The Book of Hosea is the first of the twelve Minor Prophets of the Hebrew Bible. Hosea, meaning salvation, was an 8th-century BCE prophet. He was one of the first prophets of Israel who left anything written. This biblical book was a severe warning to the northern kingdom of Israel against the growing idolatry being practiced there, with a dramatic call to repentance.
Hosea was the first prophet to use marriage as a metaphor of the covenant between God and Israel. Thus, he influenced the latter prophets, such as Jeremiah. The eventual reconciliation of Hosea and his wife Gomer was treated as a hopeful metaphor for the eventual reconciliation between Yahweh and Israel. Among the first writing prophets, the last chapter of Hosea has a format similar to wisdom literature.
Little is known about Hosea and his life or social status. Hosea appears to be from the northern kingdom of Israel or Samaria. He prophesied during the dark declining days of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE. The capital of the northern Kingdom fell in 722 BCE. Many members of the upper classes and some ordinary people were taken captive and carried off to live as prisoners of war.
According to the Book of Hosea, he married the prostitute Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, at Yahweh’s command. Hosea used his own experience as a symbolic representation of Yahweh as the husband and Israel as the wife. Hosea’s family life reflected the adulterous relationship that Israel had had with the polytheistic gods. Just as Hosea’s wife left him to go with other men, Israel left Yahweh to go with false gods. Hosea searched for his wife, found her, and brought her back. Thus, Yahweh would not abandon Israel. He would bring them back, even though they had forsaken him.
Similarly, his children’s names were walking prophecies about the fall of the ruling dynasty. They had broken their covenant with Yahweh. The name of Hosea’s daughter, Lo-ruhamah, meat not pitied. The name of Hosea’s son, Lo-ammi meant not my people.
The Book of Hosea contains a number of prophecies and messages for both Judah and the northern Israelite kingdom. This prophetic book denounced the worship of other gods, other than Yahweh. Hosea elevated the religion of Israel to an ethical monotheism, as he emphasized the moral side of Yahweh’s nature. Israel was unfaithful. They had resisted all the warnings. Thus, they compelled Yahweh to punish them, because of his own holiness. The prophecy of Hosea centered around Yahweh’s unending love towards a sinful Israel. In this context, Yahweh’s agony was expressed over the betrayal of Israel.
This book is divided into two major parts, the marriage of Hosea in chapters 1-3 and the punishment of Israel in chapters 4-13. The last chapter 14 is a call for reconciliation with Israel.
In chapter 1, God told Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman. Hosea then married Gomer, the prostitute. This marriage was a symbol of the covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel. However, Israel had been unfaithful to God by following other gods. They were breaking the commandments, like the prostitute who violated the obligations of marriage to her husband.
Hosea and his wife, Gomer, had a son. God commanded that the son be named Jezreel, meaning God sows. This was the name of a valley, where much blood was shed. The naming of this son was to stand as a prophecy against the reigning house of the northern kingdom of Israel.
Then Hosea had a daughter, whose name was Lo-ruhamah; the unloved, or not pitied one. Yahweh would no longer have pity on the northern kingdom of Israel. Its destruction was imminent. However, there would be pity for southern Judah.
Then Gomer had a second son called Lo-ammi, not my people, or not mine. The northern kingdom of Israel would be shamed. Its people would no longer be known as Yahweh’s people. Yahweh had rejected the northern kingdom of Israel. What will be the future of Israel and Judah?
In chapter 2, the names of the children were reversed. There was a breakup or divorce with Gomer. This divorce meant the end of the covenant between Yahweh and the northern kingdom of Israel. There was no pity for the children. Gomer would be lost without the necessities of life. The destruction of Gomer’s life was like the punishment for Israel.
In chapter 3, Yahweh would reconcile with Israel, if they fought against Baal. This new covenant would be an everlasting marriage, since Yahweh would have pity and love his people. Hosea looked for a prostitute to buy. Hosea sought Gomer once more. Either she had sold herself into slavery for debt, or she was with a lover who demanded money in order to get her back. He then took her home, but refrained from sexual intimacy with her for many days, to symbolize the fact that Israel would be without a king for many years. Thus, Yahweh would take back Israel, even if it was costly.
Chapters 4–10 contain a series of oracles, or prophetic sermons, showing exactly why God was rejecting the northern kingdom of Israel. This was all about the Israelite crimes and the punishments.
In chapters 4, Hosea said that Yahweh was going to indict Israel, because of the terrible situation in the land. Both the priests and the prophets had failed, due to lack knowledge. The sinfulness of Israel was clear in its prostitution ways. They worshiped on the mountain tops. Both men and women were guilty of adultery. However, Judah should watch out also. Israel was stubborn, but there was a real problem with Ephraim.
In chapter 5, Hosea pointed out that the false leaders of Israel had a prostitute spirit, like in Ephraim that had failed. There was an alarming situation in Benjamin. Ephraim was desolate. The princes of Judah would see the defeat of Ephraim, because of their false alliance with Assyria. Yahweh would return to heaven.
In chapter 6, Hosea said that Israel would return to Yahweh, like a fickle lover. However, Yahweh wanted a steadfast love. They had to make up for past crimes, since they had defiled themselves with prostitution. Judah, however, would still have a harvest.
In chapter 7, Hosea said that the wicked deeds of Ephraim and Samaria with their adulterous conspirators would not go unnoticed. There had been a number of assassinations of the Israelite kings. Ephraim was too open to foreigners, like a silly dove. Thus, there would be a curse against Ephraim, since they had turned against God.
In chapter 8, Hosea said that they had to sound the alarm trumpet because of the Israelite idolatry. They had lost their crop, as Israel would disappear. Yahweh was against the false exterior cult and their human fortresses.
In chapter 9, Hosea pointed out that there would be sorrow during the exile. Their sacrifices would be useless. There would be no more festivals, because the days of punishment had come. The prophets had their roles, but there has been infidelity in the past. There would be no children for Ephraim, because of the evil in Gilgal. Ephraim had refused to listen.
In chapter 10, Hosea pointed out that Israel grew rich with many altars, especially during the time of King Jeroboam II. Thus, Israel must bear its guilt, because it felt that they did not need a king or Yahweh. The shame of Samaria meant that it must be destroyed. There would be a punishment at Gibeah, with the defeat of Ephraim. War was coming to Israel.
In chapter 11, Hosea said that Israel was like an ungrateful child, since their punishment was coming. However, Yahweh had second thoughts. They would return from their exile, while Judah remained faithful.
In chapter 12, the emphasis was on Ephraim and its continual falsehoods. Ephraim had become a rich trader. The response of Yahweh to their worthless sacrifices was to remind them about Jacob. The prophets had led them, but still Ephraim was provocative.
In chapter 13, Hosea said that Ephraim would die as a punishment for its idolatry. Yahweh was their God, so that they would be punished for forgetting him. The destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel was at hand. Ephraim was like a bad child. Death and Sheol would be the punishment for Samaria.
Chapter 14 was about the conversion of Israel, as they would return to Yahweh. Assyria was not going to save Israel. They would return to life in the shadow of Yahweh. They had to get rid of their idols and learn the ways of Yahweh.