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1. Hosea, whose name means “salvation,” is unique among the writing prophets in that he was a citizen of the northern kingdom of Israel and preached to the north.

Hosea 1:1 dates Hosea’s ministry to the reigns of the northern king Jeroboam II and the southern kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. This would make him a contemporary of Jonah (2 Kings 14:25), another northern prophet whose ministry took place during the administration of Jeroboam II, though Jonah’s autobiographical writings concerned his personal experience with Nineveh.

Hosea was also a contemporary of Amos, a southern missionary to the north, as well as Isaiah and Micah, prophets in the southern kingdom. Although the tally of the regnal years would be over one hundred, Hosea’s ministry probably commenced during the closing years of Jeroboam II (around 753 BC) and the early years of Hezekiah (around 725 BC), before the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians in 722 BC. This was a time of political crisis and religious chaos, and Hosea, with a sense of urgency, preached to a people on the brink of national disaster.

2. Hosea’s personal life mirrored his message.

Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was a visible picture or object lesson of the message he preached. Hosea 3:1 explicitly links Hosea’s marriage to Gomer with God’s marriage to Israel. Hosea’s relationship with Gomer and God’s relationship with Israel were initiated by love (divine grace), spurned by sin (divine displeasure), and maintained by loyalty (divine faithfulness). Hosea’s constant love and loyalty to Gomer was a beautiful picture of the Lord’s unfailing love and loyalty to Israel. Gomer’s unfaithfulness to Hosea was a tragically clear picture of Israel’s treacherous unfaithfulness to the Lord. Throughout the Old Testament, marriage is symbolic of God’s relationship to His people, and nowhere more so than in Hosea.

Although Hosea’s marriage is crucial to the message of the book, it constitutes a major problem of interpretation. The crux of the problem concerns God’s initial command for Hosea to marry a “wife of whoredom” (Hos. 1:2). On the surface, this creates a moral and ethical dilemma because it seems to counter the clear instructions and restrictions for marriage that God gave to priests, prohibiting them from marrying harlots (Lev. 21:7, 13). If it would be a disgrace for a priest to marry a harlot, it seems it would be a disgrace for a prophet as well. In addition, Deuteronomy 22:13, 20–21 sentenced to death any woman proven to be unchaste at the time of marriage. It might seem more appropriate for Hosea to begin with a funeral than a wedding. The solutions to the problem fall into two major interpretations: those that regard the marriage as hypothetical and those that regard the marriage as literal.

The hypothetical view interprets the marriage imagery simply as a means of figuratively communicating God’s relationship to Israel and Israel’s spiritual unfaithfulness to God. This view has the advantage of avoiding the moral and ethical problem while still allowing the marriage motif to make the theological point regarding God’s love to an undeserving people. Its weakness is that it is based in theological expediency rather than textual evidence.

There are several versions of the literal marriage interpretations, all agreeing that a real marriage took place but disagreeing on the nature or timing of the harlotry ascribed to Gomer. Some claim that Gomer was a harlot at the time of marriage, arguing that God overruled His previously stated standards in order to highlight His gracious love of undeserving sinners. Others claim that the harlotry referred to spiritual idolatry rather than fornication. This eliminates the problem of marriage to a sexually unchaste woman, but it creates a no-less-serious problem if the Lord commanded the prophet to marry an idolator. God’s prohibition against interfaith marriage was clear (Deut. 7:3–4).

Another literal marriage interpretation called the “proleptic view” says that Gomer was pure at the wedding but later became a harlot. The text, however, states what Gomer was, not what she would be. Another solution is to understand the word “whoredom” as describing an inner characteristic rather than an outward behavior. It most likely refers to Gomer’s latent bent toward immorality that surfaced not long after the marriage. In Hosea 3:1 she had in fact become an adulterous woman, indicating that her inclinations surfaced in actual fornication. In this view, the point is that God revealed to Hosea up front something about Gomer’s inner self that would jeopardize the sanctity of the marriage. That Hosea knew her potential for hurting him from the beginning highlighted the unselfish nature of his love. That is the key link to the spiritual parallel for believers: God loves us despite what He knows about us.

3. Hosea’s message anticipates God’s grace in Christ.

Hosea’s warnings and invitations to repent went unheeded, and the judgment upon the nation was inevitable. Yet, the consequences of Israel’s ignorant and foolish rejection of the prophet’s message anticipated the grace of the gospel. According to 2 Kings 15:29, the land of Naphtali was the first territory to experience God’s judgment. But according to Matthew 4:12–16, it was the first region to witness the ministry of Jesus. The darkness of Hosea’s day would give way to the light of Christ. The time of darkness was a step toward the fullness of time in which the Light would shine, demonstrating that God’s purposes and plans always come together.

This article is part of the Every Book of the Bible: 3 Things to Know collection.