Message of Hosea: What is Love?
Hosea 1:1-9 and other selected passages
What is love?
This is the first of 12 ‘Eternal Questions’* that we will address from an often-neglected part of God’s Word – the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament. Of course, ‘Minor’ does not mean ‘unimportant’; it means ‘short.’ Generally, the Major Prophets are simply the longer books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel (Daniel is an exception, but it is rooted in the same circumstances of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.). So, the Minor Prophets are not two-bit players of the Old Testament. They were written by the inspiration of God’s Spirit for serious purposes and uses.
The prophets and their writings represent the last four centuries of OT history, from the eighth to the fifth century BC. And we are quite certain that these 12 prophets were placed together in one scroll as early as the third century BC. In other words, they were recognized as Holy Scripture for a long time.
Hosea is unusual among the Minor Prophets for several reasons.
First, it is longer than most of them. Hosea has 14 chapters and Zechariah is the only other Minor Prophet that is this long.
Second, Hosea was one of the earliest Minor Prophets. We don’t know the exact dates of these twelve books, but they do appear to fall into four groups of three, about one group per century.
Haggai, Zechariah & Malachi were the last three books written in the Old Testament – fifth century BC.
Moving back in time, Joel, Obadiah, & Jonah were written in the sixth century BC, after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC.
Nahum, Habakkuk & Zephaniah were written about the time Jeremiah began his ministry in the late seventh century BC, before the fall of Jerusalem.
Hosea, Amos, and Micah, are the oldest three, written in the eighth century BC. They prophesied before the northern Kingdom of ‘Israel’ fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC.
That brings us to the third unusual thing about Hosea. Not only is it one of the longest and oldest books of the Minor Prophets, but it also focuses on the northern kingdom of Israel rather than on the southern kingdom of Judah.
Most of the Minor Prophets focus on the southern kingdom of Judah because only Judah existed when they were prophesying. And one of the three ‘old men,’ Micah, focused on Judah before Israel fell. But the other two, Hosea and Amos, prophesied about the northern kingdom – the 10 tribes who had followed Jeroboam in rebelling against Solomon’s son a couple of hundred years earlier.
In the Bible, the northern kingdom is sometimes called Samaria because that was its capital city. It is sometimes called Ephraim because Ephraim was its most prominent tribe (like Judah in the south). But generally, it is called Israel.
The northern kingdom of Israel was beset with troubles from the very beginning. The decades before Jeroboam II, who reigned when Hosea prophesied, were tumultuous. The nation had gone through king after king after king; and by the time of Jeroboam II and Hosea in the second half of the eighth century, the country appeared to be in terminal decline.
The empire of Assyria, located just north of Israel, was the great power of the day, and it continually nibbled away at Israel’s borders, often threatening to strike its very heart. While Isaiah and Micah prophesied down south in Jerusalem, God called Amos and Hosea to prophesy in the waning days of the northern kingdom.
Hosea does not have a very clear outline. But very broadly we can say that chapters 1-3 contain everything we know about Hosea’s personal history as well as some prophecy. Then chapters 4-14 are a collection of prophecies that warn of God’s coming judgment as well as several promises of hope.
It is amid all these particulars that we learn a lot about real love. Join us this coming Lord’s Day as we consider the first of twelve eternal questions this summer: What is love?
*For this series on the twelve Minor Prophets, we will be using Mark Dever’s ‘The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made as one of our main resources. In this outstanding book, he surveys each of the Old Testament books in a helpful manner.
Missed Sunday? read the summary.