At the time of the prophet Hosea’s ministry (the eighth century BC) the ancient Israelite nation was divided into two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south.
Hosea began his ministry late in the reigns of Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah, and continued it through the reigns of succeeding kings (Hosea 1:1).
Hosea’s work was concerned with the north more than the south. Israel’s religion had been corrupted through Baal worship, with the result that the nation was heading for judgment and would be taken captive to a foreign land. Because the covenant between Israel and Yahweh was likened to a marriage covenant, Israel’s association with other gods was really spiritual adultery (Hosea 4:17; 5:4; 6:10; 7:16; 8:5-6; see BAAL). Hosea saw a fitting illustration of this when his own wife Gomer left him for other lovers. She became a prostitute (Hosea 1:2; 2:2). Gomer’s pleasures did not last and she was sold as a slave. Hosea, who still loved his erring wife, had remained faithful to his marriage covenant, and when he found Gomer a slave, he bought her back (Hosea 3:1-3). Hosea’s covenant love for Gomer pictured Yahweh’s covenant love for his people. They too would go into captivity but, after being cleansed of their adulterous association with the Canaanite gods, would be brought back to live in their land again (Hosea 2:17-20; 3:4-5; 14:4-7).
During the reigns of Jeroboam II and Uzziah, Israel and Judah enjoyed political stability, economic prosperity and territorial expansion greater than at any time since the days of David and Solomon (2 Kings 14:23-27; 15:1-2; 2 Chron 26:1-15). This development, however, brought with it greed and corruption on a scale that neither Israel nor Judah had experienced previously. The two prophets who began to attack the social injustice and religious corruption of the age were Amos and Hosea. They came from different parts of the country, but both were concerned more with the northern kingdom than with the southern. The particular social evils that the prophets attacked were connected with the exploitation of the poor by those of the upper classes. The people who benefited from the prosperity of the age were not the farmers (who made up the majority of the population) but the officials and merchants. They could cheat and oppress the poor as they wished, knowing that because of the corruption of the courts, the poor had no way of defending themselves (Hosea 4:1-2; 6:8-9; 12:7-8). Again, the judgment announced upon the nation was that of conquest and captivity (Hosea 5:14; 9:6; 10:3-8,13-15; see also AMOS).
Outline of Hosea’s prophecy
Hosea recounts his unhappy family experiences and shows how those experiences reflect the state of affairs in Israel (1:1-2:1). Like Gomer, Israel has been unfaithful to her husband God (Yahweh) (2:2-23), but as Hosea redeemed Gomer from slavery, so God will redeem Israel from the coming captivity (3:1-5). The central section of the book is a collection of various short messages that Hosea preached over the years. The messages are not in chronological order, but all are connected with Israel’s moral corruption. Corrupt religion produces a corrupt nation, whether in its everyday life (4:1-5:7), its foreign policy (5:8- 14), its loyalty to God (5:15-6:6) or its concern for justice (6:7-7:7). The nation has rebelled against God by making alliances with foreign nations (7:8-16) and by giving itself to Baal worship (8:1-14). Israel’s punishment is therefore certain (9:1-17). The nation will reap what it has sown (10:1-15). The people have despised God’s love (11:1-11) and exploited each other (11:12-12:14), and thereby have guaranteed captivity for their nation (13:1-16). But when the people repent, God will forgive them and bring them back to their land (14:1-9).