Date: Eighth Century B.C.
Hosea was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel for about 50 years. His ministry began during the reign of Jeroboam II, making him a contemporary of Amos, who also preached to the North, and of Isaiah and Micah, who preached to the southern kingdom of Judah. Hosea lived to see the fall of his nation to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.
Hosea’s unhappy family life became a tragic model for his prophetic message. He married a woman (Gomer) with the highest ideals of marriage. Hosea 1:2 says “a wife of whoredoms,” but this is in retrospect, considering what she had become by that time, not what she was at marriage. If she had been impure at marriage the analogy to Israel would not have fit; Israel was pure and became impure, as Gomer had done. His first child, a son, was symbolically named Jezreel, pointing to the coming judgment. The second child, a daughter named Lo-Ruhamah (“she-who-never-knew-a-father’s-love”), was not Hosea’s, and the father would never be known. The third child, a son named Lo-ammi (“not-my-kin”) was not Hosea’s child either. When Hosea reflected on the pain of his marital situation, he was reminded of the pain his faithless nation had inflicted on God. Just as Hosea loved Gomer in spite of her infidelity, so God loved Israel.
After six years Gomer left home to become a prostitute. Even then Hosea did not cease caring for her. After a time she slipped to the point of actually being sold into slavery. Rather than let that happen, Hosea bought her himself, bringing her back home.
The book consists of two unequal sections. The first, chapters 1-3 , is mostly biographical, detailing the events of Hosea’s turbulent life. The thought is difficult to follow because the narration is a mixture of Hosea addressing his wife, God addressing his nation, and combinations of both. The second section, Chapters 4-14, consists of addresses, reflections, prophecies, sermon notes, comments, and pronouncements of doom. Because they are undated, it is difficult to know whether they came before or after the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. Probably some are before and some are after.
Theological Themes in the Book of Hosea
The message of Hosea stresses the steadfast love of God, who continues to care for his people despite every provocation imaginable. There was simply no reason why God should continue to love his people, but because his love was steadfast he did. A touching illustration of this can be found in 11:1-4. A second theme is that God takes the lead in his dealings with his people. Grace is mercy extended to those who do not deserve it. Like Gomer, Israel qualified on that count. Third, Hosea emphasized the reality and enormity of Israel’s sin. He was not blind to the fact that what Gomer and Israel were doing was wrong, and he could not ignore this in the name of sentimentality mistaken for love. True love sees what is really at stake and calls things by their right name. What Israel and Gomer were doing was sin and would ultimately be their undoing. Fourth, Israel’s basic problem lay in having “rejected knowledge” (4:6). Knowledge in this instance means understanding, not so much recollection of facts. Israel did not understand God at all. Neither did Gomer understand Hosea. Fifth, repentance must precede renewal. God asked Israel to acknowledge its sin and return to him.
Outline for the Book of Hosea
- Hosea’s life as prophecy Hosea 1:1-3:5
- Hosea’s message of judgment to Israel Hosea 4:1-13:16
- Promise of blessing if Israel repents Hosea 14:1-9