|9th Century Prophets||8th Century Prophets||7th Century Prophets||Exilic Prophets||Post-exilic Prophets|
The book is named after its author, Hosea, whose name means “salvation.”
God’s love for his wayward people.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 623.[/footnote] Come home, unfaithful Israel.[footnote]D Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 265.[/footnote]
To explain that the turmoil of the Northern kingdom was God’s just judgment leading to exile and to assure God’s people that a great restoration would take place after the exile.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1401.[/footnote]
4. Key verses
How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together (Hos. 13:8)
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him (Hos. 14:4).
5. Key truths
• God is a jealous husband and his people are his bride.
• God shows great kindness to his people, but they turn against him.
• God will punish his people for flagrant violations of his covenant.
• God will never utterly forsake his people, but will restore them to the blessings of covenant life with him.[footnote]Ibid., 1401.[/footnote]
While Hosea does refer to Judah, his major focus is on the Northern Kingdom, Israel, He refers to Gilead (Hos. 6:6), Mizpah (Hos. 5:1), Tabor (Hos. 5:1), Shechem (Hos. 6:9), Gilgal and Bethel (Hos. 4:5). He also speaks of the King of Samaria as “our king” (Hos. 7:5). This would suggest that he was not only a prophet to the Northern kingdom but a citizen of it. He was the son of Beeri (Hos. 1:1), husband of Gomer (Hos. 1:3), and father of two sons and a daughter (Hos. 1:4,6,9).
Hosea has been called “the Jeremiah of the northern kingdom” (Kirkpatrick) and “the St. John of the Old Testament.” His personal family tragedy has earned him the title “the man of the shattered romance” (Ward). Because of his tender and earnest appeals for repentance he has been called “the home missionary,” “the evangelist” and “the prophet of grace.” His literary skills are recognized in the title “Israel’s poet laureate.”[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition[/footnote]
Like Amos, Hosea prophesied to the Northern Kingdom. Both emphasised Israel’s covenant relationship and consequent responsibilities. Both warned that God would use Assyria to punish Israel. Both opposed Israel’s hypocrisy and both looked forward to a new beginning on the other side of judgment.
When Hosea began his ministry, Uzziah was reigning in Judah (783-742 BC), and Jeroboam II (786–746 BC) was reigning in Israel. According to Hos. 1:1 his ministry was still going on during the reign of Hezekiah. Hezekiah reigned as co regent with his father from 727 BC and as sole monarch from 715-687 BC.
An interesting question arises in connection with the rationale of the way in which Hosea dates himself. Though being clearly a prophet to Israel, he dates himself more by the reigns of the kings of Judah than by the kings of Israel, mentioning four of the former and only one of the latter. The probable reason is twofold. First, Hosea along with other prophets recognized the kings of Judah, rather than the kings of Israel, as the true legitimate heirs of David, and therefore desired to date himself by their reigns. Second, the kings who followed Jeroboam II in Israel were short-lived, many suffering assassination, so that numerous names would have had to be included; also, the history represented by them was not of such a nature that any prophet would like to have associated with his name.[footnote]L W Wood, The Prophets of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), 276.[/footnote]
The prophecies in the book were probably delivered over a considerable period of time. Hosea 1’s prophecy concerning Jezreel indicates that Jehu’s dynasty was to be violently ended. This came to pass in 746 BC when Shallum assassinated Zachariah, Jeroboam’s son. Hosea 5 contains a message against King Menahem (745-737 BC). Hosea 7 condemns Israel’s policy of pitting Egypt against Assyria. This was Israel’s policy prior to Hoshea’s reign (732-724 BC).
It is generally agreed that his ministry probably ended before the fall of Samaria because that event is nowhere mentioned in the book. Thus Hosea’s ministry likely spanned at least three decades, perhaps from around 750 BC to 724 BC, from the later years of Jeroboam II’s reign to the last years of the Israelite monarchy.
Hosea was the last writing prophet to minister to Israel before they fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. He has been called the prophet of “Israel’s zero hour,” because the nation had sunk to a point of such corruption that a major stroke of divine judgment could no longer be staved off….In a sense Hosea was a successor to the prophet Amos. Recall that Amos was a native of Judah. This makes Hosea the only writing prophet of Israel to Israel. As one writer has said, “His book is the prophetic voice wrung from the bosom of the kingdom itself.”[footnote]I L Jensen, Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), 412.[/footnote]
III. Historical Analysis
|Date (BC)||Event||Scripture reference|
|786-746||Reign of Jeroboam II in the North||2 Ki. 14:23-29|
|783-750||Sole monarchy of Uzziah in the South||2 Ki. 15:1-7|
|755||Rising Assyrian power|
|752?||Amos’ ministry begins||Amos|
|750?||Hosea’s ministry begins||Hosea|
|722||Assyrian captivity||2 Ki. 17:3-6|
2. Historical Background
Jeroboam II was one of Israel’s most capable rulers. He regained much land for Israel, restored the Solomonic borders and so ensured that Israel became the largest and most influential country along the eastern Mediterranean. Due to Assyrian weakness, the kingdom was relatively secure and this provided the circumstances for a period of great prosperity. However, the increased prosperity had a spiritually detrimental effect on the people. There was widespread ungodliness in every area of life, as the people increasingly attributed their prosperity to Baal and his consort Asherah.
After Jeroboam II died, Assyria began to rise in power under Tiglath-Pileser III and Shalamaneser V. Despite Hosea’s warnings against it (Hos. 5:13; Hos. 7:11), many in Israel thought that an alliance should be made with Assyria. Others favoured an alliance with Egypt. One writer notes, “Israel was like a silly dove, fluttering everywhere but to God” (Hos. 7:11).
As the political stability of Jeroboam II’s reign unravelled, Israel saw six kings toppled in thirty years, three of whom ruled two years or less and four of whom were assassinated while the fifth was deposed.
The principal significance of Hosea as a prophet is that he sounded a final call to Israel for repentance before the death knell of the country. Other prophets had given warning earlier, but Israel had not heeded. Sin had continued quite unabated, God now sent Hosea as a final emissary, and the people would have to heed him or else the crushing punishment would fall.[footnote]L W Wood, The Prophets of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), 282.[/footnote]
Hosea’s long ministry began in the prosperous reign of King Jeroboam II. From the heights of national glory the prophet rode with his countrymen the roller coaster headed for national destruction. Those were difficult times, times marked by deep spiritual apostasy and moral corruption. The hopeless political anarchy which followed the death of Jeroboam should have created a positive climate for the message of God. Unfortunately Hosea was greeted by hardened hearts, closed minds and clogged ears.[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition[/footnote]
3. The Judah references
Although Hosea was from the North and prophesied to the North, there are fifteen references to Judah in his book. Critical scholars have used this to argue for a later editor in Judah who set out to contrast Israel’s apostasy with Judah’s faithfulness.
However, of the twelve “Judah” verses in Hosea 4-14, we see that ten are negative and only one is positive (Hos. 4:15). This would hardly support the claim of a later pro-Judah editor.
It seems more likely that Hosea had a genuine interest in Judah’s situation also and that, while he preached mainly to the North, he also took the opportunity to warn and instruct the South who seemed to be following the same downward spiral.
4. The historicity of Hosea’s marriage
Hosea was instructed to marry “a wife of whoredoms” (Hos. 1:1). There are different views as to the meaning of this.
a. Vision or symbol
Some, like E J Young, argue for a visionary interpretation. The reasons behind such a conclusion are that God would not have commanded a prophet to marry an unchaste woman, especially when this had been expressly forbidden to priests (Lev. 21:7,14), and also because it would have ruined Hosea’s effectiveness as a prophet. Another difficulty is that the time lapse between the marriage and the births of the children would have resulted in the prophet’s message at the time of the marriage fading from the people’s minds by the time the children were born. However, the straightforward, historic-narrative-type style of the presentation gives no indication that symbolism is intended.
b. Spiritual Harlot
It has been argued that Gomer was a spiritual harlot rather than a literal prostitute. She was unchaste in the sense that she was a worshipper of false gods, like Israelites generally of Hosea’s day. This certainly deals with the ethical difficulty and is not inconsistent with how the Bible uses the “harlot” in places.
The phrase seems to be explained in the clause “because whoring, the land whores away from Yahweh.” Any female citizen of the northern kingdom would be a wife of whoredom simply by virtue of living in the apostate northern kingdom. Therefore the phrase “wife of whoredom” does not indicate anything regarding the character of the woman.[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition[/footnote]
However, is it any “easier” for God to command a marriage to a spiritual harlot than to a moral harlot?
c. Future harlot
This view proposes that when the marriage took place, Gomer was pure and became adulterous only later. Although it would have been difficult for Hosea to marry her, knowing that she would later be unfaithful to him, there would be less of an ethical problem and his hearers would sympathise with him more when she did become unfaithful. Also, this view fits the fact that Hosea clearly loved Gomer.
The better solution to this problem is to be found in the supposition that at the time Hosea married Gomer, she was not a woman of overtly loose morals. If Hosea delivered his message in later years, he may well have looked back upon his own domestic tragedy and seen in it the guiding hand of God. Hence the Lord’s encouragement to him to marry her in the first place, though her future infidelity was foreknown to God, would have been tantamount to a command: “Go, marry an adulterous woman,” even if the command did not come to the prophet in precisely these words.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
Leon Wood argues that this view also fits the analogy with Israel best.
God had taken Israel in her pure condition (Jer. 2:2, 3), while knowing very well that she would become unfaithful in due course. Therefore, Hosea was to take Gomer as his wife, when she was still a pure young woman, though he knew at the time that she would become unchaste in the course of the marriage.[footnote]L W Wood, The Prophets of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), 280.[/footnote]
However, there is clear evidence of Israel’s spiritual whoring at the very beginning of her history as a covenanted nation (Ex. 32 and Num. 14).
d. Real Marriage
Hosea really did marry Gomer when she was already a harlot (possibly a temple prostitute). After three children were born to them, Gomer left the family to chase other lovers (Hos. 2:5). She fell on hard times and began to think about returning to her husband (Hos. 2:6-7). Hosea was commanded by God to go and love her again, although he subjected her to discipline for a time (Hos. 3).
Scholars have focused their attention on the Hebrew expression translated “adulterous wife” (NIV). The wording literally reads “woman/wife of harlotries.” The Hebrew word in question, zenunim (“harlotries”), occurs twice in 1:2 and a total of twelve times in the Old Testament. In the ten other occurrences, the term refers to past or present harlotry, never to future harlotry. This evidence suggests that Gomer was already a prostitute when Hosea married her.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 441.[/footnote]
This is the most natural way to understand the story. If this did not really happen then the historicity of many passages of Scripture is open to question. The statements of Scripture should be interpreted in their plain and obvious sense, unless other Scripture bearing upon the same subject shows that these statements are to be interpreted in some other fashion.
The simple interpretation, therefore, is to be preferred because the situation necessitating this object lesson was one of flagrant harlotry (idolatry). For Hosea to have taken a wife from among the prostitutes perfectly symbolized the historical situation.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
Nonetheless, it needs to be re-emphasized that a straightforward reading of the text leads most naturally to the conclusion that Hosea was ordered by God to marry a promiscuous woman in order to symbolize God’s relationship with Israel. It is methodologically dangerous to depart from this reading based on what we consider to be moral problems with the command, and indeed this latter may he questioned. Nowhere does God command anyone but priests to avoid marriage with a prostitute (Lev. 21:7,14). In the midst of all the problems, we should not lose sight of the clear teaching of the section. Hosea’s marriage with Gomer (whether historical, symbolic, allegorical, or visionary) is used by God to indicate both his disgust with and his love for his covenant people.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 357.[/footnote]
IV. Literary Analysis
1. Comparative Outlines
Hosea’s Prophetic Experience
Hosea’s Prophetic Message
The Training of the Prophet
The Teaching of the Prophet
Faithful Hosea and his faithless wife
Faithful God and His faithless people
a. Faithful Hosea and his faithless wife (Hos. 1-3)
Marriage (Hos. 1:2-2:1)
Impending doom (Hos. 1:2-9)
Restoration (Hos. 1:10-2:1)
Separation (Hos. 2:2-23)
Lawsuit for infidelity (Hos. 2:2-13)
Promise of reconciliation (Hos. 2:14-23)
Reconciliation (Hos. 3:1-5)
b. Faithful God and His faithless people (Hos. 4:1-14:9)
This is one of the hardest passages in the Hebrew Bible to find a structure for. The general emphasis of the sections may be defined as follows:
Lack of knowledge of God (Hos. 4:2–5:15)
Repent (Hos. 6:1-3)
Lack of mercy or kindness (Hos. 6:4–11:11 )
Repent (Hos. 10:12-15)
Lack of truth or faithfulness (Hos. 11:12–14:9 )
Repent (Hos. 14:1-8)
Although there are not so many of the ordinary features of Hebrew poetry, the form of the Masoretic text suggests that most of the book was a poetic text. Two sections are prose oracles (Hos. 1:2-2:1 and Hos. 3:1-5).
There is a striking use of metaphor and simile. God is a jealous husband (Hos. 2:2-13), a frustrated shepherd (Hos. 4:16), a destructive moth or undesired rot (Hos. 5:12), a ferocious lion (Hos. 5:14, cf. also Hos. 13:7-8), and a trapper (Hos. 7:12). However, on the other hand, he is also a forgiving husband (Hos. 3:1-5), a healing physician (Hos. 6:1-2), the reviving rains (Hos. 6:3), a loving parent (Hos. 11:3-4), a protecting lion (Hos. 11:10-11), a life-giving dew (Hos. 14:5), and a fertile pine tree (Hos. 14:8).
Israel is an unfaithful wife (Hos. 1:2-9; Hos. 3:1-5; Hos. 9), a rapidly disappearing morning mist (Hos. 6:5), a hot oven (Hos. 7:4-7), a silly dove (Hos. 7:11), a faulty bow (Hos. 7:16), and a wild donkey (Hos. 8:9).
Gods coming judgment upon Israel is likened to harvesting the whirlwind (Hos. 8:7), the washing away of debris (Hos. 10:7), and the yoking of a recalcitrant heifer (Hos. 10:11).
3. The Last Word
The book closes with a warning which sums up the entire book.
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 (Hos. 14:9).
V. Thematic Analysis
We shall consider the three themes of covenant breaking, covenant discipline, and covenant renewal as we find it in the two main sections of the book.
1. Hosea and His Wife/Children (Hos. 1-3)
a. Covenant breaking
In the midst of the debate over the nature of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, the fundamental point must not be missed. Israel was being depicted as God’s unfaithful wife. He had married her at Sinai and brought her into a covenant relationship with Him. However, she committed religious harlotry by turning from God’s law and worship, and by turning to the Baals and Asherahs of her neighbours. She committed political harlotry when she appealed to other nations rather than to God for help. She turned to Assyria and then to Egypt, when God was her only hope
Hosea is the first to use this highly personal metaphor of marriage, which thereafter becomes a frequent one in the OT prophets. His book reviews Israel’s history, institutions, and religion by employing the language of marriage, which draws attention to the initiation, development, and present state of the covenant relationship. He takes pains to contrast the idealistic beginnings (or the sinful beginnings in the case of the northern kingship) with what is now the empirical reality. Marriage is thus the vehicle used to illustrate the nature and the continuance of the Sinai covenant relationship. Its suitability is obvious. At Sinai, as in marriage, two parties not naturally related were yoked. The relationship was initiated by the husband, Yahweh. In this relationship there could, by its very nature, be no divorce. At the same time there were contractual notes about it that gave the relationship a legal status and made it inviolate. A wide range of terms was employed to depict its deep intimacy and highly personalized nature.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 174.[/footnote]
b. Covenant discipline
The discipline of Israel is depicted both by the children’s names and by Gomer’s discipline
i. The children (Hos. 1:2-2:1)
(a) Jezreel (Hos. 1:4)
In a negative sense this name means “God scatters.” In Hebrew the name Jezreel sounds very much like the name Israel. Israel, the “prince of God,” would become Jezreel, “scattered by God.” The name signifies the great slaughter that God would bring on the house of Jehu because of the violent acts which he had committed (2 Kings 9)
(b) Lo-ruhamah (Hos. 1:6-7)
Lo-ruhamah means “she has not obtained mercy.” This name signified that Yahweh would no more show compassion on the house of Israel. He had been showing compassion to the northern kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam, but no longer. A special kind of compassion is in view here, viz., the forgiveness of sin. Yahweh would not overlook or forgive their sin any longer (Hos. 1:6). He disowns Israel and brings the kingdom to an end
(c) Lo-ammi (Hos. 1:8-9)
The name Lo-ammi means “not my people.” This name signals the climax of Israel’s doom. The Lord would no longer recognize Israel as His covenant people. They would be as Gentiles to him. If they were no longer his people, then Yahweh declared “I am not your God.” They would no longer have any claim on God.
ii. Gomer’s exile (Hos. 2:2-13)
What is envisaged here is not divorce but temporary separation. The many fruits of sin are traced back to the fact that Israel does not know the Lord (Hos. 2:5-8). This accusation is repeated later (Hos. 4:1-3). The people were being destroyed through lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6). They were to encourage one another to renew their knowledge of God (Hos. 6:3; cf Hos. 5:4; Hos. 6:6; Hos. 13:4). Hosea uses this “knowledge” terminology to describe covenant intimacy and obedience.
The book teaches that true knowledge of God involves the kind of intimacy a person experiences in marriage and family situations, evidenced in worship, purity of lifestyle and loyal commitment to the covenant Lord. Hosea also warned that sin could delude people into thinking that they knew and understood God when in fact they were far from him (Hos. 8:2).[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1402.[/footnote]
c. Covenant Renewal
Covenant renewal between Israel and God is depicted by the reversal of the children’s names and by Gomer’s restoration
i. The children’s names reversed (Hos. 1:10-2:1)
Nevertheless, in spite of the impending doom for the northern kingdom, Israel as a people would still achieve her purpose in God’s program. “The number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea which cannot be measured or numbered.” The promise of a numerous posterity made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would not fail even though the northern kingdom would be destroyed. The predictions of rapid multiplication of Israel in the Old Testament have messianic implications. This multiplication would be due to the influx of Gentiles in large numbers into the family of God through faith in Christ.
ii. Gomer’s restoration (Hos. 2:14-23)
After Israel finds herself stripped and abandoned, Yahweh in his grace would approach her again. No reason in Gomer is given. The initiative is God’s. Love would win out. Israel would experience a new courtship (Hos. 2:14–15a), a new response (Hos. 2:15b–17), a new covenant (Hos. 2:18), a new marriage (Hos. 2:19–20), a new prosperity (Hos. 2:21–22), a new privilege (Hos. 2:23). In light of the source of their sin being the lack of the knowledge of God, it is significant that the renewal is depicted as a reversal of that ignorance.
I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD (Hos. 2:20).
God brings the mother into the wilderness now to allure her, to create a new covenant in which the harmony between God and Israel will be reflected by the harmony to be found within creation itself (v. 18). There will be a new marriage (vv. 19-20), and Israel will now “know” Yahweh (v. 20), just as she did previously. Israel’s new recognition of Yahweh is because Yahweh has intervened to break off her relationship with Baal. This declaration of the renewed relationship forms the climax of the chapter, while the variety of covenant terms in verses 19-20 (righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, faithfulness) indicates the depth of the renewal.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 173.[/footnote]
Although Israel may return to Yahweh for materialistic benefit, Yahweh will take her back in love (“love a woman,” Hos. 3:1). The selfish motives of Israel and the selfless love of Yahweh are put side by side to elevate divine love and mercy. Even though Israel’s return to Yahweh was marked by social and material exigency, Yahweh’s return to Israel was motivated by love and grace.[footnote]C H Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
iii. Summary (Hos. 3)
Gomer’s experience is further developed in Hosea 3 and is in a sense a summary of Israel’s history. Although Hosea paid for and arranged Gomer’s return, she was chastised with a time of isolation.
In Hosea’s dealings with his wife the Lord had a message for Israel. The children of Israel would also experience a period of discipline. The reference is to the exile in a foreign land. During that period Israel would dwell “without king and without prince,” i.e., she would be deprived of her civil polity as she came under the authority of a foreign king. She also would be deprived of her religious privileges, just as Gomer was deprived of her conjugal rights (Hos. 3:4a). During the exile Israel would be deprived of both legitimate and illegitimate forms of government and worship. The former would be abandoned out of necessity since the apparatus of Yahweh worship could not function outside the land of Israel. That which was illegitimate would be abandoned because the people would learn to abhor idolatry and return to their God. Two time notes mark the period when these anticipations would be realized. First, this turning to the Lord would come “afterward,” i.e., after the exile. Second, the conversion of Israel is set “in the latter days.” The New Testament identifies the latter days as the Gospel age.
2. God and Israel (Hos. 4-14)
The remainder of Hosea (Hos. 4-14) is a specific and direct application of Hosea 1-3 to Israel.
The book of Hosea is a story of one-sided love and faithfulness that represents the relationship between Israel and God. As Gomer is married to Hosea, so Israel is betrothed to God. Both relationships gradually disintegrate – Gomer runs after other men, and Israel runs after other gods. Israel’s spiritual idolatry is illustrated by Gomer’s physical adultery.[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]
Clearly, then, the message of this prophecy in chapters 4-14, where chapters 1-3 will be expanded, will underline Yahweh’s unfailing constancy and adherence to the Sinai relationship in spite of constant provocations. Israel will ever be in breach, but Yahweh will not give her up. He will give her over to temporary punishment through exile, a result reached by a great struggle within himself between his compassion and his sense of justice. However, beyond that there will be a new creation. There will be the fulfilment of the commitment dating back, as Hosea understands it, to the patriarchal promise and the Sinai relationship in which Yahweh gave himself in free choice to Israel. A love that will not let Israel go finally brings us from covenant breach to a covenant renewal (Hos. 14) involving both Israel and her world.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 174.[/footnote]
Hosea 4-14 explains how the result of Hosea 1-3 will be achieved. Hosea 4 begins with the general indictment against Israel. Chapters 5-14 will take up the issues outlined in chapter 4.[footnote]Ibid., 174.[/footnote]
We shall consider the themes of Hosea 1-3 as they appear in Hosea 4-14.
a. Covenant disobedience
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 (Hos. 4:1).
The term “controversy” (rib) refers to what scholars have called a covenant lawsuit. The Lord, as it were, takes his people into court to prove that whereas He had been faithful to the terms of the covenant, His people had not (Hos. 4:1a). The covenant at issue is the Sinai covenant. The book contains a series of blessings and curses announced upon Israel by God through Hosea. Each blessing or curse is based upon the Mosaic law (Hos. 4:2; Hos. 6:7; Hos. 8:1).
Three main charges are levelled against Israel in this covenant lawsuit. They are summarized in Hosea 4:1 as the absence of faithfulness, kindness and knowledge of God. These charges are then taken up in reverse order in the rest of the book. The sayings are loosely grouped around these themes and each unit is marked off by an appeal for repentance at its conclusion.
i. The lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:2-5:15)
The knowledge of God was far more than a mere cerebral function, for it included man’s will and emotions. Rather than a function of the mind, it was the reflex of the total person, the response of a person to God and His revelation of Himself in law, history, and prophetic word. The “knowledge of God” was to the prophets who use the phrase what the “fear of the Lord” was to the wisdom writers and the psalmists. It is the totality of man’s relationship to God. Hosea understood that Israel was tragically mistaken in her assumption that she knew God (8:2). The deficiency itself was tragic, but believing that the deficiency did not exist was fatal.
ii. The lack of mercy (Hos. 6:4–11:11)
The second cluster of the sayings of Hosea is loosely grouped around the theme of a lack of mercy or kindness. What God wants most from his people is mercy, not what he was getting. This contrast between what God wanted and what he was getting is the theme of this chapter.
Especially covenantal is the Hebrew word hesed. “Kindness” provides a good rendering. In a human context, the word refers to a specific action taken by one party in behalf of another on the basis of a close personal relationship….Hesed does not apply to the establishment of a relationship, but reflects fidelity and loyalty to an existing relationship. Its aim is to preserve the tenor of a relationship that already exists. When used of Israel in the Old Testament, it means faithfulness to the spirit of the covenant, not merely to the letter. When used of Yahweh, it speaks of his willingness to go beyond the strict legalities of the relationship and to preserve it in spite of the fault of the erring partner.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 174.[/footnote]
iii. Lack of faithfulness (Hos. 11:12–14:9)
Here the faithfulness of God in His past dealings with Israel is contrasted with the present unfaithfulness of the people.
Faithfulness is solidity and firmness, adherence to what has been established as normative. The covenant relationship is in view here, and faithfulness in this connection is virtually a synonym for righteousness – the maintenance of an accepted form of the relationship. Faithfulness therefore is not a propositional, but a personal, exercise, not an active searching for what is consistent, but a fidelity to norms that have been given.[footnote]Ibid., 175.[/footnote]
b. Covenant Discipline
Throughout the book are numerous threats of discipline climaxing in exile from the land (eg. Hos. 11:4-8). This is why Hosea makes constant appeals to them to turn from their sins (Hos. 6:1-2; Hos. 10:9-11:11; Hos. 14:1-6).
c. Covenant Renewal
Despite the covenant disobedience and severe covenant discipline, Hosea holds out hope of covenant renewal and restoration if they would repent and turn from their sins to God (Hos. 14:1-3). If they did God would heal their apostasy and love them freely (Hos. 14:4)
The book ends on the note of a covenant return which is presented in terms of an abounding fertility which trumps Baalism. Thus the book moves from covenant breach to covenant renewal, while exposing the full range of national sins along the way, showing itself to be covenant-centered and in contact with the Sinai traditions. Allusions to Israel’s past—the patriarchs, exodus, and conquest—abound in the book. In summary, it is a recall to Israel’s beginnings and to covenant fidelity….It is covenant-centered, and most of the mainstream covenant themes (loyal love, knowledge, and fidelity) occur frequently.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 171.[/footnote]
Yahweh will not desert his people. With that hope, the faithful in Israel must be satisfied. Hope for the future can be built upon the unchanging faithfulness of Israel’s Redeemer. In the most tender of terms, employing the richest imagery, Hosea has stated the intentions of the covenant, the manner in which they ought to have been implemented, and the punishment that must result from failure in this area. Nevertheless, the marriage, which began at Sinai, will continue, for in the ideal depiction of this relationship, Yahweh permits no divorce.[footnote]Ibid., 185.[/footnote]
One can see five basic themes running through the Book of Hosea. First and foremost is the fact that God had made a covenant with Israel and Israel continued to break it by severe sin…The second is the broken marriage of Hosea and Gomer and the parallel made between it and this broken covenant…The third is God’s love and patience with Israel through all this time of breaking the covenant….The fourth is a note of solemn warning of severe punishment upon the people for breaking God’s covenant….The fifth is a glory note of future restoration, when Israel would again enjoy gracious benefits at God’s hand.[footnote]L J Wood, The Prophets of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), 282.[/footnote]
VI. New Testament Analysis
1. The marriage
Israel’s portrayal as the Lord’s bride is the background to Paul’s description of the Church as Christ’s bride (Eph. 5:23-32; Rev. 19:7)
2. Change in children’s names
Hosea’s children were symbols of both exile and restoration (Hos. 1:6,9; Hos. 2:1; Hos. 1:10; Hos. 2:23). The New Testament applies this to the exiled Gentiles’ incorporation into the kingdom (1 Pet. 2:10; Rom. 9:25-26)
As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God (Rom. 9:25-26).
3. Three pictures
Hosea paints three pictures of the coming Messiah.
a. The second Moses
Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel (Hos. 1:11)
b. The second David
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 (Hos. 3:5)
c. The second Israel
When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1).
And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son (Mat. 2:15).
4. Christ’s victory over death
The hope of restoration Hosea offered to Israel can only come about through the resurrection of Christ.
I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes (Hos. 13:14)
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:55).
5. Final Judgment
The destruction of Samaria will be so dreadful that people will call on mountains to cover them (Hos. 10:8). Jesus used same language to describe how dreadful the fall of Jerusalem will be (70 AD), and John to describe the awesome effects of the second coming (Lk. 23:30, Rev. 6:16, Rev. 9:6)
6. Mercy not hypocritical worship
Just as God demanded mercy, not hypocritical worship from Israel (Hos. 6:6), so Jesus demanded mercy, not hypocritical worship from Israel (Mt. 9:13, Mt. 12:7, Mk. 12:33)
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings (Hos. 6:6).
But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Matt. 9:13).
VII. The Message of Hosea
Original Meaning: Israel’s faithful God will lovingly punish her unfaithfulness to renew her faithfulness.
Present Message: The Church’s faithful God will lovingly punish her unfaithfulness to renew her faithfulness.