(Adapted from an address by Dr. Kyle Yates at Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota)
First, let’s look at the matter of the background of the times in which the Prophet Hosea lived and preached. I will give you about fifteen verses that you can read to get a feel of what conditions were like at that time. You will recognize, of course, that it is in Palestine. It is in the northern part of the country, up either at Bethel or Samaria, Jezreel, or one of those areas that we call Israel, the northern part of the land of Canaan.
We will agree, also, that it was somewhere close to 745 BC. We will need to say that Amos, the great prophet, has finished his work probably fifteen years earlier. He was preaching in 760 BC and went back home—at least we hope he was able to get back home. There is no assurance that he ever got home, although his book would indicate it. But now Amos went up into Hosea’s territory and preached fifteen years before Hosea came with his preaching. Hosea might have been a young lad of ten to fourteen, going around starry-eyed, listening to the mighty Amos preach.
In Jerusalem, which was just a few miles south, Isaiah, the young preacher, was already beginning to grow up into young manhood. If so, he was sixteen or seventeen years of age when Hosea began preaching. Micah, the country prophet, was only a few miles away, sixteen or eighteen miles probably, and was growing up as a tall, gangling, country boy, getting ready to preach
So, if you visualize Amos the mighty preacher who came in 760 BC and you think of Hosea, our hero for the day, as a young man having heard him, and if you see Isaiah down in Jerusalem, just a few miles to the south, getting ready for his marvelous ministry, and if you think of Micah the young preacher, probably a bit younger than the others, always relate these four preachers in your thinking and you will have a great quartet.
But let us hear another word about the background. The times were awful times. They were dangerous times. There was plenty of murder, there was plenty of bloodshed, and there was plenty of anarchy. When you have all of those things in a little country the size of Israel, you have something that is going to make for danger. There is revolt in the land, there is chaos, there are feuds, there is plenty of wealth in the hands of a few. But there is want and there is ugly slavery. Then turning to the side of what we would call religion, there is plenty of idolatry. The idolatry and paganism and heathenism and the godlessness of that northern kingdom makes a sorry and terrible picture.
That was bad enough. But when sister Jezebel came swaggering in from Phoenicia and took over the religious life of the people and tried to convert it immediately into the worst of Baalism, things went quickly from bad to worse. When you mix the kind of Baalism that she brought from Tyre and Sidon with the kind of religion that had developed as a result of Jereboam’s paganism, you have a rotten sort of religious life. But let us move on quickly.
The family life was rotten, and you would not expect it to be different. You cannot have good, clean, honest, loveable family life when religion is so rotten and when no worship, no Bible preaching of any kind, when paganism and heathenism are in vogue and when there is nobody doing anything about it. When people are starving to death, and having to sell their poor little children into slavery in order to get another bushel of barley so the family can eat and when those with money make a pretense of living in luxury by drinking and carousing and living godless lives, then you cannot hope for family life that has much to be desired. In other words, there is one other word that probably characterizes them, and that is the word backslider. Hosea’s book is a great appeal to the backslider. Chapter fourteen is primarily the backslider’s chapter.
With all these things that I have said about them, I want this line to hit you pretty solidly: THESE WERE GOD’S PEOPLE! These were God’s chosen people! These were God’s covenant people. These were the people who were to be the missionaries to the world. God was depending on them, and so God not only sent Amos up there to jar them loose from some of these wild pagan ideas, He also sent Hosea to spend his life preaching to them.
To get a Biblical picture of the land, please read the following verses from Hosea:
Chapter 4 vs. 1-2; chapter 5 vs. 4-5; chapter 6 vs. 9-10; chapter 7 vs. 8; chapter 8 vs. 1; chapter 9 vs. 10; chapter 13 vs. 2-3, 6 & 16.
After reading these verses, read the first three chapters of Hosea. God is asking Hosea to be a parable, if you will, to depict His own relationship with Israel. As you read these chapters, note that there are two stories intertwined in the narrative: Hosea’s relationship with Gomer and God’s dealings with Israel. The one serves as a parable to the other.
Then, in your own words, explain what it is that God is trying to tell Israel. If you are in a small group, be prepared to talk about your findings.