The burning message of the minor prophet book of Hosea is God’s relentless pursuit of an intimate relationship with us. Hosea was a prophet in a time of great sinfulness, and degradation in Israel brought on through idolatry. God selected Hosea to illustrate God’s relationship with His people through his marriage. Israel was a like a prostitute who was constantly whoring after heathen idols, and God was a loving but heartbroken husband chasing her down time after time.
In order illustrate this cycle God asked Hosea to marry a prostitute to demonstrate to Israel, and to us the burning message of Hosea: God’s unfailing passionate love and loyalty to his people.
The book of Hosea begins with the words, “The word of the LORD that came unto Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.” (Hos. 1:1).
The backdrop for Hosea is chaotic and tragic days for the northern kingdom, during which six kings reigned within the course of 25 years. It was also a time in which Assyria gained prominence as a world power under the rule of Tiglath-pileser III. As the brutal Assyrian armies pushed west, Israel suffered from internal unrest and political intrigues. Egypt and other nations were sought as alternate means to God of protection and support, all to no avail. The fall of the northern kingdom, frequently referred to as Ephraim, was on the horizon.
If the political condition of Israel was bad, the moral and spiritual condition was even worse Hosea 7:1 explains, “they commit falsehood; and the thief cometh in, and the troop of robbers spoileth without.” It was not that the Israelites were not “religious”, their ritual life was at a high point, but they did not have the intimate relationship that God desired to have with them.
The Lord rebukes their self-righteousness by saying, “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hos. 6:6). The Israelites fell into the trap of working for God to show him their love instead of working out of a heart of love for God. Hosea’s main complaint is that the Israelites no longer “know” the Lord: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6a). Hosea does not use the word knowledge in the sense of an intellectual understanding of God, but an act “involving concern, inner engagement, dedication, or attachment to a person.”
The more the Assyrian armies threatened, the more the Israelites turned to politics and idols to save them, rather than to the LORD. The Lord laments, “Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.” (Hos. 7:11). These actions demonstrated that the Israelites no longer trusted in the LORD for their protection and sustenance, and it was for this reason that judgment would come. What starts as a seemingly innocent turning from an intimate relationship to religion soon ends up in full blown, adulterous idolatry.
It is in this backdrop of war, religion, and idolatry that God issues one of the most shocking commands in the Bible. In Hosea 1:2 God says, “Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms, and children of whoredoms.” In other words God said, “Go marry a prostitute”! It was not unusual for the Lord to instruct His prophets to use some symbolic act to accompany some part of the message, but Hosea was unique in that his whole life was symbolic, an object lesson for his message.
Anyone who saw or knew about Hosea’s ordeal could not help but feel sorry for him. The Lord was using his whole miserable, tragic experience of personal sorrow and emotional distress to portray a vivid lesson to Israel. Hosea’s constant love and loyalty to Gomer provided a beautiful picture of the Lord’s unfailing love and loyalty to Israel, and his unfailing desire for intimacy over religion.
This experience of a wayward wife no doubt gave Hosea a unique perspective of the anguish of the LORD over Israel’s prostitution and unfaithfulness. Hosea’s love demonstrated a little of the limitless love of the LORD in continuing to love and cherish Israel, even when they are unfaithful. Hosea knew better than anyone that, “marriage is the image for the relationship of God and Israel.”
Though many in Israel were deaf to Hosea’s sermons, even the most hardened of them could see his grief, sympathize with his sorrow, and marvel at his persistent love. Hosea’s marriage became a living indirect sermon: What Hosea did for Gomer, God did for Israel; what Gomer did to Hosea, Israel did to God. Humanly speaking, Hosea’s love for Gomer did not make any sense, but that is the very point of the message. God’s love for sinners is unexplainable apart from His free and inexhaustible grace.
Hosea’s direct preaching to the nation of Israel focused on three major themes. First, God’s relationship to Israel was initiated by divine love. Second, that relationship was rejected by Israel’s sin. Third, that relationship was maintained solely because of divine loyalty. Each theme finds a parallel in Hosea’s home life.
The picture of marriage suggests strong affection between the parties, but the primary focus of God’s love for Israel is more about His will, His choice. The motive for the choice is not found in the attractiveness or worthiness of the chosen. Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 7:7, that God chose Israel because He loved her.
God’s love is totally of grace, or unmerited favor. That is what makes grace amazing is that it is completely unearned, and unmerited. God chose Israel in spite of what she was, not because of what she was. He knew her sin, her weakness, her inclination to evil. God’s love for Israel was not “blind” and neither was Hosea’s love for Gomer.
God’s intense desire is that having chosen to love us when there was nothing within us worth loving that we would respond to His love,. And repent of our sins. Israel’s response to God’s love should have been humble gratitude, devotion, and loving obedience. However, it did not take long for Israel to reveal her concealed idolatrous heart.
Hosea 6:6, 7 declares that Israel failed to give the Lord the covenant loyalty He deserved and demanded and that she had overstepped the bounds of the covenant agreement and behaved treacherously against the Lord.
The word “treacherous” is significant because it refers to deceitful behavior and frequently designates the violation of marriage. Israel was doing to God just what Gomer did to Hosea. A big part of Hosea’s message to the nation was exposing and condemning the sin of forsaking an intimate relationship with the Lord.
Whereas Israel was bent on backsliding, God purposed to remain faithful (14:4). Whereas Israel’s covenant loyalty was like the passing cloud and dew (6:6), the Lord’s covenant loyalty was central to the relationship He initiated and established (2:19-20). God simply will not give up on having a relationship with His people.
Despite God’s great loyalty to Israel, and by extension to us His loyalty is not blind. God’s discipline is an evidence of true love, and loyalty. Love does not overlook sin. Hosea makes clear in chapter 9 that sin inevitably brings a day of reckoning, and that the consequences of sin are inescapable. This chastening is not to destroy, but to restore as evidenced in Hosea 5:15, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.”
The restoring discipline of God is expressed in the symbolic names given to the children born to Hosea. The first child was a son named Jezreel, signifying God’s judgment on the house of Jehu for Jehu’s slaughter of the house of Ahab in the valley of Jezreel (2 Kgs 10:1–11).
Lo-ruhamah was the second child (Hos 1:6), whose name meant “not compassioned or pitied.” This name is a clear symbol of God’s judgment of Israel. The spiritual corruption of the northern kingdom had run its course, and it would be defeated and taken away into captivity.
Lo-ammi was the third child, a second son, whose name meant “not mine”. This rejection of Israel as God’s covenanted people was to be temporary. God’s covenant promises to Abraham, and to Moses would be fulfilled in spite of the disobedience of any particular generation. God is faithful throughout time to His covenant mercies with Israel, and the Church, and is desperately concerned with restoration to an intimate relationship.
Despite Hosea’s loyalty Gomer was not satisfied with her relationship to her husband, she sought other lovers. Israel pursued the same elusive satisfaction in her flirtation and adultery with heathen deities. The good which their merciful God had bestowed upon them they attributed to pagan gods (2:8, 12). Repentant Israelites would return to their first love after discovering that there was no lasting satisfaction in their season of sin.
Hosea’s declaration of divorce from Gomer for her adultery depicted Jehovah’s divorce from Israel for her adultery. This again was not a permanent chastening but a temporary withdrawal of covenant blessing for the sake of future restoration.
The illustration of restoration in chapter 3 displays rich picture of Israel’s history. Israel’s bondage to sin and Satan is symbolized by the price paid by Hosea for Gomer . The price was that of a female slave since Gomer had become the slave of her adultery. The days of Gomer’s isolation, like the days of Israel’s exile, were established for cleansing.
The mixed ransom of money and food is illustrative of the awful cost of God’s restoration of mankind. It cost Hosea all of his food, and money to restore an intimate relationship with his wife. In the same way God’s restoration of mankind was very costly, it cost God His only Son to have a relationship with mankind.
Hosea’s use of the words “afterward”, and “in the latter days” look forward to the restoration of all mankind under Messiah. Israel, and all mankind are pictured after exile as returning to their husband to enjoy the blessings of the renewed relationship.
Just as Hosea was to take Gomer back, so the Lord would take back His people. Chapter 2 reveals the Lord’s threefold plan to bring the nation back to Himself. He would isolate her so that she might learn to recognize His superiority (2:6, 7). He would bring her to poverty so that she might learn to depend utterly on Him (2:9-12). He would allure (draw) her, persuading her to return (2:14-23).
Likewise, Hosea isolated Gomer from her adulterous former lovers, and enticed her with bridal gifts; once again she would be his alone. Hosea 2:22, 23 also explains the restoration theme extends to their children. There is a dramatic reversal: Jezreel (scattering) becomes a sowing; “No-pity receives mercy, and “Not-mine” becomes my people.
Repentance is God’s desired response to His loyalty. Without repentance there could be no enjoyment or experience of reunion. God made the terms of His marriage covenant clear. To repent means simply to return, to reverse directions. Israel had been backsliding, turning away from God (11:7); God called her to turn around and come back to Him (6:1-3). He left the door open for the estranged wife to come home.
In conclusion the burning message of Hosea is powerfully summarized as: the Father’s loving invitation for His people to repent and return to a relationship with Him. Whether for the Israelites, or for the Church: no earthly relationship, or religion will ever satisfy man. The only satisfying thing in this universe is an intimate personal relationship with God. In the words of the Puritans ,“the chief end of man is to glorify the Lord, and enjoy Him forever.”