Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 45. Hosea
Hos 1:2 When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.”
Hosea, the first of the minor prophets, presents us with a problem. Are there any highlight verses? It depends what we mean by highlight. We have usually taken it to mean verses that shed light and release faith, and when you read through Hosea there is not much that fits that description. Hosea prophesied in a period somewhere either side of 700BC. Although so much of the time it appears that he is speaking against the northern kingdom, the fact that in the opening verse he is identified by four kings of the south as well as one from the north, you are left wondering if much of what he says is supposed to also be a warning to the south. As a book it is mostly a prophetic tirade against the sins of Israel, calling for repentance.
Chapters 1 to 3 have a unique and amazing personal element to it which, possibly we may suggest, stands out as a highlight in Scripture. The Living Bible puts verse 2 as follows: “The Lord said to Hosea, “Go and marry a girl who is a prostitute, so that some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, committing open adultery against me by worshiping other gods.” Now I am not quite sure about that paraphrase which is a commonly understood interpretation of what took place because a) the emphasis of what happened with his wife, Gomer, is on her relationships with a number of ‘lovers’ and the word prostitute only occurs in 3:3 and 9:1 as suggesting that this is almost what these relationships are tantamount to, and b) there is indication that only one of her children’s father was anyone other than Hosea, although it is of course possible, if not likely (see below).
So adultery (relationship out of wedlock involving at least one who is married) and unfaithfulness (breaking of the marriage covenant) are the charges against Israel and Hosea is told to emphasise that by taking a wife who will prove to be an adulterer. When she has children, the names Hosea is to give them speaks out the Lord’s message.
Her first son is to be called “Jezreel” (1:4) which means ‘God scatters’, an indication of what He will do with unrepentant Israel. The Lord also explains (v.4) that it is to highlight the wrong massacre that Jehu committed at Jezreel when he killed Joram. (see 2 Kings 9) and He would end that dynasty (which shortly happened).
Gomer’s next child (1:6) was a to be called “Lo-Ruhamah” which simply means ‘not loved’ for, said the Lord, “I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them.” i.e. He has given up on Israel.
She then has a second son (v.8,9) to be called “Lo-Ammi” for, said the Lord, “you are not my people, and I am not your God.” a possible indication that indeed this child was not Hosea’s. However, after this, there is one ray of hope which perhaps ought to have been our highlight: “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, `You are not my people,’ they will be called `sons of the living God.’ The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.” (v.10,11)
Now that is amazing. Note what it says – Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore. Northerner as well as southerners? The two will be reunited? Well, in 2 Chron 30, in Hezekiah’s reign (which was shortly AFTER the fall of Samaria in 722) Hezekiah made a remarkable call to Israelite exiles to come and join their revival (v.6-9) and it is clear that they did (v.17-20). Was that the fulfillment of this remarkable promise?
Chapter 2 is a prophetic indictment of the wife – Israel – and yet as it goes on in verses 14 to 17 there are again verses of hope: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me `my husband’; you will no longer call me `my master.’ I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked.”
That is amazing. Achor, near Jericho, had been where Achan had been stoned for his disobedience (see Josh 7:24-26) and known as a ‘valley of trouble’ ever since. Achor, just over the border of the northern kingdom, would yet become a place of hope. Would it be in exile, that the northern kingdom carried away in 722 would, like the southern tribes, learn to worship God again, free from idols, in exile? The remaining verses of chapter 2 are verses of hope.
In the intervening period, Gomer has obviously left Hosea and is living with another, probably as a slave (for he has to pay for her) and when we come to chapter 3 we find he is instructed to go and take her back (3:1-3). Why? Of what was this to be a picture? “For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.” (v.4,5)
Did this refer to the northern kingdom or the south, or both? Whichever, it is a word of hope for whoever would hear. This is not a God who is wiping them out of existence; this is the Lord who presents a picture of hope to His people, the hope of a good future with Him. It is of course conditional upon their repentance and if they won’t do it before hand, then it will be repentance that comes out of exile. Confusing times, terrible times, strong words, words of rebuke and yet also words of hope. So a difficult book, in some ways a depressing book, and yet nevertheless there ARE highlights of hope for those who would hear and respond. Tragically it would be the latter course mentioned above – repentance that comes out of exile – that would apply, but the offer was always there and even though the measures taken against both Israel and Judah were strong, the end result was a purged people who came back to the Lord free from idol worship.