A testimony to God’s steadfast lovingkindness towards Israel and Judah.
From the start, Hosea tells the story of our God whose unfailing love paves the way for the redemption of God’s people even as they commit adultery with every lover they can find.
Read Hosea 1-2. Note the intentionality of the writing. Pay attention to the meaning of the names. Let the movement of the plot become apparent. Watch carefully what God is doing behind the scenes.
It is astounding. It is delightful. It is transforming.
The book is likely written in the final days before Israel’s exile during the rapid succession of kings (six in twenty-five years). God pled with God’s people through many prophets to turn back from their idolatrous ways to avoid the cleansing God would bring through the exile.
In verse 1:2, Hosea is instructed by God to go take a wife, Gomer, from among to harlots and to have children with her, an analogy for Israel and Judah’s adultery.
Three children are born.
The first is named Jezreel in reference to a massacre in 1 Kings 9-10.
The second child is a daughter named Lo-ruhamah, meaning “she has not obtained compassion.” God tells Hosea to name the innocent this for, “…I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I should ever forgive them” (1:6b).
A third child is born. Another son. His name means “not my people.” Verse 1:9 reads:
“And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.”
Chapter two opens with the two younger siblings instructed to contend with their mother for her harlotry. Hosea writes of how Gomer cheated on the children’s father and warns the father will strip the mother naked and leave her exposed unless she repents of her adultery and no compassion will be had for the woman’s children.
Such brutality is shocking to modern Western readers.
But then something beautiful happens in 2:6.
The harlot’s husband says something even more shocking!
He tells the children of prostitution that even as their mother pursues her lovers, she will never overtake them. He has put a hedge up along her way. He has walled the paths so that she can run, but she cannot hide from him. She can seek her false lovers, but she will never find fulfillment with them.
‘Then she will say, “I will go back to my first husband,
For it was better for me then than now!”‘
What Israel does not know is that God provided for all her needs while she chased her false lovers. The grain, the new wine, the oil. Even the silver and gold which she and her lovers sacrificed to Baal were lavished upon the her by the harlot’s husband, God.
Still, God says, she will be punished for her unfaithfulness in the sight of her lovers.
But then. Oh, then, declares the Lord, “I will allure her” (2:14b).
Did you hear that? God will allure the bride who ran off after all her lovers, chasing them with God’s own gold and silver, new wine and oil.
God loves God’s bride so richly, so heavenly, that even the ones called “Not My People” and “She Has Not Obtained Compassion” are worthy of God’s alluring efforts.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness,
And speak kindly to her” (2:14).
And God does. After the adultery/idolatry is removed from the people by means of the exile, the people are brought back to their land. The bride returns to her first love.
“And it will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi [husband]” (2:16).
Hosea 2 ends like a letter between two lovers. No more false lovers, no more war. Israel will lie down in safety, betrothed to God forever in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion.
God will betroth God’s bride to himself in faithfulness and she will know the Lord.
And God will respond.
God will respond in the heavens and Israel will respond on the earth.
And the earth will respond with grain and wine and oil 2:18-23.
In grand triumph, the children return:
I will also have compassion on
her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who
were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they will say, Thou art my God!’ (2:23 b,c)
(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)
This is the story of God and Israel.
It is my story.
My precious love story with God who allures me.
Yes. God strips me bare and uncovers my nakedness in front of my false gods.
Then God removes those unkind lovers from my lips and betroths me to God forever.
This is also your story.
(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)
God is always seeking God’s people. Providing for them.
Loving you steadfastly and making a way for you to be found.
Let God’s lovingkindness and compassion wash over you.
God calls you God’s people.
Christine Fox Parker serves as President/Executive Director of PorchSwing Ministries, Inc., a non-profit ministry she founded to offer healing and safe space to survivors of all forms of church abuse and to educate churches and Christian institutions in creating safer spaces and improving care for abuse survivors. She earned a Masters in Christian Ministry and a Master’s in Counseling from Harding School of Theology.
A popular speaker and teacher across the country, Christine co-edited and contributed to Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for God’s Broken, published by Leafwood Press in May 2018.
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23
It often seems that when God wants to tell humanity what He wants from them He gives them laws. Think of the 10 Commandments. Consider that the first five books of the Bible are called the Books of Law. Ponder the Sermon on the Mount. Reflect on the imperatives of 1 Timothy 5. Law and requisite obedience loom heavy as we endeavour to live in a manner that honors God.
Surprisingly, the Hebrew prophets who mostly rail against Judah and Israel for their disobedience and rejection of God, also point us to values closer to God’s heart than obedience.
In Jeremiah 9:13 the prophet writes, “The Lord said, “It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law.” The consequence of this disobedience is described in v16 “ I will scatter them among nations that neither they nor their ancestors have known, and I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them.”
Despite this focus upon Judah’s faithfulness to God’s law we find an important insight in verse 23-24.
Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.
In these verses God discounts wisdom, power, and wealth. I’m not sure if the parallel is intended but these three traits match up closely to the way God blessed Solomon in 1 Kings 3:10-15. In other settings God grants these attributes as blessings. However, Jeremiah’s context the blessings had become the objects of admiration, rather than the One who gave the blessings.
God then calls upon Judah to “know me“. He longs for his people to know Him, and he goes on to facilitate such knowing by describing Himself. God “acts with steadfast love (hesed), justice, and righteousness.” As a stand alone statement it’s good to know that these positive traits contribute to God’s motivation when He acts. This is particularly true in light of the earlier words of the chapter.
God’s final words in v24 give these 3 characteristics even greater significance. Steadfast love, justice, and righteousness are not just motivating traits, they’re virtues that God delights in! These are values close to God’s heart that make Him smile.
While God may bless us with wisdom, power and wealth, we must ensure we don’t idolise the gift rather than worshiping the Giver.
While God desires for us to keep His law, our relationship with Him is not founded upon obedience. I equate obedience with a parent telling a child to clean her bedroom or take out the trash. The chores build character, discipline and responsibility. There’ll be consequences if the chores aren’t done. But if children really want to make their parents smile, they’ll buy flowers, write a card, sing a song, or give a gift their parents value. It’s these latter actions that mean more to a parent’s heart.
So God tells his people what means the most to Him: steadfast love, justice and righteousness. When we integrate these values into our daily lives, God delights and smiles at us.
God smiles when we persist at loving the people in our lives who make it difficult.
God smiles when we stand with those who are disadvantaged, neglected and abused.
God smiles when we make choices to do the right thing treating others with respect and equality.
Yes, we can put a smile on God’s face when we build our lives around the virtues that delight Him.
Sadly, churches have too often given the impression that obedience is the value at the core of God’s being and the only thing He delights in. Jeremiah emphasises obedience, but gives greater priority to knowing God and His steadfast love, justice, and righteousness.
Many Christians with a few Bible Studies under their belt know that agape is the Greek word for “love” usually “sacrificial love”. Many of us also know that the Greek word philea is also translated as “love” which we usually distinguish as “brotherly love”. (There’s an easy-to-read article on the topic here.)
In English our word “love” is so deep and complex that it can refer to anything from the taste of a biscuit, to our favorite song, to our great aunt Mildred, and to the act of sex. One word, so many meanings. Often the context provides the correct meaning but at other times we rely on adjectives or detailed clarification to ensure we communicate the intended meaning.
Biblical Hebrew has a wonderfully rich word that we should all know: hesed (sometimes chesed) that God uses to describe himself in Exodus 34:6. In many instances it is translated simply as “love” or “mercy”, while older translations often use the word “lovingkindness”. When the Bible was first translated into English there was no equivalent word to hesed, so in the early 1500’s Coverdale invented the compound word “loving-kindness” in an attempt to capture the depth of hesed. It really had no definition except the obvious unity of love and kindness.
When the Old Testament was translated into Greek sometime before the birth of Christ, those translators had a similar problem. They chose to translate hesed as “mercy” and “compassion”. I don’t think they ever went for the compound “merciful-compassion”!
Other words that modern English translations use include:
- Steadfast love,
- Unfailing love,
- Goodness, and
Essentially, hesed refers to a tender and loyal love. And the wonderful news is that God abounds with hesed.
It frustrates me to no end when I hear people talk about “the Old Testament God” as though he’s different from the New Testament God. It frustrates me on many levels. While I understand that in the OT there are many times when God’s judgment seems quick and harsh, Godly Israelites always regarded Him as loving. The frequency of hesed throughout the Hebrew Bible demonstrates the prominence of God’s love throughout time. God’s character is unchanging: faithful.
In Psalm 85 the psalmist pleads with God to reveal his hesed. “Show us your unfailing love (hesed), Lord, and grant us your salvation.” The psalmist goes on (v10ff) to describe a land filled with the glory (character) of God, “hesed and faithfulness meet together.” God’s presence among his people is characterised by “faithful love” or as some translations would say, “true love”.
One of the major difficulties we face as we read the Bible is that we don’t know what words are used in the original language. We’ll never know all the times hesed is used in the Bible because it’s translated so many different ways. We read the word “compassion”, but have no idea if the Hebrew behind it is hesed or a different Hebrew word. If I had my own Bible translation, I would leave some words, such as hesed and agape untranslated. I would also find a way to distinguish singular and plural “yous”, even if that meant using the Aussie term “yez” or the Southern US colloquialism, “y’all”.
I strongly believe that if we had a firm understanding of hesed our view of God and his actions in the OT would vary considerable from that expressed in most churches. We really need to pay attention to how God describes himself, “abounding in hesed (love) and faithfulness”.
- Hesed carries with it a sense of kindness, gentleness, affection. How important is this in your relationship with God?
- Do you struggle to see God as consistent between the Old & New Testaments?
- Have you found the knowledge of other Greek or Hebrew words to be useful in your understanding of God? If so, which ones?