Hosea was a pre-exilic prophet, charged with the difficult task of convincing an unfaithful people that they would be destroyed if they continued in their harlotry against the Lord their maker. The Lord required Hosea to demonstrate His relationship with Israel, commanding the prophet to marry an unfaithful wife. Yet Hosea’s prophecies resounded with hope—not because he thought Israel and Judah would soon shape up and live according to the law of Moses, but because he understood the Lord’s covenant mercy.
Hosea 6-11 has four movements. First, the prophet called Israel to repent and urged them to know the Lord by acting in accord with the Mosaic law (Hos 6:1-7:2). Hosea then condemned Israel for their lack of reliance on the Lord (Hos 7:3-8:14). Israel’s leaders made alliances with foreign nations like Egypt and Assyria, with the result that they resembled, “a silly, senseless dove” (Hos 7:11). In Hosea’s logic, when God’s people went to Assyria for help it was as if they had already been scattered from the Promised Land (Hos 8:8-9). Third, Hosea predicted Israel’s demise (Hos 9:1-10:15). Most likely the people reacted to Hosea’s prophecy with a fair bit of hostility—after all, they were self-sufficient in the land. Hosea recognized that “Israel is a lush vine; it yields fruit for itself” (Hos 10:1). Israel’s independence displayed the nation’s spiritual obduracy. Forth, Hosea exhorted Israel to know the love of the Lord (Hos 11:1-12). Even though Israel deserved nothing of God’s covenant favor, Hosea encouraged his audience saying, “It is time to seek the LORD until He comes and sends righteousness on you like the rain” (Hos 10:12). Hosea announced that the Lord’s compassion had been stirred, saying, “I will not vent the full fury of My anger; I will not turn back to destroy Ephraim. For I am God and not a man, the Holy One among you; I will not come in rage” (Hos 11:8b-9).
Phrases from Hosea 6-11 provide a conceptual grid for the storyline of Scripture.
(1) Matthew noted that Hos 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son,” was fulfilled when Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt for protection from Herod the Great. God had sent Israel to Egypt during a severe famine in Canaan (Genesis 46) and ultimately rescued them from Pharaoh’s oppressive hand (Exodus 4-15). And God sent the baby Jesus and family to Egypt to protect them from the massacre of the baby boys in Bethlehem. The phrase, “Out of Egypt I called My Son” (Matt 2:15), pointed ultimately to the Messiah. Matthew employed the words of Hosea to show that the time of fulfillment had dawned.
(2) Jesus quoted Hos 6:6 to justify His mercy toward sinners and His disciples. In Hos 6:6 the prophet recorded the Lord’s lament, “I desire loyalty and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Israel observed the temple obligations while simultaneously engaging in idolatry—and the Lord saw right through Israel’s hypocrisy. After Jesus called Matthew the tax collector to follow Him, the new disciple invited Jesus to a meal where many of Matthew’s former associates had gathered (Matt 9:9-13//Mark 2:13-17//Luke 5:27-32). When the Pharisees saw Jesus freely associating with those that they would call unclean, they asked Jesus’ disciples what gave Jesus the right to set aside the Mosaic code. Jesus replied that just as those who are physically ill need a doctor to come to them and help them in their state of sickness, so too the spiritually sick like tax collectors and sinners needed Jesus to come near to them. Jesus justified His benevolence toward the unclean by casting His ministry as an expression of Hos 6:6. The God who sent Jesus wanted His emissaries to be more concerned for acts of mercy than empty cultic sacrifices. Not for the righteous but for sinners God sent His Son. And when the Pharisees saw Jesus’ disciples picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath, they were outraged (Matt 12:1-8//Mark 2:23-28//Luke 6:1-5). Jesus countered that He was acting in accord with Hosea’s prophecy; God wanted His people to show mercy to those in need. Jesus replied to the Pharisees in light of Hos 6:6 but also in light of His status as the Son of God. According to the Pharisees, priests serving in the temple were exempt from adhering to the Sabbath commands. Jesus argued that in light of the fact that He Himself was greater than the temple, His disciples were worthy of the freedom the priests enjoyed when they served there. “Something greater than the temple is here!” Jesus exclaimed.
(3) In Luke 23:30, Jesus quoted Hos 10:8 as He was being led to the cross. In Hosea 10, the prophet confronted Israel because, though God prospered the nation with abundant harvests, they gave glory to the idols of Samaria. Hosea prophesied that the Lord would remove the source of Israel’s idolatry, destroying Samaria. Those who worshipped idols would ask the mountains to fall on them and hills to cover them from God’s wrath (Hos 10:8). After the Roman soldiers leading Jesus to Golgotha commandeered Simon the Cyrenian to carry Jesus’ cross, Jesus spoke to the crowd gathered around Him lamenting what was unfolding before their eyes. Jesus warned the women in the crowd saying that if He were treated so harshly, they should expect the same. Jesus quoted Hos 10:8 and prophesied that the day would come when the residents of Jerusalem would ask the mountains and hills to fall upon them in hopes of being protected from God’s wrath.