Minor Prophets III: Hosea 1-3
While many scholars do not believe that Hosea is the first minor prophet chronologically, this underlines the intentionality of putting it first as an introduction to the Book of the Twelve. The theme of the first three chapters of Hosea is the determined love of God for His people, despite their unfaithfulness.
Hosea ministered for many years (at least 40, perhaps as many as 60 or 70 years) and though he seems to have focused his ministry on the northern kingdom of Israel, he apparently had some influence on the southern kingdom of Judah as well (Hos. 1:1). The reign of Jeroboam II was characterized by relative peace and prosperity amid raging spiritual apostasy (2 Kgs. 14:23-29). This is one of the most deadly combinations and one of the hardest situations to minister in. Jeroboam the son of Joash reigned for forty-one years, and he was the last calm before the storm that brought final demise of the northern kingdom, twenty or thirty yeas later in 722 B.C.
A Living Parable
The setting of Hosea’s ministry is the command of God for the prophet to marry a woman of harlotry (Hos. 1:2). While some commentators have objected that this cannot possibly be a literal, historical story (John Calvin famous among them), we know that God commonly sent His people, specifically His prophets, into a great difficulties and scandalous situations in order to display in them and through them what He is like (e.g. Job, Ezekiel). This is also similar to what Paul says about his ministry of “bearing in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:17, cf. Phil. 1:10).
Have you ever thought about how your suffering could be like that? Have you ever thought that your weakness, your humble situation could be a picture of Jesus?
God commands Hosea to marry a woman who would become a harlot, a prostitute. While some suggest that she already was a harlot, it seems more likely that she has not yet been unfaithful given that her first son is specifically attributed to Hosea (Hos. 1:3). But it seems clear that the next two children are from different fathers (Hos. 1:2, 2:4). We should also note that Gomer’s adultery is also simultaneously idolatry – this may have been because she had affairs with idolaters or because she actually joined the pagan cult as a prostitute. The children of Gomer are Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi – which mean “Scattered”, “No Mercy”, and “Not My People.” These names form the thematic arc of the story of Hosea’s ministry.
Valley of Jezreel
The Valley of Jezreel has been a momentous place in northern Israel. It’s a valley that runs east-west from the Jordan River (north-south) all the way to the Mediterranean Coast by Mt. Carmel. It’s just north of Samaria and south of Nazareth and Galilee. It was fortified by the Canaanites with iron chariots in the days of the conquest (Josh. 17:16), and Gideon won his famous victory over the Midianites in the same place (Judg. 6:33ff). The Valley of Jezreel is where Naboth had a vineyard that Ahab coveted, and Jezebel conspired to have Naboth murdered so that Ahab could steal it (1 Kgs. 21). And there, God promised that for this evil, Ahab’s family would be judged in Jezreel (1 Kgs. 21:19-24). Though Ahab repented and the sentence was suspended to fall on his children, about 15-20 years later, God raised up Jehu, an Israelite commander who was commanded to strike down the house of Ahab and Jezebel. And Jehu fulfilled this command leaving (literally) a bloody trail throughout the Valley of Jezreel (2 Kgs. 9-10). And though he fiercely destroyed Baal worship in Israel, he continued to support that cult of the golden calves in Bethel and Dan (2 Kgs. 10:29). He did not walk in the law of God with all his heart (2 Kgs. 10:31).
This seems to explain God’s message from Hosea that He will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu (Hos. 1:4-5). Rather than humbling Jehu and Israel, the bloodshed only hardened the northern kingdom in their nationalistic sins. Jezreel means “scattering” and refers to the kind of chaotic scattering that happens in a military coup, it refers to the divisions between the north and southern tribes, and the scattering of Israel in exile. Given the context of Ahab and Jehu, it sets a political and liturgical backdrop to the “harlotry” of Israel. Their “adultery” against God has been in the leadership of the nation and specifically in how they lead their people to worship. And this was at least in part a political maneuver to keep close ties with the neighboring nations. At the same time, this Jezreel-scattering is also the kind of scattering that is done by farmers to sow seed for planting. This very scattering is a planting, and it is how God intends to reunite Israel and Judah (Hos. 1:11). By this scattering there will be a great planting and gathering. In that day, all things in heaven and on earth will witness to the wedding of God to His people in righteousness and justice, and they will shout “Jezreel!” (Hos. 2:22-23).
The second child born to Gomer was a daughter named Lo-Ruhamah, meaning “No Mercy.” It was God’s pity for Israel that caused Him to come for them in Egypt (Ex. 3:7), and when Moses asked for a name to give to the children of Israel, God said, “I am that I am” or “I will be what I will be” – “Eh’ye asher Eh’ye” (Ex. 3:14). God said that Moses should say that I AM (“Eh’ye”) has sent him (Ex. 3:15). Later, when Moses pleaded with God not destroy Israel for their rebellion at the golden calf, God seals His promise to remain with them by echoing this identity, saying that He will allow His goodness to pass before Moses and proclaim His name: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (Ex. 33:19, 34:6). Moses says that this is the kind of compassion that God has on His people (Dt. 4:31) the kind of mercy that will fulfill the promises of the covenant (Dt. 13:17). But here in Hosea God says that Israel has been so unfaithful that He will not longer have that kind of mercy, that kind of compassion on Israel (Hos. 1:6). Their mother has played the harlot, going after other lovers, thinking they are the ones who provide her bread and water, wool and linen, oil and drink (Hos. 2:4-5). But He will have the mercy on the house of Judah (Hos. 1:7), and Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king (Hos. 3:5).
Not My People
Finally, Gomer bears another son, and he is given the name Lo-Ammi which means “not my people.” By this designation, Hosea enacts God’s insistence that the children of Israel are not His. And He does this by reversing the original covenant promise. He had promised again and again, “I will be your God” (Gen. 17:7-8), and this always meant that they were His people (Lev. 26:12). When God came for Israel in Egypt, He claimed them, “I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex. 6:7). But now here, God says, “You are not my people, and I will not be your God” (Hos. 1:9). Literally, He says, “Lo Eh’ye la’cem” – I will not be for you.
And yet it is precisely by this fierce accusation and divorce that God plans to save His people. In the place where it is said “Lo Ammi” – there it shall be said to them, sons of the living God (Hos. 1:10, cf. 2:23).
A Love Story
Piecing the narrative together, I think the story of Hosea 1-3 might have gone something like this… Once there was a man named Hosea who loved his wife dearly. He rose early for work, he brought her gifts, he left her notes, he held her close and spoke tenderly to her. But something was not right. Something caused her to hold him back. She doubted his love. She worried that she was missing something. And though the man continued to rise early and labor faithfully for his wife, he noticed that she was gone from the house more and more. At first it was just at lunch break, then it was later and later for dinner, and then it was later and later into the evening, and until finally one day she didn’t come home.
She walked into the house while he was eating breakfast the next morning and quickly darted up to their room without a word. The distance grew and the nights she was away multiplied. When he spoke to her, she looked away in shame; when he reached for her, she drew back. Then one day she didn’t come home at all. After a couple of days, the man set off for the nearby city to look for her. Walking down one busy street, he found her walking arm in arm with another man. The other man had the wrong kind of smile on his face and was loud and red-faced. Every few days, the husband would walk by the street where his wife now lived with this new man. Turns out the other fellow’s name was Baal.
One day, he saw her shivering in the rain. She looked thinner than usual. So he ducked into a nearby store and bought a bag of groceries for her. As he came out of the store, he saw the red-faced man coming down the street. So he walked up to the man named Baal, “Hey, you know Gomer?” “Yeah, who are you?” “I’m her husband, and this is for her.” And he handed the bag of groceries to the man who looked more than a little shocked and worried.
The husband watched as Baal walked down toward Gomer shivering in the cold. He handed the groceries to the woman. And Hosea watched as she suddenly brightened and threw her arms around the Lover and kissed him.
Hosea continued to check on her from time to time watching from a distance. He brought her gifts and food, even some of her clothing and blankets from the house. But when it only made her more enthusiastic about the man named Baal, Hosea stopped.
Then one day she wasn’t there. He looked for several more days, but the red-faced man and Gomer were nowhere to be seen. Then he saw the sign on the door: Auction Tomorrow. As he walked away, a window slide open and from the shadows he heard Gomer’s voice: “Please, Hosea, help me. I’m sorry for all of this. I’m so sorry. Please, can’t you do something? Anything?” But Hosea clenched his fists and walked away.
When he showed up the next morning, he saw the red-faced man talking to a few businessmen. He signed a couple of papers and they wrote him a check and then he walked away without a word. Hosea watched as his things were brought out of the house and one by one auctioned off to the crowed: gifts he had given her, necklaces, blouses, pictures, pieces of furniture, and finally the last item to be auctioned was a thin, shivering figure half carried, half dragged up to the platform. When Gomer was announced, the auctioneer ripped the sheet from around her, exposing her naked body. Jeers and whistles erupted from the crowd. “This slave should fetch a pretty penny!” announced the auctioneer, “The bidding will start at 5 shekels!” Six! Seven! Nine! And then Hosea stepped forward and called out, “Twelve!” But another man called “Fourteen!” And then, Twenty! Finally, Hosea called to the auctioneer, “I’ll pay Thirty, Thirty pieces of silver. I’ve got 15 here, and I can give you the rest in Barley.”
The crowd went silent. The auctioneer looked around for a moment and then quickly announced, “Sold!” Then Hosea walked to the platform, picked up the sheet off the ground and wrapped it around Gomer. Then he gently lifted her into his arms and began carrying her away. One fool called out after him, “What’re you going to do with her?”
And Hosea turned and said, “She’s my wife, and I’m taking her home.”
“Go again and love your wife who loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the Lord loves the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.” (Hos. 3:1)
Conclusion & Applications
The late James Montgomery Boice claimed that Hosea Chapter 3 was the greatest chapter in the Bible. And I think you can see that he made that claim with good reason. We have all the great themes of the entire Bible in these first three chapters of Hosea: Man’s sin and rebellion and treachery, God’s jealous anger, His determination to let the consequences of sin fall on His people, and then at the decisive moment, the love that drives Him to bear those very consequences Himself, paying the ransom price with His own blood, in order to deliver His bride from sin, Satan, and death itself. This is certainly the theme of the whole Bible, everything in miniature. This is also the introduction to the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets. Though the Minor Prophets span over three hundred years from the divided kingdom into exile in Assyria and then Babylon and Persia and back into the land again, this is a love story.
This is our comfort. The Heidelberg Catechism famously begins by asking: What is your only comfort in life and in death? And the answer is “That I am not my own but belong with body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ…” That you are not your own. That’s your comfort. You were bought with a price. You were not ransomed with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ. You are loved like that. Therefore do not present your bodies to other gods, to other lovers.