April 24, 2014

Thursday with Tabitha - Hosea


Thursday with Tabitha

4. Hosea by Tabitha Smith

If you have ever felt that God is distant, disinterested, and aloof from his creation, or youve thought that God is a cruel, heartless God who punishes his creation harshly, then the book of Hosea has truth for you. This short prophetic book contains heartrending descriptions of Gods feelings for wayward Israel. It is one of the parts of the Bible that most vividly demonstrates the intensity of feeling and the depth of emotion in the heart of God.


Hosea prophesied during the latter half of the eighth century BC. This was one of the most turbulent and difficult times in Israels history, just before the captivity to Assyria. The nation of Israel went through six kings in about 30 years. There was violence, political intrigue and great instability.


Hosea primarily writes to the people of Israel, whom he sometimes refers to as Ephraim. His main concern is the way that the Israelites have turned away from worshipping God and instead started to worship Baal.


Baal was a false god of the region of Syria and Palestine. He was thought to control agriculture, rainfall and fertility. Practices involved in the worship of Baal included human sacrifice and mutilation of the body; incest, sex with animals, the use of shrine prostitutes and drinking alcohol in excess.


At the start of the book of Hosea the prophet is called to do something extraordinary. God asks him to marry an unfaithful wife. The events that unfold in Hoseas family will become a vivid image of the events occurring in Israel. Hosea marries a woman called Gomer and she bears him a son.


After this she has a daughter and another son but the wording of the text suggests that these two children do not belong to Hosea. Gomer has been unfaithful to him. The children are given names that mean “not loved” and “not my people”.  In this way, Hoseas illegitimate children become a picture of Israel, a child that will not be shown mercy and does not belong to its father. However, even at this tragic point, there is a promise of the mercy and love that the Father will show. God declares that in spite of this terrible unfaithfulness, he will show mercy and love again to Israel and Judah.


In chapter 2 God expands on the image of the unfaithful wife that was introduced in chapter 1. Israel has strayed from God, turning to worship Baal. She has taken part in pagan worship ceremonies and she has not acknowledged the way that Gods hand has graciously provided all of her crops, wine, oil, silver and gold, which she now uses in the worship of Baal. God declares that he will punish Israel and expose her adultery.


But even in the next breath he expresses his desire to heal her, and restore her and draw her back into a loving relationship with himself:

In verses 19-20 God says:

I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.

I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.

And in verse 23 he says:

I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called 'Not my loved one'. I will say to those called 'Not my people', 'You are my people'; and they will say, 'You are my God.' "

The language God uses is tender, affectionate and merciful. Israel will be his beloved bride again.


To complete the real-life metaphor, Hosea is instructed to go and love his wife again, even though she has been unfaithful to him. The fact that he has to buy her back suggests that she may have fallen into slavery. It costs Hosea to take Gomer back into his house. Hosea promises his faithfulness to Gomer and asks her to be faithful to him in return. This is powerful picture of love in action. It is love that is not based on warm glowing feelings but on commitment, intention, and faithfulness. This is love that hurts.


In the remaining 11 chapters of the book, Hosea continues his prophecy from God with a series of vivid pictures about unfaithful Israel. She is described as an adulterous wife, a disinterested mother, an illegitimate child, an ungrateful son, a stubborn heifer, a silly dove and a half-baked cake that is unfit for eating.

Hosea also paints a picture of Israel as a luxuriant grapevine that looked very promising at the start but then went bad. Another image likens Israel to grapes or new figs found in the desert – a wonderful discovery that then turned rotten.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking and tender passage comes in the first part of chapter 11. God describes Israel as a small child, a little son, who God himself called out of Egypt. God taught his child to walk, comforted him, kissed his wounds better and led him with kindness and love. But the child did not recognise the Fathers love and care and rejected the Father in favour of idols.


In spite of this painful rejection, God cannot abandon his child. In verse 8 God exclaims, ‘how can I give you up, O Ephraim?


The book closes with an impassioned plea for Israel to turn back to the Lord and enjoy the blessing that this change of heart would bring.


As Ive read Hosea, Ive been drawn to the image of Israel as Gods bride. God pledged his covenant faithfulness to his bride but she was unfaithful. As we move into the New Testament we discover a new image of the church, the new covenant people of God, as the bride of Christ. This image culminates in the glorious wedding feast of the Lamb in the book of Revelation. The church, now perfected and redeemed by Jesus, is presented to him for eternal union in the new heaven and new earth. Jesus has loved his bride, the church with the same complete commitment and devotion that God showed his original covenant people.

In the last days of his earthly life, Jesus had to experience the pain of loving those who would betray, desert and deny him. Johns gospel poignantly says, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1).


Jesus demonstrated the kind of resolute, faithful, steadfast love that would hurt so badly it would cost him his life.


So what do we take away from the book of Hosea? I think primarily it is a powerful reminder of the intensity of the love of God for his people. That includes us. If we are unfaithful to him and put other things in a higher place of importance in our hearts, this hurts God. The human emotion of having been cheated on by someone we love is only dim shadow of the effect of our unfaithfulness on Gods perfect heart.


I think Hosea can also draw us into deeper wonder at what Jesus did for us on the cross. If we marvel at the love Hosea showed to Gomer, and what it cost him to buy her back whilst she was still a slave, how much more should we be floored by the love that Jesus showed for each one of us on the cross, giving everything he had to buy us back for God, whilst we were still dead in sin!


Last Friday was Good Friday and Christians around the world remembered the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. After the grief comes joy and on Sunday we celebrated Jesusresurrection. Each Sunday is a commemoration of Jesusrising on the first day of the week. Each time we celebrate the Lords supper, the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine, we commemorate what happened on Friday.


Easter week may be over for another year, and of course we continue to celebrate each Sunday, but I think it is good to spend regular time thinking about the trial and the suffering of Friday. In doing so we remember what our freedom cost our Father, as we gather at the feet of our broken bridegroom, who loved us to the very end. 


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