3.1 The Date (of the prophet’s ministry and work)
Hosea dates his prophetic ministry and book in the eighth century by listing the contemporary regents of the southern and northern kingdoms. The book’s superscription says the word of the LORD came to Hosea “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” (Hos. 1:1).
Dillard and Longman note that a specific date for the prophecy is difficult because “disagreements exist about the end of the reign of Jeroboam II due to some confusion over how to handle the length of Pekah’s reign (i.e., how much of his reign was over the entirety of the northern kingdom and how much of it was a co-regency).” Since Hosea could not have ministered for all the years of each king listed (which would be close to 100 years), it is best to assume that Hosea’s work spanned from the later years of Jeroboam to the early years of Hezekiah’s reign. This would place Hosea conservatively during the time of approximately 760 to 715 B.C. for a ministry period of forty to fifty years.
3.2 Background History (historical setting of the prophet)
Hosea was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel during an era of shifting political loyalties and national moral decline that culminated in military defeat and exile at the hand of Assyria. The reign of the strong and influential king Jeroboam was characterized by expansion of Israel’s borders, economic prosperity, and regional political influence on adjacent lands. Such worldly security propelled the people (and the rulers to follow) to seek protection, stability, and respectability from the surrounding nations instead of from the God of Israel. Hosea saw the wealth and peace of the day turn to political uncertainty as “Jeroboam’s son Zechariah was assassinated in 753 B.C. Following Zechariah three more kings of Israel were also assassinated (Shallum, Pekahiah, and Pekah), and one became a political prisoner.”
Hosea also witnessed the rise of Assyrian domination over Syria and his own country that resulted from fickle political alliances made with rival nations Egypt and Assyria.
The post-Jeroboam II period also saw a renewed, powerful, and aggressive Assyria, first led by Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 B.C.), then by Shalmaneser V, who eventually began the conflict that led to the total defeat and annexation of the north to the Assyrian Empire in 722.
Although the difficulty in dating some prophetic literature in Scripture does not greatly hinder the interpretation of the message (e.g., Obadiah and Joel), it is noteworthy that the numerous prophetic oracles contained in Hosea are best understood in the historical context of the second half of the eighth century B.C.
3.3 Work and Person (character and ministry of the prophet)
All available biographical information on Hosea the man is found in his book. Hosea introduces himself with the formula used by many of the writing prophets as “the son of Beeri” (1:1), but he is unique in that his marriage plays an integral role to the message of his book.
God wanted to give to his people a graphic picture of his covenantal love for them despite their wayward and idolatrous practices, so he instructed Hosea to “go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD” (1:2), and to name their offspring for the purpose of symbolizing God’s unhappiness with the people. Thus the marriage of Hosea and his whore-wife Gomer typified the adulterous covenant marriage between the unfaithful Israelites and their jealous but faithful husband Yahweh. Hosea’s marriage did not end in divorce, but the rocky marriage was characterized by the sin of adultery, public humiliation, and ultimately forgiveness.
Wood writes of Hosea’s willingness and character in marrying Gomer: “nothing proves the devotion of man to God more than such obedience, and one may be sure that Hosea held a high place in God’s evaluation. He was truly a spiritually mature person.” Also, “in a day of abounding sin, Hosea not only was aware of it but spoke strongly against it. He made a parallel between the unfaithful way his wife Gomer had treated him and the way Israel had treated God.”
Hosea the prophet is significant in redemptive history because he served as the final covenant-treaty emissary from God to the northern nation of Israel. Prophets had warned of impending judgment and called for national repentance before him, but Hosea brought the message that the Lord’s patience would soon run out. In this respect his ministry is prophetically similar to John the Baptist, who preached an urgent message of repentance because “the ax is laid to the root of the trees” (Matt. 3:10) and “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2).
3.4 The Book (abbreviated outline and brief summary)
I. Hosea’s Troubled Marriage Reflects God’s Relationship With Israel (1:2-3:5)
A. Hosea, Gomer, and Their Children (1:2-2:1)
1. Prophetic Sign-act of Judgment (1:2-9)
2. The Relationship Restored (1:10-2:1)
B. The Lord’s Marriage to Israel (2:2-23)
1. The Relationship Broken (2:2-13)
2. The Relationship Restored (2:14-23)
C. Hosea’s Restored Marriage Relationship (3:1-5)
II. First Prophetic Cycle (4:1-11:11)
A. God Accuses Israel of Unfaithfulness (4:1-19)
B. God Punishes Israel (5:1-15)
C. Hosea’s Call to Repentance Ignored (6:1-7:16)
D. God Punishes Israel for Rejecting Him (8:1-10:15)
E. God’s Love for Israel Overwhelms His Anger (11:1-11)
III. Second Prophetic Cycle (11:12-14:8)
A. Israel Sins Against God (11:12-12:14)
B. God Is Angry With His People (13:1-16)
C. Israel Repents and Is Blessed (14:1-8)
Wisdom Colophon (14:9)
Wood summarizes Hosea’s prophecy into five main themes: (1) the antitype of Mosaic covenant unfaithfulness; (2) the corresponding type of Hosea’s adulterous marriage; (3) God’s love and patience with covenant-breaking Israel; (4) warning of severe punishment upon the people for breaking covenant; and (5) the glorious hope of Israel’s future restoration.
The warnings of judgment are backed by specific covenant curses derived from the Mosaic Law; conversely, the calls to repentance, obedience, and the contingent blessings to follow are also derived from the Mosaic Law in the Sinaitic covenant blessings. Dillard and Longman cite the example of Hosea 4:10-11a compared to Deuteronomy 28:17-18 and 32:24-28 to demonstrate this dependency of Hosea on the stipulations and sanctions of the covenant. Hosea is explicit about this message he intends to convey (6:7; 8:1).
The marriage of Hosea and Gomer provided an ample comparison between idolatrous Israel and their loving God because “there are only two relationships that are appropriately exclusive: marriage and covenant. Rivals could not be tolerated in either relationship. Thus Gomer’s sexual promiscuity paralleled the Israelites’ religious promiscuity.”
For Hosea (and the rest of the prophets), the theme of the Lord’s love and patience with Israel is related to the thematic promise of salvation and restoration. Because God had lovingly cared for his chosen people since they were children called out of Egypt (11:1-4), their present sinfulness cannot nullify their glorious destiny. God promised an ultimate restoration: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him” (14:4). But this restoration will not come before the purging of Israel’s severe sins. the Lord is true to his word—he will certainly punish the wickedness of his people, which Hosea likens
to a return to the wilderness. They will once again wander away from God (2:14). In historical retrospect the immediate fulfillment of his prophetic word came first when the northern tribes were defeated by Assyrian forces in 722 B.C. and then in 586 when Babylon completely subdued Judah, destroyed the temple, and placed most of the survivors in exile.
29. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 354.
30. Wood, Prophets of Israel, p. 276.
31. “Hosea,” in Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, p. 1401.
32. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 356.
34. Wood, Prophets of Israel, p. 280.
36. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 359.
37. Wood, Prophets of Israel, pp. 282-83.
38. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 360.
39. Ibid., p. 361.