The prophet Osee (aka. Hosea)

Tomorrow, aside from being the memorial day of one of the greatest of the early bishops of the Church, S. Ignatius of Antioch, is also the memorial day of the Old Testament prophet, Osee. Here are their two records in the martyrology:

“Memorial of Saint Ignatius, bishop and martyr, who, being a disciple of the Apostle S. John, and ruled the Church in Antioch as its second bishop after the Apostle Saint Peter, and under the emperor Traianus (Trajan) was condemned to be torn apart by the beasts, was sent to Rome and there was crowned with glorious martyrdom. During the journey to Rome, while in custody and while anticipating the ferocity of the leopards, he wrote seven letters to various churches, with which he exhorted the brethren to serve God in union with the bishops and not in any way to prevent him from offering his own life as an oblation for Christ.”

Roman martyrology, the 17th of October

“Commemoration of Saint Osee (Hosea) the prophet, who not only with words but also by his way of life demonstrated to the unfaithful people of Israel that God the Spouse was always faithful and of moved by an infinite mercy.”

Roman martyrology, the 17th of October

I thought that this would be a good moment to put up a short essay on the prophecy of Hosea, which is among the longest of the minor prophets, but a very useful means of putting on the Hebrew mindset and looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, which is a useful exercise for Advent, when we tend to look at Messianic prophecies, particularly of the great Isaias, but also of such as Osee/Hosea and Malachias. Osee had a rather long ministry, overlapping with Amos during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel and reaching past the reigns of King Achaz and King Ezechias of Juda, reaching almost to the end of the northern kingdom of Israel. His themes are those of Amos – condemnation of the immorality and idolatry of the Israelite clans, and the imminent destruction that is to result from their infidelity to God. Let’s get right on with it.

To demonstrate the attitude of God to Israel, whom He had married at Mount Sinai and who was now prostituting herself to foreign religions, Osee makes a parable of himself and marries an unfaithful woman, by whom he has several children with symbolic names.

“When first the divine voice made itself heard through Osee, this was the command given him: ‘Wanton wed thou, wantons breed thou; in a wanton land thou dwellest, that keeps troth with its Lord never.’ So it was he came to marry Gomer, a daughter of Debelaim. When he got her with child, and she bore him a son, ‘This one,’ the Lord told him, ‘thou art to call Jezrahel; at Jezrahel the blood was spilt for which, ere long, Jehu’s line must be punished, and Israel have kings no more; in Jezrahel valley, My doom is, bow of Israel shall be broken.’ And next, she was brought to bed of a daughter; of whom the Lord said, ‘Unbefriended call her, in token that I will befriend Israel no longer, heed them no longer. To Juda I will be a friend yet, not with bow or sword of theirs delivering them, not in battle, with horse or horseman to give aid, but by the power of the Lord their God only.’ Unbefriended, then, was the name of her; and after she was weaned, once more Gomer conceived, and had a son. This time the command was, ‘Call him Strange-folk; no longer shall you be my people, or I be your…'”

Osee, 1: 2-9

And the parable develops. Infidelity will lose the people the Promised Land. But the forced exile of the people is also an instructive action, for it is meant to draw away from opulence and the trust in the things of this world, to draw them back into the wilderness, as when they had left Egypt long ago (see also Osee, 12: 9-10, where the people are given to learn their lesson anew in the desert, given prophets like unto Moses). And there, in the wilderness, they would find themselves once more depending on God alone.

“And now I mean to revoke the gift; no harvest for her, no vintage; I will give wool and flax a holiday, that once laboured to cover her shame; no gallant of hers but shall see and mock at it; such is My Will, and none shall thwart Me. Gone the days of rejoicing, the days of solemnity; gone is new moon, and sabbath, and festival; vine and fig-tree blighted, whose fruit, she told herself, was but the hire those lovers paid; all shall be woodland, for the wild beasts to ravage as they will. Penance she must do for that hey-day of idolatry, when the incense smoked, and out she went, all rings and necklaces, to meet her lovers, the gods of the country-side, and for Me, the Lord says, never a thought! It is but love’s stratagem, thus to lead her out into the wilderness; once there, it shall be all words of comfort.”

Osee, 2: 9-14

Yes, out there, dispossessed and living exiled in a foreign land, comfort would be given the people through the prophets. And chapter four brings a curse upon self-serving priests, just as Michaeas had scolded the false prophets.

“Ruin for thee, sir priest, this day, and, come night, the prophet shall share thy ruin; name of the mother that bore thee shall perish, as, through thy fault, this people of mine perishes for want of knowledge. Knowledge wouldst thou spurn, and shall not I spurn thy priesthood; my law wouldst thou forget, and shall race of thine be spared oblivion? Priests a many, and sins to match their number; shall that title bring glory any longer, and not reproach? Fault if Israel committed, guilt if Israel incurred, it was but the meat and drink such priests craved for. Priest, now, shall fare no better than people; he shall pay for his ill living, reap what his false aims deserve; greed, that remained still unsated, wantonness, that could never have enough. Ah, faithless guardians, that you should play your Lord false! That dalliance, and wine, and revelry, should so steal away your wits!”

Osee, 4: 5-11

The priests had joined in with the collective worship of false gods, and they had profited from it, as false guardians of the people. Chapter five seems to reference the long-term Syrian aggression of Israel, that wasted away the strength of the armies of both Israel and Judah, leaving them practically defenceless against the Assyrian hordes arriving from Nineveh. The prophet wants the kings to acknowledge that they cannot survive through diplomacy with foreign nations. Their help is in the Name of the Lord, their God, and they still have a chance, a brief and momentary chance, to turn back to Him.

“Dead men to-day and to-morrow, on the third day He will raise us up again, to live in His presence anew. Acknowledge we, cease we never to acknowledge the Lord, He will reveal Himself, sure as the dawn, come back to us, sure as the rains of winter and spring come back to the earth. What way will serve with you, men of Ephraim? Juda, what way will serve? Ruth of yours is but momentary, fades like the early mist, like morning dew.”

Osee, 6: 3-4

Chapter seven further mocks the attempts of the people to seek political and military support from other countries, even Egypt, which they had left centuries ago. And then they finally turn back when sorely oppressed, looking for God, but alas! it’s too late. And anyway, there’s no indication here that they had given up the other religions; their devotion was apparently (from other books and from the narrative in Kings; see Osee, 10:2, where they are called half loyal, half false) to multiple gods, one of which was the true God. The sentence has been drawn.

The trumpet to thy mouth! Eagle’s wings threatening the Lord’s domain! Conscious of faith forsworn, of My law defied, to Me Israel cries out, ‘My God!’ cries out, ‘We acknowledge thee!’ Estranged, poor Israel, from the good that was his, and the enemy pressing hard upon him. Kings a many, and with no warrant from me; princes a many, that were none of My choosing; idols a many, of their own gold and silver minted; here is cause enough for their undoing. Cast calf, Samaria, is yonder calf of thine; for this burning affront, it shall be long ere thou canst find acquittal. Israel gave birth to it, this calf of Samaria, that came of man’s fashioning, and god is none; it shall be beaten fine as filigree. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind; empty stook is empty bin, and here if grain is any, alien folk shall have the eating of it!”

Osee, 8: 1-7

And this is something we don’t realise about sin and punishment and death: God doesn’t wish to punish, He doesn’t find any joy in punishment and in suffering. But punishment and suffering are the natural result of sin and infidelity. And God finds Himself helpless before man’s spiral into sin and its wages, death. Even with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, fidelity is still required: we must still believe in the mystery of the Son of God, and follow his commandments. And if we refused to, we couldn’t be dragged kicking and screaming into heaven. Christ Himself would say something similar to what is said here:

“Can My people be reconciled with me? All hangs in doubt, until at last I put a yoke on all alike, never to be taken away from them. What, Ephraim, must I abandon thee? Must I keep Israel under watch and ward? Can I let thee go the way of Adama, share the doom of Seboim? All at once My heart misgives me, and from its embers pity revives. How should I wreak My vengeance, of Ephraim take full toll? God am I, not a man in the midst of you, the Holy One, that may not enter those city walls…”

Osee, 11: 7-9

The lament of the prophet continues until the end, where the voice of hope continues to linger. It’s all rather dismal, and helps us enter into the mind of the prophet, who in his dismay watches an idolatrous nation lolling around in comfort and, with his far-vision, is able to see the dread retribution coming. But God will bring return to His people, when they have found contrition and have put away the idols. 

Come back, men of Israel, with a plea ready on your lips: ‘Pardon all our guilt, and take the best we have in return; the praises we utter shall be our victims now. No longer we will find refuge in Assyrian help, mount our men on horses from Egypt; no longer will we give the name of gods to the things our own hands have made; thou art the friend of the friendless who trust in thee.’ I will bring healing to their crushed spirits; in free mercy I will give them back my love; my vengeance has passed them by. I will be morning dew, to make Israel grow as the lilies grow, strike roots deep as the forest of Lebanon. Those branches shall spread, it shall become fair as the olive, fragrant as Lebanon cedar.

Osee 14: 3-7