- Main Text: Hosea 11:1-9
- Accompanying text: Mark 10:13-14
What this passage means to us
What is the state of Christianity today in Europe? Europe used to be the bastion of the Christian faith and was the heartland of the Protestant Reformation. That description no longer fits. What has happened? Some commentators see the current situation as part of the aftermath of two world wars. “Beyond question, Christian churches in modern-day Europe have declined precipitously in numbers and stature, or at least in some countries — loyalties remain stronger in eastern parts of the continent…While state-linked or state supported churches accounted for a sizable majority of Christian believers in 1914, today they claim only a tiny share. ‘Christendom’ in anything like its old sense has, in a century, come close to extinction” .
The message of Hosea transcends the centuries and proclaims a message of the God who cares to everyone caught up in crises and in conflicts. Divine tenderness is the keynote idea in Hosea’s prophecy: God cares for us despite our rejection of him.
Jonah, Amos and Hosea represented a new kind of prophet that appeared on the biblical scene. Before them prophets would act prophetically more than then they would preach, but with them came a new approach — prophets whose words became books of prophecy, who preached national repentance, and whose personal lives became living metaphors for future believers and for the religious community of their times. The reluctant Jonah preached repentance to the Gentile city of Nineveh and, as a result, the Gentile Assyrians repented, at least for a season. Amos, an unwelcome southerner from the Kingdom of Judah, preached a message of warning to the northern Kingdom of Israel, and it fell on deaf ears. Ten years or so after Amos’ prophecy, Hosea, in contrast, preached a message of grace and love, but it was also rejected by the Israelites. Hosea’s message brings to mind Paul’s words in Romans 2:4, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
We see similar situations today. Some areas are more receptive to the Gospel whereas others, whether we preach a message of warning or a message of grace, are just not interested in anything we might say. Europe seems to be a case in point: for the most part, it has become a spiritual wilderness.
Is there any hope for our people who have rejected the Gospel of grace, even so far as mocking the very name of Jesus? Hosea’s message is that God loves them still, even though they continue to reject his salvation and his way of wisdom. Hosea explains that God wants to bless his children (as also illustrated in Mark 10:13-14 when Jesus blessed the children), that God’s desire is to stoop down and feed them, which is fulfilled in the incarnation of Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
The Hebrew word for love in Hosea 11 is significant, and it is often used in the Psalms. It is not just a surface kind of love, but rather it refers to the loyal commitment of covenantal love. Not all translations provide the full impact of its meaning. It is “chesedh, used of the committed love the Lord has for his people. ‘Compassion’ is emotional love; chesedh, ever-unchanging/committed love is the love which says ‘I will’, love as a determination and commitment. ‘Compassion’ is heart love, being ‘in love’; chesedh is the commitment of true love, a declaration of the will” . For example, it’s used in Psalm 5:7, “the abundance of thy lovingkindness” (ASV), “the abundance of Your steadfast love and tender mercy” (AMP), “the abundance of your faithful love” (CSB), “your unfailing love” (NLT). Hosea describes the abundant, unfailing, faithful, steadfast, gracious, kind and committed love that the great God has for us and for all of humanity.
Hosea’s message pictures God as caring for us and as nursing us as we lie in the battlefields of life. God comes to us…he stoops down to lift us up into his arms and to comfort us. This is not a vengeful, angry god, the type of which the pagans would worship. And in the end this depiction of the incarnate God, Christ crucified, became foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling-block to the Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23). The loving God who is with us in Christ Jesus didn’t stack up with their preconceptions of what God should be like.
Context and Story Line
Hosea lived in the final years of the northern kingdom of Israel, and he may himself been involved in the early years of the first Assyrian captivity of 734 BC (see 2 Kings 15:29), an event also mentioned in the records of the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III. Despite the heartfelt pleading of God through the preaching of Hosea, the Israelites did not repent and in 722 BC the whole kingdom of Israel fell into Assyrian hands and disappeared forever from history, but not, of course, from biblical memory or from the mind of God.
Hosea had reminded the people of God’s lovingkindness in the face of Israel’s syncretic idolatry and clear repudiation of God and his ways. God’s desire was for mercy more than punishment. Hosea’s personal life was a living metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel in that, just as Hosea remained faithful to his wife, Gomer, despite her unfaithfulness to him, so God remains faithful to his covenant of love with Israel despite the people’s unfaithfulness to him. In Christ there remains hope. Matthew picks up the imagery of Hosea 11:1 when he explains that the child Jesus, the Hope of Israel, is called out of Egypt, which, due to the Exodus event, became the byword for captivity of any type (see Matthew 2:15). Thus in Christ we too are called out of the captivity of this present evil age in which humanity has become “full of bitterness and captive to sin” (Acts 8:23), “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8), and caught in the “the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26).
Hosea’s words remain full of hope, which, in the light of Christ, becomes the hope not only for Israel but everyone who has ever lived. Hope for us all, for those who have died in apparent hopelessness, be it from disease or by accident or in war. If we were God, we might decide to exact vengeance on those who reject us more than choosing a pathway to grace for them. But as for God, he explains that “all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger…For I am God, and not a man — the Holy One among you” (Hosea 11:8-9), “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them” (Hosea 14:4).
Hosea’s vision is that Israel will say, “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips” (Hosea 14:2). This gracious reception and forgiveness happen only through Jesus Christ. All who accept this grace in “the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God’” (Hosea 1:10). “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
• Isaiah 63:7-9
• 2 Peter 3:9
Other GCI resources
- • https://www.gci.org/articles/the-message-of-hosea-11/
- • http://www.daybyday.org.uk/index.php?s=13th+October+2019&x=0&y=0
- • http://www.daybyday.org.uk/index.php?s=6th+October+2019&x=0&y=0
- • http://www.daybyday.org.uk/index.php?s=12th+May+2014&x=0&y=0
Footnotes and references:
- 1. Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War 1 Changed Religion For Ever (Oxford, UK: Lion Books, 2014). 371.
- 2. Alex Motyer, Psalms by the Day: A New Devotional Translation (Ross-shire UK: Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 2016). 19.