I often hear people say that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. While that is true, I believe it still undersells what the Bible invites us to experience. The God of the Bible is the most romantic Being in the universe. By nature, He is love (1 John 4:7-21). Life, marriage, sex, and romance were His ideas, too.
Thus, the Christian faith is exceedingly more personal than mere religion and far more passionate than a platonic relationship. Christianity invites us to experience a divine romance with our Creator, who made us in His image, male and female (Genesis 1:26). The book of Hosea, our next stop on the ultimate road trip through the Bible, makes this invitation abundantly clear.
In the New Testament, the church that Jesus is building is called the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5). In the Old Testament, Hosea uses that same marriage imagery to describe Israel’s relationship with God. However, the story of Hosea and Gomer is no Romeo and Juliet kind of romance.
Hosea is the first among twelve Minor Prophets whose writings appear in the Old Testament. He is one of three prophets God sent to Israel, the Northern Kingdom, which is sometimes called Ephraim after the largest of the ten tribes that followed King Jeroboam into idolatry. Hosea began his ministry to the Northern Kingdom about thirteen years before Isaiah ministered in the Southern Kingdom. Other prophets that God sent to the Northern Kingdom include Jonah and Amos.
Hosea ministered for nearly a half-century, long enough to see the fulfillment of his prophecies come true when the Assyrians took Israel captive. In that way, he is like Jeremiah, who prophesied to Judah during her final years before the Babylonians captured the Southern Kingdom.
The Scandalous Love of God
The prophet’s personal love story and family life serve as an illustration of faithless Israel’s tragic departure from her covenant relationship with God. No prophet preached a more dramatic and painful sermon than Hosea.
Chapters 1-3 read like a sad Hallmark movie script. God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer, immediately introducing us to a turbulent romance. “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (1:2). Some ministry assignments are more difficult than others. Given Gomer’s sinful lifestyle, she should have been stoned to death, according to the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 22:22-25). However, God preempted His own law for purposes of illustrating His loyal love to Israel.
Respectfully, Hosea obeyed the Lord and married Gomer. Their marriage produced three children, each a further illustration of the way God felt about Israel, who had engaged in spiritual prostitution by falling into idolatry and immorality. Their first child was a son named Jezreel, meaning “God will scatter, God will avenge.” The Lord said, “Call his named Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel” (1:4-5).
Next, Gomer gave birth to a daughter named Lo-ruhamah, which means “no mercy.” God was about to show no mercy to the house of Israel because of its stubborn disobedience. Sadly, Lo-ruhamah would never know her father’s pity. Perhaps her name indicates that she did not know who her father was at all. What a scandal this would have been in Hosea’s household! From God’s perspective, our secret sin is always an open scandal in heaven.
Finally, Gomer gives birth to a third child, a boy named Lo-ammi, which means “not my people.” Through this child’s name, the Lord was saying to Israel, “You are not acting like my child!” What parent has not been tempted to say the same thing to their disobedient children? Even Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil!” (John 8:44). Are you a child of God who is acting like a child of the devil? This grieves the heart of our heavenly Father.
By the way, a person becomes a child of God only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The lie of liberal theology says otherwise; it says that we are all children of God.[i] However, the Bible clearly says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). In other words, you are not a child of God because you were born to Christian parents or live in a nation founded upon Judea-Christian principles. Nor do we become children of God by human striving or rational decision (Ephesians 2:8-9). Becoming a child of God is entirely the sovereign work of God.
In Hosea, God’s heart is broken over the waywardness of Israel, His bride. Like a jilted lover, the Lord’s emotions vacillate throughout the book. At one moment, the Almighty is angry and ready to hand over Israel to her enemies (2:1-13); in the very same breath, He wants her back if she would only repent (2:14-23). Can you blame Him? Can you identify with His emotions? God has so united His heart with His people that He cannot let them go. For example,
How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 11:8-9[ii]
As quickly as the Lord’s heart shrank back from the idea of abandoning His beloved bride, He was ready to punish Israel again for her despicable deeds.
The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. 12:2
Truth is always stranger than fiction, especially when it comes to romance. Rewind to chapter 3 and read these words: “And the Lord said to me, ‘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 turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins’” (3:1).
Apparently, Gomer had returned to her immoral life, just as Israel kept following the Baals. As the Eagles, one of the greatest rock-n-roll groups, sang, “She was headed for the cheatin’ side of town.”[iii] The words “go again” suggest the Lord never gives up on us. Hosea went after his wayward bride again. In love, he “bought her,” a picture of Jesus Christ who would purchase our redemption on the cross. “In the latter days,” Israel will also return, seek the Lord, and fear Him (3:5).
To make the point about how much He loves us, God seems willing to risk traveling into scandalous territory. In Hosea, a story about God’s loyal love for Israel, the Lord instructs His prophet to marry a prostitute, which is scandalous enough. Much later, as the story of redemption unfolds, a virgin girl—the mother of the Messiah—becomes pregnant. Two thousand years ago, a teenage pregnancy was a big deal. How would Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, explain her pregnancy before they wed? Would their story about the Holy Spirit’s involvement convince enough people? God did not seem worried about what people might think. He sent a chorus of angels to announce Messiah’s birth to the shepherds by saying, “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14).
The Purifying Holiness of God
The imagery and language in Hosea are admittedly offensive. The Lord calls Israel a spiritual whore. Hosea 4:12 says of the nation, “For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore.” However, just as the prophet Hosea’s love for his prostitute wife pictures God’s loyal love for Israel and us, Gomer’s adultery illustrates Israel’s need for the purifying holiness of God and ours.
Spiritual adultery was not just Old Testament Israel’s problem centuries ago. In the New Testament, the Bible warns wayward, unfaithful Christians by saying, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
In chapters 6 and 7, Hosea reveals Israel’s true character through a series of metaphors and similes. For example, in 6:4, the Lord compares Israel to a morning mist that quickly disappears: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” God is not impressed with passions for Him that come and go so easily.
In 7:4, Hosea compares Israel’s lust for sin to a hot oven. “They are all adulterers; they are like a heated oven whose baker ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened.” While he is near the hot oven, Hosea compares Israel to a half-baked cake. “Israel mixes himself with the peoples; Ephraim is a cake not turned” (7:8). Israel mixed with the pagan nations. After marrying their sons and daughters, they adopted their religious practices. In time, they became a mix of Jewish rituals and pagan idolatry. God wanted to spit their half-baked commitment out of His mouth.
Hosea is not done with his scathing character analysis of God’s people. He goes on to say, “Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria” (7:11). Egypt and Assyria proved to be false allies. How silly of Israel to run for help to the nation that once held them in slavery or to the nation that would one day take them captive. If they had listened to Hosea and the other prophets God sent, they would have known Assyria was coming after them.
Finally, Hosea compares Israel to a treacherous bow. “They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue. This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt” (7:16). Treachery refers to faithlessness and betrayal. Israel was deceptive, untrustworthy, and unreliable. God wanted the nation to be a straight arrow in His quiver. Instead, she was a faulty bow that did not shoot straight with the Lord.
The Magnificent Mercy of God
Despite Israel’s bad character, false repentance, and shallow confessions (6:1-3), the Lord continued to pursue her with His loyal love and magnificent mercy. Yes, His magnificent mercy! Following the pronouncement of judgment on Israel through the children’s names in chapter 1, the Lord’s emotions roll like a coaster at Six Flags Over Texas. The next chapter begins with these words, “Say to your brothers, ‘You are my people,’ and to your sisters, ‘You have received mercy’” (2:1).
Did you catch the play on words? Lo-ruhamah became Ruhamah, and Lo-ammi became Ammi. As quickly as God said, “No mercy,” He shouted, “Mercy!” He was that willing to change the children’s names and, thus, the nation’s destiny if Israel would repent. Likewise, the apostle Peter, a careful student of the Minor Prophets, had Hosea in mind when he wrote, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10).
Hosea teaches us that spiritual adultery grieves God’s heart, but He never stops loving us or offering His magnificent mercy. Like Israel, are you a spiritual adulterer? Have you become a friend of the world? Are you acting like a child of the devil? Hear the words of Hosea and all the Minor Prophets who call us to repent and return to the Lord Almighty.
This blog submission is from Route 66: The Ultimate Road Trip Through the Bible, an eBook written by Dr. Ron Jones. Download the complete eBook based on Road Trip 5, the Minor Prophets (Hosea through Malachi) in our Store.
[i] In a general sense, we are all created by the same God, who presents Himself in Scripture as Father (Malachi 2:10). But as a matter of soteriology, we are born into God’s forever family and become His children by faith in Jesus Christ (John 1:14, John 8:44).
[ii] Admah and Zeboim were two cities of the plain that were destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah (Deuteronomy 29:23). The Lord could not imagine treating His chosen people the same way.
[iii] This lyric comes from a song written by the Eagles titled, “Lyin’ Eyes,” found on their album, One of These Nights.