THE BOOK OF HOSEA: A BRIEF OVERVIEW

Dubbed by many Bible students as the “Minor Prophets” because their content is not as long as that which we find in the prophetical books which precede them in the Bible, there is nothing insignificant about the teaching of the last twelve Old Testament books. Their messages were inspired, and we can profit greatly by studying these books (Romans 15:4). Let us begin with a quick look at the book of Hosea.

Historical setting: The information which Hosea provides lets us know that he prophesied during the days of “the Divided Kingdom” (“Israel” in the North, “Judah” in the South). Because Hosea identifies the kings who reigned in both kingdoms at the time (Hosea 1:1), we date his writing at about B.C. 750. In addition to calling the Northern Kingdom “Israel,” he also refers to it as “Samaria” (8:5,6; 13:16) as well as “Ephraim” (4:17; 6:10). The dominant power of the Middle East at that time was the Assyrian Empire.

Some key thoughts: Some prominent thoughts stand out as we dig into Hosea’s message.

(1) Harlotry in Israel – In Hosea’s day, Israel was steeped in idolatry. The prophet uses the words “harlot” and “harlotry” over and over to depict the horribleness of Israel’s rejection of God and her infatuation with lifeless idols (4:10,11,15,18; 5:3,4). “. . . 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 . . .” (4:12,13). “Ephraim is joined to idols” (4:17). The idolatry was of two forms: golden calf worship at Dan and Bethel (8:5,6), plus Baal worship (2:8,13,17).

(2) A passionate plea to return to Jehovah – “O Israel, return to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity” (14:1). No foreign power could provide for and protect Israel. The Lord was Israel’s sole Hope and Help: “So you, by the help of your God, return; observe mercy and justice, and wait on your God continually” (12:6). As God told them, “. . . And you shall know no God but Me; for there is no savior besides Me” (13:4).

(3) A grim reality – If the Northern Kingdom did not change its course of action and return to the living God, its destruction was inevitable. God warned, “I will take them away, and no one shall rescue” (5:14). Again, “Woe to them, for they have fled from Me! Destruction to them, because they have transgressed against Me” (7:13). Destruction from God would come when the Assyrians carried Israel into captivity.

(4) God’s unchanging love for Israel – Hosea’s relationship with his wife, Gomer, was a symbol of God’s relationship with Israel. Just as Hosea dearly

loved Gomer despite her unfaithfulness (1:2,3; 3:1- 3), so the Lord God continued to love Israel, even though she was not faithful to Him. God said that He loved Israel when he was a child (slavery in Egypt, 11:1), He had drawn Ephraim/Israel “with bands of love” (11:4), and He proclaimed, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely” (14:4). Oh, how the Lord loved His people! And yet, though God’s love for Israel was unwavering, because of His justice He must punish her due to her rebellion against Him.

Pointers to the Messianic/new covenant era:

Hosea 3:5 – At a later time, the children of Israel would seek the Lord and “David their king,” language used by the prophets to point to the Christ, Who was the seed of David (Jeremiah 23:5; Ezekiel 37:24,25).

Hosea 1:10; 2:23 – People in Jesus, including Gentiles, would obtain mercy and have God call them “My people” (Romans 9:25,26; 1 Peter 2:9,10).

Hosea 6:6 – “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice. And the knowledge of God more than burn offerings.” Service to the Lord was, and is, of no value if it is done as a ritual and without genuine faith and love on the part of the worshippers (Matthew 9:13; 12:7).

Hosea 11:1 – God calling His Son out of Egypt. It took place when the Lord delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage, and it happened when Joseph and Mary brought young Jesus out of Egypt to live in Nazareth (Matthew 2:14,15,19-23).

Hosea 13:14 – Victory over the grave/death. Paul quotes this and applies it to the resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Additional principles to ponder from Hosea:

Israel did the unthinkable: she forgot God (2:13). “For Israel has forgotten his Maker and has built temples” (8:14). Casting the Lord aside to turn to anything or anyone else is a spiritual disaster.

Israel willingly was ignorant of God’s word, and it really cost them. In a statement addressed specifically to the priests, God said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me . . .” (4:6). There was no excuse for it, and God’s people pay dearly when their knowledge is inadequate.

Israel may have put on the impression of being devoted to the Lord, but she could not fool God (7:2). God sees and knows all, even the deepest thoughts of man’s heart. No one can deceive Him!

Hosea’s message to backsliding, stubborn Israel was a passionate appeal for God’s people to come to their senses, discard their sin, and return to Him. Invest time studying Hosea and you will be blessed!

— Roger D. Campbell

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