Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

According to my notes, I read The Book Of Hosea a while back. Out loud. And yet, there are no notes in the margin of my Bible, and I have no memory of any of it, save of course for the strangely familiar chapter 15, verse 14.

Anyway, not one to mistrust my notes, today on the train I read the whole thing in my head, and found I was marking quite a few bits. This isn't further evidence that I’d missed it earlier – it's just that I tend to mark verses more now than I used to.

I also tend to read books one chapter at a time, however I discovered that I think Hosea works pretty well in one sitting. Why? Well, because of (ready?) because of its almighty contradictions.

First up, just as in the other prophecy books I've read recently, woe is the order of the day. Sometimes I write these things a bit flippantly, but here's where I back off. Read this death of all hope for the people of Ephraim from chapter 9:

Hosea 9:11-17 (NIV):

Ephraim's glory will fly away like a bird—
no birth, no pregnancy, no conception.
Even if they rear children,
I will bereave them of every one.
Woe to them
when I turn away from them!
I have seen Ephraim, like Tyre,
planted in a pleasant place.
But Ephraim will bring out
their children to the slayer."
Give them, O LORD—
what will you give them?
Give them wombs that miscarry
and breasts that are dry.

"Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal,
I hated them there.
Because of their sinful deeds,
I will drive them out of my house.
I will no longer love them;
all their leaders are rebellious.
Ephraim is blighted,
their root is withered,
they yield no fruit.
Even if they bear children,
I will slay their cherished offspring."

My God will reject them
because they have not obeyed him;
they will be wanderers among the nations.

Much of Hosea is about the terrible things that will happen as a result of turning away from God. Not in hatred, but in simple discipline. I'm guessing that the people had had many earlier opportunities to turn away from hurting each other, and that these are the extreme measures that God is finally onto.

By chapter 11 things are still looking pretty bad...

Hosea 11:1-7 (NIV):

"When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more I [Hebrew they] called Israel,
the further they went from me. [Hebrew them]
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love;
I lifted the yoke from their neck
and bent down to feed them.

"Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
Swords will flash in their cities,
will destroy the bars of their gates
and put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me.
Even if they call to the Most High,
he will by no means exalt them.

That last verse is pretty interesting isn't it? If "the Most High" means God, then even if they do turn back to God, things are not going to be brilliant. They literally don’t have a prayer.

I have to say, I don't get that.

And then, out of nowhere, verse 8 suddenly happens...

Hosea 11:8-9 (NIV):

"How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboiim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man—
the Holy One among you.
I will not come in wrath. [Or come against any city]

That sounds like forgiveness. I guess I shouldn't have taken verse 7 in isolation above, as it's clearly meant to be read together with what immediately followed.

Following straight on...

Hosea 11:10-11 (NIV):

They will follow the LORD;
he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
his children will come trembling from the west.
They will come trembling
like birds from Egypt,
like doves from Assyria.
I will settle them in their homes,"
declares the LORD.

And it all still seems to come together with a choice from us to turn back to him. Turning back in fear? Yes, but a big bully can make that happen. Turning back in fear with a realisation that we're wrong and he's right? Okay, we're out of bully-territory now, so long as God actually is completely right.

Once again, God is prepared to go to whatever lengths we are to turn us back from bad to good. No matter how evil we get, he's prepared to show us the equivalent reasons why it's wrong, until we learn it and turn away.

Often our suffering seems completely unrelated to the sins that we know we've committed. We wind up calling events 'random.' It's a bit trite to say that "God has a reason that we don't understand," so I guess in these instances we should start trying to find one. That doesn't answer the question, I know.

I have to wonder if some of our suffering is so that others can learn. I certainly believe that Jesus' suffering was.

Hosea certainly gets to suffer that others may learn what to make right in their lives. Early on God asks Hosea to show everyone an extremely stark picture of God's relationship with us, and feelings for us.

Hosea 1:2-9 (NIV):

When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, "Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD." So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
Then the LORD said to Hosea, "Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel's bow in the Valley of Jezreel."
Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the LORD said to Hosea, "Call her Lo-Ruhamah, [Lo-Ruhamah means not loved] for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the LORD their God."
After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the LORD said, "Call him Lo-Ammi, [Lo-Ammi means not my people] for you are not my people, and I am not your God.

Hosea 3 (NIV):

The LORD said to me, "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes."
So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, "You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you."
For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.


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