Hosea preaching to God's unfaithful people.
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Book of Hosea (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
Israel and Judah, in the days of Hosea, stood between two powerful pagan nations, Egypt and Assyria.
At the beginning of Hosea's ministry, Israel and Judah were independent kingdoms, but recognized the threat of Assyria and Egypt. Rather than turn to Yahweh in trust, they turned to the gods of their neighbours and sought buy alliances from them.
After Jeroboam II (753BC) Israel lost its independence, was forced to pay tribute (8:8-10), and destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC.
Introduction: Hosea is an intensely personal tragedy reflecting an utterly unnecessary destructive national tragedy. The people of God broke their covenant of love and faithfulness with their God betraying Him to alliances with hostile nations, false gods and idols, leading to the question: "Can marriage be restored to a thing of beauty after adultery?" The answer is positive, though in this historical instance Israel chose to remain unfaithful.
God is Faithful and calls us to Loyalty. He shows longsuffering loyal love even when we wander but when His people break with Him completely, He abandons them temporarily to their choices and false gods until they are ready to be restored.
Confessing Our Wandering Hearts: The human heart, including that of God's people, is prone to wander. The astonishing paraphrase of verse 2 in The Message, E. Peterson is stark in speaking to Hosea of a powerful, personal, painful, human illustration: "Find a whore and marry her. Make this whore the mother of your children. And here's why: This whole country has become a whorehouse, unfaithful to me, GOD." Every generation must choose again to love God or false gods. To choose wrongly leads to immeasurable loss, both for God's people and for God's redemptive mission to the world through His people. Yet God's heart remains that of "the waiting Father" (Luke 15) and desires to restore (Hosea 1:10-11).
Loving Wanderers: Like God, we must not give up on spiritual wanderers. Romans 8 makes clear God yet adopts the unfaithful and we must be eager to do the same, restoring them to their Father and His mission in the world.
Restoration Anticipated: Jezeel (which means 'God sows') was the site of Jehu's murderous false claim on the throne (2 Kings 10). It would be the site of God's punishment of Israel (v.5) but also that of God's restoration of His people following their return to Him (vs. 10-11).
My Prayer: Father, make me passionately faithful to You and loyal, like You, to those not only who wander but also to those who deliberately turn away. Make me eager to be restored when I loose focus and wonder, and eager to restore others also, in Jesus' name.
God's Hesed: God's covenant love (Hebrew: hesed = a covenant of lovingkindness, v.19) pursues all means, including leaving us to the consequences of our choices, to restore right relationship. From God's 'hesed' comes communion, deliverance from evil, enabling, enlightenment, guidance, forgiveness, hope, protection and everlasting life.
Incremental Unfaithfulness: First, when Israel entered Canaan she placed Canaanite fertility gods in a secondary place to Yahweh, then considered Yahweh as greatest of the baals, finally viewing Yahweh as just one of the baals and forsook Him (v. 13). Likewise, we can acknowledge Christ as Lord, then see Him as a familiar friend, yet gradually drift to other interests. God 'speaks to the heart' (v.14) and says, "Turn back and become 'Ammi' - my people, and 'Ruhamah - the ones I love (v.1)"!
Dissatisfaction: neither Gomer or God's people can find satisfaction in unfaithfulness (v.7). Baal means 'owner' (v.16), a one-way relationship of. The world and the false substitutes of satan always leave us empty and bitter.
God's Restoration Following Unfaithfulness: Yahweh pursues Israel and us in His grace to be our 'husband' (v.16)
Human Hesed: God wants to embrace all the world with His 'hesed' covenant relationship which finds its closest human approximation in marriage. Rather than reject His unfaithful people (v. 2 contains the Jewish formula of divorce), God takes His people as bride, giving righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, compassion, faithfulness and personal knowing of Him forever (v.19). God's 'hesed' is our basis for marriage and model for other human relationships in community.
v. 20: "I will betroth (hesed/covenant) you to me forever; yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, and I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord." This was the wedding text and context for our vows on Carol and my marriage (December 20, 1976) and the foundation of God's continuing grace to us.
My Prayer: "Israel abandoned you so thoroughly for Canaan's baals (masters), yet you disciplined (exile) and brought them back. Father, keep me from idols. (I John). Enable me now further to respond so fully to Your covenant love that my marriage, parenting and love for all the world would express Your faithful, restoring grace."
The character and mission of God is to be a faithful pursuer of unfaithful wonderers, illustrated by Hosea's buying back his wife (v.3). Notice the term "again" (v. 1) reflecting the persistence with which God pursues and redeems those who don't seek Him or deserve it.
We too are to seek out - patiently, without ceasing - unfaithful wonderers. These may be children for whom we pray every day or cities, or nations or people groups.
v.1 "Hosea, fall in love with an unfaithful woman who has a lover. Do this to show that I love the people of Israel, even though they worship idols and enjoy the offering cakes made with fruit."
Redemption and Exile: Two central Biblical themes are evident in God's command to Hosea to buy back Gomer:
Redemption: in which Hosea purchases his wife back for the standard price of a slave in that day (paid half in silver and half in barley (v.2), as Jesus would buy us back at the cost of his life on the cross. Who Hosea paid for his wife is not stated, it could have been from a brothel owner or equivalent. Jesus paid our ransom to take from Satan all legal rights to us.
Exile: is foreshadowed as Hosea isolates Gomer from her lovers, as God would isolate Israel from her King, Temple and sacrifices in exile till Israel was ready to return and be faithful to the Lord. God always uses exile as a last resort for those who reject His love so as to see more clearly that love which has been rejected. We too can find ourselves in the exile of loneliness and misery as did the prodigal son (Luke 15) as a natural consequence of rejecting God's hesed covenant relationship.
My Prayer: "Father, there are so many wonderers. Show me which to pursue. Father, I am a wanderer, forgive me for Jesus sake."
God is Hopeful God indicts His prodigal people in the hope they will turn and be saved. This is true today as in the days of Hosea. As God indicts His people before the surrounding nations He does so because God's people are have been called and are intended to be a channel of God's redemption of the nations. God therefore holds responsible those who cause sin rather than bring redemption, more than those who follow their lead (v.9, 14) and urges disassociation from those who wilfully follow false gods (v.15).
Lack of Knowledge of what is right and true destroys people. Repeatedly Hosea points out the dangers and consequences of knowing not the Lord (v.1, 6, 11, 14). These include the loss of faithfulness and kindness in human relationships (v.1), violence, deception, adultery, stealing (v.2), the languishing of nature (v.3), hunger and fruitless wombs (v.10), vile and fruitless idolatry (v.12-13). v.6 My people are ruined because they don't know what's right or true.
Greater Responsibility is Ours. We, who know better, have greater responsibility than those who don't. As such we are responsible not only not to fall into the same sin as results from lack of acknowledging the Lord, but also to call home those who have fallen in consequence of acknowledging not the Lord.
My Prayer: Father, how deep and dangerous is our sin and how arrogant those who sin against You. I share the anguish of our sin. Father, by Your grace and mercy, turn the hearts of those far from You. Heal our land and make me also a healer of it's peoples.
Idolatry inevitably destroys a nation. God judges nations, rulers and religious leaders for their wilful turning from Him to worship animals and demons.
Moving a boundary marker (v.10), like all lies, changes the perception of reality. Idolatry does the same. When people worship false gods, they value what is valueless, put false hope in what can only destroy, trust what will inevitably fail and miss the only true God. The result of this harlotry is "they do not know the LORD" (v.4)
Yahweh desires nations to turn to Him: As the consequences of idolatry multiply, the Lord says, v.15: "I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me."
Our deeds can yet hold us back from coming to the Lord (v.4). We may even seek Him and not find Him (v.6). God's terms for coming to Him are few but firm; pride (v.5) cannot be tolerated.
God's people, like Hosea, must challenge idolatry and the "spirit of harlotry" (v.4), which seeks idols rather than the true God, where it's corrosive work is in effect.
What are the gods of this age? False gods vary by nation but are many. What do you see in your surroundings?
My Prayer: Father, turn my heart and the hearts of the nations .... to You!
God's Loyalty: The chapter contrasts God's faithfulness and Israel's unfaithfulness and calls Israel to return to God in the loyalty with which He is loyal. God is certain as the dawn (v.3): not only His promises, but also His judgment and healing.
Hesed: the Hebrew word commonly used to describe God's covenant heart is hesed (v.6) which is often translated "loving-kindness." Yet hesed is difficult to contain in single word. It means loyalty in love, steadfastness and faithfulness, and stresses the essential belonging together, as in marriage, of those so committed to each other. God's covenant is often emphasised as being eternal on God's side, though breakable, due to our capacity for free will, on man's side.
God reminds us of His heart: v.6 "I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." v.3: "So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord." (NAS)
Learning from God's Loyalty: The loyalty of God's people is not yet like that of our God; our passion and loyalty is so often short lived, like the morning fog (v.4); and we become in fact, as loyalty fades, covenant-breakers (v.7).
In response to the Lord's loyal love I want to:
1. know Him (v. 3)
2. return to Him quickly and completely when I wander, and
3. be a loyal covenant-keeper, living before Him (v.2c).
When we wander and are disappointed with ourselves for doing so, we may be encouraged by the perspective of a Catholic saint: "Do not fear. The poorer you are, the more Jesus will love you. He will go far, very far in search of you, if at times you wander a little." - St. Therese, the Little Flower)
My Prayer: Father, I praise you for your unspeakably patient, faithful, covenant loyalty. Permeate my heart to be like you. Heal and revive me (v.1-2); enable me to know you (v.3) be loyal to you and like you loyal to those who wander.
God's Compassion: God's overwhelming desire is to heal (v.1) Israel's harlotry, redeem (v.13) and restore her to right relationship with him. As in every authentic relationship however, there are two sides, and Israel must respond.
Our Desperate Measures: Israel like a 'silly dove' (v.11), rather than trust in the Lord, flew in a frenzy between Assyria and Egypt, the major powers of their day, vainly trying to make treaties and alliances that would save their land.
Israel was deeply upset but not repentant; angry all night (v.6), crying (v.14), but not calling out to God from the heart. It had seven kings during its final twenty-five years of existence, four assassinated by usurpers; desperate but unwilling to return to the Lord.
v.13 I would redeem them but they speak lies against Me. (An important verse to remember when we hear ourselves or others blame God for our own shortcoming: e.g. Where was God, it's His fault, I'm angry with Him...etc.)
Application: I choose my experiences of upset and desperation to turn me again and again to the Lord. I choose to be broken, emptied of self and pride, restored by Him for salvation.
My Prayer: Father, I don't understand why our extremities don't turn us to you but make many more adamant in their idolatry. What a "deceitful bow" (v.16) the human heart is! Make me entirely satisfied to be broken and satisfied in You.
The solution to existential loneliness is God's covenant love and faithfulness, not hired lovers, allies or friends (v.9,10). The Lord calls to those who have forgotten Him (v.14) and makes clear that the evil which comes against His people when their love grows cold and superficial comes because they have rejected the good that He seeks to give them in intimate relationship with Himself (v.3).
Rejection of God's gift: is idolatry, i.e. trusting anything above God's covenant love. "Sowing to the wind" - though idolatry - leads only to "reaping the whirlwind" (v. 6) of destruction. This loss is inevitable as the idolater will always be let down by that unworthy object of his trust. Trusting anything less than God (idolatry) will always be infinitely less trustworthy than God's covenant love and redemption. May we never "forget our maker (v.14).
Restoration of Innocence: Amazingly, v. 5 implies that God is able to restore even those who have rejected Him in favour of idolatry (Samaria in this case) to innocence and yearns to do so. Who in all the universe is able to restore innocence but our redeeming Father in heaven!?
My Prayer: Lord, let me seek first your Kingdom and covenant love, relying not on human powers being restored to loving innocence by Your grace (v.9).
The Transforming Power of Worship: As Tozer pointed out, cultures and individuals inevitably become like the object of our worship. This is true for good and for evil; for beauty and for ugliness. As Israel worshiped pagan idols v.10: "they became as detestable as that which they loved."
Limit to Patience: God is infinite in all ways, except - though He is amazingly long-suffering with us - in patience (v.7). Persistence rejection of God's covenant and grace will result in God's acceptance of our rejection of Him.
Israel, though miraculously delivered from Egypt, chose to worship Egypt's golden calf at Baal-peor (v.10; Num.25), a human king instead of God at Gilgal (v.15; 1Sam.11), and alliances with Assyria and Egypt instead of trusting God. Israel engaged in immoral pagan fertility rites, rejecting God their creator and giver of life (v.10). The result was not fertility but the absence and loss of children (v.11, 12, 16).
Calling Back - before it is too late: In speaking the truth there is a significant risk that those who hear, rather than taking the warning to heart, will call the messenger a fool or crazy (v.7). We, like Hosea, must nevertheless invite people back to God's covenant and grace while there is opportunity.
My Response: I will love God and the fruit of His Spirit, worship Him continually in spirit and truth and become increasingly like Him. I will turn away from what is detestable (v. 10). I will serve as watchman (v.8) calling the nations to turn to God in Christ.
My Prayer: "Father, may I seek and find You continually, dwell in your presence and become like You."
Using God's Blessings Against Him: God had made Israel prosperous and fruitful but Israel used its growing wealth not to honor God but to make more and more extravagant idols and altars to the demons behind them, whose character they were increasingly reflecting. God will chastise (v.10) such faithless idolatry (v.2) and rejection of him (v.3); all glory departs (v.5) and those who rejected the Lord and His ways utter the words (v.8b) which will be used again in Rev. 6:16.
Gibeah (v.9) refers to the cruel sensuality of Judges 19 which set a pattern of sin continued in the Northern Kingdom. The cruelty of v.14 refers to an event otherwise unknown but equally horrible outcome of rejecting the standards of God.
The Lonely Witness: In a cultural environment where wealth and strength is used to dishonor God (v.1) we must continue to be His witnesses and testify to His calling, though the foundations are shaken and inevitable punishment comes. Regardless of the degree of a culture's corruption and fallenness we must call those who will hear to repent ("break up your fallow ground") and seek the Lord (v.12). As we faithfully sow righteousness and kindness, we may trust God patiently for fruit, though it come in, or after, exile.
(v.12) Sow righteousness, reap kindness; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes to rain righteousness on you."
My Prayer: Father keep me desirous of sowing righteousness and kindness in all circumstances. Show me my heart that I might repent; enable me to shape my heart to respond rightly to what You show me to glorify You more fully.
A Parent's Grief: God took Israel out of the oppression of Egypt as an infant, loved her and taught her to walk (v.3-4) but the more God cared for Israel, the more Israel ran from Him (v.2). Yet God loves and earnestly yearns for His prodigal children. Even when He must discipline them, His heart is in anguish within Him (v.8).
Overcoming the Prodigal Heart: Our proud fallen human nature is prone to wander, rebelliously withdrawing from Him who calls in love (v.2,7). Our mission is to return to Him and to urge others to do so also, living in the good of His covenant love.
Application: I will turn to the Lord and be like the Holy One who is faithful (v.12), including refusing to give up on those who wander. I will bring to mind at least one person to whom I will be faithful in this way. I will be open to knowing the heart of God: v.8 "How can I give you up, O Ephraim? My heart if turned over within me."
My Prayer: Father, allow me to share in the suffering of your yearning for the rebellious. How grievous this is to you, how your heart breaks within you. Lord, thank you for bearing this pain, for I cannot. Lord, give me enough of your heart, though I cannot bear it all, to faithfully pursue the wandering in Your love.
God wrestles with us until we acknowledge and turn to Him as God. God did this with Jacob (v.4), is doing so with Israel in the days of Hosea, and does so with us today. His desire in all this is that we, though wounded in our rebellious wrestling, would return to Him for healing and peace (v.6).
Israel, in rejecting Yahweh, unwisely made a covenant with Assyria and exported olive oil to Assyria's rival, Egypt (v.1), playing both ends against the middle and would herself soon be trapped, a consequence of rejecting the Lord. Israel was deceitful (v.7), like her father Jacob; Israel had entered Canaan, and Canaan's ways entered Israel. Israel's need was to return to the Lord but chose not to.
v.3 "In the womb he (Jacob) took his brother by the heel, and in his maturity he contended with God." (Always a wrestler, with man and God, but in a process of finally submitting to God.)
Application: The Lord needs to wrestle with me, often, until I learn to trust and follow Him, and cease wandering off in trust of myself. I will seek and turn to the Lord quickly whenever I am aware of having strayed. I will renounce deceit (11:12) and oppression (v.7), not resist His call but turn back, showing kindness and justice, v.6a (ethics) and waiting on Him, v.6b (trust and worship).
My Prayer: Father, enable me to cease wrestling with You, by coming to full and continual and permanent surrender; giving up the sin and resulting stress that is killing me, finding and enjoying always Your peace.
Double opportunity and responsibility: the words "God found Jacob at Bethel and there He spoke with us" (v.4b) imply that God speaks also to the descendants of those to whom He has spoken in the past. We have double opportunity and responsibility: to learn from history what God has said to those before us and to pass it to our children and with them to respond to God today.
A Proud Heart takes God's Loving Care for granted and assumes his own Self-Sufficiency:
God saves (v.4), cares for us (v.5) and satisfies (v.6) with every good thing. How good and gracious He is! Yet, being satisfied, we are prone to become proud (as if it was our own doing) and forget God (v.6). Man then exalts himself, gives allegiance to those things that are not gods, and dies (v.1).
Application: It is error is to think I achieve satisfaction through my efforts, rather than receive it as a gift of God for which I am grateful; which He delights to keep on giving. When life was good Israel was tempted to become satisfied, proud and forget God (v.6). Yet the result is temporary (v.3) and leads to destruction (v.9) when no king can save (v.10). God alone is Saviour (v.4. "It is your destruction, O Israel, that you are against Me, against your help." (v.9)
Let us rather revel in God's goodness, be satisfied and worship Him. Be grateful, remain dependent and live!
My Prayer: Lord, I rejoice in your goodness, worship You alone as my Saviour, am deeply satisfied in You, and remain contentedly and joyfully in the good of Your covenant mercy. I praise You in Jesus name!
Life without this wonderful God is to endure unnecessary misery in this life (v. 15-16) and the next (v.14). Yes, we see good people suffer and godless people well-off, but we must not confuse the temporary (v.3) with the ultimate reality, of which this life is but a foretaste.
Idolatry produces Orphans: To look to ourselves or other creatures (e.g. Assyria, horses, the work of our hands in v.3) is idolatry (v. 8). This iniquity causes us to stumble (v.1, 9c) and orphan ourselves (v.3).
The Hebrew root meaning of "iniquity" is "separation;" separation is the essence of being "orphaned". "In You the orphan finds mercy"(v.3), by which God restores His wayward children to our intended place as family; "From Me comes your fruit."(v.8)
The Lord is gracious to restore us as His children, to remove our iniquity (separation/orphan status and experience - v.2), to heal our hearts from wrong thinking, goals and desires (v.4), to love and refresh us (v.5), to make us fruitful (v.5,8), appealing (v.6) and prosperous (v.7). Remember always however, "from Me comes your fruit" (v.8).
How do we repent? Restoration involves:
"Turning" (or returning); a 180º change of heart and mind,
When I return, I will "take words" (v.2) with me; I will confess my sin, say it, be specific.
Restoration involves asking the Lord to "take away all iniquity" (v.2) as we turn from it. Taking away all iniquity involves forgiveness on His part, and life rejecting iniquity on our part.
My Prayer: Lord, thank you for receiving me when I repent, lifting me up when I stumble, being the source of fruitfulness in this life and for eternity as I walk with You.