Hosea – The Prophet of Love

All Quotations are taken from the Revised Version

Hosea has been called the patriot from Mount Ephraim. The slightest acquaintance with his writing will show the contrast between his prophecy and that of Amos. Yet he was a younger contemporary of the prophet of righteousness. He was also an older contemporary of Isaiah and Micah. The introduction to the book in verse 1 indicates that Hosea’s ministry covered a considerable period of the history of the Northern Kingdom, much longer than the ministry of Amos. The earnestness of his language suggests that he was deeply involved in spirit with the affairs of his people. It has been suggested that he could have been present at Bethel or Gilgal when the fiery Amos denounced the hypocrisy of the nation’s religion. It could well have been that the stern preaching of this prophet opened his eyes to the deep corruption in the lives of the people. But we shall see that, however true this could be, a different spirit motivated Hosea altogether, and he approached the sin of Israel from a completely different standpoint.

Hosea was an Israelite who loved his land and loved his people. He has no eyes for the surrounding nations and no message for them as, for instance, Amos and Isaiah had. His whole attention is concentrated upon the people from which he came. It is worthy of note that chapter 4 begins, “Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel”. The final chapter has the plea from the very heart of the prophet, “0 Israel, return unto the Lord thy God”, 14. 1. Such single-minded devotion is touching indeed, and as we read imparts to us the very atmosphere of divine love and longing. As someone has well said, “To love is most God-like”. We see this without doubt in Hosea.

We have no record of the call of Hosea to the prophetic office. Instead his personal experience of faithless love is used as a foundation upon which his message to Israel is built. In chapters 1 -3, we have the record of a marriage relationship into which, at the command of God, Hosea entered with Gomer the daughter of Diblaim. He took her from the “whoredoms” of Israel. The children that she bore are named as signs of God’s displeasure with His people. Jezreel—“I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause the kingdom of the house of Israel to cease”, 1. 4. Lo-ruhamah—“for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel”, 1. 6. Lo-ammi—“for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God”, 1. 9. After these are born, comes the tragedy of wounded love into the prophet’s life. His wife commits adultery and pursues a path in which she shamelessly chases after other lovers, 2. 5. She openly spurns the love of her husband and chases after her lovers to gain her wealth. But the story does not end there. The faithful Hosea buys Gomer back again for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a half of barley. In her degraded condition she is found and bought back again by the faithful, long-suffering prophet to be for him alone. In his stedfast love, Hosea takes back the woman who had so disgraced and dishonoured him. A beautiful story of deep, human love.

Is the story allegory, parable or fact? We shall miss the whole point of the prophecy if, as many expositors do, we write these three chapters off as anything less than the true experience of Hosea. As someone has well said, “Hosea takes his place among the greatest lovers of all ages. His love was so strong that the vilest behaviour could not dull it. He suffered severely but in each pang of suffering he came to know the infinite heart of God more clearly”. Through his own heartbreak, he was enabled to enter more deeply into the heart feelings of Jehovah, the God of Israel.

Historical Background

The history behind the book of Hosea is similar to that of Amos. But it covers a greater period of time—a time which took the nation nearer to the captivity. The days of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel were days of comparative peace and prosperity. The Assyrians had not arisen in their power, and expansion and growth were the order of the day. Yet corruption and godlessness developed at an alarming rate, leaving the nation morally and spiritually impoverished. Anarchy and bloodshed in the royal household eventually led to a condition where the Assyrian yoke was fastened securely upon the neck of Israel (see 2 Kings 15). During the reign of Hoshea, the siege of Samaria led to the captivity and scattering of the Northern Kingdom. In 722 B.C. God’s judgement fell upon His wayward people. It was during these last years of anarchy, bloodshed, revolt and religious confusion that Hosea gave his message to the nation. Could conditions have been worse?

The Nation’s Sin

Hosea describes very vividly the sins which led to Israel’s final downfall. It is well to study these details carefully. Let us look at four main features of sin in the nation.

1. Spiritual Adultery. This aspect of Israel’s sin underlies the whole teaching of the book, “for the land doth commit great whoredom, departing from the Lord”. 1. 2. As a faithless lover, Israel had lost its purity as the chosen people of the Lord. Treacherously they had despised divine love, and had turned to give their affections to worthless lovers, cf. 6. 10.

2. Ignorance. The loss of knowledge and understanding of God is marked by the prophet in his message. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”, 4. 6. Where the love for God was lost, ignorance followed and the minds of the people became dark and foolish. It is only when God is loved that He can be properly known. Misguided Israel did not even know her own weakness and lack of power, 7.

3. Idolatry. How sad the words, “Ephraim is joined to idols let him alone”, 4. 17. Many such terse statements throughout the book tell of Israel’s unlawful association with idol-gods. The sacrifices which they brought to God were brought with hearts empty of true devotion. They were worshipping at other shrines, and the number of altars built in the land became sin to them, 8. 11-13. It is obvious that the priesthood had become profane and the priests were supported by the sin of the people, 4. 6-10. There was little in the worship of Israel that brought pleasure to God.

4. Worldliness and Corruption. The inevitable end to faithlessness and backsliding is clearly taught in Hosea. The walls of separation were broken down. “Ephraim, he mixeth himself among the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not”, 7. 8-9. Like “a silly dove, without heart”, 7. 11 marg., Israel called to Egypt and Assyria for help and confidence. This policy increased their spiritual barrenness. The sad words of 9. 3 show the end of such behaviour. So it was that corruption filled the land, 4. 1-2. Once the spiritual safeguards to sanctity were broken down, every form of evil in the land was possible. These evils of Israel could well be a challenge to us in a generation when departure from God is increasing.

Prophecy and Experience

We notice as we compare the message of Amos with that of Hosea that there is a vital difference in their approach to the nation’s sin. Amos concentrated his attention more upon the outward manifestations of evil, the wrong actions of the people. But Hosea probes deeper than outward actions. He reveals where the cause of the spiritual sickness of the nation truly lies. It was in the heart, the very soul of Israel, that the evil was found. The key verse of the prophecy is undoubtedly 6. 6, “For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings”. Mercy (stedfast-love or as one translator suggests, covenant-love) was what God desired from His people. 6. 4 tells us that this quality in the people (the word used for goodness is the same Hebrew word) was just like a morning cloud. It was transient and vanished very quickly.

It is in this connection that we see the link of the prophet’s experience with the message that he gave. No doubt he could remember the first days of warm affection that he enjoyed. Then the time came when love began to “cool”. Almost imperceptibly at first, Gomer lost her affection for him. Looks and approaches changed, and although the outward acts were the same the heart had gone out of them. It was duty without devotion. Finally she left him and he lost her altogether. With a breaking heart he knew the time had come when he could no longer hold her. Others had stolen her heart.

The day comes when Hosea faces the nation with the message of the Lord. What shall he say? How can he best communicate to the people the true character of their sin? With the sadness of unrequited love burning in his heart, he begins to unfold to them the true story of the love of his God. “When Israel was a child then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt”, 11. 1. Then again in their experience, “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love”, 11. 4. Such love as this was greater than the love of the prophet. Yet here lies the sweetness of Hosea in contrast to the sternness of Amos. In his own life the sin of Gomer against him had been the sin of treachery. Surely then, as he seeks to describe the sin of Israel, it was nothing less than flagrant treachery to a God whose love was so great. Although the message he brought from God had stern denunciations of the people’s wickedness, it came from the divine heart that was breaking because of the deep hurt that such sin caused. Again, even when Gomer had sinned against the prophet in such a way, his love did not change. When opportunity came he showed that he could not give her up. He must take her back again. So it is with God, only in a greater measure. “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? … mine heart is turned within me, my compassions are kindled together… I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee”, 11. 8-9. There is such deep feeling in the prophet’s word because of his own experience. He tells of the willingness of God to forgive and restore His people. Just as he was willing to take Gomer back, so God says to His wayward, backsliding people, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him”, 14. 4. These are beautiful words, spoken out of the sincerity and changelessness of divine love.

To close, let us summarize the message of Hosea with three ideas.

1. The Purpose of Love. Hosea exemplifies the changelessness of divine love in that no human circumstances can overthrow its plans. Initially God loved Israel without cause, and in His sovereignty chose them to be His own, 11. 1-4; Deut. 7. 6-8. Their folly and sin brought constant chastisement, and eventually they were laid aside in His purpose. Yet throughout his message Hosea makes very clear that all of Jehovah’s plans for the final blessing of His covenant people will be fulfilled. See Hosea 1. 10-11; 2. 14-23; 3. 4-5; 14. 6-8.

2. The Power of Love. The qualities of strength in the love of God are unbreakable. Hosea makes this very clear. Even the demands of justice were held back because God was loth to give His loved people up. Herein lies the secret of divine patience. In such strong love is the power to redeem from the self-inflicted bondage of their sin. Even the power of death and the grave can be broken, 13. 14. As Hosea reaches forward in his message to the future, he speaks with certainty of revival and restoration. The wounds of sin will be healed, and the wayward will be restored, 14. 4. Ephraim shall say, “what have I to do any more with idols?”, 14. 8.

3. The Provisions of Love. Hosea was able to weave into his message a constant call to Israel to return unto the Lord. Because he was sure of the character of God’s love, he knew that the door to repentance and return was always open. God’s love was changeless—the wholesomeness of stedfast love. Every provision was made to satisfy those who would obey and love God faithfully. But if not? Note the call of the prophet: “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live before him”, 6. 1 -3.

Surely for Hosea, God was the God of stedfast love.

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