Note: this post is a continuation of other “Catch Up’ posts (like this one).
Oh, Hosea. Without study notes or context, it appears that the God of the Bible is exactly who He is accused of being: harsh, controlling, and anything but loving.
For example, in the first few verses of chapter 1, God instructs Hosea, the prophet to:
“Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”
(Hosea 1:2 ESV)
A wife of whoredom? Children of whoredom? That sounds, er, nice. Not.
But the context of what God has been doing over the course of his relationship with the descendents of Israel is so important to understand. God saved the Israelites from delivering them out of Egypt. He then, despite their doubt-fueled rebellion, provided for their physical, financial, and spiritual needs while he led them to Canaan, otherwise known as the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy, Moses instructed the people to enter the land, worship God and therefore love each other and their neighbors. He also gave them one important warning: Do not (x 1,000,000 for emphasis) inquire of or aspire to follow the natives’ religion.
This religion was known as Baalism and by any account of moral standards was just gross. Among other degrading acts, the religion demanded infant sacrifice particularly at the places of Baal worship, which the Lord abhorred as it openly conflicted with a portion of his covenant for his people to grow and multiply.
Additionally, in an effort to force the gods of Baal to provide ideal agricultural terms, worshipers of Baal would have sex with temple prostitutes to promote fertility and good crops. In contrast, God promised His people that he would provide for their agricultural needs as long as they adhered to the Mosaic Law, which above all things called for them to love Him, with their entire heart, mind and soul.
This brings us to Hosea and a significant span of time following the Israelites’ arrival into Canaan. Hosea finds himself in the northern kingdom of Israel. Israel broke off from Judah after the time of King David and Solomon, a period where the greater (and by greater, I refer to the entirety of God’s people pre-division) Israel communed closely with God and fulfilled their part of the covenant and thus, experienced a time of preeminence, wealth (both monetary and spiritual) and had great influence in the world for God’s glory. Hosea’s smaller Israel was particularly rebellious and its series of kings endorsed and participated in Baal worship.
In Hosea, we not only see God provide a prophesy of warning to Hosea to share with the inhabitants of the northern kingdom but we also see God command Hosea into a marital relationship which will actually incarnate the seasons of adultery and pain which God will speak through Hosea about.
To be honest, I am utterly amazed and so thankful for Hosea’s faithfulness. For starters, prophesying about the one, true God among a civilization whose heart had no moral objection to infant sacrifice and sexual immorality was risky enough. Being obedient, however, into marrying Gomer and having some foreknowledge of her future adultery is mind-bending. I have not been married but I know enough about myself and my risk-adverseness that I probably would have bowed out right then and there. What we’ll see though is that Hosea is obedient to the Lord and as a recipient of God’s love and faithfulness, he can enter into a marriage with a woman he truly does love and offer grace upon grace, again and again just as God, the Father, does for the Israel, the northern kingdom.
And so, with this rather large introduction and some reflection, let’s walk through Hosea:
So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, …
She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. …
When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”
(Hosea 1:3-9 ESV)
The name of Jezreel is favorable as it relates to a place with a vineyard that was owned by a man (Naboth) who was loyal to the Lord. It also, according to the ESV Study Bible Notes, alludes to a place where the struggle between the worship of God and Baal play out.
The narrative describing the naming of the second and third children however are unfavorable and demonstrated through the lack of two important words which described the birth of the first child: bore him. This infers that Gomer has entered into at least two acts of adultery against Hosea as demonstrated through the conceiving of two children which aren’t his. This parallels Israel’s multiple acts of adultery against the Lord as they go and serve other gods (particularly the Baals).
Upon her children also I will have no mercy,
because they are children of whoredom.
For their mother has played the whore;
she who conceived them has acted shamefully.
For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
who give me my bread and my water,
my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’
Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns,
and I will build a wall against her,
so that she cannot find her paths.
She shall pursue her lovers
but not overtake them,
and she shall seek them
but shall not find them.
Then she shall say,
‘I will go and return to my first husband,
for it was better for me then than now.’
And she did not know
that it was I who gave her
the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and who lavished on her silver and gold,
which they used for Baal.
(Hosea 2:4-8 ESV)
My pastor is a very smart man and one of the most memorable things I have learned from him is that people are born worshipers. Whether we worship or not is not the important question. Instead, what we must really answer is ‘What do we worship?’ When Gomer (or Israel) says “I will go after my lovers who give me my bread and my water” what she really means is “I will go find my object of worship, the object which provides comfort and reprieve”. The problem is that when the object of worship is anything other than God of the Bible (who Christians recognize as a triune God consisting of Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit), the comfort and reprieve is only momentary.
As such, I love the verses beginning with “Therefore”. God, who cares for us more than we could ever hope or imagine, therefore protects us from our misguided worship. He describes this buffering as hedging Gomer (or Israel) up with thorns. building up walls and not allowing her to overtake her lovers. The Lord protects those who through free will acknowledge Him as Savior and then just as quickly forget Him by showing them the futility of their misdirected worship. They return to the Lord and discover that it was He who is the true source of their provision, not their misdirected worship.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
(Hosea 2:14-15 ESV)
I struggle when I read these words, the description of how the Lord will call His people back to himself. One of the most difficult topics that I as a Christian feel called to account for is how does our free will play into God’s redemption of us?
Here in Hosea, we see that the Lord allures us into relationship. Here he brings Israel into the wilderness, away from temptation, to the place where God led and provided for His people, to speak tenderly. (In later parts of Scripture we’ll read that both Israel and Judah are conquered by Babylon and forced into exile where they will be refined and later allowed to return to Canaan.)
Faith in the Lord does not come around by means of coercion. As a Christian in a particular corner of the world that holds the most educated population in the country, I know my faith cannot be imposed on anyone. All too often, I see people brought up in religious homes declare indifference or objections to the “god” which appeared to demand or punish. As I once heard a little girl who may have been the product of such a home say, “I don’t like Jesus. He just isn’t fun.”
Instead, the God of Hosea who calls the rebellious wife into the wilderness must be allowed to be seen for what he truly is: a caring, forgiving, and loving Father who provides life and hope. When He is unmarred by imperfect human means of rationalization or explanation, He can be seen as such. His actions truly are alluring, His voice tender when His gospel rings true. And what is most amazing, is that when God is presented in his raw and amazing state, His people, even the rebellious wife respond favorably by choice. In faith, they take Him at His word and live in expectation for it to come true just as they did in those shining moments in the wilderness where Israel responded in humble worship.
Phew. That was only through chapter three. Enough for now.