AN ADULTEROUS PEOPLE Hosea 1–3
“Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord” (Hosea 1:2).Christians today are to mimic at least one aspect of Hosea’s life. We are to model the way we live with others on the way that God relates to us.
From its inception by Jeroboam I in 731B.C, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had practiced false religion. That ruler, sure reunion with Judah would follow if his people went regularly to Jerusalem to worship, as God’s Law required, set up a counterfeit religious system in his own land. He established two national worship centers, at Bethel and Dan, and set up golden calves at both places, upon which Yahweh was supposed to ride. He ordained a non-Aaronic priesthood and reorganized the religious calendar. Later Israel proved particularly vulnerable to a virulent form of Baal worship, actively promoted by King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Even though this had been stamped out during the time of Elijah, Yahweh worship in Israel continued to be corrupt. Not only was the counterfeit system of Jeroboam I maintained, but elements of Baalism, including orgiastic rites and ritual prostitution, were practiced in the name of God. Israel had broken the covenant that bound her to the Lord; an act that was analogous to a woman breaking the marriage covenant. It is this analogy that is developed in the Book of Hosea. In order to demonstrate to Israel the dynamics of her rejection of the Lord, God permitted the Prophet Hosea to marry a wife who became unfaithful. Hosea’s visible suffering at the betrayal of a wife he sincerely loved enfleshed for God’s people the Lord’s own suffering at their betrayal of Him! But then, wonder of wonders, Hosea searched for and found his prostitute wife, purchased her out of the slavery into which she had fallen, and brought her home! How Hosea’s neighbors must have watched in awe. She deserved abandonment, yet an unquenchable love moved Hosea to restore her. Just as God’s unquenchable love will move the Lord, after letting Israel taste the consequences of her spiritual adultery, to rescue Israel and also bring her home. What a powerful reminder to us, first of all of the genuine character of God’s love. But next, of the fact that Hosea was called by God to act out on earth the realities of heaven. Just so, you and I are to respond to others not as they deserve, but as God in grace has responded to us. Like Hosea, each of us who knows Jesus is to be a living example of His unending love.
God commanded Hosea to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him (1:1–11), even as Israel had been unfaithful to God (2:1–23). Showing genuine love for his wife, Hosea found her and brought her back, even as God will one day restore exiled Israel (3:1–5).
Understanding the Text
“During the reign of Jeroboam” Hosea 1:1.
With Assyria and Syria temporarily weak, the 40-year reign of Jeroboam was marked by military and economic resurgence in Israel. The king extended Israel’s northern and eastern borders to occupy most of the territory held in David’s day. Wealth flowed into Israel from trade, and local agriculture flourished. Everything seemed to be going so well! Yet spiritually Israel’s worship was corrupt, sprinkled with pagan practices. Society itself was corrupt, as the moral boundary stones too had been moved. Later Hosea cried, “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds” (4:2). It is a tragic error to mistake GNP as a true measure of a nation’s well-being. This happened during the reign of Jeroboam II when Hosea began to minister. And the prosperous, complacent people of Israel were deaf to Hosea’s warning. Yet there’s a subtle message in this verse, which locates Hosea’s ministry in the time of Jeroboam of Israel, but also the time of Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah. That message? During Hezekiah’s reign, some 30 years after Hosea began to preach, Assyria invaded and totally crushed the nation of Israel. The prophet lived to see his grim words of warning fulfilled. In many ways America stands at the same crossroad. Too many of our society’s moral boundary stones have been moved. There is too much violence, too much murder, too much stealing and adultery. And our strength can no more be measured in GNP and weapons systems than ancient Israel’s. Spiritual and moral unfaithfulness remain precursors of certain national disaster. “Go take to yourself an adulterous wife” Hosea 1:2–3. Scholars debate whether Gomer was perhaps a cult prostitute when Hosea married her. It seems unlikely, primarily because his marriage is intended by God to mimic the Lord’s own experience with Israel. It seems almost certain that Gomer was chaste when they married, even as Israel was initially faithful to the Lord. Yet as time passed, she abandoned her husband to pursue other lovers. I can’t explain it. Two of my close friends, both fine Christian leaders, have been abandoned by their wives. In each case the wife has gone on afterward to a series of marriages or affairs, even as Gomer did in leaving Hosea. Why would a woman leave a husband who loved her, who provided for her, with whom she’d had children? But then, why would anyone turn his or her back on relationship with God? Why abandon a God who loves us, who provides for us, who has sacrificed His own Son for us? Perhaps the explanation has to be sought in the grip sin has on the human heart. We can’t explain it. But each of us has to remain aware that deep within is the capacity to wander. Within each of us there lies a desire to go astray. When we think of Gomer—or when I think of my friends and their ex-wives—we need to acknowledge our own vulnerability. And then we need to ask the Lord to help us stay ever so close to Him. “Call him Jezreel” Hosea 1:4–9. The birth of each of Gomer’s three children while she was with Hosea became an occasion for prophecy. With each birth, and through the names given each child, Hosea delivered a new message to his contemporaries. “Jezreel” was the city where Jehu had slaughtered the family of King Ahab, and symbolized a similar destruction about to come on all Israel. Lo-Ruhamah means “not loved,” or “not an object of compassion.” God would soon cease to show favor to His people. Lo-Ammi means “not My people.” The nation which had rejected God would soon be rejected itself. God would withdraw, not Himself, but His protection. Each name confronts an unheeding Israel with the fact that sin has consequences. God would no longer intervene to protect His people from the natural consequences of their acts. Today some suggest that AIDS is a punishment from God on those who practice homosexuality. Others express shock: God couldn’t be so mean! Perhaps. But if AIDS is not a punishment, it surely is a consequence. Sin always has consequences. Some are just more easily identified than others. Jezreel is always just around the corner for those who practice sin. And “not loved” and “not My people” are the relational consequences for those who refuse to stay close to God but violate His precepts. “Say of your brothers, ‘My people’ ” Hosea 1:10–2:1. With the message of abandonment the Old Testament always includes a promise of restoration. Abandonment in the Old Testament is not rejection. It is much like a farmer, who leaves his fields to themselves for a time, letting the weeds that spring up when a field is untended flourish. In most Old Testament passages the word translated “abandon” actually means “withdraw.” If we persist in sinning, God may step back and permit us to experience the natural consequences of our wrong choices. But as Hosea said to Israel, God will surely step in again. He will purge His garden of corrupting weeds, and once again affirm “My people” and “My love.” “I will expose her lewdness” Hosea 2:2–13. In vivid poetic images Hosea now exposed the spiritual unfaithfulness of Israel, using the image of an adulterous wife. She is totally self-centered. She pursues lovers (other gods), but when they fail her she simply goes back to her husband, “for then I was better off than now” (v. 7). There is no sense of sin, no shame, no repentance. She simply comes back, as if she were doing her husband a favor by returning briefly before taking off again! God announced through Hosea that He would force His wife Israel to face reality and to deal with her sins. Every material blessing would be taken away, and she would be stripped of prosperity. Prosperity still insulates many people from spiritual realities. And it may be a blessing if all our “good things” are taken away. “I will give her back her vineyards” Hosea 2:14–23. Again we see the extent of God’s commitment to His own. Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, the Lord will one day restore His people. “I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord” (vv. 19–20). If you’ve ever felt too guilty or ashamed to approach God, remember this verse. No matter what you have done in the past, God loves you. His goal is to make you holy, to make you His own. And God will succeed with you, and with His beloved of the Old Testament, Israel.
As the Lord Loves(Hosea 3)
Divorce is one of the most traumatic experiences a person can go through. Although I don’t believe the statistics that supposedly indicate some 70 percent of the students in our local school system live with a single or remarried parent, I know that far too many adults and children know that terrible pain. I’m sure that some divorces are not only justified, but necessary. Yet all too many are not necessary at all. Even when one spouse has an affair, the marriage doesn’t have to end in divorce. The pain of betrayal is intense. The hurt, the shame, the anger, all well up. Sometimes it all seems too much to bear—to keep on seeing “him” (or “her”) every day. To imagine the spouse with the lover. For some, this is just too much to take. Still, before a person files for divorce, it’s important to consider Hosea. And to remember what God told him. “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is . . . an adulteress.” And then the Lord added, “Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites.” What a challenge! In our most intimate relationships, those relationships which have the capacity to cause us the deepest pain, we are to love as the Lord loves. To love through the hurts. To love through the misunderstandings. To love through thoughtlessness, selfishness, and unconcern. Sometimes to love even through betrayal! But however hard it may be, we Christians are called to love as the Lord loves. I know that if we took this principle to heart, and practiced it in our homes, the divorce rate for Christians would drop. And despite the pain of such loving, the rewards would be great.
God’s love won you. When you love as God loves, you win others.