These words, The beginning of the word of the Lord by Hosea, may refer either, 1. To that glorious set of prophets which was raised up about this time. About this time there lived and prophesied Joel, Amos, Micah, Jonah, Obadiah, and Isaiah; but Hosea was the first of them that foretold the destruction of Israel; the beginning of this word of the Lord was by him. We read in the history of this Jeroboam here named (2 Kgs. 14:27) that the Lord had not yet said he would blot out the name of Israel, but soon after he said he would, and Hosea was the man that began to say it, which made it so much the harder task to him, to be the first that should carry an unpleasing message and some time before any were raised up to second him. Or, rather, 2. To Hosea’s own prophecies. This was the first message God sent him upon to this people, to tell them that they were an evil and an adulterous generation. He might have desired to be excused from dealing so roughly with them till he had gained authority and reputation, and some interest in their affections. No; he must begin with this, that they might know what to expect from a prophet of the Lord. Nay, he must not only preach this to them, but he must write it, and publish it, and leave it upon record as a witness against them. Now here,
I. The prophet must, as it were in a looking-glass, show them their sin, and show it to be exceedingly sinful, exceedingly hateful. The prophet is ordered to take unto him a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms, Hos. 1:2. And he did so, Hos. 1:3. He married a woman of ill fame, Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, not one that had been married and had committed adultery, for then she must have been put to death, but one that had lived scandalously in the single state. To marry such a one was not malum in se—evil in itself, but only malum per accidens—incidentally an evil, not prudent, decent, or expedient, and therefore forbidden to the priests, and which, if it were really done, would be an affliction to the prophet (it is threatened as a curse on Amaziah that his wife should be a harlot, Amos 7:17), but not a sin when God commanded it for a holy end; nay, if commanded, it was his duty, and he must trust God with his reputation. But most commentators think that it was done in vision, or that it is no more than a parable; and that was a way of teaching commonly used among the ancients, particularly prophets; what they meant of others they transferred to themselves in a figure, as St. Paul speaks, 1 Cor. 4:6. He must take a wife of whoredoms, and have such children by her as every one would suspect, though born in wedlock, to be children of whoredoms, begotten in adultery, because it is too common for those who have lived lewdly in the single state to live no better in the married state. “Now” (saith God) “Hosea, this people is to me such a dishonour, and such a grief and vexation, as a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms would be to thee. For the land has committed great whoredoms.” In all instances of wickedness they had departed from the Lord; but their idolatry especially is the whoredom they are here charged with. Giving that glory to any creature which is due to God alone is such an injury and affront to God as for a wife to embrace the bosom of a stranger is to her husband. It is especially so in those that have made a profession of religion, and have been taken into covenant with God; it is breaking the marriage-bond; it is a heinous odious sin, and, as much as any thing, besots the mind and takes away the heart. Idolatry is great whoredom, worse than any other; it is departing from the Lord, to whom we lie under greater obligations than any wife does or can do to her husband. The land has committed whoredom; it is not here and there a particular person that is guilty of idolatry, but the whole land is polluted with it; the sin has become national, the disease epidemical. What an odious thing would it be for the prophet, a holy man, to have a whorish wife, and children whorish like her! What an exercise would it be of his patience, and, if she persisted in it, what could be expected but that he should give her a bill of divorce! And is it not then much more offensive to the holy God to have such a people as this to be called by his name and have a place in his house? How great is his patience with them! And how justly may he cast them off! It was as if he should have married Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, who probably was at that time a noted harlot. The land of Israel was like Gomer the daughter of Diblaim. Gomer signifies corruption; Diblaim signifies two cakes, or lumps of figs; this denotes that Israel was near to ruin, and that their luxury and sensuality were the cause of it. They were as the evil figs that could not be eaten, they were so evil. It intimates sin to be the daughter of plenty and destruction the daughter of the abuse of plenty. Some give this sense of the command here given to the prophet: “Go, take thee a wife of whoredoms, for, if thou shouldst go to seek for an honest modest woman, thou wouldst not find any such, for the whole land, and all the people of it, are given to whoredom, the usual concomitant of idolatry.”
II. The prophet must, as it were through a perspective glass, show them their ruin; and this he does in the names given to the children born of this adulteress; for as lust, when it has conceived, brings forth sin, so sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.
1. He foretels the fall of the royal family in the name he is appointed to give to his first child, which was a son: Call his name Jezreel, Hos. 1:4. We find that the prophet Isaiah gave prophetical names to his children (Isa. 7:3; 8:3), so this prophet here. Jezreel signifies the seed of God (so they should have been); but it signifies also the scattered of God; they shall be as sheep on the mountains that have no shepherds. Call them not Israel, which signifies dominion, they have lost all the honour of that name; but call them Jezreel, which signifies dispersion, for those that have departed from the Lord will wander endlessly. Hitherto they have been scattered as seek; let them now be scattered as chaff. Jezreel was the name of one of the royal seats of the kings of Israel; it was a beautiful city, seated in a pleasant valley, and it is with allusion to that city that this child is called Jezreel, for yet a little while and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, from whom the present king, Jeroboam, was lineally descended. The house of Jehu smarted for the sins of Jehu, for God often lays up men’s iniquity for their children and visits it upon them. It is the kingdom of the house of Israel, which may be meant either of the present royal family, that of Jehu, which God did quickly cause to cease (for the son of this Jeroboam, Zechariah, reigned but six months, and he was the last of Jehu’s race), or of the whole kingdom in general, which continued corrupt and wicked, and which was made to cease in the reign of Hoshea, about seventy years after; and with God that is but a little while. Note, Note, Neither the pomp of kings nor the power of kingdoms can secure them from God’s destroying judgments, if they continue to rebel against him. (2.) What is the ground of this controversy: I will revenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, the blood which Jehu shed at Jezreel, when by commission from God and in obedience to his command, he utterly destroyed the house of Ahab, and all that were in alliance with it, with all the worshippers of Baal. God approved of what he did (2 Kgs. 10:30): Thou has done well in executing that which is right in my eyes; and yet here God will avenge that blood upon the house of Jehu, when the time has expired during which it was promised that his family should reign, even to the fourth generation. But how comes the same action to be both rewarded and punished? Very justly; the matter of it was good; it was the execution of a righteous sentence passed upon the house of Ahab, and, as such, it was rewarded; but Jehu did it not in a right manner; he aimed at his own advancement, not at the glory of God, and mingled his own resentments with the execution of God’s justice. He did it with a malice against the sinners, but not with any antipathy to the sin; for he kept up the worship of the golden calves, and took no heed to walk in the law of God, 2 Kgs. 10:31. And therefore when the measure of the iniquity of his house was full, and God came to reckon with them, the first article in the account is (and, being first, it is put for all the rest) for the blood of the house of Ahab, here called the blood of Jezreel. Thus when the house of Baasha was rooted out it was because he did like the house of Jeroboam, and because he killed him, 1 Kgs. 16:7. Note, Those that are entrusted with the administration of justice are concerned to see to it that they do it from a right principle and with a right intention, and that they do not themselves live in those sins which they punish in others, lest even their just executions should be reckoned for, another day, as little less than murders. (3.) How far the controversy shall proceed; it shall be not a correction, but a destruction. Some make those words, I will visit, or appoint, the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, to signify, not as we read it the revenging of that bloodshed, but the repeating of that bloodshed: “I will punish the house of Jehu, as I punished the house of Ahab, because Jehu did not take warning by the punishment of his predecessors, but trod in the steps of their idolatry. And after the house of Jehu is destroyed I will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel; I will begin to bring it down, though now it flourish.” After the death of Zechariah, the last of the house of Jehu, the kingdom of the ten tribes went to decay, and dwindled sensibly. And, in order to the ruin of it, it is threatened (Hos. 1:5), I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel; the strength of the warriors of Israel, so the Chaldee. God will disable them either to defend themselves or to resist their enemies. And the bow abiding in strength, and being renewed in the hand, intimates a growing power, so the breaking of the bow intimates a sinking ruined power. The bow shall be broken in the valley of Jezreel, where, probably, the armoury was; or, it may be, in that valley some battle was fought, wherein the kingdom of Israel was very much weakened. Note, There is no fence against God’s controversy; when he comes forth against a people their strong bows are soon broken and their strong-holds broken down. In the valley of Jezreel they shed that blood which the righteous God would in that very place avenge upon them; as some notorious malefactors are hanged in chains just where the villainy they suffer for was perpetrated, that the punishment may answer the sin.
2. He foretels God’s abandoning the whole nation in the name he gives to the second child. This was a daughter, as the former was a son, to intimate that both sons and daughters had corrupted their way. Some make to signify that Israel grew effeminate, and was thereby enfeebled and made weak. Call the name of this daughter Lo-ruhamah—not beloved (so it is translated Rom. 9:25), or not having obtained mercy, so it is translated 1 Pet. 2:10. It comes all to one. This reads the doom of the house of Israel: I will no more have mercy upon them. It intimates that God had shown them great mercy, but they had abused his favours, and forfeited them, and now he would show them favour no more. Note, Those that forsake their own mercies for lying vanities have reason to expect that their own mercies should forsake them, and that they should be left to their lying vanities, Jonah 2:8. Sin turns away the mercy of God even from the house of Israel, his own professing people, whose case is sad indeed when God says that he will no more have mercy upon them. And then it follows, I will utterly take them away, will utterly remove them (so some), will utterly pluck them up, so others. Note, When the streams of mercy are stopped we can expect no other than that the vials of wrath should be opened. Those whom God will no more have mercy upon shall be utterly taken away, as dross and dung. The word for taking away sometimes signifies to forgive sin; and some take it in that sense here: I will no more have mercy upon them, though in pardoning I have pardoned them heretofore. Though God has borne long, he will not bear always, with a people that hate to be reformed. Or, I will no more have mercy upon them, that I should in any wise pardon them, or (as our margin reads it) that I should altogether pardon them. If pardoning mercy is denied, no other mercy can be expected, for that opens the door to all the rest. Some make this to speak comfort: I will no more have mercy upon them till in pardoning I shall pardon them, that is, till the Redeemer comes to Zion to turn away ungodliness from Jacob. The Chaldee reads it, But, if they repent, in pardoning I will pardon them. Even the greatest sinners, if in time they bethink themselves and return, will find that there is forgiveness with God.
III. He must show them what mercy God had in store for the house of Judah, at the same time that he was thus contending with the house of Israel (Hos. 1:7): But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah. Note, Though some are justly cast off for their disobedience, yet God will always secure to himself a remnant that shall be the vessels and monuments of mercy. When divine justice is glorified in some, yet there are others in whom free grace is glorified. And, though some through unbelief are broken off, yet God will have a church in this world till the end of time. It aggravates the rejection of Israel that God will have mercy on Judah, and not on them, and magnifies God’s mercy to Judah that, though they also have done wickedly, yet God did not reject them, as he rejected Israel: I will have mercy upon them and will save them. Note, Our salvation is owing purely to God’s mercy, and not to any merit of our own. Now,
1. This, without doubt, refers to the temporal salvations which God wrought for Judah in a distinguishing way, the favours shown to them and not to Israel. When the Assyrian armies had destroyed Samaria, and carried the ten tribes away into captivity, they proceeded to besiege Jerusalem; but God had mercy on the house of Judah, and saved them by the vast slaughter which an angel made, in one night, in the camp of the Assyrians; then they were saved by the Lord their God immediately, and not by sword or bow. When the ten tribes were continued in their captivity, and their land was possessed by others, they being utterly taken away, God had mercy on the house of Judah and saved them, and, after seventy years, brought them back, not by might or power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts, Zech. 4:6. I will save them by the Lord their God, that is, by myself. God will be exalted in his own strength, will take the work into his own hands. That salvation is sure which he undertakes to be the author of; for, if he will work, none shall hinder. And that salvation is most acceptable which he does by himself. So the Lord alone did lead him. The less there is of man in any salvation, and the more of God, the brighter it shines and the sweeter it tastes. I will save them in the word of the Lord (so the Chaldee), for the sake of Christ, the eternal word, and by his power. I will save them not by bow nor by sword, that is, (1.) They shall be saved when they are reduced to so low an ebb that they have neither bow nor sword to defend themselves with, Jdg. 5:8; 1 Sam. 13:22. (2.) They shall be saved by the Lord when they are brought off from trusting to their own strength and their weapons of war, Ps. 44:6. (3.) They shall be saved easily, without the trouble of sword and bow, Hos. 1:7. Isa. 9:5; I will save them by the Lord their God. In the calling him their God, he upbraids the ten tribes who had cast him off from being theirs, for which reason he had cast them off, and intimates what was the true reason why he had mercy, distinguishing mercy, for the house of Judah, and saved them: it was in pursuance of his covenant with them as the Lord their God, and in recompence for their faithful adherence to him and to his word and worship. But,
2. This may refer also to the salvation of Judah from idolatry, which qualified and prepared them for their other salvations. And this is indeed a salvation by the Lord their God; it is wrought only by the power of his grace, and can never be wrought by sword or bow. Just at the time that the kingdom of Israel was utterly taken away, under Hoshea, the kingdom of Judah was gloriously reformed, under Hezekiah, and was therefore preserved; and in Babylon God saved them from their idolatry first, and then from their captivity.
3. Some make this promise to look forward to the great salvation which, in the fulness of time, was to be wrought out by the Lord our God, Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save his people from their sins.