Hosea: A Prophetic Standard for the House of Israel
The Prophet Hosea’s book is the first of what are known as the “minor”
or short prophets of the Old Testament, whose writings were shorter in length
than the writings of the “major” prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. Yet Hosea’s
prophecies were not only important, but of especial interest for us today in the
lands of Western Christendom, for as the Biblical Encyclopedia (Gray and Adams)
tells us, “The prophecies of Hosea were addressed to the Ten Tribes.” (iii:713)
Nevertheless, many commentaries seem to overlook the historic and prophetic importance of the division of Israel into two nations, which Hosea labels “Ephraim” and “Judah.” The nation of Ephraim constituted the northern ten of the twelve tribes of Israel, receiving this name from their largest tribe and inheritor of the national birthright blessings given to his father, Joseph (1 Chron. 5:1-2). Bible reference books often simply refer to them as “Israel,” or “the House of Israel,” in contrast with two-tribe Judah.
Yet some commentaries attempt to make Hosea’s prophecies fit the return of the House of Judah to Canaan after the Babylonian captivity. This does such violence to the meaning of the prophecies that even well-known dispensationalist author, Arno C. Gabelein, rebuked such a view and declared, “His [Hosea’s] prophecy is directed almost exclusively to the house of Israel.”
The book of the Prophet Hosea could in fact be described as the redemptive history of the ten tribe House of Israel. Here the prophet presents an account of her sin, punishment and restoration, beginning his first chapter with a concise synopsis using prophetic and symbolic language. He has little good to say of Israel’s then current moral condition in the opening verses of this first chapter; his terse, harsh, sad words remind one of his later Judean counterpart, the Prophet Jeremiah. In fact, the Biblical Encyclopedia says, “he was the Jeremiah of Israel.”
Although Hosea had a similar moral message to Jeremiah, calling for repentance from sin, yet the House of Israel’s prophetic prospects were significantly different from those of Judah. The dissimularity, however, is not clearly understood at all by modern expositors, who fail to give the nation of Ephraim-Israel any future in the plan of God. One strangely declares, “The prophets of Judah could look forward to a restored people and a repaired polity. The ten tribes had no separate future. Their temporal punishment was irreversible.” (ibid. p.712)
Or was it? A closer look at Hosea’s prophecies sharply contradicts that claim. Despite Ephraim’s sin, Hosea forecasts what can only be considered a magnificent future for the House of Israel. They were to rid themselves of their idols, become the Lord’s bride, receive mercy, be saved by the Lord’s might, and expand greatly in numbers as the sand on the seashore. To ignore all of this—and more—is to be blind indeed to Hosea’s tremendous prophetic promises. Yet the expositors who recognize only the Jews as legitimate Israelites after the end of the Babylonian captivity have just such blind confusion. And their confusion can only increase as Hosea’s blessings upon Ephraim-Israel increase.
Other mysteries for the expositors: In the parallel passages Hosea 1:11 and Jer. 3:18, if Judah and Israel were taken into two different exiles by two different enemies, how is it that Judah shall walk with Israel? The Keil-Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary maintains that verse eleven “presupposes that Judah will find itself in the same situation as Israel; that is to say, that it will also be rejected by the Lord.” (x:47) Yet we know for a fact that Judah was not divorced by God as was Ephraim, for Hosea records, “I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the LORD their God” (i:7). Instead, Scripture informs us that the Assyrians who conquered Israel also captured all of the “fenced cities” of Judah in 701 B.C. (2 Ki. 18:13), and so a main body of Judah went into Assyrian exile along with Israel. Thus, Judah walked with, or to, Israel in their exile.
Yet this was not yet the prophesied reunion of Israel and Judah, for (as Keil-Delitzsch states), “the object of the union is to appoint themselves one head, and go up out of the land” (x:47), according to Hosea 1:11. Where then did they together go? Some leading commentaries recognize that they did not return to old Canaan!
For example, the Keil-Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary (x:49) says, “So far as the fulfilment of this prophecy is concerned, the fact that the patriarchal promise of the innumerable multiplication of Israel is to be realized through the pardon and restoration of Israel...shows clearly enough that we are not to look for this in the return of the ten tribes from captivity to Palestine, their native land....the numbers of the ten tribes, who may have attached themselves to the Judaeans on their return, or who returned to Galilee afterwards as years rolled by, formed but a very small fraction of the number that had been carried away; the attachment of these few to Judah could not properly be called a union of the sons of Israel and of the sons of Judah, and still less was it a fulfilment of the words, ‘They appoint themselves one head’...this fulfilment falls within the Messianic times, and hitherto has only been realized in very small beginnings, which furnish a pledge of their complete fulfilment in the last times...(Rom. 11:25-26).”
This eminent commentary contradicts much of the popular teaching today concerning Ephraim, the House of Israel. The ten tribes never returned to Palestine, other than a tiny remnant, and therefore logically must remain “lost tribes” in our world today. Further, the joining of the two houses of Judah and Ephraim-Israel has not yet taken place, awaiting the dawn of the millennial age. Yet, Keil-Delitzsch’s solution is that Ephraim-Israel must only be a spiritual people in our world today. (x:49)
Another mystery: Verse eleven of chapter one concludes by saying, “for great shall be the day of Jezreel.” These words cause untold consternation for the expositors. “The day of Jezreel causes no little difficulty,” admits Keil-Delitzsch (x:48). This is true, if the verse is made to refer to the city and valley in old Canaan where Assyria broke Israel’s might (2 Ki. 15:29). How could a place of tragedy for Israel be a symbol for anything good? But taking instead the Hebrew meaning of “scattering” or “sowing,” it makes eminent sense. Israel was to be scattered and sown in the lands of her exile, so that Hosea could proclaim that she would become as the sand of the sea for multitude (1:10). This cannot await a millennial fulfillment, since Israel will not be in exile then.
The word, “Jezreel,” has a double meaning of sowing or scattering, yet the latter meaning is often neglected by many commentaries, who thus fail to see that Ephraim-Israel did not return to Canaan, but traveled far afield in her exile down to the present day.
The New Testament treatment of Hosea’s tremendous prophecy in chapter one, verse ten was given by the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:25-26. Paul quoted this to show that Israel’s exile, her “sowing in the earth” still continued to that time, and that Israel’s restoration still lay in the future. Some expositors try to spiritualize this, but since the spiritual fulfillment of prophecy parallels and augments the physical fulfillment, Israel’s physical exile must have still continued to the time of Christ.
Has no one noticed the incongruity of giving Judah’s prophecies a literal, physical fulfillment, while limiting Ephraim-Israel’s prophecies to the spiritual realm? In actual fact, the physical and spiritual realms parallel one another as a necessary double witness (Dt. 19:15; Mt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1).
Furthermore, from other prophecies (such as Ezkiel 37) we know that Ephraim-Israel’s spiritual restoration was to precede her physical reunion with Judah. This true spiritual restoration could only begin to take place with the coming of Christ, as Peter proclaimed in the New Testament: “Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10) Peter’s language is lifted directly from Hosea 1:10 and 2:23, showing clearly that these Old Testament prophecies of Ephraim-Israel’s restoration had not previously been fulfilled.
Paul in Romans 9:26 also quoted Hosea 1:10, gave an emphatic reference to their physical “place” of exile, and then in the next chapter declared that the Gospel must go to them to the ends of the earth (Rom.10:18). Clearly, Ephraim-Israel had not been regathered to old Canaan! Her scattering took her to new lands of promise (2 Sam. 7:10) where her spiritual restoration is now well underway. -J.S. Brooks
In any important public or historic event, reliable eye-witnesses serve as the
primary authority concerning what has actually taken place. In Biblical history,
we can also call upon dependable and inspired first-hand eye-witness accounts
in the writings of the prophets.
When the Babylonian captivity of the House of Judah ended in 538 B.C., there was a return of God’s people known today as “the Restoration.” Religious writers looking back upon this event 2,500 years later invariably assume that virtually every one of the Israelites, all twelve tribes, were soon reestablished in Canaan. But surprisingly, there are two very creditable and inspired witnesses to the events of that period—Ezra and Nehemiah—who sharply disagree with most modern historians.
In fact, these two prophets are the only reliable eyewitnesses existing today concerning the Restoration period of Biblical history. Both agree on an important point: They specifically refer to the returnees as being only of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, corporately known as the House of Judah. There is no mention at all of any of the other missing ten tribes which comprised the kingdom of the House of Israel!
Ezra was looking for colonists to resettle Israel’s old homeland, yet not only did he not send an embassy to the missing ten tribes, he strangely did not mention their existence at all. We receive the definite impression that Ezra had no idea where they were himself! In 2 Kings 17:6, we were told that the house of Israel was exiled by Assyria “to Halah, and Habor, and the cities of the Medes.” If they were still in the same location in Ezra’s day, surely he would have sent emissaries there to encourage them to return to the land of Canaan. Yet Ezra did not send an envoy, nor did he seem to even know where they had gone.
Although only two tribes are ever mentioned throughout the Book of Ezra, the common teaching today is that all twelve tribes of Israel, from both Houses of Israel and Judah, were reunited at the end of the Babylonian captivity. If so, why is there no mention of the rest of these tribes, either in the early portion of the book (see Ezra 1:5 and 4:1, “Judah and Benjamin”), or during events years later (Ezra 10:9, “Judah and Benjamin”)? The prophet Ezra knew nothing of any return to old Canaan of the exiled ten tribes of the House of Israel! Neither did his contemporary, the prophet Nehemiah, who spoke only of the existence of the “House of Judah” (Neh. 4:16) and the two tribes it comprised, Judah and Benjamin (Neh. 11:4, 36; 12:34).
A leading Jewish Israeli scholar, Sara Japhet, agrees and says, “the restoration [i.e. return from exile] and the subsequent renewal of Jewish community life involved only three tribes: the lay tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and the tribe of Levi.” (“From The Rivers Of Babylon,” p.82) Levi was the priestly tribe whose members were divided and spread among all of the other tribes. It therefore did not inherit land itself and the majority of its members would be proportionately found among the missing tribes of the House of Israel.
It is further very significant that out of all of King David’s descendants, only one—Hattush—is listed (Ezra 8:2) among the returning exiles. Since the land of Canaan was virtually emptied of Hebrews during the Babylonian exile, apparently all of David’s other descendants remained in the diaspora in other lands. One of them, King Zedekiah’s daughter, accompanied by the prophet Jeremiah, escaped the defeated and plundered land of Judah (Jer. 43) to go first to Tahpahnes, Egypt, and then (according to legendary history) to the isles of the West. This wonderful story is told in Francis Henking’s book, “The Tender Twig,” available from Bible Blessings www.bibleblessings.net.
Another very possible line of descent from King David provides an interesting link with the Norse-Gothic tribes and their early leader Odin. We read in 1 Chronicles 3:17-18 that Davidic descendant and king of Judah, Jehoiakin, had one son, Asir (KJV: Assir), translated in the RSV and NIV as “captive.” This Asir was therefore among those exiled from Canaan, and as noted above, neither he nor any of his descendants were included in Ezra’s list of those who returned from Babylon. Where did Asir, of the Davidic royal line of kings, and his descendants go? In Norse history, although encased in myth, Asir or Aesir was the name of the chief royal tribe living at Asgard, the early Mideast homeland of the Norse people. The Columbia Encyclopedia under the heading “Germanic religion” states, “In early times there were two groups of gods—the Aesir and the Vanir. However, after a war between the rival pantheons which perhaps reflects a war between two rival tribes, the defeated Vanir were absorbed into the Aesir, and the gods of both were worshipped in a single pantheon...of twelve principal deities...The gods dwelled at Asgard.” Apparently, exiled Israelites of the twelve tribes gathered around their Davidic leader, Aesir, before leaving the Mideast for Europe. A later leader of these assembled tribes was Odin, whose name is pure Semitic. The name Odin has been shown by scholars to be a royal title meaning “Lord” (compare the Hebrew “Adonai” and early Greek hero, “Adonis”). The Norse ancestral-line has been historically reconstructed from King David to Odin in a chart available from the Servant People booksite at www.migrations.info.
This should not be surprising, since Ezra informs us that only four courses or divisions of priests returned from Babylon (Ezra 2:36-39), out of a total of twenty-four courses (1 Chron. 24:7-18). These twenty-four courses of priests were a prophetic foretype of the twenty-four elders of the Book of Revelation (4:4; 19:4), showing us that they were not eliminated in God’s Divine purposes. Simple math will show that well over 80% of the priesthood of Israel therefore did not return from its exile in foreign lands. This percentage would also be reflected in the very low number of Israelites as a whole who returned to Canaan.
Respected scholar, Dr. W.F. Lofthouse, in “Israel After The Exile,” (Clarendon Bible, Old Testament, Vol. 4), has this to say: “[Cyrus’ decree] did not mean that any large number of Jews returned from Babylon to Palestine...it is doubtful if many of the Jews (save the poorer members of the community) would have been anxious to leave... Moreover, if there had been a considerable company of returning exiles, our sources for subsequent events in Palestine must have referred to its presence there. As a matter of fact, such references do not exist.” (p.24) In other words, relatively very few Israelites ever returned to the land of Canaan after being exiled.
The only place that you will read that all of the Israelite tribes reunited in Babylon, and returned together as one body to Canaan, is in the false and misguided theology of the religious opponents of the Two-House belief! Neither the Bible nor history support the idea of a mass return from Babylon of both Houses of Israel. Instead, the prophet Ezra stated, “...grace hath been showed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape...” (9:8) Again he emphasized, “We are left this day as a remnant.” (9:15, NIV) There is no question that Ezra, an eye-witness, documented that the majority of Israel remained in exile in other lands!
Some of our critics claim that these exiled Israelites all intermarried with the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon and passed out of existence as a separate people. To this, Dr. Lofthouse replies, “Were they absorbed into the new civilization? If they had been, no one would have been surprised. But they were not.” (ibid. p.5)
Other critics assert that although few Israelites may have returned immediately, a mass exodus took place sometime later. This too, ignores the facts of history. An interesting statement appears in Ezra’s last chapter which bears on this. It reads: “And they made proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem unto all the children of the captivity, that they should gather themselves together unto Jerusalem; And that whosoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeited, and himself separated from the congregation of those that had been carried away.” (Ezra 10:7-8)
Ezra stated that exiles who did not return to Jerusalem at that time “forfeited” all of their property. The Hebrew word used here, yaharam, means confiscated property. Any Israelite who returned months or years later would have found his home and vineyard legally turned over to others. He was disinherited! At that point, there was no incentive to return. Those not present at the appointed time were “separated” or “expelled” (NIV) from citizenship among the exiles. (Ezra 10:8) Those remaining in exile were truly “lost tribes,” for they had lost their land, property, and citizenship in their former homeland of Canaan.
The book of Nehemiah tells us that the whole community of exiles who returned to Canaan was only 42,360. (Neh. 8:66) What happened to the rest of God’s people, the Israelite majority who continued in exile? They did not remain in Assyria and Babylon. As Dr. Lofthouse expressed it, “[the prophet] Jeremiah...seems to imply a certain restlessness among the exiles.” (ibid. p.5) The fulfillment of the numerous prophecies of Scripture required that these restless wanderers be later found in the coastlands and isles to the west, where they became a great multitude and company of nations. (Gen. 15:5; 35:11; Isa. 42:4) -J.S. Brooks
Final note: For the best books and other resources on the Two-Houses of Israel, visit Bible Blessings Christian Resources, at http://www.bibleblessings.net