Let’s look briefly at the background of the book of Hosea. It was written by a prophet named Hosea during the 700s BC over a period of about 40 years. The book opens during a prosperous time in Israel, but by the close of the book, Israel is on the verge of collapse (defeated and exiled by Assyria in 722BC). The first part of the book contains Hosea’s personal story which becomes an illustration of the story of God and Israel. The remainder of the book presents a series of prophetic warnings to the people of Israel.
Hosea is not the easiest book to read and study. It is often dark and even harsh. After presenting Hosea’s personal story the prophetic messages continue in chapter 4.
“Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
2 There is only cursing,[a] lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away.” (Hosea 4:1-3)
“My people consult a wooden idol,
and a diviner’s rod speaks to them.
A spirit of prostitution leads them astray;
they are unfaithful to their God.
13 They sacrifice on the mountaintops
and burn offerings on the hills,” (Hosea 4:12-13a)
God opens by lambasting the people. We continue to read the book and it seems like God is hammering away at the people of Israel. Can’t they catch a break?
What does wrestling with passages like this tell us? We see the human struggle. People are constantly tempted and faced with the reality of sin. As Hosea shares God’s message we learn that God takes sin very seriously and that there are consequences for sin. God cannot tolerate sin. Not because he is a divine megalomaniac but because sin separates people from him. It is the opposite of holiness and freedom.
Hosea 4:16 tells us “The Israelites are stubborn,
like a stubborn heifer.
How then can the Lord pasture them
like lambs in a meadow?”
Essentially God is telling the people that they are acting how they will be treated. They can’t be stubborn and go their own way and expect God to lead them to peaceful meadows. They appear to not want to be led. Essentially this is the problem of sin. Sin is a rebellion against God. Sin is when people say to God, I am in control of my own life. I will do it on my own. I choose not to follow you. One of my daughter Eve’s favourite phrases right now is “my do it” or “I want to do it myself.” Now a two year old and an adult are a little different. But we’re not so different in our attitude. When we sin or ignore God essentially we’re saying to God “my do it.”
We see this illustrated in Hosea. The book opens at a very successful and prosperous time in the history of Israel. The Israelites had come to rely on their armies and alliances with other nations for military protection. They turned to idols for spiritual worship in hopes that the fertility cults would enhance their harvests. They has stopped caring what God thought. They had stopped relying on him.
The message that Hosea gives over and over in the book is that Israel needs to repent of their sins and return to God. Maybe Israel would get the message and things would turn around. However the problems described in Hosea led to a decline first in economic and material conditions and eventually to the downfall of Israel. Success without God was short lived. Israel was conquered by Assyria and deported out of the land. There were consequences for their actions. Their success had led them to turn away from God. We might ask: How could a good God let something like this happen?
God is good, but there is thing called sin. When we talk about sin, we often talk about it as a problem. This is because sin is a problem. The biggest problem humanity has ever faced. Yet God does not leave us alone in our sin. Despite Israel’s failures, God did not stop calling to them. He did not walk away. He sent prophet after prophet to warn them and call them back. We may very well have to face the consequences of sin like Israel did after Hosea, but there is hope for the future. After pages and pages of warnings Hosea ends in chapter 14 on a note of hope.
“Return, Israel, to the Lord your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
2 Take words with you
and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
“Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips.[b]
3 Assyria cannot save us;
we will not mount warhorses.
We will never again say ‘Our gods’
to what our own hands have made,
for in you the fatherless find compassion.”
4 “I will heal their waywardness
and love them freely,
for my anger has turned away from them.
5 I will be like the dew to Israel;
he will blossom like a lily.
Like a cedar of Lebanon
he will send down his roots;
6 his young shoots will grow.
His splendor will be like an olive tree,
his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.
7 People will dwell again in his shade;
they will flourish like the grain,
they will blossom like the vine--
Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.
8 Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
I will answer him and care for him.
I am like a flourishing juniper;
your fruitfulness comes from me.”
9 Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
the righteous walk in them,
but the rebellious stumble in them.” (Hosea 14)
Though Hosea is often dark, it ends with hope and a prescription for the problem of sin. To get to this point you have to persevere and finish the book. The answer to sin is clear, people must repent. With repentance comes the restoration of full relationship with God. At the time Hosea’s messages were given, the arrival of Jesus was some 700 years away but this passage points to the future redemption he would bring. These final verses of Hosea are about the future restoration of Israel. Despite all of their problems and sins, historically God restored the nation and the people returned from exile. However, the fullness of the restoration described in Hosea will not be realized until the second coming of Christ. The future restoration of Israel despite their past shows people that no matter what you have or haven’t done or how much guilt or shame you feel God is not done with you. There is always hope for restoration. If the book of Hosea teaches us anything, it’s that God takes sin seriously, but that repentance is always possible. Don’t sit on the fence today, take this opportunity to make things right with God if you need to. He’s waiting for a response.
 Barker and Kohlenberger III eds, Expositors Bible Commentary Abridged Edition: Old Testament, 1994, 1407