In Hosea, the northern kingdom is depicted by an adulteress. God uses ugly and emotional pictures to show Israel how terrible it is that they, as a nation, have ignored his commands and chased after false gods. But in this passage, God also promises that a day will come when the people of Israel will again return to him.
In chapter 1, Hosea was commanded to marry an unfaithful wife as a symbol of God and Israel and Israel’s unfaithfulness. In chapter 3, Hosea goes and redeems his wayward wife from slavery, lovingly rescuing her from the trouble she had gotten herself into. And God uses that picture to make a promise for the future.
Hosea 3:4-5 – 4 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward 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.
God knew what he was doing with Israel. He knew that the northern kingdom would be taken captive. He knew that the southern kingdom would be overrun by the Babylonians. And God knew that a time would come when Israel would feel like they were fully separated from the promises of God.
In truth, the northern tribes were carried away from the land and have not returned. The southern tribes lost the temple, rebuilt the temple, and then lost it again. But the promise here, a promise for the latter days, is being fulfilled and will be fulfilled.
When the Father sent Jesus to bring about the New Covenant, he did something beautiful. Jesus came and completed the sacrificial system. Jesus now reigns, King of kings, a descendant of David, and the Son of God. And Jesus welcomes all who will come to him in faith. Thus, once Jesus came, all physical descendants of Israel, captives in foreign lands and returned exiles, are invited by God to find salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The Jew and the gentile are welcomed into the family of God and to service under the throne of David, now the greater throne of Christ.
This prophecy is being fulfilled, as people all over the world from all nations are becoming part of the family of God in Jesus. And I suspect that it will be fulfilled in a greater way near to the time of the physical return of Christ. Paul gives us hints of God bringing ethnic Israelites into his family through Christ once the full number of the gentiles has come in (cf. Rom. 11:23-32).
When we see this promise in Hosea, we should see the kingdom of God in Christ promised and delivered. It should call us to rejoice in the grace of Christ. It should cause us to pray that God would spread the gospel over the globe to bring all his elect into his kingdom. We should long for Christ’s return. We should long to see those who have been blind to the gospel suddenly given sight by Christ. And we should marvel at the glorious plan and faithfulness of God.