Hosea is perhaps the most under-read, under-appreciated book among the prophets. Yet, it is a powerful book that gives us a glimpse at the pain experienced when sinful people who have professed to love God, turn their back on him and love other things instead.
The Infidelity of Israel
Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness we read, “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (1:2).
That is, frankly, amazing. There is nothing else like it in the Scriptures. Nevertheless, there it is—God calls the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute, an adulteress because that is what Israel has become. Hosea’s very life, then, is to be lived out as a dramatic retelling of the story of God’s relationship to Israel. In every way, Israel was Hosea’s prostitute-wife, Gomer. Despite incredible loving care from God, she rejected him and whored herself out to the false gods. She didn’t remain faithful to the Lord who had always remained faithful to her. Though God had showed great and deep love for Israel, she ultimately rejected him.
God’s people turned to other gods in worship, most notably the Canaanite fertility god, Baal. Thus, Israel was spiritual unfaithful; as a nation she became an adulteress. In fact, Israel was so far removed from the Lord that he says she actually thought all the best things she had came from Baal and not him. “[Israel] said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink…. [and the Lord says, but] “she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal” (2:5,8).
Although the central metaphor in Hosea is of Israel as the unfaithful wife, even as Gomer was an unfaithful wife, there is also another image that runs throughout the book—the image of the Father-son relationship between the Lord and Israel. This even goes back to the naming of the children with Lo-ammi, “Not My Son” or “Not My People.”
And in chapter 11, the imagery comes into sharp focus. The Lord says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. 3Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. 4I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. 5They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. 7My 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.”
Who can be moved by God’s words here? Here is the picture of God calling out Israel from Egypt, adopting the nation as his son. But Israel was just a small child, almost like a newborn. Like a loving Father, God held him by the hands and helped him along, teaching him to walk. When Israel was hurt, God healed him. It’s one of the most tender pictures in the Bible, but Israel apparently could care less. He’s forgotten about all that the God the Father has done for him. And though God has called him back from his sin in love, Israel refused to listen. Instead of being a faithful son who carries out his father’s wishes, Israel has rebelled over and over again. In chapter 8, they refuse to trust God and put their confidence in wealth and military might. They refuse to follow after God in loving things like justice, mercy, and righteousness.
Despite their sin and lack of faithfulness, God gives hope to his people through the prophet Hosea. He promises that there will be a time when their infidelity will cease and they will again be faithful to the Lord: “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.. . . 19And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord…. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God’ ” (2:16-17,19-20, 23).
Christ the Faithful Son
When we get to the New Testament, we see this hope being fulfilled in Christ. Christ comes in fulfillment of these promises first by being the faithful Son that Israel never was. The Gospel of Matthew is clearest about this. In chapter 1, Matthew shows Jesus is born Jewish, from the David himself.
And then in chapter 2, as Herod is killing Jewish children because he feels his throne is threatened, Jesus’ parents are warned by God to flee into Egypt to escape. Afterward, as the young Jesus and his family return to Palestine, Matthew says this happened to fulfill “what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (2:15). He’s quoting from Hosea 11. But the Hosea 11 passage isn’t a prophecy! God isn’t predicting anything. So what’s going on? What’s going on is an example of how to read the Bible. Matthew is showing us that when Jesus came in fulfillment of the Old Testament, it’s not just direct prophecies, but a typological/spiritual fulfillment too. Jesus is coming to be all that Israel should have been, but failed to be.
So, in the Matthew 3, Jesus goes through the waters of baptism, just as Israel went through the waters of the Red Sea during the Exodus. Then, in chapter 4, Jesus is in the wilderness being tempted for 40 days just as Israel was in the wilderness being tempted for 40 years. Unlike Israel, though, Jesus succeeds in the testing. He doesn’t succumb to sin, but triumphs over it. And that is the pattern of his entire life. Though enduring great temptation—being tempted in every way any person has ever been tempted, Jesus endures without sin. He always obeys God the Father, he always seeks the glory of God the Father, he always trusts God the Father and lives by the strength he provides. So, it’s no surprise that when we get to Matthew 17, the voice of God the Father booms out of heaven “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased” (17:5).
Christ the Faithful Husband
Christ was not only God’s faithful Son, he also became the faithful husband to God’s people. In order to understand this, we need to go back to the story of Hosea and Gomer. In chapter 3, God directs Hosea to do what he has promised he will one day—redeem his wife, Israel. It has to be one of the most moving passages in all of the Bible:
‘And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days’ (3:1-5).
To get the full weight of the passage, we have put ourselves in the culture of Hosea’s day. At this point, Gomer was on the auction block. Possibly because of debts, she’s being sold as a slave. That meant she would have been led out onto the podium, her clothes stripped-off for people to inspect her before bidding. Here is Hosea, forced to bear the shame of Gomer being up for sale. Men are staring at his wife, perhaps making crude jokes or leering. Worse, he has to bid against other men for own wife! Not to mention the indignity of people recognizing him as her husband saying things like, ‘What is he thinking! This is the woman who has betrayed his trust and left him to sleep around the city. Why does he even care? How could pay so much to get her back when she may do the whole thing over again?’
In the same way, Jesus came to redeem his bride, the Church. Though righteous in every way, Jesus had to bear the shame of his bride, the Church. Jesus took upon himself the shame of their sin, even hanging naked on a Roman cross like some vile criminal. More than that, he couldn’t just pay money to redeem his people from their sins. Instead, he offered his own life as a ransom for them—to buy them out of their slavery to sin. Thus, the apostle Peter can say to the Church, “[know] that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1:18-19).
What’s more, just as God promised that his people would be given new life to love the Lord—“After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (6:2)—so also would Jesus rise from the dead back to life on the third day after being crucified in place of his people.
Why did Christ redeem his sinful bride? In Ephesians 5, Paul says: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27).
This is why Jesus’ died for his people—because like Israel, we are sinful and in need of redemption. Moreover, even in being redeemed from the penalty of our sins, we still remain a sinful people. Yet, Christ does more than love his bride and die for her forgiveness—he has the power to actually transform her into a pure, sinless bride.