section, it is almost entirely lost sight of. As the corporeal adultery, and rejection in consequence of it, were to be the type of the spiritual adultery and rejection, so the receiving again of the wife, rejected on account of her faithlessness, but now reformed, was to typify the Lord's granting mercy to the people. But of this, not a trace is found. And yet, we are not at liberty to say that the ground of it lies in a difference betwixt the type and the thing typified,—in the circumstance that the wife of the prophet did not reform. If there existed such a difference, the type could not have been chosen at all. The contrary appears also from ii. 9 (7).—In the whole second section, ii. 4-25 (ii. 2-23), regard is indeed had to the symbolical action; but in a manner so free, that it dwindles away to a mere figure, from behind which the thing itself is continually coming into view. In chap. iii. the symbolical action again acquires greater prominence. These phenomena can be accounted for, only if the transaction be viewed as an inward one. In the case of an outward transaction, the transition from the symbolical action to the figure, and from the figure to the thing itself, would not have been so easy. The substratum of the idea is, in that case, far more material, and the idea itself too closely bound to it.

[Pg 190]

5. When the transaction is viewed as an outward one, insurmountable difficulties are presented by the third chapter; and the argument drawn from this would, in itself, be quite sufficient to settle the question: "Then the Lord said unto me. Go again, love a woman beloved of her friend and an adulteress." Interpreters who have adopted that view, find themselves here in no little embarrassment. Several suppose that the woman, whom the prophet is here commanded to love, is his former wife, Gomer,—with her he should get reconciled. But this is quite out of the question. In opposition to it, there is, first, the indefinite signification by [Hebrew: awh]; then, in ver. 2, there is the purchase of the woman,—which supposes that she had not yet been in the possession of the husband; and, further, the words, "beloved of her friend, and an adulteress," can, according to a sound interpretation, mean only, "who, although she is beloved by her faithful husband, will yet commit adultery;" so that, if it be referred to the reunion with Gomer, we should be compelled to suppose that, after being received again, she again became unfaithful,—and in favour of this opinion, no corresponding feature can be pointed out in the thing typified. Lastly,—The word "love" cannot mean "love again," "restitue amoris signa." For the love of the prophet to his wife must correspond with the love of God to the people of Israel. That this love, however, cannot be limited to the love which God will show to the Congregation after her conversion, is seen from the additional clause, "And

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