Hosea: Broken Laws, Broken Hearts
One of the things that sets the Bible apart from other religious literature is that it isn’t just a collection of religious sayings or moral precepts. Instead, it records the acts of God within the context of human history. It speaks of real people, places, and events through which the sovereign purpose of God threads its way like a mighty river. To understand its message, we must take time to study the historical background in which it was written. We must study the lives of the people, understand the events which shaped their lives, learning not only how God was at work, but also why.
Hosea is the first of the so-called Minor Prophets. It is a name derived from the brevity of the books when compared to the significantly longer writings of the Major Prophets. The name does not mean that the prophets or their message are inferior to the other, longer books. They are as deserving of our study as any portion of God’s Word.
When Hosea was called to be a prophet, the Hebrew nation had been fractured for about 150 years. The ten northern tribes are referred to as Israel, Ephraim (after the tribe of its first king, Jeroboam I), or Samaria (after its capital city). The two southern tribes are referred to as Judah. At times, the two kingdoms maintained a friendly co-existence. At other times, they endured periods of war.
As Hosea began his ministry, Israel was on a collision course with the judgment of God. In less than 50 years, the Assyrians would overrun the nation. Thousands would be slaughtered. Thousands more would be deported into captivity and slavery. God could no longer ignore the sins of His people. It was Hosea’s duty to cry out against their sins, warn them of coming judgment, and explain why God would allow them to be overthrown.
In spite of the fact that judgment abounds within the prophecies of Hosea, he is best known for the picture he gives to us of the unconditional love of God. He not only tells his nation that God is holy; he also reminds them that God is love. Sin not only breaks the Law of God; it also breaks His heart. Although God will judge His people, He always aims for reconciliation. Thus Hosea begins with a demonstration of God’s love and ends with a declaration of His love. "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon."
I. The Career of Hosea – Verse 1
- The divine inspiration of his message - The Word of the LORD that came unto Hosea
Hosea is not alone in claiming divine inspiration for his writings. There are over 1300 such claims in the 17 prophetic books of the Old Testament. Of themselves, these claims mean little. Anyone can claim to be speaking and writing on behalf of God. But there are at least two reasons for accepting Hosea’s statement as fact.
- It’s agreement with all other Biblical prophetic writing.
- It’s authentication by the Lord Jesus Christ.
- He quotes from Hosea 6:6 (See Matthew 9:13; 12:7)
- He quotes Hosea 10:8 (See Luke 23:30)
Hosea, whose name means "help" or "deliverance," was just the human instrument. God inspired the content of his message and directed him in how it was to be delivered.
- The duration of his ministry
Hosea states that his ministry spanned the reign of 4 Kings of Judah and that of Jeroboam II, King of Israel. Four other kings would reign in Israel after Jeroboam, but they are not mentioned. The reason for this is that one gives us the EXTENT of Hosea’s ministry. The other gives us the EMPHASIS of his ministry.
- The extent of Hosea’s ministry.
- Uzziah began to reign in 790 BC. Hezekiah began to reign in 715 BC, seven years after Israel was conquered by the Assyrians.
- Jeroboam II reigned from 793 BC to 753 BC, a total of 41 years. (2 Kings 14:23)
From the statements made by Hosea within his book concerning conditions in Israel, we can conclude that He probably began his ministry in the latter half of Jeroboam’s reign. He continued to prophesy up to and beyond the Assyrian conquest. This means that his ministry spanned about 50 years.
- The emphasis of Hosea’s ministry.
When Jeroboam ascended to the throne, it looked like Israel’s fortunes had changed. For years, the nation had been on the decline. One wicked ruler after another had left its mark on the people. Morals degenerated. Character was corrupted. Corruption flourished. Spirituality diminished. Territory was lost. At one point, Samaria was nearly broken by the besieging Syrian Army. (2 Kings 6:24-7:7). If God had not intervened, the nation would have collapsed right then.
Jeroboam II brought prosperity. He was a strong, able leader. But he was just as corrupt as all the kings that had preceded him.
READ 2 KINGS 14:23-29.
Under the leadership of Jeroboam, Israel regained all the territory it had lost since the nation had declared its independence. He vanquished Israel’s perennial enemy, Syria. For the people of Israel, it was a time of relative prosperity and security. But Jeroboam’s leadership alone had not accomplished this. In verses 26-27 we read, "For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter … [and] He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam, the son of Joash."
God took pity on the nation. One last time He drew her to His side, showered her with blessings, and offered her forgiveness through the ministry of Hosea. His laws and His heart had been broken, but Israel was still the object of His divine love. If she would return to Him and walk in His ways, judgment could be averted.
But Jeroboam "did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin." Like all the kings who preceded him, he continued to promote religious idolatry. He did nothing to stem the tide of immorality that washed over the nation. And when he died, the countdown to judgment began. That is why no other northern kings are mentioned. When God removed His hand, the nation fell apart.
- The next king only reigned six months before he was assassinated.
- His assassin only held the throne for one month, before he, too, was killed.
- During the reign of the next king, Assyria invaded. The king ransomed the nation to maintain a measure of freedom, heavily taxing the people.
- His successor only reigned two years. He was assassinated.
- Under the next king, Assyria again invaded, this time claiming territory and deporting a portion of the population to Assyria. This king, too, was killed in office.
- Under the final king of Israel, Hoshea, the nation fell to the Assyrians, the people who were not killed were taken captive, and Israel ceased to exist.
When Israel rejected God’s messenger and his message, 30 violent, chaotic years followed. Then, as the prophet had announced, the nation was conquered and destroyed.
II. The Call of Hosea – Verse 2
- The start of his ministry – Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms
In verse two, Hosea tells that his ministry began with a command to marry "a wife of whoredoms." Those were the first words he heard from God in his capacity as a prophet. He was to marry a prostitute. Commentators disagree on whether Gomer was a prostitute when Hosea married her, or if she later became unfaithful. In either case, Hosea knew exactly what kind of a woman he was commanded to marry. She would break his heart.
It is a mistake to think that everything God asks us to do will be easy. It is also a mistake to think that we will always understand what God is up to. At times, it even may appear that God has acted in a way contrary to His character. But God is in the business of speaking to men. He has a message He is trying to get across, and sometimes He has to use drastic means to get our attention. The Cross certainly fits into that category. For three days, it had the disciples completely baffled. It didn’t fit their theology. It took the resurrection and some personal instruction by the Lord before they began to understand.
I doubt that in the beginning Hosea understood how this marriage could be used to God’s glory. However, it tells us a great deal about the character and faith of this man that he was willing to follow the Lord even when he didn’t fully understand.
- The significance of his ministry – For the land hath committed great whoredoms
- Hosea’s marriage portrayed God’s relationship to Israel.
Throughout her history, Israel had been unfaithful to the Lord. In the wilderness, she worshipped the golden calves. During the days of the judges, she was continually attracted to the gods of the surrounding nations. Idols and pagan religions had crept back into the nation in the days of Solomon, and they had all but replaced God in the Northern Kingdom.
Although Israel repeatedly violated her relationship to God, breaking His heart again and again, God refused to give her up. He loved her unconditionally. However, unconditional love is not a love without limits.
- Unconditional love does not mean that a person must remain with an abusive spouse.
- It does not mean that a parent has to indulge a rebellious teenager.
- There are times when unconditional love must be tough enough to say, "I love you too much to shield you from the consequences of your choices. I cannot condone your actions. If and when you are ready for a mutual relationship of love and respect, I’ll be here waiting."
That’s what God was saying to Israel. Through the marriage of Hosea and Gomer, they would see how a loving God responds to sin and disobedience with both toughness and compassion.
- Hosea’s marriage prepared him to relate God’s message.
As a prophet, Hosea was a very public figure. Every part of his life was open to examination. When his wife bore illegitimate children, his neighbors not only knew, but everyone knew. Every tragic turn in his home life became public knowledge.
Through his marriage, Hosea experienced what God experienced. It is doubtful that any other circumstance could have better prepared him to understand how God thought and felt. This insight empowered him to preach God’s message. When he spoke of unfaithfulness, people knew they weren’t getting something second-hand. When he announced God’s offer of forgiveness and reconciliation, they were aware that he knew what he was talking about.
III. The Compliance of Hosea – Verse 3a
Verse three is a classic text. It ranks alongside Abraham’s obedience to offer Isaac. There is no indication that Hosea struggled to reach a decision. God had commanded. So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. His action displayed both faith and obedience. Because he believed that God would somehow work this all out for His glory, he obeyed. He didn’t question God’s goodness or doubt God’s wisdom because he had God’s own Word to direct him.
Hosea’s call came at a time when serving God was difficult. His nation was at a spiritual crossroads. If they continued on the course they had been travelling, judgment was unavoidable. But Hosea was sent to tell them there was still time to change. They still had the opportunity to turn back and avoid the hardship and heartache that lay ahead. Forgiveness and reconciliation were available. God’s Law and God’s heart had been broken, but His love had not been quenched. That is the message of Hosea.