1. Author and Time of Writing
Hosea (his name meaning “to save, salvation”) is the first of the so-called Minor Prophets. These twelve prophets are comprised in one single book in the Hebrew Bible and are called “the Twelve”.
Except for the name of his father Beeri (Hos. 1:1) we do not know anything about the background of this prophet. The reigns of the kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah, and of Jeroboam II of Israel lasted from around 793 to 697 BC, which are around 100 years (chap. 1:1). The researchers' speculations on Hosea’s time of service therefore vary between 25 and 70 years! Hosea worked in the northern 10 tribes kingdom but his messages also partially concerned the southern kingdom of Judah. As we have to think that Hosea’s service came to an end with the extermination of the northern kingdom in 722/721 BC (which he himself predicted) it probably lasted 30 to 50 years. Hosea therefore must have been a contemporary of Isaiah, Micah and Amos.
At Jehovah’s bidding Hosea married Gomer the daughter of Diblaim a prostitute. Gomer conceived two sons by the name of Jezreel and Lo-ammi and a daughter by the name of Lo - ruhamah (see section on peculiarities). We are not told anything else on Hosea’s life and death.
2. Purpose of Writing
The time of Hosea’s service is described in 2 Kings 14:23 – 20:21. Under Jeroboam II there was an (external) improvement in the kingdom of Israel but apostasy and idolatry irresistibly led the people to judgment. In addition to that the kings of Assyria continuously attacked Israel.
Through his bitter experiences with his unfaithful wife Gomer Hosea had (by the will of Jehovah) to symbolically pass through what the people of Israel did to God with their idolatry (Hos. 1 – 3). Israel’s apostasy was spiritual prostitution (whoredom). The names of Hosea’s children express the judgment over Jezreel, the city of king Jehu, and the rejection of the people: Lo - ruhamah (= not having obtained mercy) and Lo-ammi (= not my people). And yet the closing passages of chapters 1, 2 and 3 announce Jehovah’s mercy for the divided people of God.
Hosea’s message can be summarized by the words: Jehovah loves his people in spite of apostasy.
The second part of the book contains longish lamentations of Hosea. By them Hosea expresses his deep woe over Israel’s condition. At the same time he shows the future ways of God with His people. Chapter 14 closes with an appeal to true repentance. This however will only be fulfilled in the time of the end.
a) Hosea’s Marriage with a Prostitute
Most expositors of the past and of modern times have difficulties with the thought that a holy God should have given the order to one of his servants to marry a woman living in sin. Many Jews therefore consider this report not as an actual fact but as a symbolical representation. Many a modern researcher has subscribed to this opinion, too. Others want to see a revelation of Jehovah to Hosea in which Israel’s attitude towards his God is expressed in a parable only.
But it is not necessary to interpret the text in such a manner. Another possibility would be that the word “prostitute” or “wife of whoredom” (chap. 1:2) indicates anticipating what Gomer would do after her marriage. On the other hand the phraseology may also be understood to mean that Gomer had led an immoral life before getting married and this would be quite understandable considering the decline of the people. There is another example in the Old Testament of an Israelite’s relationship with a prostitute: Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab the prostitute (Matt. 1:5).
b) References of Hosea in the New Testament
The Lord Jesus refers to Hosea three times in the Gospels:
The apostle Paul refers to Hosea twice:
The apostle Peter mentions Hosea once:
Besides the evangelist Matthew in his book (chapter 2:15) relates Hosea 11:1 to Christ.
4. Overview of Contents
I. Hosea 1 – 3: Rejection and Future Establishing of Israel, the Unfaithful Wife
II. Hosea 4 – 14: Messages of Judgment and Mercy