Summary: Hosea gives a picture not only of the way God hurts when his people are unfaithful, but about the real power of his love. Here is a love that expects a response of single-minded faithfulness, and that won’t rest until it gets it.
If you’re familiar with the story of Les Miserables, then you’ll know that the story begins with Jean Valjean, a convict on parole, coming to a town where the only person who’ll give him a room and a meal is the local bishop, Bp Myriel. The bishop welcomes him into his house, feeds him and gives him a warm bed for the night. However, the riches of the bishop’s house prove too much for Jean Valjean. He succumbs to temptation and steals the bishop’s silver cutlery. He’s soon apprehended, though, and when the gendarmes bring him back, the bishop is faced with a dilemma: should he tell the truth, that Jean Valjean has stolen the silver, in which case he’ll be thrown back into prison, or should he show him the mercy of the gospel and make out that it was given to him as a gift? The choice he has to make is between mercy and justice. He can’t have both. Well, as you probably know, he chooses mercy. He lies to the gendarmes. He says that the silver was a gift. In fact he insists that Jean Valjean takes not just the silver cutlery, but his silver candlesticks as well. But before Jean Valjean leaves, he’s told that this gift of love requires a response. From now on he must reform his life, from now on he must begin to live as a law-abiding citizen.
Was it all right for the bishop to lie? Was it OK for him to sacrifice justice for the sake of mercy?
The story of Hosea is the story of God’s struggle with those same opposing demands. Here we see God’s never ending love for his people balanced against his need to see justice done. Here we have an acted parable of God’s love for an unfaithful people.
Hosea brings to us a family that’s a miniature, a microcosm, of his world. And it’s a family with problems. It’s a family that’s designed to reflect God’s relationship with his people. God compares his situation not to that of an autocrat whose family dares not disobey, nor of a husband whose adoring wife and family are his delight and joy, but to that of a husband whose wife is having an affair and whose children are like strangers in his own house.
Here omnipotence doesn’t help. Here there are no instant solutions. In a marriage the solutions are never simple. Tame acceptance doesn’t help. Neither do strong-arm tactics. All the power in the world won’t help to heal a broken relationship - unless you’re willing to have a slave for a spouse, and a family ruled by fear. Neither will God exact obedience from his people against their will.
Now all this could be very theoretical and remote. But God brings his situation home to Hosea and his hearers in a concrete, though painful, way. He tells him to go and marry an unfaithful wife - because, he says, that’s exactly what I’ve done by pledging myself to all of you. Hosea is to live out a parable of God’s covenant with the people of Israel.
The story begins with Hosea marrying Gomer. To start with she’s just an ordinary Israelite woman. Although he’s told to take a wife of whoredom, this is a prophetic rather than an immediate description. To start with she’s just a wife like any other. But this is no ordinary marriage. Their first child is born soon after and God tells Hosea to call him Jezreel, as a sign that God is about to punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel. Now we can’t go into all the history here, but suffice it to say that this is a reference to the time when Ahab and Jezebel were rulers in Israel, during the time of Elijah and Elisha. God told Elijah to anoint Jehu as Ahab’s successor because he was going to punish Ahab and Jezebel and their followers for their great wickedness. Jehu in fact was given the task of carrying out this judgement on Ahab’s descendants, but in the end he went too far. He obviously enjoyed wielding power a bit too much, because he proceeded to go on a bloodbath, destroying not only Ahab’s son, but also Ahaziah, the king of the Southern Kingdom who was with him. All this happened in Jezreel in the north of the land. Then a day or so later he killed Ahaziah’s relatives that he came across on his way to Samaria, as well as seventy young children who were Ahab’s descendants, whose heads he had brought to him in baskets. It seems this Jehu wasn’t much better than Ahab had been. And despite the fact that some of what he did was at God’s direction, in the end he failed to turn his people back to the true worship of God. So this is like a German politician today being told to call his son Auschwitz or a South African calling their son Soweto. God’s recalling to their minds the wickedness of Jehu, saying that he’ll punish the house of Jehu, just as the house of Ahab had been punished. And he says "in that day I will break Israel’s bow in the valley of Jezreel." That is, Israel will no longer be a military power, but perhaps more significantly, she’ll no longer be the instrument by which God acts in the region.