[K:NWTS 22/2 (Sep 2007) 3-14]

Prophetic Narrative Biography and Biblical Theology:
The Prophet Hosea

James T. Dennison, Jr.

The prophet Hosea comes to us across the span of twenty-eight centuries; he comes to us with his face toward the Iraqi resurgents of the 8th century B.C.—armed Assyrian hordes and an implacable war-machine beneath the imperial gaze of their brutal hegemon, the Great King, the lord of the "four quarters of the earth"—Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 B.C.).

Hosea, navi la-Yahweh ("prophet of the Lord"), comes to us with the "word of the Lord" (devar Yahweh). He comes to us with his own story—his own biographical story—his own poignant narrative-biographical story which is at the same time his Lord's story—his God's narrative-biographical story. The prophet Hosea comes to us with the Word of God and his autobiographical story from the 8th century B.C., mimetic of the Lord's autobiographical story preternaturally transcending the 8th century B.C.


The superscription to the prophet's narrative-biographical story-prophecy is sandwiched by the revelatory paradigm. The eschatological intrusion of the revealed Word of God (v. 1a and v. 2a)—the Word of God from out of his eschatological arena—the Word of the Lord which issues from his own sacred lips, from his own glory-throne, from his heavenly podium, from his own council of eschatological declaration—the eschatological Word interfaces with the narrative biography. And as that eschatological Word-revelation intersects the history—the biographical history—of Hosea the prophet, it draws him into the drama of the eschatological world; it folds down his history into the eternity of the eschaton; it conforms his story to the eternal story; it joins, yea it unites, his life to the life of the age to come. Hosea's life an embodiment of the life-plan hidden behind the ages; Hosea's story an anticipation of the now/not yet plan of redemption unfolding from before the foundation of the world; Hosea's biography a cameo of the Lord God's story with his Bride—his wayward, harlatrous Bride. Hosea's story and God's story interface—vertical vector and horizontal vector intersect by the Word of the Lord. Hosea's temporal life intersects with God's eternal life. Hosea's existential drama intersects with God's revelational drama. Hosea's historical experience converges with God's redemptive-historical continuum. Hosea's static drama conjugates God's organic drama. Hosea's protology is joined to God's eschatology.

And what is the horizon of Hosea's temporal life; Hosea's existential drama; Hosea's historical experience; Hosea's static life; Hosea's protology? It is the 8th century B.C.—an era neatly and precisely framed by the revelatory formula of chapter 1:1a and chapter 1:2a. The superscription to Hosea's revelatory prophecy is bracketed by the Word of Yahweh which comes in the 8th century B.C. The beginning of the Word of Yahweh and the end of the Word of Yahweh envelops the 8th century B.C.—from Uzziah, King of Judah (and beyond) to Jeroboam II, King of Israel (and beyond). The inclusio of the Word of Yahweh folds around the fateful century—the fateful 8th century B.C. and the death of one nation, together with the slow ebb of the life of the other. The inclusio encompassing Hosea's initial superscription wraps around the inevitable destruction of Israel and Samaria by the Assyrian imperium, even as it folds Judah and Jerusalem into the oppression of the Iraqi Antichrist so as to mirror the destiny of the southern kingdom in the reflection of the northern.

Hosea's superscription is more than historical. It is revelational, biblical-theological, trans-historical, structurally historico-eschatological. Death—the inevitable end of history, intrudes itself semi-eschatologically into the present history of the prophet and the people of God of the 8th century B.C.


The broadly generic historical (v. 1a to 2a) gives place to the narrowly specific biographical (v. 2b-9). Beginning with v. 2b, we are admitted to the private circle—to the intimate circle—to the family circle of the prophet. Beginning with v. 2b, we meet Hosea and his wife and his children. We meet Hosea, son of Beeri; Gomer, daughter of Divlaim; and Yitzre-el, Lo-ruhammah and Lo-ammi—sons and daughter of Hosea and Gomer. The curtain is lifted not only on the national destinies of Israel and Judah in the 8th century B.C., the curtain is also drawn back to reveal the inner life—the inner family life of the prophet and his bride and their offspring. We have a prophetic-revelatory portrait of the nation; we have simultaneously a narrative-biographical portrait of the prophet and his household. If the prophetic matter is revelatory and intersects with the eschatological, then the narrative biography is likewise revelatory and intersects with the eschatological. The eschatological vector in the prophecy does not surprise us; the eschatological vector in the narrative biography may. But this seamless garment of organically unfolding redemptive-historical drama intertwines divine prophetic word with human prophetic biography. The life-story of the prophet interfaces with the redemptive-story of the Lord.

There is something wonderfully suggestive here, is there not!? The merging of Word and life; or the co-mingling of revelation and personal existence. The intimacy of husband and wife; the familial affection of parents and siblings; the union of man and wife; the communion of parent and child. The circle intertwines relationships—enfolds relational intimacies: Bridegroom/Bride; Father/Son; Mother/Daughter. As if God himself were imitating the paradigm of intimate union and communion. As if God himself were reflecting relational intimacy: Bridegroom/Bride; Parent/Sons and Daughters. As if the relational and the conjugal were bound up in the communal; and the communal were distinguished in the personal. As if there were something incarnational about these relational vectors; as if the Bridegroom-Bride relationship were somehow congruous, coherent, mystically united.

There is a dynamic aspect here that relates Bridegroom, Bride, Son, Daughter, God, Man to one another. There is a dramatic aspect here that joins divine and human vectors in an indelible union—an indelible union of resemblance, reflection, imitation, mimesis. God as Husband and Bridegroom; People of God as Bride and Family. God as Lover; People of God as Beloved. God as married to his Bride; People of God as Betrothed to the Lord.

If the book of Hosea unites divine story and human story; if, in fact, the book of Hosea joins the divine and the human dynamically—dramatically; if the book of Hosea relationally joins the prophet's narrative biographical story to the transcendent theological story; if the book of Hosea so mirrors the drama of the prophet, his wife and his children in the drama of God, his Bride and his sons and daughters that there is an unbreakable relation between the two—that there is, as it were, an incarnational relation between the two, then do we not have in the book of Hosea a revelatory projection—even a revelatory recapitulation of the incarnational story—the redemptive-historical incarnational story of an eschatological Bridegroom and his eschatological Bride and their eschatological sons and daughters.

The motifs—the prophetic motifs—the narrative biographical prophetic motifs of the book of Hosea are simultaneously redemptive-historical, semi-eschatological, ineffably relational, even incarnational. This broadly construed paradigm reads as follows: Hosea is to Gomer as God is to Israel, as the Bridegroom of the people of God is to the Bride of God, as God the Father is to the children of God, as Christ is to his Bride, as the Bridegroom of the end of the age is to the sons and daughters of the age in-between.

8th Century B.C. Prolepsis

I am proposing a prolepsis of eschatological and redemptive-historical drama in the 8th century B.C. But even more, I am proposing an incarnational drama in the 8th century B.C.—in a prophet and his bride and their posterity. I am proposing the eschatological redemptive-historical story in the temporal prophetic-historical story. Or to say it precisely: the analogy of the historical paradigm requires the biblical-theology of the redemptive-historical paradigm.

We encounter the revelatory imperative as it enters history in the first narrative-biographical words God speaks to the prophet: "Go, take a wife of harlotry" (1:2b). The apparently shocking commission is in fact proleptic as well as redemptive-historically paradigmatic. The book of Hosea is replete with imagery of God's Bride—herself betrothed unto the Lord from "the days of her youth" (2:15), when the Lord took his virgin Bride to himself at the Exodus and "betrothed" her unto himself in faithfulness and loving-kindness (2:19, 20). The redemptive-historical paradigm of Israel—God's young virgin Bride from the land of Egypt—is epexegetical of the prophetic paradigm. Israel was the faithful virgin Bride of God at the beginning. But she prostituted herself before other lovers—before the golden calf, at Baal-Peor (9:10), before Baal (2:8, 13, 17), before the manifold idols of the nations (4:17). And having gone a-whoring after other gods (4:12), this once-upon-a-time Bride of God played the harlot (9:1), joining herself to idols, to gods who were no gods, giving her body to be used by those who knew her only to abuse her (2:7; 3:2). And having been used up and degraded, abused and discarded—the former Bride of the Lord found herself sold into bondage, auctioned as a piece of meat, humiliated by her whoredom and her whore-masters.

Would then, her once-upon-a-time Divine Lover and Bridegroom leave her to herself—in her shame, her filth, her nakedness, her disgrace, her harlatrous adultery and whoredom? Would the one who betrothed her unto himself once-upon-a-time in Egypt, in these last days of Israel—the days of Hosea, the prophet of the Lord—would the one who betrothed her unto himself time past, leave her in her bondage, her shame, her living-death time present? Would the omniscient Heavenly Bridegroom leave his once-upon-a-time wayward Spouse to perish in her harlotry, to wallow in her adultery, to die in her slavery?

Or would this Heavenly Bridegroom—out of his great love even for his wayward Bride, from his profound grace for such an adulterous Bride as she, out of his faithfulness—his faithfulness to his pledge, his covenant, his faithful covenant promise to his Bride; would not this Heavenly Bridegroom and Lover rescue and redeem and ransom and save and deliver his unfaithful Bride? Would he not intervene in the history of his faithless and adulterous Bride and purchase her for himself? Would he not transform her, change her, renew and restore her from once-upon-a-time adulterer to now-and-forever faithful and pure?

Would not the Lord God, Bridegroom of Heaven, beholding the reversal in the history of his Virgin Bride turned to unchastity, adultery, fornication and harlotry; would not the Bridegroom of Heaven, seeing the historical reversal of virgin Bride to harlot slut—would he not determine—yea, would he not foreordain to reverse that denewal; to regenerate that degeneration? Would he not reverse the present history of his whorish Bride with the future history of his faithful Spouse? Would the Bride of God, having reversed her story in adultery, find her story reversed by her divine Bridegroom unto fidelity? Would the reversal be reversed? Would the historical reversal be reversed in a new wedding celebration—a fresh wedding celebration—a once-and-for-all wedding celebration? Would the historical reversal be reversed by the eschatological reversal of the reversal?

Exodus Paradigm and the Prolepsis

It is clear, therefore, from the Exodus paradigm foundational to Hosea's retrospectively redemptive-historical, organic continuum that the Lord's command in 1:2b is proleptic—not what Gomer was on her wedding day, but what Gomer became later by "pursuing her lovers" (2:7). Virgin Bride at first; adulterous Bride later. Israel chaste at first; Israel idolatrous later.

Support for this biblical-theological paradigm is found in the parallel phrase in v. 2b—"children of harlotry." That Gomer's children were not the fruit of her harlotries is plain in v. 3: "she conceived and bore him [i.e., Hosea] a son." The firstborn child is conceived by union of Hosea and Gomer, not by the union of Gomer and some other. This is true of each of the three children conceived and born according to the narrative-biographical record in chapter 1. The children are not harlots at birth (surely, an impossibility!); nor are they born of Gomer's future adulterous harlotry (the firstborn son certainly was not!). Rather the children become involved in "the spirit of harlotry" (4:12; 5:4) in which their mother also becomes involved. Labeling them "children of harlotry" (1:2; 2:4) is in their case, as it is in the case of Gomer herself, a proleptic reference to what they will become in the future—when they too grow up, mature and like many in Israel, go a-whoring after Baal, the idols of the groves and the cult prostitutes of the high places of Israel (4:13-15a). The mirror similarity in the mother and the children is borne out in the parallel symmetry of the Hebrew narrative text: v. 2—"Go, take to yourself a wife" (verb+verb+feminine noun); v. 3—"So he went and took Gomer" (verb+verb+feminine noun).

Jezreel: Inclusio and Chiasm

At this point, we shift from the marital union per se and descend to the reflection manifest in the familial relation. A structural inclusion frames the narrative biography of the persona of the first child. The inclusio is in his name: yitzre-el or Jezreel. The first name in v. 3 is yitzre-el—the firstborn son; the last name in his two-verse narrative biography in v. 4 is yitzre-el—Jezreel, the firstborn son. The inclusio folds in the sentence of divine judgment on account of the blood-lust of the dynasty of Jehu—a dynasty which includes Jeroboam, King of Israel, listed in v. 1. (Jeroboam II ruled Israel for 40 years—793-753 B.C.) Because of Jehu's bloody campaigns of assassination and execution (2 Kings 9 and 10), God declares that he will repay: "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord." But the iniquity included within the boundaries of the name yitzre-el is a reverse pun on the national name yisrael (Israel). In fact, the chiastic arrangement of the names yitzre-el and yisrael in vv. 4 and 5 is a dramatic evidence of the one mirrored in the other—Jezreel in Israel, Israel in Jezreel: the nation mirrored in the location, the location in the nation. And that chiastic mirror-reflection is a mimetic reversal. Notice: yitzre-el (Jezreel) means "God sows", "God scatters" (as a farmer sows or scatters seed): Jezreel—"scattered by God". Israel means "prince with God". The divine wrath will make a Jezreel of Israel—it will reverse prince-with-God status to scattered-by-God status. The destruction of Israel by the Assyrian army in 722/21 B.C. will reverse the history of Israel—scattered and dispersed of God will be written over Ephraim and Samaria from "that day" (1:5).

Lo-Ruhammah and Divine Negation

The familial biography—or more specifically, the filial biography, is one that displays the story of the nation. The firstborn son, in his name, is epexegetical of the story of the nation. Israel's story is the story of Jezreel. And what is true of the firstborn son is true of the second child—the first daughter, Lo-ruhammah—"No mercy". The negative particle—in Hebrew—is an emphatic reversal—not mercy or kindness or compassion poured out, but no mercy, no compassion, no kindness. The history of Lo-ruhammah is the history of Israel. God showed his mercy when he brought her out of Egypt (12:9; 13:4), out of bondage, out of tyranny. But because her subsequent life has become a life of harlotry, God will reverse her story—God will negate her story—God will nullify her biography: "No Mercy—Lo-ruhammah." The pattern of redemptive-historical reversal continues to be embodied in the story of the second child of Hosea and Gomer—even as that reversal was embodied in the story of the first child of Hosea and Gomer.

Israel's Tumultuous Final Thirty Years

Before I consider the name of the third child, let me suggest something that I think is indicated by the pattern of the Hebrew text with regard to the formula of the divine speech in this first chapter. The second half of the 8th century B.C. in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, capital at Samaria, was the era of denouement to destruction. From mid-century to the final deportation of Israel by Assyria in 722/21 B.C., the nation is in the throes of a steady, downward spiral of disintegration. No less than six kings rule the nation in the space of thirty years; four of the six come to the throne by assassinating their predecessors. Tiglath-Pileser III, the Great King of Assyria (note 5:13; 10:16, NASB margin) invades Israel during the notorious Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.) and plunders eight of the Israeli tribal provinces. In addition, he levies crippling annual taxes upon King Menahem and King Hoshea who in turn (good bureaucrats that they were) passed the taxes on to the people (2 Kings 15:19-20; 17:4; Tiglath-Pileser's Annals in ANET, p. 284). King Hoshea sends ambassadors to Egypt (2 Kings 17:4; Hos. 7:11) in a futile foreign policy attempt to leverage the Pharaoh of the Nile over against the lord of the "four quarters of the earth." This vacillating and treacherous foreign policy but fuels the terminal wrath of the Assyrian fury. The final blow, whether struck by Assyrian emperor Shalmaneser III or Sargon II (a detail still hotly debated)—the final coup de grace was the capital blow.

The prophet Hosea lives through this era of political turmoil, international intrigue and the inevitable death of a nation—a nation whose idolatrous treachery in betraying the Lord God merits the justly deserved wrath of God. And the wife of Hosea and the children of Hosea? they are emblematic of this decline. Notice the declining pattern of the divine speech: v. 2—"The Lord said to Hosea" (four Hebrew words); v. 4—"And the Lord said to Him" (three Hebrew words); v. 6—"And the Lord said to him" (two Hebrew words); v. 9—"And he said" (one Hebrew word). 4-3-2-1: declining pattern of speech; declining state of the nation. From the wife and mother sinking into harlotry to Jezreel falling into spiritual adultery to Lo-ruhammah mimicking mother and brother in refusing God's mercy to Lo-ammi—the last of Hosea's children.

Lo-Ammi and Double Divine Negation

Lo-ammi means "not my people". And it carries with it the reciprocal corollary: "not your God". God is poised to divorce himself from his adulterous Bride. This nation which was joined to the Lord as the people of God from the covenant made with Abraham when the Lord said, "I will make you a great nation;" and "I shall be your God." That gracious covenant was confirmed and renewed at the Exodus and at Mt. Sinai—a gracious covenant in which God the Lord declares, out of his free, undeserved favor, that Israel will be his peculiar possession, a nation holy unto the Lord. And the flip side of the covenant relation that declares "You are my people, says the Lord," is the precious declaration, "I am your God." From Hebron to Sinai and throughout the whole span of redemptive-historical covenant grace—"I am yours and you are mine." That is the narrative of the covenant story from father Abraham to the prophet Hosea's third born. But antithetically, in this name, Lo-ammi, God dissolves the covenant—reverses the external status of his grace and favor—turns his people back to "not my people"; turns back his external divine relation to "not your God."

Prophetic Biography: National Biography

The story of Gomer and her children is the story of the nation of Israel. Bride of the Lord becomes the whore of Baal. Prince with God becomes scattered and sown to the powers of darkness. Pitied of God becomes unpitied of the Lord; people of God your Lord becomes not-my-people, not-your-God.

722/21 B.C. marks the end of the story—the end of the story of God and the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The harlot Bride and the harlot children have earned their wages—have loved their harlot wages (9:1; 2:12)—the wages of sin—the end of their story—the reverse of the living story in death! The horizontal clashes with the vertical in dreadful finality; the vertical intersects the horizontal in ultimate crisis. The story of Israel crisscrosses with the story of heaven—and nothing interfaces with that celestial story which is harlatrous, adulterous, wayward, traitorous. All such as that—all that is harlatrous is outside that civitatis Dei—that "City of God"—all such is outside in the flaming abyss of the Inferno.

The biography of prophet, wife and children is as the biography of a nation. The story of Hosea, Gomer and family is the story of a people. Life to death; mercy to wrath; recognized to alienated and estranged. Thus saith the Lord, "I will destroy your mother" (4:5); "I will forget your children" (4:6); "Though you play the harlot continually, O Israel" (4:15, 18); "I will pour out my wrath like water" (5:10); "Destruction is [yours]" (7:23); "You sow the wind, you shall reap the whirlwind" (8:7). `

Prophetic Narrative Reversal

But the paradigm of historical reversal—from Israel alive to Israel destroyed—the paradigm of redemptive-historical reversal is destined for eschatological reversal. The reversal will itself be reversed. The reversal of destruction will itself be reversed in salvation. This fundamental paradigm of prophetic eschatology—applicable to all canonical prophetic eschatology—is found poignantly, explicitly in the prophet Hosea. And, in Hosea, the prophetic eschatological reversal interfaces with the prophetic biographical narrative. If the story of Hosea, Gomer and their children is a tragedy (and it is!); if their story of a happy marriage with the blessing of sons and a daughter turns tragic (and it does!); if the biography of the prophet is, as it were, an incarnation of the biography of God's relationship with his Bride, with his sons and daughters, then we must tell the rest of the story. For the prophetic narrative biography is also folded down into prophetic narrative eschatology. The story of the prophet has an eschatological vector. The story of prophetic narrative reversal is eschatologically reversed. "I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely; I will redeem them from death, saith the Lord" (14:4; 13:14).

And Hosea? Hosea reversed the story of his harlatrous bride, Gomer. He bought her back (3:5), ostensibly from the slave block to which she had been degraded by her debauchery. Hosea turned back the history of Gomer by redeeming her: "you shall not play the harlot," he said to her (3:3). "I will be towards you as a husband [again] . . . for I love you as a woman is loved by her husband" (3:3, 1). And thus, the story of Hosea and Gomer ended in redemption. He ransomed his adulterous bride and brought her home once more for the great love with which he loved her. And in that story-book reunion, he took her to himself once more in faithfulness and love "forever". "I will betroth you to me leôlam" ("forever" as the Hebrew reads, 2:19). The eschatological reversal of the prophetic narrative biography is leôlam ("forever"). No more harlotry in this bride; no more adultery in this bride; no more a-whoring after other lovers in this bride; but in this second home-coming, in this second honeymoon—eternal fidelity, eternal loyalty, eternal chastity, eternal purity. A ransomed and redeemed bride beloved of her husband-bridegroom leôlam ("forever"). Forever loved, forever ransomed, forever brought back, forever possessed and possessing.

Eschatological Incarnational Narrative

Here is the incarnation by way of anticipation of the eschatological marriage Supper—the marriage Supper of the Lamb. "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb—she whom he has purchased with his own blood; she whom he has cleansed by the washing of water, having now no spot or wrinkle or any such thing. She has made herself ready; does she not come as a bride adorned for her husband—wrapped in the robes of righteousness, clothed upon with the garments of salvation, dressed in robes of fine linen, bright and clean; no longer with any curse upon her, nor anything unclean, nor immoral, nor idolatrous. For the bride shall say, Come—Come to our marriage Supper. And she shall gaze into his face and he shall behold her—and together they shall say, `My beloved is mine and I am my beloved's leôlam!!'"

And the story of Hosea's harlatrous children was eschatologically reversed. The scattered sons of Jezreel were "gathered together" in "the great day of Jezreel" (1:11). They were summoned from Egypt and Assyria and the four corners of the earth. The name yitzre-el will be reversed; it will be reversed in the future eschatological reversal when the scattered of the Lord will become the gathered of the Lord. And the kingdom sown and strewn to the wind will be gathered again under "one leader" even "David their king" (3:5); when the eschatological story will be yitzre-el transformed into yisrael—the eschatological Israel—the eschatological Israel of God who is "David their king" and that leôlam.

The daughter's story will be reversed from Lo-ruhammah to Ruhammah (2:1). From no mercy to mercy leôlam. The reverse biographical story of Hosea's daughter is to turn her story from wrath to grace—from compassion nevermore to compassion forevermore (Rom. 9:25-26; 1 Pet. 2:10). "I will have compassion on her who had obtained no compassion" (Hos. 2:23). Reverse biography reversed eschatologically. The paradigm of prophetic narrative biography is folded into, joined unto, participates in the divine narrative eschatology.

And the second son? Lo-ammi. His story too is transformed by the reverse name "Ammi" (2:1). Not—not my people, but rather my people and that leôlam. "It will come about that where it [was] said to them, `You are not my people,' it will be said to them, `You are the sons of the living God'" (1:10). For I will say to those who are not my people, `You are my people' and they will say, `Thou art my God.'"

The prophetic narrative biography intersects with the transcendentally eschatological narrative—the horizontal with the vertical—the historical with the redemptive-historical—the temporal with the eternal. And in the one is the other. In the narrative biography of Hosea and his bride is the eschatological narrative of Christ and his Bride. In the story of Hosea and his sons and daughter is the eschatological story of the sons and daughters of yisrael Yahweh (Gal. 6:16).

In Hosea's story—Christ's story; in Hosea's story—your story; in the redemptive-historical story—our story!