The book of Hosea relates the story of a man with a divine message that was out of sync with the outlook of his age — and yet very suitable for his age.
There are, therefore, many useful lessons and guidelines in the book for Christians, as we communicate a divine message — the gospel — that most people regard as irrelevant, but which we know is essential for them to absorb and obey.
In ways that he could not appreciate at the time, Hosea had a calling that would speak to others and help them serve God. Recently, I was considering again the first chapter of this remarkable book, in which several astounding details are recorded. I would say that it is a good passage for preachers to read frequently.
Yet reflecting on it should not be limited to pastors and evangelists; some of what I will write in this article may seem at first to speak only to preachers, but a little thought can turn the application and make it personal for any reader.
The first detail that I was reminded about was that, before the Word of the Lord spoke through Hosea (1:2), it had to come to Hosea from the Lord (1:1).
Obviously, this is true in a sequential sense, but it is also true in a proclaiming sense. A true preacher cannot declare a message that he has not received from God, that has not spoken to him first, and that has not become part of his outlook. How often that was the case is revealed throughout Hosea’s book!
The names of the kings in Hosea 1:1 inform the reader that the changes in the political world did not cause Hosea to adjust the message he had received from God. They also reveal that he was sent by God to the last generation of the northern kingdom of Israel (1:4 describes the collapse of the house of Jehu when Jeroboam II died. This set off a sequence of short reigns in Israel, before it went into captivity in Assyria).
The reigns of the mentioned kings was a time of great prosperity for some, but was marked by oppression, injustice and poverty for others. Syncretism in religious worship was widespread. Political changes, social conflict and popular religious declension meant it was a difficult time to be God’s servant.
It does not take much reflection to work out that we live in very similar times, and the challenge we face is not to change our God-given message under the various pressures that come our way.
Hosea’s lifestyle had to be in line with his God-given message. While it is difficult to trace out the exact sequence of events in his relationship with Gomer, it is clear that God’s requirement of him was exceptionally demanding.
Hosea probably had to endure lots of comments about his family life, even from pious people, as well as from others around him. In order to persevere, he needed clear divine guidance in his own mind.
While it is true that a servant of God must have divine authority for unexpected actions, I suspect that the most striking application from this divine requirement for Hosea is whether or not we are prepared to do everything that God’s Word asks us to do.
Total obedience is what is expected from a devoted servant; and the opinions of others, whether in society or the church, should not divert him from following the Lord fully.
Hosea, as the Lord’s servant, had to feel in deep measure what the Lord felt, regarding the waywardness of his people. The disloyal behaviour of Gomer clearly hurt the prophet deeply. Things can happen to us in providence that surprise and disappoint us, especially those responses that spurn the love we have shown.
How we respond when that happens will be very revealing, because our response will say a lot about us. In Hosea’s case, in the midst of his personal sadness and confusion, he had to reveal the heart of God.
The Lord was disappointed and angry about the disloyalty of his people, yet at the same time he was longing to forgive them and restore them. As we encounter disappointments that stir our anger, do we have the spiritual stature that continues to reveal the heart of Jesus for his church and for a lost world?
Judgement and mercy
It is clear that Hosea had to discover the awfulness of sin before he could declare his message about deliverance from it. Sin, especially among God’s people, is the spiritual equivalent of prostitution.
It is profitable to take time and reflect on what sin says about reverence for God. Gomer’s behaviour was bad, insensitive to her loving husband who had been so good to her. Her behaviour affronted Hosea in every way.
Sin affronts his authority as the lawgiver; affronts his wisdom as regarding the best way to live; and affronts his kindness as the giver of all good. We can go through each of the Lord’s attributes and observe how sin is an affront to them. And when we sense the awfulness of sin, we will appreciate the wonder of the gospel.
Eventually, after years of obedience to God’s requirements (performing obligations that indicated divine judgement), Hosea was given a great promise of future divine blessing.
The fulfilment was far in the future, and came in a manner probably not anticipated by Hosea (Romans 9:25-26). Similarly, our eyes should be on the great promises of God about the future. We may be sowers working so that others may reap. And that is also a good calling.
The author is editor of The Record, the magazine of the Free Church of Scotland