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Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Studies in Hosea (1) (Hosea 1:1-2:1)

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Study Number 1

(Hosea 1:1-2:1)

Hosea is one of the twelve minor prophets. They are called minor because of the size of their books and not because of their contents. The minor prophets dealt with the same major issues that Isaiah and the other major prophets spoke about.

We don't know much about Hosea, only that his father's name was Beeri and that his ministry spanned the reigns of four kings of Judah and one king of Israel. As the contents of this book show, Hosea prophesied mainly to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. He was a contemporary of Amos who also prophesied to the ten-tribe nation, and of Isaiah and Micah, prophets to Judah. Hosea's ministry extended over half a century.

Hosea, whose name means "salvation," prophesied at a time when Israel enjoyed great prosperity. Under Jeroboam II the nation's boundaries were extended farther than ever before. It was an age of material well being, apparent religious devotion and activity. Yet it was also a very bad period from a moral and spiritual point of view. The hearts of the people were empty, religion was shallow, and corruption was rampant everywhere.

Hosea's mission was to cry out against these evils. He did so in his own way, that is, in harmony with his character and experience. Whereas Amos sees Israel's sin as basically injustice, especially social injustice, Hosea characterizes his nation's sin as unfaithfulness. There is no contradiction here. These two prophets simply viewed sin from different perspectives. This meant that they also related Israel's sins to different divine attributes. Amos accuses the nation of violating God's justice, while Hosea charges the people with despising God's love.

A very interesting aspect of Hosea's prophesying is that he did not just deliver his message verbally, but that he also acted it out. We read in chapter 1:2 that when the Lord first called Hosea to be His prophet He commanded him to marry Gomer who was a wife of whoredoms or a prostitute. Was this a real marriage--something that actually took place--or should we think of it as an allegory, something that Hosea saw in a vision or dream, like Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress?

Many favour the latter interpretation. God would never ask anyone to marry an immoral woman, they feel. But a careful examination of this passage will show that what we have here is very real. God did command Hosea to marry a prostitute, although it is not necessary to conclude from this that she was already that kind of woman before Hosea married her. We should think of it this way. Toward the end of his life Hosea or someone close to him wrote down the main points of the message he had delivered to Israel in manuscript form. He introduces his book by saying in effect: at the beginning of my ministry the Lord commanded me to marry Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Hosea probably did not know at the time that she was a prostitute, although he may have been aware that she was flirtatious and inclined to the ways of the world. Hosea describes Gomer in light of what she later became, after they were married. Of course, God knew all along what kind of a woman Gomer was and that she would soon reveal her true character.

Why did God want Hosea to marry this woman? To teach Israel in this graphic way what her sin was, namely spiritual adultery. Go, take yourself a wife of whoredoms, He told His servant, and children of whoredoms, for the land has committed great whoredoms, departing from the Lord.

The Lord knew that by this time His people were so far gone in the ways of sin that the preached Word made little or no impression on them. Therefore Hosea must act out or demonstrate the Lord's message so the people will get the point. God wanted Hosea to marry this woman, knowing that she would be unfaithful to him, to illustrate what had happened to the relationship between Himself and His people. As Hosea would feel the pain of his wife's unfaithfulness, so the Lord experienced the agony of a broken heart when He saw Israel going after other gods.

We may assume that when Hosea married Gomer, things were quite normal at first. Their union is soon blessed by the birth of a child. Verse 3 tells us that Gomer conceived and bore him a son. Hosea is instructed by the Lord to call this son Jezreel which means "scattered." This implies judgment. By giving the boy this name, God indicated that He was going to scatter or disperse Israel throughout the world for her unfaithfulness.

Verses 4 and 5 explain just what this scattering involves and who will be the subjects of it. First, God would punish the house of Jehu for the excessive zeal displayed by Jehu when he wiped out the entire family and servants of king Ahab at Jezreel. This "scattering" of the house of Jehu would just be a sample and preview of what was to happen to the entire nation of Israel when God would judge her for her sins.

Verse 6 tells us that Gomer had another baby. We do not read that she bore a child to Hosea. It simply says she conceived again and bore a daughter. This suggests that by this time Gomer had already been unfaithful to Hosea, so that the daughter was not his child, but someone else's. Lo-ruhamah, he calls this child--again at God's direction. The name means "not pitied" or "not loved." What God meant to say with this name was that Israel's sins would cause Him to have no pity on her any longer.

A third child is born to Gomer and again we are left with the suggestion that it was not Hosea's. This time the prophet must call the boy Lo-ammi which means "not my people," for, says the Lord, ye are not my people and I will not be your God (vv.8,9).

How sad all this is! Three children and each bearing a name which speaks of judgment and rejection. What grief this must have brought Hosea! Not only was his wife having affairs with other men on the side, in secret, but also after the birth of her third child she ran away, thus making public what had so far been a private matter. That she indeed left Hosea we learn from chapter 3, where we read that Hosea goes after Gomer to get her back. Yes, that is the most amazing thing here. The Lord commands Hosea to take her back and to love her despite her unfaithfulness. Apparently Hosea does not just obey because he has to, but he actually loves this sinful woman enough to want to take her back. He tenderly woos her and does not rest until she has come home again.

Can you imagine the pain, the hurt and the disappointment Hosea must have felt during this time of rejection and deception? Remember that the real purpose of this sad story was to illustrate the pain God was feeling because of what Israel was doing to Him! Jehovah was Israel's Husband and she was His wife. He had married her at Sinai, in the wilderness, following her deliverance from Egypt. At first it was wonderful. There was a relationship of love, not only from His side but also from hers. Israel returned Jehovah's love and gave expression to this love by walking in His ways and serving only Him. But it wasn't long or she started to cast furtive glances at other baals or lords. From one thing came another and to make a long story short, by Hosea's time Israel had left her first Husband and was living with other lovers.

This caused tremendous pain to the Lord. This pain is reflected in Hosea's experience. God used Hosea and what he went through to illustrate to us what He went through. Hosea's broken heart is but a picture of God's broken heart. God is not only sad, He is also angry. His anger is terrible because Israel has spurned His love. Therefore the Lord will punish Israel for her sin of unfaithfulness. Hence the names Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah and Lo-ammi. Scattered she will be to the four corners of the earth; not loved, not pitied, because she will no longer be God's people.

Yet it will not be a final and total scattering. The rejection will only be temporary. God will not give up His sinful people. He cannot let Israel go, for He has loved her with an everlasting love and will love her forever, even though she has sinned so grievously against her Lord. This is the meaning of verses 10 to 11 and also verse 1 of chapter 2. Israel shall be gathered again. The Lord shall look upon her with pity once more and call her His people again.

There is much application here for those who are Christians today. What we read here of Israel's unfaithfulness is also true of God's people today. As such, this story serves as a warning to the Church of the New Testament. What we should realize is that a nation, a people and an individual cannot sin with impunity. When believers wander away from the Lord, this can only mean trouble--trouble for them and grief for the Lord.

Have we not often been guilty of the terrible sin of spiritual adultery? If not in its worst form, then certainly in more subtle ways, the equivalent of flirting perhaps. How attractive the world can be, even to a Christian!

The pursuit of material things can so easily take us away from following the Lord. This can only bring darkness upon our souls and a sense of being forsaken by God. Yet the Lord, for all that, does not reject us. He still loves us! As the rest of the book of Hosea shows, the Lord goes out of His way to win back His people's affection. Not that he has to. He is under no obligation whatsoever. He does it because He is gracious and merciful and above all, because he is faithful to His covenant!

If you are not a believer, you won't understand any of this. If you have never felt God's love and tasted His goodness, you will ask, how can God possibly love people like the people of Israel who are bent on serving other gods? The Bible says He does. When God created Adam and Eve there was a perfect fellowship of love between Him and our first parents. Sin changed all that. The Fall of man resulted in Adam and Eve, and all of us, being scattered, not pitied and not being God's people any more. That is how we should look at ourselves: dead in trespasses and sins, children of wrath, having no hope and without God in the world.

To such wretched sinners God sent a Saviour from heaven! God so loved this sinful world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. The apostle Peter was, no doubt, thinking of Hosea 1 when he wrote to the saints scattered throughout Asia Minor: once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (I Pet.1:1; 2:10).

That is the story of all who are saved: scattered, not pitied and not God's people because of sin. But now, by grace through faith, they are gathered, pitied, received in mercy, embraced in love, adopted as His children and people in Christ Jesus!

May this also be true of us. If it isn't so, seek the Lord while He may be found and call upon Him while he is near. He is calling you right now, through this message, to forsake all other lovers and to let yourself be loved by Him.

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