As the Book of Hosea tells us in the opening verses, Hosea was called by God as a prophet during the time of Jeroboam II (whose last year of reign was ~753 BC) and Hezekiah (who reigned from about 729-687 BC, the first 14 years of which were as a co-regent with his father, Ahaz). Hosea was a prophet from the northern kingdom, prophesying to the people of the northern kingdom. It was a time of rampant and wanton idolatry that was beyond control, leading to Hezekiah’s reforms (2 Chronicles 29-32).
The message in this book is about the betrayal and grief that God feels because of the unfaithfulness to him (idolatry) by the people of Israel. Hosea lived the message, as the Lord commanded him to marry a temple prostitute. Verse 2 of chapter 1 summarizes God’s feeling on that very well: “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.'” And again in Hosea 3:1: “And the Lord said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.'” Raisin cakes were used in fertility rites during idol worship, The cakes were sometimes molded into the shape of a female goddess.
To make Israel’s betrayal of the Lord worse, their idolatry had become so much a part of the culture that they mixed their worship of the “god” Baal with their worship of God, referring to the Lord Himself as Baal, and crediting Baal with all of the things that God had done for them (see, for example, Hosea 2:16-20). Both Paul and Peter cite Hosea 2:23 to illustrate the inclusion of Gentiles in Christianity (Romans 9:25-26 and 1 Peter 2:9-10). Even their sacrifices to the lord had become so ceremonially polluted that they were offensive, rather than pleasing God. Hosea 6:6 sums up the Lord’s attitude toward their sacrifice: “for I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Hosea ministered during the latter half of the eighth century. This was a very volatile time in Israel’s history, and saw the rise of the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III, followed by several other kings that would bring Assyrian dominance. Israel had a succession of kings until Hoshea (732-722 BC), whose rebellion against the Assyrians led to the end of the northern kingdom (2 Kings 17). Hosea’s message centered on the worship of Baal which he obviously believed to be the reason for Israel’s doom. Baal was the weather god that idolaters believed to have control over agriculture, fertility, and rainfall. Israel being a largely agricultural society, they were always ripe for Baal worship.
Baal was worshiped at various shrines where he was called by names such as Baal-peor (Hosea 9:10) and Baal-gad (Joshua 11:17). Sometimes the scripture refers to “them” as “the Baals” (Judges 2:11, 3:7, and 8:33). Beyond the supposed fertility and weather aspects, such worship had a tremendous appeal to sexuality (hence the ritual prostitution), and also such things as drunkenness, incest, bestiality, and even human sacrifice. Sexual acts were believed to make Baal respond favorably to the subject.
The Book of Hosea helps us view idolatry from God’s perspective, so we can apply it to our lives. Today, our “gods” do not seem much like the gods and goddesses of those days. But Idolatry is the act or lifestyle that places someone or something in the central and prominent place in our lives that rightly belongs to God. Our betrayals hurt the Lord just as much. The prophet in this book, makes it clear that God will punish such idolatry, and illustrates Israel’s unfaithfulness in many different ways. Hosea portrays Israel as an adulterous wife, an ungrateful son, a stubborn heifer, and more. But the book shows us as well that even Israel’s unfaithfulness and stubbornness are no match for God’s capacity for redeeming love.
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog. All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility. When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.