God Is Not Fragile

Coping with the Intensity of Hosea’s Imagery and Life’s Most Severe Challenges

Seth N. Hord

Seth N. Hold, "God is Not Fragile: Coping with the Intensity of Hosea's Imagery and Life's Most Severe Challenges," Religious Educator 23, no. 1 (2022): 74–93.

Seth N. Hord (Seth.Hord@ChurchofJesusChrist.org) is a seminary and institute instructor in Gilbert, Arizona.

new testament marriageTeachers can assist students by helping them see that interspersed between each of these grotesque images of consequences and judgment are depictions of God's love and faithfulness to his people. Bride and Groom, by Lyle Beddes, © Intellectual Reserve, Inc.


The book of Hosea is not for the faint of heart. Like many of the writings of ancient Israelite prophets, it is complex and intense and deserves a focused, serious study to fully appreciate the intensity of Hosea’s message. Anything less may leave the reader somewhat confused or even scarred by what Hosea says about God. But Hosea’s message is particularly powerful in helping us deal with life’s most intense and troubling circumstances. This paper attempts to address some of the striking images of Hosea in a way that will assist religious educators with helping students navigate some of the book’s most disturbing images. It will provide a high-level overview of Hosea and address specific images of judgment and how they fit into the wider context of Hosea’s message of the love, healing, and restoration available in a relationship with God. Restoration scripture will also be cross-referenced to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how Hosean concepts of justice and mercy, judgment and redemption are portrayed across the scriptural canon of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It will then conclude with Hosea’s witness of the intensity of God’s love and power to heal and restore us even in the most intense circumstances of our lives.


Hosea was a prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the eighth century. At the time of his writing, Israel and Judah were separate kingdoms and Assyria was the prominent foreign threat. It was a time of political and religious turmoil—Hosea “lived during a time of national decline and ruin, the result of the sin of Israel.”[1] This puts Hosea in a position similar to that of the Book of Mormon writers Enos and Mormon, both of whom wrote of their people during periods of declining values but before imminent destruction.[2]

Scholars typically divide the book of Hosea into two parts. Chapters 1–3 are narrative in form, whereas chapters 4–14 are prophetic oracles.[3] The prophetic oracles sometimes appear to be separate episodes, each started with an exhortation for the audience to hear or hearken (such as chapters 4 and 5), and at other times build on one another by drawing on the imagery from the preceding chapter (such as how chapter 6 draws on the imagery in 5). Some scholars have suggested that the first three chapters are intended to shape the way the remainder of the prophecies are read.[4]

Hosea directs his prophecies to the political and religious leadership of Israel (as in Hosea 5:1), as well as to the people generally (as in Hosea 4:1). His overall message is a call for Israel to return to a covenant relationship with God—they have turned away from him and must return. Hosea’s language exhorts the people to turn away from their idols and other sources of pleasure or rewards that hold their focus and to turn back to God, who is the actual provider of all their blessings.[5] There is a significant sense of corporate responsibility for Israel’s waywardness, as the political and religious leadership are frequently castigated for not instilling in the people a knowledge of God and his laws. Hosea prophesies that the people will be smitten, carried away, and then gathered to the promised land again in the future as they recommit to God.

Hosea’s prominent literary feature is imagery in the form of similes and metaphors. One scholar noted that reading Hosea is “like going into Hosea’s art gallery to discover what he means to communicate through the various ‘paintings’ on and ‘figures’ for YHWH, human beings and the world around him.”[6] This is critical for students to understand so that each image is evaluated for what it communicates as a symbol or idea rather than what it means at face value. Hosea pulls imagery from all of creation to communicate God’s redeeming work, including cosmic imagery (that is, wind, water, and land), plants and agriculture, animals and fowls, sickness and health, war, birth and death, feast and harvest, male and female, careers, marriage, and more. This range of symbolism makes Hosea relatable, and each representation helps the reader understand something more about God and human beings.

Additional features of Hosea include wordplays; an unrelenting pattern of judgment, punishment, and reconciliation; and an unapologetic intensity. Hosea does not appear concerned about being politically correct, and he does not hold back for the sake of the feelings of the reader or hearer like Mormon did (see Mormon 2:18; 4:11; 5:9). Instead, he is more like Enos, who wrote of the prophecies of his day:

And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction. And after this manner do I write concerning them. (Enos 1:23)

Hosea’s use of a variety of images and approaches to communicate his message emphasizes the desperation of Israel’s situation.

It has been said since at least the time of the early Christian Marcion that the Old Testament depicts God’s justice and that the New Testament emphasizes God’s mercy. This oversimplification represents a risk that may be avoided in the classroom by exploring both aspects of God’s character side by side, as Hosea does. One scholar noted, “Our temptation as Christians may be to emphasize [God’s] justice and minimize his mercy, or to highlight his mercy and neglect his justice. Yet, this imbalanced approach distorts and denigrates God’s character! As Hosea aptly shows, his justice and mercy work together to serve one purpose—bringing his unfaithful people back into a faithful relationship with him.”[7] Similarly, Alma taught Corianton that it is critical to “let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility” (Alma 42:30). God is not fragile—he can handle the scrutiny of his character, and his justice, mercy, and long-suffering all attest to his everlasting love for those who enter into a relationship with him.

Intense Passages

Hosea’s intense imagery of justice may be reconciled with God’s love in a classroom experience that evaluates difficult passages within the wider context of Hosea’s message of salvation for God’s covenant people. The intensity of these images can also provide opportunities to address God’s power to heal the most severe challenges students may face in this life. Often, these extreme challenges go unaddressed because of the discomfort they bring to the classroom and our interactions with students. Hosea provides an opportunity to address them head on in a scripture-based, faith-filled, and appropriate way. In this section, several intense passages from Hosea will be examined with an introductory summary of the passage; an evaluation of why it may be difficult; the wider context of the passage, including scholarship and resources that may assist with understanding; and suggestions for helping students learn from the section.

Wife and children of whoredoms in Hosea 1–2

Hosea’s first imagery is of people caught up in immorality. Hosea is instructed to take “a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord” (Hosea 1:2).[8] In many places in Hosea, the reason for the symbol is given in the text. For example, here Hosea’s marriage to a wife of whoredoms and having children of whoredoms are a representation of Israel departing from (or turning away from) God—essentially, they are cheating on him! It is unclear if Hosea’s marriage to this woman is literal or symbolic, but either way it represents Israel’s condition and God’s position.[9] The children are named with symbolic names that indicate God’s judgments on Israel. The first son is named Jezreel, literally “God sows,” then a daughter is named Lo-ruhamah, “no mercy,” and another son is called Lo-ammi, “not my people.” These names represent God’s judgments of punishment (Jezreel), no mercy (Lo-ruhamah), and a disavowal of Israel (Lo-ammi).[10]

Chapter 2 describes what God is going to do about the situation in a parable about a husband and a faithless wife, building on the symbolism of Hosea taking a wife of whoredoms in chapter 1. The husband is described as pleading with the children to plead with their mother, revealing the woman’s shame, strictly punishing her, withholding mercy from her children, and finally cutting her off from her lovers (see Hosea 2:1–7). When the woman cannot find her sources of pleasure, she decides to return to her husband. The husband then takes the woman into the wilderness, removes all celebrations and holidays, destroys all remains of her former relationships with lovers, and describes how he will begin to woo her again (see Hosea 2:7–15). Eventually, the woman will recommit herself to the husband, they will be betrothed again, and the calamities will be reversed (see Hosea 2:16–23).

There are multiple ways this passage may be difficult. God stating that a wife or children are of “whoredoms” may seem like an insult unbecoming of Deity. Furthermore, because of the inherent immorality and shame in such a command, few would expect God to instruct his prophet to marry a wife of whoredom. Declaring vengeance, saying that he will not show mercy, and disowning Israel as his people may seem contrary to the actions of a loving Heavenly Father. Furthermore, the treatment of the cheating wife in the parable is distressing, as in when the husband states, “Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst” (Hosea 2:3). As intense as these passages are, they are especially difficult because they have been removed from the context of the rest of the text and grouped together in a troublesome set (in the case of this paper, intentionally). How can teachers help students navigate such obstacles?

First, establish the wider context of the troubling passage. To take the first difficulty as an example, God is not calling random people “whores” but specifically a people who have covenanted to him and have turned away from that covenant relationship for the sake of other pleasures or rewards. A teacher may point out that Hosea will reveal the pleasures and rewards throughout his prophecies, so students will be able to see why Israel is symbolized by a “wife of whoredom.” It is not just an insult God called them, but it acts as an accurate (and shocking) moniker to describe the situation and to wake up Israel to a realization of its actions. Additionally, the ancient context of sexual relations may assist with a deeper understanding of the issues here. One scholar notes:

Whereas in the modern world, the meaning of sexuality is linked to the private realm of erotic pleasure and defines the boundary of the nuclear family, in the society of ancient Israel described above, where intergenerational continuity and kinship networks were definitive of the structure and purpose of human existence, human sexuality and sexual acts inevitably evoked much more corporate or public meanings having to do with lineage continuity, community boundaries, and group identity.[11]

A teacher may also wish to ask the students why the Lord (through Hosea) might feel the need to use such a startling image in this situation. What is the intergenerational impact of turning away from the Lord? Students will then be focused on evaluating Hosea’s imagery within the context of God’s relationship with his people.

Then there is the apparent immorality and shame in God’s instruction for Hosea to marry Gomer, a wife of whoredoms, whether this marriage was literal or symbolic. One scholar stated this marriage is part of “a prophetic sign-act illustrating the broken relationship between YHWH and his people.”[12] Furthermore, the quadruple repetition of zānâ (the Hebrew root from which “whoredom” is translated) in this verse expresses “the surprising and emotionally painful nature of the sign-act.”[13] Another scholar noted, “The command to marry Gomer works in this realm of the self-evident conviction that one should pursue honor and avoid shame. Yahweh commands Hosea to act in a way that would bring public shame, and so demonstrate Yahweh’s status of disgrace in being bound to Israel.”[14] Thus, the immorality and shame inherent in this command are exactly the rhetorical point of it. Israel’s actions have not only disgraced Israel but have also brought shame on God. For religious people who take upon themselves the name of God or Christ, it may be worthwhile to ponder how their actions reflect back on God.

Next, God’s declarations of vengeance and no mercy may seem extremely harsh. But what if Hosea’s treatment of Gomer (and God’s treatment of Israel) is symbolic of how the elite are treating the poor? One scholar suggested that the prophet Hosea “embodies both the sin of the people and the mishandled power of the elite in his own tortured relationship with Gomer.”[15] The remainder of Hosea’s prophecies describe kings and priests (political and spiritual leaders) abusing their positions of power with sins of murder, adultery, pride, not knowing the Lord, not extending mercy, stealing, lying, and turning to other nations for protection instead of to God (see Hosea 5:1–5; Hosea 6:7–10; Hosea 7). In this situation, God’s actions toward Israel are the harvest of what they have sown (see Hosea 8:7). Many scriptures describe God’s justice functioning as a magnified return for what was meted out, just as one kernel of corn sown will produce hundreds of kernels in the day of harvest.[16] Similarly, the actions of Israel’s elite will be returned to their own heads manyfold.

In the theology of the Restoration, it is not only that God suffers the shame of apostate Israelite actions but that Jesus bears the weight of the afflictions they heaped on others as well. Doctrine and Covenants 133:50–53 records the voice of Jesus at his Second Coming saying:

I have trodden the wine-press alone, and have brought judgment upon all people; and none were with me;

And I have trampled them in my fury, and I did tread upon them in mine anger, and their blood have I sprinkled upon my garments, and stained all my raiment; for this was the day of vengeance which was in my heart.

And now the year of my redeemed is come; and they shall mention the loving kindness of their Lord, and all that he has bestowed upon them according to his goodness, and according to his loving kindness, forever and ever.

In all their afflictions he was afflicted. And the angel of his presence saved them; and in his love, and in his pity, he redeemed them, and bore them, and carried them all the days of old.

These verses describe Jesus taking the blood of the wicked upon his own garments, a symbol that he takes responsibility for the judgments inflicted upon them.[17] These verses also describe that Jesus experiences the afflictions of his redeemed with them, like the prophet Alma testified: “He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind . . . , that his bowels may be filled with mercy” (Alma 7:11–12). Justice is served when the price for these afflictions is paid on the heads of those who caused them and did not repent of them.[18] Mercy is available to all who repent through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. In the case of the repentant, Jesus pays the price justice demands and thereby serves justice and extends mercy.

In addition to a deeper understanding of the principles of justice and mercy, a review of the covenant stipulations in Deuteronomy 28 may benefit students who are unfamiliar with the Old Testament covenant language. There are blessings outlined for keeping the covenant, as well as warnings or curses for failure to keep the covenant. For example, the Lord declares, “And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 28:2), and then promises blessings on their cities, fields, flocks and herds, travels, and battles; the fruit of the body (that is, children); the fruit of their cattle; and the fruit of the ground (see Deuteronomy 28:2–14). The covenant will provide many blessings for Israel as they hearken to his voice.

The Lord continues, “If thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee” (Deuteronomy 28:15; emphasis added). The list of curses in Deuteronomy 28:15–68 is a reversal of the blessings promised in Deuteronomy 28:2–14, including the curse saying that Israel will be rebuked “until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:20). If and when the curses are enacted,

then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt:

For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given unto them:

And the anger of the Lord was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book:

And the Lord rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:25–29)

God’s actions of vengeance and withholding mercy are based on the stipulations of the covenant and are therefore just. Israel was informed of what would happen if they forsook their covenant relationship. But a crucial part of this covenant described by Hosea and many other prophets is that even after justice and destruction the Lord will continue to reach out and gather remnants to him in love and mercy.[19] This appears to be part of what the voice of Jesus prophesied would happen if the house of Israel did not return to him: “The places of your dwellings shall become desolate until the time of the fulfilling of the covenant of your fathers” (3 Nephi 10:7).

But what of the husband’s distressing treatment of the wife in Hosea 2? One scholar wrote, “Rather than reading Yahweh’s anger as parallel to a modern jealous lover, we watch a basic principle at work: he/she who brings shame upon an honorable person is shamed. In standard prophetic terms of judgment we have the familiar idea of the punishment fitting the crime. She (Israel) has shamed Yahweh and so he will expose them to shame and disown them.”[20] But this is more than just an eye for an eye or a shame for a shame. Even though God’s actions are just, Hosea maintains that God is devastated by the actions of Israel, and Hosea portrays him as more than a covenant enforcer to his people. One scholar wrote, “Seeing his people turn to other gods, YHWH laments, ‘But she does not recognize that I myself gave to her the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil. The silver I multiplied for her and the gold, she has used for Baal’ [Hosea 2:8]. Hear the heartache of Israel’s God! . . . YHWH again laments, ‘She went after her lovers, but she forgot me’ [Hosea 2:13].”[21] If the husband’s treatment of the wife is taken away from these passages, then a crucial piece of Hosea’s artwork is missing. They must be set side by side and evaluated together.[22] This allows the reader to truly appreciate, as the hymn says,

How great, how glorious, how complete

Redemption’s grand design,

Where justice, love, and mercy meet

In harmony divine![23]

Religious educators may assist students in evaluating these images by reminding students that the imagery is symbolic. A teacher may ask a question such as “What is Hosea attempting to communicate with this imagery of a disgraced marriage and devastating consequences?” One answer may include that Israel’s choices to turn away from God have led them to consequences that will be difficult to bear. Hosea’s intense imagery emphasizes the most severe feelings of discomfort, shame, and suffering that our choices bring upon ourselves and of the sense of loss God feels.[24] Students may recognize these in their own choices (or the choices of others) that have brought them feelings of discomfort, shame, suffering, or loss. These feelings are not what God wants for his people. So he will remove them to a “wilderness” where he will remind them of what kind of love is possible when they turn to him instead of other sources for fulfillment. To emphasize this point, a teacher may ask students to consider ways God has reached out to them even after they turned away from God at a particular time in their life. How can this guide them to reach out to others who are feeling the sting of their own choices?

Of particular note is the husband’s continued care for the woman who had turned away from him. I once summarized Hosea 2 to a class of seminary students, though I briefly withheld the identities of the husband and wife and the fact that the story came from the scriptures. Their comments afterward were of amazement that the husband would go to such lengths of compassion, forgiveness, and love for someone who had cheated on him. They expected the husband to divorce his wife and be done. One young woman even said partway through the retelling that divorce was the appropriate action. They noted that the ending of this story is not what they expected based on the messages about marriage and divorce they hear in the world around them. One young man stated he was not sure if he would be able to extend the love and forgiveness of the husband. When I revealed the identity of the husband as God and the wife as his people who turn away from him, they understood more about God’s covenant faithfulness and that their sins would not keep God from pursuing a relationship with them.

If one of God’s children is caught up in immorality (literal or spiritual), what can students learn from Hosea’s symbols about the difficult consequences that person may face and about God’s justice, covenant faithfulness, and loving-kindness? How can they emulate these divine qualities in their own covenant relationships with God and others? Why would they want to be involved with and belong to an organization whose work is to publish the message that a covenant relationship with God is possible for all, no matter a person’s past actions?

God as wrath water, rot, and lion in Hosea 5–6

The audience of chapter 5 is the religious leadership, the people, and the political leadership of Israel (see Hosea 5:1). The Lord reiterates their spiritual whoredom against him and notes, “They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the Lord” (Hosea 5:4). In this condition, the Lord prophesies that “Israel and Ephraim [shall] fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them” (Hosea 5:5). Hosea introduces the images of wrath water (or water as a destructive force), a rot, and a lion to describe the Lord’s actions toward Israel and Judah in this time of judgment. He then reverses these images to describe what the Lord can do for his people when they return to him. At the end of chapter 6, specific sins that have been committed against God are revealed.

The potential difficulties of this passage lie in the images of judgment. Ask any student to finish the comparison “God is like . . .” and see if any of them come up with “a rotting sickness that no one can heal.” And if they do, as the teacher would you attempt to quickly assert control over the situation, or would you spend time considering the merits of the metaphor? It is not often that a prophet speaks of God as a destructive deluge, a rot that cannot be cured, or a lion that tears its prey and ensures it cannot be rescued. One scholar noted of these symbols, “The metaphors used for the work of Yahweh are shockingly bold and abrasive, even for Hosea.”[25] How can these merciless images describe the God who so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son? (see John 3:16). Additionally, these images conclude the chapter, and a reader runs the risk of stopping his or her study at the chapter break before receiving the rest (and most important part) of God’s message. A casual reading of these passages may leave a reader concerned about the character of God and yearning for the grace of Jesus in the New Testament. But a conscientious reading of these passages reveals a familiar message of prophetic warning and future assurance of hope in a God who seeks to gather his people to him.

First, the context of these passages follows the previously discussed pattern of moving from judgment to restoration. While the message of judgment is depicted in Hosea 5:10–15, the rest of the message of redemption is pictured in Hosea 6:1–3. Additionally, there is a chiastic structure to these images that provides a means of understanding the purpose of Hosea’s portraits of God. Table 1 demonstrates how Hosea’s images of destructive water, a rot or sickness, and a tearing lion are reversed so that the lion becomes a healer instead of a tearer (or terror), sickness is reversed in revival, and torrential rain becomes spring rain with all the promise of nourishing the land instead of destroying it.

Table 1. Hosea’s Imagery in Chiastic Parallel

Images of Judgment

(Hosea 5:10–15)

Images of Redemption

(Hosea 6:1–3)

“I will pour out my wrath upon them like water” (Hosea 5:10)“he shall come unto us as the rain, as the [spring] and [winter] rain unto the earth” (Hosea 6:3; see footnote a)
“When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb: yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound” (Hosea 5:13)“After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight” (Hosea 6:2)
“For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him” (Hosea 5:14)“for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1b)

Central to the message of these images is what transforms the Lord from an executor of justice into a minister of mercy between Hosea 5:14 and Hosea 6:1b. The Lord declared, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early” (Hosea 5:15). The prophet’s exhortation to the people of Israel is “Come, and let us return unto the Lord” (Hosea 6:1a). The solution to Israel’s dilemma is to turn to the Lord for deliverance—not other sources, as they are impotent for what is required.

Teachers and students may also consider the merits and boundaries of the comparison imagery. One scholar noted a “standard three-stage model of nonliteral language comprehension” used in multiple fields of study:

  1. Derive the literal meaning of an utterance.
  2. Test the derived literal meaning against the context of the utterance.
  3. If the literal meaning makes sense, accept that meaning as the utterance meaning, that is, the speaker’s intended meaning. If it does not make sense, then seek an alternative, nonliteral meaning that does make sense in the context.[26]

In the case of Hosea’s simile of God as a rot, the literal meaning would be that God is some kind of bacteria or fungus that is causing ailment. In the context of Hosea’s religion and prophetic utterances, this does not make sense. Hosea does not worship a decomposing disease, nor do his hearers. Since the literal meaning does not make sense, step three is to seek an alternative that does make sense in the context of a prophet exhorting an apostate people to return to their worship of the God of their fathers. Students may then consider in what ways God is like a devastating rot to those who have turned away from him and turned toward other sources for healing or relief. Instead of ignoring the imagery because of the potential discomfort involved in likening God to a rot, addressing the imagery with such questions may lead students to insights that help them understand the world around them, such as this from Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

In later years, I saw a few leave the Church who could then never leave it alone. They used often their intellectual reservations to cover their behavioral lapses (see Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience [1979], 110). You will see some of that. By the way, do not expect the world’s solutions to the world’s problems to be very effective. Such solutions often resemble what C. S. Lewis wrote about those who go dashing back and forth with fire extinguishers in times of flood (see The Screwtape Letters [1959], 117–18). Only the gospel is constantly relevant, and the substitute things won’t work.[27]

Classroom time spent in seeking understanding of difficult things may reduce fear of difficult things, provide insights into some of the difficulties that surround students, shine God’s light into places that seemed consumed with darkness, and most importantly, help students come to know God as he really is.

As teachers and students evaluate these symbols for what they communicate about God’s actions and his work for the salvation of his children, it may be beneficial to cross-reference these with a pair of examples from the Book of Mormon. Abinadi prophesied of King Noah’s people, “Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; . . . and it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God” (Mosiah 11:20, 23). After the death of King Noah, this promise was fulfilled for King Limhi and the people in Mosiah 21–22 and Alma the priest and his people in Mosiah 23–24. Only with the Lord’s help and servants were King Noah’s people able to be delivered from their enemies.

Hosea’s images may even become a lens for a study of these Book of Mormon chapters. How does the rot of Ephraim—for which Israel turns to a king for a cure—play out in Mosiah 21 when Limhi’s people look to Limhi to cure their grief and deliver them from bondage? How does God’s promise to be like a lion guarding his prey resemble the impossibility of deliverance from all sources but him in Mosiah 22 and 24? In what ways did the people of Limhi and Alma respond as Hosea described (“till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early”), and how did the Lord respond to them? (Hosea 5:15). How can modern students “come, and . . . return unto the Lord” (Hosea 6:1) when no one else can deliver them from the sicknesses or foes that they face? In this way, the scriptures become a system of mirrors, continually reflecting back on each other and adding value.[28] As attested in these passages from the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, God is mighty and able to save our students from the most difficult and intense situations they may find themselves in when they turn to him.

Destruction of women and children in Hosea 9:10–17; 10:12–15; and 13:16

The final passages of Hosea to be evaluated are even more graphic and disturbing. However, God is not fragile and can assist teachers and students through these as well. The Lord expressed his joy when he said that, like finding grapes in the wilderness, he had found Israel to be his people, but the joy did not last as Israel turned to abominations (see Hosea 9:10). The Lord accused Ephraim of delivering their children to murderers (see Hosea 9:13). What punishment is fit for that crime? Hosea 9:14–17 describes symbolic judgments of miscarrying wombs, dried-up breasts, and slain children. The Lord will inflict Israel with these for their wickedness (see Hosea 9:15). Furthermore, Hosea 10:14 describes the destruction of the city Beth-arbel as a mother being dashed to pieces upon her children. Similarly, the prophecy against Samaria in Hosea 13:16 declares that “they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.”[29] One scholar notes that Hosea appears to be drawing on a tradition of personifying capital cities as female and using images of physical and sexual violence against women to symbolize the future destruction these cities face.[30] These symbols are not justifications of violence against women but use the intense language of this violence to describe what these cities and their outlying towns and villages (that is, the infants) will face if they continue on their current trajectory. Additionally, this scholar notes:

Since the capital cities represent the male ruling elite, the personifications of these cities as females enact an ironic feminization of the ruling hierarchy. The discourse attempts to change the audience’s perspective on the political rulers in an ironic way. Within the cultural assumptions and metaphorical traditions of ancient Israel, the most powerful social group, the ruling male elite, is cast as the most helpless social group, the sexually violated female. Due to some action by the city and the rulers she represents, the prophet envisions a situation of looming reversal and punishment for Samaria.[31]

These ruling classes think they are strong, but without the Lord they are about to discover how vulnerable their situation really is. What experiences have students faced in which they thought they were in a position of strength, but their pride blinded them to the reality of their vulnerability?

How could a prophet declare such evils against God’s people? Why such a frightful and violent depiction of the treatment of women? As one feminist scholar insightfully wrote of this symbolism,

Reading these images in relation to the trope of woman’s body as the social body, it becomes possible to see that Hosea’s disturbing images about women, sexual transgression, female sterility, and the death of children were rhetorically powerful in his time because they evoked a dimension of ancient Israel’s language of identity. In this language, fertile womanhood and procreation within the licit context of the patrilineal family was a symbol of the life of the nation, and female fornication, the birth of illegitimate children, the loss of fertility, miscarriages, and the death of mothers with children could therefore symbolize its death.[32]

Teachers can assist students by helping them see that interspersed between each of these grotesque images of consequences and judgment are depictions of God’s love and faithfulness to his people—the relationship that he wants but that Israel rejects. Once again, these images must be evaluated side by side to understand the fuller picture of God’s work. God wants to find joy in his people as a wanderer who finds grapes in the wilderness and gathers them in (see Hosea 9:10). Instead, Israel will be cast away (see Hosea 9:17), an empty vine who brought forth fruit “unto himself” and not unto God (Hosea 10:1). The destruction of Beth-arbel is preceded by a prophetic cry to sow righteousness in order to reap mercy: “For it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12). Instead, Israel “plowed wickedness, [and] reaped iniquity,” and so all its strongholds would be crushed (Hosea 10:13–14).

Just before Samaria’s rebellion ending in the dashing of its cities is the Lord’s observation “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help” (Hosea 13:9).[33] In the midst of death and destruction is the Lord’s promise that “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes” (Hosea 13:14). Hosea’s language evokes the realities and horrors of wartime atrocities against women and children to emphasize the consequences of Israel’s failure to turn to God, but Hosea does not do so without the promise of healing from even the most severe challenges they face if they will turn to their God, live righteously, and wait on God continually (see Hosea 12:6).[34] As students go throughout their mortal lives, they may think that what they have seen or experienced is more than they can bear. Indeed, it might be, but it is not more than God can bear. God is not fragile and can heal his people if they will turn to him and seek him out by coming to know him, his work, and his ways.

It is understandable if, in the course of their study of these disturbing images, students express something akin to Enoch’s “bitterness of soul,” from which he stated, “I will refuse to be comforted” (Moses 7:44). However, teachers can follow the example of the Lord and help students find rejoicing in their souls once again by seeing the future redemption and reconciliation of God’s people to him through Jesus Christ (see Moses 7:38–39, 47). Hosea’s book concludes this way in chapter 14 with the Lord’s promise that “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon” (Hosea 14:4–5). At last, Ephraim will proclaim, “What have I to do any more with idols?” and the Lord will declare, “I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found” (Hosea 14:8). One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to bear witness to the house of Israel that “they are not cast off forever.”[35] Teachers can help students come to know this for themselves as they show them the God of Israel through the words of prophets like Hosea.


To prepare to help students navigate troubling passages, teachers can create learning experiences that will assist students in evaluating scripture within the entire context of a book like Hosea, as well as within the context of the entire scriptural canon. Teachers may also assist students in evaluating scriptural imagery and symbolism to prepare them to come to know God better and become converted to him. As instructors help students connect their own experiences with what is expressed in scripture, students may find hope in a faithful relationship with God.

Sometimes our feelings may be fragile, but God is not fragile. His word is not. His work is not. When those studying the word of God find difficult passages with seemingly problematic imagery, it is beneficial to plant such passages firmly in the wider context of God’s far-reaching message of salvation for his children. In some places in scripture, the reader must pass through intensity to reach a place of rest and healing on the other side of that intensity. Our mortal life follows a similar pattern. But the intensity of the moment should not be allowed to blind us from the redeeming love of a holy God anxious and eager to bring his children back to a faithful relationship with him. So said the psalmist, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [intensity!], . . . surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:4, 6).


[1] Bible Dictionary, “Hosea, or Hoshea.” As is the case with many Old Testament books, modern scholars debate issues of historical context, historical accuracy, rhetorical intent, metaphorical analysis, theological implications, textual unity and transmission, socioeconomic and political considerations, and portrayal of women, as well as form, structure, and genre. While there is no scholarly consensus, each scholar provides a unique perspective and approach to the study of Hosea. The focus of this paper is not intended to be comprehensive but to suggest how selections of these issues may assist religious educators teaching Hosea in classroom settings for Seminaries and Institutes of Religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For a helpful and comprehensive evaluation of the arguments and positions of scholars on these issues, see Brad E. Kelle, “Hosea 4–14 in Twentieth-Century Scholarship,” Currents in Biblical Research 8, no. 3 (2010): 314–75.

[2] For example, Enos wrote of the “stiffnecked people” of his day (Enos 1:22), while his son Jarom wrote of the hard hearts, deaf ears, blind eyes, and stiff necks of the people of his day (see Jarom 1:3), and Jarom’s son Omni admitted his personal wickedness and the intense warfare of his day (see Omni 1:2). Mormon wrote of the hardness of the hearts of the people when he was young (see Mormon 1:17) and wrote later to his son, Moroni, “I fear lest the Spirit hath ceased striving with them” (Moroni 8:28), indicating he believed they were beyond saving and doomed for destruction.

[3] For a sample of a scholarly evaluation of the difference between these two sections, see Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Hosea: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible 24 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980), 57–66.

[4] See, for instance, Gale A. Yee, Composition and Tradition in the Book of Hosea: A Redaction Critical Investigation, Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 102 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987), 63.

[5] There is some dispute over the exact nature of Israel’s spiritual whoredom. For a detailed analysis of the various positions, see Brad E. Kelle, Hosea 2: Metaphor and Rhetoric in Historical Perspective, Academia Biblica 20 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 14–18. His main categories for the nature of Israel’s whoredoms include religious affiliation with the Baal cult, a socioeconomic interpretation (focus on social injustice or economic injustice), or a historical-political interpretation (Israel turning to foreign alliances instead of relying on God as its king).

[6] Emmanuel O. Nwaoru, Imagery in the Prophecy of Hosea (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1999), 1.

[7] Brian Gault, “Avenging Husband and Redeeming Lover? Opposing Portraits of God in Hosea,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 60, no. 3 (2017): 508. Emphasis in the original.

[8] All Bible references will be from the King James Version unless otherwise specified.

[9] For more about Hosea’s family and how it relates to the Abrahamic covenant and the gathering of Israel, see Aaron P. Schade, “The Imagery of Hosea’s Family and the Restoration of Israel,” in The Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament: The 38th Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, ed. D. Kelly Ogden, Jared W. Ludlow, and Kerry Muhlestein (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 233–49.

[10] One scholar wrote that Jezreel’s name “centers on the theme of the day of Jezreel. The day associated with Jezreel in [Hosea] 1:4–5 is a judgment day on Israel, whereas the one explicitly called ‘the day of Jezreel’ in 2:2 is of redemption. Thus the text’s shift from punishment to redemption is encapsulated by the contrasting inclusio. . . . Yet, ‘sowing’ means ‘scattering seed,’ and as such it points at exile (cf. Zech 10:9). The first occurrences of the term in this reading point to the realm of destruction, exile, and desolation of the land . . . ; the second to restoration, to increased ‘seed,’ both in the sense of population and agrarian produce.” Ehud Ben Zvi, Hosea (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 46–47.

[11] Alice A. Keefe, “Family Metaphors and Social Conflict in Hosea,” in Writing and Reading War: Rhetoric, Gender, and Ethics in Biblical and Modern Contexts, ed. Brad E. Kelle and Frank Ritchel Ames (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008), 118–19.

[12] Eric J. Tully, Hosea: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2018), 18.

[13] Tully, 22.

[14] Joshua Moon, “Honor and Shame in Hosea’s Marriages,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 39, no. 3 (2015): 342. Moon also links this marriage to the prohibition of priests to marry prostitutes found in Leviticus 21:7, 9 and to the shame or profaneness this brings on one who is holy (340).

[15] Carolyn J. Sharp, “Interrogating the Violent God of Hosea: A Conversation with Walter Brueggemann, Alice Keefe, and Ehud Ben Zvi,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 30 (2008), 70; emphasis added.

[16] As a sample, see Malachi 4:1–3; Matthew 7:1–5; Revelation 14:7–13; Revelation 16–18; 1 Nephi 22:16–23; Alma 12:28–37; 3 Nephi 6–10; Doctrine and Covenants 19:15–20; Doctrine and Covenants 29:17; and Doctrine and Covenants 133:50–53.

[17] It is the opposite of what the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob described about the teachers and priests of his day who recognized their responsibility: “answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day” (Jacob 1:19). Having someone’s blood on your garments is a scriptural symbol of your responsibility for them.

[18] As the Lord taught Martin Harris, “I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:16–17).

[19] See Hosea 3:5; 6:1–3; 12:9; 13:9; 14:4–8; Isaiah 1:9; 10:20–22; 10:33–11:1; 11:10–11; 25:1–9; Jeremiah 12:14–16; 23:3; 31:7; Ezekiel 6:8; 14:22; Joel 2:32; Micah 2:12; 1 Nephi 10:14; 15:13–14; Enos 1:13–18; and Mormon 7:1–10.

[20] Moon, “Honor and Shame,” 344. Or as another scholar put it, “Just as Israel had exposed her nakedness to others, God would strip her naked, making her an object of shame.” Gault, “Avenging Husband and Redeeming Lover,” 492.

[21] Gault, 493.

[22] Gault notes, “Hosea is arranged in parallel panels, moving from judgment to restoration.” Gault, 504.

[23] “How Great the Wisdom and the Love,” Hymns, no. 195.

[24] Similar to when God explained his weeping to Enoch in Moses 7:28–40.

[25] James L. Mays, Hosea: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), 90, quoted in Gault, “Avenging Husband and Redeeming Lover,” 496.

[26] Sam Glucksberg, Understanding Figurative Language: From Metaphors to Idioms (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 10.

[27] Neal A. Maxwell, “Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been,” Ensign, May 2005, 45.

[28] See Yair Zakovitch, “Inner-Biblical Interpretation,” in A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism, ed. Matthias Henze (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 27.

[29] See Isaiah 13:13–18 for a similar prophecy.

[30] See Kelle, Hosea 2, 86–94.

[31] Kelle, Hosea 2, 94.

[32] Keefe, “Family Metaphors,” 120.

[33] Some observations of Book of Mormon prophets may assist students in understanding such a statement. In Mormon 4:5, Mormon notes, “The judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.” In this theological gold mine, Mormon posits that the increased desire for bloodshed that will afflict the Nephites does not come from God (i.e., God does not stoke the fire for bloodshed in the Lamanites), but because they do not hearken to God, it will overtake them as a natural consequence of their actions. God’s judgment is not that God will cause the death of men, women, and children and the horrors of war but that the people of Israel are opening themselves up to these things when they turn away from their covenant relationship with him. When these atrocities come upon God’s covenant people, God sorrows (such as in Moses 7:28–37) and considers justice meted out. When only twenty-four Nephites remain, Mormon’s lament in Mormon 6:16–22 captures that this fate could have been avoided had the Nephites repented, but God did with them according to his justice and mercy. Hosea dramatically portrays Lehi’s teaching that “they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27).

[34] These atrocities were in the minds of early Book of Mormon prophets who used strong language in an attempt to keep their people in the way of the Lord. Jacob anxiously warned his people that in their wickedness they had “broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children” (Jacob 2:35), and he prophesied, “Except ye repent the land is cursed for your sakes; and the Lamanites . . . shall scourge you even unto destruction” (Jacob 3:3). This destruction became a reality for Mormon, who wrote to his son, Moroni, of the wartime atrocities committed against the Nephite men, women, and children of his day (see Moroni 9). Mormon and Moroni similarly looked forward to the day when resurrection and redemption through Jesus would allow those who turned to God to “dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end” (Mormon 7:7; see also Ether 12:4–6).

[35] Title page of the Book of Mormon.