Hosea (active 750-722 B.C.) was a prophet of the kingdom of Israel. He called on Israel to repent its sins of apostasy and warned of the judgment to come from God. His writings form the first of the Old Testament books of the Minor Prophets.

Hosea was the son of Beeri and apparently belonged to the upper classes. Judging from his elegant style, he was highly cultured. Hosea married Gomer, daughter of Diblaim, who bore him two sons, the older of whom he called Yezreel, meaning "God sows." This name may have been intended to signify the replanting of Israel back on its own soil after it had been dispersed in exile. The second son was called Lo Ami, meaning "not my people, " to indicate God's rejection of Israel as His people because of its faithlessness. Hosea's daughter by Gomer was metaphorically named Lo-ruhamah, meaning "the unpitied one." Since Gomer after her marriage became an unfaithful "wife of harlotry, " it is possible that Lo-ruhamah and perhaps her brothers were illegitimate children. Scholars have speculated whether the prophet's tragic marital experience was real or merely an allegory to stress the infidelity of Israel.

The prophet recalled God's affection for Israel, from the days of its infancy, when He taught it how to walk and led it through the perils of the desert to the Promised Land. But Israel's goodness is as evanescent "as a morning cloud and the dew that early passeth away"; it must therefore suffer dire punishment and divine wrath. Because it "sows the wind, it shall reap the whirlwind." Hosea, however, does not leave his people without hope; he conceives the God of Israel in the loftiest terms as a God of Love. Israel will yet repent and return to its God.

Hosea's times were confused. Economically a great change had taken place in the reign of Jeroboam II (785-745 B.C.). The cities had grown in wealth and fostered a small class of rich landowners, merchants, and creditors. However, the vast majority of the urban population was made up of poor artisans, craftsmen, and laborers who were frequently exploited or even enslaved by the rich. In the country indigent farmers were often compelled to sell their holdings to the rich and migrate to the cities. The upper classes were favored by the rulers and judges; they readily adopted the ways of their neighbors and worshiped their heathen gods in place of the God of Israel, who "demanded mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." For this reason Hosea denounced idolatry as the "spirit of harlotry, " which leads to moral degeneration, sin, and corruption.

Politically, too, the times were turbulent. Tiglathpileser III threatened the Northern kingdom as well as other nations. Internally, vast dynastic changes were taking place, despite the external danger. In 2 decades, six kings—four of them regicides—ascended the throne of Israel. In this state of political chaos the rulers of Israel and Judea made alliances, at times with Assyria and at other times with its powerful rival, Egypt. Hosea ridicules the diplomacy of princes who do not know which way to turn and describes Ephraim "as a silly dove, without understanding." He saw the alliances as useless, for Ephraim must be punished for his vices and moral degeneracy; his sins shall be purged in exile. In 722 B.C. the Northern Kingdom of Israel came to an end and passed out of history.

The Book of Hosea consists of two sections. The first 3 chapters may be autobiographical. The subsequent 11 chapters deal with the religious and social collapse that called for God's punishment of His people. The book concludes with a plea to the people to return to God, who in His abiding love will be reconciled with them. The people that were "not loved" (Lo-ruhamah) would be loved once again, and "not my people" (Lo-ami) would be reunited with their God again, in a new spiritual betrothal.


Further Reading on Hosea

The Book of Hosea has been annotated and commented upon in such works as Abraham Cohen, ed., The Twelve Prophets: Hebrew Text, English Translation and Commentary (1948), and George A. Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter's Bible (12 vols., 1951-1957). The chapter on Hosea in Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (1962), provides an understanding of the prophet and his times.