Hosea: Adultery, Judgment, and God’s Grace

Posted on June 26, 2018

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By David Ettinger

Note: This series was published in the magazine Zion’s Fire a few years back. I offer it here for anyone interested. I plan to run one article a day for 13 days. Being magazine articles, obviously each post will be longer than my usual blog length. 

Name of Book: Hosea 

Author: The prophet Hosea

 Meaning of Author’s Name: “Salvation”

 When Written: 755-710 B.C. (a contemporary of Amos, Micah, and Isaiah) 

Themes

  • Israel’s unfaithfulness to God in worshiping idols, particularly the Canaanite fertility god Baal.
  • Israel’s pride and reliance on her own military prowess as well as alliances with heathen nations.
  • God’s punishment.
  • God’s faithfulness.
  • Israel’s redemption.

Political Background
hosea webHosea begins his ministry in the latter part of the very long reigns of King Jeroboam of the Northern Kingdom and King Uzziah of the Southern Kingdom. During these monarchs’ prime years, the north and the south had experienced significant prosperity unmatched since the days of Solomon. However, those days are gone and fortunes have changed. Much of the reason for this change is the sin of spiritual adultery – meaning the Israelites, particularly in the north, are worshiping the idols of the pagan nations around them. Israel’s sin is overt, reckless, and odious to the Lord who had “birthed” the nation and raised it up into a mighty people. God has been patient with His spiritually wandering children, but His patience is wearing thin. It is the prophet Hosea’s job to condemn the great sin of the Israelites and preach repentance. 

Key Verses

  • Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”
  • Hosea 6:6: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
  • Hosea 10:13: “You have plowed wickedness; you have reaped iniquity. You have eaten the fruit of lies, because you trusted in your own way, in the multitude of your mighty men.”

References in the New Testament

  • Hosea 2:1, 3 (Romans 9:25-28)
  • Hosea 6:6 (Matthew 9:13; 12:7)
  • Hosea 10:8 (Luke 23:30; Revelation 6:16)
  • Hosea 11:1 (Matthew 2:15)
  • Hosea 13:14 (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Synopsis
As the Book of Hosea begins, northern Israel is at the height of its apostasy. Very early in the nation’s history, God, speaking through Moses, told His chosen people, “Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:4). In Leviticus 26:1, God declared, “You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God.” The Lord could not have been any clearer. He has endured Israel’s sin for centuries, but His patience is running dry. He sends Hosea to warn the people that doom lies on the near horizon.

hosea pageHowever, before getting to the heart of Hosea’s message, we read God’s shocking command to His prophet: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord” (1:2). It is difficult to believe that God would instruct any of His people to marry a harlot or adulterer. Some scholars are of the mindset that Gomer, Hosea’s wife, began the marriage as a chaste Israelite woman but later turned to adultery, and possibly prostitution. Regardless of the state of the marriage at its beginning, God uses Hosea’s life to graphically illustrate to the people of Israel just how vile their sin of spiritual adultery is to Him. There is no reason to believe that the “story” of Hosea and Gomer is metaphor as the text gives no hint of this. The marriage is real, and so is the pain and anguish of heart Hosea feels. Hosea’s heartache mirrors the Lord’s, brought on by His people’s infidelity.

We’re not told where Hosea does his prophesying, but two likely locales would be the flourishing marketplaces of the capital city of Samaria, and that city’s ornate temple of Baal. The worship of Baal is a foul thing, highlighted – or should we say lowlighted – by the practice of shrine prostitution, where men and women sexually engage with paid “priests” and “priestesses” for the purpose of soliciting the fertility god to grant their wishes, which include children, abundance of crops, and good health. While pronouncing God’s word in such a setting, the bold Hosea stands out as the proverbial “sore thumb.”

In Hosea 4:1, the prophet thunders, “There is no truth or knowledge of God in the land.” This is an amazing statement considering the Lord has taken great pains to make Himself known to His people. He has done so by establishing the order of priests and Levites (the latter of whom were to travel around the nation teaching the people), raising up prophets, and instituting a sacrificial system that is to reflect the ugliness of sin (as demonstrated in the slaughter of innocent animals) and point the Israelites toward seeking mercy and forgiveness for their many transgressions. However, by this stage of Israel’s history, all such “knowledge of God” has vanished from the land. Having “disowned” God, the people fall into grievous sin, which includes swearing, lying, stealing, killing – “bloodshed upon bloodshed” – and physical adultery (4:2).

In chapter 5, the prophet accuses the Israelites of being too invested in their idolatry to even give God a thought, but nonetheless – in chapter 6 – encourages them to seek Him. The prophet even gives them the words to say: “Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up” (v. 6).

Tragically, the Israelites of 740 B.C. are not ready to voice such words, therefore, they leave no choice for the Lord but to inflict them forcefully: “Woe to them, for they have fled from Me! Destruction to them, because they have transgressed against Me!” (7:13). There is still time for northern Israel, but it is quickly running out.

In chapter 8, the Lord again addresses His people’s crimes, as if delaying the punishment He has proclaimed and giving the Children of Israel every opportunity to repent. Hosea declares, “I have written for him [Israel] the great things of My law, but they were considered a strange thing” (v. 12). In essence, it is as if the Lord is saying, I have graciously given you My just, good, and righteous law, but you disdain it. You choose evil over good, dark over light, death over life. Perhaps the saddest commentary of the entire book is the Lord’s indictment of Israel in 8:14: “For Israel has forgotten his maker.”

grapesIn His desire to turn Israel back to Himself, the Lord at first punishes His people in a small way, saying, “The threshing floor and the winepress shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail in her” (9:2). By way of warning, God inflicts Israel by reducing its staples. Wine is such an integral part of the nation’s economy and daily diet that its reduction would prove disastrous. This reference to the ruination of the “winepress” can certainly extend to all of Israel’s precious agriculture. Despite this “lesser” punishment by God, His people still will not turn to Him. The Lord, therefore, must “step it up”: “The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come … because of the greatness of your iniquity and great enmity” (9:7).

God is patient and has what we can well call a “long leash,” but when people go too far in their sin, He must step in – but never without first giving fair warning. Such is the case with the Israelites: “You have plowed wickedness; you have reaped iniquity. You have eaten the fruit of lies, because you trusted in your own way, in the multitude of your mighty men” (10:13). In essence, this is the “cause”; here is the “effect”: “Therefore tumult shall rise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be plundered” (10:14).

Then, suddenly, stunningly, the Lord reveals His tender heart. He knows that He must judge His people harshly, but is nonetheless distressed: “How can I give you up, Ephraim [another title for the northern kingdom]? How can I hand you over, Israel? … My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred” (11:8). This is the lamentation of an emotionally stirred Father.

Despite the Lord’s impassioned pleas, His children will not listen. Instead, “they sin more and more, and have made for themselves molded images, idols of their silver, according to their skill” (13:2). The Father’s pleas have gone unheeded by His evil children and the Father will act. And yet …

The Lord cannot help but to bring His people back into proper standing with Him. Following their time of chastisement, the Lord will take it upon Himself to achieve the work of forgiveness and restoration. He says of His wandering but beloved children: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him” (14:4).

Aftermath
Hosea’s impassioned preaching was ignored, and the Northern Kingdom was exiled from their land by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.

Significance for God’s People Today

  • Reading the book of Hosea should cause you to look at your own life, particularly your sin. Think of aggressive steps you can take to bring your sin under control.
  • When you do sin, God will forgive if you come to Him in brokenness and repentance.
  • Are you an adulterer? A spiritual adulterer, that is. Is God first in your life, or do you put too many things ahead of Him? How much time do you spend watching TV compared to reading your Bible? How much time do you spend on the Internet compared to on your knees in prayer? Just where exactly does God fit into your daily “pecking order” of activity?

Implications for the World Today
usa globeMuch of what Hosea told Israel more than 2,700 years ago can easily apply to the West today:

  • “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land” (4:1).
  • “They do not direct their deeds toward turning to their God, for the spirit of [spiritual] harlotry is in their midst, and they do not know the Lord” (5:4).
  • “Woe to them, for they have fled from Me! Destruction to them, because they have transgressed against me!” (7:13).
  • “My God will cast them away, because they did not obey Him” (9:17).
  • “My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt Him” (11:7).
  • “When they had pasture, they were filled; they were filled and their heart was exalted; therefore they forgot Me” (13:6).

Of Note

  • What distinguishes Hosea most from the other “Minor Prophets” is how God “intruded” into his personal life by commanding he marry “a wife of harlotry” (1:2). No doubt Gomer’s adultery caused Hosea tears and heartbreak, but there is equally no doubt that the Lord strengthened His messenger and allowed him to stand.
  • Here is one other point to ponder regarding the three children Gomer bore (please keep in mind that this is speculation, though interesting speculation):
  • Scholars agree that the first child, Jezreel, was indeed Hosea’s son as we read that Gomer “bore him [Hosea] a son” (1:3, italic added). However, in the births of the next two children, Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi, we read that Gomer “bore a daughter” (v. 6) and “bore a son” (v. 8). Notice how following the word “bore”, the word “him” is omitted. Therefore, some scholars are of the opinion that though child number one belonged to Hosea, children two and three were conceived by Gomer in her adultery by someone other than Hosea.
  • Hosea is given another mighty ­– and emotionally taxing – command by the Lord: “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” (3:1). The point? God’s abundant love and mercy are apparent here. Yes, God loves Israel and will in a future day forgive her. But God also loves you and, despite the sins of your past and present, He is at all times reaching out to you, encouraging you to repent of your sin and find shelter in the safety, forgiveness, and redemption of His open and inviting arms!

Up next: “Joel: Behold the Day of the Lord”

Previous: “Introduction: Exploring the Major Message of the Minor Prophets”