How far would you go to save a friendship or your marriage? How would you feel if you found out your spouse was cheating on you? These are the very personal, but very real questions that the book of Hosea poses and seeks to answer. When most people think of this book they think of the prophet’s relationship with a prostitute, and how shocking that was. But to just see that aspect of the book is to miss the central theme completely.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room, shall we? The first question most people have when reading the book of Hosea is, how could God allow his prophet to marry a prostitute? Isn’t that totally against his word? At first glance it would seem so until you realize that Old Testament prophets often performed weird signs to get the attention of their audience. As the mouthpiece of God, they often did outlandish things so that people would take notice, and ultimately their goal was to get them to see the error of their ways and repent.
For instance, Isaiah walked around barefoot and naked for three years. Ezekiel shaved off all of his hair, and then burned a third of it, cut a third of it with a sword, and scattered the rest to the wind. He also cooked his food on dung for 390 days. Jeremiah walked around in an ox yoke and buried his loincloth in the ground. So you see my point. The prophets weren’t simply orators, but often they were walking billboards to the people around them. Their actions were signs, sometimes extremely graphic signs, to the nations of Israel and Judah.
Enter Hosea. His example may be the most extreme one of them all. Can you imagine the embarrassment and shame of marrying a prostitute, and then having her cheat on you? Can you imagine the “I told you so” looks that he must have gotten? But to just focus on the fact that he married a prostitute is missing the point. He did so for a reason, and that reason is one of the main themes of the book of Hosea.
Hosea didn’t marry a prostitute because he thought it was cool. He did it to demonstrate how God felt about his relationship with Israel. In the same way that Hosea had sought to rescue Gomer from a life of prostitution, God had called the nation of Israel out from the nations for himself. They were his special people, and yet they treated that relationship as if it meant nothing. They “worshipped” the Lord, while also worshipping the idols of the nations around them as well. In the same way that Hosea felt betrayed and rejected by Gomer, God felt rejected and betrayed by his people.
The story of Hosea’s relationship with Gomer only takes up the first three chapters, and then suddenly it stops. We are left without a satisfactory ending, and that is entirely on purpose. Why? Because the point of the book of Hosea is not to present a biography of the life of Hosea, but rather to show how God feels about his lost and rebellious people. The story of Hosea and Gomer is merely an introduction, while the story of God and Israel is the main event. No satisfactory ending is needed, because there was not a satisfactory ending in the story of God and Israel.
Yet for all of Israel’s rebellion and idolatry, God is still unwilling to give up on them. And thus we have another main theme in the book of Hosea. God’s love and faithfulness is not determined by the love and faithfulness of his people. He loves them and is faithful to them regardless of how they treat him. Chapter 11 spells this out clearly when God asks, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?” You can almost hear the pain in the voice of God as he asks this question. He loves Israel with an undying love, and yet that love is not returned.
But no discussion of the minor prophets would be complete without mentioning the themes of judgment and restoration. Hosea repeatedly warns the nation of impending judgment. God loves Israel and is faithful to them, but their actions have consequences and judgment is surely coming. Yet Hosea, like most of the other minor prophets, ends his book with the theme of hope. Israel will be judged, but there will also be a remnant that is restored. Thus, the theme of God’s faithfulness permeates the entire book.
So what does this mean for us? It is easy to look at a book that was written over 2,500 years ago and wonder how in the world it can possibly apply to me today. The reason that the book of Hosea is still applicable today is that it highlights the nature of God’s love and faithfulness. Through the story of Hosea and Gomer, we see a God who never gives up on his people. We see a God who will go to any lengths to redeem and restore his people. Indeed, we even see a God who would be willing to suffer humiliation and embarrassment if it meant that his people would return to him. In short, we see a very faint, but very powerful view of the cross.