Background

Hosea means “salvation” and is the same as the original name of Joshua (Num 13:8, 16) and the last king of Israel (2 Ki 15:30). Probably to avoid unnecessary confusion, the King James Authorized Version gave Joshua’s original name as Oshea, the king’s name as Hoshea, and the prophet’s name as Hosea. Most English translations continue to use “Hosea” for the prophet, though it is less accurate. He was the son of Beeri (Hosea 1:1) but aside from what is revealed in the book itself we know nothing more about the man. We assume he was from the Northern Kingdom, but cannot be sure (see “our king” in Hos 7:5).1The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.

The time period of Hosea’s ministry (approximately 750s to 710s BC) began during the years of prosperity and false security described in the introduction to Amos. The history of the Northern Kingdom then spiraled downward quite swiftly. The end was ugly and disgraceful. Of the six kings that followed Jeroboam II, four were assassinated (Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, and Pekah) and one was captured in battle (Hoshea). Menahem was succeeded by his son Pekahiah, but this was also evil followed by evil. While the political scene disintegrated, the spiritual apostasy remained strong until the wrath of God swept the nation into exile. Amos had never identified the nation the Lord would use to punish the Northern Kingdom, but Hosea clearly revealed Assyria as the chosen instrument (Hos 7:11, 8:9, 10:6, 11:11).

See also the Chronology of the Old Testament Kings, the Chronology of the Prophets, and the Chronology of Latter Prophets and Intertestamental Period.

Authorship and Date

Based on the revealed time of Hosea’s activity (Hos 1:1), most calculate that his was a ministry that extended at least 38 years (from the last part of the reign of Jeroboam II, 753 BC, until the first part of Hezekiah’s reign, 715 BC), though there are questions about the precise time of Hezekiah’s reign. Since Hosea never specifically describes Samaria’s fall, some date the writing of this book prior to that event in 722 BC. Others are more comfortable with the idea that the book was written after the fall of Samaria, and perhaps in Judah (see the many references to Judah, Hosea 1:7,11; 4:15, 5:5,10,13; 6:4,11; 10:11, 11:12, 12:2). Either scenario is possible and so an adequate estimated time of writing would be about 725-715 BC. Hosea is not explicitly identified as the writer, but there is really no reason to believe anyone else would be. The book stands first in the Jewish Scroll of “The Twelve,” and this may well reflect an ancient opinion that he served chronologically before or during the time of Joel and Amos. They were very likely contemporaries, although it appears that Hosea’s ministry continued after the others’ had ended.

Purpose for Writing

Echoing Amos, Hosea clearly exposes the apostasy of the Northern Kingdom and foretells its destruction. What distinguishes Hosea is the way he expresses the intense love and compassion of God for his unworthy people. Hosea bears somewhat the same relation to Israel as Jeremiah to Judah. The first portion of the book portrays God’s free and faithful love for his people through Hosea’s marriage to unfaithful Gomer. The same faithfulness of the Lord and unfaithfulness of the people is then set forth in customary prophetic language in the chapters that follow. The graphic depiction of spiritual adultery, the intensity of frustrated love, and the denunciations of religious formalism are key characteristics of the book.

In the New Testament Matthew cites Hosea 11:1 with reference to Christ (Mt 2:15), Jesus appeals to Hosea 6:6 in refuting the externalism of the Pharisees (Mt 9:13), and Paul uses Hosea 1:10-11 and Hosea 2:23 in Romans 9:25-26. The phraseology of Hosea 1:9-10 and Hosea 2:23 can be seen in 1 Peter 2:10. Hosea 10:8 is used by Luke (Lk 23:30) and John (Rev 6:16), while Paul cites Hosea 13:14 in 1 Cor 15:55.

Content

Hosea’s message to Israel was about their unfaithfulness to their God.  He had made a covenant with them and promised to bless them (Ex 19:5-6) yet they had broken the covenant by forsaking their God.  To illustrate Israel’s unfaithfulness Hosea marries a prostitute and gives their children symbolic names of judgment against the Northern Kingdom.

There are two major sections of the book. Chapters 1-3 deal with Hosea’s marriage to faithless Gomer while chapters 4-14 present Hosea’s message to faithless Israel. The second main portion of the book is often viewed as an unstructured–or loosely structured–succession of repetitive discourses, with law and gospel alternating.

Christ Connection

Hosea’s unfailing love for his unfaithful wife reminds us of God’s unfailing love for his unfaithful followers. Hosea teaches us that when we sin, it isn’t just breaking a rule. We as the Church are the bride of Christ (Eph 5:25; Mt 9:15; Jn 3:28-29; Rev 19:6-9), and when we sin it’s like cheating on our husband, Jesus. Yet thankfully Christ is fully faithful to us and has forgiven us by his death on the cross (Eph 5:25-27). Now we can look forward to the “wedding supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9) when we are raised to life on the Last Day, just as Hosea prophesied (Hos 13:14; 1 Cor 15:54-57).

Notable Passages

  • Hosea 1:2-3
  • Hosea 1:10
  • Hosea 2:16,19-20
  • Hosea 3:1-5
  • Hosea 6:1-3
  • Hosea 6:6
  • Hosea 12:6
  • Hosea 13:14
  • Hosea 14:1-2,4,9

Outline

  1. The Unfaithful Wife and the Faithful Husband (Hos 1-3)
  2. The Unfaithful Nation and the Faithful Lord (Hos 4-14)
    • Israel’s Unfaithfulness (Hos 4:1-6:3)
    • Israel’s Punishment (Hos 6:4-10)
    • The Lord’s Faithful Love (Hos 11-14)

References   [ + ]

1. The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.