This Message is Important and Here is Why We Need to Listen
Prophets sometimes do strange bizarre things. For three years. Isaiah embarrassed people by walking the streets dressed like a prisoner of war. For several months, Jeremiah carried a yoke of oxen on his shoulders. The prophet Ezekiel acted like a little boy and “played war,” and another time he used a haircut as a theological object lesson. When his wife suddenly died. Ezekiel even turned that painful experience into a sermon.
Why did these men do these bizarre things?
“These peculiar things” were really acts of mercy. The people of God had become deaf to God’s voice and were no longer paying attention to His covenant. The Lord called His servants to do these strange things — these “action sermons” in hopes that the people would wake up and listen to what they had to say. Only then could the nation escape God’s discipline and judgment.
No prophet preached a more painful “reality sermon” than Hosea. He was instructed to marry a prostitute named Gomer who subsequently bore him three children, and he wasn’t even sure the last two children were fathered by him. Then Gomer left him for another man, and Hosea had the humiliating responsibility of buying back his own wife.
What was this all about? It was a vivid picture of what the people of Israel had done to their God by prostituting themselves to idols and committing “spiritual adultery.” Since God’s people today face the same temptation (James 4:4), we need to listen to what Hosea wrote for his people. Everyone of the persons in this reality (before) TV drama Hosea, Gomer, and the three children important teachable spiritual moments about the God whom Israel was disobeying and grieving.
To the end of the book of Hosea (chapter 14 verse 9), the prophet attached a recommendation to any readers.
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them.
His conclusion is that by taking an intentional look into his life and having an honest conversation about his message and sayings, one can find the spiritual wisdom and teachable moments that can help the reader not only to avoid much personal pain and spiritual disaster, but also appreciate and understand the deeper and prophetic insight left by the prophet. God will restore the adulterous, broken, betrayed, disobedient, and help the lost find their way back from the great distance and darkness of sin.
“If you want, you can always come back to the good and right ways of God – you can always come back, and you can walk upright.”
As a prophet and spokesman for God with an obvious role in the history of Israel’s religious heritage (both good and bad), Hosea is a significant and crucial figure in the Old Testament. His message, sayings, and personal life point to the original source of a current of faith and tradition that flows from Deuteronomy, to II Kings, to Isaiah and Jeremiah, to the ministry of Jesus, and forward towards making a relevant connection in our present day relationship with Christ. None surpass Hosea in the passion and creativeness of his prophecy. Because of the almost unthinkably difficult thing that God asked him to do in his personal life, Hosea spoke out of a feeling of identification and trust with his God that carries with it a weight of convincing authenticity. He is not stuck someplace in ancient history, some six or seven hundred years before the time of Jesus. Hosea is very real – both then and now. He was a man of exceptional emotional range, able to reflect in his own experience and feelings the scope of divine wrath as well as those of greatest of compassions. Through the obedience of Hosea, using a clear message, prophetic sayings, and his personal life experience – Yahweh, the God of Israel, wages His final battle against Baal for the soul of His people, and we all get to learn from it. (See who is Baal)
The religious and political climate of Israel during the life, message, and sayings of the prophet Hosea unfolds like this. The nation of Israel is divided into two kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). Assyria has control over Israel during this time, but they are operating under a co-regency contract agreement (vassal) allowing Israel its own political and religious freedoms (within the reason and restriction of Assyria). The prophetic career of Hosea began during these prosperous and peaceful years of King Jeroboam II and closed as the history of the northern kingdom of Israel moved toward its tragic ending under King Hoshea-ben-elah, at the hands of the Assyrians. The events and conditions of that quarter of a century (755–720 B.C.) represent Hosea’s life and ministry to God’s people and are reflected everywhere in the message and sayings of Hosea.
By the time Hosea named his first son Jezreel (scattered), as a prophecy against the house of Jehu, the great-grandson of Jehu, Jeroboam II (786–746), was on the throne as king. Hosea’s marriage and the birth of three children logically would have happened during Jeroboam’s reign, so the strange beginning of his career could be accurately dated around 750 B.C. Much of the material in the first chapters of Hosea mirrors those early years of social stability and economic prosperity under Jeroboam II (1.2–9; 2.2–15; 4.1–5.7). But the “good times” would not last, as Hosea’s prophecy foretold of a “wake-up and judgement” in Israel for their continued arrogance that produced idolatrous and adulterous behavior in Jeroboam’s successors and throughout the kingdom. It all began to fully unravel when Jeroboam II’s son, Zechariah (746–745), became king and was then murdered in a hostile takeover by Shallum, who in turn died at the hand of Menahem (745–738). They were just getting started. The bloody art of power and politics by conspiracy and murder would now be the new normal in the downward spiral of Israel (7.7; 8.4).
In 745, Tiglath-pileser III ascended the throne of Assyria. He was not amused at the arrogance and political treachery of Israel and the processes of international history that signaled the fall of Israel were set in motion. Tilglath-pilesar III was an ambitious and talented ruler whose goal was a submissive empire. By 743, he was leading a military campaign against the west to make sure that submission happened. Menahem who was now king of Israel, quickly decided that submission was the best and most healthy policy to keep his life and crown – so he paid a heavy financial tribute to Tilglath that would come from the landholders and merchants of Israel. The strategy of seeking safety by vacillation between accommodation to Assyria and resistance with Egyptian collusion was initiated (Hosea 7.11). When Pekahiah (son of Manahem 738–737) succeeded his father, the patriots of Israel who bitterly resented Menahem’s submission, rallied to a military coup led by Pekah-ben -Remaliah. Remaliah murdered the young king (Pekahiah), and seized the throne (737–732), and set about the formation of an anti-Assyrian coalition. This was a bad idea (Hosea 5.8–11). In 733, Tiglath-pileser came to settle accounts with Pekah-ben-Remaliah’s rebels. He ravaged the land, deported much of the population, and appropriated most of Israel’s territory, leaving only the capital city of Samaria, and the hill country of Ephraim to what was left of the kingdom. The remnant was saved when Pekah ben-Remaliah (who had somehow survived) was then murdered by Hoshea-ben-Elah who promptly re-submitted to Assyria, paid increased tribute, and assumed Israel’s throne as a restricted co-regent (basically a servant) of Tiglath-pileser (Hosea 5.13; 8.9).
For a time Hoshea-ben-elah (732–724) was subservient and Israel had a breathing space (8 years) of relative quiet. Many of Hosea’s “messages and sayings” in chapters 9–12 would fit into this chronological timeline. But Hoshea-ben-elah was not content to remain a servant and began to seek Egyptian support for another revolt (Hosea 9.3; 11.5; 12.1). So, when Shalmaneser V (727–722) succeeded Tiglath-pileser, Hoshea-ben-elah saw the opportunity to withhold the tribute money. This too, was a bad idea. In chapters 13–14, Hosea echoes the disastrous consequences of the revolt. In 724, Shalmaneser was in Palestine, and moved quickly to shutdown Hoshea-ben-elah and make him captive (Hosea 13.10). Israel’s armies were defeated and the capital Samaria was besieged. Hosea’s last prophecy anticipated the fall of Samaria (13.16); nothing of its fall is reflected in his words. The preservation of his messages in Judean circles indicates that he or some of his associates escaped to the southern kingdom during the final months of Israel’s existence.
TO BE CONTINUED…