The Book of Hosea

The book of Hosea tells the story of the heart wrenching experience of Hosea the prophet. Hosea was called by God to marry an unfaithful woman. That call of God for his marriage shapes the message of the entire book. But the book contains much more than that. The book expresses the heart cry of the Lord to his people who have turned their backs on him. He is the one who loves them and redeemed them, but they have chased after other gods who are not God at all. The prophetic poetry of the book is picturesque and beautifully crafted to express the emotive impact the message necessitates. Like all the prophets, Hosea gives a warning of judgment for covenant breach and a call to repentance and restoration.

Historical Context

We know nothing of Hosea except what the book tells us. In the first verse of the book we find that Hosea was the son of Beeri and lived and prophesied in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah and of Jeroboam, king of Israel. These were days of political, social, moral and spiritual tension and trouble. God always sends his man to speak his Word in difficult days like these.

Flow of the Book

The book of Hosea can easily be divided into two sections: Hosea’s Marriage (ch. 1-3) and Hosea’s Message (ch. 4-14). While the first section (Hosea’s Marriage) is at the same time poignant and hopeful and its structure clear, the second section is equally poignant and hopeful, but its structure is difficult to discern. We will read this second section, Hosea’s Message, as two cycles of prophetic oracles, the first large (ch. 4-11) and the second small  (ch.12-14).

Hosea’s Marriage: (ch. 1-3)

The book opens with a moving story of Hosea’s marriage, its ruin and its restoration. In Hosea’s personal experience God is speaking graphically of the relationship between the Lord and his people. He had loved them and taken them into a covenant relationship, a spiritual marriage. But they had broken the covenant relationship and pursued other lovers. The beauty and hope is that they will be restored, but only through pain and judgment.

This story is framed by the broken marriage and its restoration with three prophetic oracles within that frame. The oracles are largely given in beautiful prophetic poetry that draws the heart toward God.

(1) Broken Marriage (1:1-9): The story begins with the Lord commanding his prophet to take a wife of prostitution. People differ as to whether she was a prostitute before or after Hosea married her, but the fact remains that he was forced to deal with the betrayal to get a small glimpse of the Lord’s heart. After the marriage Hosea’s wife, Gomer, bears three children with significant names: Jezreel, meaning judgment, Lo-ruhamah, meaning no mercy and Lo-ammi, meaning not my people.

(2) First Oracle: Future Hope (1:10-2:1): The first of the three oracles is a brief proclamation of future hope, which is amazing given the ruin of Hosea’s marriage and the reality on the ground of Israel’s rebellion and covenant breach. God is working out his plan of redemption even in the darkest hour.

(3) Second Oracle: Present Judgment (2:2-13): This future hope must wait for present judgment. The reality is that Israel had sinned greatly against the Lord. Yet, even in this pronouncement of judgment there is a plea to return and repent. There always is an opportunity to repent until judgment falls. Israel did not heed the plea and suffered the righteous judgment of the Lord.

(4) Third Oracle: Future Mercy (2:14-23): When the dust settles from the judgment, the Lord will allure his people back to himself and prepare them to receive the Messiah. There will be a restoration. Those who received no mercy will receive mercy and those who were called not my people will be the people of the Lord.

(5) Restored Relationship (3:1-5): Meanwhile, back at the ranch… The story moves back to Hosea and Gomer’s relationship. Hosea is to go reclaim his wife, even though she is unfaithful to him. He bough her out of her sin and brokenness and restored her to his home. This is a great picture of the love of Jesus for his people as he pursues them in the world.

Hosea’s Message: (ch. 4-14)

Hosea’s message flows out of his marriage experience. The message is clear and powerful. The Lord demands faithfulness to his love by faithfulness to his Word. People are unfaithful. There are consequences to unfaithfulness, but the Lord redeems his people out of their sin.

1. First Cycle of Oracles (4:1-11:11): Hosea strings together prophetic oracles in a seemingly random way. Yet, there is some structural flow to his message. This first, and longest, cycle has an introduction and a conclusion with four oracles.

(i) Introduction: Indictment against Israel (4:1-3): Hosea begins his prophetic oracles with a serious call to listen to the Word of the Lord. He then brings an indictment, a charge, against Israel. There is no faithfulness, no steadfast love (covenant loyalty) and no knowledge of God. In other words the Lord indicts Israel for breaking the covenant. This charge will be fleshed out in the next three oracles.

(ii) First Oracle: Broken Covenant: No Knowledge of God (4:4-5:7): Hosea will deal with the three charges in the indictment in the reverse order they appear in the introduction. He first deals with the charge of no knowledge of God. 

Having no knowledge of God is more than an intellectual knowledge, but it is also more than a simple relationship, which is often claimed. The knowledge of God is the relationship one has with God through understanding his Law and responding in obedience. The Lord makes the charge that they have forgotten the Law of their God and they have forsaken him. They had no meaningful relationship with him because they had no meaningful understanding of who the Lord is and what he had done. They had rejected his demands on their lives.

For this failure the Lord indicts the priests who were responsible to instruct and lead the people. Instead they were leading in idolatry

(iii) Second Oracle: Broken Covenant: No Steadfast Love (5:8-7:16): Here the Lord calls for the trumpet of alarm to be sounded. Judgment is coming. The Hebrew word for steadfast love (hesed) is a very important word in the OT. It often refers to the love of covenant faithfulness. Israel did not love the Lord because they were unfaithful to him. The Lord calls for his people to return to him, but they do not heed his call. We see in 7:4-16 four images, similes, to describe Israel’s evil condition. They are like a heated oven (7:4-7), an unturned cake (7:8-10), a silly dove (7:11-13) and a treacherous bow (7:14-16).

(iv) Third Oracle: Broken Covenant: No Faithfulness (8:1-9:9): Again the call to sound the warning trumpet is given. The reason given is because Israel has broken the covenant and rebelled against the Law of God. Israel is unfaithful to the Lord. They chased after idols. The chilling indictment is that they sow to the wind and will reap to the whirlwind. Israel is so far from the Lord that the true prophet of God is considered a fool and mad, yet he is called to be a watchman over the people of God for God.

(v) Forth Oracle: Unfulfilled Destiny (9:10-11:7): The Lord loved Israel and called them to be his people with a great destiny in his plan of redemption, yet they fail to realize that destiny because they turned from following the Lord. Again, in this oracle four images, similes, are given to describe their sad condition. They are like grapes with such potential but do not bear fruit (9:10-17). They are like a luxuriant vine that yields no fruit. Their heart is false (10:1-10). They are like trained calves that love to thresh, but the Lord will put them in the yoke and not spare their necks (10:11-15). And finally, and most moving, they are like a beloved child that the parent (God) taught to walk. Yet, the Lord will bring judgment on them (11:1-7).

(vi) Conclusion: Hope in the Lord’s Mercy (11:8-11): The first cycle of oracles ends with a touching note of hope. The Lord cries in his great compassion and mercy, “how can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?” Though there will be judgment for their unfaithfulness, the Lord, in his great love, will redeem his people.

2. Second Cycle of Oracles (11:12-14:9): Like the first cycle of oracles there is an introduction and a conclusion. But in this final cycle there are only three oracles.

(i) Introduction: Israel turns from the Lord in Deceit (11:12-12:1): Lies and deceit characterize the relationship Israel has with the Lord. They break the covenant with the Lord, yet they covenant with Assyria and Egypt.

(ii) First Oracle: Historical Comparison: Jacob the Deceiver (12:2-14): The Lord compares the people to the patriarch Jacob. He was a deceiver but the Lord worked in his life and transformed him into the covenant bearer, Israel. The Lord calls on the people of Hosea’s day to be like Jacob and return to him.

(iii) Second Oracle; Historical Comparison: Ephraim the Idolater (13:1-16): This oracle looks back to Ephraim of old to draw comparison to the present Ephraim, Northern Kingdom Israel. This play on names is a powerful charge on the people for their unfaithfulness to the Lord. By idolatry Ephraim fell from his exalted place. So, the people of Israel will fall by their idolatry. The oracle ends with a graphic description of the cruelty the judgment will unleash on the most vulnerable.

(iv) Third Oracle: Return to Me (14:1-8): The Lord brings to a climax this final cycle of oracles with a dramatic and powerful plea for Israel to return to the Lord .

(v) Conclusion: Be Wise & Do Not Stumble (14:9): This cycle of oracles and the book ends with Hosea encouraging the people of his day to be wise and return to the Lord. Understanding leads to wisdom. Wisdom walks in uprightness. He is calling to his people yet today.

Major Themes in Hosea:

1) Broken Covenant: The central theme in the book is the tragedy of broken covenant with the Lord. The good and gracious Lord had given them a great covenant, but they turned from his love to pursue other lovers who did not really love them as the Lord did. This sad reality is reflected in the marriage between Hosea and Gomer. Unfaithfulness is the common response of fallen people to the goodness of the Lord. The Lord will woo back his people with deep pain. 

2) Divine Compassion: The Lord is angry with his people for their covenant breach, but his anger is mitigated by his great compassion. The Lord loves his people. He called them because of his great love for them. He did not call them because of their greatness or goodness, but because of his love.

3) Divine Sovereignty: God is sovereign even over the sin and evil of those he has blessed. His plan moves on in the world. God’s sovereignty does not violate the free choices of people to do evil, but works in spite of their failure to bring his purposes to fruition. The failure of Israel to follow the Lord will result in their painful discipline, but it will not derail or destroy the ultimate plan of God.

4) Judgment & Restoration: God is always merciful and gracious giving people time to repent, but when his appeal to return to him goes unheeded he will enact judgment on the wicked. The twin themes of all the prophets is judgment and hope. Judgment will come, but in the perfect plan of God there will be a restoration. God will bring back his wayward people. This is pictured in the command of the Lord to Hosea to go purchase his unfaithful wife out of her adultery. The love of the Lord for his unfaithful people is seen in the painful obedience of Hosea to love Gomer.

Conclusion:

God sent a powerfully moving message through Hosea’s marriage experience and the words he spoke to God’s people. Hosea’s message is powerfully moving yet today. When the people of God turn away from God, he calls them back with warnings and wooing. God’s love is wonderfully seen in the book of Hosea, which pictures for us the ultimate expression of his love in the cross of Christ. “For God so loved the world,” we read. Hosea knew the pain of that love and the joy of restoration. God is always calling his wayward people back to himself, so that the joy of restoration will be their experience. May that joy also fill our hearts in knowing and following Jesus.

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