Discovering Hosea

This book begins our study of what are called the Minor Prophets. By “minor,” though, we do not mean “less important.” Instead, we are referring to those Old Testament books of prophecy which are smaller in size but not smaller in significance. From early times, these books have appeared together as “The Book (or Scroll) of the Twelve” in the OT section called the “Neviim” (or “Prophets”). According to some calculations, these twelve books together are eighteen percent smaller in word count than the smallest of the Major Prophets, Isaiah.

These twelve prophets represent four different time periods.

  • Obadiah, Joel, and Jonah – late 9th to early 8th centuries (before the rise of the Assyrian Empire and it’s takeover of the Northern Kingdom)
  • Amos, Hosea, Micah – 8th century (during the reign of the Assyrian Empire)
  • Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk – 7th century (as the Babylonian Empire declined and the Babylonian Empire emerged, taking over the Southern Kingdom)
  • Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi – 6th to 5th century (as the Persian Empire overtook the Babylonian Empire while Israel was in captivity)

Though the Hebrew arrangement of these books and the later Greek arrangement both begin with Hosea and end with the post-exilic books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the rest of their arrangement differs and neither follows a strict chronological sequence. One OT scholar, Paul R. House, explains what he believes to be a general reason for their arrangement. He suggests that the first six books focus on the sin of Israel and the nations, then the following three books focus on the consequences and judgment for Israel’s sin, whereas the final three books focus on God’s eventual restoration of Israel.

In this arrangement, then, he suggests that the first three chapters of Hosea provide a helpful introduction and summary to this sequence of three subsections, with each three chapters focusing on these three emphases in succession.

With this overview in mind, let’s take a look at the first of these Minor Prophets, Hosea. What was the background, purpose, and message of this book?

Background Information

The book was provided by a prophet named Hosea. He was the son of Beeri, of whom we know nothing else, and his name means “salvation.” He, like Jonah, was a prophet primarily to and from the Northern Kingdom, unlike the other prophets, who primarily ministered to the Southern Kingdom.

Hosea ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in the Southern Kingdom and Jereboam II in the Northern Kingdom (where he also lived) (Hos 1:1). This means that his contemporaries in the Southern Kingdom would have been Isaiah and Micah.

The primary thing of which we are quite familiar about Hosea’s life is his family, for his family provides the central focus of this book. Hosea married by following some specific guidance from God: “Go take yourself a wife of harlotry” (Hos 1:2).

We are not entirely sure what this means, but we can narrow the options down to two possibilities. Hosea was supposed to marry a wife who was either (a) already active as a prostitute or (b) would become a prostitute after marriage. This was abnormal, unusual guidance for a purpose, which we will look at shortly.

From this marriage to a wife named Gomer, Hosea would receive three children: a son named Jezreel (Hos 1:3), a daughter named Lo-Ruhamah (Hos 1:6), then another son named “Lo-Ammi” (Hos 1:8). After their births, to Hosea’s chagrin, his wife returned to a lifestyle of adulterous promiscuity, after which God instructed him to reach out to her and win her heart back as his wife once again.

Purpose for the Book

The purpose for this book is painfully clear – it was to demonstrate the kind of love that God had towards Israel.

Hosea’s love for his wife represented the kind of love that God had towards Israel. He had initiated the relationship, had been a good partner who was loyal to their covenant, and desired restoration.

Hosea’s wife, Gomer, represented the kind of behavior that Israel displayed towards God. Israel, like Gomer, had responded to her partner’s love and devotion by pursuing other loves instead.

Each of Hosea’s three children were given names with prophetic significance as well, as each name was assigned specifically by God.

  • Jezreel means “what God has planted” and emphasizes God’s intentionality in establishing the Northern Kingdom (Jezreel was also the town where the palace of Ahab and his successors ruled the Northern Kingdom) (Hos 1:4).
  • Lo-Ruhamah means “no mercy” and emphasizes how God would send the Northern Kingdom into Assyrian captivity (Hos 1:6).
  • Lo-Ammi means “not my people,” and emphasizes how God would distance himself from his people due to their covenant disloyalty towards him (Hos 1:8).

These three names are referred to again in Hos 2:23, when God foreshadows his eventual restoration of his people to their land:

Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’”

Those people who had once been planted and uprooted by God, judged by God without mercy, and disowned by God due to their disloyalty would be once again planted, loved, and drawn close to by God. God vividly portrays this plan to redeem Israel as illustrated through Hosea’s marriage in Hos 3:1-5. From an academic standpoint, the purpose of this book is to explain the nature of God’s relationship to his people, Israel, describing his intentional choice and love for them, their obstinate rebellion against him, and his determination to restore them to a loving relationship once again despite their rebellion and judgement. Other ways of describing this are “Yahweh’s response to Israel’s rejection of his love” or “God’s loving loyalty to his disloyal people.”

In addition to this academic purpose, this book also serves an emotional, personal purpose as well, as it helps us to feel the depth and reality of Yahweh’s experience and love towards his people. By framing his relationship to his people into a real-life marriage, the reader is able to more directly connect with what God feels towards his people when they are disloyal to him. By doing so, this book moves this reality from our heads to our hearts and helps us to appreciate God’s love for his people more profoundly.

Outline and Content

This book divides neatly into two, imbalanced halves. The first, smaller half and the second, larger half.

  • The Real-Life Drama of Hosea’s Marriage to Gomer (Hos 1-3)
  • The Reality of Yahweh’s Loyal Love to His Disloyal People (Hos 4-14)

In this arrangement, the first three chapters focus upon Hosea’s personal life and marriage, whereas the final chapters focus upon Yahweh’s covenant relationship with the people of Israel.

A more detailed outline, with subsections then, might be as follows:

  • The Real-Life Drama of Hosea’s Marriage to Gomer
  • Hosea’s marriage to Gomer (Ch. 1)
  • Gomer’s disloyalty to Hosea (Ch. 2)
  • Hosea’s restoration of Gomer (Ch. 3)
  • The Reality of Yahweh’s Loyal Love to His Disloyal People
  • Yahweh’s controversy (lawsuit) with his people (Chs. 4-6)
  • Israel’s corrupt political behavior and alliances (Chs. 7-8)
  • Israel’s corrupt religious and moral behavior (Chs. 9-11)
  • Comparing Israel’s disloyalty to God vs. God’s devotion to Israel (Chs. 12-13)
  • Israel’s eventual conversion and restoration (Ch. 14)

Throughout the second half of this book, God draws attention to some of Israel’s adulterous “lovers” (Hos 2:5, 7). These include false gods like Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility and rain (Hos 2:8, 13, 17; 11:2; 13:1), and their chosen false god, the golden calf (Hos 13:2). These also included reliance upon other nations rather than God, such as Egypt and Assyria (Hos 7:11).

Throughout this book, Hosea uses strong covenant language underscoring Yahweh’s original covenant with Israel made at Sinai. Hosea affirms God’s unrelenting commitment to his side of the covenant, while holding Israel to hers. This covenant, of course, included many warnings against rebellion and guarantees of judgment, but also God’s commitment to reconciliation and restoration.

The use of “prostitution” as an analogy and source of vocabulary throughout this book is also quite significant because it alludes to more than just “spiritual adultery” on Israel’s part towards God, but it also alludes to the actual prostitution which commonly occurred as part of the lifestyle and worship of the false gods and pagan nations Israel turned towards when they turned away from God.

In the end, Hosea looks forward to two kinds of restoration for the people of God, both a physical restoration and a spiritual one. Tim Berrey provides the following helpful explanations of these concepts:

Physical Restoration

"Yahweh had scattered his people in judgment. In restoration, he would regather them to their land (1:10-11; 11:10-11). Not only would they return to the land, but unity would be restored between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel (1:11). The barren land would become a fruitful land (2:15, 21-23; 14:5-7). The valley of Achor (lit. "valley of trouble") would become a "door of hope" (2:15). The people without a king for so long (and the kings they had were all idolaters) would again have a king – the Second David, the Messiah (3:5)."

Spiritual Restoration

"The greatest restoration of Israel would be its future spiritual restoration, though. Yahweh’s love is not just emotional, it is effectual. He promises that the day will come when Israel will seek him (3:5; 5:15). He will come and heal the backslidings of his people (14:4) and they will walk after him (11:10). God will revive (regenerate?) his people (6:2). Treacherous, covenant-breaking Israel will become the recipients of a new covenant (2:18-20), and God will betroth them to himself forever (2:19). He will become their husband and no longer their master (2:16). The result will be what God had desried from his people throughout their history but had not consistently or genuinely received: an intimate knowledge of and personal relationship with Him (2:20; 6:3). Where the former covenant failed to secure the affections of his people, the new covenant will succeed.

The covenant terminology used in Hosea reminds us of Jeremiah. Some 100-150 years after Hosea, Jeremiah would also speak of a New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), a covenant that God would make with both Judah and Israel. The descriptions of this covenant in Hosea, the spiritual ramifications, the regathering of Israel to the land, its reunion with Judah, and the reference to the Messiah (3:5) all indicate that the restoration Hosea describes is Israel's future Millennial Restoration."

Personal Takeaways

This book speaks to our heart in two distinct ways.

  • First, it encourages us ask whether we responding to God’s love towards us through Christ in devoted faith and love as he desires, or whether we are spurning his love and satisfaction and security from other places (see Jam 4:4).
  • Second, this book encourages us to love those who are difficult to love, who do not love us back in return. As we follow Christ, do we love the people God has placed into our lives as Hosea loved Gomer? Do we show the same unconditional love towards one another as Yahweh shows towards us (see 1 Cor 13:4-7; 2 Cor 12:15)?

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