Hosea is the second of the Minor Prophets whose life dramatizes the message of God to Israel. In the book of Jonah the life of the prophet and Gods conversation with him in Jonah 4 constitutes the whole message. With Hosea, God is more explicit both during and after the dramatization of His message. As Hosea experiences and endures the tragedy of unfaithfulness in his marriage, God narrates the comparisons He wants to make between His relationship with Israel and Hoseas relationship with his wife, Gomer.
The chief difficulty with Hosea is the nature of Hoseas marriage as commanded by God. Some points of observation may help.
God commands Hosea to marry a woman "of harlotry", that is, a prostitute. God does not command Gomer to be unfaithful. We are naturally shocked that God would tell Hosea to make such a union, but we must keep in mind that God made the decision to take Israel to Himself being fully aware of their (and our) natural desire to follow after other gods.
Hosea is a model of faithfulness, love, endurance, compassion, and humility. He is as Jesus was in loving tax collectors and sinners. There is a tendency on our part to equate Hoseas marriage to Gomer as sin, but from Gods own love for Israel and for us we know that it is not sin to love the sinner.
It is also important at this point to see that Gomer is not the picture of an unredeemed sinner. She was a part of Israel, a part of Gods chosen people, one of the redeemed. If it was wrong or sinful of Hosea to love and marry Gomer, then it was wrong or sinful for God to love and marry us to Christ.
The book of Hosea is shocking. It is meant to be. But the shock is not so much in the relationship between Hosea and Gomer as it is the fact that one of holy character would love one of unholy, immoral indulgence. More than that, it is shocking that after facing the unyielding pursuit of whoredom in Gomer, Hosea would take her back after divorce and marry her again. It is the height of unexpected beauty to see that Hosea is to love Gomer in 3:1.
Here is the true crux of the matter: this is a book of love within a framework that fully displays the nakedness of our sinful nature even as Gomer was shamefully displayed and exposed in her immorality.
The unfailing nature of Hoseas love for Gomer is breathtaking in its pursuit of her and the restoration of their marriage. The chastisement Gomer experiences flows from a broken heart, not a heart of anger and selfish embarrassment.
Hosea is a book of redemption, restoration, and broken-heartedness. In the tragedy of Hoseas marriage is the celebration of faithfulness and Hoseas loyal love. This in no way diminishes the dreadful ugliness of adultery and sinful indulgence, for God Himself points out these fatal truths to Israel. But we cannot afford to ignore nor forget that God is showing us His own unfailing love.
Who Was Hosea?
Like so many other prophets of "The Twelve", not much is known about Hosea other than the meaning of his name (salvation) and the name of his father, Beeri (which means my well). Hosea is another form of the name Joshua; it is equivalent to the name of the last king of Israel, Hoshea; and, the Greek form of this name is the same as the Greek for Joshua: Jesus.
This brings up again the issue of names and their significance. It was certainly significant that the Joshua most associated with that name was the successor of Moses, and that Moses said, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him" (Deut. 18:15). That prophet, in the immediate sense, was Joshua; in the remote sense, it was Jesus (cf. Matt. 17:5). Just like Joshua was a picture of Jesus leading Israel into the promised land, and his Greek name was Jesus, so Hosea was a picture of both judgment and salvation for Israel, and his Greek name was Jesus. Hosea went to the slave market to purchase back his bride; even so Jesus redeemed His bride from the slavery of sin.
Of Hoseas personal life, we are most familiar with his painful family history. It seems from 1:2 that his prophetic ministry began at the same time as his marriage to Gomer. While his ministry spanned thirty or forty years, the first few years were tied closely to the birth of three of his children: Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi. The names are explained in 1:4-9, though the name Jezreel has quite a history behind it.
The name Jezreel goes back to the days of Ahab and Jezebel in 1 Kings 21 and 2 Kings 9, 10. Through treachery, lies, murder and greed, the house of Ahab took land that belonged to a man named Jezreel. God promised to avenge him, which He did thoroughly upon the house of Ahab, but also finally upon the kingdom of Israel by situating the final downfall of the northern kingdom in the very place of Jezreels land.
One of the riches of Hosea is found in his vows to Gomer in chapter 3. So often in Hosea the words of the Lord to Israel are also images of Hoseas commitment to Gomer, but in 3:3 we hear Hosea himself speaking to his wife: "You shall stay with me for many days. You shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man; so I will also be toward you." These might sound like strange wedding vows, but this is their second marriage, the first being dissolved due to infidelity.
Hoseas wedding vow is one of exclusive commitment and loyalty. He has redeemed his ex-wife after her period of chastisement, and now he pledges to her his own love as well as affirming that she is done with her divided heart. Hosea and Gomer are reunited in the same way that Israel will be rejoined to Yahweh:
The emotion is intense, but not inappropriate. The realization of redemption, of their previous condition of complete depravity, moves Israel to tremble with relief at their restoration and shame for their sin. This is Gomer and Hoseas experience.
The Background of Hosea
The discussion so far regarding Hoseas own experience pretty much summarizes the historical background of the book. We will add to this that Hosea is the last prophetic voice Israel hears before Assyria carries them to their punishment.
Mixed with the cries of this last northern prophet are the cries of murder and treachery from Israels last kings. The following table summarizes the last century of Israels history (see 2 Kings 12:13-17:6)..
2 Kings 17:7-41 is Israels epitaph. It reads as if one were telling a story in the dark, whispering the words because they are too terrible and unbelievable. Hoseas message tells the same story, though in the midst of the final bloody decades of the kings of Israel. It is a nation in embarrassed disarray. Israel is a mockery of a kingdom, buying protection from their enemies while conspiring for relief behind the enemys back. They have crossed the line, and God sends them away in shameful, naked humiliation.
Outline of Hosea
Title: Unfailing Love
Theme: Fidelity in the Home and in Worship
The History of Israel Told in a Marriage (1-3)
1. Hoseas ministry begins with his marriage (1)
An Examination of Infidelity Shows the Simplicity of Loyalty (4-14)
1. No truth, loyalty, or knowledge (4)
The Message of Hosea
As dark as the picture is regarding Israels spiritual adultery, the contrast with Gods unfailing love is so much the brighter. It is one thing to describe Israels sin and Gods faithfulness; it is entirely another thing to see God as loyal in His love even beyond what looks like the end.
We must not forget that God has cast the frame of His message to Israel in that of a marriage. After chapter 3, other metaphors are used, but we must keep the underlying theme of the marriage covenant in focus. Also, as the outline suggests for part two of Hosea, there are no surprising complexities in discovering how to be faithful. These are words Israel heard thousands of times (8:12).
The tone of Gods message through Hosea has a different character than the other prophets. God is in the position of judge, as He is in other books such as Joel and Amos, but the message is not so much that of detailing the charges against Israel as it is that of pronouncing the sentence. The trial is over and the verdict has been returned. Now God is the reading the sentence and giving reasons for each of the punishments Israel will receive.
It is in the pronouncement of Israels sentence that we find the reasons for Israels infidelity. With the causes of Israels sins, Hosea is asking us to discern two things: 1) the causes of spiritual (and marital) disloyalty, which can sometimes be very subtle; and, 2) ways in which we can protect our walk with God in faithfulness to Him which in turn will help us protect our walk with our marriage partner. This is what Hosea asks from us in 14:9.
Remembering the Source of Blessing (2:5-13)
One of our most vulnerable times is when things seem to be going just fine. Needs are met; we are comfortable. In the home it is vital to realize and remember that stability is the product of the relationship, not independent of it. Stability, peace, and lack of need are fruit of the marriage and Gods blessing on the family; they are not the fruit of a single partners labors. These things are also deeper than mere surface appearances. Stability and peace can reign in a marriage even when circumstances withhold the promise of any outward security.
Thus it is with our walk with the Lord. Our security, our stability and peace, are essentially spiritual and different from outward circumstances. These things are the fruit of our relationship with Him, and we cannot afford to confuse them with outward things that have all the appearances of coming from other sources. Regardless of the threats or promises from those things that are external to our relationship with God, we must remind ourselves always that He is the source of meeting all our fundamental needs.
See also 4:11-13; 5:4; 7:2, 7-11; 11:3,4; 12:8-14; 13:4-6; 14:8.
Truth, Loyalty, Kindness, and Knowledge (4:1, 6)
These traits are closely associated in Hosea. They are both character traits as well as fruit of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5). They involve humility, choices, actions and attitudes. They can bud with the fragrance of spring and wilt miserably at the first touch of summer heat (9:10; cf. Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23). God loves loyalty even more than sacrifice, and He loves those who know Him and seek to know Him (6:6).
See also 2:19, 20; 8:5; 10:12; 12:6.
Sincere Communication (6:5, 6; 8:11; 11:1-2; 12:10, 13)
God continually spoke to His people, calling them, teaching them, rebuking them, pleading with them. Not listening to Him was Israels crying sin and shame. It is not that they didnt hear Him, it was that they turned their backs on Him and disregarded His words. Yet it is with words of sincerity and truth that Gods people are to come to Him to find final restoration. They have brought many words in the past, even good-sounding words (chapter 6), but until the words flow from a heart of truth and loyalty, they mean nothing.
See also 7:14; 9:17; 14:2,3.
Dependence and Trust (5:13-6:4; 7:7-16; 9:10; 10:1-3, 12; 13:9; 14:1-8)
The failure of Israel to maintain their dependence upon God was directly the result of forgetting Him as their Source of blessing. The passages listed here describe how becoming complacent when things seemed to be going well lead Israel to pride, thinking they had accomplished their successes by themselves.
A key to keeping our dependence upon God fresh is to keep the content of our worship fresh. In Hosea 5 Israel wanted to come to the Lord for relief when things became difficult to endure, but their faith always proved as fleeting as the dew (ch. 6). God had appointed feasts and festivals of celebration designed specifically to remind Israel of their deliverance and Gods faithfulness. When Israels worship became empty, so did their hearts.
In our homes and marriages, a key to mutual dependence and trust is to "re-live the honeymoon" as often as we can. We need to build times of celebration and remembrance into the daily routine. If our acts of kindness and devotion become empty, so will our hearts toward each other.
Celebrate, love each other, be kind, and be loyal!