The name Hosea means "salvation." Hosea preached in the Northern Kingdom (Israel), during a period of national decline. When Hosea began his ministry, Jeroboam II was king and it was a time of great prosperity. But the nation began to decline rapidly within, after getting involved with foreign alliances, and trusting them to lead and protect them, rather than trusting God. Hosea lived to see Israel, also called Ephraim in this book, taken captive by the Assyrians in 721 b.c. For historical background concerning the Book of Hosea, read II Kings 15--17.
Hosea's message to the nation of Israel was one that exposed their sins and warned them of a coming judgment, but there is also a message of hope for their future. The unique thing about Hosea's message is that he had to live it himself before he could preach it to the people. He experienced deep agony in his own life because of the sins of his wife. However, all of this was divinely sent as a lesson to him and to the people of Israel.
In chapters 1--3 we are given an illustration of the unfaithfulness of the nation of Israel. Hosea was commanded of God to marry a harlot named Gomer. After bearing him three children she left him. Of course, Hosea's heart was broken, but God told him to go find his wayward wife and bring her back. He discovered her being sold on the slave market and bought her. He assured her of his forgiveness and love, and we have every reason to believe that she repented of her sins and became a faithful wife.
Gomer was a picture of Israel's unfaithfulness to the Lord. The nation had married the Lord in Exodus 34:14-16, and should have remained faithful to Him. But instead they lusted after sin, committed adultery, and worshiped false gods.
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