Interpretation of Hosea 2:2-20

by hamiltonmj1983

I.  Hosea 2:2-20 Thought-Flow and Segment Divisions

Stanza 1 – 2:2 (1 Strophe)

Strophe 1 (Tricolon with an intercalated couplet)

2:2 –   Plead with your mother, plead!

(For she is not my wife

And I am not her husband)

That she put away her whoring from her face

And her adultery from between her breasts!

Lines 4 and 5 are set up with two word pairs, in A B A’ B’ fashion.  The word pairs are whoring/adultery and face/breasts.

Intercalation – The 2nd and 3rd lines in verse 2 seem to be an intercalation; the 4th and 5th lines are the continuation of the 1st.  This is why I included brackets around the 2nd and 3rd lines above.

Preparation / Realization – This first verse introduces the following segment.

This first Stanza is an introduction to this entire segment; it is a plea for Israel to turn away from its adultery with other nations and other gods.

Stanza 2 – 2:3-2:5 (5 Strophes)

Strophe 1 (Couplet)

2:3a –             Or I will strip her naked

And expose her as in the day she was born,

These two lines also use word pairs, strip/expose and naked/as the day she was born.

Strophe 2 (Tricolon)

2:3b – And make her like a wilderness

And turn her into a parched land

And kill her with thirst.

This tricolon uses the word pair of wilderness/parched land, and explains the pairing with the third line, that this is done to “kill her with thirst.”

These first two strophes in the second stanza describe the punishments that will befall Israel if she does not heed the plea in verse 2.

Strophe 3 (Couplet)

2:4 –   Upon her children also I will have no pity

Because they are children of whoredom

Strophe 4 (Couplet)

2:5a – For their mother has played the whore

She who conceived them has acted shamefully

Strophe 5 (Quatrain)

2:5b –             For she said, “I will go after my lovers;

They give me my bread and my water,

My wool and my flax,

My oil and my drink.

The second, third and fourth line function together through ellipsis.  The verb “They give me” is gapped from the first line into the second and third lines.

Repetition – Within this second stanza, one finds a repetition of substantiation.  The second line in verse 4 starts with “because,” leading the reader to understand that the fact that they are children of whoredom in this line is the cause of the prior line’s statement of “Upon her children I will also have no pity.”  The “For,” at the beginning of verse 5 also leads the reader to understand that the “For their mother has played the whore / She who conceived them shamefully” in this line is causing the prior line.  The second half of verse 5 starts off with the word “For,” also יכ in Hebrew, leading one to understand that what is happening in this verse is the cause of the description of the wife as acting “shamefully” in the prior verse.

These last few lines in this stanza involve the punishment that will be fall the upcoming generations of Israel because of their father’s (or in this context, mother’s) sins, with an explanation in the 4th and 5th Strophe concerning why the “children” will be punished.

These first two stanzas are the focus of my interpretation of this passage.  I know that one could make an argument that other passages within this segment may be better suited to fulfill the roll of the segment’s significant passage, but this particular passage, the first two stanzas of the segment, introduce and set the scene for the rest of the segment.  It explains the sin of Israel and the way in which the Israelites broke the covenant with God – they committed nation-wide adultery, and, when read with the rest of this passage, the manner in which they committed adultery with Baal.

The rest of the segment is broken down into smaller divisions, with some notes as to content and structure, but the majority of the work (per Dr. Thompson’s email) has been committed to this passage, 2:2-5.

Stanza 3 – 2:6 – 2:8 (4 Strophes)

Strophe 1 (Tricolon)

2:6 –   (Therefore) I will hedge up her way with thorns,

I will build a wall against her

So that she cannot find her paths

Repetition – This verse marks the first time ןכל is used to start a line.  This is repeated in verses 9 and 14 as well, segmenting off different stanzas in this poetic oracle.  These instances of this word could either be part of the lines in which they are found, or they could possibly monocolons at the beginning of these stanzas, delineating between stanzas.[1]  Not only is this vocabulary repeated, but it also marks a Repetition of Causation.  “Therefore” signifies that what is happening in the following stanza is caused by the content of the previous stanza.  Stanzas 3, 4, and 5 are all linked together through this repetition of causation.

Strophe 2 (Quatrain)

2:7a – She shall pursue her lovers

But not overtake them

And she shall seek them

But shall not find them

Strophe 3 (Tricolon)

2:7b – Then she shall say,

“I will go and return to my first husband,

For it was better with me then than now.”

Strophe 4 (Quatrain)

2:8 –   She did not know

That it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil

And who lavished upon her silver and gold

That they used for Baal.

This stanza explains the efforts that God is going to take to cause Israel to stop committing adultery (that he will “hedge her up” and prevent her from finding and catching up to her lovers).  The final strophe is an explanatory statement, that Israel was mistaken in the first place, that she thought the other nations and the Baals were responsible for her prosperity, but instead God was responsible.

Stanza 4 (5 Strophes)

Strophe 1 (Quintet)

2:9 –   (Therefore) I will take back

My grain in its time

And my wine it its season

And I will take my wool and my flax

Which were to cover her nakedness

Strophe 2 (Tricolon)

2:10 – Now I will uncover her shame

In the sight of her lovers,

And no one shall rescue her out of my hand

Strophe 3 (Quintet)

2:11 – I will put an end to all her mirth,

Her festivals,

Her new moons,

Her Sabbaths,

And all her appointed festivals.

Here the reader finds another example of ellipsis; “I will put an end to” is gapped from the first line into the second, third, fourth, and fifth.

Strophe 4 (Quintet)

2:12 – I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees,

Of which se has said “These are my pay,

Which my lovers have given me”

I will make them a forest,

And the wild animals shall devour them.

Strophe 5 (Quintet)

2:13 – I will punish her for the festival days of the Baals,

When she offered incense to them,

And decked herself with her ring and jewelry

And went after her lovers,

And forgot me, says the LORD.

This Stanza describes the punishment that God is going to bring down upon Israel, because of her inability to recognize God as the provider, instead of the nations and foreign gods.  A particular notice is given to the Baals and the festival days (and possibly the new moons, Sabbath, and other festivals) committed to these other gods.

Stanza 5 (3 Strophes)

Strophe 1 (Tricolon)

2:14 – (Therefore) I will now allure her

And bring her into the wilderness,

And speak tenderly to her.

Pivot – The mood of this passage changes from the theme of punishment to the theme of restoration here in verse 14.

Strophe 2 (Couplet)

2:15a –From there I will give her vineyards,

And make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.

Strophe 3 (Couplet)

2:15b – There she shall respond as in the days of her youth,

As at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

This stanza brings about the call to Israel to return (although it seems that it will not happen until after the punishments from the previous stanza.  After this call, Israel will return to the faith of “her youth,” when she “came out of the land of Egypt.”  This reference to the Exodus brings the reader’s attention to a younger Israel who still relied upon God to bring them through, and did not attempt to work with other nations in order to gain prosperity and safety.

Stanza 6 (6 Strophes)

Strophe 1 (Tricolon)

2:16 – On that day, says the Lord

You will call me “My husband,”

And no longer will you call me “My Baal.”

Strophe 2 (Bicolon)

2:17 – For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth,

And they shall be mentioned by name no more.

Strophe 3 (Quatrain)

2:18a – I will make for you a covenant on that day

With the wild animals,

With the birds of the air,

And the creeping things of the ground.

Strophe 4 (Bicolon)

2:18b – And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land,

And I will make you lie down in safety.

Strophe 5 (Quatrain)

2:19-20a –

And I will take you for my wife forever

I will take you for my wife in righteousness and justice

In steadfast love and in mercy

I will take you for my wife in faithfulness.

Strophe 6 (Monocolon)

2:20b – And you shall know the Lord.

Climax – This final monocolon stands alone as the last line of the oracle, and speaks to the audience with a concluding finality.  “And you shall know the Lord” is the climax of this entire oracle.  Everything up until this point was leading up to this.

This final Stanza has an almost apocalyptic hope to it, in that at a future point in time, Israel will be free from war and danger, and in perfect relationship with God.  Even from nature Israel will be safe, and will no longer seek other gods or nations for protection and prosperity.

Conclusions (to this point)

The first two stanzas of this segment serve almost as an introduction to the rest of the passage.  Israel seems to have abandoned God in an effort to make prosperity happen through their own work and reliance on other nations and other gods.  God is angry, and is preparing to bring punishment down upon Israel for their sins.  In the midst of his anger, God still is calling Israel back into repentance, in the hope for a future restoration and recommitment of the covenant between the people and God.

It would seem from the evidence of the text, that the “children” are either the younger generation alive now in Israel, who are being called to speak to the older generation in an effort to convince them to stop their involvement with other nations and their gods, and to end all treaties and covenants which violate their covenant with their own God, or else the “children” may just be understood as future generations who will also receive the inherited punishment that the current generation of Israel is earning through their actions and sins.  I, personally, after reading these two stanzas in the context of the entire segment, as well as the book as a whole, would tend to lean towards the first possibility.  God is asking the younger generation in Israel (through the metaphor of Hosea asking the children of his estranged whore of a wife) to plead with the older generation who is in power in Israel (through the metaphor of the children pleading with their mother) in an effort to bring repentance into the land, because not only will the older generation be punished, but so will the younger.  It seems almost as if God is appealing to the younger generations hope to survive and escape punishment to talk them into pleading with the older generation.

II. Secondary Source Research

Wolff, Hans Walter. Hosea: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Hosea. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974.

Hans Walter Wolff points out that the first word in this segment (which he translates “accuse,” instead of “plead,” as the NRSV does) is “court language,” and “calls one to account, …assails with rebuke, or makes an accusation.”

Wolff also points out the fact that within this allegory, the children are called to the father’s side, and not the mother’s.  He mentions various possible meanings such as the summoning of the People of Israel against the Land of Israel, the Youth against the Leaders, the Morally Superior against those chiefly responsible for Israel’s guilt, and a Genuine Repentance against Complacent Transgression.  The second of these lines up with my own personal interpretation of the passage; the younger generation is called to stand against the older generation.

Wolff views the children’s involvement with this situation is one of “an admonition which is to spare her the punishment,” and “not in the execution of the punishment.”  This means that Wolff believes that Israel will be able to avoid the punishment if they repent in time.  I do not think that this viewed is backed up by the text, although I also am not sure that the opposite has backing either.  The text seems rather vague as to whether or not the repentance will allow and avoidance of punishment, or simply points to the hope of restoration post-punishment.  Wolff’s argument is that the !p clause in verse 5 signifies the opportunity to avoid punishment.  Ultimately, one would have to determine whether or not the punishment in verse 3 and 4 is the same as what follows in the next two stanzas within this segment.

Limburg, James. “Hosea – Micah,” Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1935.

James Limburg also points out the similarity to court proceedings in these verses, and the use of accusations throughout this passage, although he does not do as thorough a job of explaining this as Wolff has.  Limburg also does not list possibilities for the identity of the “children;” instead he only has one meaning that he is certain about: the children are the faithful remnant in Israel, while the “mother” is Israel as a whole.  Limburg understands this allegory to mean one thing: that “Israel has been avidly pushing the worship of Baal and enthusiastically participating in the rites of the Canaanite fertility cults.”  This understanding comes from the use of bread and water, wool and flax, and oil and drink all being “credited to the beneficence of the Canaanite fertility god.”

Limburg does not do a good job of backing up his decisions in interpreting this text.  He makes pointed statements with definite meaning for the text, with no possible alternative understandings, but lacks any reasoning as to why his view is correct other than a few scattered comparisons to the book of Deuteronomy and the Psalms. He also barely spends a page on these verses, so his interpretation leaves much to be wanted.

Stuart, Douglas. “Hosea – Jonah,” Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987.

Douglas Stuart also points out that this passage seems to be in the form of a court document or a lawsuit.  Stuart also recognizes this passage as a metaphor, in which Israel is “Yahweh’s wife,” and in this act of a lawsuit, he is trying to divorce her for her adultery.  She has been unfaithful with her “correspondents,” the Baals.

Stuart mentions the children as being called to give their testimony against their mother, and later in his comment he designates them as “Israel’s citizenry.”  He states that “the children and mother are one, and their own individual actions and attitudes, ranging from complacency to idolatry will constitute damning testimony as they speak.”  He does point out that the common punishments for adultery, burning and stoning, are left out of this passage.  In my own opinion, this is probably because this passage is simply an allegory, and the “characters” are not individuals, but an entire nation.

Stuart notes that in verse 4, the indictment is turned towards the children, as they are now spoken of in the third person.  The children are assumed just as guilty as the mother.  This would be the case if Stuart is right that the mother and the children both represent the people of Israel as a whole.

Stuart understands this passage as preparing the way for what follows, the punishment that Israel will receive for her sins.

Stuart does an excellent job of backing up his arguments with the text and uses Hebrew grammar more than either Limburg or Wolff, but the separation between his section entitled “Form / Structure / Setting” and the one entitled “Comment” may cause some page-flipping confusion for the reader, even though the content of both sections occasionally overlap.

Andersen, Francis I. and David Noel Freedman. “Hosea,” The Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday and Company Inc., 1986.

Anderson and Freedman point out that that the word used for “plead” is always used in “a hostile confrontation, an accusation,” and they, too, relate its usage here to a court case.

Anderson and Freedman recognize the lines “She is not my wife / and I am not her husband” as identifying the couple as being separated, that the wife has left the husband.  Because of this, the children must now take up the matter with their mother, because the father cannot.  They recognize the identity of the children as being a part of the covenant community, and that “one part [is] reproaching another.”  They make the case that one does not need to assume that the children are a “faithful remnant” or that the mother is an “apostate segment.”  The children are within the same group as the mother, although they are not equivalent.  They both, however, “are in jeopardy,” and the children’s “own interests are at stake in the fate of the mother.”

These two are extremely thorough in their treatment of this text, but they do not include a lot of evidence to back up their interpretations.  Their opinions seem sound, but again, without much evidence and very little treatment of the Hebrew, it is hard to judge their interpretations.

III. Conclusions

After consulting secondary resources, I would stick with my former conclusion that the “children” are the younger generation in Israel, and the “mother” is the older generation, the ones who are in power and making the decisions.  God is appealing to the younger ones, and letting them know that their future is in danger along with the older ones; if part of Israel is punished, then all of Israel will be punished.

[1] See Wilfred G.E. Watson’s Classical Hebrew Poetry, a Guide to its Techniques for more on the usage of the monocolon.