“The Prophet Hosea,” by Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1310)
Hosea lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of its fourteenth king, Jeroboam II, just a few decades before the Assyrian Conquest. His name (הוֹשֵׁעַ) means “salvation,” and his book is about God’s willingness to save Israel, even though they have turned away from Him.
The first three chapters contain an elaborate parable comparing God’s covenant with Israel to a marriage. God tells Hosea to marry a harlot, symbolizing Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him. God then gives each of their three children a name which conveys His frustration with Israel’s constant infidelity:
- Jezreel (יִזְרְעֵאל) – “God sows” (the name of a valley where many battles had been fought) (Hosea 1:4)
- Lo-ruhamah (לֹא רֻחָמָה) – “No mercy” or “no compassion” (Hosea 1:6)
- Lo-ammi (לֹא עַמִּי) – “Not my people” (Hosea 1:9)
The point of the parable is that, in spite of His frustration, God remains committed to His covenant people. “I will betroth thee unto me for ever,” He says. “And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (Hosea 2:19-23).
Speaking about this parable, President Henry B. Eyring said, “This was not a story about a business deal between partners. … This was a love story. This was a story of a marriage covenant bound by love, by steadfast love….. The Lord, with whom I am blessed to have made covenants, loves me, and you … with a steadfastness about which I continually marvel and which I want with all my heart to emulate” (“Covenants and Sacrifice” address given at the Church Educational System Symposium on the Old Testament, Aug. 15, 1995, quoted in Old Testament Seminary Student Manual, Lesson 150: Hosea).
This is the core message of Hosea. A covenant with God is not merely a legal agreement. It is a new relationship with Him. Here are two blog posts in which I discuss this principle in more detail:
- “My Covenant” – We are accustomed to define the word “covenant” in legal terms, as a bilateral set of promises. But the Latin word convenire, from which the word covenant descends, means literally to come together or to unite.
- Hesed – God allows us to enter a covenant relationship with Him, so that we can learn to show steadfast lovingkindness toward Him and toward other people.
“Joel,” by James Tissot (c. 1900)
It’s not clear when the prophet Joel lived. His short book describes a plague of locusts and a drought which afflicted the kingdom of Judah (Joel 1:4, 12, 20). However, these calamities may be a metaphor for the conquest and oppression of Judah at the hands of their enemies. (See Joel 1:6.)
Joel’s message to his people is that God has not abandoned them. His deliverance will come in time. The most dramatic manifestation of this deliverance is in the passage which Peter quoted on the day of Pentacost (Acts 2:17-21) and which the angel Moroni quoted to Joseph Smith, telling him that it would soon be fulfilled (Joseph Smith—History 1:41):
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions….
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be deliveredJoel 2:28-32
Here are a couple of blog posts about this passage:
- Poured Out – God wants us to pour out our souls to Him, holding nothing back. In return, He is willing and eager to pour out His Spirit upon us.
- Unto All Who Call on His Name – Alma 9:17 – It is not enough to refrain from using the Lord’s name inappropriately. We need to also learn to use it correctly: to call upon Him using His name, reverently and in an attitude of worship.
I have read interesting perspectives on Jesus parable of the Samaritan woman at the well. She is used as a metaphor for the Samaritan race. When Jesus reveals that she has had five husbands in the past, he is not being literal – that the woman is a harlot – but referring to the Samaritan people. That interpretation seems to fit with Joel.
Thanks for sharing that perspective. I think that many stories in the scriptures serve multiple purposes and can have multiple interpretations. I personally take literally the story of Jesus speaking to the woman at the well, but I think she can also be a symbol for the Samaritan people, just as Hosea’s wife symbolized the infidelity of the Israelites. I appreciate you sharing that connection.