How to Read Hosea

The Book of Hosea

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application.  

Hosea, a collection of preaching and poetry, unpacks humanity’s rebellious nature, and God’s loving and forgiving character through the imagery of an adulterous wife and a faithful husband. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the book of Hosea, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 

Now that you have an overview of Hosea in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Hosea. Read how the Lord commands Hosea to love his adulterous wife as a picture of his relationship to Israel in Hosea 3. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Hosea 3.

Hosea 3:1-5 (ESV)

Hosea Redeems His Wife

1And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”2So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.3And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.”4For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods.5Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: The Lord commands Hosea to love a woman who is an adulteress. 

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Hosea 3? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) The Lord commands Hosea to love a woman who is an adulteress to create a picture of his relationship with Israel. (Interpretation) Israel has become like an adulterous wife. Even though Israel has made a covenant with Yahweh, they are worshipping other gods. 

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Hosea 3? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Hosea? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: Since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, mankind has been choosing to run to and worship other gods, other idols, and other created things. The Israelites worship a golden calf in the desert. Israel repeatedly breaks covenant with Yahweh in the wilderness. Israel demands a king besides God. Hosea compares Israel to an adulterous woman. Mankind worships the creature instead of the creator. 

Contextualize: What themes does Hosea 3 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Jeremiah? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the earlier books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Like Israel, I am prone to wander from the Lord. Because of the sinfulness of my heart, I am not faithful to Him. I search for fulfillment in all kinds of pleasures, experiences, and people. Yet, like God remained faithful to Israel, God remains faithful to me today. Like He promised, He has made a way for my heart to be transformed, through a new covenant and through His Son, Jesus. I can trust that He ultimately will keep His promise to fully restore humanity to relationship with Him, and I can continue to seek the power of the Holy Spirit to grow in faithfulness to Him while I wait on the complete fulfillment of that promise.

Apply: How does the truth from Hosea 3 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Hosea to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps us wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Hosea, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Hosea this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.