Holy Writer and Date
The date in which Hosea prophesied is once again given in the opening verse of the book, “The word of the LORD that came to Hosea the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.” (Hosea 1:1). This verse shows us that Hosea had a lengthy ministry spanning from the middle of the reign of Uzziah into the reign of king Hezekiah three kings and more than thirty years later. Hosea’s ministry could have spanned anywhere from 40 to 65 years in length. Even though Hosea’s ministry was lengthy, we no nothing more about him other than what is found in this book.
Hosea is one of the most unusual prophets in the Old Testament, since he was commanded by God to marry a prostitute (1:2-9). His wife, Gomer, eventually returned to her life of sin, but Hosea brought her back and restored her as his wife (3:1-3). The reason for this unusual request by God was to demonstrate that God’s people of Israel had been unfaithful to the LORD through their worship of false gods. Through this marriage God shows His own abiding love for His people in spite of their constant sin.
The book of Hosea is directed primarily against the ten northern tribes of Israel but occasionally he also directs words of warning or consolation to the people of Judah (1:7; 4:15; 5:5,10-14; 6:4,11; 8:14; 11:12; 12:2-3). Amos had previously threatened God’s judgment upon Israel at the hands of an unnamed enemy; now Hosea identifies that enemy as Assyria (7:11; 8:9; 9:3; 10:6; 11:11).
Hosea prophesied during the final years of the kingdom of Israel, a time of rapid moral decline. As we saw in the book of Amos, worship of false gods was mixed with the worship of the one true God. King Jeroboam II was the cause of much of this himself, and while the LORD granted political stability and strength during his reign, that ended when he died. After Jeroboam’s death the nation rapidly approached destruction. Over the next 25 years, six different kings would reign, four of which were assassinated by those who sought control for themselves (see chart of the kings of Israel). The people’s continued idolatry brought about its final destruction at the hand of the Assyrians in 722 B.C. during the reign of Ahaz in the kingdom of Judah. Since the destruction of the kingdom of Israel took place during His ministry, Hosea would have seen the fulfillment of His prophecies about God’s judgment on Israel.
Content and Division
The Book of Hosea can be divided into two main sections. The first part of the book (chapters 1-3) narrates the family life of Hosea which is used to convey the message the prophet had from the LORD for His people. Although the people had been unfaithful to the LORD by worshiping foreign gods, the LORD still loved them and longed to take them back as Hosea did Gomer.
The second section (chapters 4-14) gives the details of the religious situation in the land of Israel. Israel had turned to Baal worship, and were sacrificing on the pagan high places. Hosea describes the situation in 4:11-13, saying, “Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart. My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, And their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, And they have played the harlot against their God. They offer sacrifices on the mountaintops, And burn incense on the hills, Under oaks, poplars, and terebinths, Because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters commit harlotry, And your brides commit adultery.” Time and time again Hosea tells the people that their unfaithfulness to God is spiritual adultery (4:13-14; 5:4; 9:1).
While the two sections have the same underlying thought of Israel’s rejection of the covenant and of God’s love for them in spite of that rejection (1:10-11; 2:14-23; 3:1-5; 6:1-3; 11:8-11; 14:4-8), there are some marked differences between the two sections. Chapters 1-3 are written largely in prose, while chapters 4-14 are written in poetical form. In the first three chapters Hosea describes his unique job given to him by the LORD and his symbolic relationship with his wife. In the second part, the prophet proclaims to the sinful people who were seeking help from Assyria (12:1) that the day of reckoning is certainly drawing near.
Much of the second part is written with a knowledge of the situation in Israel following the reign of Jeroboam: “They are all hot, like an oven, And have devoured their judges; All their kings have fallen. None among them calls upon Me” (Hosea 7:7). Hosea even describes the devastation of the land following its destruction: “Hear the word of the LORD, You children of Israel, For the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: "There is no truth or mercy Or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, Killing and stealing and committing adultery, They break all restraint, With bloodshed upon bloodshed. Therefore the land will mourn; And everyone who dwells there will waste away With the beasts of the field And the birds of the air; Even the fish of the sea will be taken away”(4:1-3).
In the second section Hosea uses the name Ephraim (not used at all in the first section) in addition to the name Israel. Ephraim was often used as a suitable substitute for the tribes of Israel since Jeroboam I, the first king of the northern tribes of Israel was from the tribe of Ephraim (1 Kings 11:26), and because Ephraim was the largest of the ten northern tribes, representing the power and strength of Israel.
There is no doubt over the authenticity of the book even by most liberal critics. Its place in Scripture is established being quoted several times by Jesus: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Matthew 9:13, 12:7 - Hosea 6:6); “They shall say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ And to the hills, ‘Fall on us!’” (Luke 23:30 - Hosea 10:8); once by Matthew: “And out of Egypt I called My son” (Matthew 2:15 - Hosea 11:1); twice by Paul: “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!’” (Romans 9:25,26 - Hosea 2:23), and “O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction!” (1 Corinthians 15:55 - Hosea 13:14); and is referred to once by Peter (1 Peter 2:10 - Hosea 1:9-10).
I. The adulterous wife and faithful husband (1-3)
II. The adulterous Israel and faithful LORD (4-14)
A. Israel’s Unfaithfulness (4:1-6:3)
B. Israel’s Punishment (6:4-10:15)
C. The LORD’s Faithful Love (11-14)
Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, GA by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.