Hosea — God’s Undying Love for His Unfaithful Bride
Hosea son of Beeri was the author of this book that bears his name. His ministry was to the Northern Kingdom and spanned the reigns of Israel’s last six kings, from Zechariah to Hoshea. Much of his message was illustrated by the life of Hosea, as YHWH instructed him to marry a prostitute and an adulteress and name his children by them in a way that showed how God felt about the unfaithfulness of His bride, Israel.
Hosea Chapter 1
This chapter opens with an introduction to the prophet and tells us he received “The word of the LORD…in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel” (Hosea 1:1).
God’s first assignment probably came as a shock to Hosea. He was told to marry a prostitute and have children by her. The Lord explained that this was to illustrate the land of Israel, which had “committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD” (v. 2). Hosea did not argue, but went and got a woman named Gomer, “and she conceived and bore him a son” (3).
When the boy was born, the Lord told Hosea to name him Jezreel (4). This was the name of the city in the Northern Kingdom, where Ahab’s family was slaughtered in fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy against the wicked king. YHWH explained,
“…For in a little while
I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu,
And bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.
It shall come to pass in that day
That I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel” (vv. 4-5).
Although God had told Jehu to kill Ahab’s family, and the general did everything according to the word of the Lord, yet he had not turned away from the idolatry of Jeroboam, the country’s first king. Therefore, God promised to let his dynasty continue only to the fourth generation (See 2 Kings 9-10). Now He was indicating that [quite possibly during the lifetime of Hosea’s son] He was going to pay Jehu back for the violence he did against the house of Ahab and the king’s friends and associates.
Again the prophet’s wife Gomer conceived, this time bearing a girl (6). God told Hosea to name her Lo-Ruhamah, which means, “no mercy.” Can you imagine being this poor little gal, hearing people call you “No Mercy” all your life? YHWH explained that this was to show the people of Israel that He would be merciful toward them no longer; they were doomed to be carried away from their country. Judah, however, would still receive God’s mercy, as He would save them by Supernatural and not human intervention (7).
When Gomer had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, God gave the couple another boy baby (8). This one was named Lo-Ammi—“Not My People,” because the Lord was finally rejecting the northern tribes of Israel as His people and refused to be called their God any longer (9).
One day, however, the Lord would restore the nation of Israel to their former numbers. “In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’” (10). The northern tribes and Judah would be unified once again under a single leader, “…for great will be the day of Jezreel!” (11).
Hosea Chapter 2
The first verse of this chapter actually belongs with the previous one. For, in it, God concludes His message to Israel through Hosea’s offspring. He said for the prophet to tell his fellow Israelites that they would one day be called “My people” [Ammi]; while the women would be called “Mercy is shown” [Ruhamah] (Hos. 2:1).
Verse 2 begins the next prophetic comparison of Israel to an unfaithful wife. YHWH says, “Bring charges against you mother…for she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband!” What were the charges? Harlotry and adultery. God said if Israel didn’t put them away, He was going to strip Israel naked “And expose her, as in the day she was born,” making the nation a wilderness, parched and thirsty (3). Years later, YHWH used very similar imagery in Ezekiel 16 to describe Judah. In His mind, any time His people turned away from worshiping the true God to idols, it was as though they were committing spiritual infidelity.
He also said He would not have mercy on the offspring of Israel, since they were “children of harlotry” (4). The Lord compared the prosperity of the Northern Kingdom to the wages of a prostitute—all the bread, water, wool, linen, oil and wine she believed had been given her by the many gods she courted (5).
In order to keep Israel from pursuing other nations and their gods, the Lord told them He would “hedge up your way with thorns, and wall her in, so that she cannot find her paths” (6). He hoped that in doing so, the nation might see how futile it was to pursue these fickle lovers and return to her first husband, YHWH (7). He was the One who had actually given her not only food but the silver and gold the people made into idols (8). He was prepared to take back these provisions, exposing her lewdness and taking away all cause for celebration (9-11). He’d give her vines and fig trees, which she considered wages from her lovers, to the wild beasts (12). He planned to “punish her for the days of the Baals to which she burned incense,” adorning herself for these lovers, while forgetting YHWH (13).
But like a truly adoring husband, YHWH could not stay angry with His beloved forever. After she had been humbled, He planned to take her into the wilderness and woo her all over again (14). He was going to restore the vineyards and give her reason to sing again, as in the days when He first brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt (15). Then Israel would call YHWH her Husband [Hebrew Ishi], rather than her Master [Baali] (16). As she forgot the names of her former idols, the Lord would make a covenant with the wild beasts, birds and creepy crawlies to leave her alone (17-18). War would no longer be a problem, so everyone could lie down in safety.
Furthermore, He said,
“In righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And you shall know the LORD” (19-20).
Then Israel would call, and the Lord would answer; productivity would be restored to the land (21-22). Jezreel, which means “God sows,” would be sown by YHWH in the earth. Lo-Ruhamah [“no mercy”] would receive mercy, and those whom God previously said were Lo-Ammi [“not my people”] would be called God’s people once again. Moreover, they would call Him their God (23).
Imagine this proud papa, Hosea, with his three children sitting around him, using the two boys and one little girl to tell the people of Israel about God’s feelings toward them: Boy #1 would tell them God was coming to wipe out the northern tribes and avenge the blood shed by Jehu. Little Lo-Ruhamah would let them know God’s mercy toward Israel had run out. And then son #2, Lo-Ammi, would emphasize that the Israelites would no longer be considered God’s people because of their spiritual prostitution. That was the bad news. The good news was that Jezreel would again be populated with God’s people, and they would be granted His mercy, when He gave them the will to return to Him!
Hosea Chapter 3
God’s next assignment for His prophet was to marry another woman—this time one who had been married and committed adultery—to represent the way YHWH loved the children of Israel, “who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans” (Hos. 3:1). So “for six ounces of silver and ten bushels of barley,” Hosea bought this woman (Hosea 3:2, NCV). Some Bible versions indicate it was Gomer the prophet was buying back. Yet it seems to me the Lord was talking about someone else. Hosea probably paid this price to the woman’s estranged husband or her father. Perhaps she was a concubine or servant girl who had turned away from the man who originally acquired her as a wife.
Then Hosea was instructed to confine the woman and instruct her not to be intimate with anyone else, while he did the same (v. 3). This was to represent how Israel would “live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol” (Hosea 3:4, NIV). Later, they would “return and seek the LORD their God and David their king” (v. 5). Again, God indicated there would be a reunification of the northern tribes with Judah and Benjamin under a Davidic monarchy. Not only that, but “They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days.”
Hosea Chapter 4
In this chapter, God leveled his accusations against the general population of Israel for their cheating hearts (Hos. 4:1). God’s sentence: Because “There is no truth or mercy in the land. By swearing, and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed. Therefore the land will mourn; and everyone who dwells there will waste away…” (vv. 2-3). Even the wild animals, birds and fish would be removed from the land.
The whole argumentative lot of them would stumble in broad daylight and in the night (4-5). Here’s an oft-quoted line: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (6). Since they had rejected the knowledge of God, He was rejecting them as His “kingdom of priests,” as YHWH once called Israel in Exodus 19:6. Since they had forgotten His Law, YHWH intended to forget their children. The more the nation increased in number, the more they sinned against their God, so He was going to “change their glory into shame” (Hos. 4:7). Their hearts were set on sinning, so they were all going to get their just reward (vv. 8-9). “For they shall eat, but not have enough; they shall commit harlotry, but not increase; because they have ceased obeying the LORD” (10).
Here’s something for young adults, especially, to bear in mind: Fornication/marital infidelity and alcohol “enslave the heart” (11). If you think you can ‘sow your wild oats’ and party hardy without consequences, think again. Drug abuse is not the only addictive behavior on this planet! YHWH hated that His people asked counsel of lifeless idols and sacred pillars (12). He blamed a “spirit of harlotry” for causing them to stray from Him. They offered sacrifices and burned incense to their false gods on mountaintops and hills and under every convenient shade tree (13). Although the Israelite daughters committed harlotry, and their brides commit adultery, YHWH wasn’t going to punish them, since the men were guilty of sexual sin related to their pagan worship, as well (13-14).
The Lord compared idolatrous Israel/Ephraim to a “stubborn calf” and decided to leave them to fend for themselves (16-17). He said rebellion was their drink, and they constantly committed harlotry; their rulers loved dishonor (18). Verse 19 says, “A whirlwind will sweep them away, and their sacrifices will bring them shame.”
Hosea Chapter 5
This chapter addresses the priesthood of Israel and its other leaders, blasting them for leading the nation astray and slaughtering the innocent, in spite of YHWH’s correction (Hos. 5:1-2). The Lord said He knew Ephraim and Israel [both references to the Northern tribes], and that they had committed harlotry and defiled themselves (v. 3). Because the “spirit of harlotry” had possession of them, they not only didn’t know God, but weren’t the least bit concerned about turning back to Him (4). Not only were the Northern tribes stumbling in pride and sin, but Judah was getting involved in it, too (5).
Even if they took entire flocks and herds to sacrifice to YHWH, He was not going to reveal Himself to them, since “They have dealt treacherously with the LORD” and raised their children in idolatry (6-7). He warned the people of several Northern cities to sound the alarm that war was coming, and said Ephraim would be made desolate in His day of rebuke (8-9).
The Northern Kingdom wasn’t the only one facing judgment. YHWH compared Judean monarchs to a man tampering with the boundary markers of someone else’s ancestral property and said, “I will pour out my wrath on them like water” (10). Here’s something that should strike fear and trembling into every secular heart: Verse 11 says Ephraim was judged “Because he willingly walked by human precept.” In other words, the Northern tribes substituted man’s ideas for God’s teachings—something we see occurring more and more, even in our churches! For this reason YHWH was going to be like the moth or decay, eating away at both Israel and Judah (12).
Furthermore, when Ephraim and Judah saw their weakened political states, they didn’t turn to God, but to foreign powers—namely Assyria (13). YHWH told them the Assyrian king couldn’t help them, since the Lord was coming to attack the two nations like a hungry lion and carry them away (13-14). He would wait until they admitted their wrong-doing and earnestly sought Him in the midst of their suffering to have anything to do with the Hebrews (15).
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. (Hosea 6:1)
I have heard it said that Middle Eastern sheep herders will sometimes break the leg of a lamb that habitually wanders away from the flock, in order to make it dependent on the shepherd. During its convalescence, the shepherd feeds the lamb and waters it, carries it and does everything for the little critter that it cannot do for itself. When the limb is healed, it continues to follow the shepherd very closely, still in that habit of depending on its master for care.
Likewise, many times a doctor will have to hurt a patient in order heal him/her. A seemingly healthy body must be cut to remove a hidden tumor or a diseased organ. A festering sore must be lanced and cauterized, in order to heal.
God never hurts us just to be mean. Like a loving parent, His intention is always to correct and restore us. That’s what we find expressed in the next two verses. Israel was promised YHWH would revive His people after a few days [figurative speech for a period of time] “that we may live in his presence” (Hosea 6:2, NIV). Then they would pursue knowledge of Him and could count on Him to come like the seasonal rains (v. 3).
Right now, Ephraim and Judah were as short-lived in their attention to YHWH as the morning dew (4). That’s why God’s words through the prophets were so cutting and critical (5). He didn’t want their sacrifices and burnt offerings; He wanted them to exercise mercy with one another and to truly know and love the Lord (6). But, “Like Adam, they have broken the covenant—they were unfaithful to me there” (Hosea 6:7, NIV).
The Lord named several localities and listed their offenses:
- “Gilead is a city of evildoers, and defiled with blood” (8).
- Robbers and priests alike committed murder along the road to Shechem (9).
- There was spiritual harlotry that defiled the Northern tribes in general (10).
- Judah, too, could expect a bitter harvest (11).
Hosea Chapter 7
This chapter opens by saying God wanted to heal the Northern Kingdom, “but its sins were far too great. Samaria is filled with liars, thieves, and bandits!” (Hosea 7:1, NLT). The people never considered the fact that YHWH observed and remembered everything they did (v. 2). Sadly, the rulers were happy with their wickedness and lies; all of them were adulterers (3-4a). Verses 4 & 6-7 compared the hearts of the people to an oven. The king was constantly drunk, hanging out with scoffers (5). The judges and kings probably would’ve made Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton look like saints.
Verse 8 mentions the mixed marriages and political dealings of the Northern Kingdom. Personifying the nation as Ephraim, YHWH said, “Foreigners sap his strength, but he does not realize it” (Hosea 7:9, NIV). The people weren’t even aware that their country was aging, running out of time, and they most certainly were not willing to return to YHWH their God or seek His input (v. 10).
Verse 11 says, “Ephraim also is like a silly dove, without sense—” flitting back and forth in its allegiance between Egypt and Assyria (11). Consequently, the Lord intended to bring them down with His net and correct them, according to what the people had heard Him say through the prophets (12).
Though He rescued them, Israel ran from God and made up lies about Him (13). They bemoaned their fate, but didn’t cry out to the Lord; instead they got together to party and worship their false gods (14). He disciplined them to make them stronger, but they plotted evil against YHWH (15). Therefore, He planned to slay their leaders for their cursing tongues and haul everyone else off to Egypt (16).
Hosea Chapter 8
Again the prophet warned the Israelites to sound an alarm, saying YHWH was coming “like an eagle against the house of the LORD,” because the people had violated their covenant with Him (Hos. 8:1). Because Israel had rejected the good things God offered them, even though they claimed to know Him, they would not escape pursuit by their enemies (vv. 2-3). They set up kings without consulting God and turned their gold and silver into idols (4). Human beings made the calf the Israelites bowed down to in Samaria; it was not God (5-6). The true God was going to see to it that this idol was broken into pieces.
Here’s a verse we hear quoted often: “They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind” (7a). The Israelites had nothing to show for the seed they planted (7b). They had lost their distinctiveness in their efforts to blend in with and court foreign nations (8-10). YHWH complained that the nation had built many altars for sinning and had rejected God’s way of doing things (11-12). Therefore, He did not accept their self-styled worship or remove their sin (13). He planned to send Israel back to Egypt for forgetting his Maker and building temples/palaces; while Judah’s many fortified cities He was going to burn down (14).
Hosea Chapter 9
In this chapter, the Lord really let the people of Israel know what He thought about their behavior and what He planned to do about it. He told them not to rejoice like other people, since they had played the harlot and “made love for hire on every threshing floor” (Hos. 9:1). By attributing their prosperity and dedicating their increase to idols instead of YHWH, the Israelites were committing spiritual prostitution.
Therefore, He said He’d cut off their grain and grapes (v. 2). No more would they live in their own land and do as they pleased, but Israel would be taken to Assyria and Egypt, where they would “eat unclean things” and enjoy none of the good stuff they used to offer to YHWH (3-4). They would no longer be around to celebrate their annual feasts, and their possessions would be overrun by nettles and thorns (5-6). God called their false prophets fools and madmen—corrupt and deserving punishment for their sins (7-9).
Once the people of Israel had seemed like grapes in the wilderness or the first ripe fruits on a fig tree—delightful and refreshing (10). But then they turned to idols and became as repugnant to God as the things they worshiped. Therefore, YHWH meant to bereave them of their children—preventing conception, causing miscarriages and killing off those already born (11-14 & 16).
Meaning to divorce His bride, Israel, the Lord said, “I will drive them from My house; I will love them no more…” (15). He was going to cast the Northern tribes and their leaders away to wander the nations, because they refused to obey Him (17).
Hosea Chapter 10
The more the nation of Israel was blessed, the more pagan altars they constructed; therefore God said their altars and sacred pillars would be broken down (Hos. 10:1-2). Looking ahead, the prophet Hosea foresaw a time when Israel would say, “We have no king, because we did not fear the LORD…” (v. 3). Because they didn’t keep their promises to God or each other, lawsuits multiplied like noxious weeds in a neglected field (4). The idols they trusted in and the kings that led them astray were doomed be carried off to Assyria or destroyed (5-7). Thorns and thistles would grow on their altars and their high places would be knocked down (8). Not only would the people in Israel’s near future cry for the mountains and hills to fall on and cover them, but the fact that Luke 23:30 and Revelation 6:15-16 quote Hosea 10:8 in their apocalyptic passages indicates that this will happen again.
Referring to the brutal rape and murder recorded in Judges 19 that led to Israel nearly wiping out the tribe of Benjamin, the Lord said,
YHWH compared Ephraim to a heifer that loved to tread grain, but said He would harness her and make her do the tougher job of plowing instead (11). He urged Israel to plant righteousness, “reap in mercy,” and break up the ground that had been unused—most likely referring to their hearts—“ For it is time to seek the LORD, till He comes and rains righteousness on you” (12). For too long they had “plowed wickedness,” reaped sin and “eaten the fruit of lies,” having trusted in themselves and their armies (13). Consequently, Israel was going to experience the violence, destruction and loss of invasions (14-15).
Hosea Chapter 11
Matthew 2:15 quotes the first verse of this chapter, referring to the sojourn of Jesus’ family in Egypt: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son” (Hos. 11:1). In the historical sense, it refers to when YHWH brought the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Nevertheless, the people soon sacrificed to Baal and other idols (v. 2).
YHWH pictured Himself as a father, teaching an infant Ephraim to walk, but said they didn’t realize He healed them (3). He “drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love,” removing the yoke of slavery from their necks (4). Here He added yet another tender image: “I stooped and fed them.”
Yet because Israel refused to repent and were “bent on backsliding,” they were going to be attacked and ruled by the Assyrians (5-7). They called out to YHWH, but they didn’t exalt Him (7).
Still, God was reluctant to give them up and let the Northern Kingdom be overturned like the ancient cities of Admah and Zeboiim, which were destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah (Hos. 11:8; c.f.—Gen. 14:8 & 19:25-26). With a sympathetic heart, the Lord said He would not entirely destroy or terrorize Israel (8-9). As He roared like a lion, they would come trembling back to Him like doves from Egypt and Assyria, and He would again let them live in their own houses (10-11).
The final verse of this chapter probably should’ve been the first verse of Chapter 12, since it begins to compare and contrast the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. It says, “Ephraim has encircled Me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit; but Judah still walks with God…” (Hos. 11:12).
Hosea Chapter 12
Continuing the comparison between Israel and Judah, this chapter opens by informing us that Ephraim was pursuing the wind and increasing lies and desolation by courting both the Assyrians and Egyptians (Hos. 12:1). According to verse 2, however; Judah wasn’t getting off Scott free, either.
We review ancient family history in Hosea 12:3-4, recalling how Jacob grabbed his brother by the heel and fought with the angel (See also Gen. 25:21-26 & 32:22ff). Just as their patriarch “wept, and sought favor from Him,” so YHWH urged the children of Israel “by the help of your God, return; observe mercy and justice, and wait on your God continually” (Hos. 12:4-6).
God compared His people to cheating Canaanite merchants with dishonest scales (v. 7). Ephraim had gained wealth through oppression, yet they didn’t consider themselves guilty (8). YHWH said He’d make them live in tents again, as they commemorated in the annual Feast of Booths (9). He had spoken by prophets, visions and symbols, but the people still trusted their idols (10-11). He was going to make their altars mere heaps of rubble.
Another ancient history lesson recalls Jacob’s flight to Syria and how he worked to gain a spouse (12). “By a prophet the LORD brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet he was preserved” (13). This, of course referred to Moses, whom Deuteronomy 18 referred to as a prophet, who not only communicated God’s will to the people, but also interceded in their behalf many times. Because Ephraim bitterly provoked YHWH too many times, the Lord was going to leave the stain of his blood guilt upon him and punish him for his sin (Hos. 12:14).
Hosea Chapter 13
Not only did Ephraim exalt himself in Israel, but Hosea 13:1 says “when he offended through Baal worship, he died.” In other words, their idolatry and pride sealed the death warrant against the Northern Kingdom. Verse 2 says, “Now they sin more and more,” making images molded of metal and encouraging one another to kiss them in worship. Their time on earth was going to be as brief as the presence of the morning dew or smoke from a chimney (3).
YHWH was determined to have them know no God but Him and to impress on their hearts that there was no savior but Him (4). He reminded them of how He fed them in the wilderness, yet when they came to the Promised Land, they got full of themselves and forgot Him (5-6).
So He threatened to attack and devour them like a lion or a bear (7-8). He had given them a king when He was angry with Israel, but he had done them no good and was eventually deposed. Now God was determined to be their only King again (10-11). Ephraim had stored up sin long enough; now they were going to be seized with sorrows like a woman in childbirth (12-13).
Nevertheless, YHWH intended to “ransom them from the power of the grave” (14a). Quoted in 1 Corinthians 15:55, referring to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, Hosea 13:14b says, “O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting?” (NASB).
Still, the Lord promised an east wind would come from the wilderness and dry up the springs of Ephraim, ending his productivity and plundering his treasure (v. 15). Samaria would be held guilty for rebelling against God (16). Its inhabitants would fall by the sword—with even women and children being cut to pieces.
Hosea Chapter 14
This chapter makes one final appeal to Israel to return to their God, who was eager to restore them. Though they had stumbled in their iniquity, Hosea urged them to appeal to YHWH to take their sin away, receive them graciously and empower them to praise Him once again (Hos. 14:1-2). If they would only realize that Assyria couldn’t save them, nor could horses or idols (v. 3)! The last part of that verse contains a lovely promise: “For in You the fatherless finds mercy.”
God said He would “heal their backsliding” and “love them freely,” with His anger turned away from His people (4). With YHWH to water them daily, Israel would flourish like a lily, with roots that ran deep (5). “His branches shall spread; His beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon” (6). People would again find shade and flourish under the shelter of this blessed nation, and a fruitful Ephraim would finally be done with idols (7-8). The book concluded by saying that wise men would understand all this and know that “the ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them” (9).
Although in our permissive society, some of YHWH’s penalties against Israel seem harsh, it helps to see their sin through God’s eyes: Here was someone who put everything He had into a marriage relationship, only to have His beloved turn from Him to other lovers. All the food, clothing, treasures and other resources the Lord lavished on His bride, she gave to false gods or used to court lovers from other countries. Again and again He warned her that this was unacceptable behavior, but she repeatedly ignored Him. Or consider the loving Father who lavished affection on His son, only to have him pursue a life that violated everything his dad stood for. If you look at it this way, you begin to see why the Lord’s patience finally ran out.
But you can also see how God’s heart was torn by this. He goes back and forth between wanting to treat his fickle lover as her sins deserved, or take her back and start all over again. Thanks to what His son, Jesus did, YHWH was enabled to receive us with grace and mercy, instead of judgment. This book gives us insight into how sin hurts God and encourages us to respond in humility, repentance and gratitude, rather than pride and stubbornness.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.