Restoring a Broken and Sinful People by the Mercies of a Reconciling God

Introduction: According to verse 1, Hosea lived and prophesied just before Israel was carried into Assyrian captivity in 722 BC. His ministry occurred during the time of 4 kings in the Southern Kingdom and during the prosperous days of Jeroboam II who reigned for 41 years in the Northern Kingdom [2 Kings 14:23-29]. Paul House points out that Hosea was “the only known northern prophet in the canon.” Probably prosperity seemed indestructible during his prophecy but political turmoil was peering over the future horizon [2 Kings15:8-31; 17:1-6] to be culminated in the attack of the Assyrians. The superficiality of devotion to Yahweh was such a sheer covering of hypocrisy that the profound attachment to Baal and Asherah was consistently exposed as the real driving commitment of the Israelite’s affection. So Hosea refers to Israel’s being “stripped naked” and “exposing her lewdness,” meaning the self-serving, pleasure-ridden commitment to the fertility gods of the Canaanites they had failed utterly to destroy [2:3, 2:10; cf with the explanation given in 2 Kings 17:7-23] The extended analogy of harlotry in the context of marriage gives a poignant sense of the radical difference between the covenantal unfaithfulness of sinners and the costly covenantal faithfulness of God. It also serves to emphasize the importance of marriage as divinely instituted from the beginning of the canon to the end as emblematic of the immutable integrity of divine love and faithfulness [Genesis 2:22-25; Ephesians 5:22-33; Hebrews 13:4; Revelation 19:6-9; 22:16, 17].

I. A Picture of the corruption of life and divine abandonment that sin merits. 1:2-8

A.  Hosea commanded to take a wife that was already living in harlotry, a peculiarly egregious flaunting of the divine establishment of marriage as a seal of the goodness of creation and the loving goodness of the creator to the creatures made in his image. The grotesqueness of the picture of the creature’s sinful dismissal of the divine purpose in creation is seen, if only in a muted fashion, by this command. Hosea obeys God, takes a whore for a wife, and immediately fathers a child. In order to make a point of the wholly incongruous way that Israel regarded God’s favor to her, prophets were often asked to do unconventional things. [See Isaiah 20:1-6; Jeremiah 16:1-9; Ezekiel 24:15-17]

B. Three children are born in fairly rapid succession. The first was named Jezreel, meaning God sows. Jezreel was the place of Naboth’s vineyard and Jezebel’s murder of Naboth. In Jezreel, Jehu killed both Joram and Ahaziah, kings of the North and South respectively. He killed also all of Joram’s seventy sons, all other kin and appointed officers, all the prophets of Baal. He also killed the Sons and relatives of Ahaziah as they journeyed in the northern kingdom. Finally he killed Jezebel herself. Though a prophet of God anointed Jehu as king and prophesied that he would do all these things, and though he was commended by God for so executing the prophecy, he did not return Israel to the required practices of worship but maintained the sins introduced by Jeroboam son of Nebat at the time of the division. Jezreel was an object lesson in the devastation wrought by idolatrous self-serving. A violent man was used as an instrument of God to demonstrate the consummate evil that permeated the entire northern kingdom. Though the treacherous slaughter of so many people fulfilled a divine purpose of judgment, it was also in fulfillment of a vengeful and brutal lifestyle on the part of Jehu. The instrument of vengeance was himself worthy of vengeance from God. So totally corrupted was the entire nation [a picture of the entire human race in its slavery to sin] that God named the child of a whore, sired by a prophet, after the place where so much bloodshed stood as a monument of human sin and divine wrath.

C. 1:6 – A second child was given a name that meant “no mercy” or “she has not received mercy.” Such a name indicated that only justice would come to Israel. The three year siege by Assyria followed by the brutal occupation of the land and the exile of the people meant that God abandoned himself to strict justice in their case. Though they did not recognize him as their Lord and provider, they would soon learn just how much they had depended on patience and mercy from Yahweh. At the same time, Judah would receive mercy from God as Assyria sought to conquer it as it had Samaria. [2 Kings 19:34-37]. This demonstrates that God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy; He will have compassion on whom he will have compassion; and whom he wills, he hardens in giving them up to the evil propensities of their hearts.

D. The third child was named Lo-ammi, meaning “not my people.” This name stands as a stark reminder of God’s promise to walk among them and be their God and they would be his people. But if they turned from him his hot wrath would pursue them in ever increasing waves of severity [See Leviticus 26:9-12 and then the following verses for the consequences of falling away]. When seen on the basis purely of the merit and faithfulness of the people, they are “not my people.” A covenant of marvelous privilege, sneered at and violated by the people, becomes exactly what their demerits make it.

II. A picture of the Immutability of God’s covenant love – 1:10, 11; 2:1

A.  The rapidity of change in tone is breathtaking. The word “Yet” is a strong word showing a complete reversal of the condition of vengeance to a condition of renewed mercy and favor. Though they are going into exile after slaughter, the number shall be like the sand of the sea “which cannot be measured or numbered.” This is a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham Genesis 15:5, 6. “Number the stars, if you are able to number them.”

B. The transition brings back in the covenantal mercy of God. Those that by their moral worth were to be considered “not my people,” but for the sake of the covenant are now “the children of the living God.”; Also see 2:1, “Say to your brothers, ‘you are my people.’” The theme repeated in 2:23

C. Now instead of justice, they are restored to mercy; 2:1 “and to your sisters, ‘You have received mercy.’”  Even while we were dead in trespasses and sins, God being rich in Mercy, made us alive together with Christ . Ephesians 2:1ff.  Not according to our works, but according to his mercy, he saved us – Titus 3:4, 5.  The theme repeated in 2:23.

D.  Their nations were divided, and they went into exile on separate occasions 135 years apart; The northern kingdom was reoccupied with a multiplicity of peoples mongrelizing Samaria making them repulsive to Judah. Now, however, “the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together.” Surely this means that Jews and those considered not-Jews will be reconciled under the merciful provision of God for salvation. This is the way the New Testament treats the effect of the work of the Messiah. John 4:21-26; John 11:52 “not for the nation only, but also for the children of God who are scattered abroad.” John 12:32 – And, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself; Also look at reconciliation  of Jew and Gentile – Ephesians 2:11-13; and Salvation the same for Jew and Gentile Galatians 2:15, 16.

E.  Jezreel is transformed from the place of bloody vengeance and multiple cruelties to a place of greatness. Divine vengeance is turned aside and the place of vengeance becomes the rallying point for the greatness of God’s people. See also 2:22, 23. Instead of sowing vengeance, God now sows mercy. Golgotha and the cross are transformed from the ultimate place of vengeance, both human and divine, into the place where love and justice meet, where God remains just and yet justifies those that have faith in Christ. Romans 3:25, 26

E. “They shall appoint for themselves one head.” Instead of the assassinations and jealousies and rapid turnover of kings, one will arise that is worthy and so acceptable, that they will find their unity in him. This one Head, one king, will be the one that unifies the people of God. None is like Christ—God and man in one person. The only one worthy to open the books that show the fulfillment of the divine purposes of both judgment and mercy – Revelation 5:5-14.

III. An Expansion of the Picture of Israel’s Demerits and God’s Mercy – 2:2-23

A.  There was never a time when Israel did not harbor the rot of idolatry in its heart even though she saw the power of God and received multitudes of blessings from the One that demonstrated his power over all the earth. The whoredom of Israel was consistent and made her entire history perverse. Verses 2, 5, 7, 13 b. Remember that Rachel took household idols from the home of her father Laban. The Israelites formed a golden calf that they worshipped with revelry immediately after the exodus while Moses talked with God in the mountain.; See also Ezekiel 20:1-11 for a damning indictment on the early and consistent idolatrous Israelites.

B.  The offspring of that first generation has shared the guilt of spiritual whoredom – 4, 5; Also see how Jesus points to the Jews of his day as sharing the guilt of those that condemned the prophets in the past. Matthew 23: 34-36.

C.  They attributed to false gods the blessings they received from Yahweh – 5b, 8, 12b , 13. They lived as if their promiscuity prompted by their infatuation with the Canaanite worship had resulted in their having more bread, and oil, and grain, and fabrics, and jewelry, and wine and precious metals. They had combined elements of Yahweh worship with Baal worship -11

D.  God would manifest the vanity of their idolatry.

He would show them that he alone provided for them by removing all the luxuries they had come to expect from the fertile land. – 6, 9, 12

He would expose the shamefulness of their whoredom of going after other gods when He alone had pledged himself to them in covenant, and she will not find those gods any help in a time of  wrath – 3, 5b, 7, 10, 13

E. Again, Hosea presents us with a startling contrast. He uses, “therefore” which normally introduces a conclusion that is the logical outcome of what precedes. But the introduction of blessings on the basis of a thoroughgoing and apparently irremediable idolatry with “therefore” can only mean that the sinfulness is such, that the only logical remedy is unmerited and sovereign grace. It is as if God says, since I can give no blessings on the basis of any degree of goodness in them, therefore, I will give them on the basis of my own purpose and grace [see 2 Timothy 1:9, 10]. This mercy will take shape in several ways.

God will show his excellence in such a way that to them he will be irresistible – 2:14

God’s wrath – 2:15  “valley of Achor” Joshua 7:22-26, where Achan and his family were stoned and burned – will become a door of hope. This is a similar image to the greatness of the day of Jezreel [1:11].

The marriage that had been so perverse and an obvious convolution of covenant faithfulness will become a model of justice, unfaltering love, faithfulness, and experiential intimacy. 16, 19, 20. Note again the combination of words—righteousness and justice on the one hand and steadfast love and mercy on the other—that indicate a reconciliation of the divine intention of mercy with the righteous demand for justice. Also note the language of the new covenant, “You shall know the Lord.” Cf. Jeremiah 31:33, 34.

All blessings will be seen as flowing from the bountiful goodness of her betrothed husband, the Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord who loves mercy. 17, 18, 21-23.

IV.  Hosea Must now do what God has said he will do – Redeem an unfaithful wife – 3

A. 3:1, 2, 3 – Hosea buys back his wife from another man to whom she has gone, and she is to dwell with him and be purified by the loyal love he has for her and that she will learn to give to him (3) He is to love her, for though they are idolatrous, God loves the children of Israel and for the sake of his eternal covenant will pay a purchase price for them. The price of Gomer is half the price of a slave plus nine bushels of barley. Her value was not great to the adulterous intruder. When we are purchased, however, it is not with silver and gold but with precious blood, that of Christ as of a Lamb without spot or blemish. The price is commensurate with the glory of the one against whose law we have offended. It is not our worth that constitutes the price with which we are bought, but the worth of the one whose glory we are to reflect into the ages without end. Because of his investment in us, we should contemplate the “riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Ephesians 1:18.

B. 3:4, 5 Though they might be in a state of solitude and numbness, having a sterile perception of who they are and what their relationship to God is, for the sake of the covenant God made with the Fathers and with David, the Davidic Messiah will come and will turn their hearts to him. David their king, that is, Jesus the Christ, will accomplish this. Paul fully expected this to happen as indicated in Romans 11:26-29.

C.  This entire passage should help us see what Peter meant when he spoke about the relationship of prophecy to Christ in 1 Peter 1:10-12. Also how the word of the prophets is given a tested certainty by the coming of Christ 2 Peter 1:19

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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