3. Hosea: The God of Unconditional LoveRelated Media
Words to Anchor your Soul
I will commit myself to you forever; I will commit myself to you in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and tender compassion. I will commit myself to you in faithfulness.
God to Israel in Hosea 2:19-20a (NET)
We all know couples whose marriages and sometimes even their very lives have been destroyed by adultery. Some of you are victims of your spouse’s infidelity, and others of you are guilty yourselves. From experience and/or observation we all know how damaging infidelity is to a relationship.
The Bible often uses the picture of marriage for the relationship between God and his people, and he does so in Hosea; thus, our image for the book is wedding rings. As an extension of that picture, the Bible often speaks of God’s unfaithful people as his “wife.” The Jews made covenant vows to be exclusively related to him as their God, just as we do in wedding vows, but they turned away and worshipped other gods, creating a gulf between themselves and the God who created and loved them. They failed to trust God and instead turned to idols to provide fertility for them and the land. They also trusted other countries to give them protection and peace rather than putting their faith in God to take care of them.
Sadly, we cannot study the entire book of Hosea because of its length, so we will focus on various sections each day.
Often, all we notice in the prophets is God’s judgment, but there is more there if we study carefully. As we saw in our first lesson, our relationships with God are broken, and he is broken-hearted about it. In Jonah’s story we saw God reaching out to a pagan nation. The story of the Bible tells us that God’s heart is to restore our relationship with him. His intention is that restoration spreads out to our relationships with others.
James Montgomery Boice refers to the book of Hosea as the “second greatest story in the Bible” after that of Jesus,1 so look for reasons for his comment as you read.
Part One Study
The prophetic ministry of Hosea is dated from information in the first verse of the book. While the reigns of the listed kings extended from 792 B.C. until 686 B.C., Hosea’s ministry probably began sometime after the first date and ended before the last king died. Hosea, like Amos, prophesied primarily to the kingdom of Israel, which he also calls Ephraim, the name of the largest of its ten northern tribes.2
Hosea has two distinct parts: In the first section “chapters 1 and 3 describe Hosea’s dealings with Gomer which serve as an object lesson of God’s love for Israel (chapter 2).”3 The second section (chapters 4-14) details ways that God’s people have been unfaithful to him.
I used to simply read Hosea and think little of the emotions involved in Hosea and Gomer’s story. As you read, don’t make the same mistake. Although we don’t know how they felt, put yourself in their situation and consider what you may have felt. Empathize with them. They were real people.
Read Hosea 1 in an easy to understand translation.4
Now that you’ve read it, you may be thinking, “What? Did God tell Hosea to marry a prostitute?”
There was purpose in God’s plan. Robert Chisholm points out that “The phrase ‘adulterous wife’ in verse 2, rather than describing Gomer’s status at the time of her marriage to Hosea, more likely anticipates what Gomer will become—an unfaithful wife. The symbolism seems to demand this understanding of the phrase. Gomer’s subsequent unfaithfulness to her husband Hosea became an object lesson of Israel’s lack of commitment to her ‘husband’ the Lord.”5
Various translations use different words for the term describing Gomer in Hosea 1:2: “harlotry” (NASB), “adulterous” (NIV), and “prostitute” (NET).
It’s possible that when Hosea married her, Gomer was either a prostitute in the temple of Baal or a common prostitute. Chisholm says this about the issue: “Gomer’s subsequent unfaithfulness, no matter what her status at the time of the marriage, was enough to satisfy the intended symbolism.”6
Dr. Boice comments on God’s leading Hosea into an adulterous marriage:
God does sometimes lead his children into situations that are parallel if not identical to this. We live in an age where everything good is interpreted in terms of happiness and success. So when we think of spiritual blessing we think of it in these terms. To be led of God and be blessed by God means that we will be ‘happy’ and ‘successful.’ . . . This is shallow thinking and shallow Christianity . . . . God sometimes leads his children to do things that afterward involve them in great distress. But because God does not think as we think or act as we act, it is often in these situations that he accomplishes his greatest victories and brings the greatest blessing to his name.7
The children’s names, of course, are significant as messages of judgment. I found myself reading the names and prophecies several times, and looking up further information.8 Your purpose is simply to grasp God’s main message to Israel, so don’t feel the need to do extra study.
*** Read a commentary or online notes about the children’s names and Gomer’s past.
Journal your responses:
- Describe your reaction to God leading his prophet to marry a woman who either was or would become a prostitute. How does that align with your previous ideas about God?
- What do you learn about God from Gomer’s children’s names? (Perhaps all were Hosea’s or only the first was.) And what do you learn about God in the contrasts in God’s messages in 1:6 and 1:7, and then in 1:9 and 1:10-11?
- How would your attitude or life be changed if you truly believed what Dr. Boice says about the true good life in his quote on the previous page?
Part Two Study
Now we read the rest of the story of Hosea and Gomer. Keep in mind that it serves as a parable for God’s relationship with Israel. As mentioned in Part One, Hosea 1 and 3 tell Hosea and Gomer’s story and picture God’s relationship with Israel as outlined in Chapter 2. If needed, review Hosea 1.
Read Hosea chapters 2 and 3.
Hosea and Gomer have divorced by Chapter 3 because Hosea had to purchase her.9
Journal with these thoughts in mind:
- In light of the charges God brings against Israel in Hosea 2, how have you and/or the church in general been unfaithful to God? I had a conversation yesterday where a friend described an idol as what we love more than God. But we often dismiss our own idolatry when we use that definition. Keeping the context of Hosea 2 in mind, ask God to show you where you really put your trust (who or what you depend on) for provision and protection (people, love, institutions, jobs, etc.). Since not all idolatry is based on love, to uncover it in my own heart, I ask myself, “What am I fearful of losing or unwilling to give up?” How would you answer that question?
- What do you learn about the unconditional love of God from Chapters 2 and 3?
- What are your thoughts about your own relationship with God in light of the end of Hosea and Gomer’s story in Chapter 3?
Do you know that God loves you enough to redeem you from the kingdom of darkness and make you his own? When we realize the depth of our sin, it can be difficult to believe that God can love us. The picture of Gomer ending up on the slave block because of her adultery is a picture of us in our natural state—helpless, guilty of rebelling against God by going our own way, and left in the filth of our dysfunction and the consequences of our sins. And yet God himself came to rescue us by becoming a man named Jesus who willingly allowed people to kill him in a horrible death on the cross, rectifying all we had done wrong and bringing us to himself in Reconciliation. On the third day he rose from the dead and lives now in heaven. Someday he will return and bring the time of Restoration to all things. (See Week One Study.)
God loves you that much! Turn to Jesus and follow him if you haven’t done so already. Talk to your small group leader or pastor if you need help in processing what faith in Jesus means.
*** Read the story of Jesus and the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50 and journal your thoughts in light of Hosea’s story.
Part Three Study
Now we’ll read several sections from the rest of Hosea to get a taste of Hosea’s message. As you read, consider how the message applies to today’s church (your church, not just someone else’s church.) God’s indictments of Israel (also called Ephraim and referred to by the name of its capital Samaria in some verses) are not judgment of a pagan nation but of God’s people, which means that its principles apply to us as the New Testament church.
*** Read all of Hosea 4-14 instead of merely the assigned verses, keeping the bulleted questions in mind.
Read Hosea 4:1-6; 5:13-15; 6:1-6; 8:4, 7-10, 14; 10:12-14; 11:8-12:1; 13:4-8; 14:1-9, journaling about your reading as you go through them.
(This looks like a lot but it’s shorter than many chapters.)
- What do these passages reveal about the heart of God—both what is dear to him and what he hates?
- God condemns Israel for making alliances with other unbelieving nations, trusting them for protection and peace instead of him. How have you seen the church do that today? How do we do that as individuals?
- What is God saying to you about your own life attitudes as well as your actions—or lack of them?
The need to be loved has been a central theme in my life. When I went away to college, I began to wonder, “Who will love me here?” My family had loved me when I was with them, but I was in Virginia and they were back in Houston. That first year of college I met some nice girls who had very different standards from the ones my parents had taught me. For the first time, I felt challenged as I considered the choices I would make. I knew what my parents would tell me to do, but that was no longer good enough. I needed to decide for myself. That first year I sampled some of what the world had to offer and I was miserable.
One night while I was home on spring break, my younger sister Anne told me what a difference knowing Jesus Christ had made in her life. The difference was apparent too. She had calm confidence and strength of character that was attractive. Over the summer I read some literature she gave me. As I read, I began to feel that before I could come to God I needed to clean up my life. As I kept reading, I realized that the only way I could be clean enough was to let Him clean me up. I could never do a good enough job on my own. I went back to college the fall of my sophomore year, broke up with my boyfriend, and quit hanging out with those girls. One day I saw a notice on our dorm bulletin board about a weekly Bible study being held on campus. “Anne would go to that,” I thought to myself, feeling close to her, and I decided to go.
There I met Evelyn Saunders, who along with her husband had been a missionary in India for many years. The pages of her Bible were worn and the margins were full of her hand-written notes. That particular night we read from Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus said “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden.” How that verse described me! I was worn out from searching for love and not finding it. He went on to say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That night I said “Yes” to Jesus’ invitation to come to Him.
That was many years ago, but this verse has become a picture of my life. Being yoked with Jesus. Walking with Him. He satisfied my search for love by giving me His unfailing love. He satisfied my need for guidance in life by giving me a manual, His word, so I would know how to make choices in life. When I try to take the leadership away from Him, as I often do, He reminds me that He knows the way and wants to lead me in it.
1 Boice, 13.
2 Chisholm, 336.
3 Chisholm, 336.
4 For example the NET Bible at lumina.bible.org
5 Chisholm, 337.
6 Chisholm, 337.
7 Boice, 16.
8 Dr. Tom Constable explains the history behind the first-born son’s name Jezreel (http://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/ot/hosea/hosea.htm):
It was at Jezreel that King Jehu of Israel (841-814 B.C.) had massacred many enemies of Israel, including King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel, King Jehoram of Israel, and many prophets of Baal, which was good (cf. 2 Kings 9:6-10, 24; 10:18-28, 30). But he also killed King Ahaziah of Judah and 42 of his relatives, which was bad (2 Kings 9:27-28; 10:12-14). Ahaziah and his relatives did not die in Jezreel, but their deaths were part of Jehu's wholesale slaughter at Jezreel. Jehu went too far and thereby demonstrated disrespect for the Lord's commands (cf. 2 Kings 10:29-31).
Because of Jehu's atrocities that overstepped his authority to judge Israel's enemies, God promised to punish his house (dynasty). The fulfillment came when Shallum assassinated King Zechariah, Jeroboam II's son and the fourth king of Jehu's dynasty, in 753-752 B.C. This death ended Jehu's kingdom (dynasty) forever (2 Kings 15:10).
9 Chisholm, 346.