Important Truths from Hosea
By Paul Robison

Here are some sad statistics: of the 4.1 million babies born in the US in 2005, more than 1.5 were brought into the world by unmarried couples, so this means that around 40% of those born were born out of wedlock!  One reason for this is that many couples have decided to live together rather than committing to marriage: the number of such couples rose from 200,000 in 1970 to 1.7 million in 2005 (Larson-Elshof)!  Isn't it sad that “mom, dad, and the kids” is becoming a lost social structure in our land?  The prophet Hosea had a difficult family life as well.  The prophet Hosea has been described with these words: "Hosea is the sobbing of a heart that has been broken because of a love that has been lost" (Hill).  "He suffered severely, but in each pang of suffering, he came to know the infinite heart of God more clearly" (Yates).

Someone made this remark about the book: "... no OT book contains such extraordinary insight into the love of God" (Craigie).  This morning we want to look at three areas: some background materials for Hosea, a quick overview of the book, and then some important truths for us from this book.

Hosea's name means "salvation" or "deliverance".  About all we know about Hosea is that his father's name is Beeri, and from the kings he lists, the dates of his ministry would be between 785 to 725 BC.  He was a contemporary of the prophets Isaiah, Micah, and Amos.  While Isaiah and Micah were prophets to Judah, Amos and Hosea were prophets to the 10 northern tribes called Israel.  Politically, the times were very turbulent.  Of the six kings in Israel after Jeroboam II, only one died a natural death while the rest were assassinated (Hill).  The armies of Assyrian invaded Israel in 730, and Samaria, the capital of Israel, was eventually conquered in 722, shortly after Hosea's work ended.  Socially, it was a period of great corruption and violence.

We find the picture of a nation that is decaying (Hailey).  Someone used these words to describe the scene: "Dissolution, decay, and death were all around [Hosea].  Anarchy, chaos, feuds, and broken covenants were visible on every side . . . there was laxness and looseness in personal behavior.  The rulers set poor examples for the people. . . . The courts were corrupt. . . . Conspiracies and plots were common. . . . Literal bloodshed, highway robbery, murder, and organized vice were visible on every hand with the priests often leading the way of gangs.  Family life had gone to pieces since the marriage vow had been lost" (Yates).  Doesn't that sound a lot like many of the headlines in our newspapers?

Religiously, idolatry was rampant, and the Israelites gave Jehovah only lip service (Hill).  "The people [had adopted] two systems of false religion: the calf worship [from Egypt] introduced by Jeroboam I, and [the] Baal worship [imported] by Ahab and Jezebel.  Each was completely foreign to the revealed religion of the Lord Jehovah" (Hailey).  The children were not taught about God, and they did not know the law of God (Hill).  "Worship was cold, formal, and professional ..." (Yates), and there was fornication, even at the Lord's temple.  Children were often sacrificed to the false gods by throwing them on the hot arms of an idols, often called "passing through the fire" in the Old Testament.  The Jews thought that all was well as they sat in the shadow of a raging volcano of God's indignation.  The covenant had been broken, and the God who had established them had been forsaken.  It must have been a heart-rending situation for Hosea as he denounced spiritual ignorance, pride, instability, worldliness, corruption, backsliding, and the rampant, widespread, all-consuming idolatry, especially to an audience who would not listen (Yates).

One writer noted: "These were trying years of political conniving and intrigue, of anarchy and rebellion, of treachery and murder.  God was completely left out of the people's thinking.  The prophet's task was to turn the thinking of the people back to God, but they were too deeply steeped in their idolatry to heed his warning.  They had passed the point of no return; they refused to hear" (Hailey).  Hosea's style is unusual.  One person has described it in this way: "The first three chapters have a certain unity, focusing as they do on the marriage and family life of Hosea.  But, for the most part, the remainder of the book is a collection of different sayings from different periods of the prophet's life and ministry, and as such it is not easy to understand fully at first reading. . . . But for all the difficulty in reading this little book, certain dominant themes and insights emerge which are of lasting religious value" (Craigie).  Hosea's tone can be hard-hitting and biting as well as being tender and gracious.

Let's take a moment to survey the book, as we concentrate on this outline:

l  God's longsuffering for Israel (seen in a living parable) (1-3)
God's lawsuit against Israel (4-7)
God's first lash against Israeldispersion (8-10)
  God's love for Israel (11)
God's second lash against Israeldamnation (12)
  God's third lash against Israeldestruction (13)
God's loyalty for Israel (14)

The first part of the book talks about God's long-suffering, and it does this through a living parable.  You see, Hosea's personal family life becomes a living parable of God's love for the Israelites.  God tells Hosea to marry a wife of harlotry.  We can see the downhill progression in Hosea's marriage to Gomer through the names that God tells Hosea to give his children.  The first, a son, is to be called Jezreel, which literally means "God will sow."  In reality, God is not ready to sow, He is ready to reap for he tells Hosea that He is ready to bring the kingdom of Israel to an end in the Valley of Jezreel (1:4-5).  The next child was a girl, and her name was Lo-Ruhamah, which mean "no mercy" or "not pitied".  God explains that He is no longer going to have mercy on Israel but will let them be taken into captivity (1:6).  The third child is a boy, and his name is Lo-Ammi, which means "Not my people" or "No kin of mine".  And God explains in verse 8: "For you are not my people, and I will not be your God."  God is disclaiming the Israelites and saying that He will no longer be this corrupt nation's God.  With this name too, Hosea probably realizes that this child was not his, but it was fathered by someone else.  His wife Gomer continues to play the harlot, and one wonders what Hosea had to suffer through as he worked daily with his own three children.  Then we see that God tells Hosea to continue to live with this woman.  Let's notice God's words and their application in chapter 3: "Then the Lord said to me, 'Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.'  So I bought her for myself for 15 shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley.  And I said to her, 'You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man—so, too, will I be toward you.'  For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod and teraphim.  Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king.  They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days."  Even though Gomer had sold out on Hosea, Hosea had not sold out her.  He goes to the marketplace where she was going to sell herself into slavery and buys her.  The point?  "As Hosea's love for Gomer is great enough to take her back, so God's love for a sinning, idolatrous, adulterous Israel is great enough to allow them to come back to Him" (CH).  God is indeed long-suffering (as we see through the living parable of Hosea's family)!  Chapters 4-7 begin by saying that the Lord has a charge, or an accusation, or a lawsuit against Israel, and Hosea goes into great detail about the sins of Israel: dealing treacherously with God, moving boundary markers, putting their trust in other nations' armies rather than in God, speaking curses, and above all, practicing idolatry, with its emphasis on public sex.  Hosea called it spiritual adultery, and the word "harlotry" is found about 15 times in this book!  The next section introduces some of God's discipline towards Israel, so this is why it's called the first lash against Israel.  That punishment will be the scattering or the dispersion of the Israelites among the Assyrians.  Chapter 8:8-9 says that the Israelites will live among the Gentiles in Assyria, and 10:5-6 states that the famous calf god of Samaria will now be carried off to Assyria.  In the next section, which contained our reading this morning, we see how God's love is described in a very interesting way, which we'll look at more closely in a few minutes.  In the next section, the second lash of God's punishment is seen in His damnation of Israel.  A comparison is made in this chapter to Jacob, and for awhile Jacob had to live in exile (to avoid his brother Esau's wrath).

God continued to be with Jacob, but God will not be kind to Israel any longer for He has been provoked to anger, and His damnation now rests upon the  nation (12:14).  In the next section, God's third lash of destruction is stressed.

Notice the graphic words of 13:16: "Samaria is held guilty, for she has rebelled against her God.  They shall fall by the sword, their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child ripped open."  But despite all the lashings and foreign gods, just like despite all Gomer's lovers, God will one day restore Israel, just as Hosea bought back Gomer.  We see His loyalty for Israel in the final chapter.  God's steadfast love and His faithfulness will cause a remnant from Israel to be restored!  So we see that this book too, just like Micah, alternates between God's wrath and God's mercy.

Now let's quickly look at six important truths from this great book and listen as Hosea preaches to us as well.  The first truth is that when we give up on God's Word, wickedness prevails.  Notice what 4:1-2 states:  "There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land.  By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed" (4:1-2).  The accusation of God against Israel is that there is no truth, no mercy, and no knowledge of God in the land.  History has shown that only God's Word has proven effective in curbing a nation's sins and creating a moral society.  Someone has observed: "... Either God's truth is received, obeyed, and honored, or immorality, shame, and debauchery are the inevitable alternative" (Coffman).  Without a knowledge of God, how can we be merciful?  When you look at the list of sins, how many of them are violations of the Ten Commandments?  How much truth, mercy, and knowledge of God are in our culture?  The philosophical outlook of postmodernism claims that there is no universal truth; now it's all personal truth shaped by one's culture.  Someone has noted: "'With the loss of truth, people now seek faith without boundaries, categories, or definitions" (Johnston).  Mercy has given way to violence.  In 1960, there were 1,900 violent crimes per 100,000 people, but in 2000, that number had increased almost five fold with 5,700 violent crimes per 100,000!  Where is the knowledge of God in our culture?  A religious school recently gave its incoming freshman some questions about the Bible.  Half of them did not know that the birth of Christ is found in Matthew's gospel, half of them did not know the Passover was found in the book of Exodus, one third of them could not even identify Matthew as an apostle (Burge).  A writer once said, "Without God, anything is possible" (Dostoyevsky). When people in our culture lose their moral compass, we must face the inevitable alternative of increasing wickedness!

The second truth is that when we embrace the spirit of harlotry, God will discipline us too!  Look at 5:4-5: "They do not direct their deeds towards turning to their God, for the spirit of harlotry is in their midst, and they do not know the Lord.  The pride of Israel testifies to his face; therefore, Israel and Ephraim stumble in their iniquity; Judah also stumbles with them" (5:4-5).  The Israelites were not doing their deeds to please God, but to please themselves.  The appeal of idols was so strong because sexual pleasures were involved.  The "high places" in the Old Testament were round raised platforms made of rocks where an idol would be placed, kind of like a 5 ft. high stage.  Then, in order to promote fertility of the land, a male and female would come out onto the platform and have public sex as the worshipers stood around the platform watching them!  The children that were often the results of these encounters were later offered to the gods and made to pass through the fire. Idolatry involved much more than just bowing down before an image.  "Knowing God in the biblical sense means an active and obedient knowledge that conspicuously conforms to the teaching of God's word" (Coffman).  We see that the Israelites became proud in their harlotry, and "such haughty pride . . . may be tolerated by the God for a season; but, at last, eternal justice demands that it [should] be punished" (Coffman).  If God could punish the nation of Israel for their unfaithfulness, will God also not discipline us as well?

What will happen to a nation where many of its leaders declare boldly: "God is dead" and then live their lives like that is true in all their doings?  Does the spirit of harlotry invade our lives as we pervert ourselves with sexual sins, homosexuality, drug highs, and often other illegal thrills?  We don't pass our babies through the fire, but how many fetuses have been passed through abortion clinics (tragically, it's more than all the service men who have lost lives in foreign wars)?  Would it be accurate to describe America as a nation which is “stumbling in its iniquity”?  When God's people embrace the spirit of harlotry, God will surely discipline us as well!

The third truth is God keeps His word and punishes disobedience.  Let's read 19:15-17: "Because of the evil of their deeds I will drive them from My house; I will love them no more.  All their princes are rebellious. Ephraim is stricken, their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit.  Yes, were they to bear children, I would kill the darlings of their womb.  My God will cast them away because they did not obey Him; and they shall be wanderers among the nations" (9:15-17).  Just as Abraham drove Hagar out of his house, so Israel will be removed from any further participation in the covenant with God (Coffman).  Hosea laid it all on the line here; the case with Israel was hopeless, and divine punishment was at hand (Coffman).  God had warned the Israelites through Moses in Deuteronomy that if they were disobedient to His covenant, then punishment would follow.  We see that that punishment will be fourfold: barrenness, warfare, estrangement, and homelessness (Kidner).  Someone has observed: "Likewise, the persistent abuse of God's love releases eventually the landslide of self-induced judgment" (Craigie).  Question: "If the same gross sins and wretched indifference to the will of God that destroyed the old Israel is indulged by the New Israel, what will happen to the church" (Coffman)?  The apostle Peter encourages us in 1 Pt. 1:13ff: "Therefore gird up the lions of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written 'Be holy, for I am holy.'"  We have been commanded to live obedient and holy lives; otherwise, God will punish our disobedience as well!

The fourth truth is that God has an enormous heart.  Look at 11:7-9: "My people are bent on backsliding from Me.  Though they call to the Most Hight, none at all exalt Him.  How can I give you up, Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, Israel?  How can I make you like Admah?  How can I set you like Zeboiim?

My heart churns with Me, My sympathy is stirred.  I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim.  For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror" (11:7-9).
 "This is one of the most deeply emotional passages in the book as God's heart is represented as being heavy within Him" (Hailey).  Notice that we can call on God's name but not exalt Him as the God over our lives.  Admah and Zeboiim are cities that you probably don't recognize right off, but they were cities that were destroyed by God along with two other cities that you might recognize—Sodom and Gomorrah (Deut. 29:23 tells us this).  You see, Israel had become just as wicked as the people of those four cities that God destroyed by fire from heaven.  But how could God give up His chosen people?  He knows that according to the law, He should destroy them completely, but He has also promised that through the Jews He would send a Ruler and a King into the world (as we saw in Micah).  God destroys much of Israel, but His promise and compassion does not allow Him to exterminate it completely.

"Once the wrath has been poured out, Jehovah will have mercy on [a] remnant" (Hailey).  "My heart churns with Me, My sympathy is stirred."  Our behaviors do affect God deeply!  Someone else has rightly observed: "The entire story of Israel, the central theme of the Old Testament, is a love story, but it is not a happy story.  God had loved Israel, did love Israel, and would continue to love into the years of the future.  But this undying love is never returned by the chosen people, so that the history of divine love becomes a history of tragedy.  Only one who loves deeply can know the grief of love perpetually spurned" (Craigie).  Jehovah God has an enormous heart!

The fifth truth is that prosperity can bring a curse.  Let's read 13:6-8: "When they had pasture, they were filled; they were filled and their heart was exalted; therefore, they forgot Me.  So I will be like a lion; like a leopard by the road I will lurk; I will meet them like a bear deprived of her cub; I will tear open their rib cage, and there I will devour them like a lion.  The wild beast shall tear them" (13:6-8).  Moses had warned the Israelites that when they had prospered in the Promised Land, there would be a tendency for them to forget God.  They would begin thinking that they themselves had brought about their wealth, and in this way, they would forget that God was the source of their strength.  Hosea shows us that Moses' prophecy had been fulfilled in Israel: "In their prosperity, they forgot God" (Hailey).  Do we have a tendency to think that by our own strength we have become prosperous, and does our wealth cause us to forget God?  Someone has rightly noted: "Men may forget other things and retrieve the blunder, but forgetting God is an irrevocable mistake, the fatal blunder, the mortal error from which there is no recovery.. . . Long ago, Israel forgot God, and total and perpetual ruin was the fruit of it" (Coffman).  If we become proud and forget God, He can turn against us as well, and our prosperity can bring a curse!

The sixth truth is that God can heal the backslider and is long-suffering.  Look at 14:1-4:  "O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take words with you, and return to the Lord.
Say to Him, 'Take away all iniquity, receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.  Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, 'You are our gods.'  For in You, the fatherless finds mercy.'  I will heal their backsliding.  I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him" (14:1-4).  "God continues to love even when divine love has long been rejected" (Craigie).  "Against all deserving, the marriage holds"; God is still faithful to Israel (Kidner)!  Israel, however, must begin her repentance by admitting her broken loyalty (Kidner).

We see that "true repentance involves abandoning known sin, and here the double sins of relying on nations and idolatry are [to be] confessed" (Coffman quoting J. B. Hindley).  Israel is pictured as fully trusting in God once again, and God is described as loving His people freely after their repentance, confession, and return to Him!  What a forgiving and long-suffering God we serve!  "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffeing toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pt. 3:9).

What great truths Hosea presents us!  Let's dedicate ourselves to following God's Word!  Let's give up our harlotry and the lie that we are the source of our wealth!  Let's remember our sins do affect God deeply, and He will punish us for our disobedience!  Let's repent by confessing our sins and putting our trust totally in God, knowing that He can heal our backsliding!  God remains a faithful husband whose heart continues to churn within Him.  Have you been a faithful bride?  Is your heart churning within you?  Will you return your love for His undying love for you?  Will the story of your relationship with God end in tragedy too?  Repent of your backsliding right now!