The first part of the book (chs.) narrates the family life of Hosea as a symbol (similar to the symbolism in the lives of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) to convey the message the prophet had from the Lord for his people. God ordered Hosea to marry an adulterous wife, Gomer, and their three children were each given a symbolic name representing part of the ominous message. Ch. 2 alternates between Hosea's relation to Gomer and its symbolic representation of God's relation to Israel. The children are told to drive the unfaithful mother out of the house; but it was her reform, not her riddance, that was sought. The prophet was ordered to continue loving her, and he took her back and kept her in isolation for a while (). The affair graphically represents the Lord's relation to the Israelites (cf. ), who had been disloyal to him by worshiping Canaanite deities as the source of their abundance. Israel was to go through a period of exile (cf. ). But the Lord still loved his covenant people and longed to take them back, just as Hosea took back Gomer. This return is described with imagery recalling the exodus from Egypt and settlement in Canaan (cf. ). Hosea saw Israel's past experiences with the Lord as the fundamental pattern, or type, of God's future dealings with his people.
The second part of the book (chs.) gives the details of Israel's involvement in Canaanite religion, but a systematic outline of the material is difficult. Like other prophetic books, Hosea issued a call to repentance. Israel's alternative to destruction was to forsake her idols and return to the Lord (chs. ). Information gleaned from materials discovered at Ugarit (dating from the 15th century b.c.) enables us to know more clearly the religious practices against which Hosea protested.
Hosea saw the failure to acknowledge God () as Israel's basic problem. God's relation to Israel was that of love (). The intimacy of the covenant relationship between God and Israel, illustrated in the first part of the book by the husband-wife relationship, is later amplified by the father-child relationship (). Disloyalty to God was spiritual adultery (). Israel had turned to Baal worship and had sacrificed at the pagan high places, which included associating with the sacred prostitutes at the sanctuaries () and worshiping the calf images at Samaria (). There was also international intrigue () and materialism. Yet despite God's condemnation and the harshness of language with which the unavoidable judgment was announced, the major purpose of the book is to proclaim God's compassion and covenant love that cannot -- finally -- let Israel go.