Introduction (The Message)
We live in a world awash in love stories. Most of them are lies. They are not love stories at all—they are lust stories, sex–fantasy stories, domination stories. From the cradle we are fed on lies about love.
This would be bad enough if it only messed up human relationships—man and woman, parent and child, friend and friend—but it also messes up God–relationships. The huge, mountainous reality of all existence is that God is love, that God loves the world. Each single detail of the real world that we face and deal with day after day is permeated by this love.
But when our minds and imaginations are crippled with lies about love, we have a hard time understanding this fundamental ingredient of daily living, “love,” either as a noun or as a verb. And if the basic orienting phrase “God is love” is plastered over with cultural graffiti that obscure and deface the truth of the way the world is, we are not going to get very far in living well. We require true stories of love if we are to live truly.
Hosea is the prophet of love, but not love as we imagine or fantasize it. He was a parable of God’s love for his people lived out as God revealed and enacted it—a lived parable. It is an astonishing story: a prophet commanded to marry a common whore and have children with her. It is an even more astonishing message: God loves us in just this way—goes after us at our worst, keeps after us until he gets us, and makes lovers of men and women who know nothing of real love. Once we absorb this story and the words that flow from it, we will know God far more accurately. And we will be well on our way to being cured of all the sentimentalized and neurotic distortions of love that incapacitate us from dealing with the God who loves us and loving the neighbors who don’t love us.
INTRODUCTION (NIV Commentary)
1. Historical Background
Hosea, prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel, ministered in the stirring days just preceding the Fall of Assyria. When he began his work, one would not have thought the end was near. Jeroboam II (793–753 B.C.; cf. 2Ki 14:23-29) was the ruler, and a strong one. He had established approximately the same boundaries on the east and north of his country that had been held in the empire days of David and Solomon. This success had given him a remarkable position of influence along the entire Mediterranean coastland. Similarly, Uzziah, king of Judah, a contemporary of Jeroboam for thirty-seven years, had expanded his territory to a size nearly that of the southern boundary in the earlier period. Together Israel and Judah almost reduplicated the area held by Israel’s two greatest rulers.
Before the accession of Jeroboam II, the situation had been quite a different one. Because of military attacks by Assyria and Syria, Israel had been brought to abject humiliation. During the reign of Jehoahaz (Jeroboam’s grandfather), the strength of Israel’s army had fallen to only “fifty horsemen, ten chariots and ten thousand foot soldiers.” The king of Syria had “destroyed the rest, and made them like the dust at threshing time” (2Ki 13:7). Recovery had begun with Jeroboam’s father, Jehoash, who had defeated the Syrians three times (2Ki 13:25). Jeroboam had then been able to continue this resurgence and bring the country to the strong position noted.
Because of this recovery, Hosea’s generation knew of humiliating defeat and foreign oppression only through the memories of their fathers. By this time there had been peace for many years, and with it had come economic prosperity. The land was again producing abundantly (2Ch 26:10), and many people were becoming wealthy. Luxuries had become common. Building activity was flourishing (Hos 8:14), which led to a widespread feeling of pride (Am 3:15; 5:11; cf. Isa 9:10). Social and moral conditions developed that were wrong and degrading. Side by side with wealth, extreme poverty existed. Through dishonest gain and false balances, the strong took advantage of the weak (Hos 12:7; cf. Isa 5:8; Am 8:5-6). Justice seemed absent, and the courts apparently did little to help.
Religious conditions were no better. Though the pagan cult of Baal, brought into the land during the dynasty of Omri (1Ki 16:29-33), had been largely brought to an end (2Ki 10:19-28), many of its offensive features continued (Hos 2:8; 11:2; 13:1). Apparently sacred prostitution was still practiced (4:10-18). Also, the people still built “high places” and set up images and Asherah poles “on every high hill and under every spreading tree” (2Ki 17:7-12).
Amos had preceded Hosea in preaching against such sins, but the people paid little attention. Now it was Hosea’s turn, and he courageously spoke out against the evils of the day.
After the reign of Jeroboam II, Israel’s political fortunes declined rapidly. His son and successor, Zechariah (753 B.C.; cf. 2Ki 15:8-12), was killed by Shallum after reigning only six months. Shallum was in turn killed by Menahem after a rule of only one month (2Ki 15:13-15). Menahem (752–742 B.C.; cf. 2Ki 15:17-22) then ruled for ten years. The series of brief reigns resumed when his son Pekahiah (742–740 B.C.; cf. 2Ki 5:23-26) was killed by Pekah, one of his military leaders. Pekah was able to keep the throne for twenty years, until 732 B.C., with an overlapping reign of twelve years, from 752–740 (2Ki 15:27). His rule was marred by the crushing invasion of Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria in 733 B.C. The next Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V, marched into the region in 724 B.C. and put Samaria, its capital, under siege. The strong city held out for many months. Finally, however, when it capitulated in 722 B.C., many more Israelites were taken captive; and the sovereign days of Israel as a nation were over.