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The Book of Hoshea – Understanding the Two Houses (PDF Download)


The Book of Hoshea – Understanding the Two Houses (PDF Download)

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The Book of Hoshea – Understanding the Two Houses

The Book of Hoshea deals with Ephraim’s return to HaShem and Eretz Yisra’el. There are two parts to the Book of Hoshea:

• The first part – chapters 1-3 – which deal with Hoshea being required to marry a woman known to be unfaithful and to have children from her, and
• the second part – chapters 4-14 – which contains mainly rebuke to the people of Israel, and a call for repentance.

It is a singular story:

Hashem commands Hoshea to marry an eshet zenunim – a woman known to be unfaithful – and to have children from her. As each child is born, Hashem tells him what to name the child – names which have negative connotations:

• Yizre’el (where Yehu killed all the descendants of Achav – Melachim II 9-10),
• Lo Ruchama (One who has not been loved/not been shown mercy), and
• Lo Ami (One who is not my nation).

One will no doubt ask many questions: How could Hashem have asked a holy man, a prophet, to take a promiscuous woman as his wife? And not only that, but the prophet is commanded to love her! And how can a person give his children names that indicate tragedy?

The commentators deal with these questions in two basic ways:

1) That these deeds were not actually done, but that it was all a prophetic vision. This approach can be found in the commentary of the Radak (on Hoshea 1:2)
2) That these deeds were done, and the purpose of them was to teach Hoshea a lesson. Yalkut Shimoni (section 515) brings a conversation between Hashem and Hoshea, explaining the lesson.

The relationship between Hashem and the people of Israel has been likened in many places in TaNaCh to the relationship between husband and wife. Accordingly, the imagery used for the Children of Israel worshipping idols is that of an unfaithful wife. But, as with a wife, neither the covenant nor the emotional relationship can be broken completely, once the two sides have bound themselves to it. Hashem loves the Children of Israel, no matter how wayfaring they may become. The theme of zenut – of straying from the path – repeats itself countless times in the Book of Hoshea. Israel strays, thus angering Hashem very much, but never to the point of breaking off the relationship. Israel will always be welcomed back – teshuva will always be accepted – and that is the second main theme of the book of Hoshea.

Hoshea found this unconditional acceptance of teshuva hard to understand, and his idea of justice was that Hashem should choose Himself a different nation in place of the Children of Israel. So Hashem showed him that even in plain human relations there can be situations where "love conquers all": "After marrying this unfaithful woman, Hoshea cannot bring himself to leave her, and so he understands that he was wrong in his suggestion that Hashem leave the Children of Israel, and also wrong about the role of the prophet: the prophet should always pray for the people, and not just berate them. A prophet is always responsible for the welfare of the people."

The study of this wonderful Book of Hoshea, with its many reprimands and many future promises is surely a blessing to understand.

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