Hosea means “salvation.” What is the significance of the message of salvation proclaimed by the prophet Hosea for peoples and nations during this age?

Hosea is the first of the 12 Minor Prophets (called “minor” not because they are of less importance, but because the books are shorter). In ancient Hebrew manuscripts the collection of the Minor Prophets was written on one scroll, called the “Book of the Twelve.”

Date and time of Hosea

Hosea’s message was primarily for the northern kingdom of Israel, although he occasionally refers to the southern kingdom of Judah. His prophecy began with Jeroboam II, when the northern kingdom of Israel was at its zenith, and continued for the next 40 years until just before Samaria fell to Assyria in 722 B.C.

About 200 years before the time of Hosea, the 10 northern tribes (Israel) had separated from the southern tribes of Judah and set up an independent kingdom. When Hosea arrived on the scene, Israel was experiencing the greatest time of peace and national prosperity since the separation. However, the good times were not to last, as social injustice, political disorder and moral decay began to eat away at the fabric of the society.

The Lion Handbook to the Bible, edited and produced by David and Pat Alexander, states: “Rejection of God and the wholesale adoption of pagan religious practices brought about a moral and political landslide. 2 Kings 14:23 – 17:41 gives the history of the period. But the fact that after Jeroboam’s death Israel had six kings in just over 20 years, and four of them assassinated their predecessors, gives some idea of the state of the country.

“What Israel’s idolatry meant to God—how he continued to love and long for his people’s return to him—Hosea learnt through bitter personal experience, as his own wife betrayed and deserted him. His message comes straight from the heart. And this is what makes the book unique.”

Hosea was a contemporary of Isaiah. His early years overlapped with Amos; and his later years, with Micah.

Main theme of Hosea

The theme of the prophecy is God’s mercy to a sinful Israel, who in the end will come to God in heartfelt and genuine repentance. Israel, described as an unfaithful wife, is exhorted to return to her God who will show mercy and compassion. “Although the theme of judgement for apostasy runs through the book, it is interwoven by the golden strand of mercy and love” (Unger’s Bible Handbook).

“The central message of Hosea is grounded in the fact that Israel has violated its relationship with Yahweh. Because the nation does not repent of its sins, it will suffer judgement. Nevertheless, the promise is that someday Israel will sincerely return to Yahweh and experience full restoration and blessings” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, “Religion and Theology in Hosea”).

The Universal Bible Dictionary states: “The prophet’s message has two main characteristics—passionate anger at the sin of Israel in falling from the worship of Jehovah into idolatry, and tender yearning for the return of the sinners to receive pardon from God.”

Hosea mentions Ephraim in his prophecy. As Ephraim was considered God’s firstborn (Jeremiah 31:9) and was the leading tribe in the northern kingdom, Ephraim can represent Israel as a whole.

Israel’s decline

Wealth and prosperity lulled the people of Israel into a false sense of security. The slide away from God into national decline and decay was worsened by:

  • Complacent spiritual attitudes, including a rejection of God’s laws.
  • Pursuit of materialism as a dominant way of life.
  • Dependence on international alliances, demonstrating a lack of faith and trust in God.
  • Moral corruption of the priests leading the people away from God and His ways.
  • Worship of idols in Bethel (calf worship) and at the “high places.”
  • Hard-hearted refusal to listen and respond to repeated warnings of impending doom.

A combination of these and other factors ultimately led Israel into captivity and cruel bondage by the Assyrians.

Use of metaphors

Hosea employs a string of metaphors to describe the relationship between Israel and God. The nation is an unfaithful wife (chapters 1-3); a stubborn heifer (4:16; 10:11); evaporating dew and dwindling mist and smoke (6:4; 13:3); a hot oven (7:3-7); a burned cake (7:8); a silly dove (7:11; 11:11); a foolish farmer (8:7); a useless vessel (8:8); a stray donkey (8:9); a worthless fruit tree (9:10, 16); a bad vine (10:1); a hapless twig (10:7); and a disobedient child (11:1-4).

Certain metaphors are also used to describe how God deals with His people. In matters of judgment He is referred to as: a moth that will eat away at the nation (5:12); a wild animal that devours (5:14-15; 13:8); a hunter who traps wild birds (7:12); and a farmer who yokes Israel like an ox (11:4).

Yet the God of mercy is also depicted as a forgiving husband (chapters 2-3); a loving parent (11:1-4; 14:3); a healing physician (14:4); and fresh dew (14:5).

“These metaphors and similes are designed to strike the hearts and imaginations of God’s people. Some shock, by exposing the ugliness and depth of sin and straightforwardly compelling repentance; others comfort and encourage the faithful to trust in the goodness of God and persevere through the coming judgement. It is important to emphasize that the overriding pictures of Yahweh and his people point to restoration. The book’s final word is not one of an angry deity committed to destroying a sinful nation” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revised Edition).

Hosea’s marriage to Gomer

God gave a curious instruction to Hosea: “Go, take for yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry [spiritual adultery] by departing from the LORD” (1:2). This has resulted in much discussion and some controversy among biblical scholars. This instruction occurs at the beginning of Hosea’s prophetic ministry and is important in the overall understanding of his message.

What the prophet experienced serves as a meaningful lesson of how God views the spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness of His covenant people Israel.

After leading the Israelites out of Egypt, which typifies sin and evil, God offered to make a covenant (an agreement) with them at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-8). God required that the people of Israel keep their part of the agreement by obeying Him. If they did, God promised they would be “a special treasure to Me above all people” and “you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (verses 5-6).

The people readily affirmed they would keep their part in the agreement (verse 8).

A marriage agreement

God then spoke the 10 Commandments they were to obey as part of the covenant (Exodus 20:1-17). He considered His covenant with Israel a marriage agreement (Ezekiel 16:8-13; Jeremiah 31:32). Unfortunately, over the years the “wife” consistently failed to honor the agreement with her “Husband” by rebelling against Him and the laws He gave her (Ezekiel 20:13).

Israel refused to keep its promise, and the nation of Israel was finally punished and went into captivity for not obeying and honoring her “Husband” (Ezekiel 20:23-24).

God inspired the relationship between Hosea and Gomer as a telling symbol of Israel’s constant and unrepentant spiritual adultery against Him (Hosea 2:2). As a result, Israel was cut off—divorced—from God and His blessings (Jeremiah 3:8).

The names of Hosea’s children are prophetic

Gomer bore three children who were given symbolic names that proclaim prophetic messages.

  • Jezreel was the firstborn son (Hosea 1:4-5), and his name means “God Scatters.” “By naming his child Jezreel, Hosea was saying to the king and to the nation: Retribution; the hour of punishment is come” (Halley’s Bible Handbook, note on Hosea 1-3).
  • The second child was named Lo-Ruhamah (1:6), meaning “Not Having Obtained Mercy.” “Mercy has been spurned; trust in divine deliverance has been replaced by confidence in arms and alliances. God has little choice but to withdraw his mercy and let Israel suffer the consequences of their faithlessness” (William LaSor, David Hubbard and Frederic Bush, Old Testament Survey, “Character and Meaning of the Marriage.”)
  • Lo-Ammi was the third child and meant “Not My People” (verse 9), indicating the broken marriage covenant. God did not reject the people of Israel, but they rejected Him (Hebrews 8:7-10).

Hosea then repeats two of the names in chapter 2:1, but removes the negative prefix “Lo.” The names Ammi and Ruhammah (which respectively mean “My People” and “My Loved One”) project forward to a future time, after Christ’s return, when Israel will once again be God’s people.

A time will come when both Israel and Judah will unite as one and be restored to greatness (Ezekiel 37:16-17, 21-22, 24-26). Unprecedented blessings will be poured out on a transformed and humble people (Ezekiel 36:24-30).

Outline of Hosea

Below is a suggested outline of the book of Hosea with some key passages.

Chapters 1-3: Hosea’s tragic marriage and birth of his children representing God’s relationship with His people.

Chapters 4-5: Ephraim’s idolatry will lead to desolation.

Hosea recognized a major problem: The people did not “know” God and failed to see His desire to bless them; and so, as a result, they suffered from a lack of the true “knowledge.”“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you. … Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (4:6).

Chapters 6-7: A record of evil and corruption.

“Aliens have devoured his strength, but he does not know it” (7:9).

Chapters 8-10: Punishment for idolatry and forgetting to honor God.

“I have written for him the great things of My law, but they were considered a strange thing. … For Israel has forgotten his Maker” (8:12, 14).

Chapters 11-13: God continues to love His people. But the people continue to sin and bring punishment on themselves.

“Ephraim has encircled Me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit” (11:12).

Chapter 14: Repentance; salvation by God; restoration.

“O Israel, return to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity” (14:1).

Future restoration

As with all the prophets, Hosea points to a future time when God promises to restore Israel and all nations. Below are passages that refer to a future restoration after the people’s confession and repentance:

  • Hosea 1:10: “In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’”
  • Hosea 2:18: “In that day I will make a covenant for them … to make them lie down safely.”
  • Hosea 3:5: “Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days.”
  • Hosea 14:4: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him.”

You shall know the Lord

Hosea recognized a major problem: The people did not “know” God and failed to see His desire to bless them (2:8; 5:4; 13:4); and so, as a result, they suffered from a lack of the true “knowledge” (4:6). God lays the blame at the feet of the priests who failed to teach right from wrong (Jeremiah 50:6; 2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Yet in the future, changes will be implemented.

Notice what God inspired Jeremiah to record: “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all [all nations] shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34; read also Hebrews 8:8-13).

What a wonderful time that will be!

Each person has a choice to share in the solution to the problems that beset the nations today (Revelation 21:4). As we read in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

May God help us to accept the hand of kindness and generosity He is extending to all mankind.

For further study, read the articles in the “Minor Prophets” section.

For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.

About the Author

André van Belkum

Andre van Belkum

Andre van Belkum currently serves as the pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Previously he pastored congregations in southern Africa, including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

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