Introduction to Hosea
Hosea was a prophet to the House of Israel. Isaiah was a contemporary prophet, for both of them prophesied in the days of Uzziah, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Although both of these prophets had things to say about Judah, they were mostly concerned about the northern tribes of the House of Israel. who were to be carried to Assyria about 70-120 years later. Both Isaiah and Hosea prophesied about the judgment and ultimate restoration Israel.
In previous times, Saul, David, and Solomon had ruled over a united kingdom known as Israel. Each had ruled 40 years, and when Solomon died, the northern tribes revolted against Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, because he refused to lower the exorbitant taxes of his father (1 Kings 12:16, 17, 20). They formed their own nation, which retained the name Israel, because that name had been given to Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:16) when Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph. Since the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh had joined the revolt, the northern tribes had the right to call themselves Israel.
To the south, the house of David was left only with the territory of Benjamin and many non-landowners of the tribe of Levi (the priests). They had to give up the name Israel, because they were no longer in unity with Ephraim and Manasseh, so they chose the name of the dominant tribe, Judah, calling their nation the House of Judah.
It is important to understand the names of these two kingdoms, because thereafter, the prophets always addressed each nation by its proper name. When they spoke of Israel, they meant the northern tribes, the nation called the House of Israel with its capital in Samaria. When they spoke of Judah, they mean the southern nation with its capital in Jerusalem.
The Scepter, the Priesthood, and the Birthright
The division between Israel and Judah had huge implications that went far beyond the political split. Each nation carried a different calling, relative to the Birthright. The Birthright, as formed at the beginning of time, consisted mainly of two elements: the Dominion Mandate (Gen. 1:26) and the Fruitfulness Mandate (Gen. 1:28). To these elements a third was added later, that of the priesthood, first mentioned in the story of Abram and Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18).
When Jacob-Israel blessed his twelve sons before his death, he divided the Birthright in three ways. First, in Gen. 48:15, 16, he gave Joseph the double portion by adopting Ephraim and Manasseh as his own sons, thus giving them full inheritances as “tribes.” Hence, there were 13 tribes of Israel. Of course, Levi was given the priesthood and denied any land inheritance (as a tribal state). Hence, there were only 12 tribes that were given statehood when they divided up the land of Canaan as their inheritance.
Jacob also gave the Dominion Mandate to Judah (Gen. 49:10). This Mandate was taken out of the Birthright along with the priesthood, leaving only the Fruitfulness Mandate as the primary feature of the Birthright. Ephraim’s name means “double fruitfulness.” Also, when Jacob blessed Joseph specifically, he said of him, “Joseph is a fruitful bough” (Gen. 49:22). The “bough” is from the Hebrew word ben, which means “son” in the sense of a bough or branch from the family tree. It also means a “builder,” because a son is the one who builds the family or tribe.
1 Chron. 5:2 says, “the birthright belonged to Joseph.” In other words, he was given the Fruitfulness Mandate, and this is the origin of the Sonship calling. Many years later, John wrote in John 1:12,
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
The Birthright is the “right of birth.” It means that Joseph was given certain rights that the others did not have. The main right given to him was to bring forth the fruit of the Kingdom, most notably, the right to multiply—the right to bring forth the sons of God. Their physical descendants were to multiply exceedingly, but God was more interested in begetting spiritual children than in physical children. Many nations are prolific in bringing forth natural children, but only through Joseph’s Birthright can one become a child (son) of God.
Israel and Judah
Israel is the Birthright name, the mark of the Birthright holders. Jacob gave to Ephraim and Manasseh the name that the angel had given him—the name of Israel, saying, “The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name live on in them” (Gen. 48:16). Thereafter, the other tribes were Israelites (in a legal sense) only as long as they were in unity with the tribes of Joseph. Their ability to trace their genealogy back to Jacob-Israel made them Israelites in a fleshly sense—that is, by genealogy—but the name Israel was given to Joseph’s sons as a legal matter. So after the division in the kingdom, the House of Judah could not call itself Israel, even though the people as individuals were Israelites by genealogy.
Even Jacob himself was not an Israelite until the angel gave him that name (Gen. 32:28). He was not born an Israelite, because the name was a testimony of a new revelation of the sovereignty of God. Israel means “God rules.” When he discovered that God did not need his help to establish His promises, Jacob ceased from his own labor and schemes. That is when he was given this new name as a testimony to all men that God was sovereign.
Hence, from a legal standpoint, no one is truly an Israelite until he or she bears the same testimony. One might be a believer, as was Jacob throughout his early life, but to be an overcomer requires this revelation. The story of Jacob-Israel gives us the classic pattern showing all believers how to become overcomers, who are worthy of the name Israel.
It is important to understand the distinction between a naturally-conceived Israelite and one who has been begotten by the Spirit of God. It is the difference between biology and law, or between natural and spiritual—because “the law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14). To be a legal Israelite is to be a spiritual Israelite. This is contrary to most men’s way of thinking. Most think of the law as carnal and unspiritual. Hence, most people equate legal matters with carnality. But Paul says the law is spiritual—not because all men apply the law spiritually, but because they ought to do so. To apply the law spiritually is not to spiritualize away (hence, put away) the law, but to apply it according to the intent and purpose of God.
The division between Israel and Judah created an apparent problem—not for God, but for us. The House of Israel held the Birthright, but the House of Judah held the Scepter. Neither could truly fulfill its calling apart from the other. The purpose of God could not be fulfilled until One came to repair the breach. Isaiah 58:12 speaks of the Messiah as being “the repairer of the breach.”
As we will see later, Hosea himself speaks of the reunification of Israel and Judah under “one leader” (Hosea 1:11). He says that the people will then be called “the sons of the living God” (Hosea 1:10). That Leader is Jesus Christ.
But meanwhile, divine judgment had sentenced the House of Israel to be scattered throughout the nations on account of their sin and iniquity. After their revolt from the house of David, the nation lasted just 210 years before Samaria was captured and the people were deported to Assyria. During those 210 years they were known as Israelites, but their sin in worshipping the golden calves proved that they were unworthy of the name. Their idolatry continued in the land of their captivity, and this is the main theme of Hosea’s prophecy.
God stripped the House of Israel of its Birthright name, and with the destruction of the nation, the captives became known by many alternate names among the nations. This was to continue until the divine plan had been worked out through the two comings of Christ.
Yet Hosea gives hope to these ex-Israelites in the dispersion, telling them that they would be saved and redeemed by the sovereignty of God alone, for He had promised to do this by His own power. This, of course, is characteristic of the New Covenant, which is built upon the promise of God, rather than upon the vows of men which can only fail.
The only way to regain the name Israel was to do so lawfully—that is, by a spiritual process. That process is revealed fully in the New Testament, where we learn that one must be begotten by the Holy Spirit, nurture that holy seed within us, and finally give birth to “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
These are the true Israelites that God intended from the beginning, when he commanded, “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28).
Fulfilling the Promise to Israel
It is important to note at the outset that the present Jewish state which calls itself Israel is not the fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy. Certainly, it is not a state founded upon the Repairer of the breach, nor even upon spiritual principles by which they might truly be called Israel. It is not even a regathering of natural Israelites, for the ten tribes are still “lost” to most people. Judah is not Israel.
The Jews who founded the Jewish state were not Israelites. In fact, the term “Jew” is simply an English contraction of the name Judah (Greek: Ioudeos). Today’s Jews have no more right to the name Israel than did the ancient House of Judah. Nonetheless, they have garnered support from much of the Church, because they have blurred the distinction between Judah and Israel. Hence, the church has misapplied the prophecies by assuming that the Jews are the Israelites of prophecy.
The prophets themselves well understood the difference between Israel and Judah, for they easily saw two nations, each with its own territory and each with its own capital. So, for instance, Jer. 18:1-10 prophesies about the House of Israel, but Jer. 18:11 begins a new prophecy about “the men of Judah” and “the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
In the prophecy of Israel, the prophetic illustration is about a potter making a jar, using wet clay. In the second, which prophesies of Judah, the prophetic illustration is about an old earthen vessel, the clay being already hardened. In the first, the wet clay was beaten down and remade into another vessel. In the second, the old jar was smashed in the valley of the son of Hinnom (Jer. 19:2, 10, 11), known later as gehenna.
It is the same with the prophecies of Isaiah and Hosea, most of which deal with the northern House of Israel, but occasionally also refer to the House of Judah. Isaiah has more to say about Judah than does Hosea. Hosea focuses almost entirely upon Israel.
Unfortunately, many Bible teachers confuse the two and assume that the modern Israeli state is fulfilling the good prophecies of the house of Israel instead of the bad prophecies of Judah and Jerusalem. This confusion has resulted in misunderstandings and misapplications of prophecy.
It is my hope that this confusion can be dispelled by a thorough study of Hosea.