We know very little of the personal life of Hosea outside of what is given in this book.
Time written & time covered in history:
Hosea, whose name means “salvation,” was a prophet to Israel (10 tribes of the northern kingdom)…and only occasionally mentions Judah. He was not a trained prophet…but was a layman. He prophesied during the last 40 years of the Kingdom’s existence (cf. 2 Kings 15-17)…beginning when it was at its zenith under Jeroboam II (782-753 B.C.) and concluding with its destruction because of its spiritual bankruptcy. Judgment seemed like only a distant possibility to the people…but by 722 B.C., Samaria, the capital of Israel, had fallen to the Assyrians and the people were deported. His was a message (1) exposing the people and nation for their involvement in sin, (2) warning of coming judgment, and (3) providing them with a message of hope. The term “Ephraim” is used as a name for Israel in connection with sin or backsliding…it is used 37 times in this book.
He was a younger contemporary of Amos (in Israel)…older contemporary of Isaiah and Micah (in Judah)…and as a child may have known Jonah.
Hosea would be a living example of God’s grace and mercy. His life and marriage would provide a visual parallel for God’s plan of redemption for Israel.
The exact time of his ministry is difficult to determine but is generally accepted to have been between 760-720 B.C. He prophesied under the reigns of the following kings…
Northern Kingdom (Israel, capital-Samaria)
- Jeroboam II (790-749)…time of prosperity…followed by a time of political anarchy
- Zechariah (748)…reigned 6 months…killed by Shallum
- Shallum (748)…reigned 1 month…killed by Menahem
- Menahem (748-738)…very cruel…puppet of Assyria
- Pekahiah (738-736)…killed by Pekah
- Pekah (748-730)…killed by Hoshea
- Hoshea (730-721)…Fall of Samaria…end of kingdom
Southern Kingdom (Judah, capital-Jerusalem)
- Uzziah (787-735)…good king
- Jotham (749-734)…good king
- Ahaz (741-726)…very wicked
- Hezekiah (726-697)…good king
Other historical events concurrent with the time of Hosea:
- Israel fell from its position of glory into captivity
- Rome was founded
- Guatama began a new religion in India…Buddhism
In the English Bible, Hosea is the first of 12 books known as the “Minor Prophets” because they are shorter in the amount of material written than the “Major Prophets”. In the Hebrew Old Testament, these 12 books are considered one and are referred to as “The Book of the Twelve.”
Hosea is quoted 30 times in the New Testament. More times for its size than any other book in the Old Testament.
The central themes of Hosea are:
- The key verse is found in 6:6, where God tells Israel that He desires “loyalty” rather than sacrifice. God desires the same kind of loyalty in return from His people that He gives to His people.
- God’s redeeming love for Israel…which is seen in the use of the Hebrew word “chesed” (2:19; 4;1; 6:4,6; 10:12; 12:6)…often translated as “lovingkindness” and which stresses the ideas of steadfastness and faithfulness. When it is used in reference to God’s relationship to Israel it denotes a binding “covenant love.”
- “return to the Lord” The word “return” occurs 15 times in the book (2:7,9; 3:5; 5:15; 6:1,11; 7:10,16; 8:13; 9:3; 11:5,9; 12;14; 14:1,7-KJV).
Israel had forsaken God and loved another. The list of their sin(s) is comprehensive…falsehood (4:1), licentiousness (4:11), murder (5:2), robbery (7:1), oppression (12:7). The book of Hosea uses a variety of imagery to depict this sin(s)…adulterous wife (3:1), wine-inflamed drunkard (4:11), backsliding heifer (4:16), morning cloud (6:4), troops of robbers (6:9), adulterers (7:4), a hot oven (7:7), a half-baked cake (7:8), a silly dove (7:11), an untrustworthy bow (7:16), being swallowed up (8:8), a broken pot (8:8), gray hairs (8:9), a wild ass (8:9), a dried up root (9:16), an empty vine (10:1).
The marriage of Hosea is a vivid portrayal of the redeeming grace of God. Grace is unmerited favor…and even as Hosea bought back his wayward bride, so God pays the price to buy back (redeem) his wayward people.
New Testament Christians can commit spiritual adultery just as Old Testament Jews did (2 Corinthians 11:1-3; James 4:1-10; 1 John 2:15-17; Revelation 2:1-7).
Out of His love, God disciplines His children when they sin (Psalm 119:71; Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:1-13).
Israel’s Unfaithfulness Pictured 1-3
Israel’s Sin Proclaimed 4-7
Israel’s Judgment Pronounced 8-10
Israel’s Hope Promised 11-14
Hosea was a contemporary of Amos and he also lived in Israel (around 710 B.C.). This was the same time that Isaiah and Micah were prophesying in Judah. Material prosperity and spiritual bankruptcy characterized Israel. Judgment eventually arrived when Samaria, the capital, fell in 722, to the Assyrians. The people were deported. The theme of the book is God's steadfast love. It is demonstrated through Hosea's own marriage to an unfaithful wife, name Gomer.
Chapters 1-3 are about Hosea's domestic life.
Chapters 4-14 are excerpts of his messages delivered during his 50 years as a prophet.
Israel’s Unfaithfulness Pictured Hosea 1-3
Hosea 1:2-God tells Hosea to marry a “wife of harlotry”, (NASV) “wife of whoredoms” (KJV). Some believe that she was already a prostitute…others believe that she became one after they were married. In either case, the picture is of a woman who is unfaithful to her husband…a picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Israel is often pictured as being in a marriage relationship with God in the OT (Exodus 34:14-16; Deuteronomy 32:16; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 3:14; Hosea 2:19).
Hosea 1:3-Hosea married Gomer.
Hosea 1:4-11-Gomer bore three children to Hosea…then left him for another man. The names of the children portray the downfall of the nation:
- Jezreel (son-1:4)—means “scattered, or God’s scatters”…referring to the time when Israel would be scattered among the nations…by the Assyrian invasion. God says that He will “break the power of Israel in the valley of Jezreel”…and every time they heard this child’s name they would be reminded of this prophecy. This is a reference to a valley in northern Israel where Jehu had the sons of King Ahab murdered in order to gain the throne (2 Kings 10:1-11). God is telling them that there is a day coming when He will take the throne from his descendants by force, even as they gained it by force. This prophecy had been previously made to Jehu (2 Kings 10:30). It would be fulfilled when the Assyrians captured Samaria in 722 B.C.
- Lo-ruhamah (daughter-1:6)—means “unpitied, or not obtained mercy”…meaning that God would remove His mercy from Israel and allow it to suffer for its sins. This child symbolized the difficult struggle of Israel. The word “Lo” means “not”. “Ruhama” means “pitied”.
- Lo-ammi (son-1:9)—means “not my people”…indicating that at that present time in God’s program…Israel is out of fellowship with God and is not His people. “Ammi” means “people”. However, there will be a time when they will be redeemed and will be called “My people” and “Obtaining pity” (2:1)…when Christ returns.
Hosea 2:1-13-Verse 1 is a statement of what God wants to happen. He wants the people (“brothers” and “sisters”) to return to their correct relationship with Him. So, He tells them to speak to each other as God’s “Ammi” (people) and as receiving God’s “Ruhamah” (pity). Gomer has been unfaithful and has become a prostitute. Gomer represents Israel. God says that Israel has done the same thing as Gomer...allowing itself to be bought and used by other countries (for the material goods that she thought they would supply) and worshipping their gods. She had become a prostitute (:5). Unless Israel repents and returns to Him, He will punish her (:3,4,6). Ultimately, Israel will find that the resources that she thought she would find from other nations (and their gods) is not satisfactory, so she will return to her own God (:7). Hosea tried to save his marriage by restraining his wife from becoming involved in the sinful world around her (:6), by asking his son to reason with her (:2), and by buying her back from the world once she had become enslaved to it (3:2). God says that Israel has failed to recognize all that He has done for her (:8) and has looked to other nations (and their gods-:9) to give her what she wants. So, He will stop blessing her and leave her with nothing. Then she will be exposed and the other nations will see that she has nothing to offer (:9-13).
Hosea 2:14-23-God says that there will come a time when He will restore Israel to its relationship with Him and they will call Him "Ishi" ("my husband") and not “Baali” (“owner”)…the idea is that when they called God “Baali” it was as if they were saying, “You think that You own me! Who are You to tell me what to do? Who died and made You God?” (:16). The day will come when they will treasure their relationship with Him and refer to Him as their loving husband. Then, they will no longer play the harlot (:17). Then He will reestablish His covenant with them (:19-20). The words used to describe this covenant are “righteousness”, “justice”, “lovingkindness”, and “compassion”.
2:19 lovingkindness. The Hebrew word is hesed, used about 250 times in the O.T. It means loyal, steadfast, or faithful love and stresses the idea of a belonging together of those involved in the love relationship. Here it connotes God’s faithful love for His unfaithful people. See also 4:1; 6:4,6; 10:12; 12:6; Joel 2:13; Jonah 2:8; 4:2; Mic. 6:8; 7:18,20; Zech. 7:9. In the O.T., communion, guidance, forgiveness, hope, praise, preservation are all based on God’s hesed.
The Ryrie Study Bible, footnote on Hosea 2:19, p. 1337
This will secure their safety in the land (:18) and the productivity of the land (:21-22). Then, they will receive His compassion (“pity”-:23), and He will call them His people (:23). In turn, they will say that He is their God (:23).
Hosea 3:1-5-Hosea went to find his wife and bring her back. Much to his dismay he found that she had been sold into slavery and that he would have to buy her back (:1-2). Gomer, no longer considered Hosea's wife, had to be restored to that position through the customary practice of purchase. God tells Hosea to go buy Gomer back. The price of a slave was 30 shekels of silver (:2). The illustration given through this incident is that God will buy back, purchase, redeem lost people to Himself, even as Hosea has bought back Gomer. Gomer was placed into forced seclusion for a period of time...representing the exile of Israel (:3-4).
What are the “raisin cakes” mentioned in verse 1?
The word translated “raisin cakes” in the NASV, is translated as “sacred raisin cakes” in the NIV, and “flagons of wine” in the KJV. The root word comes from the word “grape”. As seen in the explanations below, it is uncertain if these grapes were being made into wine, or if they were being dried into raisins and then baked in a type of cookie, or cake. But one thing is certain…whichever is meant the end product was being used in worship to pagan gods.
The expression, And love flagons of wine, implies, that they loved to drink wine in the temples of their idols. They were wont to pour out wine to their false gods, and, it is probable, drank the remainder even to excess. The festivity, or rather dissoluteness, which was used by the heathen in the worship of their gods, seems to have been one principal thing that made the Israelites so fond of their rites of worship. Some think that the words, rendered here flagons, or goblets, of wine, should be translated cakes of dried grapes. The expression, according to the love of the Lord, &c., means, Let this be an emblem of my love to the children of Israel; or, By this I intend to let Israel know how I have loved them, and what returns they have made for my love. How great and constant my love has been to them, and how inconstant and insincere theirs has been to me. The words seem, in general, to express their leaving the service of the true God, and imitating the idolaters, in following after false gods, bodily delights and pleasures, as gluttony, drunkenness, and the like, which the service of idols did not only permit, but require.
Benson Commentary, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/hosea/3-1.htm
Love flagons of wine; loved the feasts of their idols, where they drank wine to excess, by too great measures, which, without dispute, was usual in the idol feasts, Amos 2:8 1 Corinthians 10:21; or else these flagons of wine speak their loose, drunken, and riotous living.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/hosea/3-1.htm
(3) The LXX. has γυναῖκα ἀγαπῶσαν πονηρά, having probably read אֹהֶבֶת רַע. And love flagons of wine (margin, grapes). The term ashishe, according to Rashi and Aben Ezra, means "bowls," that is, "bowls of wine" (literally, "of grapes"). They probably connected the word with the root shesh, six, a sextorius, and hence any other wine-vessel. The Septuagint, however, renders the word πέμματα μετὰ σταφίδος, "cakes with dried grapes." This meaning is to be preferred, whether we derive the word from אִשַׁשׁ, to press together, or from אֵשׁ, fire; according to the former and correct derivation, the sense being cakes of grapes pressed together; according to the latter, cakes baked with fire. Gesenius differentiates the word from צִמּוּק, dried grapes, but not pressed together into a cake, and from דְּבֵלַה, figs pressed together into a cake. These raisin-cakes were regarded as luxuries and used as delicacies; hence a fondness for such indicated a proneness to sensual indulgence, and figuratively the sensuous service belonging to idol-worship.
Pulpit Commentary, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/hosea/3-1.htm
Israel’s Sin Proclaimed Hosea 4-7
God identifies the acts of unfaithfulness of Israel…
- There was no commitment, or dedication, by people to each other (4:1-“faithfulness”)
- There was a no concern for the welfare of other people (4:1-“kindness”)
- There was a lack of understanding of God (4:1-“knowledge”; 4:6-“knowledge”, “law of God”; 4:14“without understanding”)
- There was self-serving dishonesty towards other people (4:2-“swearing”, “deception”)
- There was a loss of value for life, itself (4:2-“murder”)
- There was a lack of respect for property rights (4:2-“stealing”)
- There was a loss of marital fidelity (4:2-“adultery”; 4:13-“daughters…brides”)
- There was an acceleration of violent crimes (4:2-“violence”)
- There were false prophets & priests (4:5,9)
- There was idolatry (4:12,13,17)
- There was rampant immorality (4:13-14,16,17; 7:4, 8:9)
God identifies the results of the acts of unfaithfulness of Israel…
- The people suffer emotional turmoil (4:3-“mourns”, “languishes”)
- The land itself is affected by their sin (4:3-“beasts…birds…fish”)
- The people become obstinate and are unwilling to listen to anyone who tries to tell them what is wrong (4:4)
- The people will continue to have problems, their religious leaders will have no answer, and the whole country will suffer (4:5-the word “mother” speaks of the nation).
- The service of the priests will be rejected by God (4:6)
- The families will not know the care of God (4:6)
- The sin of the people generated more sin (4:7)
- The prominence that they had once had among the nations will become disgrace (4:7)
- The priests actually encouraged the people to sin because they benefited from their sinful behavior when they brought offerings to pay for their sin (4:8)
4:8 the sin. May refer to the sin offering (the same Hebrew word is used), indicating that the priests grew wealthy by seizing the offerings the people brought.
The Ryrie Study Bible, footnote on Hosea 4:8, p. 1338
- The people will be judged for their sin by God (4:9)
- The people will continue to practice this sinful behavior but will never find the satisfaction that they are seeking (4:10)
God identifies the causes of the acts of unfaithfulness of Israel…
- The desire for physical stimulation and pleasure (4:11)
- The desire for spiritual stimulation and pleasure (4:12-13-the follow gods that benefit them)
Hosea 4:15-19-God tells Israel to stay away from Judah…so that they will not lead them to behave in the sinful manner as they are (:15). Israel has removed itself from God’s protection even as a lamb removes itself from the shepherd’s protection when it strays away (:16). Ultimately, judgment will come on Israel (:17).
Prayer: Lord, what amazes me is how Israel became so blind to their sin. As You said here…sin feeds on sin…and causes us to become less and less aware of it, of its consequences, and worst of all of You. Help me Lord…to see sin at its inception, to recognize it for what it is, and to repent of it.