Hosea & The Scandal of the Gospel

Unfaithfulness.

It’s a tragic word in any context, but especially so in the covenant of marriage. As a pastor I’ve had the privilege of performing wedding ceremonies with couples I’ve counseled and seeing their smiling faces as they exchange vows. I’ve also watched marriages fall apart in my office or around our dining room table, because a spouse did not hold up their end of the covenant.

In the book of Hosea, God displays the sheer depth of His covenant faithfulness to unfaithful Israel. Israel broke her covenant with God, but He refused to break His covenant with them. It was the covenant He made and reiterated throughout the Scriptures that He would be there God and they would be His people (Gen. 17:7, Ex. 6:7, Eze. 36:28, Jer. 7:23, etc.). No one forced God to make such a promise, but He made it nonetheless.

The love story God tells in Hosea is unlike any Hollywood romance. Here’s the plotline: man marries woman; they have a child together; woman leaves man and becomes as promiscuous as a dog in heat; man renews his love for the woman despite the increasing children she has with other men and her total lack of faithfulness. As awkward and alarming as this story is, this is the story God considers a fitting illustration of His relationship with Israel. He is the faithful husband and she the unfaithful wife. In his commentary on Hosea, Duane Garrett writes, “Hosea…is a book that jolts the reader; it refuses to be domesticated and made conventional. It does comfort the afflicted, but it most surely afflicts the comfortable. It is as startling in its presentation of sin as it is surprising in its stubborn certainty of grace. It is as blunt as it is enigmatic. It is a book to be experienced, and the experience is with God.”

The events leading up to Hosea are important. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom was divided between Israel/Ephraim in the North and Judah in the South. About 100 years after Elijah and Elisha, Hosea arrives. It was a period of relative peace and prosperity for God’s people under Jeroboam II. Many of us know from personal experience that peace and prosperity are not friends of spiritual growth.

In Hosea’s day, God’s people had forgotten the Lord and began worshiping Baal, the fertility god. The nation of Assyria grew steadily stronger and instead of turning to God for help, Israel turned to other nations, like Egypt. They even paid Assyria to leave them alone. Nothing was helping. For thirty years, they’re kings were assassinated one after another in a saga worse than the Kennedy’s. God was waking up His people. He sent the prophets to warn of coming judgment. Hosea called God’s people to repent of their spiritual adultery and return to Yahweh, their faithful Husband.

The book is full of powerful imagery to convey God’s faithfulness despite Israel’s unfaithfulness. In their book, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart write, “Striking metaphors are Hosea’s specialty. Yahweh is lion, leopard, bear, eagle, trapper, as well as husband, lover, parent, and green pine tree. And Israel in her sins is even more vividly described: adulterous wife, stubborn heifer, snare and net, heated oven, half-baked bread, senseless dove, faulty bow, headless stalk, a baby refusing birth; she will disappear like mist, dew, chaff, and smoke; she will float away like a twig on water; she has sown the wind and will reap the whirlwind. It is hard not to get the picture.”

So what does Hosea teach us?

When we sin we’re committing spiritual adultery

One would think that after all God did for Israel and the miracles He performed to rescue them time and again, they would have learned the lesson to avoid idolatry. But like us, Israel was constantly forgetting the Lord. Throughout Hosea, we are given descriptions of Israel’s sin: “the land commits great whoredom, forsaking the LORD” (1:2); “[she] went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the LORD” (2:13); “they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins” (3:1), “you have forgotten the law of your God” (4:6); “they have forsaken the law to cherish whoredom” (4:10); “they have left their God to play the whore” (4:12).

Sin is more serious than we realize. When we sin against God, there is something much deeper going on than mere thoughts, words, or actions. We are bowing before the idols of our hearts. Idols of comfort, control, pleasure, the praise of men, or something else. Also, because we are acting this way against the backdrop of God’s covenant faithfulness, we’re rebelling against a faithful Husband. To put it bluntly, when we sin we’re jumping in bed with Satan. It made no sense for Gomer to turn her back on godly and faithful Hosea and it makes no sense for us to turn our backs on God. Our response to sin must be in line with what God commands: “acknowledge [our] guilt and seek [his] face…come let us return to the LORD…by the help of your God, return” (5:15; 6:1; 12:6).

God must chastise us when we continue in rebellion

When our children are being watched by a babysitter, they behave because they know that though the babysitter cannot discipline, mom and dad will take care of it when they come home. We love our children too much to let them wander off into reckless rebellion. God is the same with us. The author of Hebrews points out, “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:8). For the people of Israel, this came by means of Assyrian overthrow and eventually exile. He tells them in Hosea 11:5-7, “They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they refused to return to me…My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all” (11:5-7).

We must not take lightly the discipline of the Lord. He is graciously seeking to tear the idols from our grasp.

God’s commitment to His people is unwavering

The most shocking thing about Hosea is the way we see God’s constant promise of restoration after judgment. Even as He rebukes them for idolatry and promises judgment, His heart breaks for them. Just after the promise of judgment in 11:1-7, God says, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?…My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender” (11:8). Then there is the great promise in chapter 1: ““Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God”” (1:10).

All this ultimately points us to the Gospel.

How can God both punish our sin and pardon us sinners? Only by means of the cross. At the cross, God’s bleeding heart for His people was put on full display and His roaring wrath against their sin was poured out…on the head of Jesus. The Gospel is truly scandalous because it tells us of a God who pardons the guilty on the basis of faith in the Innocent being punished.

How could we turn our backs on such a faithful Husband and gracious Redeemer?

Never skip the Minors …

As a baseball fan growing up being able to go to seminary in the Triangle of North Carolina was a really awesome experience, because of their minor league baseball. There was nothing like taking in a Durham Bulls game on a Saturday afternoon or even heading over to a company picnic to watch the Carolina Mudcats. It was amazing to see some of these guys who would one day be in the majors playing. 

However, I think what stands out the most and probably why I loved the experience so much is that with the game of baseball whether you are watching the Tampa Bay Rays or the Durham Bulls the sport doesn’t change, the rules are for the most part the same, maybe they don’t make the same money, or have a TV network dedicated to them, but the goal and objectives are the same. So when we come to the Minor Prophets in the Bible this is what we need to remember they are not any less important than the ones we call the majors. And today I’d just like to give you three short reasons why not to skip the Minor Prophets.

It’s God’s Word

Okay so of course as any good pastor I have to start with the basics. It’s the Word of God and as such you should read it and be encouraged by it. All Scripture is God breathed and profitable even the parts that seem weird or hard to follow are meant to instruct us in the nature and character of God and especially in the Minor Prophets. These men were carried along by the same spirit that inspired the writings of Moses and the apostles. You would be amazed at how much God can teach you about himself in the parts of Scripture people rarely tend to visit. As pastors we usually make jokes about how no one reads Leviticus because of all the Laws and how legal it all sounds, yet in those pages we see a Holy God who has Holy standards, that can only be fully accomplished through faith, repentance and a savior.

I would assume that there are many people who if you asked who the minor prophets were couldn’t even name most of them. This isn’t a judgment issue, partially it’s a psatoral one, we like to talk about the whole word of God, but we even tend to not lead the people to these books except for maybe Christmas to make a passing comment on Malachi or on Pentecost to reference Joel. For the most part the passages go unnoticed and under appreciated, but as God’s Word we should be more diligent in it’s study and application

They reveal to us the nature of God and His Servants

Secondly, in the Minor Prophets we get a picture of God’s fierce love for His people, such as in the book of Hosea where the Lord reveals his love for them, that though they sin and are wayward He will bring them back and restore them to himself. He will love them as a husband loves his wife even in the midst of sin and adultery. In Jonah we see the picture of God’s love and forgiveness extended out to even Gentile nations like Nineveh being given to opportunity to repent of sin and worship the only God who brings true greatness. And all of them will give us a picture of the Christ and the coming Kingdom known as the great and mighty day of the Lord.

Also connected to the prophetic words describing God’s character we see the response of the prophets in joy humility, submission, and even praise. Habakkuk will end after a series of oracles pronouncing Judgment with a song of Praise to God knowing that even when the vine produces not fruit and the fig tree no longer blossoms, it is the Lord of our salvation who reigns. Each of the prophets gives us another look at what it means to follow God’s commands, even Jonah shows a picture of what it looks like to do so begrudgingly. God will use his servants to bring the news of salvation to the lost.

They are Short but Powerful 

Finally, with books ranging from one chapter to fourteen chapters they pack quite a punch in a small package. It is important to see though that while they are small books they are far from unimportant. Each of these prophets were real men who were used by the Lord to remind the people of God of their need for Him and his love for them. Each of them has a word from the Lord that we need to hear and believe. For the most part these men may have been as equally as important in their own day and age as any of the Major Prophets like Isaiah or Ezekiel.

Some of the most powerfully works that changed the world were not large tomes, but rather pamphlets that hit home in a short and concise way. They dive to the heart of the issues and leave the reader marveling at the purpose and power of God. They drive us to our knees as we see that the Lord is in control of all that happens and that His judgments are true against those who reject him, and that his mercy and grace are what brings the wayward believer home. These short books begin to paint for us a big picture of the work of God leading up to the coming of Christ and how we know respond to that revelation.

As a closing remark, I would encourage you to not skip the minor prophets for the bigger, fancier Major prophets. There is much to learn from these twelve men. In studying the Word the Lord gave to them, you can better understand the Word he gave to the Major prophets. The Lord has much to say to us in His Word, especially in this collection of Twelve.