Notes On The Minor Prophets
It was with no definite purpose of writing a series of Notes on the Minor Prophets as a whole, that I first began to take up various books of the twelve, in monthly installments in Help and Food for the Household op Faith. But after penning some notes on Habakkuk, Jonah, and Obadiah, I found my own soul helped, and an interest developed in the further study of these much-neglected portions of Scriptures, and so took up Hosea and the books following. I have sought to press their practical application as giving important teaching for a remnant people in a day of decline, while not neglecting their dispensational bearing. This, I am persuaded, is what is greatly needed at the present moment. If God be pleased to use the Notes for the stirring of His people’s consciences and the comfort of their hearts, the desired end will be realized.
Chapter 1 The Blood Of Jezreel[i]
Hosea, whose book is the first of the so-called Minor Prophets, was a contemporary of Isaiah throughout almost his entire ministry, as also of Amos in his earlier years. A comparison of the first verses of each of their books with the one before us makes this evident. During the long reign of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, and those of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, there was much to rebuke in the two nations. Hosea seems to have confined most of his direct messages to Judah, speaking rather of the ten tribes than to them; but the scope of his prophecy embraces both, and that very fully. In fact, no other messenger gives so complete an outline of the ways of God with His earthly people as does Hosea, even Daniel not excepted. Read in connection with the visions of the latter, the one throws much light on the other.
Of Hosea’s personal history it has not pleased God to give us any particulars, save in relation to his marriage, and the issue therefrom. His father’s name is given as Beeri, but neither the prophet’s tribe nor the place of his nativity is mentioned. Hosea means help, or salvation. With a single vowel-point added it becomes Hoshea, salvation of Jah. Beeri is said to mean The well of Jehovah. The two names together remind us of the Lord’s words to the woman of Samaria. He offered her living water from Jehovah’s well, which would result in her assured salvation.
“The beginning of the word of the Lord by Hosea” was a command for the prophet himself, bidding him do what would be obnoxious to mere nature, and which must have tested the heart of Jehovah’s servant in a very marked way. As in the case of Isaiah, he and his were to be for signs in Israel; so he is told to unite himself in marriage to a woman devoid of character—a harlot; thus signifying the wretched condition of unfaithful Israel, who nevertheless remained the object of Jehovah’s love, despite their iniquity, and the filthiness that was in them. What more wonderful picture could we have of grace, not only to the undeserving, but to those who had deserved the very opposite? It is important to remember that grace is not merely unmerited favor, but it is favor spite of merited judgment.
Such is the marvelous loving-kindness of our God that He finds the objects of His love, not among the righteous and the holy, but among sinners lost and ruined, deserving naught but judgment, stained with guilt and polluted by sin, having all gone out of the way and become unprofitable; nevertheless He sets His love upon wretches so vile and unworthy, and redeems them to Himself. Jehovah’s dealings with Israel of old picture His ways of grace with believers now. “All these things happened unto them for types, and they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages have arrived.”
In obedience to the voice of the Lord, Hosea “went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim” as his wife; thus giving to her who before had no standing the place and honor of a wife in Israel. Of her he had several children. Having died to her old wretched life, of which she might well be ashamed, she brings forth fruit unto him who has set his love upon her and given her his name and protection. It is easy to see in all this a lovely illustration of the words of the Holy Spirit in Rom. 6:21, 22: “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” As also in verse 4 of the following chapter: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
Hosea had to bear the shame of having espoused one of so wretched a character, but he did not have to die for her. It was far otherwise with our blessed Lord Jesus. He not only came where we were in our sin and shame, but on Calvary’s cross He was made sin for us that we might become God’s righteousness in Him. There He purchased us with His own precious blood, “that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).
Of His all-conquering love, the kindness shown by Hosea to Gomer is but a very faint picture; as also of Jehovah’s undying affection for Israel, the earthly bride. For the cross was where the purchase-price was paid for both the heavenly and the earthly people.
When the first son was born, “the Lord said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel. And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (vers. 4, 5). The name Jezreel itself speaks of blessing, yet here it is used to tell of judgment. Jezreel means “sown of God,” and in chapter 2, as also in the last verse of this present chapter, it is used in a very different connection from that in which it is here found.
God was about to cast Israel, the northern kingdom, out of His sight among the Gentiles, in order that they might be chastened for their iniquities. He had redeemed them in grace and brought them to Himself; but they had proven false and treacherous. Therefore they must learn by judgment what they would not learn by loving-kindness. He connects their destruction with “the blood of Jezreel.” This is most significant, for the reigning house of Israel had succeeded to the throne through that very “blood of Jezreel.” It was when Jehu became the instrument for the destruction of Ahab’s house, at Jezreel, that he ascended the throne, and Jeroboam II was of his dynasty.
But neither Jehu nor his house had profited by the lesson of Ahab’s judgment. They had themselves walked in the ways of the nations, and followed false gods; therefore the blood of Jezreel would be avenged upon them, and they too should be cut off.
But there is more yet connected with Jezreel. It will be remembered that this was originally the inheritance of the righteous man Naboth. In 1 Kings 21 we learn that this Naboth “had a vineyard which was in Jezreel.” Ahab coveted the vineyard, and sought to buy it, that he might transform it into a garden. Naboth rightfully refused to sell his inheritance, saying, “The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee” (ver. 3). Heavy and displeased, Ahab “laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.” The proud and wilful monarch could not brook the thought that one so insignificant as this Jezreelite should thwart his wishes. Jezebel, his heathen wife, however, wrote letters in his name, saying, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people: and set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die” (vers. 9, 10). The ungodly plot was duly perpetrated. False witnesses swore away the life of the righteous one, and “they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died” (ver. 13).
His inheritance was declared forfeited, and Ahab went down to take possession of it. But on the way he was met by Elijah the prophet, who was sent with a message of judgment upon his lips. Jehovah’s eye had been looking on, and He commanded His servant to declare to the godless king that his doom was sealed, and his house should fall. The blood of Jezreel should be his ruin, for, “Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine” (ver. 19).
“And of Jezebel also spake the Lord, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel” (ver. 23). All this was literally fulfilled. Ahab was slain in the battle of Ramoth-Gilead; and we read, “So the king died, and was brought to Samaria; and they buried the king in Samaria. And one washed the chariot in the pool of Samaria; and the dogs licked up his blood; and they washed his armor; according unto the word of the Lord which He spake” (1 Kings 22:37, 38). This was in the portion of Jezreel, Ahab’s summer home.
Ahab was succeeded by his ungodly son Joram, or Jehoram, as he is sometimes called. Jehu having been anointed king of Israel by Elisha, the man of God, set out first of all to put Joram to death. The latter had “returned to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds which the Syrians had given him, when he fought with Hazael king of Syria” (2 Kings 9:15). In the portion of Naboth the Jezreelite the two met; Ahaziah king of Judah also being with the Israelitish monarch. “And it came to pass, when Joram saw Jehu, that he said, Is it peace, Jehu? And he answered, What peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?” Joram attempted to flee, but Jehu pierced him through with an arrow, and, in fulfilment of the word of Jehovah, cast his bleeding corpse into the plot of Naboth. Ahaziah too was smitten, but fled to Megiddo to die. It was against the house of Ahab the Lord’s vengeance was to fall in the portion of Jezreel!
Here too Jezebel met her dreadful fate, as the prophet had predicted. “When Jehu was come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it, and she painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at a window.” As she taunts Jehu as a regicide, he calls for one upon his side to throw her down. At once several eunuchs lay hands upon her, and “they threw her down, and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall, and on the horses: and he trode her under foot.” Afterwards Jehu sent his servants to bury her, but they found that dogs had devoured her in the portion of Jezreel, as the Lord had spoken (2 Kings 9:30-37). The present dynasty (Jehu’s) had therefore come to the throne through this blood of Jezreel; but, alas, they had failed to profit by the solemn lesson of God’s hatred of sin, and abhorrence of idolatry in particular! Therefore this same valley of Jezreel should be the scene of their judgment; as it was some few years later, when in that very spot (called then Esdraelon) the Assyrian defeated Israel, and their captivity began.
Dispensationally, all this is fraught with truth of a solemn and important character. Israel, according to Isa. 5, is Jehovah’s vineyard. Of Israel therefore the vineyard of Jezreel speaks. They were “sown of God” in the land of Canaan, to be Jehovah’s portion. But they hired false witnesses against the Lord of the vineyard, the Righteous One, who would not give to the enemy His rightful inheritance. By wicked hands they slew the Husbandman, and claimed the vineyard as their own. Because of this the Gentile oppressor was permitted to overturn the kingdom, and power was transferred to the nations. The awful prayer, “His blood be on us, and on our children!” has been terribly answered, as the antitypical blood of Jezreel witnesses. In the very place where they slew the Lord of glory their blood has been poured out as wine bursting from the winepress, and they have been devoured by the dogs—the unclean Gentiles.
Have the Gentiles, on their part, profited by the dreadful lesson of the blood of the seed of God? Far from it. High-minded and indifferent to God’s claims upon them, they have gone on in their own ways, and refused to hearken to His word. Therefore they too shall be cut off, and thus God will avenge upon them the blood of Jezreel.
Coming back to the literal application of the passage in Hosea, we note that Jehovah was about “to break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (ver. 5). Because they had not taken to heart the fact that Ahab’s evil house was destroyed because of sin, but had walked in the same unholy paths, the ten tribes were to be carried into Assyria; a prophecy which, as we well know, came to pass about fifty years later, in the days of King Hoshea, who was imprisoned by Shalmaneser the Assyrian ruler, and his people taken captive.
In the next verse we learn that a daughter was borne by Gomer, who was called Lo-ruhamah, in obedience to the word of God. The name means, “Not having obtained mercy,” and sets forth the present state of Israel since they have been cast out of their land. On Judah the Lord would still have mercy, and would save them from their enemies. They had not yet openly revolted, as had the ten tribes (ver. 7).
A third child, this time a son, was named Lo-ammi; that is, “Not My people:” for the Lord now declared, “Ye are not My people, and I will not be your God.” They had broken the covenant, entered into long ago at Sinai and ratified in the plains of Moab. From the beginning they had been treacherous and rebellious; therefore on the ground of merit they can claim nothing. Hence God gives them up for the time being, and refuses to own them as His people. This Lo-ammi sentence remains unrepealed to the present day. At the Babylonian captivity Judah also came under it, and all Israel have been in its shadow ever since. This accounts for the omission of the! name of God in the book of Esther, which sets forth His providential care over them while they are scattered among the nations, and when He cannot publicly identify Himself with them.[ii]
With verse 9 the first chapter ends, according to the Hebrew arrangement; the two verses that follow being the introduction to chapter 2. They speak of mercy yet to be manifested, and tell us that though all is forfeited on the ground of works, God still has in reserve boundless stores of grace, the enjoyment of which they are to enter into in the latter day. “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not My people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.[iii] Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (vers. 10, 11).
The reference to the sand of the sea carries us right back to the original covenant of pure grace made with Abraham, and confirmed by the oath of El Shaddai. God will not forego the promise made to the fathers, however great the failure of the children. A numberless host of reunited Israel and Judah shall yet be brought into blessing, never more to be forfeited, in the very land pledged to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and stained with the blood of Jesus. This is not the return that took place under Cyrus. Very few from the ten tribes came back at that time, and all have since been driven out of their land because of the rejection of Messiah when He came, in accordance with prophecy, to offer Himself as King. When the Lord’s set time has come, they shall return from all the lands whither they have been scattered, and shall no longer be divided, but be one happy, united people, under one Head, the once-rejected Jesus—the Christ of God. That will be the true day of Jezreel, when the field of blood will become again the vineyard of Jehovah, and they shall be sown of God in the land of their fathers, never to be rooted up again.
[i] It is essential the reader should first read with care, in Scripture, the chapter under consideration in these “Notes.” To derive profit and blessing, the subject must be familiar.—Ed.
[ii] This has been gone into at some length in the author’s “Notes on the Book of Esther,” to be had of the same publishers. Paper covers, 30 cts.; cloth, 75 cts.
[iii] It will be observed that, in justifying from Scripture the present work of God in showing mercy to the Gentiles, this is one of the passages to which the apostle Paul appeals in Rom. 9:25; while his brother-apostle Peter applies the same words to the present remnant of Israel in 1 Pet. 2:10. Both Jew and Gentile stand now on the same ground before God; therefore the same passage may well apply to both, for the salvation of either is on the ground, not of legal works, but of pure grace.