Hosea: Plain Words for a Backsliding People
Key Text: Chapter 4:6
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”
Hosea commences a new section in the English Bible, which is commonly known as The Minor Prophets. This section is distinctive, in that apart from the Pentateuch, this is the only part of the English Bible which follows the same pattern as the Hebrew Scriptures. The arrangement and order of these twelve books is very ancient. These writings were a sub-section of a part of the Hebrew Bible known as the Latter Prophets or the Writing Prophets. This section included the lengthy writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel which were followed by the inspired works of these twelve men. Both Jewish and early Christian writers gave this section a very concise title, “The Twelve”. There is some evidence from the early church that these prophets were regarded as being one book because we find “The Book of the Twelve Prophets” being spoken of. While they have come to be regarded as The Minor or The Lesser Prophets this term has respect only to the length of their writings, not the spiritual contribution that they made. These men were major figures for God in their generation. They stood in the gap and boldly resisted the apostasy and compromise of their peoples. They were mighty men of God.
The order of these twelve prophets is not easily understood. Hosea stands first, probably because his occupies the most space. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi are last because they are latest of all the prophets. Between Hosea and Haggai the prophets are roughly arranged according to their chronology, although this is by no means exact.
These twelve men span a considerable period of Jewish history. Joel, the earliest of their number ministered after the reign of Jehu. As such he was a successor of Elisha and Elijah. He was probably trained in one of the schools of the prophets established by Elijah. The earliest of the Minor Prophets (Joel, Amos, Hosea, Jonah) were ministering before Isaiah’s call. Hosea’s ministry certainly overlapped the ministry of Isaiah. The final prophets witnessed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and of the temple and played a crucial role in assisting Ezra and Nehemiah during the resettlement of the land.
The Man whose name means Saviour
The name Hosea is a variant of Joshua and Jesus, all of which mean Saviour. He was a true mediator who prefigures the greatest prophet who would come with words from God. His ministry was chiefly to the northern kingdom, the ten tribes who separated themselves from the House of David in the days of Rehoboam and Jeroboam 1st. One of the features of Hosea’s prophecy is the use of the tribe Ephraim as being synonymous with the entire northern kingdom. On 37 occasions he calls Israel by the name Ephraim. This would indicate that in his day, Ephraim was the most numerous and most influential tribe in the nation. Therefore Jacob’s promise concerning Joseph, that his branches would run over the wall, was certainly being fulfilled.
Hosea’s dates are set forth by association with the reigns of certain Kings both of Israel and of Judah. It has been reckoned, after totalling the years of these Kings that Hosea must have ministered God’s Word for a period approaching, if not exceeding, 65 years. Although he ministered in the north the names of certain southern Kings are associated with him as Judah was the true home of Biblical worship and the seat of the House of David through whom the Messiah would come. I believe there is an indication here that the ministry of Hosea was known and respected in the Kingdom of Judah.
Days of Deepening Apostasy
Hosea began preaching during the reign of Jeroboam 2nd. He was the grandson of Jehu, who was the chosen by God to execute judgement upon the House of Ahab. Jeroboam 2nd was a most successful monarch who strengthened and prospered Israel. Nevertheless his reign was marred by sin and a following of the idolatrous ways of Israel’s first monarch, Jeroboam the son of Nebat (2nd Kings 14:23-29). In Dan and Bethel there were golden calves to whom the people paid homage. They imitated the true biblical worship having priests and sacrifices. Yet all of this was not acceptable because they had turned the glory of the Lord God Jehovah into a four footed beast. Therefore throughout his prophecy Hosea condemns the falsehood of apostate religion; 4:5-6, 8, 9, 5:1, 6, 6:6,9, 8:14, 9:7-8, 10:5.
Apostate religion will always be the author of sin and wickedness. It seemed that in the days of Hosea every commandment of God was broken. He writes of deceit (4:1, 7:1), adultery (4:11, 5:3-4, 9:10), murder (5:2, 6:8), robbery (7:1), and perversions of justice (10:4). It seemed that the ills of a nation were concentrated upon the false priests, their prophets and the religion that they promoted. The King and his court set the example (7:5), the priests engaged in the sins of the nation (4:8-9), adultery became an act of religion (4:14), the priests sought to intercept and murder those who travelled south to Jerusalem for to worship (5:1, 6:9), places sacred to God were violated and every good memory erased (4:15). There was total ignorance and a rejection of true knowledge (4:6). It seemed the situation was beyond repair (7:1).
A Marriage with a Message
Intriguingly Hosea’s prophecy begins with an account of a marriage that while commanded by God was at variance with our understanding of Biblical principles. Hosea is told to marry Gomer, a woman who was ungodly and known for a promiscuous lifestyle. It is clear from 1:2, however, that Hosea’s marriage to this woman was intended to be a picture lesson to the nation of their apostasy. As Gomer was married to Hosea, a faithful husband, so Israel were married to God. As Gomer committed adultery and broke Hosea’s heart, so the Jews had pursued false religion and committed spiritual adultery. There are some writers who believe that this marriage was a parable and not an actual real life situation. This case is set forth because of the paradox, why would God ask his servant to marry an ungodly woman? This analysis, however, poses even more questions. Gomer is identified with her Father being mentioned, Diblaim. This indicates that she was an actual woman. If the marriage is an allegory, can we then be sure that Hosea himself, is an actual person. On the balance of evidence I would suggest that the marriage did take place according to God’s commandment. God’s ways are mysterious. He often leads his people through strange and difficult paths to fulfil a great purpose. Such was Hosea’s lot in life.
Hosea and Gomer had three children, and their names represented a clear message to an apostate people:
Jezreel; Judgement is coming to the royal house of Jehu.
Lo-ruhamah; God will not have mercy upon Israel.
Lo-ammi; Israel is not God’s people.
Despite Gomer’s adultery and her infatuation with other lovers Hosea continued to love his wife offering her a home. This is the occasion of a beautiful message to Israel from God where He offered mercy and grace (2:14-23).
Gomer persisted on this destructive path which eventually led her to poverty and the slave market. Her way indeed was hedged with thorns and she discovered in the cruellest manner possible that Hosea was the one who was good and kind to her (2:6-8). The 3rd Chapter finds Gomer in the slave market, being auctioned off to pay for the debts she had incurred and as a means of escape from the poverty in which she found herself. Hosea, however, went seeking for his adulterous wife, finding her in the slave market, and purchasing her for himself. It was an exceptional act of forgiveness. Chapter 3:2 is in many respects John 3:16 in the Old Testament where God purchased us out of the slave market of sin by sending His Son to the cross.
Hosea’s Plain Word Pictures
Hosea employs a plain straightforward style in teaching the people the truth of God. He was the master of the metaphor and he employs this technique with devastating effect:
Metaphors for God – Husband (2:15-16), Shepherd (4:16, A Moth (5:12), A Young Lion (5:14), A Father (11:1), A Lion and A leopard (13:7), A Bear Bereft of Her Cubs (13:8), A Healer (14:4).
Metaphors for Israel – Prostitute (1:2), Slave (3), Backsliding Heifer (4:16), Suffering Sickness (5:13), A Morning Cloud (6:4), Adulterers (7:4), Drunkards (7:5), Cake Half Baked (7:8), A Silly Dove (7:11), Sowing the Wind and Reaping the Whirlwind (8:7), Wild Grapes (9:10), A Bird Flying Away (9:11), A Dried Up Root (9:16), An Empty Vine (10:1), A Heifer that is Trained (10:11), Fallow Ground (10:12), A Child (11:1), A Lily (14:5), An Olive Tree (14:6).
Repentance and Forgiveness
Amid the darkness of apostasy and impending judgement Hosea produces beautiful promises that Israel will repent and God will be gracious. These passages supply wonderful words of encouragement for the Church in this New Testament age (6:1-3, 10:12, 14:4). They certainly remind us that while a backsliding people will suffer the consequences of their sin God will be gracious and will restore such a one to blessing and favour.
God’s Marital Relationship With His People; Chapters 1-3
Through the picture of Hosea’s difficult marriage the unfaithfulness of the people and the mercy of God are vividly demonstrated
The Decline and Fall of a Nation; Chapters 4-14
Hosea has been called the prophet of the decline and fall of the Northern Kingdom. The defeat by Assyria and the subjugation of the people is related.