[b-hebrew] The meaning of "the blood of Jezreel" in Hosea 1:4

Leonard Jayawardena leonardj at live.com
Sat Aug 9 06:41:36 EDT 2008

After I sent my last post, I remembered what Shimei said to David as he fled from Absalom: "The Lord has avenged upon you all THE BLOOD OF THE HOUSE OF SAUL ..." (2 Samuel 16:8). Therefore "the blood of the house of Ahab," rather than "the blood of Jezreel," is what you would expect Hosea to have used if he was condemning the destruction of the house of Ahab by Jehu in Hosea 1:4. In this post I propose to do a closer analysis of Hosea 1:4-5 with a view to adducing further reasons why "Jezreel" in Hosea 1:4 represents Israel and is a person in the expression "the blood of Jezreel," and the interpretation that it refers to Jehu's massacre at Jezreel, found universally in Bible commentaries both evangelical and liberal and reflected in many Bible translations, is wrong.     Hosea 1:4-5 reads in Young's Literal Translation as follows: "And Jehovah saith unto him, call his name Jezreel for {yet a little and I have charged the blood of Jezreel on the house of Jehu and have caused to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel} and it hath come to pass in that day that I have broken the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel." The conjunction "for" (kî) denotes that the the reason for the naming of the first child as “Jezreel" is to be sought in the words up to "the valley of Jezreel." The same conjunction "kî" introduces the reasons for naming Jezreel's siblings as "Lo-ruhamah" (v. 6) and "Lo-ammi" (v. 9). The same conjunction also occurs in Hosea 1:2: “Go take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whordoms: for [kî] the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord ...” (KJV). This firmly establishes the fact that Hosea's wife and children were to represent the people of Israel ("the land") and their apostasy. "[Y]et a little" modifies the words I have separated off by braces from the rest of the sentence. These words build up to and prepare the reader for the actual reason why Jezreel is so named: "[A]nd it hath come to pass in that day that I have broken the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel." We can recast this verse thus: "...Call his name Jezreel, for in the day that I will avenge the blood of Jezreel [=Israel] upon the house of Jehu and cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel." The decisive battle in which Israel's bow was broken, though not recorded in the historical books of the Bible, would have taken place sometime before the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 17:5).
A word play between "Israel" and "Jezreel" is definitely suggested in "And on that day, I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel" (v. 5), which further confirms the identification of Jezreel with Israel in Hosea’s prophecy. In Hebrew the spellings and pronunciations of "Israel" and "Jezreel" are similar. The three children of Gomer represent the judgement of the nation in Hosea 1. The three negatives in the judgment passage in Hosea 1:1-9 are matched by the three positives in the salvation passage in Hosea 2:14-23. This is shown below: (a) The first child is named Jezreel to signify the breaking of Israel’s military power in the valley of Jezreel, leading to her destruction shortly afterwards--(1:5). This is matched by "they shall answer Jezreel" in 2:22. Israel is brought back to her land from exile and sown back on the land to bear fruit (spiritually) and made a nation once more with Judah, thus fulfilling the etymological meaning of Jezreel (“God sows”). (b) The second child is named Lo-ruhamah (“Not pitied”) to signify the withdrawal of God’s mercy from Israel (1:6). At the restoration, Lo-ruhamah (“Not-pitied”) will be pitied (2:23). (c) The third child is named Lo-ammi (“Not my people”) to signify God’s disowning of his people--1:9. Lo-ammi becomes Ammi (“My people”) in 2:23 with the negative lô dropped. Thus there is perfect symmetry when Jezreel in Hosea 1:4-5 is understood to signify Israel and her judgment for idolatry, a symmetry that is lost when “the blood of Jezreel” is taken to refer to Jehu’s massacre in Jezreel and the punishment of the house of Jehu for that, which did not concern the nation as a whole.  Note also that the order of the negatives in Hosea 1 and the positives in Hosea 2, too, match perfectly. 
A comment on the use of the name "Jezreel" in the phrase "the blood of Jezreel" would be in order. Why didn't Hosea say "the blood of Israel" in 1:4 if that is what he meant? Apparently, Jezreel was the only child fathered by Hosea (who represents God in this prophetic allegory), the other two being illegitimate. One indication of this is that the "him" of v.3 ("bare him a son") is absent in vv. 6 and 8. If this understanding is correct, then Jezreel represents Israel in their status as God' own son, whom he brought out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1), the other two representing Israel's broken relationship with God due to their apostasy.  Therefore the implication is that God requires the royal house to pay for the blood of Jezreel because that child represents Israel as his own son. Those who take "the blood of Jezreel" as a reference to Jehu's blood-spilling in Jezreel have to understand Gomer's first son, Jezreel, as signifying a future punishment of the house of Jehu for that deed. If so, what are to make of v. 5, which is clearly a part of the passage explaning why Jezreel is so named. Is it just a coincidence that a punishment of Israel in the valley of JEZREEL is mentioned in the very passage purporting to explain the reason for Gomer's first child being named "Jezreel"? Those who take "the blood of Jezreel" in the sense argued against in this and the earlier posts have to explain the following:
(1) Why we should accept an explanation for the significance of the name "Jezreel" in preference to the one that is the obvious and natural candidate for that, viz. the statement in v. 5.
(2) How that interpretation relates to the preceding and following context of this expression, which is Israel's idolatry.
(3) The boy Jezreel as a symbol of a future punishment of the house of Jehu would mar the perfect (conscious) symmetry we saw between the judgment passage in Hosea 1 and the salvation passage in Hosea 2, because Jezreel in Hosea 1 would then be the odd man out. 
(4) To this we may add my objection in my last post to "the blood Jezreel" being a reference to the blood spilt by Jehu in Jezreel.
Leonard Jayawardena
Sri Lanka
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