BIBLE SURVEY – HOSEA
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” Hosea 4:6
The Book of Hosea is about God’s steadfast love for His people in spite of their continued unfaithfulness, vividly depicted by Hosea’s marital experience. The Holiness of God, the depravity of man, the seriousness of sin, the inevitability of judgment and the amazing grace of God are strikingly portrayed throughout the Book of Hosea.
The Prodigal Wife
Hosea married Gomer only to discover that she was unfaithful. Although separation followed, Hosea’s love for Gomer, like God’s love for His own people, persisted, and reconciliation for the prodigal wife was eventually accomplished. Hosea’s life and ministry dramatically portrays God’s steadfast love for His Covenant people. In spite of Israel’s idolatry and immorality, the Lord seeks to restore His unfaithful bride. The story of Gomer, the wife of Hosea, can be summed up in three words, sin, punishment and restoration.
Who was Hosea?
Hosea is the first of the twelve minor prophets. Hosea, like his contemporary prophet Amos, prophesied to the Northern kingdom of Israel at the same time Isaiah and Micah were ministering to the Southern kingdom of Judah. When Hosea began his ministry (2 Kings 14:23-17:41), it was during the reign of King Jeroboam II (782-753), when material prosperity and spiritual bankruptcy characterised Israel. His ministry followed that of Amos in the North and he was contemporary with the prophets Isaiah and Micah who prophesied in Judah to the South. 2 Chronicles 26-32 record the historical background of Hosea’s ministry.
Idolatry and Harlotry
The Old Testament frequently uses prostitution as an image of the sin of idolatry. Idolatry is like marital unfaithfulness against the Lord. Harlotry (in Hebrew Zanah) refers to illicit sexual relationships. The Northern kingdom of Israel is also frequently called Ephraim after its largest tribe.
Historic Context of Hosea
In the 8th century, while Amos and Hosea were ministering in Israel, the great empires of Carthage and Rome were being established. The Olympic Games were beginning in Greece. In the East the Chinese and Indian civilisations were emerging. Israel was strategically placed at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe. God’s people had both privileges and responsibilities.
The Downward Slide
The history of Israel in 1 & 2 Kings reveals that the average length of the reigns of the Northern kings was 3 years. Many of these kings were assassinated and there were numerous coups. During the early years of Hosea’s ministry the Northern kings of Israel enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity. This was largely because Assyria, the superpower of the day, had been deeply affected by the prophet Jonah’s ministry to its capital Nineveh. Their repentance postponed the threat to Israel for over a generation. However, during this time of great prosperity and peace, greed and materialism fuelled bribery, corruption, scandals and injustice. Drunkenness and immorality rotted the society and the people of Israel became bored with the dry rituals being performed mechanically by the priests. There was a resurgence of interest in New Age cults and Eastern religions, so that God’s people, who were meant to be a royal priesthood and a holy nation, became just like everybody else. Immorality and idolatry flourished amongst the inter-faith worship and degenerate music.
God would have been justified in divorcing His apostate people out of hand. However, God hates divorce and He sent prophets to warn them and seek to win them back to Himself again. As Israel persisted in her rebellion, God sent natural disasters, crop failures, droughts, diseases, famines, plagues, storms, earthquakes and wildfires to wake Israel up to its self-destructive and suicidal path. Enemy tribes raided their livestock and life and property became insecure. The economy collapsed.
Yet none of this seemed to bring the people of Israel to their senses. Eventually God allowed them to be invaded. The Northern kingdom of Israel was subjugated and the people exiled from the land. Amos and Hosea were the last-chance prophets sent to warn Israel of the dreadful consequences of their disastrous disobedience. Hosea was God’s last prophet to the Northern Ten Tribes of Israel before their exile.
(To be continued tomorrow)