Hosea preached to Israel during an era of sharp spiritual and national decline. Despite the rampant idolatry in the land during the early days of Jeroboam II, Israel enjoyed a measure of God’s kindness, resulting in national prosperity and military prowess (2 Kgs 14:23-29). God’s kindness would not be out of step with justice and holiness; in time the Lord handed Israel over to Assyria (2 Kings 17). Yet, Hosea concluded his message with exalted words of hope. Although the Lord would discipline His people, He promised restoration. The Lord’s final word to the penitent is always one of hope.
Hosea indicted Israel for their deceptive ways (Hos 12:1-13:6). Even though God had spoken to His people through the prophets, God’s people did not respond faithfully to Him but made alliances with Assyria and Egypt (Hos 12:1; Deut 7:2; 17:16). Israel’s deceitful behavior matched that of their forefather, Jacob, who “in the womb grasped his brother’s heel, and as an adult he wrestled with God” (Hos 12:3). Israel’s merchants used false scales for their own gain (Hos 12:7-8; Lev 19:36). And Israel persisted in idolatry in spite of God’s demonstrations of powerful love for Israel ever since the exodus (Hos 13:4-6).
As a result of their idolatrous, deceptive behavior God announced a plan of destruction for the nation (Hos 13:7-16). “Compassion is hidden from My eyes,” the Lord said (Hos 13:14). Hosea announced that restoration could thus be enjoyed only through thorough repentance, a return to covenant faithfulness (Hos 14:1-9). The prophet cried out, “Israel, return to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled in your sin. Take words of repentance with you and return to the LORD. Say to Him, ‘Forgive all our sin and accept what is good, so that we may repay You with praise from our lips’” (Hos 14:1-2).
In Hosea 12-14, the prophet announced that the Lord would both judge and restore Israel. Hosea emphasized that the latter would come only after the nation was destroyed in the exile. In fact, words of hope do not begin until Hos 14:4. Thus the phrase, “I will ransom them from the power of Sheol. I will redeem them from death. Death, where are your barbs? Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from My eyes” (Hos 13:14), was in Hosea’s mind pejorative. Israel would die, experience the barbs of death, the sting of Sheol, and only then be ransomed.
Paul understood Hosea’s prophecy as part of the storyline of Scripture, pointing forward to the days of fulfillment in Christ when God would finally deal with the sin of His people. Paul employed Hosea’s phrase in 1 Cor 15:55 in his doxological statement about the believer’s future hope in the resurrection. Naturalism had begun to have an influence in the Corinthian church. Some proposed that there is no such thing as resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:12). The Corinthians thought that the human condition could not continue into the afterlife, no power could re-animate a corpse that had come to an end on earth. Paul went on to note that such a position would have to deny the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15:13).
But since Christ was raised from the dead, Paul took the opportunity through the remainder of 1 Corinthians 15 to articulate the relationship between Jesus’ bodily resurrection and the bodily resurrection of all who believe in Jesus. Paul noted that Jesus’ resurrection defeated death itself. In 1 Cor 15:23, Paul described Jesus’ resurrection as the kind of resurrection that all believers will experience at the final judgement. Near the end of his argument in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul stated that human corruptible flesh will put on incorruptibility and mortal human bodies will be made immortal. Then Paul turned to Hos 13:14, writing, “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor 15:55-57).