The prophet Hosea was the Divinely inspired penman of the first of the twelve Books in the Word of God which bear the name of the Minor Prophets. They are not “minor” because the writings of those holy men were less inspired or less important than the others which we have just finished studying (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel); but rather, because of their smallness in size.
Hosea’s ministry was particularly among the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, during the reign of King Jeroboam II. This was about 800 years before the coming of the Lord Jesus. The name Hosea is a variant of the name Joshua, and signifies “a savior.” And the chief theme of Hosea’s messages seems to be directed toward preparing the minds of his hearers to be on the lookout for their coming Savior and Messiah. Acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the prophet reproved his countrymen for their sins; and at the same time, he directed their minds to Him Who came to take away sin forever, by the sacrifice of Himself!
This was one of the darkest periods in all of Israel’s history. Outwardly, the state of the Northern Kingdom was thriving and prospering; but spiritually, things looked bleak indeed. And now the Lord commissioned His prophet to speak to this nation, as it passed down the swift decline to captivity. The Book begins with a narrative of tragedy in the prophet’s home-life, which colored all his messages that he preached to his people. The Lord commanded the prophet to go and marry an impure wife of bad reputation. And he did so. Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, was not one who had been married and then committed adultery; for then the law of Moses would have ordained that she must have been put to death. Rather, she was one who had lived shamefully in her single years. Such a person was not only evil, but she was also an affliction to the righteous prophet. Nevertheless, Hosea committed no sin in this unique case, for God specifically commanded him to do this. Why? Because herein, his home-life was to be a picture and a living sermon to his countrymen, illustrating how they had shamefully departed from the Lord – just like Hosea’s unfaithful wife. But their idolatry was the particular manifestation of the general impurity of their backslidden spiritual life. And that is the sin with which they are here charged. Giving that glory to any other creature which is due to God alone – that is as much an injury and affront to God as for a wife to embrace another man besides her husband. Idolatry is even worse when it is found in those who have made a profession of religion, and who have been taken into covenant with Jehovah. It is like breaking our marriage-bond with the Lord! It is a heinous, odious sin – worse than any other. It is departing from the Lord, to Whom we lie under greater obligations than any wife does to her husband.
So Israel, in Hosea’s time, was playing the part of an unfaithful wife; and as Hosea’s children were born, their names reflected the times into which they were brought. In the names that he gave to his children, the prophet was to show the ruin of his people. He foretold the fall of the royal family in the name of his first child, Jezreel – which signifies “dispersion.” Jezreel was the name of one of the royal seats of the kings of Israel, but the Lord was about to avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of King Jehu – from whom the current king, Jeroboam II, had descended. In the name of Hosea’s second child – Lo-ruhamah, meaning “not beloved,” or “not having obtained mercy” – the prophet foretells God’s abandoning of the nation as a whole. God had showed great mercy upon Israel, but they had abused His favors. And so the rejection of Israel, for a time, was signified by the name of another child: Lo-ammi – that is, “not my people.” The Lord here disowns all relationship to them. We love Him, because He first loved us; but if any are cast out of His Covenant, it is all their own fault. The meaning of the name of this third child was literally fulfilled in Israel, when they were utterly taken away as captives into the land of Assyria. But despite all of this, mercy is remembered in the midst of wrath. The rejection was not final. The same hand that wounded also stretched itself forth to heal. Very precious promises are given in verses 10 and 11 concerning the Israel of God, and they are still of use to us now. These promises had their accomplishment in the return of the Jews out of their captivity in Babylon – when a small remnant of the ten northern tribes joined themselves with Judah, and took the benefit of the liberty which Cyrus had proclaimed.
The result of this tragic state of affairs in Hosea’s personal life was that he came to understand the heart of God, and how much He was grieved when His people sinned. Hosea has been described as “the prophet of the broken heart.” The pain and agony of the man’s heart is everywhere apparent; but to him, it became an interpretation of the agony of the heart of God. In his own experience, he discovered what unfaithfulness feels like to a loving heart. The unfaithfulness of Gomer showed Hosea the unfaithfulness of Israel. And so he came to understand the sin of the nation as he could never have understood it, apart from the experience of his own agony.
Lord, we ascribe songs of praise and adoration to Your sovereign and Almighty grace; for even when we were so decidedly ungodly that Your Word most truly said to our conscience and heart, “Ye are not my people!” – yet You have now brought us near to Yourself, and made us Your own sons and daughters! Amen.
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