Someone has said that the book of Hosea is a “love story that went wrong.” Certainly, the command given by God to a prophet, who is set aside to do the Lord’s work and live in a righteous way, to marry a harlot, a prostitute, would get the people’s attention. What would righteousness have to do with sinfulness? Strange request, yes, but through it all, God wants to show us how much He hates sin and yet how He desires to show His compassion and patience and to redeem sinners. The book of Hosea gives us an illustration of how Israel, God’s chosen nation, was treating God and how God was treating her. In this book, God shows us how faithful and eternal His love is for even those who are unfaithful and undeserving.
Hosea’s name means “salvation.” Throughout his book he prophesies great judgment for Israel’s idolatry and unfaithfulness to the living God, while at the same time pointing to God’s saving work and redemption. Remember, the Minor Prophets close the Old Testament and set up the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. As we know, the heart of man is depraved and in need of a savior; Hosea brings that to our minds through his life and marriage to Gomer. In chapter one, Hosea is told to unite himself in marriage to a woman devoid of character, a harlot, thus signifying the wretched condition of unfaithful Israel. However, Hosea is seen to have God-like character in this marriage. He is faithful to Gomer and patient with her, despite her sinfulness and unfaithfulness to him. Though you would think it might, her sin doesn’t stop when Hosea marries her. We are told in chapter three that she begins to commit adultery, but that Hosea is still faithful to her and has an eternal love for her. This illustrates that God is love, love shown through His actions and through a covenant, especially to His chosen nation Israel. His is a love revealed. God, in His fathomless wisdom, has chosen to reveal Himself through the ages to mankind by entering into covenant relationships, first with individuals — Adam, then Noah, followed by Abraham. The covenant was renewed with Abraham’s family, as, over time, it developed into a small nation. God expressed it to Abraham in great simplicity, “I will be your God” (Gen. 17:7).
Though God loved Israel, they hardly showed love in return. The covenant of love was all on God’s side. A covenant is a bargain between two persons or parties — both are expected to perform what has been agreed upon. But time after time, the people of Israel were the recipients of God’s favor yet failed to live up to the expectation of loyalty and behavior on their side of the covenant. The people of Israel eventually arrived in the Promised Land, hardly willingly, and after much tempting of Providence. They were so disinterested that more than once they tried to overthrow their leadership, give up the whole venture, and return to Egypt. They couldn’t lift their sights above the more immediate luxuries of their land of enslavement. But God, with infinitely more love and long suffering than is found in man, took them into the Promised Land. It wasn’t because of, but in spite of, them. He turned them into a people, a nation. God gave them a law far in advance of the surrounding peoples and sowed in them the seed to become a nation for the benefit of the whole earth.
An outside observer would have expected such gracious dealings by God to have been returned with love and gratitude. But no, the depravity of man reared its ugly head, and Israel refused to follow God’s way. The people rebelled against God and didn’t keep His laws. By the time Hosea came on the stage, it was quite evident that God’s relationship with Israel had passed beyond the stage of love revealed until it was clearly that of love rebuffed. Israel had forgotten her God. She brought illegitimate offspring into being in the form of idolatrous practices and worship and was spiritually unfaithful to God. There was no repentance or regret. The words came easily from their lips but did not come from the heart. God comes to the aid of the repentant. But if Israel thought it would be forgiven without complying with God’s conditions, it was very much mistaken. God was looking for real repentance: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). His demand is a steadfast love that extends over the whole of life. On God’s side it cost the sacrifice of His Son on the cross to achieve reconciliation; on man’s side it may be free, but it is never cheap.
The account of Hosea and Gomer at a personal level and of Jehovah and his people Israel on a national scale is a sad story as we see it in terms of love revealed and love rebuffed. It continues into a third stage: Love restored. The prophet cried, “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah?” (Hosea 6:4). It was a heartfelt cry. Perhaps there is no verse in the Old Testament so revealing of God’s heart. Here we see mingled the wounded love and disappointed hopes of God. He was longing to find a sign of honest repentance on the part of Israel so that he could restore to them the covenant blessing. The words immediately call to mind the words of the Lord Jesus as he looked down on the city of Jerusalem before he entered it for the last time: “O Jerusalem, O Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who I sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:27). Hosea had the same heart of love for his unfaithful wife. He went into the “red light” area of the city, where he learned the awful truth: Gomer was a slave, owned and hired out for money. A price was demanded, but he paid it willingly to redeem her from her life of slavery and corruption. Hosea was unconsciously acting out a foreshadowing, an anticipation, of an infinitely greater redemption, the redemption of mankind by the Lord Jesus Christ. Since Adam, the human race has fallen short of God’s standard, and the inevitable sin has separated us from God, so that, in effect we have been dead in sin. Man’s condition appears desperate. Like Gomer, mankind by its own action has become a slave to sin, unable to reverse its condition. But the wonder of the gospel is that God didn’t leave us in that state.
Israel will not remain in that state either. In the same way that He provided for Gomer by telling Hosea to search her out and restore her to his home, cost what it may, God, in an infinitely greater way, has taken the initiative to restore man to fellowship with Himself, to repair the broken covenant relationship. The Apostle Paul summarized this message in writing to the church at Ephesus, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4,5). The salvation provided by God is more than mere forgiveness; it is deliverance from the state of spiritual death. And how do we receive it? It is through the grace of God — His free and undeserved mercy towards us. It’s not something we can achieve by ourselves, and it’s not the reward for following a religion or doing good. It’s the gift of God received by faith. The message of the Bible is clear and simple — it is of the love God displays to the unlovable. Someone wrote that the book of Hosea is a “love story that went wrong”, but it is not so in the heart of God. Beloved, God is eternally faithful in spite of our sinfulness. In our salvation experience, we find ourselves much like Gomer and Israel. We are depraved, we are unfaithful, we might like God but in our sin don’t love God. What God does in calling Hosea to marry a harlot and be committed to her gives us a picture of His marvelous grace and His commitment to us revealed through the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It loudly proclaims to us that this living God is merciful and slow to anger and that He gives grace in spite of our sinfulness even when we deserve judgment for our sins. That is “crazy love.” It is divine love, and it is yours when you turn from your sins and have faith in the work of Jesus Christ.