Summary: Hosea’s painful relationship is a parable of God’s love-relationship with mankind - Love Revealed, Love Rebuffed and Love Restored
Someone said that the story of Hosea is a "love story that went wrong". When that happens there’s suffering. Hosea’s prophecy is a cry from the heart of God, "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" (6:4). "Your love is like a morning cloud.” A morning cloud on the horizon to Hosea was a reminder of the flimsy love that Israel had for her God - just like a passing cloud.
The prophets of Israel were the means through whom God could communicate his deep feelings. Through the word of the Lord that came to Hosea, this man with a message, a clearer insight was given into God’s relationship with man - that of love. Hosea’s prophecy is a parable, acted out in real life, of God’s painful love-relationship to mankind. It’s helpful to see it here in terms of - love revealed, love rebuffed and love restored. First of all, then:
God, in his wisdom, far too deep to be fathomed, chose to reveal himself to mankind by entering into a covenant relationship, first with individuals - Adam, then Noah, followed by Abraham. The covenant was renewed with Abraham’s family and as time went on, into the small nation into which it developed. God expressed it to Abraham in great simplicity, "I will be your God" (Gen 17
:7). It wasn’t that his chosen people had much love for him. The covenant love was all on God’s side. A covenant is a bargain between two persons or parties - both are expected to perform what has been agreed. Time after time, the people of Israel were the recipients of God’s unmerited favour but signally failed to live up to the expectation of loyalty and behaviour as their side of the covenant bargain.
The people of Israel eventually arrived in the Promised Land, hardly willingly, and after much tempting of Providence. They were so uninterested that more than once they tried to overthrow their leadership, give up the whole venture, and return to Egypt. They couldn’t lift their sights above the more immediate luxuries of their land of enslavement. But God, with more love and longsuffering than is found in man, did take them in - it wasn’t because of, but inspite of themselves. He made them a people, a nation. God gave them a law far in advance of the surrounding peoples and sowed in them the seed that they were to be a nation for the benefit of the whole earth. They became established as a settled people
- ten of the tribes in the north and two in the south.
An outside observer would have expected that such gracious dealing by God would have been returned with love and gratitude. But no, the depravity of man raised its ugly head, and Israel refused to follow God’s way. The people rebelled against God and didn’t keep his laws. By the time of Hosea in the second half of the 8th century before Christ, it was quite evident that God’s relationship with Israel had passed beyond the stage of love revealed, it was clearly that of:
Well over a century earlier the tribal groupings of Israel had divided into two kingdoms. In the north was the breakaway, based on Samaria, which Hosea called Ephraim; and in the south, based on Jerusalem, was Judah.
Both kingdoms still claimed to be God’s people, but there was a great gulf between what the covenant required and what was being practised. The theme the prophet returns to again and again is God’s complaint that his people do not want him any more. Yes, they still performed some rituals but they were merely a charade. This was the reason for the desperate cry, "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."
The people’s hearts were so hardened to their sinful ways that it was going to require more than a good sermon from a prophet to bring the message home. The message had to be acted out before them to penetrate their feeble spiritual understanding, to be perceived by their dim eyesight, as to their relationship with God. Hosea has been called "the prophet of the sorrowful heart" - it’s easy to see why. He was no academic prophet - he’d been through the school of life before he began his prophetic ministry.
There’s a story told of a husband and wife both of who were doctors - one a doctor of theology and the other a doctor of medicine. When their doorbell was rung and the maid answered, the inquirer would often ask for "the doctor". The maid’s interesting reply was: "Do you want the one who preaches or the one who practices?" Well, Hosea did both. He was a "practising preacher". He’d been through a painful experience.