Hosea is the first book in the series of twelve brief prophetic books known to Christians as the “Minor Prophets” ever since that designation was coined for them by St. Augustine (354–430 a.d.). In the Hebrew Bible these are simply called “The Twelve,” because, when scrolls were the common medium for writing, all twelve could be written on a single scroll. The prophet Hosea worked in the northern kingdom (Israel) during the final decades before it was conquered by Assyria in 722 b.c. and its entire leadership deported to Assyria. As a prophet he had two key concerns: the idolatry he witnessed among his people and their obliviousness toward God. The northern kingdom had experienced great economic success earlier in the eighth century b.c. (as the prophet Amos witnesses), and many of the leaders and people forgot God in their zealous pursuit of material wealth and profit.
Uniquely among the prophets whose oracles have been recorded, Hosea uses the painful experience of his own disastrous marriage to characterize what was happening to his fellow citizens. God, he says, is a spurned husband, rejected by an unfaithful spouse who has been more interested in other loves. Just as his own wife, Gomer, was unfaithful to him, so Hosea says, the people have been to God. Judgment will come, he declares, and it will take the form of the ever more closely encroaching Assyrian war-machine that was busy gobbling up neighboring city-states to the north and east. Hosea does offer words of hope: even though the people have rejected God and their loyalty has shifted elsewhere, God's love will prevail in the end. God will receive their repentance, forgive them, and win them back as a husband does a straying spouse. The second part of the book (chapters 4–14) gathers together many of Hosea's prophecies in which he describes the sins of the kings, priests, prophets, and people, but not without asserting the hope he sees in the gracious mercy of God. In 14.4, for instance, the voice of God says: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away.” The God of the Exodus (11.1) will rescue and win back this straying people. God's love, Hosea insists, is too strong to ever give them up (11.8,9).
Hosea Compares His Adulterous Spouse to Unfaithful Israel (1.1—3.5)
Hosea's Prophetic Messages to Israel, Judah, and Their Leaders (4.1—14.9)
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