The book of Hosea is the first of the 12 minor prophets and was likely written during the 8th century B.C. just before the Assyrian invades. His work and prophecies focused almost entirely on the northern kingdom of Israel during its final years of existence. His ministry lasted some 34 years and it is noteworthy that Hosea is the only prophet to live and preach solely to the Northern Kingdom.
Part of what makes the book so challenging is seen in his calling. God called him to reveal the widespread apostasy and corruption of the nation. He preached the need for repentance and returning to God, the one who had sustained them. A key part of Hosea’s message is found in the fact that he is called to live out the reality of Gods pain by marrying an immoral woman named Gomer. This reality would be personally heartbreaking for the prophet and would be the source of much criticism by His fellow Israelites.
Three children were born to Hosea and Gomer. Each child was named by God and stood as a testimony to God’s and Israel’s relationship. The first child was named “Jezreel” meaning “God will sow” with the meaning that God will sow punishment to the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel. The second child was a daughter who was named “No Mercy” (Lo-ruhama) meaning that God will not show mercy to Israel anymore or forgive their sins. The third child was named “Not My People” (Lo-Ammi) meaning that God has had enough and will no longer be their God. For all intensive purposes, Hosea is a divorce case, filled by God, against Israel (Hos. 4:1ff.). He is going to give them what they deserve (Hos. 8:7), he will no longer have mercy on them, and now that the covenant is broken; he is not their God and they are not his people. Their relationship with God is broken beyond repair.
Aren’t you glad the story doesn’t stop there? God continues to say that despite what they deserve, He will allure her, bring her out into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her (Hos. 2:14). The rest of the book details how God will act on behalf of Israel to restore the relationship they have broken, just as Hosea is instructed to go and find his wayward wife Gomer and redeem her (Hos. 3:1).
Hosea continually preached a God who loved, was patient and kind, and valued relationships over ritual obedience. A God who remained faithful to his promises even when they were not loyal to Him. Two words are foundational to understanding Hosea. The words “loving kindness” and “knowledge” as found in Hosea 6:6. Each word adds depth to Hosea’s message and to our understanding of our God.
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6, ESV)
The entire point of this passage and the book is that God wanted something more than just obedience. He wanted their hearts! He wanted faithfulness to the relationship! He wanted a relationship that was more emotional and heartfelt; a relationship that was meaningful to both parties.
The book of Hosea is challenging, heartbreaking, and at times quite frightening. Yet, despite its ominous tone, the book continually challenges us to return to our God. The one who loves and blesses us despite our repeated failures. Throughout the book, God reminds us that he wants something more than obedience.