Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations. - Hosea 9:16–17 (ESV)

The book of the prophet Hosea may be described as a hope-laced condemnation of Israel. While by and large the message of Yahweh through the prophet Hosea is negative, as seen above, there nevertheless remains the promise of Yahweh ultimately to restore his people and to cause them to flourish.

The Big Idea of Hosea

The Big Idea of Hosea may be stated this way: Yahweh will judge Israel for unfaithfulness. Hosea opens by informing the reader that he was a prophet whose ministry spanned the reigns of four kings of Judah (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah) and one king of Israel (Jeroboam). Readers of Kings and Chronicles will recognize that this is not a happy time for Israel in terms of their obedience to Yahweh and the Law of Moses. By the time of Hosea, Yahweh was prepared to cut off Israel completely in accordance with the blessings and curses outlined in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.

An Outline of Hosea

Chapters 1-3 open with Yahweh telling Hosea to marry a prostitute and to father children by her. Three children are born, all with names representing Yahweh’s disapproval of Israel and Judah. Yahweh promises to destroy Israel altogether but to spare Judah. In chapter 2, Yahweh gives Hosea an oracle that addresses the people as a wife who has abandoned her husband for other lovers, not realizing the good gifts that her husband had given her. Despite her unfaithfulness, Yahweh will bring her back and treat her in the opposite way that she deserves. In chapter 3, Yahweh tells Hosea to purchase a woman back from a life of prostitution and adultery, symbolizing Israel’s eventual return and faithfulness ot Yahweh.

Chapters 4-6 open with an oracle against the northern kingdom of Israel for her many sins which fill the land. Yahweh adjures Judah not to do the same but to remain faithful. In chapter five, Yahweh makes the point that he sees what they do and both kingdoms will be punished. They will not be helped by going to other kings. Yahweh will remove his presence and wait for the people to seek him again in their distress. In chapter six, the people are quoted as wanting to return to Yahweh, but Yahweh openly doubts their faithfulness and consistency.

Chapters 7-9 are a sort of lament on Israel’s lack of repentance. No matter how difficult their circumstances become, Israel only sinks deeper into rebellion. God continues to bring the covenant curses outlined in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, but to no avail. As a result, they are doomed to be scattered among the nations.

In chapter ten, Yahweh laments how Israel is so productive and yet so unfaithful. Their idolatry will carry them to destruction and the golden calf which is the object of their worship will be carried off by foreign kinds. Israel is doomed.

Chapter eleven mourns the unfaithfulness of Israel despite Yahweh saving the nation from slavery in Egypt. But Yahweh is still inclined to mercy and compassion toward them, and he will draw his people back. And although Israel has chosen the way of unfaithfulness, Judah at least still remains faithful to Yahweh.

Yahweh indicts Judah and Israel in chapter twelve, rehearsing God’s saving purposes with their forefather Jacob and through the deliverance from Egypt. Yahweh has done so much for them, and yet they repay his kindness with provocation. In chapter thirteen, Yahweh describes the depravity of the people’s evil and how Yahweh will pounce on them like a leopard as a result.

Hosea closes with an impassioned plea to Israel to return to Yahweh their God. He describes the steps for Israel’s repentance and promises to make them flourish again. The final words are a proverb calling the wise and discerning to understand and know what Yahweh has revealed through Hosea. It is all based on the fact that “the ways of Yahweh are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them” (Hosea 14:9).

Benefits of Hosea

One of the striking things about Hosea is the way that hope is woven into the oracles of judgment. The descriptions of Israel’s sin are so damning that it seems impossible that any hope might remain. Yet it does. If ever there was a clear demonstration of the fact that salvation of people depends not on their faithfulness but on God’s sovereign prerogative, this is it. There is no reason to think that Israel would ever turn. They are doggedly determined in their sin. Yet Yahweh is going to work to save them and will cause them to flourish again (Hosea 14:4-7).

If God’s sovereign work in salvation is clear in Hosea, so is mankind’s wickedness. Hosea provides its readers with a mirror that shows the state of our hearts: apart from God working to save us, we will pursue sin all the way to the grave. Sin makes no sense. Rebellion against God is insanity. Yet we do it anyway. Our minds are darkened in their understanding and our hearts are cold toward holiness. Reading the indictments against Israel, it is not a big stretch to read them as indictments against myself. In other words, as Yahweh confronts Israel with her sinfulness, I find myself confronted with my own.

As we consider the book of Hosea, gratitude for the way God has worked salvation through Christ may rightfully well up within those of us who know him. I think of Jesus’s words in John 15 that he is the vine and we are the branches and that apart from him we can do nothing. How true! Apart from him, outside of Christ, we will not live for God. Indeed, we will not desire to live for God. We will pursue our sin straight to Hell itself apart from God working in us to draw us to the very thing which our hearts, in their native wickedness, despise. What a transformation it is when hearts are turned from sin to follow the living God through the crucified Christ!

On Hosea and Living for God Through Christ