The prophet and his prophecy
His tragic marriage was the principle medium through which Hosea spoke God’s message to God’s people. We know nothing about Hosea except that he lived at the time of Isaiah prophesying complementary messages into different situations, and his serially unfaithful wife; his marriage reflected the heartache God was having with His beloved people. As with other contemporaries, Amos and Micah, he faithfully discharged their office; these were ordinary people who were often speaking to ordinary people. Hosea spoke for forty years during the last decades of the northern kingdom of Israel – in the reigns of Jereboam II in Israel, and Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah in Judah (Hosea 1:1).
The prophecy of Hosea represented the last chance for Israel to avert from the disaster that would surely befall them if they did not repent of her sin. His complaint was there was a lack of knowledge (Yada) of YHWH in the land. The overriding theme of Hosea’s message was God’s (Chesed) love, which has no exact English translation and is more to do with covenant faithfulness, steadfast love and lovingkindness, which is how God feels regarding often faithless Israel. As with certain other prophets, God used marriage to make a point (Ezekiel was not allowed to mourn his wife’s death and Jeremiah was not allowed to marry). Hosea was told to marry a prostitute and love her and bring her back, despite her committing adultery. As if his words were not powerful enough, this symbolic act was a powerful illustration of his key message.
Besides being married, Hosea had three children: a son called Jezreel, a daughter Lo-Ruhamah and another son Lo-Ammi, and it was not certain all were his. All the names are described in the text having symbolic meaning, reflecting the relationship between God and Israel. Jezreel is named after the valley of that name. Lo-Ruhamah is named to denote the ruined condition of the kingdom of Israel and Lo-Ammi is named in token of God’s rejection of his people. Just as God is ever seeking to restore his wife (Israel), Hosea is told to buy Gomer back, who because of her prostitution had been sold into some form of slavery, and he does so for 15 shekels and a quantity of barley.
Background and context
Hosea preached to Israel as did Amos (who we will get to), whose ministries may have overlapped, although Amos began some ten years earlier and who prophesied for a lot shorter period. Some of their message was also to Judah and in Amos case surrounding nations too. Much of the background and context for the two prophets are the same, and since Hosea is first according to the order of the Christian Bible, we will describe some of the common features here and not repeat unnecessarily when we get to Amos. We will see by the time we have studied the two prophets, while they addressed similar grievances as far as God was concerned, their approach was different. Hosea appeared tender to Amos’ tough; Hosea emphasized Gods love; Amos God’s mercy (although both did both). The net outcome was both messages were rejected and the Fall of Israel in 722BC followed by Assyrian captivity, might have been avoided, but wasn’t.
Both prophets began during the reign of King Jereboam II (786 – 746BC) although it is quite likely Hosea was still prophesying come the captivity, in which short time Israel got through six more kings. Both kingdoms of Israel and Judah were enjoying great prosperity during Jereboam II’s reign and had reached new political and military heights (cf. 2Kings 14:23-15:7; 2Chronicles 26). Israel at the time was politically secure and spiritually smug. About 40 years earlier, at the end of his ministry, Elisha had prophesied the resurgence of Israel’s power (2Kings 13:17–19), and more recently Jonah had prophesied her restoration to a glory not known since the days of Solomon (2Kings 14:25). The nation felt sure, therefore, that she was in God’s good graces. But prosperity increased Israel’s religious and moral corruption. God’s past punishments for unfaithfulness were forgotten, yet His patience was at an end. Idolatry, pride, false prophets, bad and foolish leaders, unwise foreign alliances, child sacrifice, sham religion, intolerance of righteousness, trust in riches, social injustice, judicial corruption, breakdown in law and order, haves and have nots, were all features of national life, although different prophets emphasised different things yet without the hoped for response but with inevitable consequence for their sin. In keeping with revealing God’s heart, Hosea’s message was mainly poetry.
A synopsis of the Book
- Superscription (1:1)
- The Unfaithful Wife and the Faithful Husband (1:2—3:5)
- The Children as Signs (1:2—2:1)
- The Unfaithful Wife (2:2–23)
- The Lord’s judgment of Israel (2:2–13)
- The Lord’s restoration of Israel (2:14–23)
- The Faithful Husband (ch. 3)
- The Unfaithful Nation and the Faithful God (chs. 4–14)
- Israel’s Unfaithfulness (4:1—6:3)
- The general charge (4:1–3)
- The cause declared and the results described (4:4–19)
- A special message to the people and leaders (ch. 5)
- The people’s sorrowful plea (6:1–3)
- Israel’s Punishment (6:4—10:15)
- The case stated (6:4—7:16)
- The judgment pronounced (chs. 8–9)
- Summary and appeal (ch. 10)
- The Lord’s Faithful Love (chs. 11–14)
- The Lord’s fatherly love (11:1–11)
- Israel’s punishment for unfaithfulness (11:12—13:16)
- Israel’s restoration after repentance (ch. 14)
The message of the Prophet
As far as God was concerned, as was related through Hosea, those who He was betrothed to (priests, prophets, princes, profiteers, people) had committed the heinous sin of rejecting Him, worshipping false gods, making unholy alliances with God’s enemies and doing evil: infidelity, independence, intrigue, idolatry, ignorance, immorality, ingratitude. So much of the book of Hosea is about God pleading with His people, warnings of judgment if they did not repent, yet His yearning that they return to him and find healing, blessing and restoration. They were beloved of Him and, while they were faithless, God remained faithful and yet could not overlook their sin, using prophets like Hosea as his mouthpieces. As for the prophet and the prostitute, it was clear that Hosea’s relationship with his wife was a metaphor as to how it was then between YHWH and Israel.
Our attention is drawn to Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and the obvious parallels with God’s marriage to Israel in the first three chapters, culminating with him rescuing her from slavery, Hosea looks to the future: “And I said unto her, Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee. For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim: Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days” (3:3-5). He then turns to the crux of his message: God’s complaint and the consequences and inevitable outcome if the people of God do not repent from their wicked ways: “Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land, By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood. Therefore shall the land mourn …” (4:1-3).
Chapters 6 – 7 sees God lamenting over the fact that His people are unrestrained and unrepentant in their sin: “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth. O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away” (6:1-4). There are muggings and murders in the countryside (6:9), deceit and burglary in the town (7:1), drunkenness and sexual immorality everywhere (7:4-6). It’s sapping their strength as if they’re growing old before their time (7.8-9). “Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria” (7:11). “And they have not cried unto me with their heart … They return, but not to the most High” (7:14, 16).
Chapters 8 – 10 make it clear there is no hope for Israel on the trajectory they are on. The name of God is on their lips (8:2) – but because of their continuing idolatry and rejection of God’s call to repentance, their end is in sight (10:15). They worshipped idols (8.1-6). “They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (8:7). They run backwards and forwards between Assyria and Egypt instead of turning to God for help (8:9,10), but this to no avail (8:14). The day of reckoning is nigh, UNLESS they change their ways: “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you. Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men” (10:12-13).
Chapters 11-13 continue in similar vein: God pleading for Israel to return and reminding them of past foolishness. In the last chapter (14), Israel is called to repentance, with God promising healing and fruitfulness. “O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy. 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” (14:1-5). The book ends with the people being called to wise up and to no longer rebel: “Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein” (14:9).