Summary: Continuing a series on the Minor Prophets
Today I continue my series on the Minor Prophets by looking at the prophet Hosea. With each prophet, we are forced to look at the very sketchy information they provide about themselves within the word we find written in Scripture. And in each way we try to find the answer to several important questions. Where are they from? What did they do? Who was their father?
First of all we know that Hosea was from the northern kingdom of Israel. And we know that we was working actively there in the time of the prophet Amos and just after, the late 8th century BC. We also know that Hosea was the son of Beeri, which was probably more important at the time than it is now. Hosea is almost always seen as a counterpoint to the teaching of Amos, who we read last week. Like Amos, Hosea addressed himself to Northern Israel. But he was a native of that country, which Amos was not.
But Hosea also serves to show us a piece of thinking about God which was missing from the teaching of Amos. Amos was quite concerned that the moral law of God be upheld in all ways. Amos saw God as the great avenger of his law, the great avenger against all those who stood against him and against his prophets. Amos looked to the oppression and the injustice in Israel, and he shook his fist. There is very little mercy, however, in Amos. There are slight mentions of a remnant being brought back, but that is not Amos’ main focus.
Thus Amos left a great gap in his prophetic work. Amos had recognized that there were problems and he demanded a solution. But still there was a defect in Amos single-minded focus on righteousness. And it was into this gap that Hosea stepped. Hosea witnessed and recognized the sins of his people just as Amos had done, but his call for righteousness and repentance was tempered always by his preaching about the love and mercy of God.
The book of Hosea is divided into two main parts. Chapters 1-3 are a lived parable which shows us a portion of Hosea’s own home life. These chapters are difficult to understand, but if they are read as a metaphor, instead of as reality then it becomes clearer. Hosea was called by God to marry a woman named Gomer. This wife is unfaithful to Hosea and eventually she abandons him and their children. That is obviously a ground for divorce. But when she comes back, years later, Hosea welcomes her as his wife, welcomes her back into his home. This is a symbol for God and his kindness and love to an unrepentant Israel. Israel which violates the covenant. Israel, which worships other Gods. Israel, which stones the prophets. Israel, which abandons the law.
From chapter 4 to 14, Hosea moves beyond his own life, beyond the lived parable of his marriage, and he begins a systematic description of he sins of Israel. These sins had all been recognized by Amos, but now they were being discussed and condemned by someone who was a native-son, not a foreign born troublemaker. There is an indictment of the leaders of Israel, the monarchy, the ruling judges, the priests, the landlords. There is a condemnation of false repentance, of the world which says one thing when confronted by sin and another the very next day when they feel they can get away with it. Then Hosea speaks about the rejection of the true prophets, which meant the acceptance of false prophets. The people went to the religion that told them what they wanted to hear. Prophets which, as Jeremiah writes, say “Peace, peace when there is no peace.”
Hosea recognizes a people in decay. Politically, religiously, socially, ethically. George Adam Smith, in his great commentary on the Minor Prophets, describes Hosea going through these symbols of decay as if an explorer treading in a jungle. Decay which stifles dissent, decay which creeps and edges all around you, decay which becomes so much thick undergrowth. The treading in the jungle is difficult and it is dangerous.
Then as Smith writes, we come to chapter 11. “From the thick jungle of Hosea’s travail, the eleventh chapter breaks like a high and open mound.” This chapter is one of the most incredible in the Old Testament, one of the high points in its revelation of who God is, and what he has done and will continue to do for his people.
Chapter eleven speaks to us in God’s own words, expressing all the love which God has held for his people Israel. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” In true prophetic style, the love of God was shown especially in the Exodus from Egypt, God’s great saving act for the Israelite people, God’s deliverance of the people from slavery into freedom, from oppression into a land flowing with milk and honey. This is a blessed memory of his people, and Hosea makes it clear that it is of the utmost importance to remember the love which God has shown. God’s love could not leave them where they were, and so God’s love cannot leave us where we are. God’s love calls us, calls us from lives of servitude to sin into lives of freedom, calls us from the world around us to the world God has created.