By Nathan Jones
We continue on with our fourth installment of our faith study of the biblical Minor Prophets book of Hosea. This time we'll travel back to Hosea's time to understand the sad condition the Northern Kingdom of Israel was in that troubled God so much.
Israel—The Faithless Nation
If God loved Hosea so much, why ask such impossibly mean things from him? Does He enjoy seeing his children suffer? Does He wish to see your heart shattered? Is God some kind of sadistic monster who is the source of all our suffering? The book of Hosea has the answers! Let's get to the answers to these pertinent questions about God's character and motives by understanding His relationship with the nation of Israel as portrayed in the book of Hosea, chapters 4-14.
The culture in which Hosea was called to give God's messages existed in a very difficult time politically for the people of Israel. In the Northern Kingdom, the people suffered through an ever-changing list of unstable kings: Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah, and Hoshea. The first three bloodily succeeded each other in just under one year!1 Professor Kyle Yates, an expert in Old Testament history formerly at Baylor University, best sums up the character of these worthless kings: "These foolish and godless rulers sought to further their own selfish schemes while the nations suffered and crumbled... silly princes..."2 The leaders were as self-serving and corrupt as any banana republic dictator.
Mighty and absolutely ruthless, the Assyrian Empire that lived in what is modern-day Iraq was breathing down the necks of these kings, demanding allegiance and extorting protection money. If the oppressed nation didn't submit, in mafioso style the cruel Assyrians would then ride down into Israel's lands and have their thugs mercilessly beat up on the people. As Israelite kings waffled from paying the demanded tribute to outright rebellion, Assyrian kings with challenging names came breaking down the doors. For instance, Tiglath-Pileser III grabbed whole chunks of Israel's land such as Gilead and exiled some of Israel's ten tribes including Naphtali.3 Shalmaneser V even besieged Israel's capital of Samaria for three whole years. Yates describes this time period quite succinctly:
"It was during these years of anarchy, bloodshed, revolt and break-up of a nation that Hosea the prophet preached in Israel. He was called upon to deliver God's message to a people who had little concern for spiritual matters. They had not listened to Amos. They were not disposed to give heed to Hosea. Dissolution, decay and death were all around him. Anarchy, chaos, feuds and broken covenants were visible on every side."4
This is the tumultuous political atmosphere in which Hosea had to survive to serve as God's "prophet of Israel's zero hour."5
Ironically, despite all the corrupt politicians and flying arrows Israel was ducking during that time, according to 2 Kings 15-17, the nation was doing pretty well financially. Go figure! Economically the nation was prosperous, but spiritually it was the darkest hour of Israel.6 Israel may have been as prosperous as America is today, but its people were soulless and always shaken by ceaseless turmoil and frequent foreign attacks. Corrupt leaders always have been a symptom of a corrupt people, and Israel's people had by then devolved morally. When that happens, "inward corruption in a nation is more dangerous to its existence than their external enemies."7
How did the people of Israel get into such a dire predicament? God gives us the answer by comparing Israel to Gomer. In personality they were one and the same. Gomer suffered a shattered heart of her own making, and so too did Israel, bringing about her own suffering and heartbreak. What a sad situation.
After all, like Gomer was to Hosea, Israel as a people group have always had a very special place in God's heart. The steadfast faithful obedience of their forefathers—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (called Israel)—in a world that had shunned God had touched His heart. In response, God made Israel and his descendants a special covenant, meaning a sacred agreement one makes with another. In this eternal covenant, God promised the people of Israel that if they just kept His righteous law and were faithful to Him, God would shower His loving blessings all over them in the Promised Land (Genesis 17:7-8; 26:2-5; 28:1-4,13-14; Deuteronomy 28; 1 Chronicles 16:17-18; Psalm 105:8-11; Romans 9:4).
Listen to the great love by which the Lord describes His covenant people Israel, found in Deuteronomy 7:6-8:
"For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth... because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers."
As this passage proves, Israel is chosen by the Lord God Himself. He even calls them a "special treasure." In agreement to the covenant, Israel was to be pure, holy and dedicated to the One who loved them. Such love and commitment, bound by a life-long agreement, sounds rather like a marriage vow, doesn't it? That is indeed how God sees it.
God in Deuteronomy 7 commanded His chosen people when they entered the Promised Land to utterly destroy the heinously evil tribes—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—who occupied its hills and valleys. Long having rejected Yahweh God, they worshiped gods of metal and wood that their own hands had crafted. These idols represented the demon "male" gods El, Baal and Dagon and "female" gods Asherah, Astarte and Anath. These pagan people believed these fertility gods had to be enticed to mate, so that man, animal and field would become fertile. To arouse these gods, these tribes performed various horrific acts including sacrificing their own children in the fires, reveling in drunken orgies, and openly having sex with temple shrine prostitutes and even animals.
God was deeply troubled that if the Israelites didn't destroy this evil, they'd also be captivated by it and pulled in. As Deuteronomy 7:4 explains, "For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods." Tragically, the Israelites failed miserably in following God's command. Many of the evil peoples and practices remained there in the Promised Land, and so God's concerns became quite realized. For Israel, just like Gomer, did not remain faithful to her "husband" for very long.
In the fifth part of this series on faith in the book of Hosea, we'll marvel at the remarkably uncanny parallels in personality and behavior between Gomer and Israel.
1. Lewis, J.P. (1966). Minor Prophets. Austin, Texas: Sweet Publishing Company. p.16.
2. Yates, K.M. (1942). Preaching From the Prophets. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press. p.55-56.
3. Lewis, J.P. (1966). Minor Prophets. Austin, Texas: Sweet Publishing Company. p.17.
4. Yates, K.M. (1942). Preaching From the Prophets. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press. p.54.
5. Jensen, I.L. (1975). Minor Prophets of Israel. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Bible Institute. p77.
6. Ibid. p.81.
7. Yates, K.M. (1942). Preaching From the Prophets. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press. p. 63.