My friend and I recently finished a bible study on the book of Hosea. We have studied several books of the bible together and are usually able to finish any given book within a few months. This one, however, took a year! We didn’t intend on the study taking so long, but once we started digging into the book, we discovered that it was much more complex than we ever could have imagined.
The book of Hosea drips with figurative language, which sometimes can be interpreted in several different ways. Throughout our study, we sought help from numerous trusted commentaries and did our best to choose the most accurate understanding of each verse. (Side note: Boy, am I glad I don’t have my husband’s job! Unpacking the scriptures verse by verse, though of utmost importance, is extremely hard work. See more on expository preaching here.) I now have a large stack of pages that make up my notes from the study, and I wish I could share all of it with you, but since that would make for an extremely lengthy blog post, I at least wanted to give you a little taste of what I gleaned from the study.
- At the beginning of the book, the Lord tells Hosea to take “a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea takes a wife named Gomer, and their marriage offers the metaphor that explains the overarching topics of the book: sin, judgment, and ultimately, forgiving love. Throughout the book, Hosea’s marriage relationship to Gomer is likened to God’s covenant relationship to Israel. (I want to add that some commentators believe the marriage was not literal but only figurative. Either way, the main focus is not Hosea/Gomer but God/Israel.)
- The theme, according to John MacArthur’s Study Bible, is “God’s loyal love for his covenant people in spite of their idolatry.” The mercy God shows to Israel throughout the book can only be described as completely undeserved, just like a Christian’s salvation through Christ. It would be a scary day if God no longer had mercy upon mankind. I imagine we would be immediately consumed by fire, which is without doubt what we each deserve because of our sin. We are just like Israel in the days of Hosea – constantly straying from and rebelling against a holy God. Knowing that fact makes me so thankful for the never-ending grace of God toward those whose hope rests in Christ alone! If we aren’t trusting in the shed blood of Jesus Christ and his work upon the cross for our salvation, we are doomed to eternal punishment.
- Hosea 7:11-12 reads, “Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. As they go, I will spread over them my net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation.” God is portrayed here as a bird catcher throwing His net over Israel and pulling the people down for correction. My friend and I compared this scenario to a parent grounding their child. When a parent grounds a child to his or her room, the child has to stay inside the confines of that room. Does a parent discipline their child to be mean? Absolutely not. But is discipline necessary for the good of the child? Without question. And so it was with the discipline of Israel – necessary for their own good. “For the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12).
- While God does bring judgment upon the Israelites at the hand of the Assyrians, He never quit loving them. Hosea 14:4 says, “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.” This verse shows that God is not withholding His anger; He’s removing it completely! Israel has by no means earned God’s love – it is by God’s grace that He will love them freely. The Israelites, in their sinful state, could not turn back to God without a saving act from God Himself. God is the One who healed their apostasy (rebellion and faithlessness). Praise the Lord!
- The very last verse in the book of Hosea reads, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” The main idea here isn’t that wise people inevitably will understand the book of Hosea, but that one must be wise in order to understand it. We should all pray for wisdom and discernment when reading this book because these sayings are difficult to comprehend. In addition, we can’t just assume that Israelite readers in the eighth century BC would have comprehended Hosea without struggle. A person must be “wise” in order to “understand” it and “discerning” in order to “know” it. Thus, the key to understanding is not intelligence but submission. “The righteous find life in these difficult words. To those who do not submit, they are rocks that give offense. Hosea’s final message is as if to say, ‘How do you read the words of this book? Do they enlighten or confuse? Are they life or death? Your response describes not so much the state of my book as the state of your soul.’” (Garrett, D.A. , The New American Commentary)