Who Was Hosea in the Bible?

Learn the controversial story of this unknown prophet from the Old Testament

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Photo (c) Deborah Davis / Getty Images.

Throughout the centuries, there have been a number of people who made somewhat strange decisions out of a desire to obey God. For example, a young peasant woman named Joan of Arc claimed to be obeying divine instructions when she became a military hero and helped Charles VII gain the throne of France. Not many people saw that one coming.

Others have been led by God to give away their entire fortunes -- often including staggeringly large sums of money -- in order to serve the poor or travel overseas as missionaries.

Saint Nicholas of Myra was such a man. (You may know him better as Santa Claus.) So was George Mueller, who provided food, shelter, education, and love for more than 10,000 orphans in his lifetime.

Yet even with hundreds of stories describing people who made bold or crazy decisions in obedience to God, the Old Testament story of Hosea still seems shocking. Why? Because the command he received from God involved marrying an unfaithful prostitute and raising a family.

Background Information

Here are the basic facts surrounding Hosea's life as a prophet of God.

Date: Hosea ministered for at least 40 years during the period between 780 and 700 B.C.

Location: As a prophet, Hosea mainly wrote to and traveled within the northern kingdom of Israel. He likely also spent time in the region of Samaria, and some of his prophetic messages were directed at the southern kingdom of the Jews, called Judah.

Contemporaries: Hosea's prophetic role connected with a number of Israelite kings, including Jeroboam II and Hezekiah.

The prophet Amos was a contemporary of Hosea's who also ministered to the northern kingdom called Israel.

Theme: Like most prophets, Hosea's major theme was a call for repentance. During a period of economic and political stability, the people of Israel had once again turned their backs on God in favor of selfish pursuits.

Hosea forcefully confronted their spiritual unfaithfulness and proclaimed the message of God's future judgment against the sins of His people.

Hosea's Story

Because Hosea ministered as a prophet for more than 40 years, his story is both long and complex. He did and said a number of important things -- most of which we don't have time to explore in this article.

But the central element of Hosea's story revolves around these verses at the very beginning of his book:

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
Hosea 1:2-4

Obviously, Hosea's story would make a terrible movie in the modern world. God wasn't commanding Hosea to marry Gomer because he loved her and God knew everything would work out. Instead, God simply commanded His prophet to marry "a promiscuous woman." The point was for Hosea's marriage to highlight the spiritual unfaithfulness of the Israelites, who had turned their backs on God and were worshiping false idols without shame.

Hosea obeyed.

He did what God asked him to do -- and it cost him. Look at what happened later in the story:

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

So I bought her for fifteen shekels[a] of silver and about a homer and a lethek[b] of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”
Hosea 3:1-3

Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea. She not only cheated on him, but straight out left him to be with someone else. In fact, most scholars believe Gomer left Hosea's house in order to return to her brothel; she wanted to go back to her old way of life and her old means of earning a living.

The sad truth is that Hosea was forced to purchase his wife in order to bring her back home. He had to acquire her as if she were a slave.

Once again, we don't know if there was any romance or feelings of love involved in this story. We don't know if Hosea was desperate to find his wife once again and reclaim her out of passionate love. Most likely this was not the case.

What we do know is that God used Gomer's unfaithfulness as a way of pointing out and condemning the continued spiritual adultery of the Israelites. Starting from Abraham, God has lifted up the Israelites by making them His chosen people. God had set them apart not only to do His work in a special way, but to enjoy a special relationship with Him. Time and time again, however, the Israelites turned their backs on that relationship. Time after time they rejected God and returned to their old idols and false gods.

Perhaps the most controversial element of this story is that Hosea's children were pulled into the elaborate word picture in which Gomer represented the Israelites' spiritual adultery. Indeed, God commanded Hosea to name his children in a way that reflected God's rejection of Israel. Those names included Lo-Ruhamah, which means "not loved," and Lo-Ammi, which means "not my people" -- among others.

The Why Question

Why would God command such a thing? Why would God force Hosea and his family into such painful situations? The main answer can probably be summed up in the phrase, "Desperate times call for desperate measures."

Near the end of Hosea's ministry, the Israelites were a single generation away from destruction. The Assyrians wiped out the northern kingdom at the end of Hezekiah's reign and dragged most of its residents into captivity. Therefore, Hosea's marriage was one of God's final attempts to warn the Israelites about the coming consequences of their actions. It had to be something outlandish and attention-grabbing because of the situation.

In other words, what we need to remember is that Hosea's marriage wasn't an attempt to punish Hosea or his children. Instead, it was a last-ditch effort to save God's people from a terrible fate.

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O'Neal, Sam. "Who Was Hosea in the Bible?" ThoughtCo, May. 31, 2016, thoughtco.com/who-was-hosea-in-the-bible-363353. O'Neal, Sam. (2016, May 31). Who Was Hosea in the Bible? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/who-was-hosea-in-the-bible-363353 O'Neal, Sam. "Who Was Hosea in the Bible?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/who-was-hosea-in-the-bible-363353 (accessed November 19, 2017).