Hosea was the only writing prophet from the northern kingdom of Israel (Ephraim). He was not the only prophet who wrote to the north but the rest were from Judah. Hosea prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah and Jeroboam (II) of Ephraim. Jeroboam was the last king of the house of Jehu.
The reign of Jeroboam was a period of stability for the northern kingdom. His death lead to a period of instability and turmoil, ultimately ending with the fall of Ephraim to Assyria. After Jeroboam died there were six different kings during the next 25 years.
This is one of the darkest periods of the northern kingdom, characterised by anarchy and inefficient rule. The throne was occupied by kings who took power by murdering their predecessors. Because of the alliances with other nations more and more idolatry was introduced. The nation was thriving but theft, oppression, adultery, murder, intolerance, and idolatry were rampant.
It was against this background that we find Hosea coming on the scene. His message was an attempt to bring the northern kingdom back to God, pointing to God’s judgement on the nation as well as his future mercy if they would return to him.
In the first part of the book Hosea’s family was a symbol to show God’s love for his people. Hosea was told to take a wife who was a prostitute, illustrating the nation’s spiritual adultery. He married a woman named Gomer and they had three children. Each was given a name that was a message for the nation:
- Jezreel, the firstborn, telling the nation that the house of Jehu would be punished for the bloodshed of Jezreel;
- Lo-ruhamah (“no compassion”) – God would no longer have compassion on his people; and
- Lo-Ammi (“not my people”) – they would no longer be God’s people nor would he be their God.
The second part of the book details Israel’s involvement in idolatry, and in particular the false gods of Canaan. Hosea’s main message was to call Israel to repent and come back to God. If they did not they would face destruction.
We see in all of this Hosea’s distress over his people; this book is very much the expression of his broken heart. Although his main message was to the northern kingdom, he also warned Judah not to follow their ways.
The message of this book parallels that of the prodigal son, who left home for an immoral life, wasting what he had, but to be greeted with open arms by his father who loved him. God could not leave Israel’s condition unchecked; he still loved them and longed for them to return to him. You can hear this when we read:
“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused” (Hosea 11:8 NIV).
But if they would return to God, he would bless them once again.
“I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendour will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. People will dwell again in his shade; they will flourish like the corn, they will blossom like the vine – Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? I will answer him and care for him. I am like a flourishing juniper; your fruitfulness comes from me.” (Hosea 14:4-8)
Isn’t that the same message of hope that we have? God wants all to come to him, turn from their sinful ways and follow him. God loves us in the same way he loved the people of Israel. His appeal to us is the same: change and come back. He is compassionate and will forgive.
Readings for next week: Hosea 1-14