God’s Long-Pleading Prophet
First place occupied by Hosea among “The Twelve Minor Prophets” possibly resulted from chronological considerations, but a simple reading of the work easily explains another and even greater reason for its coming first--its primary emphasis on God’s longsuffering love and mercy. This “Jeremiah of the Northern Kingdom” or “John of the Old Testament,” as George L. Robinson called him, takes the modern reader on a journey to plumb the depths of the heart of God--a journey benefiting all who travel with the prophet. Will you not join us as we thrill at the pleadings, shudder at the warnings, and rejoice in the promises coming from God, as He speaks to His straying and stubborn children?
It was against Israel’s sinfulness that Hosea pictured God’s great love. The divine glory, while a blessing to people abiding with God, could also consume them for their departure from the holiness depicted in that glory. Yes, God’s twenty-first century people must read the book to learn who God is and what He desires from us, to resolve never to stray as did those Old Testament saints, and to appreciate the holiness, love, mercy, and grace forming God’s essential character as an aid to achieving the first two purposes for reading the book.
The Background of the Book
This work is the only one coming from a prophet native to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His frequent references to “the land,” “our king,” Ephraim, Lebanon, Jezreel, Samaria, Tabor, Bethel, and the realities of domestic and agricultural life demonstrate this seer was a “son of the soil.”
Clues found in the book tell us that Hosea worked during the reign of Jeroboam II in Israel and Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in Judah (1:1). With Amos (Isaiah and Micah as well) as his contemporary but coming slightly before him, the same sins fought by Amos were again appearing in Hosea’s time of battle.
It does seem that the first section pertained to the time of Jeroboam II and the latter section to later troubled times after his death, when six kings ruled in Samaria in twenty years. All things considered, he probably prophesied somewhere between 755 and 725, because he did not mention the actual fall of Samaria in 722B.C., though he had predicted it (10:5; 13:16). More than this we probably will never know, but this is sufficient for an understanding of prevalent conditions in ancient times and the message’s application to modern needs as well (Graham, “Hosea,” Minor Prophets I, Truth Commentaries)
The ravines of prosperity and luxury, combined with the mountain of idolatry looming in the background, had trapped the Northern Kingdom even before Hosea’s time. Dependence upon neighboring nations for security and riches had also made her an easy victim of the pagan practices surrounding her. Lawlessness prevailed when only one king of six following Jeroboam II died a natural death, the others dying from assassination. “whoredom” in its many occurrences depicts the cavorting of Israel with the nations after leaving God in her past. Lewdness followed removal from God and His standard of conduct, so that money without morals and riches without religion became her lifestyle. Truly Israel had become a “sinking kingdom” with the abyss of her oblivion staring her in the face.
Hosea as a Man
The gentle, pensive, and forgiving side of Hosea appears as a powerful character attribute in his dealing with a disobedient people. For nearly three decades this prophet repeatedly called out to a nation persisting in their ways but refusing to re-embrace God’s ways. The same attributes which he manifested towards these reprobates he had already learned and shown toward his wife.
His marriage to Gomer was quite different and tragic! First, God told him to marry a woman of whoredom, whose past fitted her for a future of unfaithfulness. Second, the marriage became as tragic as Israel’s spiritual marriage to Jehovah. Third, the relationship was both real and moral at its inception, not allegorical and defiled, as contended by some. Gomer had absorbed the spirit of her times, thus producing her adulterous tendencies. Finally, the marriage was intended to instruct the prophet for conduct in two relationships, first to Gomer and next to Israel. At first Hosea loved Gomer dearly, but he developed doubts about her, which he progressively reflected in names he gave to her children. Gomer eventually left the prophet to spend time with other lovers, even to sell herself to others. When the Lord told him, “Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress,” Hosea complied by redeeming her, bringing her home, forgiving her, gradually restoring her to the status of wife, and then loving her freely. In these unusual and unexpected reactions of Hosea, we see God’s gradual preparation of the prophet for his long-pleading effort with Israel, as he sought to bring her home to God. We truly see Hosea as he tried to lead her, and then we see God in Hosea! Fidelity to God by Israel was the divine objective throughout these experiences with the prophet’s alienated wife.
By seeing the need to appeal to his own wife on different occasions, Hosea depicted God’s yearning to call His obstinate children back. By “all longsuffering and teaching” the Lord still works by those who preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2). Should we not try to imitate God in these ways?
The Book’s Message
Having multiple opportunities to teach produces a different result from what could be said in one inspired oracles (message revealed from God). Hosea spoke to the disobedient nation over a period of two to three decades under varying conditions, but one common factor linked all of them: spiritual apostasy, which the prophet called whoredom. While there might have been slight improvement at different times, causing different matters to receive emphasis in the various oracles, the big picture did not change. Sin still was the wedge dividing Israel from Jehovah and she showed no willingness to repent. For eleven somewhat repetitive messages, Hosea employed pleas, invitations, and warnings to induce repentance in Israel. A lawsuit against the estranged wife was the last resort because of the nation’s departure from God (the cause) and His abandonment of her (the effect).
Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the LORD their God, and David their; and shall fear the LORD and his goodness in the latter days (Hosea 3:5)
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 that thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children (Hosea 4:6).
O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto Thee? For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away (Hosea 6:4).
For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.
I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing (Hosea 8:7,12).
When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1)
I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath (Hosea 13:11)
O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.
Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.
Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? Prudent, and he shall know them?
For the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein (Hosea 14:1, 2, 4, 9).
The Keynote of the Message
It appears Hosea’s preparation for his mission, especially the role of urging Israel to “repent or suffer punishment from God,” came in the trials of his domestic life. He learned firsthand lessons he would soon use in his repeated messages calling her back to God. His own longsuffering depicted that of God. Like God, he did all that could reasonably be expected. Today God calls us to repent of sin and return to Him, but He punished those who persist in evil.
Taken from Biblical Insights, Volume 12: Number 8