Author: Hosea, whose name means "salvation" or "liberation", was chosen by GOD to give living testimony of his message before his people by marrying a woman who wold be unfaithful. His sensitivity toward the sinful condition of his compatriots and toward the loving heart of GOD prepared him for this difficult ministry.
Background and Date: Hosea indicates the historical moment and place in which his ministry took place by mentioning the monarchs of the southern kingdom of Judah (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah) and the monarch of the northern kingdom of Israel (Jeroboam II), who governed while Hosea fulfilled his prophetic mission (1:1). This limits the period of his activity to between the years 755 and 715 B.C. Although all the indications were positive for Israel, the threat of a disaster silently approached. At this time, the people enjoyed peace, abundance and prosperity; but the anarchy that a few years later would cause the political collapse of the nation began to darken the horizon. Hosea describes the social conditions at that time; corrupt leaders, unstable family life, widespread immorality, class hatred and poverty. Although people continued giving worship to Jehovah, idolatry received more acceptance each day, and the priests didn't lead the people on the paths of righteousness. In spite of the darkness of those days, Hosea made hope arise that the people would return to GOD.
Content: The Book of Hosea deals with a people who needed to hear of the love of GOD; a GOD who wanted to tell them how great his love was and the only way through which it could be offered. The people thought they could buy love ("Ephraim...hired lovers", 8:9), that love was the pursuit of pleasure ("I will go after my lovers, that give me...", 2:5), and that loving worthless things could bring something positive ("And they made abominations the objects of their love", 9:10). GOD wanted Israel to know his love, which was offered to the rejected and disinherited ("When Israel was a child, I loved him", 11:1), who guided the people with gentle discipline ("with cords of love", 11:4), and persevered in spite of the peoples' stupidity and resistance ("How could I abandon you?", 11:8).
The problem was how to bring this message of GOD's love to a people not inclined to hear, and unaccustomed to obeying if, by chance, they did hear. GOD's solution was to allow the prophet's life to become his own sermon. Hosea married an impure woman ("a wife of whoredom", 1:2), he truly loved her and had sons with her (1:3), and went after her and made her return when she was lost ("Go, love", 3:1). In short, Hosea had to demonstrate, through his love for Gomer, the kind of love GOD felt for Israel.
Structure of the Book: (IBD) Hosea contains 14 chapters that are filled with some of the most powerful truths in all the Bible. After a brief introduction of himself as GOD's prophet, Hosea tells about his unusual family situation. GOD appeared to Hosea, instructing him, "Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry" (1:2). The reason for this unusual request was to demonstrate that GOD's Covenant People, the nation of Israel, had been unfaithful to GOD because of their worship of false gods.
Hosea did as the LORD commanded, taking a prostitute named Gomer as his wife. The first three chapters of the book report their stormy relationship as husband and wife. Soon after their marriage, Gomer bore three children. Hosea gave them symbolic names - Jezreel (GOD scatters), Lo-Ruhamah (Not Pitied), and Lo-Ammi (Not My People) - to show that GOD was about to bring His judgment upon the nation of Israel because the people had fallen into worship of false gods. Just as the nation rejected GOD, Gomer eventually left Hosea and the children to return to her life of prostitution. But Hosea's love for his wife refused to die.
He searched until he found her at the slave market. Then he bought her back and restored her as his wife. This tender picture showed clearly that GOD had not given up on Israel, although the people had "played the harlot" many times by returning to their old life of pagan worship and enslavement to sin.
The second major division of Hosea's book, chapters 4-14, contains the prophet's messages of judgment against the nations of Israel and Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel, Hosea's homeland, is singled out for strong rebuke because of its gross sin and immorality. But the book ends on a positive note. In tender language, the prophet reminds the nations of GOD's undying love. In spite of their unfaithfulness, He is determined to redeem them and restore them to their favored place as His Covenant People.
Historical Setting: (IBD) Hosea prophesied during the twilight years of the northern kingdom of Israel, a time of rapid moral decline. Worship of false gods was mixed with worship of the one true GOD. Ritualism rather than righteousness was the order of the day as even the priests lost sight of the real meaning of worship. Although King Jeroboam II was the instigator of many of these policies, at least his 40-year reign (793-753 B.C.) brought a measure of political stability to the nation. This stability came to an end when he died. In rapid succession, six different kings ruled Israel during the next 25 years; four were eliminated by assassination. Weakened by internal strife, Israel collapsed in 722 B.C. when the nation of Assyria destroyed Samaria, Israel's capital city. Hosea was probably an eyewitness to many of these events as his prophecy about GOD's judgment on Israel was fulfilled.
Theological Contribution: (IBD) Through his marriage and prophetic message, Hosea presents a vivid picture of the steadfast love of GOD for His people. Because they have sinned and broken the covenant, GOD's people deserve His certain judgment. But because of His undying love for them, His mercy and lovingkindness will prevail: Many people believe the Old testament portrays GOD's wrath, while the New Testament pictures his love. But the Book of Hosea includes tender expressions of deep love among this prophet's descriptions of judgment. Hosea ranks with Deuteronomy and the Gospel of John as major biblical treatises on the love of GOD. This love is not mere sentiment; it is rooted in compassion and bound in holiness. GOD's love makes demands, but it is also willing to forgive.
Special Considerations: (IBD) The Book of Hosea is noted for its many references to the history of Israel, as well as its vivid poetic images. Throughout the book the prophet speaks tenderly of the nation of Israel as "Ephraim". This is a reference to the largest of the ten northern tribes of Palestine that made up the nation of Israel. Because of their superior numbers, Ephraim was a symbol of power and strength. This tribal name also reminded the nation of its history and tradition. Ephraim, after whom the tribe was named (Gen. 48:17-22), was the son of Joseph.
Few events in the Bible have been debated as strongly as Hosea's marriage. The command for a man of GOD to marry a harlot is so startling that interpreters have offered many different explanations. Some suggest that the story is meant to be read only as an allegory. Others believe Gomer was faithful at first but went astray after their marriage. Still others believe she was a prostitute from the very beginning but that Hosea did not learn this until later.
All of these approaches to the passage issue from our offended sense of right and wrong. The plain meaning of the text is that Hosea married a prostitute at GOD's direct command. In this way, through his own tormented life Hosea could present a striking picture of the pain in GOD's heart because of the harlotries of His Covenant People.
Christ Revealed: The authors of the New testament lean on Hosea to speak of the life and ministry of Jesus. Matthew sees in 11:1 a prophecy that was fulfilled when the baby Jesus was literally led to and brought out of Egypt, like the prolonged stay and exodus of the people of Israel from there (Matt. 2:15). The author of Hebrews found in Jesus the one who puts believers into a position to offer sacrifices of acceptable praise, through which we are made accreditors of GOD's merciful forgiveness (14:2; Heb. 13:15). For Peter, Jesus provides the means that makes it possible for those who didn't belong to GOD's family to be admitted into it (1:6,9; I Pet. 2:10). For Paul, Jesus fulfills Hosea's promise of one who would break the power of death and the grave, and bring resurrection and victory (13:14; I Cor. 15:55). Paul's doctrine about Jesus as the husband and the Church as the bride has to do with the vows and the marriage ceremony through which GOD establishes a permanent relationship with Israel (2:19,20; Eph. 5:25-32).
Jesus also, in at least two sermons directed to the Pharisees, leans on the text of Hosea. When they question him about spending his time at the house of publicans and sinners, Jesus cites Hosea to show that GOD desires not empty words and formal tribute, but true interest and caring for others (6:6; Matt. 9:13). And, when the Pharisees accuse Jesus' disciples of violating the Sabbath, Jesus defends them, reminding them again that GOD's heart is more interested in human needs than formal rituals (Matt. 12:7).
The Holy Spirit in Action: The Book of Hosea teaches two relevant lessons about the Holy Spirit: It's important to depend on the presence of the Spirit, and when He is absent, a great vacancy is experienced in one's life. On two occasions, Hosea uses the phrase "spirit of fornication" (4:12; 5:4), and speaks of the consequences of being filled with an evil spirit. Like Paul in Ephesians, Hosea relates a spirit of that nature with wine, whose effects enslave human beings. This spirit of fornication also leads people on false paths and toward a false worship, in contrast with the Holy Spirit who guides us to the ways of truth and true worship (4:11-13; Eph. 5:17-21). John remembers Jesus' words about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who will give testimony of Christ; on the other hand, the spirit of fornication takes people away from the knowledge of GOD (5:4; John 15:26).
Hosea's love for his wayward wife reminds us that the principal proof of the Spirit is love (Gal. 5:22). "Because the love of GOD has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given us (Rom. 5:5).
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