Sadly, neither the Israelites nor Christians have proven to be completely faithful throughout the years. The Israelites left the Lord to worship the Baals. Christians left the Lord for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. In both cases, God had to judge his people for their unfaithfulness. And yet, he did so to bring to repentance those who were truly his.
The prophet Hosea was inspired by God to write about the unfaithfulness of Israel. In this book, God uses Hosea’s marriage to an unfaithful wife to show Israel how he felt about their unfaithfulness to him. While the book describes God’s judgments against Israel, it also proclaims God’s unfailing love for his people and a promise of their future restoration.
The writer of this book is Hosea the son of Beeri. The name “Hosea” is not used elsewhere in Scripture. But it is used in other forms such as the names Joshua and Jesus. All of these names have the same meaning: savior. We know nothing about this man except what is found in the book he wrote. He was a prophet who prophesied to the ten tribes of Israel. He must have been an older man when the book was written because he lived during the reign of four Jewish kings and at least one Israelite king.
Jeroboam II of Israel (793-753 BC)
Uzziah (790-739 BC)
Jotham (750-732 BC)
Ahaz (744-715 BC)
Hezekiah (729-686 BC)
*The dates are taken from my studies of 2 Chronicles and most probably reflect the dates given in The Bible Knowledge Commentary—Old Testament.
We don’t know how long he lived or how long his ministry lasted due to the overlapping vice regencies. But his ministry could have been as long as 107 years or as little as 24 years. But when he lists the names of the kings, he seems to be emphasizing a long period of time. I would imagine that he was rather old when he wrote this book.
Date of the Writing
Hosea wrote this book some time within the 107 years during which these kings reigned. But two things point to a later date. The first and most obvious reason for a later date is the fact that he mentions King Hezekiah. Hezekiah reigned from 729 to 686 BC. Therefore, the book would have been written some time after he began his reign. The other reason for a later date is that Israel is still being addressed as a nation. Assyria eventually carried them away into captivity in the year 722 BC. So, to get the most effect, the book would have to be written some time before the captivity. With those thoughts in mind, Hosea probably wrote the book somewhere between 729 and 722 BC.
The historical setting during which Hosea wrote proved to be quite interesting. Throughout those 107 years, Hosea had experienced good and bad rulers. (Looking back over my notes from our study in 2 Chronicles proved to be helpful.) As I reviewed the lives of each of these kings, I quickly found that Hosea lived during some good and difficult years. Of the five kings, 2 1/2 of them would be considered to be good kings. A quick review will explain what I mean by that.
Jeroboam II was a wicked king of Israel who continued the dynasty of evil started by the original Jeroboam (2 Kings 14:24). However, the Lord was compassionate and used him to recover some land that had been lost in earlier conflicts. He did not lead the people toward the Lord at all. While there were other Israelite kings who reigned during his lifetime, Hosea only mentions this one. We don’t really know the reason why, but it may be that he was a resident of Judah writing to the inhabitants of Israel.
Uzziah accomplished much for the Lord. But when the Lord blessed him with an abundance of resources, he became proud (2 Chron. 26:16). His pride escalated to the point that he entered the temple attempting to do what only the priests were supposed to do. The Lord struck him with leprosy and his son had to take over as vice-regent. So, Uzziah’s reign may be divided between a good first half and a bad second half.
Not much is said about Jotham except that he was pleasing to God (2 Chron. 27:2). (That’s a good way to be remembered!) Only nine verses are recorded about his reign. But he is remembered as a king whom God blessed as he sought the Lord.
Sadly, Jotham’s son, Ahaz, chose to follow the kings of Israel (2 Chron. 28:2-3). He rejected the good example of his father and chose to worship the Baals. He became so wicked that he even burned his children in the fire during some brutal religious rites. What a terrible thing to do! Read 2 Chronicles 28:19 and 22 to see how bad Ahaz became even after God sent in punishment.
Hezekiah must have seen the error of his father’s ways, because we know him as a godly king who sought God’s blessing (29:10). Because the people followed his lead, the Lord brought about a great revival during his reign.
The 107 years during which Hosea ministered could best be represented by a roller coaster ride. The good kings of Judah were up and down while the Israelite kings were all bad with occasional acts of mercy provided by God. Although there were some good times, the majority of Israel’s history must be considered a time of unfaithfulness to God. Despite the preaching of Hosea, Isaiah, Amos, and Micah, people chose to turn away from the Lord at an alarming rate—especially in the land of Israel.
Audience of the Book
Although Hosea lists only one king of Israel, his primary audience was the nation of Israel. If you were to do a search of the names Israel and Judah in this book you would find Israel mentioned three times as many times as Judah (Israel—44, Judah—16).
After looking over those passages, it would be safe to say that the primary audience of Hosea’s prophecy was the ten tribes of Israel. However, the nation of Judah was also included in the writing in a lesser way. I conclude, by that data, that Hosea was primarily addressing the nation of Israel with a secondary emphasis on the people of Judah.
Why was God more concerned with Israel at this point. Well, the time for Israel’s judgment was just around the corner. In 722 BC, the armies of Assyria overpowered Israel and took the people captive to other parts of the world. There wasn’t much time for them to repent of their wickedness and turn to the Lord. So, Hosea’s message had to be addressed to them first. However, Judah still needed to hear Hosea’s message. Although some of their kings were godly, they eventually turned away from the Lord and were taken into captivity by Babylon during the year 586 BC. They should have listened better!
Message of the Book
It is a message of God’s hatred for sin.
Over and over again, Hosea points out God’s hatred for the sinful choices his people were making. At different times, both Israel and Judah chose to turn away from him and serve false gods. They had turned to wicked practices that went along with their false worship. And God was angry with his people. After giving them many opportunities to repent, he was forced to send them into captivity to reconsider the choices they had made.
It is a message of God’s love for his people.
And yet, this book also reveals God’s unfailing love for his people. Althought he punished them for their sins, he still called on them to repent. If only they had listened, he would have blessed them immeasurably. But they did not. It will not be until the future kingdom of Christ that the nation of Israel will turn to the Lord completely.
“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the LORD, till He comes and rains righteousness on you. You have plowed wickedness; you have reaped iniquity. You have eaten the fruit of lies, because you trusted in your own way, in the multitude of your mighty men” (Hosea 10:12-13).
“O Israel, you are destroyed, but your help is from Me” (Hosea 13:9).
“O Israel, return to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity” (Hosea 14:1).
Outline of the Book
With those thoughts in mind, let us consider a simple outline of the book based on the one found in The Ryrie Study Bible.
1. Hosea’s Unfaithful Wife (1:1-3:5)
a. Her Unfaithfulness (1:1-11)
b. Her Punishment (2:1-13)
c. Her Restoration (2:14-23)
d. Her Redemption (3:1-5)
2. God’s Unfaithful People (4:1-14:9)
a. Her Judgment (4:1-10:15)
b. Her Restoration (11:1-14:9)
God hates sin.
This had never been a popular message. We would rather visualize a God who always stands with open arms to accept us regardless of our actions and thoughts. But this is not the picture that God inspired Hosea to write. We can consider our own lives and think of how our sin affects our relationship with God.
God loves his people.
The love of God is clearly evident in this book. Although his people turned against him, he still wanted them to repent and return to him. We should consider the love of God enough reason to repent of and forsake our sins. His love is better than the best husband that has ever lived. And we ought to thank him for that by living in such a way that pleases him.