You may be familiar with the basic outline of Hosea–at least the first couple of chapters: God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a “woman of ill repute” (depending on the translation, this could be referring to an adulteress, a prostitute, or just a woman who is prone to be unfaithful). He does so. And it’s about…God and Israel, somehow?
Yes. But it’s about so much more. Let’s get into it.
The Background and Context of Hosea
The author of the book is Hosea, son of Beeri, likely from the tribe of Issachar and probably lived in the Northern kingdom of Israel. The book was written (as all the Minor Prophets were) in the era of the Divided Kingdom of Israel. Hosea would have been a contemporary of the prophets Isaiah and Micah in Judah. Hosea’s ministry was long; it covered the reigns of Uzziah/Azariah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in Judah, and the final several kings of Israel (starting with Jereboam II) until it was conquered. The length of Hosea’s ministry is not exactly known, though likely at least 35 to around 70 years (around 755ish to 680ish BC).
A lot happened in Israel and Judah during this stretch, and it informs how we read Hosea. (You’ll find the Biblical record of this period in II Kings 14-20 and II Chronicles 26-32.)
In Israel, Jereboam II had military success against Syria, and “brought political peace and material prosperity, along with moral corruption and spiritual bankruptcy” (MacArthur). When Jereboam died, he was followed by a succession of bad kings, one of whom joined with Syria to attack his fellow Jews in Judah. Four of the six kings that followed Jereboam were killed by their successors or their supporters. Along with all this political upheaval, the nation of Israel was corrupting the worship of YHWH with pagan practices and idolatry, including Baal worship (the pagan god of sun, storms, and fertile crops, among other things).
This were only slightly better in Judah. King Uzziah developed leprosy after wrongly assuming the role/duties of the priesthood. Jotham followed YHWH but condoned/allowed the idolatry to continue. Ahaz reached out to Assyria for help when Israel and Syria attacked, and then basically imported a lot of Assyria’s religious practices into the worship of God in Jerusalem (even as far as copying some of their temple architecture and designs). Hezekiah led a revival of true worship of YHWH that held off the destruction of Judah for a while, and during his reign was miraculously rescued from Sennacherib’s army by the angel of the Lord.
The major event that occurred during Hosea’s ministry was the conquest and fall of Israel in 722 BC. The writer of II Kings provides some stark but insightful commentary on this event. Take a moment and read that.
The book of Hosea, then, is a warning of judgment that went unheeded, yet contains glimmers of hope.
The Content of Hosea
The big idea of the book of Hosea is: “The unfaithfulness and rebellion of God’s people cannot outlast God’s faithfulness and compassion, even after incurring His righteous judgment.”
The narrative breaks down into 2 main sections:
- The Unfaithful Wife and Faithful Husband (Chapters 1-3)
- The Unfaithful People and Faifthful God (Chapters 4-14)
The first section is likely much more familiar than the second, but I’ll summarize as a review:
- God tells Hosea to marry Gomer (as we’ve discussed, a “woman of adultery,” however you define that), as a living metaphor for God’s covenant relationship with Israel.
- She has children (some of which may not be Hosea’s) and their names reflect God’s promise of impending judgment.
- Her unfaithful wandering reflects Israel’s idolatries, and God describes how He will chasten His people in order to woo them back.
- God tells Hosea to go redeem and rescue his captive bride.
In the rest of Hosea (chapter 4 onward), Hosea and Gomer are not the focus. God lays out His charges against Israel and Judah:
- Their idolatry is spiritual adultery–they are breaking covenant with YHWH to seek the favor of false gods.
- The priests and spiritual leaders have led the nations astray.
- Their corruption is deep: bloodshed (for example, the betrayal/assassination of rulers), fickleness, mixing of pagan worship with the worship of God, and looking to pagan nations like Assyria to be their rescuers.
- Baal worship is a major theme: Israel has rejected YHWH and set up altars to Baal (possibly seeking fertility rites for a good harvest).
- Israel is arrogant in its sin, and it’s influencing Judah to do the same.
Take a moment to read Hosea 8 and see if you can trace these themes throughout.
God promises that judgment is certain, though He still calls His people to turn back and repent. In the midst of His judgment, however, God still loves and has compassion for His covenant people–He is chastening them so that they will return to Him and be restored. Once God’s judgment of His people is complete, he will in fact restore them. The book ends like Psalm 1 does–with a description of 2 paths to take, one of righteousness that leads to life and the other of sin that leads to destruction.
So what does Hosea mean, and what can we apply today as followers of Jesus?
The Meaning and Application of Hosea
Hosea had 3 key themes for the original audience:
- Israel/Judah’s idolatry and betrayal of God’s covenant will result in judgment, just as he promised in the Mosaic covenant.
- If they repent and cry out to the Lord, they can and will receive mercy.
- God is faithful to His people and will one day redeem and restore them as a united people under a single, righteous King.
What about now, centuries later? What can Christians learn and apply from this prophetic text?
- Don’t miss the scandal of the marriage OR the scandal of the covenant. God covenanted Himself with a sinful and stubborn people and made us His bride. Meditating on His compassion and our unworthiness should make us grateful and humble.
- We who have tasted this New Covenant in Christ Jesus are still tempted to chase after other loves and serve other masters. We should regularly consider where we seek our comfort, our safety, and our confidence, to make sure we are not “looking to Assyria for aid instead of to our Lord.
- God sometimes uses hardship and even devastation to pull us back from spiritual ruin; but His discipline is always for our good. We see in Hebrews 12 that we are disciplined to sanctify us and to warn us.
- We dare not presume on our salvation by taking sin lightly or dismissing or downplaying God’s holiness or wrath–lest we demonstrate we are not, in fact, part of His people.
- God is longsuffering–He will never turn his back fully on His chosen people.
Please hear me, reader: If you are right now in rebellion against God, I implore you to repent and seek His mercy and grace right away. Do not wait! While there is yet time, turn back in repentance and cry out to Jesus for mercy!
Gospel Arrows in Hosea
Finally, how can we see glimpses of the Gospel in the book of Hosea? Here are a couple of points for consideration:
- In Hosea, we see the faithful husband who redeems His unfaithful bride and makes her His own. This is certain what Jesus does for His blood-bought people: He rescues from bondage, pays the price of our freedom, and takes us into His house to be His bride.
- You may notice in reading Hosea that a familiar phrase is found in Hosea 11:1–“out of Egypt, I called my son…” While this text is looking backwards to the Exodus, the gospel writer Matthew notes that it is also fulfilled by the flight of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to Egypt to escape the ravages of Herod, and then their eventual return.
So there you go, a quick summary of the context, content, and themes of Hosea. I would encourage you to read the book of Hosea this week with some of this information in mind, and I pray it is a blessing and encouragement to you.
If you have questions or comments, please leave them below. Otherwise, I’ll be back on Wednesday with the next round of #52Stories reviews!