Welcome to Hosea. In preparation for this sermon and this series, I read Hosea many times. I listened to Hosea many times. And I read a number of commentaries on Hosea. After having done so it seems to me that the primary message of Hosea (which I hope to clearly demonstrate and explain in this sermon and in all that follow) is this: God has a fiercely jealous love for his people.
This morning I’m going to give an introductory sermon on the overall background, structure, and message of Hosea. Then, beginning next week, I’ll work more slowly through the letter.
With that, let’s pray and then consider together: 1) The background of Hosea, 2) The structure of Hosea, and 3) The message of Hosea.
THE BACKGROUND OF HOSEA
When it comes to the books of prophecy, it is particularly important to have a solid grasp on the context in which the prophet wrote. Who is he writing to? Why is he writing? What’s going on around the prophet and his audience? What led up to his pronouncement? Since most people I know don’t spend a great deal of time in the minor prophets, I mean to give you a bit more background than I would for a different type of book. With that, let’s consider the background of Hosea in terms of its place in the bible and redemptive history.
Hosea’s Place in the Bible
Your bible has 66 books, spread out over two Testaments (Old and New). The Old Testament contains 39 of those books and covers the time period from Creation to around 400 years before Jesus was born. In broadest strokes, it describes God’s Creation of the universe, the Fall of mankind, and God’s promise of redemption.
The New Testament contains 27 books and covers around a 100 year span beginning just before Jesus’ birth and ending with his followers, approximately 70 years after his death. And in broadest strokes, it describes the fulfillment of God’s redemption promises in the sacrificial death of Jesus, and the coming consummation of the kingdom of God in the new heavens and earth.
Altogether, the bible is the story of God displaying his glory in the creation and salvation of his people. Under the Spirit’s inspiration, the bible tells this story over thousands of years, throughout many different cultures, by dozens of different people, in a remarkable number of different circumstances, and with several different styles.
Hosea, as you probably know, is in the OT. The first five books of the OT are known as the Pentateuch (the Law or the Torah). These books cover a lot of ground from the creation of the world to the death of Moses.
The next twelve books, beginning with Joshua and ending with Esther, are the historical books. They describe the history of God’s people before Jesus.
Then comes the five wisdom books. These books answer the big questions of how evil and God relate to one another (Job), how to properly express our emotions to God (Psalms), what it means to be wise (Proverbs), why life can seem so futile (Ecclesiastes), and how to honor God in marriage (Song).
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel are next. Collectively they are known as the Major Prophets. These books are “major” in that they are longer (not more important). They are the record of God-through his spokesmen (prophets)-calling his people to obey and enjoy fellowship with God. They are also the record of God calling his people to repent of their sin and warning of judgment when they do not.
Finally, the last 12 books of the Old Testament are known as the Minor Prophets (shorter, not lesser). Hosea is the first of the twelve Minor Prophets. Just like the Major Prophets, they are a record of God declaring blessing for obedience and punishment for disobedience through his prophets-which Hosea was.
Hosea’s Place in Redemptive History
But where does Hosea fall in the biblical history? Where is it in the scope of God’s redeeming plan? In order to answer these questions and truly understand Hosea we need to go way, way back.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden there was order and peace and safety and fellowship. However, before long they sinned against God and were cast out into the wilderness. Life outside of the Garden was tumultuous and chaotic and dangerous and isolated. One of Adam and Eve’s sons killed the other and mankind went downhill from there. It got so bad that by the 6th chapter of the first book of the bible God saw that every intention of every person’s heart was always, only evil-everyone except on man, Noah. God determined, therefore, to destroy the earth with a flood and start over with Noah and his family. Just a few chapters later, however, Noah’s family got in a mess of their own and began another downward spiral for mankind.
God’s people had abandoned God and had chosen the consequences of doing so.
Nevertheless, God loved his faithless, scattered people such that he determined to gather them and bless them in spite of their rebellion. He chose to do so through a man named Abram (Abraham). Through Abraham and his descendents God promised to make a new people for himself.
Abraham had a son, Isaac, and Isaac had a son, Jacob. After wrestling with God, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Israel means “He strives with God”). This is why God’s people came to be called the Israelites. Jacob/Israel then had twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. It is from these twelve sons that the tribes of Israel came and God’s promises began to be fulfilled.
God promised these tribes, the descendents of Jacob, according to the covenant he made with his grandfather Abraham, that he would give them a bountiful land-a second Garden in many ways. He also told them they would be his special people. Collectively, God often referred to his people in deeply personal and relational terms-even referring to them as his wife.
After much wandering, disobedience, and repentance, 500 years later, the twelve tribes of Israel received the Land God had promised. The descendents of Levi were the priests and did not receive a portion of land. But the sons of Joseph split into two tribes-Ephraim and Manasseh (Joseph’s sons). Thus, when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, twelve tribes received a portion of the land.
The story of God’s people-the Israelites-remained much the same for hundreds of years after taking the Land. God would bless them, initially they would praise and obey God, but eventually they would use God’s blessings to sin (fighting among themselves, forming forbidden alliances with foreign nations, taking on false gods, etc.), God would warn and then punish the tribes, the tribes would repent and return to God, and then God would bless them again.
The peak blessing of this cycle came under the reigns of David and his son, Solomon (who were from the tribe of Judah). For a time, God’s people obeyed him and were consequently made by God to be one of the most powerful and prosperous nations on earth.
And yet, as high and quick as Israel rose, she fell. 400+ years after Israel’s sons established a unified nation, Solomon’s sons, divided it into two kingdoms. Solomon’s son, Jeroboam, led a rebellion against his brother, Rehoboam (the son who inherited Solomon’s throne after his death). Two of the tribes-Benjamin and Judah-remained loyal to Rehoboam. They came to be known as the Southern Kingdom (also called Judah). The other ten tribes-Reuben, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim, and Manasseh-sided with Jeroboam. Collectively these tribes came to be known as the Northern Kingdom (or Israel or Ephraim).
It is with all of this in mind that we can rightly read the opening lines of Hosea.
Hosea 1:1 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, 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.
These words (and this book) were written to the people of Northern Kingdom (Israel) around 200 years after Jeroboam’s rebellion. His descendent, Jeroboam II, was reigning over Israel during the time of Hosea’s prophecy. Under his reign Israel was experiencing a time of success second only to the time of David and Solomon. In fact, both the Northern and Southern kingdoms were experiencing times of remarkable peace, power, and prosperity.
And yet, once again, Israel was using God’s blessing for evil. In one of the most chilling passages of the book we read, “Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. 2 Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will break down their altars and destroy their pillars” (Hosea 10:1-2).
Indeed, while Israel was using its prosperity to increase in wickedness (Baal worship as the chief sin), Assyria, Israel’s neighbor, was growing stronger still. Israel’s rebellion was so persistently wicked that through Hosea God declared his promise to entirely destroy Israel. And sure enough, within a few years of Hosea’s prophecy and a few years after his death, God kept his promise and used the Assyrian army to destroy the Northern tribes (722bc).
That’s the background of Hosea. As I said earlier, we really do need to understand those things if we are to make sense of Hosea and rightly apply it to our lives today. In order to provide even more help to rightly understand the individual passages we’ll be working through in the coming weeks, I’m going to say a few words about the structure of Hosea.
THE STRUCTURE OF HOSEA
There are some books in the bible that are very structured, and some of those are written such that the structure itself is instructive. Hosea is not like that. In fact, beyond the basic agreement that 1-3 address Hosea and his wife, Gomer, and 4-14 address Israel directly, the only consensus about Hosea’s structure is that it isn’t discernible or significant.
While the structure isn’t clear, the tone and mood are. As Chester points out,
Hosea uses more metaphor and word play than almost any other prophet. Israel is an unfaithful wife (1:2-9; 3:1-5; 9:1); disappearing morning mist (6:4); hot ovens (7:4-7); a silly dove (7:11); a faulty bow (7:16); a wild donkey (8:9); passing dew and chaff (13:3). God is a jealous husband (2:2-13); a frustrated shepherd (4:16); a destructive moth or undesired rot (5:12); a ferocious lion (5:14; 11:10; 13:7-8); and a trapper (7:12). God’s | coming judgment is like harvesting the whirlwind (8:7); the (washing away of debris (10:7); the yoking of a recalcitrant heifer (10:11) and a return to wilderness (2:14). But God is also a forgiving husband (3:1-5); a healing physician (6:1-2); reviving rains (6:3); a loving parent (11:3-4); a protecting lion (11:10-11); a life-giving dew (14:5); and a fertile pine tree (14:8). This poetic [language] was perhaps required to give full expression to the passions of God that form Hosea’s central theme.
In other words, Hosea is a book of heightened emotions. It is a passionate book. There is fierce anger and unapproachable holiness and depth of love. There is adultery and the rescue of orphans and prostitution and greediness and betrayal of the worst kind and final destruction. And, therefore, Hosea makes use of all kinds of colorful language to convey such dramatic situations.
One more thing to note regarding structure is the fact that the book of Hosea contains a number of different prophecies made by Hosea at different times and in different places. Because of Hosea’s structure, scholars have never been able to difinitively identify when one prophecy ends and another begins. Thus, while his overall messages are clear, how they fit together isn’t.
Finally, then, I want to come back to where we began and say a bit more about the message of Hosea.
THE MESSAGE OF HOSEA
The overall theme of Hosea is the good news of God’s jealous love for his glory and his people. I say “good news” because often jealousy is seen as a bad thing (and it often is). The bible itself declares a certain type of jealous love to be bad. In 1 Corinthians 13:4 we read, “Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous” (NAS).
And yet, the bible repeatedly speaks of God as jealous. Indeed, God speaks of himself as jealous.
Exodus 20:5 “I the Lord your God am a jealous God…”.
Deuteronomy 32:21 “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols.”
Ezekiel 39:25 “…thus says the Lord God: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name.
The bible even says that God’s name is Jealous. (Exodus 34:14) “…for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God…”
What’s the difference between the two types of jealousy, then? Why is God’s jealous love good news? And what does all of this have to do with Hosea?
Sinful Jealousy and Righteous Jealousy
The difference between the kind of sinful jealousy that 1 Corinthians forbids and the kind of righteous jealousy that God posses and requires is in its object. In other words, most people are wrongly jealous when we want something that doesn’t belong to us or in ways that are inappropriate for us.
But God’s jealousy is different. God is jealous for something that truly belongs to him-his glory and the affection of his people. We were made by God to glorify and enjoy him. That’s our purpose. All glory is God’s and our happiness belongs to him. He has a rightful claim on it. When we deny God that which is his, it is right for him to be jealous for its return.
Consider this in marriage. When a man and a woman make their holy vows with God and one another, they are promising to reserve their highest vertical affection for God and horizontal affection for one another. The unique reservation of a husband’s affection for his wife and a wife’s for her husband is part of the very definition of marriage. By God’s design, then, a wife must not give her highest affection to any other man. Her deepest affection belongs exclusively to her husband (never above God, but always above every other person). That’s what she promised when they got married.
For the marriage to thrive, then, the husband must be jealous for what he was rightly promised and what rightly belongs to him-the special love of his wife. It’s easy to see, then, that and why it is wrong for a husband to be indifferent to his wife flirting with another man. If a wife is flaunting herself, seeking the attention and affection of another man and the husband is unconcerned, he is sinning alongside her. He is sinning by failing to be properly jealous. It is wrong for a husband to be jealous of his wife’s talents or beauty or intelligence-for they aren’t his. But it is right for him to be jealous of her first affection-for it is.
And so it is with God. It is right for him to be jealous of our worship and devotion, because they belong to him.
The Good News of God’s Righteous Jealousy
How, though, is that good news? I hope that’s easy to see in my marriage illustration. How, then, is it God’s jealous love good news? It’s good news because God is jealous for that which we need most. God is most committed to getting for himself that which mankind must have. You and I were made for God’s glory. Therefore, in it alone can we be truly satisfied. God’s jealousy is for his people to give him what rightly belongs to him and what we need above all.
So what does all of that have to do with Hosea?
The Jealous Love of God in Hosea
The story of the entire bible in one sense is about God’s jealous love. This is perhaps most clearly seen in Hosea.
Remarkably, in chapter 1 we read of God commanding his prophet, Hosea, to “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom” (1:2). We see this again in chapter 3. Why would God do this? The answer is the point and main message of Hosea: this was to serve as an illustration of God’s jealous love and Israel’s treacherous, adulterous response. Israel had become unfaithful to God-like a wife who had not only cheated on her husband, but had turned to prostitution-and God jealous love was kindled.
Throughout chapters 1-3 the story of Hosea and Gomer, his “wife of whoredom,” plays out. They have kids named Jezreel (signifying a particular wicked act committed by Israel), No Mercy, and Not My People. These were real people and real children given by God to highlight the seriousness of Israel’s wickedness.
In chapter 2 the children are told to plead with their mother to forsake her prostitution and adultery and to declare to her the consequences of failing to do so. Gomer continues to go after men who were not her husband in the false belief that they are able to give her good things that Hosea can’t. There is hope for Gomer, but only if she repents and returns to Hosea in faithfulness. Again, this is a real, historical situation designed to show the people of Israel how God understood their current behavior.
In chapter 3 the story of Hosea and Gomer wraps up with Hosea redeeming Gomer with a purchase price. He bought what was already his. God said to Hosea, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they return to other gods…” (3:1). However, we also read that “The children of Israel shall dwell many days without king of prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God , and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days” (3:4-5).
This is the entire message of Hosea. Chapters 1-3 picture through Hosea and Gomer what chapters 4-14 say to Israel. God’s love made Israel his own, but Israel was faithless to God. Nevertheless, God continued to love Israel and remained jealous for Israel to return his love. God would punish Israel, but also promised to restore her one day. As you will see, Hosea wrote to inform Israel that she had run out of chances and that God’s punishment was certain and soon. But he also wrote to inform Israel that all hope wasn’t lost, for his mercy would come in the future.
I didn’t come across anyone who has captured all of that better than Tim Chester in his commentary.
In the message of Hosea we see the passion of God. We see the jealousy of God, the commitment of God, the heartbreak of God, the enthusiasm of God, the love of God. People often talk about what they feel about God. Hosea tells us what God feels about us.
So do not expect to discover what to do when your boss messes you around or when your child misbehaves or when you need to decide whether to move house. But do expect to discover the passion of God. It is, of course, important to apply the Bible to the details of our lives. But we need to do so in the light of the big picture. You can plan your daily routine. But what really sets the course of your life is your vision of God. The gospel is not a mechanical process with inputs and outputs. The gospel is relational. Hosea teaches us that it is deeply personal and heartfelt. It is reliable because the character of God Himself is reliable. We will see that, while God cannot be surprised, He can be disappointed. He cannot be thwarted, but He can be heartbroken.
It is my prayer that as we explore the message of Hosea the Spirit of God would so reveal God’s passion that He stirs our passion: our jealousy for God, our commitment to God, our heartbreak at sin, our enthusiasm to serve, our love for the lost.
This is what we can expect from Hosea. We can expect God to expose our unfaithfulness and show us how fickle is our love (2:3). We can expect God to pursue us, wound us, rebuke us. In His passion for His glory and our good He will be ruthless. It will not always be comfortable…
But we can also expect God to allure us, to embrace us, to speak tenderly to us (2:14). We can expect God to heal us and revive us, to bind our wounds and raise us up (6:1-2; 14:4). We can expect God to gather us beneath His shadow so that in the oppressive heat of life’s problems we still flourish and blossom (14:5-7). We can expect God to come to us like rain on dry ground (6:3; 10:12). ‘The LORD says, “Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever. I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven”‘ (14:4-5, NTL).
Our hope, Grace Church, is Israel’s hope: the faithful, jealous, love of God.
While the Northern and eventually the Southern Kingdoms were destroyed shortly after Hosea’s prophecy, their hope was that a Savior would come. Our great reality is that that came in the person of Jesus Christ. He is our true hope and the ultimate expression of the faithfulness, jealousy, and love of God.
Our response, then, must be to look upon the severity of God’s hatred for sin and repent. It must be to consider God’s unimaginable sadness at our unfaithfulness and reject our half-hearted, flippant, pursuits of righteousness. It must be to consider the unrelenting and undeserved mercy of God and run to it.
Let us look to him, Grace. He will receive us. He will forgive us. He will restore us. And he will love us in fierce jealousy forever. Amen.