September 18, 2015.
Daily Reading: Hosea 1-7.
Background: The book of Hosea is one of the 12 prophets in the Hebrew scriptures, and is the first of the minor prophets in the Old Testament (unless you make an argument that Daniel is a minor prophet, however Daniel’s prophecies are much different in nature and they are not addressed to the children of Israel before their captivity). Though Hosea appears first in the cannon, he was not the earliest of the 12 prophets, but rather one of the earliest, being a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Micah. Hosea gives us the dating of his prophecy in the opening of the book, “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.” This would have placed him in the mid to late 8th century BC, c. 780-715 BC. He was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel, and though he makes some references to the southern kingdom of Judah, his message is mainly tailored to the north. Hosea not only has a message to bring to the people, but his life is an allegory of his message, as he is told to take a prostitute for a wife and when she commits adultry with him by living a life of whoredom, he is told to go again and take her back, to show how the people of the Lord have committed whoredom, seeking after and worshiping other gods and forsaking their Husband. Hosea has a message of judgment for Israel, but it is filled with hope, as we see the love of God for His people poured into the beautiful poetry and references to the coming kingdom that would be established through the Christ. Hosea’s ultimate message is one of redemption.
Concepts and Connections.
Living out prophecy: The book of Hosea opens not with a monolog of prophecy given by the Lord so that the prophet could go out and teach the message, but rather with a command to the prophet Hosea to order his life around the message that he was going to bring to the people. Hosea is told to go and take a prostitute as a wife to symbolize the whoredom that Israel has committed agains the Lord by going out and serving other gods. The children of Israel had turned away from their God and sought out other lovers the fill their desires, and the Lord was displeased with His people. Thus, Hosea goes out and takes Gomer to be his wife, and she bears him a child that the Lord tells Hosea to name him Jezreel, which is a reference to the bloodshed of Jehu in II Kings 10, after which he assumed the throne as king. Though Jehu destroyed the house of Ahab in Jezreel by the command of the Lord (see I Kings 21:17-29), his motives were not pure, as he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and was not careful to walk in the Law of the Lord (see II Kings 10:28-31). Thus Israel continued down the path of sin with Jehu in charge and had ended up where they were when Hosea come onto the scene.
Gomer conceived again and bore a daughter whom the Lord told Hosea to name “No Mercy” (some translations will read ‘Lo-ruhama’, which means ‘she has not received mercy’) to symbolize that lack of mercy that the Lord was going to show to the people of Israel because of their sin. It is interesting to note here that the Lord makes a distinction in His punishment of Israel and Judah, saying that He will indeed have mercy on Judah unlike Israel. This is because the history of Judah, though there are rough patches where they do indeed turn from the Lord, has many more kings that did indeed do what was right in the sight of the Lord, even leading great revivals in Judah. The reference to saving Judah here could be directed towards the deliverance of Hezekiah from Sennacherib, king of Assyria (the nation that would take Israel into captivity) when he came against Hezekiah (see II Kings 19), the edict of Cyrus, king of Persia, that effectivly ended (at least strictly) Judah’s captivity, as prophesied by Jeremiah (see Ezra 1:1, Jeremiah 25:12, 29:10), the ultimate salvation that would come to the world when the Christ came through the line of Judah (see Matthew 1, Revelation 5:5), or a combination of all three.
When Gomer conceives again and bears another son, the Lord gives a strong message to the children of Israel, telling Hosea to name him “Not My People” (‘Lo-ammi’ in some translations), because they were no longer His people, and He was no longer their God. This is what seems to be a crushing blow to the children of Israel, for they had forsaken their Master, and had been cut off. But the prophecy does not end there, fortunately, as the Lord indeed had plans to turn it all around, once again redeeming His people, and in the same place that they were once called ‘Not My People,’ they will be called children of the living God. Paul cites this passage in Romans 9:25-26, relating it to the church established by the coming of Christ, offering salvation to the whole world (see also I Peter 2:9-10). Indeed, through Christ, the children of Israel and Judah were gathered together into one kingdom, with Christ as the head, a kingdom that was open to any who would follow Him. We will see more about Jezreel in the next chapter, as he is mentioned again, for his name had a double meaning, the one above, but a second based on the translation of his name, ‘God will sow’, as God will sow in these last days, and reap a great harvest.
1. Israel’s coming punishment: Though we left off in the previous chapter with talks about the future plans of God, where He would have no mercy on the children of Israel, taking them into captivity, this chapter begins with a reminder that they had received mercy. God had blessed His people and brought them to where they were now, yet they had forsaken the One who had given them everything. They were His people, but they forsook Him. They had received mercy, but they thought little of it. And now they were living their lives in whoredom, away from their God, which was part of their cycle of disobedience, punishment and redemption (see Judges 1-5). Here we see that Hosea is told to plead with the people, that they come back from their sinfulness, that they love again their first Husband and put away their adultery. They had taken the very blessings that the Lord had given them, and used them in their offerings to the Baals. Because of their disobedience and apathy towards their God, He was going to take back what He had given them, and punish Israel for their sins. They had turned from their God, and He would turn against them. This is an all too familiar concept in the minor prophets.
2. Redemption: Just as the story didn’t stop with ‘No Mercy’ in chapter one, the story doesn’t stop with the Lord’s punishment on His people here. The cycle of redemption would be completed, and God would again have mercy on His people, for He would draw them back to Him and remove the vile names of the false gods from their mouths. He would once again be their Husband and be betrothed to them forever. Note the love of God for His people that can be seen in this passage, as a husband loves his own wife. Justice, righteousness, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness will all be amidst the Lord and His people once again, and they would again know their God. As we saw at the end of the first chapter, the Lord would sow in the land (which is the meaning of the name ‘Jezreel’, see chapter 1), and would reap a people for His own, having mercy on ‘No Mercy’, and saying to ‘Not My People’, “You are My people.” And His people shall answer, “You are my God.” Paul cites this passage in Romans 9:25-26, relating it to the church established by the coming of Christ, offering salvation to the whole world (see also I Peter 2:9-10, and refer back to Hosea 1).
“Go again”: Here we pick up the story of Hosea’s family, as his wife has gone back to her whoredom, just as the children of Israel had committed adultery with their God. What is remarkable, however, is the love of God that is shown here, they He tells Hosea to go again and take back his wife who has committed adultery, just as the Lord will take back His people. So Hosea buys back his wife with some silver and barley, and she is to dwell with Hosea for many days and put an end to her adultery, as symbolic to the time that the children of Israel would spend without a king or prince (during and after their captivity, to the time of Jesus) and then seek and return to the Lord their God through David their King, which is a Messianic reference to Jesus, the offspring of David who is reigning as King in the Kingdom of God (see Ezekiel 34:23, Jeremiah 23:5, Romans 11, Hebrews 1).
The Lord’s accusation: Here the Lord lays out His accusation to Israel, laying their sin ever before them. Note that it is not without reason that the Lord has turned against His people to punish them. He is bringing His wrath not out of hatred, but rather out of righteousness and judgment, for the people had put off all righteousness and faithfulness. There was no knowledge of God in the land, no steadfast love, but rather swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery, bloodshed following bloodshed. It is interesting to point out that the land and animals, the creation, is said to morn because of the wickedness that is taking place in Israel (see Romans 8:18-25). It is important to note next, however, who the Lord’s accusation turns to: the priests. The Lord turns to those who are supposed to be leading His people in the right direction, but have lead them astray. His people were being destroyed for lack of knowledge, and they went without this knowledge because they were not taught properly by their leaders. There is always a higher responsibility placed on leadership (see Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 34, James 3:1). The priest are rejected here by the Lord, and their children are forgotten because they had forgotten the law God. The glory of the priest would be turned into shame because they fed on the sin of the people and worked out of greed and iniquity. The priests and the people alike would be punished. Note the absurdity that the Lord calls His people’s attention to- they inquire of lifeless wood and their own walking sticks to answer them, and forsake the Lord their Maker, who has been there for them and given them everything they had. Regardless, they still went on to sacrifice to false gods and idols, forsaking the Lord and committing spiritual adultery. Finally, Judah is warred against following after the ways of Israel, for they had left their God like a stubborn heifer. Judah was to leave Israel alone, and not turn from the Lord their God as Israel did.
Punishment prophesied: The opening of this chapter calls all the house of Israel, priests, kings and people alike, into the court of the Lord for the sins that the have committed and the adultery that they have run to. The discipline of the Lord was about to come upon on them. Note here that it seems that Ephraim, a the half-tribe descendant from Joseph, seems to be used to represent the northern kingdom of Israel in this chapter and beyond. Though the Lord had called His people back, they would not listen, for their sin was a type of sin that would not allow them to turn back. They were operating in pride, and pride does not typically lend itself well to seeing faults. Though the people were sent prophets, they didn’t think what they were doing was wrong. Their pride had lead them to stubbornness and they did not know the Lord. Thus the punishment of the Lord would come upon them, as Israel would indeed be given into captivity to Assyria. What’s more, Judah is prophesied to follow Israel, though they had been warned not to, in their sin and they too would incur the judgment and wrath of the Lord because of their adultery. The Lord would punish them, in effort that they would see their sins and return to Him. He then returned to His place and waited for them to acknowledge their guilt and seek His face, as so often distress will lead us to do.
The call to repentance unanswered: The first three verses of this chapter seem to be a cry from Hosea himself to his people that they return to the Lord (this is perhaps a cry for after the punishment had come upon them), and accept the mercy He would show to repentant hearts. The Lord had indeed torn and broken them, but He did so as to rebuild them back when they returned. The Lord offered redemption and renewal, healing and revival. But Israel and Judah would not listen. Their love was transient, their commitment fickle, as dew that vanishes in the morning. The Lord didn’t want the sacrifices and offerings that the people were making, even if they were making them to Him along with the other gods they were worshipping. He desires steadfast love over sacrifice, and the knowledge of God over offerings. He wanted their hearts. The Lord always wants our hearts above our “rule keeping.” This is not to say that He does not expect us to do what He tells us, but rather He expects our motives and intent to be right, which is more important than getting all the rituals right. This is exemplified by Jesus’ citation of this verse in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7 when the Pharisees accuse Him for eating with sinners and healing on the Sabbath. Israel’s sin goes well beyond not following the rules, for their hearts had left their God. They had broken the covenant made with them in the beginning, and the Lord calls this a horrible thing. Note, however, the final verse of this chapter that, as we have seen in chapter one, that Judah’s end is prophesied with a better outcome, as the Lord will restore His people though Judah (see Romans 9-11).
Lament over Ephraim: Here we see what seems to be a lament over Ephraim, which is representative of Israel, because of their transgression and their stubbornness in their unwillingness to return to the Lord. Note how the Lord longs to heal Ephraim, but He cannot because they will not accept it. Rather, they continue in their iniquity and do not turn away from their adultery. The Lord wants them to come back, He longs for them to return, but they would not. And their iniquity ever lay before Him. They loved to walk in their iniquity, and they did not realize that it was burning them. Hosea compares them to a heated oven that is not properly stirred, to a cake that is not turned over. Their iniquity was burning them, but they knew it not. (Interestingly, some commentators hypothesize that Hosea might have been a baker due to his reference and knowledge of baking here.) Though their kings had fallen, they would not call on the Lord- their stubbornness and pride remained. They would rather call out to Egypt than for help from their God (see II Kings 17:4). Destruction as discipline would come on them from the Lord. He would redeem them, but they continued to rebel. Because of their continued rebellion, they would be led into captivity and scattered abroad. How sad it is to refuse the redemption of the Lord.
Tomorrow’s Reading: John 7-9.
Let the Lord redeem.