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Preaching on Hosea

An overview of the historical background and theology of Hosea to help you develop your sermon series and apply it to your hearers.
Preaching on Hosea
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Historical Background

The Book of Hosea is set during the middle to late 8th century BC, the last years of the northern kingdom of Israel. It is helpful for the preacher and their audience to know two key things about the historical background of the book.

During this period, the northern kingdom struggled with religious pluralism and, in particular, the worship of the god Baal. Baal was the storm god in the Canaanite pantheon, and was believed to be the source of rain, and, hence, the fertility of the land. (Baal was worshipped in various manifestations at local shrines, hence the references in Hosea to multiple Baal s.) The tendency to worship other “gods” (wealth, fame, success) alongside the Lord remains a problem in the life of God’s people today.

Hosea appears to have begun his ministry during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BC). Life during Jeroboam’s reign was relatively peaceful and prosperous—not unlike life in many countries in the contemporary West. But from 745 BC onwards, Assyria—the world superpower of the time—repeatedly invaded the region. Royal politics in the northern kingdom during this period was incredibly murky and unstable, with a series of revolutions involving assassinations, and the various rulers adopting different tactics (including alliances with foreign nations) to try to ensure the nation’s survival.

Sermon Series

The Book of Hosea can be broken into two major parts, with each of these subdivisible into smaller units.

Chapters 1-3 uses Hosea’s marriage to Gomer as a metaphor for the relationship between God and the covenant people, with Israel portrayed as God’s promiscuous wife. This section could be subdivided as follows.

  • Hosea 1: A narrative in which the Lord tells Hosea to marry Gomer, “a wife of whoredom,” with their union producing three children, whose names (Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah “not pitied,” and Lo-ammi “not my people”) function as symbols for God’s impending judgement on the nation. Yet the passage finishes (vv. 10-11) with a word of hope, including the anticipated fulfilment of covenant promises (numerous descendants, possession of the land, etc.).
  • Hosea 2: A divine speech in which Hosea instructs his children to plead with their mother (who represents the nation of Israel) to turn away from her adultery, lest she experience divine judgement. Again, however, the passage closes on a word of hope (vv. 14-23): restored relationship, new covenant, and a reversal in the meaning of the children’s names.
  • Hosea 3: A second narrative in which Hosea is told to love an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel. This section culminates with a promise that Israel will return to seek the Lord their God, and David their king.

Chapters 4-14: A series of prophetic oracles, focussing on the sin, judgement, and (sometimes) blessing of Israel. This section, especially chapters 4-7, is hard to subdivide, given the difficulty in disentangling the various oracles contained therein. Preachers should look for the following pattern as marking off a distinct unit:

-Some sort of introductory statement (e.g., “Hear the word of the Lord …”) or change of theme which suggests the start of a new section,

-Accusation and supporting evidence – the sin of Israel,

-Announcement of impending divine judgement, which may match in some way the nature of the sin that Israel is committing,

-Sometimes—announcement of blessing following judgement.

From chapters 8 onwards, the chapter divisions can be taken as a useful guide, with some of these (e.g., chapters 9 and 10) apparently containing two oracles. Given the repetitive nature of chapters 4-14 (or at least 4-13), I would argue that there is no need for preachers to work through these in a coherent, linear fashion. Instead, the preacher may wish to focus on the key themes the book raises, drawing on various texts which address these.

A possible preaching outline for the book could look as follows:

Text: Hosea 1-3
  • Exegetical Idea: The relationship between Hosea and his faithless wife as a metaphor for the relationship between God and his faithless people.
  • Central Preaching Point: The Lord’s love for his wayward people.
Text: Hosea 8:1-6, 10:5-6, 11:1-4
  • Exegetical Idea: Prophet calls out the people for making idols “for their own destruction,” idols that are made by human hands and will be broken to pieces. This stands in contrast with the Lord, who cares for and protects his people.
  • Central Preaching Point: The problem with idols—they don’t deliver what they promise.
Text: Hosea 7:8-16, 8:7-10, AND/OR 11:1-4
  • Exegetical Idea: The prophet rebukes Israel for “mixing himself with the people,” “calling upon Egypt and going to Assyria,” and “turning to that which does not profit” (NRSV). AND/OR The prophets rebukes Israel for “trusting in your power and in the multitude of your warriors” who will be unable to save them when war comes.
  • Central Preaching Point: Where do we put our trust during difficult times?
Text: Hosea 6:4-6, 8:11-14
  • Exegetical Idea: God questions the people’s fleeting faithfulness and their tendency to substitute ritual for relationship.
  • Central Preaching Point: God’s desire for “steadfast love” and “knowledge” of him.
Text: Hosea 10:1-2, 12:7-9, AND/OR Hosea 13:4-8, 8:11-14
  • Exegetical Idea: Hosea points out that the more Israel’s “fruit” increased that more altars and sacred pillars the nation built—altars and pillars that the Lord will destroy. AND/OR The Lord recalls his history of providing for the needs of Israel, but this resulted in their hearts becoming proud and forgetting God.
  • Central Preaching Point: Have we forgotten God? The lure and danger of wealth.
Text: Hosea 14:4-9
  • Exegetical Idea: The Lord promises that he will heal Israel’s disloyalty, that he will love them freely, and that, as a result, the nation will experience abundance.
  • Central Preaching Point: True fruitfulness in life comes from a relationship with the Lord.


Hosea is one of the Minor Prophets, and I have provided some suggestions for application in my article on Preaching Today and Amos. In addition to these, I would raise two considerations that are specifically relevant to Hosea.

A lot of the words in the Book of Hosea are words of judgement. I think it is important to keep two things in mind when preaching such passages. Firstly, it is always worth exploring the rationale for the Lord announcing judgement on a particular sin. Why does the Lord have a problem with the people worshipping Baal? Why does he not want them to enter into alliances with foreign nations? How does the Lord’s desire to not see his people committing these actions reveal his love for them?

Secondly, balance negative with positive. By this I mean, instead of just telling your congregation what sins they need to avoid, make sure you also explain what positive actions they can pursue. Both of these suggestions feed the congregation’s imagination about why and how they could live differently.

Preachers need to be aware that some of the language of Hosea, especially chapters 1-3, may be difficult for women who have experienced domestic violence. Here Israel is portrayed as a faithless wife, and the Lord threatens to “strip her naked and expose her” (2:3), “hedge up her way with thorns and build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths” (2:6), take away gifts that he has given her (2:9), and “punish her” (2:13). Preachers need to be careful in handling this passage, and be cognizant of the way their language may potentially cause further harm to victims of such abuse or, alternatively, be used as an implicit justification for the behaviour of perpetrators.

Theological Themes

Three key themes dominate the Book of Hosea—the same themes that are center stage in most of Israel’s pre-exilic prophets.

Israel’s Sin

Israel’s sin in the Book of Hosea is not primarily conceived of in legal terms, but in relational ones; it is problematic because it impairs the relationship between Yahweh and his people. In fact, Hosea 4:1 (NRSV) summarises the Lord’s indictment against Israel in terms of a lack of faithfulness, a lack of loyalty, and a lack of “knowledge of God,” with each of these accusations possessing a strong relational dimension.

Israel’s sins are multiple and overwhelming. They can be grouped into three larger categories:

-Ethical misconduct and misbehaviour

For example, in the indictment of the nation in 4:2, the Lord declares “Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed” (cf. 10:13). It should be noted, however, that this social dimension is not as strong in Hosea as in other prophetic books (e.g., Amos).

-Trusting in military might – Both their own (10:13) and that of other nations.

Hosea frequently condemns the diplomatic moves the nation makes to seek security via alliances with foreign powers. For example, in 8:9 the Lord reviles the nation: “For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild ass wandering alone; Ephraim has bargained for lovers” (cf. 5:13 and 7:11, which also mentions Egypt). Such moves essentially reveal a lack of trust in Yahweh’s ability to protect and provide for his people.

-Illegitimate cultic practices

Such as idolatry, inappropriate forms of divination, and various fertility rituals (4: 12-19; 8:5-6). Such activities embody “a spirit of whoredom (which) has led them astray” (4: 12).

Most problematic for the prophet is the people’s desire to worship Baal and falsely ascribing to Baal the blessings that had come from Yahweh (11:1-2; 13: 1-6). Baal worship was a significant problem during this period, and instead of Israel recognising Yahweh as the source of blessings the nation experienced, they attributed this to Baal—“She did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished upon her silver and gold that they used for Baal” (2:8).

Hosea is particularly critical of Israel’s leaders—the prophets, priests, and kings—who were meant to guide and instruct the nation into the knowledge of God but have only made matters worse (4:1-4; 9:7-9).

Yahweh’s Imminent Judgement

Yahweh’s initial (albeit long-delayed) response to the people’s sin is rejection, as typified by the symbolic naming of Hosea’s children, particularly Lo-ruhamah (“no compassion”) and Lo-ammi (“not my people”)—the latter is a reversal of the covenant promise “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This rejection will take a number of different forms. It will include, for example, the Lord withholding his blessings, bringing foreign nations against the land (10:10), and removing the people from the land. On two occasions (8: 13; 9:3), this judgement is described along the lines of a reversal of the exodus—the people will return to captivity in Egypt.

‘Yahweh Returns to Israel in Compassion’

Hosea is a book of conflicting passions. Extremes of rage alternate with the most moving expressions of tenderness and compassion. Perhaps the strongest example of this is Hosea 11:6-9, esp. vv. 8-9.

In spite of the drastic situation, the Lord is unwilling to give up on the covenant relationship with Israel. While divine judgement is imminent, this will not—cannot—be the Lord’s last word. Ultimately, he is committed to renewing the marriage, to starting over again (2:14-23). This salvation on the other side of judgement is described in a number of different ways: a new exodus (2: 14-15), a return from exile (11:11), and a reconstitution of the old Davidic kingdom (3:5). Thus, Hosea is ultimately a book of hope—that as much as the nation might turn its back to God, God will not ultimately turn away from them: “I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them” (14:4).

My Encounter with Hosea

Hosea needs to be preached today because, perhaps more than any other biblical book, it presents a narrative that mirrors the story and struggles of virtually every person and community of faith. Almost everyone—if they are honest—can seem themselves in the experiences of Gomer/Israel: half-hearted in our relationship with God, if not downright unfaithful; attributing success to others (and ourselves!) instead of God; and experiencing the consequences of our less-than-ideal decisions. Our churches need to hear that God is not happy when we act in such ways, it hurts others and ourselves.

But, and this is why Hosea is so important, they also need to hear that our sin is not the last word. The message of Hosea is that, ultimately and inescapably, God’s redeeming love will triumph. He remains committed. His faithfulness will prevail. In this regard, perhaps the two key sections for preaching Hosea are chapters 1-2 and 11. Both contain powerful and poignant descriptions of God’s love and anger, but ultimately compassion, mercy, and grace towards his people. And who doesn’t need to hear this?

A key reason why Hosea is one of my favourite Minor Prophets is that, at its heart, the book is a profoundly moving love story—between a husband and his wife, and a parent and their child. One of my most powerful experiences with the book involved reading 11:1-4 to a class of students, probably around the time my son was one:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son … It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.

As I read the words on the page, I could feel myself almost breaking down; the depth of God’s love for his people struck me in a way that I had rarely felt before. Of course, I had studied theology, I knew about God’s love on a conceptual level, but reading these beautiful, poetic, heart-aching words on the page impacted me in a completely different way. God loved these people just like—and even more than—I love my son. God was committed to these people just like—and even more than—I am committed to my son. God’s love and commitment remained even when his people turned their back on him, just like—and even more than—my love and commitment remains when my son does things I wish he wouldn’t.

If this is true for how God related to his people “there and then,” passages like Luke 15 (the parable of the prodigal son) means that we can be confident that this is how God continues to relate to his people in the “here and now.” In this way, Hosea functions, not just as a window into life under the old covenant, but as a microcosm of the gospel and Bible as a whole.


Introductory - Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea (The Bible Speaks Today, 1984) OR David Allan Hubbard, Hosea (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, 1989).

Preaching – G. Smith, Hosea, Amos, Micah (NIVAC, 2001).

Detailed Exegetical - Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah (Word Biblical Commentary, 1987) OR J. Andrew Dearman, Hosea (NICOT, 2010).

Aaron Chalmers is the Head of the School of Ministry, Theology, and Culture at Tabor Adelaide in South Australia, and the author of Exploring the Religion of Ancient Israel: Prophet, Priest, Sage and People and Interpreting the Prophets: Reading, Understanding and Preaching from the Worlds of the Prophets.

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