If you have ever felt that God is distant,
disinterested, and aloof from his creation, or you’ve 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 God’s 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 Israel’s 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
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 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
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 Hosea’s 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, Hosea’s 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 God’s 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
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
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
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
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 Father’s 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 I’ve read Hosea, I’ve been drawn to the
image of Israel as God’s 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. John’s gospel poignantly
says, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
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 God’s 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 Jesus’ resurrection. Each
Sunday is a commemoration of Jesus’ rising on the first day of the
week. Each time we celebrate the Lord’s 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.