Hosea – Fidelity to God
We know little about Hosea personally other than his tragic marriage. Hosea married a woman on instruction from God, but she was not the blushing, innocent bride of Hosea’s teenage dreams. Instead, the bride Gomer was a promiscuous woman that God and Hosea both knew would prove to be unfaithful to him (ch 1:1-3). Her subsequent physical adulteries were a great sorrow to Hosea and were designed by God to be a vivid object lesson to Israel about their spiritual adultery to God.
Why did God choose such a startling object lesson to drive home His message? To understand the answer, we need to understand the background to the book.
Background to Hosea’s Message
This book is the earliest of the twelve so-called “minor” prophets, both in positioning in the canon of Scripture and chronologically. Hosea’s ministry is to Israel in the North. His contemporary, Isaiah, ministered to Judah in the South. This is a period of rapid economic growth and prosperity, with the rich and powerful living in opulence, and the poor in destitution.
Israel was complacent about its relationship with God. The Israelites had forgotten about their mighty salvation from Egypt, and that prosperity comes from God. Further, they had assimilated the ethics, morals, world-view, and even the gods of the former residents of their homeland. Israel was rotten in its spiritual core and addicted to the pleasures of the world around it – spiritual adultery!
Two-thirds of Hosea is concerned with presenting evidence of this woeful condition, another 25% presents God’s predictions about disease, death, destruction, destitution, and deportation that will follow in the absence of repentance. Less than 10% of Hosea is devoted to predictions of future blessings and then, only if repentance occurs.
Hosea’s Message and Its Meaning
Mirroring the relationship of Hosea and Gomer, God is depicting Himself as a longsuffering, loving, and forgiving husband to Israel, the harlot bride. Despite Israel’s long and adulterous affair with Baal and the associated fertility rites, God wishes to renew His covenant relationship with His loved Israel. Through Hosea’s prophesy and his marriage object lesson, God gives His people a last opportunity to repent of their sin before He brings judgment on the land and its people. Even the meanings of the names of each of Hosea and Gomer’s three children (ch 1:3-9) were chosen by God to emphasize His threat to deny them as His people, to have no compassion upon them, and to bring punishment upon them.
Yet, immediately after these very real threats, God demonstrates His love, His infinite patience, and the potential for His forgiveness by promising blessings if Israel will turn to Him again (ch 1:10-2:1). In contrast to Israel’s adultery, God promises, “I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy; I will take you for my wife in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord” (ch 2:19-20 NASB).
Hosea continues describing God’s character to Israel. He explains that even if punishment does fall as a result of adultery with false gods, Israel is promised to become God’s loved bride again. Indeed, Hosea’s second marriage is also to an adulterous woman (ch 3). Hosea accepted the ridicule and disgrace of his marriages so that Israel as a whole would stand aghast at his love for an adulterous wife. He must have suffered greatly from the strains of such a marriage as well as from the criticisms of his countrymen (ch 9:7-8). But, as Hosea forgave and continued to love, Scripture provides us with ample evidence about God’s ability to forgive even the most obnoxious sin and restore the sinner to His loving heart again.
Hosea tells us that God, as required by His justice, holds nations accountable for their actions (ch 5:1-15). Where the sinners do not embrace repentance and forgiveness, God, in justice, punishes the offender in hopes of restoring the party to a loving, obedient relationship. Chapter 11 also reveals that God yearns for us to look into His infinitely loving heart to understand Him.
Hosea promises judgment in chapters 11-13, but immediately after, in chapter 14, he depicts God’s returning to plead again for repentance so that He can fulfill His desire to bless and nurture His people. This chapter is full of love and pleading for the loyalty of Ephraim (Israel). If such repentance is evident, God will forgive, and Israel will live a transformed life again in God’s mercy.
Hosea, like the prophets generally, has a very strong sense of sin and the need for repentance. Throughout the book, Hosea worries that the sin has become so habitual that God’s justice demands that He withdraw His love and bring punishment. Hosea preaches about a cycle of sin and repentance. The cycle functions as follows: (1) God blesses in accordance with the covenant; (2) Israel violently sins, breaking the covenant; (3) God punishes sin; (4) Israel repents; (5) God acting out of love restores the sinner and blesses him again. Unfortunately, the cycle usually begins again with the same consequences.
Relevance of Hosea’s Message for Christians Today
Hosea describes the pure attributes of God and the impure response of mankind to His overtures. Here we are in 2003 and nothing has changed! Hosea’s object lesson should not be treated as relevant only to Israel. Hosea clearly has a message about sin, repentance, and forgiveness together. As Christians, we have enjoyed the benefits of repentance and forgiveness at the point of salvation. However, we continue to sin as Christians and repentance needs to follow.
True repentance requires more than lip service. It requires a change of heart and change of lifestyle. This is equally true for Israel in the days of Hosea and for believers today. It is not enough to have a discipleship of words on Sunday. Lip service must be accompanied by hand and foot service all week long!
In 2 Corinthians 7:8-11, Paul describes the manner in which true repentance should function. Though initially he almost wished he had not written, yet now he was pleased he had, because the sorrow his correction caused among the Corinthians ultimately paid off in their restoration to God’s will for the assembly. Further, in verse 11, Paul notes that the correction resulted in very tangible, physical changes to the manner of life of the Corinthians. He notes seven ways in which they were more responsive to God’s will after they repented of their sin and received forgiveness, namely: (1) It made them more “earnest,” (2) They were vindicated in themselves, (3) They were characterized by indignation at their sin, (4) They had fear for God, (5) They had longing (presumably for God’s blessing), (6) They displayed zeal for God’s things, and (7) They “avenged” (NASB) the wrong. The happy result was that the Corinthians displayed true repentance and became zealous for God and effective representatives of the new covenant of grace.
Summary and Challenge
Hosea’s prophesy ends with a declaration that “the ways of the Lord are right and the just shall walk in them, but transgressors shall fall therein” (Hosea 14:9). The prophet declares that the same covenant (“ways of the Lord”) that promises blessings for the faithful also promises punishment for the sinner. This verse in itself is an apt summary of Hosea’s prophecy. Let’s take Hosea’s message to heart and make sure that our relationship with the Lord is clean, our lives are true to His Word, and that we are pure representatives of His grace in our daily lives.