HOSEA (hoh ssee' uh) Personal name meaning, “salvation.” Title of the first book in the section of the Hebrew Bible called the Book of the Twelve, named after its prophetic hero. The small prophetic books that make up this section frequently are designated Minor Prophets. This title is not an assessment of worth, but a description of size as compared to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. In Hebrew the name is the same as that of Joshua's original name (Numbers 13:16; Deuteronomy 32:44) and of the last king of Israel (2 Kings 17:1), who lived at the same time as the prophet. One of David's officers bore the name (1 Chronicles 27:20) as did a clan chief in the time of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:23). English translators have often chosen to spell the prophet's name Hosea to distinguish him from the others, whose names they spell, Hoshea.
The prophet's name “Hosea” appears in the Bible only at Hosea 1:1-2; Romans 9:25. Assyria's rise to power posed a constant threat to Israel's national existence. Hosea's name symbolized the pressing need for national deliverance. His message pointed the nation to the deliverer (Hosea 13:4).
The Book The two broad divisions of the Book of Hosea are: (1) Hosea's Marriage, Hosea 1-3; and (2) Hosea's Messages, Hosea 4-14. A pattern of judgment followed by hope recurs in each of the first three chapters. A similar pattern is discernible in the oracles of Hosea (Hosea 4-14), though the pattern is not balanced as neatly nor revealed as clearly. Certainly the book ends on a hopeful note (Hosea 14:1), but most of the oracles in Hosea 4-13 are judgmental in nature. The dominant theme of the book is love (covenant fidelity), God's unrelenting love for His wayward people and Israel's unreliable love for God.
The Prophet Hosea is identified in the title verse (Hosea 1:1) as a genuine prophet to whom “the word of the Lord” came. That phrase designates the source of his authority and describes his credentials. Not only are Hosea's oracles (Hosea 4-14) the word of the Lord to Israel, but so also are the materials dealing with his domestic problems (Hosea 1-3). Based on information gleaned from his book, Hosea was from the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His familiarity with place names, religious practices, and political conditions in Israel suggests that he was a native. In contrast, Amos, who ministered as a prophet in Israel shortly before Hosea's ministry there, was from Tekoa in Judah. Both prophets preached judgment, Amos with a lion's roar and Hosea with a broken heart.
Placement of Hosea's ministry in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah indicates that he was a contemporary of Isaiah. The title verse of Isaiah contains the same list of Judean kings. Jeroboam II is the only Israelite king named in the title to Hosea's book, in spite of the fact that internal evidence suggests that Hosea's ministry continued from the last days of Jeroboam II to near the end of the Northern Kingdom (approximately 750-725 B.C.).
Hosea's prophetic ministry included the period of Near Eastern history when Assyria emerged as a new world empire under the capable leadership of Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 B.C.). Hosea rebuked efforts at alliance with Assyria and Egypt as the means to national security. He witnessed the political chaos in Israel following the death of Jeroboam II. Four of the last six kings to sit on Israel's throne were assassinated. Hosea had the unenviable task of presiding over the death of his beloved nation, but he held out hope of national revival based on radical repentance (Hosea 14:1).
The Marriage Hosea's marriage and family life dominate Hosea 1-3 and surface from time to time in the remainder of the book. References to Hosea's family serve as prophetic symbolism of God and His family Israel. God ordered Hosea to take a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry “for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord” (Hosea 1:2). Primary interest is not in Hosea and his family, but in God and His family. How to interpret the prophet's marriage is not a settled issue. A few take the marriage to be an allegory. Some accept it as a literal marriage to a woman who became promiscuous after marriage. Most handle it as an actual marriage to a cult prostitute. Every interpreter must keep in mind the obvious intent of the material to serve as prophetic symbolism of God's relationship to Israel.
The Theology At the heart of Hosea's theology was the relationship between God and Israel. Yahweh alone was Israel's God. Israel was Yahweh's elect people. Hosea presented Yahweh as a faithful husband and Israel as an unfaithful wife. Hosea's stress is not upon righteousness and justice, as was the case with Amos, but the knowledge of God and loyal love. God's love for Israel would not permit Him to give up on them in spite of their lack of knowledge and infidelity. Hope for Israel's future lay in their repentance and God's forgiveness and love that made Him willing to restore their relationship.
I. God Loves His Unfaithful People (Hosea 1:1-3:5).
A. God's forgiveness has its limits (Hosea 1:1-9).
B. God promises a future reversal of His judgment upon His people (Hosea 1:10-2:1).
1. The promise is based on God's earlier word to Abraham (Hosea 1:10).
2. The promise will result in a united people (Hosea 2:1).
3. The promise is a prediction of restored relationships (Hosea 2:1).
C. God works with His people to bring about reconciliation (Hosea 2:2-15).
1. God's legal actions call for His people's reform (Hosea 2:2-5).
2. God places obstacles in the path of His people to turn them back to God (Hosea 2:6-8).
3. God removes the bounty of His people to remind them that God is the Giver (Hosea 2:9-13).
4. God lures His people into the wilderness to open a door of hope (Hosea 2:14-15).
D. God initiates a new covenant with His people (Hosea 2:16-23).
1. God will remove the pagan elements of their worship (Hosea 2:16-17).
2. God will restore His people to a right relationship with the animal kingdom (Hosea 2:18).
3. God will abolish war and grant peace and security to His people (Hosea 2:18).
4. God will establish a new and permanent relationship with His people based on His character (Hosea 2:19-20).
5. God will bless His restored covenant people (Hosea 2:21-23).
E. God's love is the basis of future hope for His people (Hosea 3:1-5).
1. God's love is strong enough to overcome the unfaithfulness of His people (Hosea 3:1).
2. God's love is deep enough to redeem His people (Hosea 3:2).
3. God's love is courageous enough to discipline His people (Hosea 3:3-4).
4. God's love will ultimately win the return of His people (Hosea 3:5).
II. Unfaithfulness Is the Basis of God's Controversy with His People (Hosea 4:1-9:9).
A. Unfaithful people break covenant commitments (Hosea 4:1-3).
B. Unfaithful ministers bring judgment on the people and on themselves (Hosea 4:4-12).
C. An alien spirit dominates unfaithful people (Hosea 4:12-19).
D. God chastises His unfaithful people (Hosea 5:1-15).
1. God disciplines unfaithful leaders (Hosea 5:1-2).
2. God disciplines because He knows His people fully (Hosea 5:3).
3. Pride prevents repentance and promotes stumbling (Hosea 5:4-5).
4. Extravagant giving is no substitute for lapses in living (Hosea 5:6-7).
5. God is the agent of punishment for His people (Hosea 5:8-14).
6. God seeks the return of His people through discipline (Hosea 5:15).
E. Surface repentance does not satisfy the sovereign God (Hosea 6:1-3).
F. Sharp judgment comes upon fleeting loyalty (Hosea 6:4-5).
G. Loyal love and personal knowledge of God meet His requirements (Hosea 6:6).
H. Covenant-breaking hinders restoration of God's people (Hosea 6:7-7:2).
I. Making leaders by power politics shuts God out of the process (Hosea 7:3-7).
J. Compromise leads to loss of strength and alienation from God (Hosea 7:8-10).
K. Diplomatic duplicity interferes with God's redemptive activity (Hosea 7:11-13).
L. Religious perversion ends in apostasy and bondage (Hosea 7:14-16).
M. God's unfaithful people reap more than they sow (Hosea 8:1-9:9).
1. The unfaithful disregard divine law (Hosea 8:1-2).
2. The unfaithful reject God's goodness (Hosea 8:3).
3. The unfaithful practice idolatory (Hosea 8:4-6).
4. The unfaithful will reap foreign domination (Hosea 8:7-10).
5. The unfaithful will reap religious and moral corruption (Hosea 8:11-13).
6. The unfaithful will reap national destruction (Hosea 8:13-14).
7. The unfaithful will reap exile in a foreign land (Hosea 9:1-4).
8. The unfaithful will reap punishment for their sins (Hosea 9:5-9).
III. God's Loyal Love Is the Only Basis for a Lasting Relationship with His People (Hosea 9:10-14:9).
A. Without God's love His people perish (Hosea 9:10-17).
B. Without reverence for God, His people have no future (Hosea 10:1-8).
1. Ornate altars cannot hide deceitful hearts (Hosea 10:1-2).
2. Bad leaders produce bad times (Hosea 10:3-8).
C. Without righteousness God's people cannot experience God's unfailing love (Hosea 10:9-15).
D. God's love for His people will not allow Him to give them up (Hosea 11:1-11).
E. Covenant-making with alien powers is infidelity to God (Hosea 11:12-12:1).
F. Judgment according to deeds is a universal principle (Hosea 12:2-6).
G. Deception is repaid by destruction (Hosea 12:7-14).
H. Rebellion against God leads to death (Hosea 13:1-16).
I. Repentance results in restoration and life for God's people (Hosea 14:1-9).
Billy K. Smith
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.