Before we started this week, we watched this wonderful overview video from The Bible Project. They have many free videos and resources available to enhance your study of God’s Word at their website.
Hosea is a great compliment to our Ruth study. It’s another love story. If you read Hosea this week as Kelly suggested, you know it’s just like Ruth, right? Ok, let’s be honest, this book seems nothing like Ruth. And yet, it is a love story. It’s a story of God’s lavish love for his people. A love that defies expectations and common sense.
Part of what makes Hosea seem difficult is the language. The book is mainly poetry. This poetical language sounds strange to our ears. Furthermore, Hosea wrote his poetry over 2,700 years ago. I don’t know about you but sometimes even modern poetry is a stretch for me.
Another reason the book may seem inaccessible is that it takes sin seriously. We are so immersed in a culture that doesn’t take sin seriously sometimes we forget what an offense against God sin is. It’s easy for us to see the offense of sin when someone sins against us but this book calls us to meditate on sin and its offense against God.
But it’s also a story of God’s love for sinners, for sinners like you and me. Hosea will cause us to meditate on Paul’s words in Romans 5:8 “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This could be the theme verse for our study. When we see the offensiveness of sin more clearly, God’s amazing love will be more evident.
Pray as You Read the Book of Hosea
The most important thing we can do is to pray as we read this book. Mary-Alice reminded me of this a few weeks ago. She recounted how she prayed as she started studying the book and the Holy Spirit opened her eyes and helped her to understand it. We need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes so we can understand this book and apply it to our hearts. So, let’s commit to praying as we study this book.
Understand Where Hosea Fits into Biblical History
Second, recognizing where this book fits in Biblical history will help us understand the book more clearly.
Now let’s unpack the timeline. How does the book of Hosea relate to what came before in the Biblical timeline? It relates through covenants. You all are probably familiar with covenants.
A covenant is an agreement between two parties in which there are obligations to be met. If those obligations are met there will be blessings. If the obligations are not met, it will result in terrible consequences. A covenant was a form that was common in the Ancient Near East during the time of Biblical events.
One of the most important covenants was the Mosaic Covenant or as it is sometimes referred to – the Old Covenant.
One of the reasons It’s called the Mosaic covenant is that it took place at Mt. Sinai and Moses was the one who mediated the covenant between God and the Israelites. The covenant is spelled out in Exodus 19-24. We could spend a lot of time talking about the intricacies of the covenant but Exodus 19:5-6 sums it up very concisely.
5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
At Sinai the Israelites promised to obey God and God promised that if they did they would be his treasured possession. Furthermore, God would bless his people by giving them the promised land and showering blessings upon them in that land.
So, we have the two parties of the covenant. God and the Israelites. Moses is the mediator. The Israelites are to obey God and God will bless them if they do obey. Seems like a good deal. But we all know what happens don’t we? The people don’t even leave Mt. Sinai before they start disobeying the Lord. Aaron leads them in worship to a golden calf. And it pretty much goes downhill from there. We have a high point with King David but that doesn’t last long.
So, how does the Old Covenant relate to Hosea? Well, after the people had been committing terrible sins for hundreds and hundreds of years, God had had enough. The people had broken the covenant and it was time to invoke the consequences of breaking the covenant. That consequence was being cast out of the promised land, exile.
The people who came to warn the Israelites about impending exile were the prophets. The prophets came to prosecute God’s covenant lawsuit against the people. In other words, they came to tell the Israelites that they had repeatedly broken the covenant by not obeying God and if they didn’t repent quickly and sincerely, exile was imminent. Hosea was one of those prophets. So, we can expect Hosea to be detailing Israel’s sin against God and prophesying exile. Look for those themes as you read the book.
In Hosea 4:1 the prophet says, “Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.” Hosea is telling the people that they’ve broken the Old Covenant. He goes on to say “There is not faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land.” Hosea is then going to specifically list Israel’s unfaithfulness in the following chapters. Hosea will also tell the people what the consequences will be if they don’t repent. Of course, we know they won’t repent and they will go into exile.
The book of Hosea is rooted in the Old Covenant. However, we know that exile was not the end of the story. God was not finished with his people. We learn about a new covenant that God is going to establish with his people in Jeremiah 31:31-34.
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
As I said before Hosea is rooted in the Old Covenant but it also looks forward to this New Covenant that God is going to establish with his people. This new covenant is established when Jesus bears the curse our sin deserved so that we can be given a new heart, a heart that will perfectly obey God when we are glorified.
Keep the Old and New Covenants in mind when you study Hosea and it will help you immensely. Ask yourself – Is this a place where Hosea is prosecuting God’s covenant lawsuit because the people have broken the Old Covenant or is he alluding to the New Covenant?
Here are some examples of Old Covenant language in Hosea. Hosea is speaking of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God in Hosea 4:12 when he says,
“My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore.”
More Old Covenant language is found in Hosea 5:9. In this verse Hosea is telling Israel they will be punished for their sin:
“Ephraim shall become a desolation in the day of punishment; among the tribes of Israel I make know what is sure.”
An example of New Covenant language is found in Hosea 2:18-20
18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish[a] the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety.19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.
Recognize the Poetic Elements in Hosea
The third thing that will help us understand this book is remembering that it is mostly poetry. Poetry allows us to experience truth in new ways. It appeals to our senses. It almost allows us to feel the truth. Some of you will resonate with this. For others of us it will be a stretch.
When you are reading Hosea zoom out – don’t get bogged down. Try to summarize the passage after you have done the study. This will help you zoom out and make sense of the whole. Write down questions you have or things you don’t understand. This also might keep you from getting bogged down.
Let’s spend a few minutes talking about how to study Hebrew Poetry. Hosea is using poetry to make his points. Hebrew poetry uses a lot of repetition. You will notice the repetition in Hosea. Rather than getting fed up with it remind yourself Hosea is talking to Israel (and us) about serious matters and he wants to make sure they (and we) get it.
Parallelism is a hallmark of Hebrew poetry. Parallelism is two lines that essentially say the same thing. In addition, the second line may contradict or add to what first line said.
As you read Hosea try to identify the poetic elements. There is imagery (visual symbolism), simile (comparing two things using like or as), metaphor (comparing two things without using like or as), anthropomorphism (attributing human characteristics to God or an object) in the book of Hosea.
Examples of Poetic Elements in Hosea.
Hosea’s relationship with adulterous Gomer is an extended image in Hosea. It is a visual symbol of faithful God’s relationship with unfaithful Israel. There are many images throughout the book of Hosea. If you attempt to take those images literally you will tie yourself up in knots and miss the point. This is where those of us who are more linear thinkers will get into trouble. Take a step back. Appreciate the image. Ask yourself – What is Hosea trying to communicate through the image?
Hosea 4:16 contains a simile. “Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn.” Israel would not normally be compared to a heifer but they can be compared because they share the trait of stubbornness. By using this surprising comparison, Hosea highlights Israel’s stubbornness.
In Hosea 5:13 we find three sets of parallel lines and anthropomorphism. Ephraim is given human qualities as it is compared sick man.
When Ephraim saw his sickness,
and Judah his wound,
then Ephraim went to Assyria,
and sent to the great king
But he is not able to cure you
or heal your wound.
Some of you will be fine just doing the study guide. Others of you will want more. I hope this overview will give you some tools to go deeper on your own. Let me encourage you again to try to summarize the passage in one or two sentences after you have studied it every week. Remember we did this every week in our Ruth study. It’s hard work but it will make your study of Hosea more profitable.
Also, the website www.esvbible.org. will give you access to the ESV Study Bible. The guide will give you an overview of each section, some context, and will explain potentially difficult verses.
I look forward to studying this book with you all. I would encourage you to read through the entire book of Hosea in one sitting at least one or two more times this week.
As I conclude let’s remind ourselves of the big picture of Hosea – The people of Israel have disobeyed. They have broken the Mosaic Covenant through hundreds of years of persistent and willful sin. Hosea has come to call them to account for that sin. Hosea also says that God is a husband who lavishly loves his wife, Israel, despite her wickedness. And there is still time to repent. Hosea is calling the Northern Kingdom to repent right then and there. But God and we know they won’t repent. They will be sent into exile as a punishment for breaking the covenant. But there are echoes of a new covenant in Hosea – a covenant in which the relationship between God and his people will be restored through the work of Christ.