Well, today we start the minor prophets. They’re called the minor prophets, not because they are less important, but because they are generally shorter. You may also occasionally see them referred to as “the twelve” among the prophets, because, of course, there are twelve of them. Although Joel is considered to be the oldest among the twelve, Hosea is first in the list; in other words, they have not been organized chronologically, although the last three are from the days of the return from exile.
Hosea is sometimes called the great love story of the Old Testament. There are other love stories in the OT, of course, Ruth, Song of Solomon, and even some passages of Ezekiel. But Hosea is considered to be the best among them, because its first chapters are a parable manifested in the prophet’s own life about God’s love affair with unfaithful Israel. In case you ever thought that God was too great to be effected by emotion, think again! This story contains all the emotions of love, jealousy, outrage, compassion, vengeance, tender persuasion, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
A key word found in this prophet is “knowledge”, but it is not an “intellectual awareness” kind of knowledge. Rabbi Abraham Heschel points out that it is the same word that is used in Genesis, when Adam knew Eve and she conceived and bore a son! God is not, of course, suggesting some sort of spiritual sex; rather, it is a metaphor for a real relationship. This knowledge is about the kind one has of a friend, family member, or intimate. And certainly as you read through the book it becomes clear that it is about really knowing God. Later, in Ephesians and Revelation, the metaphor is extended to speak of the church (God’s NT people) as the bride of Christ. Later, when God proclaims, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6),” perhaps it will mean more. It invites the reader to empathize with God as He suffers with His unfaithful people.
And to do all this God uses the vehicle of Hosea’s personal suffering, a parable created by God’s command to Hosea to marry a woman of loose morals, Gomer, because the land of Israel commits flagrant harlotry. She bears three children: Jezreel (named for the name of the valley region where the northern kingdom of Israel was located), Lo-ruhamah (“lo” being the Hebrew for “no” and “ruhamah” is the word for “compassion”), and Lo-ammi (“ammi” being the word for “my people”) — who knows for sure who their real father was. Names all chosen to relate a message that Israel would be treated with no compassion, as if they were not even God’s people.
But the LORD then tells Hosea to tell Ammi and Ruhamah to plead with their unfaithful mother to change, or else face the terrible consequences of her many indiscretions. Of all things, the prophet goes on to say, unfaithful Gomer (Israel) thinks that it is her lovers who have provided for them all this time, when it has been Hosea (God)! But it becomes clear (2:14) that it is only abandoning her, stopping the provision of food and protection, that will bring her around again. The punishment will not be sheer vengeance, but has an honorable purpose — reconciliation.
And it worked. Chapter 3 sees Hosea redeeming Gomer, who has had to sell herself into slavery, because Hosea had stopped supporting her like a wife; and it is in that low state that she apparently “comes to herself”. Similarly, Israel (after the exile) would return back to the LORD.
Let me make just a few observations…
God wants a relationship
One of the key differences between Judaism/Christianity and other world religions is that the gods of other religions couldn’t care less about a relationship with their worshippers. The real God is different. But, as anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows, it is work — on both sides. God isn’t interested in you merely knowing about Him; He wants you to “know” Him. It can’t be casual or a hobby or neglected.
Punishment is intended to get us to come to ourselves
Although bad things sometimes happen to good people, sometimes bad things happen to people who’ve sinned, not just as vengeance from God, but as a call back to God. Whenever it has been suggested by any religious person that any of the recent disasters our country has suffered might be punishment from God, there has always been a hue and cry that the God of love simply doesn’t do things like that — but as the story of Hosea demonstrates, He can and He does sometimes to get us to come back to Him. Disasters aren’t always from God, Job teaches us that, but not everyone is a Job and sometimes such things can be directly from God as a plea to return — and sometimes it still works.
What do our sins do to God?
God is not an impersonal force, and He’s not so big that He doesn’t suffer at our betrayal and neglect. This story is one that should easily evoke the pains of empathy in any human being who has ever loved another — and help us understand God’s heartache at our unfaithfulness. The question is whether or not we care. Do you care?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.