Who was the prophet Hosea?
The prophet Hosea was one of the lesser known of the Hebrew prophets, a minor prophet. But his prophecies were major. To place the prophet Hosea in Israelite history, it helps to understand that the united kingdom of Israel, reigned by Saul, David, and Solomon, had split into the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah by approximately 930 BCE. This happened early in the rule of Solomon’s son, Jeroboam I, who then ruled Israel while Rehoboam ruled Judah.
The Hebrews were the first Middle Eastern people to embrace the one God. They understood Him as loving and benevolent, and involved in their lives in an anthropomorphic sense. They also embraced some of the Canaanite gods and worshipped their idols. The Hebrew prophets presented a dichotomy of God’s disownment and punishment for idolatry on the one hand, with His love and promises of redemption on the other. The book of Hosea makes this clear.
The Book of Hosea indicates that the prophet Hosea’s long ministry in Israel lasted many decades from the mid-730s on. He has often been called the “prophet of doom” because of his fearsome warnings of God’s coming judgment for Israelites’ sins.
Hosea recognized Assyria as God’s instrument of chastisement to the Israelites. Assyrian soldiers were stationed just across the border, waiting for the order to invade. Hosea prophesied that the faithlessness of the people would be the cause of their defeat:
The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword …Hosea 13:16
The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 and deported so many of its inhabitants throughout the Assyrian empire that no further mention of the ten tribes of Israel was made in the Hebrew Bible. But underneath Hosea’s message of doom was a promise of restoration.
The promise of restoration
The prophet Hosea—the only classical prophet native to the kingdom of Israel for whom any records survived—preached against the socioeconomic abuses that violated the Mosaic teachings. His prime target were the priests and false prophets who aided and abetted religious hypocrisy:
You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you.Hosea 4:5
And it will be:
Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.Hosea 4:9
As marauders lie in ambush for a victim, so do bands of priests; they murder on the road to Shechem, carrying out their wicked schemes.Hosea 6:9
The more priests there were, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness.Hosea 4:7–8
The prophet Hosea famously warned that the end result of the idolatry and faithlessness of the Israelites would result in their downfall:
They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.Hosea 8:7
The endless list of sins included banditry, fraud, and the use of dishonest scales in the marketplace. God’s punishment, Hosea announced, would be dire:
Woe to them, because they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, because they have rebelled against me! I long to redeem them but they speak about me falsely.Hosea 7:13
Some people believe that the Lord of the Old Testament was a wrathful, angry God. I would disagree and note that these warnings contain a spirit of mercy, advising the people of Israel to turn back to the Covenant of Moses and reclaim their redemption.
Hosea Uses a Marriage Metaphor
The first instruction Hosea received, recorded in Hosea 1:2, was,
Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.Hosea 1:2
The book of Hosea states that he subsequently married such a woman named Gomer, and the first three chapters of the book are devoted to the resultant metaphor—that Israel and its peoples are like an unfaithful spouse. In the book of Hosea, raw emotions of outrage, distress, and betrayal burst forth because the Israelites of God’s covenant with Moses had prostituted themselves with idolatry and other sins.
Gomer falsely believed that it was her lovers––the gods of idolatrous worship––who gave her food, water, wool, linen, olive oil, and drink. So in Hosea’s symbolic telling, God blocked her path with thorn bushes, walling her in so that she could not find her way to them:
She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them.Hosea 2:7‒8
Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.’
She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold—which they used for Baal.
After expressing God’s pain and anger with Israel, Hosea revealed the divine plan to lure Israel back:
Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.Hosea 2:14–15, emphasis added
There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
The Prophet Hosea Foresees ‘Akká as a Door of Hope
Achor, the name of the valley located halfway between Jerusalem and the north shore of the Dead Sea, translates from Hebrew as “trouble.” ‘Akká, also called Akko and Acre, later was the name for the prison city in Palestine to which Bahá’u’lláh, his family, and some of his followers were exiled by the Ottoman government. Bahá’u’lláh wrote:
The Apostle of God―may the blessings of God and His salutations be upon Him―is reported to have said: “Blessed the man that hath visited ‘Akká, and blessed he that hath visited the visitor of ‘Akká.”Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 179.
In a tablet included in Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá referred to Hosea’s door of hope as the prison city of ‘Akká:
It is recorded in the Torah: And I will give you the valley of Achor for a door of hope. This valley of Achor is the city of ‘Akká …‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, no. 139.9, 170.
When Shoghi Effendi wrote about Bahá’u’lláh’s exile to ‘Akká in his book God Passes By, he also referenced Hebrew scriptures that foresaw Bahá’u’lláh’s exile, including the meaning of Hosea 2:15:
‘Akká, itself, flanked by the “glory of Lebanon,” and lying in full view of the “splendor of Carmel,” at the foot of the hills which enclose the home of Jesus Christ Himself, had been described by David as “the Strong City,” designated by Hosea as “a door of hope,” and alluded to by Ezekiel as “the gate that looketh towards the East,” whereunto “the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the East,” His voice “like a noise of many waters.”Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 184.
Hosea’s Valley of Achor might also symbolize today’s troubled humanity—and this door of hope its redemption through Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings of unity and peace.
The Prophet Hosea Promises Future Dispensations
Hosea repeatedly exhorted the people to return to God and His covenant. After emphasizing the punishment of God, Hosea focused on God as the healer and reviver who would restore the people:
Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.Hosea 6:1–3
From a Bahá’í perspective, the “reviving” and the “raising up” mean spiritual renewal, metaphors for the spring rains that bring new spiritual growth. The purpose of the appearance of each new Prophet of God is to revive and restore humankind. In that sense, the advent of a Prophet of God represents a new “day.” When the prophet Hosea mentions two days and then a third, it’s quite likely that he means the advents of Jesus and Muhammad, and then this day of Bahá’u’lláh.
Note: The above is an excerpt from volume 2 of The Coming of the Glory.