The Prophet who learned to love
The prophecy of Hosea is the next after the book of Daniel. It is the longest of the so-called Minor Prophets. Hosea was a native of the northern tribes of Israel and prophesied for much of the 8th Century BC. He is an answer to the Pharisee's false idea that no prophet came out of Galilee. He lived and delivered his message from God during the same historical period as Isaiah and Micah were prophesying in Judah. His name is similar to 'Joshua' and is the Hebrew equivalent to the Greek name Jesus meaning 'God saves' or 'salvation'.
Hosea's life as related in his prophecy is a parable revealing God's relationship to Israel. In the record, events of Hosea's life are intertwined with Israel's terrible idolatry. In chapter 1, we are confronted with the most extraordinary command by God that Hosea should marry Gomer. The daughter of Diblaim is immediately identified as a girl who will be unfaithful to the prophet. She has three children, the first of whom is almost certainly Hosea's child. The second is of doubtful parentage and the third is definitely the child of Gomer's illicit relationship.
God requires Hosea to specifically name his children so that they reveal God reactions toward Israel's failure. The giving of the Law and making of the covenant at Sinai had clearly stated that God would be Israel's God. He revealed Himself to Moses as a God of compassion. He alone is God, a living and loving God.
The first born of Hosea's household was called Jezreel, because in that vale, God would allow His people to be punished for Jehu's cruelty to Israel's royalty. There the Assyrians would humiliate Israel and commence the process of dismembering their nation. The second child was to be called Lo-ruhamah which means 'not pitied'. Yahweh's compassion, was unique, as the one true God. This was a characteristic unknown among the man made gods of pagan worship. But this pity would be shown to the 2-tribe Judah and not the 10-tribe kingdom of Israel.
Thirdly, Lo-ammi means 'not my people'. God's covenants are sometimes identified by the expression 'I will be their God and they shall be my people'. Covenants are the formal arrangement of a relationship between two parties. Israel had repeatedly rejected their covenant with Yahweh by worshipping idols.. God is now saying in the name of Hosea's daughter that Israel has broken their covenant with him so often that they can no longer be his people. But He does not leave them without hope of some day restoring the covenant to Israel and Judah together.
There is a New Testament reference to this aspect of the covenant in 1 Peter 2. 9,10 speaking to believers in Jesus Christ. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not my people but now you are God's people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
Even as early in the prophecy as chapter 1 v.10 we have the prophecy of Israel's restoration in the reference picking up the promise made to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand on the sea shore. The dark situation into which Israel had placed itself was going to be reversed, for they shall yet once again become "sons of the living God."
In chapter 2, Hosea's children are told to plead with their mother to give up her illicit relationships and to turn back to her real husband. It is a picture of the disastrous consequences of idolatry that are to be described in the chapters that follow. But just as Gomer would not be persuaded, so Israel ignored all the warnings against the worship of false gods and found herself lost and eventually a homeless slave, in captivity.
Hosea searched for his lost wife till he found her. He redeemed her from slavery and took her home. Firstly, Gomer was disciplined so that she could resume her rightful duties as Hosea's wife. Eventually she was restored to the full privileges of marriage. The record of Hosea's matrimonial experiences show the deep love that he had for his wife. It was a love that could by-pass the legal requirement to punish her by stoning. From that story it can be clearly seen that God will redeem Israel, and restore her to her own land after she has been disciplined.
In chapter 2.15 there is a reference to the change in Israel's fortunes in the Valley of Achor. When all the Israelites first entered Canaan by way of Jericho one of their number was foolish enough to disobey God's command. He stole some valuable items that should have been destroyed with the city. In Joshua 7.16-26 we read that Achan and his family were executed in the Valley of Achor. It had become a valley of trouble and so it was known from that day onwards, to remind Israel of the consequences of disobedience. But the Valley of Trouble is to become a Valley of Hope ‑ the day of disobedience is to end and Israel is to be an obedient people to the Lord. In that verse we have a signal ‑ a sign of hope. In that day Israel will learn that all the gifts of Creation are of God's bounty and that the grain, the wine, the oil the wool and flax, are not the bounty of the Baal or any other false god. Today, people still worship false gods and mistakenly believe that such adulation provides the good things of the Earth.
Israel and all mankind must learn the hard way, in discipline, that God's relationship and His gifts are the outpouring of His overwhelming love. So in chapter 3 we find that just as Hosea's love for Gomah inspired him to search and restore her to his side, so God in His love for His people will search them out and restore the covenant relationship .
This is not the human, emotional love that is right and natural to man and wife, but the agape love which is a much deeper and richer love. It is the sacrificial love that still operates in true marriage even when eros love is having a rest. 'Agapao' loving is what Paul writes about marriage in Ephesians 5. If this love is really the basis of the marriage contract, there will be no heartbreak or break down in the marriage bond.
The depth of this parable, lived out in the lives of Hosea and Gomer, reflects God's love for His people Israel, and for the whole of mankind. It is so great, so profound that He is prepared to restore to the uttermost the fallen, degraded, slaves of Satan, of sin and shame, until they have been totally and fully restored to full union with Himself. His redemption is not twenty pieces of silver but the gift of His dearest and best, the Son of His love, given for the life of every member of the human race. This story reveals the depth of that love which is determined to have the whole of creation restored to beauty and perfection (Col.1.20)