The very last of God’s prophets to speak to the apostate northern kingdom of Israel, Hosea is sometimes called the “death-bed prophet of Israel.” As the ten idolatrous northern tribes neared their rendezvous with Divine punishment at the hands of king Sennacherib and his Assyrian Empire, Hosea warned of the destruction coming upon them because of their faithlessness. His message was vividly illustrated by the behavior of his own wife – Gomer was as shamelessly unfaithful to him as Israel had been toward God. Hosea’s message of suffering and punishment emphasizes that God’s love for His people is an exclusive relationship. Just as there should have been no one other than Hosea in Gomer’s affection, Israel should have loved no god other than the Lord.
The names of Gomer’s three children (Hosea 1:3-9) are significant because the meanings of these names – Jezreel, Loruhamah, and Loammi – describe how Israel had progressed away from fellowship with her God. First, God promises punishment for their sinfulness (vs. 4); next, He warns them that He will show no mercy in executing His judgement against them. This is a sharp contrast to their kinspeople in Judah (vv. 6-7). Finally, He disowns/divorces them entirely because of their persistent wickedness (vs. 9). Even in this harsh judgement, however, the Holy Spirit inspired Hosea to hold out the hope of restoration along with Judah, through the Christ (vv. 10-11).
As God uses the agony of Hosea’s betrayal by Gomer to illustrate how Israel had betrayed Him (ch.2), He also points toward their only hope (vv. 14-15) – the symbolism of the Valley of Achor. This is a reference to Joshua 7, and the sin of Achan (theft) at the conquest of Jericho. In “cleansing” the nation of Achan’s wicked influence, Joshua and the people had restored their relationship with God. Here, Hosea is emphasizing to Israel that the key to restoring their relationship with God is for them also to “get sin out of the camp!” There’s no way we can expect to enjoy Heaven’s blessings, and a healthy relationship with God, so long as we tolerate or encourage sin among His people.
The terrible sentence of Hosea 4:6 should serve as a permanent indictment of every lazy bible student in all time; “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Ignorance of God and His will is THE fastest, most certain method of committing spiritual “suicide” – and most people in our world are doing precisely that! Instead of focusing only on the memorable opening words of this verse, however, Christians ought to carefully and soberly meditate about the consequences that Hosea goes on to say will result from such ignorance! As a parallel to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:23, it should stop every one of us “dead in our tracks” to think that God might say to any of us, “I reject you… I will also forget your children.”
Chapter 4:4-6 provides a sharp commentary on the kind of “commitment” too many Christians are comfortable offering to God; “Ephraim’s” love for God is said to be like morning dew, which quickly evaporates in the sunshine (“Ephraim” is national Israel). Verse 6 makes the point that what God wants from His people is consistency, steadfast commitment and familiarity with His will (knowledge), rather than spasmodic religious “gestures” (offerings) that quickly fade from memory.
Hosea 10:12 makes the plain and sharp point that having a good relationship with God, and enjoying His blessings is only one half of a two-way street. We must plant righteousness in order to harvest His love, and we cannot simply “coast” through this life if we want Him to bless us. We must take the initiative to turn the unproductive parts of our lives into useful “fields” in which He can plant righteousness (i.e., break up our own “fallow” ground).
One final thought to glean from Hosea’s message echoes deafeningly in chapter 13:4– “I am the Lord your God… and besides me there is no savior” (emphasis mine, DR).