If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
15 June. Hosea chapters 1-7
There are two interesting points even in the first chapter of this action-packed book of prophecy. Firstly, Hosea was a prophet, a man of God. And yet God’s first call to him was to do something that would make him ritually ‘unclean’: to marry a sex worker and have children by her. What does that tell us? Principally, that in God’s sight anyone can be redeemed, and that love is the way of redemption.
The concept of “making an honest woman” [or man] of someone by marrying them may seem archaic or patriarchal, but the principle is still valid that for those whose lives are broken by their own upbringing or the circumstances of life, patient, forgiving, accepting love is the only way out. In chapter 3 this is spelled out – Gomer has been bought by Hosea to redeem her from prostitution, as God had redeemed his people from their sins, and she was therefore expected to remain chaste during their marriage, as Israel was expected to remain faithful to God.
To understand the rest of the book we need to note that in this wandering through the Bible, we have jumped back a couple of centuries in time from that of the exile of Jerusalem to the time of Uzziah (which dates Hosea’s prophecy to the same era as that of Isaiah). The northern kingdom of Israel is about to be punished, but not yet the southern kingdom of Judah.
The second thing we learn, then, is that their first three children were to be called Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi. Names are vitally important in the Bible, and we need the footnotes in a modern translation to explain them. These children were called “God sows”, “Not pitied” and Not my people”. Explanation for the latter two is given in the text, as God would love Judah but not Israel, and just as the husband of the prostitute would love her children as his own, so God as the husband of Israel (who had been unfaithful to him) would love her descendants, i.e. the generations to come.
Chapters 4 and 5 set out the ways in which Israel has been unfaithful: idolatry of course, but also “swearing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery and bloodshed … drunkenness and orgies”. In other words they have broken every one of the commandments given through Moses which are the basis of civilisation to this day. Chapter 7 adds to this the charge that Israel relied on the military support of Egypt whence their ancestors had been rescued by God, rather than on God himself.
In and among all this, chapter 6 offers a sudden and refreshing change. Its opening verse, “Come, let us return to the Lord” is one that echoes down the ages, an offer that is always open. The results of turning to him are many: he has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up; after two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up that we may live before him” (6:1-3) The latter verse may be understood as a reference to the resurrection of Christ. And: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings (6:6) is another them found running through the words of the Prophets. Repentance, love, faith, understanding: these are the only antidotes to sin.