Hosea is the first of 12 books that close the Old Testament commonly called the “Minor Prophets”. To the ancient Hebrew they were known collectively as “The Book of the Twelve.” The reason that they are called “Minor Prophets” is not because their content is inferior to the “Major Prophets” like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but merely because their books are not as long as the longer “Major Prophets”. The “Minor Prophets” were inspired by the same Holy Spirit as the “Major Prophets” and are equally Scripture. The message of Hosea is no minor one, but a major message with historical (the demise of Israel), theological (status of God’s Covenant with Israel) and practical significance (the dangers of spiritual adultery). So let us examine this text together with the prayer that the same Spirit who inspired this text would now illumine it for our edification.
The word of the LORD that came to Hosea the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. 2 When the LORD began to speak by Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry And children of harlotry, For the land has committed great harlotry By departing from the LORD.” 3 So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 4 Then the LORD said to him: “Call his name Jezreel, For in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, And bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 It shall come to pass in that day That I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” 6 And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him: “Call her name Lo-Ruhamah, For I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, But I will utterly take them away. 7 Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, Will save them by the LORD their God, And will not save them by bow, Nor by sword or battle, By horses or horsemen.” 8 Now when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. 9 Then God said: “Call his name Lo-Ammi, For you are not My people, And I will not be your God. 10 ” Yet the number of the children of Israel Shall be as the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass 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.’ 11 Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel Shall be gathered together, And appoint for themselves one head; And they shall come up out of the land, For great will be the day of Jezreel! 2:1 Say to your brethren, ‘My people,’ And to your sisters, ‘Mercy is shown.’ Hosea 1:1-2:1
In this text we see something of the man, the marriage and the message of Hosea.
I. The Man, v. 1.
We know much more about the marriage and message of Hosea than we do about the man himself. We do know that he was the son of Beeri (but we don’t know who he was, so that isn’t very helpful). We do, however, know the most important thing about Hosea which is that he was a prophet of Yahweh (signified by the opening words of the book).
We also know quite a bit about the time period in which Hosea prophesied. It is set historically during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in the southern kingdom of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam II (the son of Joash) in the northern kingdom of Israel (sometimes called Ephraim for the largest of the ten tribes which make up this kingdom). Because we know the dates of the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah, we know that Hosea prophesied in the mid to late 8th century B.C. (approximately 750-725 B.C.).
During Hosea’s life and ministry the kingdom of Israel had already been divided (under Solomon’s son Rehoboam) for nearly 200 years. During these two hundred years, two separate nations with two separate governments existed (thus the two lists of kings in verse 1).
Hosea was one of only two writing prophets who ministered to the northern kingdom of Israel (Amos was the other). During the same time period Isaiah and Micah prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah.
At the beginning of Hosea’s ministry, the northern kingdom was seemingly prosperous under the stable reign of Jeroboam II. But though things appeared to be calm on the surface, underneath the torrents of the kingdom’s destruction were swirling. The nation had forsaken Yahweh. Though they retained allegiance to Yahweh with their lips, their hearts were far from Him. They had began to mingle elements of the Canaanites’ fertility religion with Yahweh worship by engaging in sexual rites and drunken orgies which were thought to secure the giving of rain and the fertility of the land for their crops.
The nation continued to decline spiritually under Israel’s next six kings (which would be her final six). These final six kings reigned a total of 25 years with 4 of the 6 being assassinated by their usurpers. The final king, Hoshea, tried to secure an alliance with Egypt to gain protection against Assyria. When Assyria learned of Hoshea’s plot, an army was sent to destroy Israel’s capital city of Samaria in 722 B.C. The inhabitants were scattered, never to be returned.
During these days of political and religious upheaval there prophesied a man whose very name means “salvation”. His name was a glimmer of hope in the midst of a message of destruction.
II. The Marriage, vv. 2-3.
Hosea’s prophetic ministry begins with his marriage. In fact, the first thing that he is commanded to do as a prophet of God is to marry. Somehow Hosea’s marriage is to be an important part of his prophetic ministry. This would not be so striking, were it not for the character of the woman whom the LORD commands him to marry. She is to be a harlot! The prophet is to marry a prostitute! What others might continue a disqualification is in Hosea’s case actually his qualification for prophetic ministry. This is so because Hosea’s marriage is to symbolize Yahweh’s relationship with adulterous Israel. Hosea’s painful marriage will be a visible symbol to the nation of Israel of their adultery against their rightful husband, Yahweh.
Amazingly, verse three shows Hosea obeying the Word of the LORD. He marries Gomer. There is some debate about whether or not Gomer was already a prostitute when Hosea married her or if she only became one later. I personally believe she was already a prostitute when Hosea married her. This is the only sense that I can make of a plain reading of the text. All other explanations are only attempts to vindicate God’s command to marry a harlot. Even if God commanded Hosea to marry someone who He knew would later become adulterous, that does not solve the moral problem. I think it is best to take the text as we have it. It is also unclear whether Gomer was a prostitute in the way that we would normally think of one, or a cultic prostitute in the fertility religion of Baal. Though we don’t know for sure, the latter scenario would seemingly illustrate Yahweh’s quarrel with the nation of Israel who had turned to Baal worship for fertility purposes.
But the book of Hosea is not primarily about Hosea and his marriage, it is ultimately about God and His relationship to His covenant people, Israel. Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute because that is the kind of wife which Israel had become to Yahweh. By combining elements of Baal worship with the elements of Yahweh worship commanded in the Law, Israel was engaging in spiritual adultery – a religious syncretism which by combining true Yahweh worship with idolatry resulted in a perversion which God Himself viewed as spiritual adultery. Here, as we will see in the weeks ahead, there is tons of application to the contemporary American church!
III. The Message, 1:4-2:1.
A simple outline of the book of Hosea would show chapters 1-3 focused on Hosea the man and his marriage with chapters 4-14 containing Hosea’s message. But a preview of the message of chapters 4-14 is contained in the account in chapter 1 of the births of Hosea’s three children. There was no need to buy a baby name book because the LORD commanded Hosea to name his children symbolic names which communicated his displeasure and judgment on the nation of Israel. In these names and their promised reversal we see the two major themes of the prophetic ministry of Hosea as both judgment and hope.
First, in the naming of the children we see the pronouncement of God’s judgment:
The name of the first child was Jezreel which means “God sows or plants”. It is the name of a valley in northern Palestine and a town at the south end of the valley. King Jehu of Israel had killed numerous people in this valley in his ascent to power. In Hosea’s day, the name Jezreel was associated with the bloodshed that had occurred there in much the same way that Pearl Harbour and the World Trade Center are associated with the tragic loss of life which happened there. In commanding Hosea to name his firstborn Jezreel, God is promising to end Jehu’s line (which He does shortly with King Zechariah’s murder) and to end the northern kingdom of Israel (which He does in 722 B.C. with the defeat of Samaria by Assyria). In other words, this was a prophecy of judgment upon the nation of Israel.
The name of the second child was Lo-Ruhamah which literally means “no mercy”. This name serves as another prediction of judgment on the nation of Israel by Assyria. But, here God promises to spare the nation of Judah from the onslaught by Assyria (which He does miraculously as recorded in 2 Kings 19:32-37).
The final child is named Lo-Ammi which literally means “no people”. This is the most severe pronouncement of judgment on the nation of Israel. Here God revokes His statement in Exodus 6:7, “I will take you as My people, and I will be your God.” Now He essentially says, “You will not be my people and I will not be your God.”
But thankfully this denouncement is not God’s last word! In verses 10-11 and 2:1 we see that God also issues a comforting promise of restoration. Here the words of the curse upon Israel are reversed and words of hope are issued. The hope centers on a Person under whom both Judah and Israel will be united. Who is this person and what does this promise mean? This has been a question of no small speculation in the last 150 years. The Mormons see this prophecy as fulfilled in Joseph Smith. In recent years, many Christians have interpreted this text as being fulfilled in the future for the physical nation of Israel united under the kingship of Christ in a future millennium. The inspired authors of the New Testament, however, saw this text as being ultimately fulfilled in Christ in His Church. Note the following:
1 Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
Romans 9:24-26 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? 25 As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.” 26 “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.”
I think I prefer the hermeneutic of the apostle Peter and Paul to any others! Their interpretation is the only interpretation that has the seal of inspiration!
In this New Covenant community which Christ has purchased by His blood are both Jews and Gentiles who each do not deserve to receive God’s mercy or to be called God’s people are united together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is both a present and a future reality. In other words, we are now the people of God and we will one day live on a restored planet earth under the reign of Jesus Christ forever.
Even though Israel’s unfaithfulness has resulted in her rejection, God still has a people. This people are the New Covenant people of God made up of both Jews and Gentiles who have trusted in Jesus Christ.
In a very real sense I am Gomer and so are you! We are unfaithful people who deserve God’s wrath, not His mercy. But Jesus has become our Jezreel (place of judgment) in order that we might have God’s mercy and be called God’s people! Believe this good news and receive this mercy today!