HOSEA, BOOK OF
A book of the Hebrew Scriptures written by “Hosea the son of Beeri.” (Ho 1:1) In it the writer’s domestic life is paralleled with God’s relationship to Israel. (Chaps 1-3) The book shows that mere formal religious ceremony does not find acceptance with Jehovah. (6:6) It also highlights God’s mercy and loving-kindness.—2:19; 11:1-4; 14:4.
Time and Place of Composition. Hosea began serving as a prophet at a time when Judean King Uzziah (829-778 B.C.E.) and King Jeroboam II of Israel (c. 844-804 B.C.E.) were contemporaries, and thus no later than 804 B.C.E., the apparent end of Jeroboam’s reign. (Ho 1:1) Hosea’s prophetic ministry continued into the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah, whose kingship began about 745 B.C.E. Hence, it spanned no less than 59 years, though it doubtless covered some time in the reigns of Jeroboam II and Hezekiah, thus being somewhat longer. Although Hosea recorded a prophecy concerning Samaria’s destruction (13:16), he did not report its fulfillment, which he probably would have done if the writing of the book had extended to 740 B.C.E., the date of Samaria’s fall. Therefore, the book of Hosea was evidently written in the district of Samaria and completed sometime between 745 and 740 B.C.E.
Setting. The book of Hosea is concerned primarily with the northern ten-tribe kingdom of Israel (also called Ephraim after its dominant tribe, the names being used interchangeably in the book). When Hosea began to prophesy during King Jeroboam’s reign, Israel enjoyed material prosperity. But the people had rejected knowledge of God. (Ho 4:6) Their wicked practices included acts of bloodshed, stealing, fornication, adultery, and the veneration of Baal and calf idols. (2:8, 13; 4:2, 13, 14; 10:5) After King Jeroboam died, prosperity ceased, and frightful conditions, marked by unrest and political assassination, came into existence. (2Ki 14:29–15:30) Faithful Hosea also prophesied amid these circumstances. Finally, in 740 B.C.E., Samaria fell to the Assyrians, bringing the ten-tribe kingdom to its end.—2Ki 17:6.
Hosea’s Wife and the Children. At Jehovah’s command, Hosea took to himself “a wife of fornication and children of fornication.” (Ho 1:2) This does not mean that the prophet married a prostitute or an immoral woman already having illegitimate children. It indicates that the woman would become adulterous and have such children after her marriage to the prophet. Hosea married Gomer, who “bore to him a son,” Jezreel. (1:3, 4) Gomer later gave birth to a daughter, Lo-ruhamah, and thereafter to a son named Lo-ammi, both evidently being fruits of her adultery, as no personal reference is made to the prophet in connection with their births. (1:6, 8, 9) Lo-ruhamah means “[She Was] Not Shown Mercy,” and the meaning of Lo-ammi is “Not My People,” these names indicating Jehovah’s disapproval of wayward Israel. On the other hand, the name of the firstborn child “Jezreel,” meaning “God Will Sow Seed,” is applied to the people favorably in a restoration prophecy.—2:21-23.
After the birth of these children, Gomer apparently abandoned Hosea for her paramours, but it is not said that the prophet divorced her. Evidently she was later forsaken by her lovers and fell into poverty and slavery, for Hosea 3:1-3 seems to indicate that the prophet purchased her as though she were a slave and took her back as a wife. His relationship with Gomer paralleled that of Jehovah with Israel, God being willing to take back his erring people after they repented of their spiritual adultery.—Ho 2:16, 19, 20; 3:1-5.
Some Bible scholars have viewed Hosea’s marriage as visionary, as a trance, or a dream, never carried into action. However, the prophet did not say or indicate that a vision, or a dream, was involved. Others have considered the marriage to be an allegory or a parable. But Hosea did not use symbolic or figurative terminology when discussing it. Viewing this as an account of the actual marriage of Hosea to Gomer and of Gomer’s literal restoration to the prophet gives force and significance to the application of these things historically and factually to Israel. It does not strain the plain Biblical account, and it harmonizes with Jehovah’s choosing of Israel, the nation’s subsequent spiritual adultery, and the people’s restoration to God upon their repentance.
Style. Hosea’s writing style is concise, even abrupt at times. There are rapid changes of thought. The book contains expressions of great feeling and power in the form of rebuke, warning, and exhortation, as well as tender pleas for repentance. And it contains excellent figures of speech.—Ho 4:16; 5:13, 14; 6:3, 4; 7:4-8, 11, 12; 8:7; 9:10; 10:1, 7, 11-13; 11:3, 4; 13:3, 7, 8, 15; 14:5-7.
Canonicity. The book of Hosea stands first in the order of the so-called minor prophets in common English Bibles, as well as in the ancient Hebrew and Septuagint texts. Jerome specified that one of the divisions of the Jews’ sacred books was The Book of the Twelve Prophets, which evidently included the book of Hosea to fill out the number 12. Melito of the second century C.E. left a catalog including these books, as did Origen and others.
Harmony With Other Bible Books. This book harmonizes with thoughts expressed elsewhere in the Bible. (For instance, compare Ho 6:1 with De 32:39; Ho 13:6 with De 8:11-14; 32:15, 18.) The book of Hosea refers to occurrences recorded in other parts of the Scriptures, such as incidents involving Jacob (Ho 12:2-4, 12; Ge 25:26; 32:24-29; 29:18-28; 31:38-41), Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (Ho 2:15; 11:1; 12:13), her unfaithfulness in connection with Baal of Peor (Ho 9:10; Nu 25), and the nation’s request for a human king (Ho 13:10, 11; 1Sa 8:4, 5, 19-22).
Use in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Twice Jesus Christ quoted from Hosea 6:6, using the words “I want mercy, and not sacrifice.” (Mt 9:13; 12:7) He referred to Hosea 10:8 when pronouncing judgment on Jerusalem (Lu 23:30), and this statement was used at Revelation 6:16. Paul and Peter both made use of Hosea 1:10 and 2:23. (Ro 9:25, 26; 1Pe 2:10) Paul quoted from Hosea 13:14 (LXX) when discussing the resurrection, in asking: “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?”—1Co 15:55; compare also Hosea 14:2 with Hebrews 13:15.
Fulfilled Prophecies. The prophetic words of Hosea 13:16 concerning Samaria’s fall were fulfilled. Hosea’s prophecy also showed that Israel would be deserted by her lovers among the nations. (Ho 8:7-10) Indeed, they were of no assistance when Samaria was destroyed and inhabitants of Israel became Assyrian captives in 740 B.C.E.—2Ki 17:3-6.
Hosea’s prophecy foretold that God would send a fire into the cities of Judah. (Ho 8:14) In the 14th year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Assyrian King Sennacherib “came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and proceeded to seize them.” (2Ki 18:13) However, Hosea also prophesied that Jehovah would save Judah. (Ho 1:7) This occurred when God frustrated Sennacherib’s planned attack on Jerusalem, Jehovah’s angel destroying 185,000 men of the Assyrian army in one night. (2Ki 19:34, 35) But a much more disastrous “fire” came when Jerusalem and the cities of Judah were destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 607 B.C.E.—2Ch 36:19; Jer 34:6, 7.
Nonetheless, in keeping with inspired restoration prophecies found in the book of Hosea, a remnant of the people of Judah and Israel were gathered together and emerged from the land of exile, Babylonia, in 537 B.C.E. (Ho 1:10, 11; 2:14-23; 3:5; 11:8-11; 13:14; 14:1-8; Ezr 3:1-3) Paul used Hosea 1:10 and 2:23 to emphasize God’s undeserved kindness as expressed toward “vessels of mercy,” and Peter also employed these texts. These apostolic applications show that the prophecies also pertain to God’s merciful gathering of a spiritual remnant.—Ro 9:22-26; 1Pe 2:10.
Messianic prophecy is also found in the book of Hosea. Matthew applied the words of Hosea 11:1 (“out of Egypt I called my son”) to the child Jesus, who was taken into Egypt but was later brought back to Israel.—Mt 2:14, 15.
[Box on page 1147]
HIGHLIGHTS OF HOSEA
Prophecies directed mainly to Israel (the northern kingdom, also called Ephraim) and emphasizing Jehovah’s extraordinary mercy
Written by Hosea after 745 B.C.E., shortly before Israel was taken into exile by Assyria
Jehovah’s dealings with Israel illustrated by Hosea’s domestic life (1:1–3:5)
Hosea is told to marry a woman who thereafter proves to be adulterous, this illustrating Israel’s unfaithfulness to Jehovah
By his wife Gomer, Hosea has a son named Jezreel. The next two children of Gomer, Lo-ruhamah (meaning “[She Was] Not Shown Mercy”) and Lo-ammi (meaning “Not My People”), are evidently the fruitage of her adultery; the meanings of the names point to Jehovah’s withdrawing mercy from Israel and his rejection of the unfaithful people
After experiencing divine judgment for faithlessly turning to Baal worship, Israel will be restored and again experience blessings, fulfilling the meaning of the name Jezreel (that is, “God Will Sow Seed”)
Hosea is directed to take back his adulterous wife; he does so but restricts her activities, prohibiting fornication—indicative of Israel’s situation until the time of returning to Jehovah
Prophetic judgments against Israel (and Judah) for unfaithfulness to Jehovah (4:1–13:16)
By engaging in fraud, murder, stealing, adultery, idolatry, and spiritual prostitution, the people show they have no knowledge of God; so they face an accounting
Israel’s idolatry, moral corruption, and foolishly seeking political alliances with opposing powers (Egypt and Assyria), instead of relying on Jehovah for security, will lead to devastation of the land with the survivors’ being taken away to Assyria
Appeal to return to Jehovah (14:1-9)
People are urged to petition Jehovah for pardon, to offer the bulls of their lips, and no longer to look to a military alliance and war horses for protection
Their return to Jehovah will result in healing, his loving them freely, and a flourishing condition under his blessing