Hosea lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the period 780–725 BC.
The word of the Lord comes to Hosea in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Judah) and Jeroboam (Israel). God commands Hosea to marry a prostitute to illustrate that the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord. Hosea dutifully marries Gomer. Hosea is commanded to call his son Jezreel – referring to the valley where Jehu murdered all the descendants of Ahab. God says he will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu. Hosea also has a daughter, called Lo-Ruhamah (no mercy). There will be no mercy for Israel, and mercy on the house of Judah. A second son is called Lo-Ammi (not my people). Judah and Israel will finally be reunified, however.
Israel is an adulterous wife, and her children the children of harlotry. The Lord will hedge up her way with thorns, taking away His grain, wine, wool and linen. Her feast days will cease, and her vines and fig trees be destroyed. Restoration is promised, however: the valley of Achor (the valley of ‘trouble’, where Achan’s sin was discovered and judged in Joshau 7:26) will become the door of hope. The Lord will be referred to as husband, not as master. The animals will be submissive to men. The people of God will be restored, and the land will be fruitful.
Hosea is commanded to go back and love Gomer. Hosea buys Gomer with fifteen shekels. The children of Israel will be deprived of their cultic practices, but then return to seek the Lord and David.
The land will mourn, and all who dwell there shall waste away. The priests are corrupt and ineffective. The Lord condemns idolatry and harlotry, sometimes conjoined in ritual harlotry. Do not come up to Gilgal, nor go up to Beth Aven (centres of harlotry in Israel). Israel is like a stubborn calf, which will be left to forage in open country.
Ephraim is defiled. Judah is little better. Ephraim shall be desolate on the day of rebuke. The princes of Judah are like those that remove a landmark (ie, change property boundaries to their advantage). The Lord will be to Ephraim like a moth, and to Judah like rottenness. King Jareb of Assyria will not be able to save Ephraim. (Jareb occurs nowhere else in scripture – it means ‘warrior’, and is probably a generic name.) The Lord will be like a lion to Judah and Ephraim, tearing them away until they seek the Lord’s face in their affliction.
Let us return to the Lord. He has stricken, but he will bind us up. He will come to us like rain. Ephraim’s faithlessness is like a morning cloud, or the dew that disappears. The Lord wants his people to know Him rather than merely sacrifice to Him. The priests of Shechem are like a band of robbers that lie in wait for a man. Lewdness and harlotry is committed in Ephraim.
Israel thinks the Lord has forgotten their wickedness. Israel’s heart is inflamed after idols, like a baker’s oven. Israel has mixed itself with other peoples. Israel is like a silly dove, calling to Egypt and flying to Assyria. Woe to them, for they have fled from me!
The Lord’s anger is aroused because of idols, such as Samaria’s calf. They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind. Israel like a wild donkey that has wandered to Assyria. Israel considers God’s law a strange thing. Because Israel has forgotten its maker, fire shall be sent against its cities.
Israel has played the harlot against God. Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and eat unclean things in Assyria. Sacrifices will become like the bread of mourning, defiling all who eat it. Egypt shall punish Israel, as corrupt now as in the days of Gibeah (see Judges 19). God will send barrenness and bereavement to Israel. The root of Ephraim is dried up; they shall be wanderers among the nations.
Israel has emptied its vine, and has an empty throne. Israel’s high places will be destroyed, and thorn and thistle grow on their altars. The altars shall say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us!’ Like unruly farm animals, God will control and guide Israel and Judah, even if they kick against Him. Sow righteousness, and reap mercy. Sustained agricultural metaphors – you have eaten the fruit of lies.
Ephraim is represented as an ungrateful child, responding to God’s loving care with ingratitude. Assyria shall be Ephraim’s king. However, God takes no pleasure in chastening. The roar of the Lord will recall Israel.
Ephraim feeds on the wind. Ancient Jacob is an example of Israel’s present deceit. Though Israel is confident in its wealth, God will bring them low. The idols at Gilead and Gilgal are vanity. A connection is made between the coming exile of Israel and the exile of Jacob when he fled from Esau to his uncle Laban in Syria. Prophets delivered and preserved Israel, and therefore Israel’s rejection of the prophets will incur the Lord’s wrath.
God never blessed Israel when they worshipped Baal, but that didn’t stop them. The shall be as the morning cloud and the early dew that passes away. Like a lion, the Lord will tear Israel apart. The Lord is Israel’s king – where is any other? The sorrows of a woman in childbirth shall come upon Ephraim. Dryness and barrenness is prophesied.
Israel should turn in repentance to the Lord, acknowledging that Assyria cannot save them. The Lord will heal their backsliding, and be as a dew to them, causing them to grow like a lily or a vine. The beauty of Israel shall be like an olive tree. Renewed Israel turns away from idols. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.