Hosea: Israel's Scarlet Letter
Originally posted Dec 16, 2013
The Minor Prophets are some of the most difficult books of the Bible to read. But it is not because their message is hard to understand, it is just so hard to accept. As some of the disciples once told Christ: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it” (John 6:60 ESV)? Then, as now, those who come to the Lord must seek him through his word and prepare themselves to hear, since it is he alone who has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). As one of Hosea’s contemporaries wrote, “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David” (Isa 55:3).
Reading Hosea (or any other part of the Bible) therefore requires preparation on the part of the listener, especially when the message is one that will hurt before it heals. Such begins by understanding a bit about the world of the inspired writer and his first audience. Hosea’s ministry spanned thirty-three years, from about 755 B.C. to the fall of the northern kingdom in 722. The stability and wealth of the early eighth century led to rampant unfaithfulness in both worship and the home. So as a final warning to Israel, God instructed Hosea to marry a “wife of whoredom” (Hos 1:2), who would serve as a tragic illustration of Israel’s own unfaithfulness toward God.
Hosea, then, is written as a sharp and bitter satire, whose focus is “the exposure of human vice or folly” (ESVSB). The prophet therefore employs intentionally shocking language, vivid imagery and legal terms to emphasize God’s desire for justice and righteousness. Such an emphasis was especially relevant because of the primary form of Israel’s unfaithfulness: Baal worship. Several aspects of this are apparent in the book, “such as drunkenness, bestiality, human sacrifice, mutilations, and incest . . . but Hosea understands the strength of Baalism’s appeal to the sex drive by way of ritual prostitution” (ESVSB).
Hosea’s prophecies are soon fulfilled through “at least six incursions into Palestine and its neighbors by an unstoppable Assyrian army” (ESVSB). Even in the face of such judgment, however, Hosea (who shares a name with Joshua and Jesus—all of which mean “Salvation” or “Yahweh Saves”) shows the depth of God’s steadfast love for his people, a jealous love that tolerates no rivals. As Theodoret observed, “The reason that the God of all threatens punishment . . . is not to inflict it on those he threatens but to strike them with fear and lead them to repentance, and by ridding them of their wicked behavior extend to them salvation” (Commentary on Hosea, “Introduction”). Hosea, then, is the emotional and tragic plea of the Lord to his bride to return to him in true love and purity, and stands as an important figure by which to examine the church of our Lord today.
For a fantastic introduction to Hosea, check out the Read Scripture video on the book of Hosea produced by the Bible Project:
A quick note on sources: When I first prepared this material for our Sunday morning adult study in 2013, I began with The ESV Study Bible, The NET Bible, the Bible Knowledge Commentary, plus some rudimentary Hebrew studies (we’re talking basic) and then branched out as needed to fill in their gaps. Although Hosea is fairly heavy on textual and interpretation issues, I have summarized heavily in order to adapt this material for the blog. For those interested in going deeper, I have included the complete list of Works Cited below, which I will link back to each week for ease of use.
Fast forward five years and two congregations later, and the Lord has blessed me with another opportunity to plumb the depths of Hosea's words. So in this re-run of the series, you will see not only updated and reposted expositions of Hosea, but videos of each class as taught in the summer of 2018 with the Warner Robins Church of Christ.
All works from Bible Study with Accordance.
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