Form Structure and Setting Hosea Chapter 4:1-6, 12-19
Hosea Chapter 4 composed four sections, each with a degree of unity and individuality, and all functioning under the general form of the prophetic lawsuit and one of its sub-categories, the “court speech.”
Hosea Chapter 4:1–3
Introduce the lawsuit in general terms. The case is called in the language of a “court speech,” the accusation is made, the evidence (or “complaint”) is provided, the judgment sentence is pronounced: the land, utterly corrupt, will dry up and its inhabitants – human, animals, and even fish – will die.
This all-encompassing oracle of judgment serves as a prose introduction to the oracles that follow. Yahweh is again (cf. 2:4–18 [2–16]) both prosecutor (vv 1a–2) and judge (v 3).
Hosea Chapter 4:4–10
Contain a specification of certain charges, evidence, and the judgment. Here Israel’s priests are singled out for arrogance, profiteering, heterodoxy, and misleading the people. Their judgment, in line with the general pattern established in vv 1–3, will be famine and deprivation, standard covenant curse punishments.
The next section, vv 11–14, attacks the northern cult itself. It is a cult of debauchery, a “prostitution” of the true religion (accusation) characterized by multiple sanctuaries and actual cult prostitution (evidence). This sort of abomination must be destroyed (judgment sentence). Some portions of the final section, vv 15–19, are almost impossible to translate because of the state of the text (esp. vv 17b–19). Nevertheless, it clearly contains the language of warning, evidence, and judgment.
If these four sections once existed independently, Hosea later wove them into a single unified oracle. The resulting unit has an overall consistency (the theme of accountability) and a clear logical progression. Transitional elements link the four sections, if not to all of the others, certainly to the prior and/or subsequent sections.
Because the first section is the most general and is prose, many suggest it should be separated from the others. Three things argue against this, however: the strong connection forged by the repetition of the root “rîyv” (v 4), the connecting particle “’āk” “surely”, and the expected progression of any lawsuit from the general (as vv 1–3) to the specific (vv 4–19).
The structure may be schematized as follows:
Hosea Chapter 4:1–3, Accusation against the land
1a Prophetic summons/“proclamation formula”
1b, c Accusation
3 Judgment sentence (curse)
Hosea Chapter 4:4–10, Accusation against the priesthood
5–10 Judgment sentences (curses) alternated with citations of evidence
Hosea Chapter 4:11–14, Accusation against the false cult
14 Judgment sentence (curse)
15–19 Fall of the false cult
16–17 Evidence alternating with judgment sentences (two of each)
19 Judgment sentence (curse)
Hosea Chapter 4
A number of transitions occur in the passage between persons. For example, in vv 4–6 the priest (singular) directly addressed in an excoriation of the corrupt priesthood. But we also hear about the sins of some individuals, in the third person singular (vv 12, 14, 16) and groups, in the third person plural (vv 7, 10, 12, 13, 14, 18). Yahweh himself is either speaking directly in the first person (vv 4–9, 12, 14); or spoken of in the third person (vv 10, 12, 15, 16).
Analyzing rhetorically the changes or transitions in the audience/speaker; throughout the oracle provides no evidence; that the passage should be delineated into smaller units than the four we suggest. None of the four sections contains the kind of grouping of persons, issues or styles that would be true earmarks of independence.
Rather, the lawsuit format itself allows for many transitions. Yahweh is both Prosecutor and Judge, and thus speaks in different ways. Moreover, this lawsuit has a variety of “counts,” defendants, and evidence, and thus follows a compound-complex pattern. It nevertheless functions for a unified purpose—to call Israel to task for its corrupt institutions of cult and priesthood, and to stress the fact that Yahweh will demand accountability for the abuse of his law.
Useful clues in the Hosea chapter 4
There are several useful clues in the chapter to its provenance. Hoseanic authorship cannot questioned on other than presuppositional grounds. As to date, it is suggested a time still within the kingship of Jeroboam II. There are no indications of political instability.
Prosperity seems the norm at least among the classes; who enjoy the debauchery provided for in the cult (vv 7, 8, 11, 18); and the times appear to manifest a conspicuous sort of complacent self-indulgence of the kind associated with the days prior to 745 b.c. Moreover, Hosea’s early prophecies tend to contain the word “prostitution”; more often than do the later prophecies the root “zānah”; does not used at all after 9:1; while appearing in chaps. 2–6 frequently.
Word of God ignoring by the priests
The emphasis upon the ignoring of the word of God by the priests and the cult would seem to imply that 1). Tthe priests in question know Yahweh’s law but have purposely forgotten it (v 6); and 2). The cult in question was once Yahwistic but has now become syncretistic and involves cult prostitutes (vv 12–14); This would suggest Bethel, rather than Samaria or another originally heterodox site as the setting of the chapter. It is especially the Bethel altars or sacrifices (v 19) that will bring this people to shame.
Most of the chapter composed in free verse. There is some possibility that certain portions are metrical poetry (esp. vv 4–10, 13–16) since they exhibit a rough correspondence in syllable count and contain synonymous parallelisms.
a The LXX reads kecutai epi th~ gh~ “have broken through in the land” which demands Jr\a*b* Wxr+P*. BHS suggests to read as Jr)p*W which is Qal infinitive absolute; against the MT’s Qal perfect or probably to read as Wxr`P* Jr\P# which means “They broke through the bounds…”
a ll^m=a%w+ “and… will languish” is lacking in the LXX, it rather reads sun pasi “with all/every” which expects to have lk*B= or lK*-<u!.
b The LXX adds kai; su;n toi`” eJrpetoi`” th`/” gh`/” “and with the creeping things of the ground” which is in Hebrew hm*d`a&h* cm#r\b=W.
a-a BHS thinks the text to be corrupted and suggest to be read as /h@K)h^ br` yn]a& ;M=u!w+ “But I myself is the one who contends with your people, the priest” or /h@K)h^ yb!yr] ;M=u!w+ “But my contention is against you, O priest.”
a The LXX has the genitive feminine singular h}mera~ which probably expects to read it as <oYB^ or <m*oy.
b-b BHS thinks this as a gloss and suggests to be deleted. However, many scholars want to retain the MT reading with a B rating.
c-c BHS suggests to read it as ;M#u^-ta# t*ym!d`w+ “and you have destroyed your people.”
d BHS suggests to read t*ym!d`w+ “you have destroyed” which is Qal perfect in its intensive meaning of Piel perfect as t*yM!d]w+ meaning “you have utterly destroyed.”
a BHS suggests to read the Niphal perfect Wmd+n] in its Niphal participle as hm*d+n].
b The spelling that we have in the MT appears to be incorrect. Therefore, comparing with a number of manuscripts; it can read as ;s=a*m=a#w+ which can corrupted from the original yn]a& ;s=a*m=a#w+. Similar with this, the LXX has kagw apwsomai se meaning “I myself will also reject you.”
a Following the LXX reading, BHS suggests that the first word of v 12, i.e., yM!u^ “my people” is to be construed with the noun at the end of v 11.
b BHS suggests to read with a few manuscripts like Targum, Syriac and Vulgate with 3rd masculine plural verbal suffix as <u*t=h! “…has led them astray.”
a BHS proposes to read it with 3rd masculine plural pronominal suffix, thus <h#yt@oLk^w+ or <h#yt@onB instead of 2nd masculine plural suffixes attach to these words.
a-a BHS believes that the whole of this line might have been later addition.
b Compare with v 13 note a.
c BHS suggests to read it as Wdr}P*y] “they are separated/they have gone aside with” which is Niphal imperfect 3rd masculine plural, instead of the MT’s Piel imperfect 3rd masculine plural which means “to make an offering.”
a BHS believes that this verse as a whole appears to be later addition taking inspiration from Amos 5:5 and 8:14.
b Some manuscripts like Targum read as la^ without conjunction attached to it. The LXX reads it as kai Iouda mh “and Judah … not.”
a-a BHS suggests to read it as oB-jN~Y`w~ “and it rested in it” while suggesting it to be connected with the beginning of v 18.
a-a BHS suggests to connect this with the last part of v 17.
b Probably to be read as ds) “sour, bitter.”
c-c BHS believes that some words might have been dropped out from this phrase.
d-d BHS suggests to delete the incorrect Wbh@, for it believes that this is the erroneous repetition of the word. If it is to be retained, following Symmachus it might have to be read as dWbh&a* bh)a*.
e The LXX reads ek fruagmato~ auth~ (or autwn) “out of their insolence” which needs to have in Hebrew <n`oaG=m!. BHS suggests to be read as <h#yN}G~ /olq+ “the shame of their prosperity/glory.”
a Comparing with the second part of the verse, BHS suggests to read it as <t*oa “them” instead of MT’s Ht*oa “her.”
b BHS suggests, following the LXX, Syriac and Targum, to read it as <t*ojB=z=M!m! “because of their altars” instead of MT’s <t*ojb=Z!m! “because of their sacrifices.”