There are few things which will inevitably damage and destroy a marriage, but adultery is one of them. Hosea had married an adulterous wife who he knew would be unfaithful to him. But that was prophetic symbolism of the ways that the nation of Israel had been unfaithful to their God, the one true God and their Saviour. All the Israelites had been guilty of chasing after false gods, to the point when God is ready to reject his chosen people altogether.
Hosea 2 2 ‘Rebuke your mother, rebuke her,
for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.
So God makes one last desperate plea to Israel and warns the nation that his judgment will fall unless she changes her ways.
Let her remove the adulterous look from her face
and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.
3 Otherwise I will strip her naked
and make her as bare as on the day she was born;
I will make her like a desert,
turn her into a parched land,
and slay her with thirst.
Over the centuries there were many sins that Israel fell into. In Hosea’s time the first was offering worship to idols and false gods.
Worshipping false gods
4 I will not show my love to her children,
because they are the children of adultery.
5 Their mother has been unfaithful
and has conceived them in disgrace.
She said, “I will go after my lovers,
who give me my food and my water,
my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.”
Led astray decades before by King Ahab and his Queen Jezebel, the false gods the Israelites had been worshipping were the Baals, the false gods of the Canaanites. They were fertility gods. Sacrifices were offered to the Baals to guarantee good harvests. But Israel’s unfaithfulness would have gone beyond spiritual adultery. Baal worship involved ritual prostitution, so many of the Israelites would have descended to physical immorality with each other and with the pagan tribes nearby. Those were sins which demanded the death penalty in the Law of Moses. Israel had “played the harlot” as the King James Authorised Version puts it. But before we judge the Israelites too harshly, let us remember the kind of world we live in, where immorality is everywhere and too often the church has remained silent. And too often, prominent church leaders have fallen into temptation as well. But as well as offering worship to these false gods, the Israelites were also putting their trust in them and
Depending on false gods
V 5. She said, “I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.”
Instead of relying on the one true God to provide for their needs, the Israelites were depending on the false gods the Baals for everything.
8 She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold— which they used for Baal.
Faith in Almighty God for good harvests had been replaced by trust in false gods. This failure to trust in God was just as much an act of unfaithfulness as actually offering worship to the false gods. Again we should listen to the warning – who or what do we put our trust in ro provide our needs and for our safety and security in the future? Are we relying on God, or do we sometimes rely on money or medicine or technology to keep us comfortable and safe? If we are not putting our trust in God alone, then we can be tempted into the same kind of spiritual unfaithfulness as Israel fell into.
God plans to call Israel to repentance
6 Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes;
I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.
7 She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
she will look for them but not find them.
Then she will say,
“I will go back to my husband as at first,
for then I was better off than now.”
Here we see the amazing grace of God that he doesn’t abandon Israel. His love will never let her go. So he embarks on a two stage plan to save his chosen people from their adultery. The first stage will bring punishment and then the second stage will reveal God’s love once again.
GOD’S PUNISHMENT for Israel’s sins
God’s punishment is an expression of his discipline. Firstly he will withdraw his blessing from Israel.
9 ‘Therefore I will take away my corn when it ripens, and my new wine when it is ready.
I will take back my wool and my linen, intended to cover her naked body.
The people were acting as though their harvests were coming from the false gods the Baals. God would show that all the blessings they enjoyed were from him – all his to give and equally all his to take away.
12 I will ruin her vines and her fig-trees, which she said were her pay from her lovers;
I will make them a thicket, and wild animals will devour them.
If God had kept on providing for Israel they would just have kept on ignoring him. So instead he takes his blessings away. With some people, sometimes God does withdraw his blessing to bring us to our knees so that we return to him. If he kept on prospering our lives we would keep on ignoring him. God needs to bring us to a low place before we acknowledge him again. That can be the only way that God brings some people to their senses. Sometimes the only way up is down!
Then God demonstrates the emptiness of the false gods
10 So now I will expose her lewdness before the eyes of her lovers;
no one will take her out of my hands.
11 I will stop all her celebrations: her yearly festivals, her New Moons,
her Sabbath days—all her appointed festivals.
By withdrawing his blessing, God was showing the Israelites that the pagan gods were completely powerless and that only the Almighty God of Israel was omnipotent. God needed to break the Israelites’ trust in the false gods so that they would reject and banish them entirely. Israel would need to return and put their trust in their God and Saviour once again.
13 I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals;
she decked herself with rings and jewellery, and went after her lovers, but me she forgot,’
declares the LORD.
That was the greatest sin the Israelites were committing. They had forgotten their God. They had forgotten all he had done in saving them from slavery and making them his chosen people and establishing them in the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey. The people had forgotten that is was God who provided for all their needs. So God would have to discipline the whole nation. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that God will sometimes deal with Christians in the same way.
Punishment as discipline
Hebrews 5 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Sometimes God will treat Christians as he treated Israel in Hosea’s time. Sometimes God will withdraw his blessing and take us through hard times so that we will come back to him and put our trust in him again. That was the first stage in God’s plan to bring Israel back to himself, to bring her to her knees. But that was only a preparation for the second stage of the plan, which reveals once again
GOD’S LOVE FOR ISRAEL
Just listen to the beautiful tenderness as God sets out to woo Israel once again.
14 ‘Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
All God wants is for his chosen people Israel to be a faithful wife once again. So God is not going to force Israel to love him. Instead he will gently court her and win her back. Such amazing grace! And God’s love for us is just as beautiful and tender.
The word Achor means trouble. The Valley of Achor was the place where judgment fell on Achan as we read in Joshua 7. Achan kept some of the spoils from the fall of Jericho for himself when God had commanded that they should all be consecrated to the Lord. So Achan’s crime was the first act of disobedience and his execution by stoning was the first punishment God commanded after the Israelites had entered to take possession of the Promised Land. The Valley of Achor, this place of punishment and place of trouble in the past, would become instead a symbol of hope for Israel.
God promises to give Israel
An even richer relationship
16 ‘In that day,’ declares the LORD, ‘you will call me “my husband”;
you will no longer call me “my master”.
17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked.
Worshippers of the Baals called their false gods “my master”. In contrast, the nation of Israel would call God “my husband” and she would not just be his treasured possession and his holy nation. Israel would be his bride.
So there would be a new betrothal.
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.
19 I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion. 20 I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.
Israel would have a new relationship with God, an even deeper relationship characterized by righteousness and justice and love and compassion and faithfulness. These beautiful promises will obviously remind you of the words we looked at just a few months ago from Psalm 85
Psalm 85 10 Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.
12 The LORD will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.
13 Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.
Wonderful promises which of course ultimately find fulfilment in the marriage of The Messiah, the Christ, and his Bride the church. A new betrothal, and even deeper relationship, and then there are promises of
Even greater blessings
21 ‘In that day I will respond,’ declares the LORD—
‘I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth;
22 and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and the olive oil,
and they will respond to Jezreel.
23 I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called “Not my loved one”.
I will say to those called “Not my people”, “You are my people”;
and they will say, “You are my God.” ’
However much righteous anger God felt for Israel, he never stopped loving them. The symbolic names given by Hosea to his children revealed the extent of God’s judgment. But here is the wonderful promise that those names will be reversed. “Not my loved one” will be blessed with so much love. God will say once again to those who were “not my people”, “you are my people.” And once again his chosen people will respond, “you are my God.”
So although Israel must face God’s punishment for their unfaithfulness, Hosea promises that one day God’s love will win his chosen people back to himself. However great their sins may be, God’s love and mercy is greater. The theme of this chapter is indeed judgment, but it is even more a glorious theme of hope. And this gives us encouragement and hope. Even if we drift away from God, his love will never let us go. He may discipline us. But then God’s love will always woo us and win us back. We will always be his people and his beloved ones. And we will always ultimately say once again, “you are my God”.