Hosea was sent at a turbulent period in Israel’s history. He began to prophesy approximately 180 years after Jeroboam the son of Nebat took the throne of Israel.

An apostate nation

The false worship he ordained was founded upon a watering down of God’s law, in order to make worship less ‘restrictive’, easier for everyone to access, and to prevent the people from periodically travelling to Jerusalem to worship as God had commanded. His system of worship had continued unabated in the Northern kingdom of Israel ever since, gathering momentum as it deviated from the true worship of God.

From this corrupt beginning the germ spread until the whole Northern nation was diseased and infected. The religion of Jeroboam had been further modified by kings like Omri and Ahab, who experimented by introducing the idolatrous practices of other nations to spice things up further.

Hosea came to an apostate nation which had blindly and persistently followed in Jeroboam’s footsteps.

Israel in Hosea’s day

So how did Israel look when Hosea arrived on the scene?

At lot can happen in 180 years. If we could travel back that far there wouldn’t be a group of people on the earth named the Christadelphians, there would be no planes, no cars, not even electricity! Our world is almost unrecognisable after such a relatively short space of time. A lot had happened in Israel in that period of time as well, for Jeroboam’s beginnings must have seemed humble compared to the nation in Hosea’s day!

We need look no further than the book of Hosea to uncover the ugly scene, for Hosea pulls no punches in his message.

The priests are addressed in chapter 4 (see v4). They were not educating the people in the ways of God, because they had “rejected knowledge” and “forgotten the law” of their God (v6). They were feeding on the sins of God’s people (v8) and had insatiable appetites for iniquity. In chapter 6 the priests are described as murderous, banding together like robbers who lie in wait for a man (v9). Little wonder then that when God surveyed the scene He declared there was “no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land” (v1).

As a result of this gross negligence of the religious leaders, murder, swearing, lying, stealing and adultery were commonplace (4:2), and a continuous cycle of violence was firmly entrenched. There was an erroneous blending of Baal and Yahweh in the hearts and minds of the people (2:16), idol worship was commonplace (4:12; 8:11; 10:1; 11:2; 13:1–2), literal and spiritual prostitution were rampant (4:13–19; 6:10; 9:1), and rebellion and corruption abounded (7:14–15; 9:9–10).

Israel had degraded themselves from the evil beginnings under Jeroboam the son of Nebat, until they were unrecognisable as the people God had chosen and set apart to show His glory among the nations. Their rottenness stemmed from a neglect of God’s Word and the forgetting of His ways. In a similar age of corruption, we should also take heed to ensure we do not lose our attachment to God’s Word, or the same steady degeneration will inevitably take place.

God’s impending judgment on Israel

So given this state of festering corruption among the people in Hosea’s day, how did God feel?

Again, the message of Hosea reveals the answer. His anger burned against them (8:5), He began to hate them (9:15) and withdrew from them (5:6), leaving them to their own ways (4:17). He determined to punish them for their wickedness by bringing swift destruction (4:9; 5:9,14; 9:9; 10:14–15), driving them from His house (9:15) and dragging them off into captivity (8:13; 9:3, 10:6; 11:5).

He had watched the steady slide from its earliest beginnings. They had never ceased from idolatry from the days of Jeroboam, and God had had enough! It was into this hostile environment that Hosea was sent with a message from God to His wayward people.

God speaks to Hosea

Before God dispatched Hosea to speak to Israel, He gave him an abrupt and startling personal message, addressed to him alone. Hosea was commanded to take “a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms” (1:2), which must have left Hosea stunned for a time.

The phrase “wife of whoredoms” may imply that Gomer was already an active cult prostitute when Hosea selected her as his wife. However, since there are only three children of Gomer mentioned, and all were born after she became Hosea’s wife (see 1:3, 6 and 8), it seems more likely that her adulterous ways were a foregone conclusion not yet realised, due to her immersion in the ways of the idolatrous and whorish nation to which she truly belonged. Though faithful to Hosea for a time, she was destined to become a “wife of whoredoms”, and have “children of whoredoms”. She was a fitting symbol of Israel, who had departed from Yahweh and followed the same adulterous course.

Jezreel – God will sow judgment

When the first child was born to Hosea through Gomer, God spoke to Hosea again (1:4), naming the child Jezreel (“God will sow”) because of the impending judgment on Israel, and in particular upon the house of Jehu. Yet as with the first message of God to Hosea, this was still a personal message for Hosea himself and not for Israel as yet.

As time passed it must have become obvious to Hosea that all was not well with his little family. Hosea as a faithful prophet would have devoted much of his time to encouraging his wife in the true worship of Yahweh, but the well trodden pathway of idolatry was drowning out the “still small voice”. Where love and joy had once been evident, Hosea was becoming a stranger in his own household. His attempts to communicate with his wife were falling flat, and she was drifting away from him as Hosea desperately tried to hold things together.

Lo-ruhamah – Israel will not be pitied

Hosea’s wife became pregnant again, and in his heart Hosea must have known the dreadful truth. While Jezreel was the child of Hosea and Gomer (1:3), the same cannot be said of Gomer’s second child (see 1:6). When she was born, Hosea must have been devastated when he noticed the little girl bore no resemblance to him at all, a tragedy which would become more painfully obvious each day as she grew up in his house. What a tragic situation; such a sacred and intimate relationship forever tarnished by hard hearted and remorseless sin.

At this low point in Hosea’s life, God spoke to him yet again (v6–7), naming the girl Lo-ruhamah (“not pitied”) because of His determination to end the mercy He had extended to Israel for so long.

Lo-ammi – Israel no longer God’s people

As time passed for Hosea, his already strained relationship with his wife was stretched to breaking point when she conceived again (v8) and bore another son, and at some stage moved out to be with another man (cp 3:1–3). It would be hard to imagine that Hosea could remain emotionally unaffected by such awful circumstances. As on the previous occasions, God spoke to Hosea after the birth of the child, this time naming the little boy Lo-ammi (“not my people”), thus indicating His intention to sever the relationship He had with the house of Israel, though not forever. Yet even in the degenerate state that Israel was in, God was already looking way into the future, to a time of joy and reunion not yet realised, when Israel and Judah would finally be gathered together as the true sons of the living God, and appoint for themselves one leader to rule over them all (1:10–11). This speaks volumes of the awesome mercy of Yahweh, and should provide us with comfort and reassurance that despite our failures, God is willing and determined to unite and save His people.

If it had been left to us, or to Hosea himself, this whole tragic and seemingly needless drama that had played out in his life would almost certainly have been avoided. God’s message would have been delivered to Israel with the righteous fury and withering judgment they so richly deserved. Yet here – now – at what was probably the lowest point in Hosea’s life, his marriage decimated and his family torn apart, his mind in a state of confusion and sorrow, God finally gave Hosea a commandment to speak to Israel.

God’s message to Israel was not one we would have chosen.

Two suffering husbands

Hosea was not to stand aloof with self righteous anger when delivering this message from God to Israel, but instead was to “plead” with them as his family. God reminded Hosea that they were his “brethren” and “sisters” and “mother” (2:1–2). Israel was to be addressed as Ammi (“my people”) and Ruhamah (“loved”) by God; an astonishing reversal of the names God had given to Gomer’s last two illegitimate children.

As God continued to speak to Hosea of Israel’s treachery towards her “husband” and her “children of whoredoms”, and warn of coming judgment unless she change her ways, it would have dawned on Hosea that he was not alone in experiencing the pain of a broken family and the agony of betrayed love and trust.

The pathetic picture we have of Hosea on his knees with a broken heart, hands spread wide in appeal to his hard-hearted wife, was but a slight shadow of a far greater drama. Though Hosea’s story was dreadful, his suffering had been limited to a few short years, whereas God had been experiencing the same betrayal and heartbreak for almost two centuries! It is astounding that the shame and heartbreak of a broken marriage and children who lose the way is not restricted to the human domain; God Himself has been through the same experience!

Almost without exception in the Old Testament, the words of God were spoken to Israel from a distance through prophets that rightly stood apart from the iniquity of their people. But Hosea’s message was different, because it was spoken through a man who truly entered into the pain and anguish of the Father, Israel’s ever faithful ‘husband’, before he uttered even a single word to God’s people. The message of Hosea gives a rare glimpse into the heart of God Himself, laying bare His raw emotions as He pleads with His wayward ‘wife’ to return to Him in faithfulness. The intensity and emotion that flows from the book is amplified through the pen of a man who was suffering the same pain.

A faithful Husband and loving Father

When we think of God in His glory and awesome power, or tremble in fear of His ability to save or destroy, let us not forget that He is also a faithful and loving Father, Who is emotionally affected by the betrayal He all too often experiences from those He loves. And when we feel remorse and turn to Him again in humility and repentance, the message of Hosea can give us comfort, for God is portrayed as always ready for us to return, His arms open wide in supplication, wanting to draw us near once more. If Hosea had not suffered this awful tragedy, his message to Israel might have been very different. But God in His wisdom had pushed Hosea right into the middle of the whole drama, and now he could truly see things from God’s point of view. Finally Hosea was ready to speak to his family, God’s adulterous wife.

If there was only one picture that we could select and treasure from Hosea’s little book, it would be the portrayal of God as a merciful, faithful and loving husband, always holding onto the hope of reconciliation with His wife. The tragedy of a tarnished marriage is one that many find almost impossible to overcome; the pain of betrayed love and trust is often too acute to restore. That is what makes Hosea’s message even more majestic and awe inspiring; it shows a side of God that we may not contemplate often enough, His readiness to heal that which is broken, His ability to completely forgive even the most awful of betrayals. God’s love for Israel and not His fury is what overflows from the book of Hosea.

When we turn our eyes to the message of Hosea, Israel’s sin is graphically portrayed in all its ugliness, which should come as no surprise. However, the interruptions that frequently appear in the text are incredibly moving, messages of love and hope in the midst of sorrow and pain. The message of Hosea is gentle and tender, filled with the promise of reconciliation, with God’s mind frequently projecting into the glorious future when Israel will repent and turn to Him in faithfulness.

The effective messenger

God’s work with Hosea was deliberate. It was not until he had been twice betrayed and his wife had walked out the door that God commanded Hosea to go out and plead with His people. We too can only be effective messengers and disciples if we can show we appreciate God’s message because we have experienced all that it offers.

How can we teach others of the joy of sins forgiven if we are unforgiving and harbour grudges in our hearts? How can we draw others to the God of love, when we are hateful, cruel or vindictive? How can we encourage others to look forward to the joys of the kingdom age if we are abandoning ourselves to the trivial pleasures of this life?

Sometimes we feign righteousness, and sometimes (perhaps more tragically) we actually believe we are righteous. However, the trials of life come so that we can share in the pain and sorrow of our brethren and sisters, and have compassion and mercy on them when they go through similar difficulties. Even more importantly, trials come so that we can understand God and relate to His Word, for He does not expect us to go through that which He has not already experienced in far greater measure.

A notable quotation from Hosea

As we read through the story of Hosea, we might have strong feelings of disgust or condemnation towards Gomer, yet Hosea was commanded by God to take her back (see chapter 3) despite what she had done to him! The lesson behind this act of undeserved forgiveness is immensely powerful and yet so terribly hard to receive. God wants us to show compassion, mercy and love even towards those who might have caused us intense anguish and emotional pain, whom we might otherwise have considered unworthy of such kindness.

While it is certain that Gomer represents Israel, the type goes further still, for there is a notable quotation from the book of Hosea in the New Testament which unfolds another layer to the story which might otherwise have remained unseen.

In the first epistle of Peter we are described as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation” and “a people for God’s own possession” (2:9, nasb). If our exalted position in Christ has ever been for us a cause for standing apart from others in exclusive pride, then the following words of Peter serve as a stern warning for us to think again. Peter continues by describing our former position before God as “not a people” and those who “had not obtained mercy” (2:10). These two phrases are a direct quotation from Hosea chapter 1, and equate us with Gomer’s two illegitimate children, conceived in adultery! We cannot and must not shudder as we look at Gomer, for she is a picture of our past. We need to remember that the only reason we have such a high and glorious calling is because God chose to love us, unworthy as we are, and called us to be His children.

A powerful message of hope

The message of Hosea is immensely comforting and yet humbling at the same time. Despite our waywardness and continual failure to live as Christ did, we can have confidence that God will have mercy on us if we turn to Him again.

There is great joy in seeing the love of God for the unloveable, as portrayed through the book of Hosea. We have all tasted of His mercy, and without it we could never stand before Him. The greatest challenge is to remember that we were all as Gomer; unlovely, unworthy and without hope or mercy. Yet the Creator of heaven and earth, the God of Israel, has looked down and had mercy on us, and chosen to love us.

No matter how small we might feel, we can take courage, for it is clear from the message of Hosea that since we have been chosen by God, He will never give up seeking our restoration and betrothal to Him “in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies” (2:19).