Do you remember the end of the book of Daniel? “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever” (12:3).
Hundreds of years before Daniel, when there was still hope for the northern kingdom of Israel, the prophet Hosea, in his last chapter called his readers to repentance. They should come to God not with sacrifices, but with words of repentance and commitment: “forgive all our sins and receive us graciously. . . We will never again call what our own hands have made ‘gods.’” God will provide healing, the prophet promises. Those who are “wise,” he says, will realize these things, and the “righteous” will walk in the ways of the Lord.
At the end of the day, two things are necessary for a close walk with God: first wisdom, the understanding that God’s way is the only right way. Second, a commitment to walk in those ways.
What about “faith”? That’s a part of the way of God.
What about “love”? I fail to understand the question. Perhaps we are thinking about love as a “feeling,” some emotional endearment we have toward Him. It’s interesting to note that love for God is never properly expressed in sentimentality. It is always expressed in obedience. The wise and the righteous of God’s people will be blessed.
As we approach the end of Hosea, the word “conflicted” comes to mind, and it applies, strangely enough, to God.
God is conflicted over His people. On the one hand, he knows what they deserve, what justice demands. On the other, He loves them. You see it plainly in 11:8 – “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” (Admah and Zeboiim were two cities of the plain consumed in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – compare Genesis 10:19 and 19:24-29).
Judgment doesn’t come easy for God, but it does come, just as it did for Israel (often referred to as “Ephraim” in this book).
11:1 introduces us to a text used in Matthew 2:15 and reminds us that Bible literature sometimes has two non-related meanings. In Hosea, the line “out of Egypt I have called my son” refers to the Exodus. In Matthew, it refers to the sojourn of Jesus’ family in Egypt when he was a baby. But be careful. While Bible texts may have more than one meaning, the meanings they have must always be obvious from the text. As Bible interpreters, we are not allowed to assign meanings to passages they never had in the Bible.
“An eagle is over the house of the Lord.”
Sounds like a good thing. In many of our more patriotic TV commercials, a soaring eagle is often depicted flying over the land.
But remember: an eagle is a bird of prey. A soaring eagle is looking for food, and when Hosea writes about this one flying over the land, God’s people are the prey.
This begins the third of four speeches comprising Hosea 4:1 – 11:11 and this speech is two chapters long. God’s complaint is that His people have broken his covenant and rebelled against Him. They reply that they have not been unfaithful. Israel’s deep religious nature is emphasized by their building of many places of worship. And yet, they have forgotten that God prescribed only one place of worship: Jerusalem. Their attempt to be more religious has resulted simply in more sin, highlighted by their continual trust in political alliances (Assyria) when the times get tough rather than turning to God.
Just because you are religious, does not mean you are faithful. Faithfulness means trusting in God alone, and following His revealed will rather than what you think He might be happy with.
What if you went looking for God, but couldn’t find Him.
After all, Paul wrote that God had so ordered the world that everyone might “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” So how is it possible that God cannot be “found” or “discovered?”
Hosea says, surprisingly, for God’s people, it is.
The problem is not an absence of religion. Both Israel and Judah (remember, Hosea is writing during the “divided kingdom period,” are very religious. The prophet mentions their scrupulous attention to religious festivals (new moon festivals) and the abundance of their sacrifices (they seek the Lord “with their flocks and herds”).
The problem is a lack of heart for God. God is not a part of their daily lives; they do not consider Him when they make their life decisions. They are sexually immoral (give birth to illegitimate children), arrogant (will not listen to anyone but themselves), and dishonest (the movement of boundary stones is stealing property). In times of trouble, they look to political deliverance (Assyria) rather than the Lord.
They only think about God at His appointed time.
And when people live like this, in times of trouble, God will not be found.
In chapter twelve, the northern and southern kingdoms are compared. The north has repeatedly chased . . . nothing. The prophet calls it “wind,” and an east wind at that, hot, dry, and killing. Why would they do that?
Why indeed? It doesn’t make sense. In chapter 13, that same east wind is going to bring not just hot, parching air, but the judgment of the Lord.
Judah, on the other hand, has likewise struggled with the Lord just as Jacob had. He, however, had overcome the struggle. Judah . . . not so much. They still have work to do.
In His dealings with His people, God had used prophets like Moses and Samuel to lead His people. They have a prophet now, Hosea, but they think the prophet insane (9:7). Unfaithful to their heritage, oblivious to God and unrepentant of sin, the Lord’s people are plunging headlong into disaster. They have no one to blame but themselves.
The Church is not the sub-total of its liturgy or government, but of its behavior. God did not judge the individuals of Israel because of their sins, he judged all of Israel together because of the sins of her individual citizens. We have an individual responsibility to live as God pleases. The fate of our fellow members in the body of Christ depends on it. Like Israel, we stand or fall together.
In Hosea 10:9 the Lord says: “Since the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, Israel, and there you have remained. Will not war again overtake the evildoers in Gibeah?”
Gibeah was the home of Saul, Israel’s first king, but she also had a much more notable reputation as a center of sin. Beginning in Judges 19 we have the story of a Levite who went there with his concubine, sheltered by an elderly man of the city. The men of Gibeah demanded the old man turn the Levite over to them that they might rape him. Instead, the Levite threw them his concubine, whom they abused to death. This brought down the wrath of Israel and in a war with them, most of the people of Gibeah died.
Hosea uses this story as an illustration for Israel. Whatever the Lord has given them, they have misappropriated for evil intent. The more God has blessed, the worse they have become. Their behavior is the same as that of Gibeah centuries before. In fact, it has always been characteristic of them. Thus Gibeah’s fate will be their own. Consider the patience of God. The incident in Judges occurs well before 1000 B.C. It is now over three hundred years later and despite the fact that Israel’s behavior has mirrored that of Gibeah, the patience and compassion of God has delayed judgment. It’s a point worth remembering. Peter will write centuries later: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Popular comedians who despise Christianity and our God often point to the hateful pronouncements of the Lord on His people as proof that God’s own moral character doesn’t merit attention. But they all overlook these facts: First, these pronouncements are not arbitrary. They come as judgment for sin. Second, it is precisely because of the immorality of the people (not the immorality of God) that God makes these judgments. Third, God is God. Because He is God He has a right to expect obedience. Punishment for disobedience doesn’t come without warning and a chance for repentance, but persistent sorry conduct will bring retribution. God gives no one the right to live as they please.
The cooking metaphor is interesting in chapter seven. The oven (Israel) is too hot and burns rather than cooks. Israel is a “cake not turned,” like a hot cake cooked only on one side – not fit for consumption.
Who will help God’s people?
The people first depend on international alliances (chapter 5). They offer insincere repentance (chapter 6) and conduct assassination attempts (6:8ff) to get rid of bad leaders. These efforts at self-deliverance have even been conducted by religious leaders – the priests (5:1 & 6:9). But the nation continues down its spiraling path to ruin.
God taught them better, but they have turned against the Lord and will not even ask Him for help (7:16). When a person, or a people, stubbornly continue on a course that yields one failure after another, they deserve the ridicule thrown at them by observers.
Think about your life. Where are you? Are you in a good place or a bad place? Why are you there? If a bad place, but you think it is all the fault of others, you might ask yourself how long you have been in that bad place, and how often you have been there. And then you might consider that your place is due to your own ineptitude, and perhaps, an unwillingness to yield to the will of God.
Despite the stupidity of Israel, God still longs to restore them – as He does you and me, if we would only admit our deficiencies and weaknesses and come to Him for help.
What a sorry situation we find in Hosea 1 – 2!
What kind of husband was Hosea? Was he romantic? Was he affectionate? Was he funny?
Over forty years of ministry, I’ve heard all kinds of reasons for unfaithfulness on the part of both men and women. Frankly, when you want out of a marriage, any excuse will do and sometimes, folks just get to the point where they want something different. There are no perfect wives and no perfect husbands. In this allegory of God and Israel, you cannot even say God has been the perfect husband. If the perfect husband “fulfills you in every way,” God obviously isn’t giving Israel what she feels she needs. While God is loving Israel, she loves raisin cakes!
Gomer ends up where the unfaithful usually end up – in misery. Having sold herself to amorous pursuits, she ends up enslaved.
In chapter three, God instructs Hosea to “Go” and “love” again! Love her as God loves His people.
There is no bolder more plain statement of God’s love than this one. Despite all Israel’s unfaithfulness, God still loves her and is determined to be her husband. And that, really, is what love is about: a determination to be faithful regardless. When one spouse acts that way and the other doesn’t, that’s supreme love. When both act that way, that’s a marriage made in heaven.
I hope you can see God’s great inner conflict over His people in Hosea. His words of condemnation are harsh, and the coming condemnation itself will be catastrophic. But if your image of God from all these condemnations is that He delights in causing His people misery, you will have missed the point of the book.
In chapter 13 The Lord rehearses Israel’s sins and pronounces a horrible condemnation: “I will attack them and rip them open. Like a lion I will devour them; a wild animal will tear them apart.
But mid all the punishment we have these words: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?”
Then, these words follow: “I will have no compassion.”
Punishment is coming for God’s people. It is well deserved. It will be terrible. But it will not happen with divine glee. God will send this punishment with an anguished heart, but He is looking forward to a day when His people, in penitence, return to Him for healing. “Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.”
There are a number of references to the Exodus in Hosea (see 2:15; 11:1; 12:9) but 9:10, to me, is most significant. When the Lord led Israel from Egypt, He says he viewed her as grapes in the desert. That’s not the sort of thing you expect to find in a desert, and the presence of grapes would be a welcome sight to a weary traveler. The same is true of early fruit on the fig tree. It holds promise and gives hope.
This is how God saw His people.
God certainly knew their hearts. He knew how stubborn and rebellions and faithless they were. But it didn’t matter. Israel in the desert was a welcome sight to the Lord. They were precious to Him.
The problem was, Israel didn’t see herself as God saw her. She didn’t see herself as something special to the Lord. And so she gave herself to unbecoming behavior.
We spend too much time looking at ourselves through our own eyes, and the sameness of our day to day reflection obscures how really special we are. Through scripture we can learn to see ourselves through God’s eyes, and when we do, it should reinforce the need to behave as people special to the Lord should behave.