Overview of the Book of Hosea

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Overview of the Book of Hosea
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Overview of the Book of Hosea

Author: The prophet Hosea.

Purpose:

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.

Date: c. 760-722 B.C.

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.

Author:

Little is known about the background and training of the author of this book, the prophet Hosea, son of Beeri (Hos. 1:1). Though not clearly stated in the book, Hosea's familiarity with the geography (Hos. 4:15; 5:1, 8; 6:8, 9; 9:15; 10:5; 12:11) and history of the Northern Kingdom, Israel (Hos. 5:13; 7:7, 11; 8:4, 9-14), suggests that he was a native of Israel.

Time and Place of Writing:

Hosea provides a record of a prophetic ministry in the Northern Kingdom between about 760 B.C. and a few years before the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. Hosea prophesied during the last years of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.), the third king of the Jehu dynasty, and saw that dynasty end when Jeroboam's son Zechariah was assassinated in 753 B.C. (2 Kings 15:8-12; see Hos. 1:4-5). Following Zechariah, three more kings of Israel were also assassinated (Shallum [2 Kings 15:13-14], Pekahiah [2 Kings 15:22-25] and Pekah [2 Kings 15:27-30]), and one became a political prisoner (Hoshea; 2 Kings 17:1-4).

Hosea also saw Assyria take control of Syria and Israel (2 Kings 16:7-9) in its expansion north and west under Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 B.C.) and his son Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C.), who forced Hoshea, the last king of the northern kingdom, to become his vassal (2 Kings 17:3). After King Hoshea rebelled, Shalmaneser laid siege to Samaria. Shalmaneser's successor, Sargon II, defeated Samaria in 722 B.C. and exiled many Israelites (2 Kings 17:5-6).

Hosea's preaching reflected shifting political circumstances in the northern kingdom. In the relative calm under Jeroboam II, Hosea spoke concerning injustice and complacency and warned of impending judgment (e.g., Hos. 2:5, 8, 13). Other passages reveal later turmoil in domestic (e.g., Hos. 7:3-7; 13:10-11) and foreign affairs (e.g., Hos. 7:8-12; 12:1). For example, the Syro-Ephraimite war of 735-732 B.C. (2 Ki nags 15:27-30; 16:5-9; Isa 7:1-9) was probably behind Hosea's message in Hosea 5:8-10 (perhaps even Hos. 5:8-6:6).

The text also reflects Samaria's shifting loyalties between Egypt and Assyria (Hos. 5:13; 7:11; 8:9-10; 9:3; 11:5; 12:1). Hosea's political commentary explained reasons for the final attack by the Assyrians, the arrest of King Hoshea, the siege of Samaria and the end of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C.

Hosea's ethical commentary explained why God would allow his people's destruction by enemies. Israel was in spiritual and moral decline. Her ancient faith, which Hosea described so beautifully using the analogy of marital love (Hos. 2:14-23), had been polluted by elements of the Canaanite fertility religion, notably sexual rites that included prostitution and drunken orgies (Hos. 4:10-13). Canaanite religion worshiped Baal as the giver of rain and fertility. The worship of the Lord and the worship of Baal had become intermingled (Hos. 2:5-13). Religious corruption extended even to the religious leaders, who in their greed and hard-heartedness failed to instruct the people in the true faith and tolerated - even sponsored - syncretistic practices (Hos. 4:4-13; 5:1; 6:9). Hosea's commentary, whether political or ethical, focused on Israel's breaches of covenant that gave rise to God's judgment. Nevertheless, Hosea balanced this message of doom with the proclamation of God's enduring love for his people and the promise of restoration after a period of exile (e.g., Hos. 1:10-2:1; 2:21-23).

Purpose and Distinctives:

Hosea's book reports his experiences and words in service of God's purposes for Israel. The prophet explained the reasons for the defeat of the Northern Kingdom and gave God's people hope in a future restoration.

A number of other themes recur throughout the book:

(1) Hosea emphasized God's unique sovereignty (Hos. 12:9; 13:4) and holiness (Hos. 11:9), to which adoration is the only proper response (Hos. 3:5); God tolerates no rival claim. All is under his rule, whether prosperity (Hos. 2:8), Israel's history (Hos. 5:14, 15) or the nations (Hos. 10:10).

(2) The theme of marital/covenantal infidelity - symbolized in Hosea's relationship with his wife, Gomer, and with his children - dominates the the book (e.g., Hos. 2:2-5; 3:3; 4:10-19; 5:3-7; 6:10; 8:9; 9:1).

(3) Hosea emphasized repentance, calling wayward Israel to turn to the Lord she had forsaken and to reestablish a faithful relationship with him (Hos. 2:19-20).

(4) Another important theme centers around what it means to know or acknowledge God (e.g., Hos. 2:8, 20; 4:1, 6; 5:4; 6:3, 6; 13:4), words Hosea uses as technical terms for covenant intimacy, loyalty 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).

(5) The theme of prostitution as an illustration of religious syncretism also pervades the book (Hos 2:2-13; 4:10-19; 5:4; 9:1-10). Repeatedly, Hosea pointed to Israel's sin of wedding the worship of the covenant Lord to Canaanite religion. The impossibility of such union warned the people of God to remain steadfast in a culture that encouraged compromise and acceptance of principles and beliefs incompatible with Biblical doctrine.

Chapters 1-3 describe Hosea's family life - his marriage, divorce, and remarriage to Gomer. Attempts at appropriate interpretation of these personal events have long perplexed readers of Hosea. In struggling to reconcile the moral issue of a holy God asking Hosea to marry a prostitute, some interpret the details about Hosea's married life allegorically. Others reason that Gomer became a prostitute only after the birth of their first child. Still others, advocating a modified literal reading, argue that Gomer was not a common prostitute but participated in prostitution related to the Baal religion. However, a literal reading, which makes the analogy between Hosea's relationship with his unfaithful wife and the Lord's relationship with Israel most poignant, seems to have been Hosea's intention.

Questions are also asked about Hosea's children. Their names, like that of the child born to Isaiah and the prophetess (Isa 8:1-4), had symbolic significance (cf. Isa. 7:3; Ezek. 23:1-4). The names given to Hosea's children (Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi; see notes on Hos. 1:4, 6, 9) were purposefully ambiguous, not only to encapsulate Hosea's message about God's increasing displeasure with wayward Israel but also to convey the message of hope, renewal, love and restoration (see notes on Hos. 2:21-23).

Another interpretive problem centers on the question of the relationship between chapter 1, a biographical account of Hosea's marriage to Gomer and the subsequent birth of their children, and chapter 3, an autobiographical account of God's instructions to love an unfaithful woman. Though the first two chapters have most often been regarded as a chronologically sequential account of Hosea's marriage to Gomer, some argue that they describe two different women and two different marriages. Others suggest that the chapters are not sequential but parallel.

Difficulties in the Hebrew text and in translation options underlie these various views. The debates over various details of interpretation continue, but the fundamental symbolic meaning of the prophet's marriage(s) as a picture of the Lord's relationship with Israel is clear.

Christ in Hosea:

Hosea reveals Christ in at least four ways. First, the theme of Israel's impending judgment at the hands of the Assyrians anticipated the judgment that would and will yet come in Christ. Jesus' earthly ministry distinguished the faithful in Israel from the unfaithful. Jesus pronounced judgment on the covenant people who flagrantly violated their relationship with God (Matt. 23:13-39). Still today the call of the gospel separates those who will be saved from those who will be judged (2 Cor. 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:5; 1 Pet. 2:9). When Christ returns the final judgment against all of God's enemies, under and outside the covenant, will take place (Matt. 25:1-46; Acts 24:25; Rev. 14:7).

Hosea balanced his message of judgment with assurance of restoration after exile. This theme pointed even more directly to Christ. Hosea declared that after an exile, in "the last days" (Hos. 3:5), God would forgive his people (Hos. 14:1-3), renew his covenant with them (Hos. 2:1), and grant them many blessings (Hos. 14:4-7). The New Testament reveals that just such forgiveness (Matt 26:28; Luke 24:47), covenant renewal (Mark 14:24; Heb. 8:1-13), and eternal blessings (Matt. 25:46; John 10:28; Eph. 1:14; 2 Tim. 2:10) are fulfilled in Christ (Acts 2:17; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; Jas 5:3; 2 Pet. 3:3). Paul and Peter both cited Hosea 1:9-10 as having been fulfilled in Christ, through the incorporation of Gentiles, who had been under the curse of exile (Rom. 9:25-26; 1 Pet. 2:10), into the people of God alongside Jews.

Third, Hosea's experience of marriage, divorce and remarriage (Hos. 1-3) anticipated Christ by paralleling God's experience with his covenant people. Israel's portrayal as the Lord's bride is the background against which the apostle Paul referred to the Church as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:23-32; cf. Rev. 19:7). The church stands in the same covenant relationship with God in which Israel stood. The blessings, judgments, privileges, and responsibilities of ancient Israel anticipated what was, is and will be realized in Christ.

As a minor theme Hosea included the reestablishment of David's throne in his vision of the restoration after exile (Hos. 1:10-11; 3:5). This hope was directly Messianic, a prediction that the great Son of David would rule over all his people. The New Testament teaches that Jesus fulfilled this hope; he is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 19:16).

Introduction Material:

Introduction to the Prophetic Books

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).