After Solomon died, the ten tribes that made up the kingdom of Israel had split away from the tribe of Judah. Israel’s first king, Jeroboam I, had introduced the worship of two golden calves, one in Bethel (in the south) and the other in Dan (in the far north). Some time later, Ahab had popularised the worship of Baal. When Jehu overthrew Ahab’s dynasty, he had abolished Baal worship, but the golden calves had remained. By Hosea’s time, idolatry was firmly entrenched and Israel’s religion had become so debased as to be almost unrecognisable.
Hosea’s prophetic career spanned a long period (II Kings 14-17). He first heard from God in the time of Israel’s greatest prosperity (around 760 BC, towards the end of the reign of Jeroboam II) and continued to preach until the final obliteration of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians just 40 years later. It is very likely that, after the death of Jeroboam, Hosea fled to Judah as the kingdom of Israel was torn apart by civil war.
Obedience to God carries a cost – and sometimes that cost is paid within our own families. When God first spoke to Hosea, he was a young man looking for a suitable wife; however, the woman that God commanded him to marry was not a woman of virtue who would support and help him (Proverbs 30:10,11), but a prostitute who would be unfaithful to him and drive him almost to despair. Hosea’s relationship with his wife and children would thus be a mirror to us of God’s relationship with His unworthy people. Through his troubled family life, we catch a glimpse into the very heart of God.
Just as Hosea knowingly married an unworthy woman, so God had willingly made a solemn covenant with the nation of Israel. It was a relationship that He had initiated of His own free choice, in the full knowledge that they were unworthy of His love and would fail to respond to His grace. Their ingratitude and unfaithfulness caused Him great pain – but despite it all, He never ceased (and never ceases) to love them.