In Hosea 4-6 the Lord lays out the charges against Israel and describes her unfaithfulness. Throughout, she is described as a prostitute and an adulteress. While these may be figurative to describe the way that Israel was treating the Lord their God, there may be a literalness about it as well. Many of the fertility gods and goddesses that Israel was succumbing to participated in temple prostitution. In that case, the people of Israel were literally engaging in prostitution while worshipping idols.
Hosea 4:6 says “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” The following verses build the case that the problem with Israel starts from the top and works its way down. Those who have been charged with instructing the people – the priests – have failed in their duty. In fact, not only have the priests failed in their duty, they are the ring leaders in leading people astray as “the more priests there were, the more they sinned against me.”
The Lord differentiates between the kingdom of Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). While Israel is often a reference to the entire people group or nation of Israel, in Hosea’s time Israel and Judah were separate kingdoms. The Lord warns Judah not to travel to the northern kingdom of Israel or Ephraim as its capital. If the men of Judah do so, they will be caught up in the trouble that will fall the northern kingdom.
Although Israel receives the harshest rebuke from the Lord, Judah is not spared from coming judgment in Hosea 5. The Lord mentions Judah right after Ephraim four times, all in a negative light.
Hosea’s prophecies would have been spoken to the northern kingdom of Israel but likely by the time that these were actually recorded, the prophecies had come true. Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. This makes the written warnings to the men of Judah all the more pertinent. It would be almost 120 years later but Nebuchadnezzar would first arrive in Judah in 605 BC and finally complete its destruction in 586 BC. The people of Judah obviously didn’t learn the lesson despite the warning and fulfillment of the punishment of Israel.
Hosea 6-10 outlines Israel’s punishment. Judah is not excluded from mention but most of the punishment concerns Israel and its capital Ephraim. Even as the Lord warns of impending doom, it is nothing that He takes delight in but instead He would much rather see them act righteously.
Hosea 6:6 states “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” The tension between what the Lord desires and what will actually happen remains in Hosea 7:13-14. “… I long to redeem them but they speak about me falsely… They slash themselves, appealing to their gods for grain and wine, but they turn away from me.”
As much as the Lord desires for Israel to repent even at this late hour, it will not be so and destruction will come by the sword. Hosea 8:8 declares that “Israel is swallowed up.” While this may just be considered a term to reference its destruction, it is a very accurate depiction. Rather than carry the people of Israel off as slaves into a foreign land (as Nebuchadnezzar would do with the people of Judah), the Assyrians simply move in and make themselves at home. They settle in amongst the Israelites, intermarry with them, and soon they are indistinguishable from the people of Israel.
The people of Israel will be swallowed up because they will lose their national identity. Within only a couple of generations a new group of people will emerge, a group that is no longer the people of Israel but rather a group that will be known as Samaritans. They are descendents of the Israelites who are swallowed up by the Assyrians who are the much hated group by the Israelites of Jesus’ day. They are considered half-breeds even seven centuries later because they are descendants of both Israelites and Assyrians.
Hosea 10 distinctly warns that the coming disaster for Israel will be at the hands of the Assyrians. Destruction will come not just for the kingdom of Israel but also for the king of Israel as his line will be completely destroyed. The Lord names various prominent cities for destruction – Ephraim, Samaria, Bethel – because of their wickedness.
The Lord implores Israel to sow righteousness and reap unfailing love. Unfortunately, it has instead chosen to plant wickedness and because of it they will reap evil. They have depended on the strength of their own warriors so it will be that strength that fails them in the end when they reap destruction.
God’s Faithful Love
Hosea 11:1 is quoted as a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus in Matthew 2:15 when Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled King Herod and went to Egypt. In the immediate context of Hosea’s day he is referring to Israel as the Lord’s son who was called out of Egypt and led by Moses.
While Hosea 11 begins like more condemnation, it switches tone mid chapter as the Lord’s compassion is aroused. However, destruction will still fall upon Israel as has been predicted; it will just not amount to total annihilation. Indeed, Israel will one day rise again. The fact that Hosea 11:9 says “I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again” implies that not only has the punishment already taken place by the writing of this portion but it also points to a time when Ephraim would be restored to glory.
Hosea 12 recounts Israel’s history beginning with the kingdom’s namesake Jacob (whose name was later changed to Israel.) It is a mixed history at best even beginning with Jacob as he struggled with God – which is what the name Israel actually means. Struggling with God can be seen as a good or a bad thing. Jacob would not be satisfied until he received the Lord’s blessing but later when the kingdom of Israel struggled with God, they ignored the Lord’s prophets and worshipped idols. It was a complete reversal from their forefather who adamantly sought the Lord’s blessing.
In the end, the people of Israel will return to the Lord. It will not occur until after they are punished but they will cry out to their God in repentance. Israel will turn away from idols and the Lord will bless them. Hosea ends with both a word of encouragement and a final warning. “The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.”