Hosea is the first book of the twelve minor prophets in the Hebrew Bible. It is one of the shorter books of the Bible. The text suggests that Hosea was an active prophet during the reign of Jeroboim II, during the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (“Samaria”), which happened around 721 BC. The Talmud praises Hosea for being one of the greatest prophets of his day, despite being a prophet of doom. The name Hosea can mean “salvation” or “He saves”. It was the original name of Joshua, until Moses gave him the longer name of yehoshua, meaning “YHWH is salvation.”
At the outset Hosea is called by God to take a wife, Gomer, who God foretells will be unfaithful, to serve as an example to Israel. She gives birth to a son, Jezreel, as well as a daughter, Lohruhama, and another son, Loammi. This framing of the text is important as it serves as a metaphor for the relationship between the Lord and Israel. In allowing the children to be conceived, God blames the pitfalls of the kingdom of Israel on the Northern Kingdom, and He foretells of their downfall while He also chooses to favor the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
Israel is likened to a whore, or a cheating wife, for putting faith in Canaanite gods, particularly Baal and Ashur. Additionally, Israel (the Northern Kingdom, sometimes referred to as “Samaria”), along with Ephraim and Judah, all have sinned and produced strange children, bringing upon their own judgment. Hosea writes of a kind of divorce (Chapter 2) that comes about between God and Israel, though they may also be in reference to his immoral wife, Gomer. The fault of Israel is their own, according to the prophets.
The book of Hosea is a book about infidelity – both an unfaithful wife, as well as an unfaithful nation. When a nation turns its back on its origins, how long can it last? For Hosea, the punishment of Israel is only temporary, as God will again unite the nation of Israel and return to His people. He sees redemption and forgiveness further down the road, as notably, the people of Israel have the freedom to choose whether or not to follow the Lord. God is portrayed as merciful at the end of the book, as He longs to reunite with His unfaithful mistress, Israel. God is like a doctor who heals, a gardener who tends to his vineyard, or a shepherd who cares for his flock -all gentle metaphors that semm on initial passing vastly different from the image of God in the early Torah. Hosea prophecies of the downfall of Israel, much like Isaiah a full generation later, although Hosea still sees opportunity for Israel to repent.