I. Introduction (Hosea 1:1)
An editor titles the book as "the word of the Lord that came to Hosea" and gives some historical and biographical information regarding the prophet.
II. Marriage as a Metaphor for the Covenant (Hosea 1:2-3:5)
The first section of the book is organized around the theme of marriage as a metaphor for God's relationship with the people. According to this metaphor, God is like a faithful husband who is married to Israel, a faithless wife. This section of Hosea has been the source of much controversy and debate. This section announces judgment on Israel and then promises restoration following punishment.
A. Hosea's Marriage to Gomer and the Names of Their Children (Hosea 1:2-2:1)
Hosea marries Gomer, "a wife of whoredom," as an act symbolizing the covenant relationship between God and the people; God is the faithful husband and Israel the faithless wife. Hosea gives the children symbolic names--"Jezreel," which means "God sows," but was also the name of a place in which the kings of Israel had committed atrocities; "Lo-ruhamah" (or "Not Shown Mercy"), because God no longer will have mercy on the people; and "Lo-ammi" (or "Not My People"). The end of the chapter reverses the condemnation implied by the children's names into a proclamation of hope: "For great shall be the day of Jezreel. Say to your brother, Ammi ["My People"], and to your sister, Ruhamah ["Shown Mercy"]" (1:11b-2:1).
B. God the Husband's Speech to Israel the Wife (2:2-23)
This is a long and complex speech in which the prophet proclaims a message from God to the people. In the message, God first says, "She is not my wife, and I am not her husband" (2:2). God promises to punish the people for their unfaithfulness. The chapter closes with God promising restoration and reunion: "On that day…you will call me, 'My husband,'….And I will take you for my wife forever" (2:16, 19).
C. God's Command to Hosea to Love "an Adulteress" (3:1-5)
God commands Hosea "again" to love an adulteress, "just as the Lord loves the people of Israel." The chapter includes the hope-filled announcement that the Israelites will return to God. It is not clear whether the chapter is referring to the same incident as chapter 1, to a different incident that also involves Gomer, or to an incident with a different woman (see below).
III. Prophetic Messages of Hosea (4:1-14:9)
The second section of the book consists entirely of prophetic messages that Hosea delivered. These messages are generally grouped into sections chronologically; chapters 4-8 likely reflect the earlier period of Hosea's ministry, from the reign of Jeroboam II (died 746 B.C.E.) until the reign of Pekah (died 732 B.C.E.); chapters 9-12 reflect the time of peace following the Syro-Ephaimite war (735-732 B.C.E.); and chapters 13-14 reflect the last years of the northern kingdom, which was destroyed in 722 B.C.E. Chapters 4-11 present one subsection; chapters 12-14 a second subsection.
A. The Lord's Lawsuit against Israel (4:1-11:11)
1. Opening Summary of Hosea's Proclamation (4:1-3)
An editor has placed a brief prophetic message at the beginning of the collection of Hosea's messages, which serves as a summary of Hosea's proclamation: "The Lord has an indictment [lawsuit] against the inhabitants of the land."
2. Further Messages of Judgment (4:4-10:15)
This is a collection of prophetic messages of judgment sent by God through Hosea. The messages highlight the corrupt and incompetent leadership of the priests and prophets, especially those who worship other gods alongside the Lord and who try to silence Hosea's witness. Hosea also condemns the moral evil and political intrigues of the nation.
3. God the Loving Parent (11:1-11)
A tender, even heart-wrenching, message from God about the Lord's love for the child Israel: "When Israel was a child, I loved him….[I]t was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in my arms" (11:1, 3). God promises that on the other side of judgment, the relationship will continue: "How can I give you up, Ephraim?...I will not execute my fierce anger" (11:8-9).
B. The Lord's Lawsuit against Israel and Judah (11:12-14:19)
1. Messages of Judgment (11:12-13:16)
This is another collection of prophetic messages of judgment. The messages highlight the corrupt and wicked political leadership of Israel; they also include the announcement that God has a lawsuit with Judah. In addition to the condemnation of the nation's leaders, the wealthy are condemned as are those who worship gods other than the Lord.
2. Closing Summary of Hosea's Proclamation: A Call to Repent (14:1-3)
"Return…to the Lord your God," says the prophet; "say to him, 'Take away all guilt….Assyria shall not save us…we will say no more, "Our God," to the work of our hands'" (14:1-3). This call to repent has been placed here by an editor to serve as the closing summary of Hosea's proclamation.
3. God the Faithful Gardener (14:5-9)
A hopeful message has been placed last in the book; it promises that God will make Israel blossom, take root, grow, be fragrant, and flourish.
AUTHOR: Rolf Jacobson, Associate Professor of Old Testament