Apart from what we can glean from the book itself, we do not know a lot about the prophet Hosea. He was a prophet from the north, and the hard date we can gather from Hosea 1:4 means that his ministry was around 743 B.C. The theme of the book is Israel’s unfaithfulness to YHWH as typified by Gomer’s infidelity to Hosea. The problem, simply stated, was that Israel did not know their God (Hos. 4:1, 6, 14; 8:2-3). We have, in turn, vivid descriptions of infidelity, consequences, and restoration.
“Come, and let us return unto the LORD: For he hath torn, and he will heal us; He hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: In the third day he will raise us up, And we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: His going forth is prepared as the morning; And he shall come unto us as the rain, As the latter and former rain unto the earth” (Hosea 6:1–3).
Summary of the Text
The sin that is expressly dealt with elsewhere in Hosea is assumed here. In order to return to the Lord, you have to have departed from Him (v. 1). And when we depart from the Lord, He chastises. Here it is expressed as a tearing or smiting. Where He has torn, He will heal. Where He has smitten, He will bind up (v. 1). There is then a glimpse of the coming resurrection. Christ was raised on the third day, and so also will we be raised on the third day (v. 2). Having been raised, we will live in His sight. In that condition of having been raised to life again, we will follow on to know the Lord. The blessing will be like morning, and like lifegiving rain to the earth (v. 3).
A Key Note of Scripture
“For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6). When Jesus was ministering to IRS men and courtesans, He was challenged on the point by the fussers (Matt. 9:11). When you consider how biblical His adversaries wanted to be, His response had a really sharp edge. “But go and learn what this means” (Matt. 9:13). Wanting to be teachers of the law, the Lord’s adversaries had missed the foundational rudiments—the deep footings for God’s building are made entirely out of mercy. He says something similar a few chapters later when the Pharisees were being persnickety about the disciples picking grain on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:7). There He says something like if you only knew what you were talking about . . .
The problem with hardliners is not that they see the hard edge of God’s judgment on sin. There are plenty of passages in Hosea that could be culled to create a portrait of an unsympathetic God. But this would be to miss the whole point of the whole thing. “I desired mercy . . .” Hardliners separate truth from mercy, which becomes untrue.
Sentimental saps separate mercy from truth, which becomes hard and unkind.
“By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: And by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil” (Prov. 16:6).
New Testament Commentary
We see in a number of places how the New Testament writers are drawn to this book.
The judgment pronounced on the rulers of Samaria (Hos. 10:7) is taken up by the Lord and applied as a lament for the residents of Jerusalem (Luke 23:30). Hosea then describes the Exodus in a way that shows us that Christ is the true Israel (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15), the final Israel, the complete Israel.
Near the conclusion of the book, Hosea gives us a great promise of redemption and his language is picked up by the apostle Paul in his great chapter on the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:55). “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes” (Hos. 13:14).
If you put these three passages together, you can see the trajectory of all of redemptive history. The apostate nation of the northern kingdom of Israel was a stand-in for all the infidelity throughout the time of the old covenant, culminating in the destruction of Old Israel. We see that God does in fact judge sin, and that He plays hard ball. At the same time, we see that God does not level Old Israel without creating, in a glorious way, a New Israel. That New Israel is the Lord Jesus Himself. He comes up out of Egypt as a baby, He is baptized, He is in the wilderness for forty days, He invades the land of Canaan. And, at the end of the process, just like Israel, He dies. But, unlike Israel, He comes to life again. And this is the last of these three prophecies. Death, where is your victory? Grave, what destruction can you have?
Not My Kid
Hosea had a son, a daughter, and then another son. They were given names that indicated the deep trouble Israel was in. Jezreel meant God will scatter. Lo-Ruhamah meant no compassion, and Lo-Ammi meant not my people. But however deep the trouble Israel was in, God’s mercy ran deeper still. Paul quotes Hosea 2:23 to show God’s kindness to the Gentiles, and then quotes Hosea 1:10 to show His kindness to the Jews.
“What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As he saith also in [Hosea], I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved” (Rom. 9:22–25).
There are in fact vessels of wrath. There are in fact vessels of mercy. But go and learn what this means . . .