Hosea was the son of Beeri, and he prophesied mainly to the northern kingdom of Israel. He was one of the earliest prophets of the kingdom era and he had a broad knowledge of earlier biblical accounts which he used to illustrate his prophecies. His name means “the Lord saves”. His ministry began while Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam II was king of Israel. This places his ministry from around 755-715 B.C. He was around to witness the Assyrians over run the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. Hosea was written primarily as a message of judgement to the northern kingdom during the years of its rapid decline prior to its fall. For the most part the prophets words are filled with condemnation and promises of destruction for the nation, but as you read remember that most of his predictions were filled within 30 years from the beginning of his prophecy. There are three major themes in the Book of Hosea. First Is God’s faithfulness, mercy, and unfailing love. Hosea’s love for his adulterous wife represents God’s relentless love for the faithless Israelites. In fact, God’s covenantal relationship with His people is likened to the intimacy experienced in marriage. This reinforces the theme of God’s passionate devotion to His people. Second is the judgement for sin. At the root of Israel’s idolatry was her failure to acknowledge God, an unfaithfulness that would result in the punishment of exile. The third theme is punishment and restoration. God would not leave His people under judgement and in exile forever but pledged to heal Israel of the wounds caused by her disobedience and to reestablish His people in the land. Hosea demonstrates the recurring theme that repentance brings restoration. Here are a couple of other things to take note of. Hosea took Gomer as his wife. She was unfaithful to her husband, Hosea, just as Israel was unfaithful to the Lord. Like many other prophets, Hosea became an object lesson for the Lord. Their first child together was named for the judgement Israel would face for its sins. This child was named “no mercy”. The second child was named for God’s rejection of Israel, which was ultimately fulfilled in the 722 B.C. exile of the northern tribes. This child was named “not my people”. The names of Hosea’s children were part of his prophetic message. Hosea, like the Lord would not forsake his wife even though she left him. Finally, Hosea redeemed his wife from prostitution with nine bushels of barley and 15 shekels of silver, the going price for someone in slavery. His dedication to Gomer represented God’s love for Israel.
The Book of Hosea begins much like one of Paul’s books. Hosea makes it clear these words are not his. They are not human words but a message from the One True God. While Jeroboam is mentioned specifically, Hosea prophesied to the last 7 kings of Israel. Today’s reading describes Hosea’s unhappy marriage, his children, and it serves to illuminate God’s painful relationship with Israel, His chosen people. Some people find it almost impossible that God would have Hosea marry a prostitute. But we have seen God ask many unbelievable things of His prophets. This should not be surprising to us, given that God did use His prophets as object lessons. Jezreel is a fertile valley in north central Israel and the murders Jehu committed there are recorded in 2 Kings 9-10. The name of their second child carries the harshest judgement of all because it seems to announce the end of Israel’s covenant with the Lord. The cherished title, my people, bestowed on Israel when they lived obediently in convent with the Lord their God was now withdrawn due to their blatant unfaithfulness. Part of verse 9 can be translated I AM not I AM for you. But like many prophecies, there is an abrupt shift in Hosea’s prophecy from judgement to hope. The names of their three children are changed from judgement to hope and blessings, echoing the promises made to Abraham about descendants as numerous as the sand on the shore. There is also even the promise that the northern and southern kingdoms will be reunited.
Chapter 2 details the charges against Israel, the unfaithful wife. God appears to be issuing a bill of divorce against His unfaithful spouse, Israel. However, as the passage continues it becomes clear that God’s purpose isn’t divorce, but reconciliation. God’s case against Israel is intended to waken her to her sin and offer her a chance to return to her true husband. Considering the penalty for an adulterous spouse is the death penalty, God wanting reconciliation seems surprising. The Lord warns unfaithful Israel that unless she repents and returns to her covenant partner He will strip her naked. It will be a shameful judgement. The amazing thing is, the only evidence to prove Israel’s unfaithfulness comes from her own words: I will run after other lovers, these being the Canaanite fertility deities and Baals. The Israelites gave them great power because they wrongly believed these pagan gods would take care of them. For this reason God made them difficult to find. Israel would pursue her lovers but she would not find them and in the end she would conclude it was better to return to her rightful husband. What Israel did not realize was that she needed to know God personally and experientially. Had they known God in this way they would have known that every good thing in their lives came from Him, and not the Baals.
God’s first judgement was to restrict the Israelites but the second judgement would be to remove and destroy what He alone had given them. It seems clear that Israel had defiled the legitimate festivals by combining them with Baal worship. Mixing different faiths is called syncretism and God rejects that. Instead He would remove these unholy days from their calendar. While the Israelites were worshiping Canaanite gods they forgot the Lord and for Hosea this forgetting was not a lapse of memory but deliberate ignoring. Had Israel truly known the Lord they would have never indulged in Baal worship in the first place. The third judgement is completely unexpected. The Lord who had suffered Israel’s repeated unfaithfulness, announced that He would take the initiative in wooing Israel in order to win her back once again. He would lead her into the desert where He first entered into a covenant with her, away from the Canaanite influences. The valley of trouble (Achor) was the scene of Israel’s first act of disobedience after they entered the promised land. The thing about the Lord is that He had both the will and the power to grant a new beginning after their sin and trouble. Once again, Israel would be offered a gateway of hope. In verse 16 the Lord speaks of that day. This is a reference to the coming day of the Lord, when the Lord will act decisively in human history on behalf of His people. In this coming day, Israel will enter into a new relationship with her God. No longer will Israel call God master which points to subservience. Instead she will call the Lord husband, pointing to partnership and companionship. At this point God will wipe the names of any Baals from Israel’s lips. He will make a covenant with His creation and His people…a covenant of peace and safety.
The hope and promise here involves the Hebrew word for betroth. In the ancient world betrothal involved all of the legal steps of marriage including paying the bride price. The only thing missing was the consummation of the relationship. The Lord vowed to betroth Israel to Himself forever. The bride price God paid included five priceless qualities: righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion, and faithfulness. Finally Israel would know the Lord. While Israel thought her food and clothing were gifts from her lovers (these are things the husband was responsible for providing for the wife), in that day they will know that the Lord alone is the source of all blessings. When the Lord is recognized as the only source of life then the name Jezreel will regain its true meaning…God plants! As God promised the names of Hosea’s children will be changed. The child whose name meant not loved will become He will show love. To the child named not my people, God will say now you are my people. The people’s response…you are our God.
The Lord commanded Hosea to restore his marriage as a testimony that the Lord had promised to restore wayward Israel, even though they loved to worship idols. Nowhere does scripture tell us why Hosea had to buy Gomer back. It is possible she had fallen into debt and had become a slave. The little price he paid for her probably indicates she was a slave of little value. Just as Hosea’s wife was forbidden to have sexual relations, Israel would be deprived of the institutions, practices, and objects that had been the foundation of her life and worship. The Lord’s purpose in depriving the Israelites of these things was to get them to return to Him in reverential awe and recognize Him alone as the source of all goodness.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W