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Theme:  Yahweh’s love spurned but constant

Hosea is a message from the heart of God.  In it, Yahweh responds to Israel’s rejection (spurning) of His covenant love.  Perhaps more than any of the other Minor Prophets, Hosea gives us a glimpse of God’s heart for His people.  Hosea reminds us of the astounding truth that God deeply loves His wayward people and that their repeated unfaithfulness to Him breaks His heart.

I.        He who first loved loveth still:  God’s initiating, constant, covenant love

A.       He first loved

1.       Pictured in Yahweh’s command to Hosea to take a wife (Hos. 1:2)

Like Hosea, Yahweh had initiated the relationship (covenant) with Israel. 

2.       Pictured in the Exodus (11:1-4; 12:9; 13:4)

Everything in the Exodus from Egypt demonstrates that initiating love of God.  He raised up a human deliverer (Moses).  He stretched out His mighty hand upon the Egyptians.  He parted the Red Sea.  He brought them miraculously to Mt. Sinai.  Everything was of God.

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8)We love Him because He first loved us (I John 4:19).


B.       He loveth still

1.       Pictured in Yahweh’s command to Hosea to love his unfaithful wife (Hos. 3:1)

2.       Seen in Yahweh’s “wooing” of His unfaithful bride (Hos. 2:14)

3.       Revealed by His heart-grief over Israel’s sin and impending judgment (11:8)

Hosea 11:8 is a cry from the heart of God.  It is as if His heart is torn—between judgment, which sin has made a moral necessity, and His love, which longs for His peculiar treasure (Exod. 19:5).  This reveals a depth of emotion that we might find surprising in the Infinite One.[1]  Perhaps this should remind us that we were made in His image.  Our emotions are a mere reflection of His infinite ones, suggesting His infinite capacity for compassion, love, and grief.

II.      Spurned love:  Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness

Hosea pictures Yahweh as taking His people to court (Hos. 4:1).  The word “controversy” (rib, 4:1; KJV) is the language of a lawsuit—Yahweh has a legal complaint, a court case, to file against His people.  A look at the sins catalogued in Hosea reveals that Israel had broken almost every one of the Ten Commandments—the foundational stipulations of the Covenant.  But even worse than violating the Ten Words was Israel’s rejection of the God of the Covenant.  In this way, Hosea differs from Amos.  Both prophesied to the Northern Kingdom.  Both condemned its sins.  Both proclaimed its judgment.  Amos, however, pictured Israel’s transgression primarily as a lack of social injustice.  Hosea pictured Israel’s transgression primarily as unfaithfulness to their covenant agreement with Yahweh.[2]

A.       The covenant stipulations spurned (4:6; 6:7; 8:1, 12)

1.       Sins against their fellow man (4:2; 7:1-5; 10:13; 12:7)

In His opening complaint against Israel (4:1), God indicts Israel for a lack of “faithfulness” (“truth,” KJV) and “loyal kindness” (“mercy,” KJV).[3]  No one could be trusted.  There was no truthfulness.  No one was faithful to his words—promises meant nothing (cf. 10:4).  The kindness and graciousness expected in relationships (hesed!) between fellow kinsmen were entirely lacking.  The result was the catalog of sins listed in Hosea 4:2:  swearing,[4] lying, murder, stealing, and adultery.  In this one verse alone, God indicts Israel for breaking five of the Ten Commandments.

2.       Spirit of violence and revolt (6:8; 7:6-7; 8:4)

Hosea ministered during the closing years of the Northern Kingdom (753-25).  During these years, assassination, violence, and revolt permeated the land.  Six kings ruled in the last thirty years of Israel’s history (753-722).  Four of those last six kings were assassinated.[5]  Hosea surely refers to this rapid succession of rulers punctuated by “bloodbaths”[6] when he writes, “They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings are fallen” (7:7) and “They have set up kings, but not by me:  they have made princes, and I knew it not” (8:4).  The reference to Gilead being “polluted with blood” (6:8) may be a reference to II Kings 15:25, where Pekah employs 50 men of Gilead in his coup against Pekahiah.[7]  Violence also characterized the reign of Menahem (752-742).  Menahem not only slaughtered Shallum on his way to the throne, but he also ravaged the town of Tiphsah and savagely mutilated its pregnant women (II Ki. 15:16).

B.       The Lord of the covenant spurned (6:7; 8:14; 11:12;[8] 13:6)


Hosea reveals that breaking the covenant stipulations constitutes unfaithfulness to God Himself (6:7). 

1.       Israel had committed adultery against her “Husband” (1:2; 2:2, 5, 7; 4:15; 5:3-4; 9:1)

Hosea repeatedly pictures Israel’s unfaithfulness as adultery.  Of course, Hosea’s marriage was a living illustration of adultery.  Israel had committed adultery against Yahweh in that they had a “spirit of prostitution” that caused them to go a whoring after false gods (4:12; cf. 1:2).  The nature of this adultery is clearly presented in Hosea 4:13:  “They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms...”  Israel had gone after many lovers (2:5, 7), receiving and enjoying her “earnings” from harlotry (2:12; 9:1).[9]  One of these “lovers” included Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility and rain (2:8, 13, 17; 11:2; 13:1).  Israel practiced much of this spiritual “adultery” at Dan and Bethel, where Jeroboam I had set up golden calves for the people to worship (13:2).  Hosea reserves special condemnation for Bethel.  In a play on words, Hosea refers to Bethel (lit. “house of God”) as Beth-Aven (“house of wickedness”; 4:15; 5:8; 10:5).  What was a “house of God” for Jacob had become a “house of wickedness” for Israel.

The charge of adultery against the people of God is not confined to the Old Testament.  In the New Testament, James reminds his recipients that worldliness is a form of adultery (James 4:4).

2.       Israel had failed to “know” Him (4:1, 6; 5:4; 6:6)

In God’s opening charge against Israel, He indicts her for a lack of knowledge of God (4:1).  Knowledge here refers not so much to their theology (although that was surely faulty) as to their relationship with God.  In His covenant with Israel, God sought to secure the affections of His people, not just their obedience.  Hosea joins many other prophets in noting that one can offer gifts and sacrifices without having any true relationship with God (6:6; cf. 8:13).  God intended burnt offerings to be an expression of one’s relationship with Him, not a substitute for it.  God does not desire cold-hearted, mechanical obedience.  God desires a heart relationship; He is unsatisfied with anything else.

3.       Israel had sought God for self-serving motives (7:14)

Furthermore, Hosea notes that when Israel had sought God, they had not really sought Him (7:14; cf. 11:7).  They cry upon their bed, but it is not in true repentance.[10]  They assemble to fill their bellies, not their hearts.  Thus, God describes Israel as a “deceitful bow” that does not shoot where one aims (7:16).  Israel returns, but they do not return to the most High.  To seek God for self-serving motives is not to seek Him at all (cf. John 6:26-27).

4.       Israel had turned to other nations (5:13; 7:8-11; 8:9-10; 12:1)

Biblical and secular history documents Israel’s turning to Assyria for help.  Menahem sought peace by making an alliance with King Pul (Tiglath-pileser III) of Assyria (II Ki. 15:19; cf. Hos. 5:13).[11]  Hoshea, Israel’s last ruler, came to the throne with the help of Assyria,[12] claiming allegiance to Tiglath-pileser III.  Hoshea’s fickle political policy definitely resembled that of a silly dove (Hos. 7:11) that cannot make up his mind.  At least once, perhaps twice,[13] Hoshea rebelled against Assyria, looking to Egypt for help (II Ki. 17:4; Hos. 7:11!).  His patience exhausted, Shalmaneser V, king of Assyria, took care of the double-minded Hoshea for good (see Hos. 11:5).

Turning to the nations for help may seem like a small sin in our eyes, but in God’s eyes it is harlotry.  (The price for which Israel “hired” the nations is put in the same terms as the price demanded by a prostitute.[14])  God calls it what it is:  looking to Egypt (or Assyria) is rebellion against Me (7:13).  Ultimately, Ephraim[15] turned to Assyria to avoid turning to his God.  If God is the One who tears, then He is the One to whom we must turn to be healed (compare 5:13 and 6:1).

III.   His arms still open wide:  Pleas to repent (2:2; 5:15; 10:12; 12:1-6; 14:1-2)

A.       Hosea’s actions toward his unfaithful wife (Hos. 3:1-3)

Hosea’s continuing love for his adulterous wife and his effort to retrieve her pictured God’s desire for His people to return to Him.  Unfaithfulness in marital relationships creates deep wounds.  How difficult it is for a betrayed lover to receive back his unfaithful partner!  Yet God urges Israel to return to Him.  Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God’s arms were still open wide to receive His adulterous bride.

B.       God’s repeated admonitions to Israel to return to Him

Repeatedly, God urges His adulterous people to return.  Some appeals are more indirect than others[16] (e.g., 2:2; 5:15), but all are appeals.  These appeals suggest a two-fold dimension to repentance.

1.       Repentance includes turning from one’s sins (2:2; 10:12; 12:6)

In turning to God, Israel must put away her harlotry and adultery (2:2).  She must cease from her sins against her fellow man, practicing instead righteousness, kindness, and justice (10:12; 12:6).

2.       Repentance is a turning to God Himself in confession and trust (5:15; 10:12; 12:6; 14:1-2)

Turning from sin is not enough.  One must also turn to God and forsake other objects of trust.  Israel must sow in righteousness, but they must also seek the Lord (10:12).  They must acknowledge their guilt (5:15).  In some of the most beautiful language found in Hosea, God urges Israel to return to Him:  “Take with you words, and turn to the Lord:  say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously” (14:2).  Their return includes a renunciation of all other previous objects of trust (14:3). 

C.      Israel’s response to God’s tender pleas (7:10; 11:5; 13:9)

If unfaithfulness creates deep wounds in a marital relationship, the refusal of the unfaithful partner to accept the proffered forgiveness of the betrayed partner is a rubbing of salt into those wounds.  And this was Israel’s response to God’s “open arms.”  Israel did not return; they did not seek God (7:10).  In fact, they “refused to return” (11:5).  They were against the only One who could really help them (13:9).  They were like a stubborn heifer (4:16).  Thus, God declares, “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone” (4:17).  When one refuses to turn, then judgment must take it full course.

IV.    Whom the Lord loveth He correcteth[17]:  Impending Judgment

A.       Images used to picture judgment

1.       The names of Hosea’s three children (1:4, 6, 9)

2.       Gomer placed under a period of restriction (3:3-4)

After Hosea buys back his wayward wife, he puts her under a period of probation and restriction when she is barred from a physical relationship with any man.[18]  This period of restriction illustrates God’s coming judgment of Israel (Hosea 3:4).

3.       God uses a number of images to describe His judgment of Israel

a.       “Moth” (5:12), “which destroys clothing”[19] (see Job 13:28; Isa. 50:9; 51:8)

b.       “Rottenness” (5:12), “which progressively causes bones to decay”[20] (Prov. 12:4; 14:30)

c.        A “lion,” which tears to pieces (5:14; cf. 13:7-8)

d.       A bird-catcher, spreading a net for Israel (7:12)

e.        A farmer, who puts a plow yoke on a heifer (10:11)[21]

f.        A “leopard,” which lies in wait to destroy (13:7)

g.        A “bear,” which tears the chest in pieces (13:8)

These images of God at work in judgment suggest at least two truths:  the severity of the coming judgment and the source of that judgment.  The viciousness (severity) of the judgment suggested by these images was no hyperbole.  In Hosea 13:16, we find the children of Samaria being dashed in pieces and the pregnant women being ripped open.  Such severity was just recompense for Israel’s wicked deeds (4:9).  When one sows to the wind, one reaps the whirlwind (8:7).

Furthermore, God describes Himself in terms of these images.  Although Assyria would be the visible arm of God’s judgment (11:5), really God Himself was tearing Israel to pieces (5:14).[22]

B.       The nature of the coming judgment

1.       Physical judgment

Hosea’s first son, Jezreel, symbolizes the physical aspect of Israel’s judgment.  God would punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel (1:4; cf. II Ki. 10:11), a prophecy fulfilled by the assassination of Zechariah by Shallum in 753 B.C.  Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam II, was the fourth-generation descendant of Jehu (see II Ki. 10:30; 15:8-12).

The judgment upon the nation would encompass every aspect of the nation’s life.  God would remove all agricultural prosperity (2:3, 9; 8:7) and childbearing (9:11, 14).  Any children born, would be slaughtered (9:12, 16).  Ultimately, this judgment would mean the destruction of Israel’s land (5:7, 9), cities (8:14; 10:14; 11:6), rulers (7:16; 10:15), and religious shrines (8:6; 10:2, 5-6, 15), as well as “impregnable” Samaria (13:16).   Israel would be taken captive by Assyria and exiled in a foreign land (5:14; 8:13; 9:3, 6, 15, 17; 10:6; 11:5).  The two places designated as the places of exile are Assyria and Egypt (8:13; 9:3, 6; 10:6; 11:5).  The references to Israel’s going to Egypt (8:13; 9:3) are probably symbolic.[23]  Israel’s forthcoming exile in Assyria was, symbolically, a return to the captivity of Egypt (see 11:5).  It is a reversal of the Exodus.  The same God who delivered His people from Egypt will send them back to “Egypt” as punishment for their rejection of Him.

2.       Spiritual judgment

Hosea’s children Lo-Ruhamah (“no compassion”) and Lo-Ammi (“not my people”) picture the spiritual dimension of Israel’s impending judgment.  God would no longer forgive Israel (1:6).  Israel would no longer be His people (1:9).  Israel’s celebrations, Sabbaths, feasts, and sacrifices would cease (2:11; 3:4; 9:5).  When they did seek the Lord, they would not be able to find Him (5:6).  Even the exile had religious or spiritual ramifications for Israel.  In Assyria, they would be forced to eat unclean food (9:3).  And as any Israelite understood, to be defiled or unclean was to be unfit for fellowship with God.  Therefore, their drink offerings and sacrifices would be unacceptable to Yahweh (9:4).  Their sacrifices would be like the bread of mourners; any who eat of them will be defiled (9:4).[24]

V.      Loved with everlasting love: Future restoration and blessing

A.       God judges in order to restore

He punishes in order to “allure” (2:14).  He withdraws in hope that His people will acknowledge their guilt and seek His face (5:15).  And, according to one possible translation of Hosea 6:1,[25] “He has torn in order that He might heal us; He has smitten in order that He might bind us up” (emphasis mine).

B.       There is an inseparable link in Hosea between judgment and restoration

In Hosea, one cannot divorce judgment from restoration; they are inseparably intertwined.  Repeatedly, Hosea abruptly shifts from judgment to restoration, almost without a transition.  For example, in Hosea 2:14 Israel is being punished; in 2:15, God allures her and speaks kindly to her.  In 5:14, God tears Israel to pieces; in 6:1, we find God healing and bandaging bleeding Israel.  In 11:6, the sword flashes against Israel; in Hosea 11:8, God’s heart of compassion is kindled.  Finally (and perhaps the most striking), the most severe prophecy of judgment (13:16) melts into a plea for repentance and a vivid picture of restoration (14:1-6).[26]  The names of Hosea’s children also portray this inseparable connection between judgment and restoration.  Jezreel, who symbolized the destruction of the kingdom of Israel (1:4-5) becomes a symbol of the future unity, restoration, and prosperity of Israel (1:11; 2:22-23).[27]  Lo-Ruhamah (“not pitied”; 1:6) is renamed Ruhamah (“pitied” or “loved one”; 2:1).  Lo-Ammi (“not my people”; 1:9) becomes Ammi (“my people”; 2:1).  God’s anger is but a moment.  Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

C.      The restoration corresponds to the judgment, but ultimately surpasses it

1.       Physical restoration

God scattered His people in judgment.  In restoration, He regathers them to their land (1:10-11; 11:10-11).  Not only are they regathered to the land, but unity is restored between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel (1:11).  The barren land becomes the fruitful land (2:15, 21-23; 14:5-7).  The tearing Bear and the hard-handed Farmer becomes the Dew (14:5) and the green, luxuriant Cypress Tree (14:7) for His people.  The valley of Achor (lit. “valley of trouble”) will become a “door of hope” (2:15).  The people without a king for so long (and the kings they had were all idolaters) will again have a king—the Second David, the Messiah (3:5).

2.       Spiritual restoration

The greatest restoration of Israel will be its future spiritual restoration.  His love is not just emotional; it is effectual.  God promises that the day will come when Israel will seek Him (3:5; 5:15).  He will come and heal the backslidings of His people (14:4) and they will walk after Him (11:10).  God will revive (a reference to regeneration?) His people (6:2).  Treacherous, covenant-breaking Israel will now be the recipients of a new covenant (2:18-20).  God will betroth them to Himself forever (2:19).  He will become their Husband and no longer their Master (2:16).  The result will be what God had sought from His people throughout their history but had not consistently received:  an intimate knowledge of and personal relationship with Him (2:20; 6:3).  Where the former covenant failed to secure the affections of His people, the new covenant will succeed.

The covenant terminology used in Hosea reminds us of Jeremiah.  Some 100-150 years after Hosea, Jeremiah would also speak of a New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), a covenant that God would make with both Judah and Israel.  The descriptions of this covenant in Hosea, the spiritual ramifications, the regathering of Israel to the land, its reunion with Judah, and the reference to the Messiah (3:5) all indicate that the restoration Hosea describes is Israel’s future Millennial Restoration.

        Truly, where sin abounded grace did much more abound (Rom. 5:20).


[1] The verb “kindled” (11:8, KJV) is a verb of strong emotion—to yearn or long for (see Gen. 43:30; I Ki. 3:26).  The phrase “my repentings are kindled together” could be translated “all my compassions are aroused.”

[2] “Whereas Amos had stressed that the sin of Israel lay in failure to meet God’s demand for righteousness, Hosea proclaimed that the real iniquity of the nation commenced with the breaking of a covenant or agreement that by nature needed to be upheld by both parties.”  Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 3:212.  The verb that means to be unfaithful to an agreement occurs twice in Hosea (“dealt treacherously,” KJV; 5:7; 6:7); it does not occur in Amos.  The word “covenant” (berith) occurs five times in Hosea (2:20; 6:7; 8:1; 10:4; 12:2) and only once in Amos (1:9).

[3] Hosea 4:1 also mentions the lack of knowledge of God (see comments below).  One’s personal relationship with God corresponds to one’s ethical treatment of others.

[4] “Swearing” is used here in the sense of taking an oath or making a solemn agreement.  However, there was no faithfulness (emet, 4:1) to such agreements or oaths (10:4).  This would be a violation of the Third Commandment.

[5] Zechariah reigned six months (753) before being assassinated by Shallum.  After a one-month reign, Shallum was assassinated by Menahem.  Menahem’s son, Pekahiah, was assassinated by Pekah in 740 B.C.  And Pekah was assassinated by Hoshea in 732.  For details, see II Kings 15:10, 13-14, 25, 30.

[6] Shallum even apparently assassinated Zechariah in a public setting in front of the people (II Kings 15:10).

[7] Some scholars believe that Pekah ruled for a number of years in the Transjordan area of Gilead. See Leon Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, pp. 280-281, fn. 86.  This all would have taken place during the ministry of Hosea.

[8] See the NASB at 11:12:  “Judah is also unruly against God, even against the Holy One who is faithful.”

[9] Translated “reward” in the KJV (2:12; 9:1), the two words used (both related to the same root) have the idea of the hire of a prostitute.  As TWOT notes, etnah (“reward,” 2:12)  suggests the “price demanded by a prostitute for her services.”  See Deut. 23:19; and Ezek. 16:31, 34, 41 (translated “hire”).

[10] Their cry is “more like the blackmail of a child’s tantrum than a genuine heart-cry.”  Kidner, 74.

[11] In the words of Tiglath-pileser, “ ‘As for Menahem, I overwhelmed him like a snowstorm and he . . . fled like a bird, alone, and bowed to my feet’ ” (Quoted in Davis & Whitcomb, A History of Israel, 429).

[12] Tiglath-pileser III even claims to have put Hoshea on the throne himself.  Tiglath-pileser writes, “They overthrew their King Pekah and I placed Hoshea as king over them.  I received from them ten talents of gold, one thousand talents of silver as their tribute, and brought them to Assyra” (quoted in Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology & the Old Testament, 335).

[13] Hoerth (p. 335) says Hoshea rebelled in 727 B.C., after Tiglath-pileser III died.  Finding Tiglath’s successor, Shalmaneser V, to be more capable than expected, Hoshea submitted himself to Shalmaneser, only to rebel again a few years later.

[14] This is the verb form of the Hebrew root used in Hos. 2:12 and 9:1 (see fn. 18 above).  See Keil, 10:115.

[15] Unlike most of the other prophets, one of Hosea’s favorite terms for the Northern Kingdom is Ephraim (e.g., Hos. 4:17; 5:3, 5, 9, 11).  (For example, Ephraim occurs 14 times in the 66 chapters of Isaiah.  It occurs 37 times in chapters 4-14 of Hosea.  Ephraim does not occur at all in Amos.)  Hosea does not use this term in the first three chapters, only in chapters 4-14.  The reason for this may be that Hosea 1-3 date to the reign of Jeroboam II, when the Northern Kingdom was in its prime.  However, beginning in 733-32 B.C., after the Assyrian conquest of most of the Northern Kingdom, almost all that was left was the area known as Ephraim.  Thus, Hosea uses the term Ephraim to refer to Israel.  This may indicate that the last chapters of Hosea (chs. 4-14) date from about 733 B.C. until about 725—the final years of the Northern Kingdom.

[16] See Allan P. Brown, “The Theology of Hosea” (Ph. D. diss., Bob Jones University, 1980), 266-74.

[17] As R. K. Harrison notes, “The discipline to be imposed as a means of bringing this to pass was actually an indication of divine love and concern, since it would help to awaken in the Israelites an awareness of true spiritual values.”  ZPEB, 3:212.

[18] Was Hosea included in this restriction?  Keil (pp. 69-70) and Kidner (p. 42) say yes.  Wood disagrees (EBC, 181-82).  

[19] Chisholm, 1392.

[20] Chisholm, 1392.

[21] For a heifer, threshing was “a comparatively light task, made pleasant by the fact that the creature was unmuzzled and free to eat (Dt. 25:4) as it pulled the threshing-sledge over the gathered corn.” Kidner, 98.  Plowing was hard work, and God says that He would cause a plow yoke to pass over upon Israel’s fair neck (10:11).  Exile in Assyria was much more difficult than obedience to Yahweh.  My yoke is easy, Christ says, and my burden is light (Matt. 11:30).

[22] The Hebrew of 5:14b is especially emphatic:  “I…I…I shall tear in pieces and go away.”

[23] See Chisholm, 1397; and Wood, 202, 204.  Kidner disagrees, arguing that Egypt received refugees from Israel (p. 82).

[24] See Deut. 26:14.  Those in mourning were not allowed to eat anything holy or sacred.  Everything a mourner touched became unclean because of his or her previous contact with a dead body.  Israel’s sacrifices would be like mourner’s bread—defiling and making ceremonially unclean anyone who ate of them.  See Kidner, 85, fn. 3; and Chisholm, 1398.

[25] The verbs “heal” and “bind up” are simple waw imperfects in Hebrew.

[26] Scholars have noticed this repeated cycle of judgment followed by restoration and have suggested a five-fold division of Hosea based on these judgment-restoration cycles.  See David Wyrtzen, “The Theological Center of the Book of Hosea,” Bibliotheca Sacra 141 (1984), 315-29; A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, 407-408; and Chisholm, 1378.

[27] The word “sows” in Hos. 2:23 is a play on the word Jezreel.

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