A recent home Bible study in Hosea proved to be difficult for our small group. Several in the class said that Hosea was too true to life for us as modern Americans. One person said that it would be nice if we could avoid this book altogether. But we stuck with the book, reminding ourselves each week that the story does have a happy ending. Hosea is about God's loyal-love for His wife Israel. Even in our own day we are waiting for the final outworking of this "marriage."
Chapters 1-3 tells the story of the prophet. He served God in Northern Israel for probably half a century, around the time of the fall of the Ten Northern Tribes to the Assyrians in 722 BC. Hosea seems to have started his life with a happy marriage, but God soon told him his wife Gomer would leave him for a prolonged series of adulterous love affairs. Three children would be born to them: A son, Jezreel ("God scatters"), a daughter Loruhamah ("not pitied") and a daughter, Loammi ("not my people"). With a broken heart, Hosea subsequently endured a long estrangement from the woman he loved. Finally her life was reduced to degradation, humiliation, and ruin. The prophet was then able to buy her back at the slave market for 15 shekels. Sure enough, all this was a picture of the God's estrangement from His beloved, but spiritually adulterous, wife Israel. Hosea's marriage would have a happy ending. So also God would one day take His divorced wife Israel back and remarry her under the terms of the New Covenant. Hosea's pain and sorrow lasted some few years at most. But God's failed love affair is a love story stretching over 3500 years. It hasn't ended yet. But it will end happily in a final, total reconciliation of God and Israel.
And the LORD said to me [Hosea], "Go again, love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress; even as the LORD loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins." So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, "You must dwell as mine for many days; you shall not play the harlot, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you." For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king; and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days. (Hosea 3)
Hosea Chapters 4 through 10 are vignettes and oracles which show us God's soul-searching and broken-hearted pain over the hopeless state of the Ten Northern Tribes, and the rapid decline of Judah and Benjamin in the South. There is no "forward movement" through these long chapters as God examines every facet of life in Israel. It is as if He were hoping to find some way out, some sign of hope. But there is none. As we learn later in Lamentations, judgment is God's "strange work" which He undertakes with great reluctance only when all else fails.
Paul carefully makes Israel's future restoration clear in Romans Chapters 9-11 for the benefit of anyone who misses the many clear statements to this effect in the Old Testament. Divorced under the Old Covenant (see Jeremiah 3:6-10) Israel will at last be restored under the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 16:60-63, Isaiah 54:1-8; 62:4-5, and of course Hosea 2:14-23).
So I ask, have they [Israel] stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and then all Israel will be saved; as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"; "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins." As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy. For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen. (from Romans 11)
Hosea Chapter 5 lets us know that God has withdrawn His presence from Israel. To this day He waits for them to call on Him again.
I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress they seek me, saying, "Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his going forth is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth." (Hosea 5:15-6:3)
In other words, God's Messiah, Jesus Christ, will not come back to save Israel--and the world--until a faithful remnant in Jerusalem prays for Him to return This will happen in the dark days of World War III--(which may well be just ahead for us in our time. To see how this work will out read, for example, Zechariah 12-14, Micah 4-5, Joel 3).
Chapters 11-14 of Hosea show that all levels of society in Israel were saturated with idolatry and hypocrisy. The religion of the day was superficial and disingenuous. Economic prosperity and pagan values dominated the culture. The spiritual decline of the nation had been across the board and a godly remnant could not be found any longer. (It was here that my Bible class and I stopped to talk about our nation today. Surely we are in the last stages of our history as a nation under God? The U.S. has no covenant relationship with God. But the history of Israel is given to us as a model from which all nations are to learn).
James Montgomery Boice, in discussing Hosea Chapter 11, writes eloquently about "the death of a nation,"
In the case of Israel, God's loyal-love (hesed) and mercy will find a way for Israel's full salvation and the restoration of His remarriage to His chosen people.
"In the sixth chapter of Romans there is a verse that should be memorized early and repeated often by every Christian: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). These words deal with individual salvation, but they also express a principle that goes beyond the individual. True, sin brings death individually. But sin also causes the death of family life, culture, movements of the Spirit of God in history even the death of nations
God says to Israel as He contrasts the people's youthful days with their present old age: "When Ephraim spoke [past tense], men trembled; he was exalted in Israel. But he became guilty of Baal worship and died" (Hosea 13:1).
To say that God is contrasting Israel's former days of youth and health with her present old age is technically inaccurate since Israel is already dead. But it is a strange death. We need to follow the hand of the divine surgeon as He conducts a spiritual autopsy. In medicine an autopsy is conducted to determine the cause of death and establish the condition of the corpse for the record. God does this in the first three verses of [Hosea] chapter 13.
As Hosea writes about the death of Israel he is probably thinking along the lines in which the fall of the race is described in the early chapters of Genesis. God told Adam and Eve, "I am placing a tree in the middle of the garden of which you are not to eat. You may eat of all the other trees of the garden. But you are not to eat of this tree as a symbol of the fact that I am the Creator and you are the creatures, that I alone am autonomous and that you are subject to Me. Moreover, that you may know how serious this matter is, I warn you that in the day you eat of it you shall surely die."
Adam and Eve may not have understood completely what dying meant, but they knew it was serious and still disobeyed. Eve ate first. Then she got her husband to eat of the tree too. And they died.
Some have objected that Adam and Eve did not die the same day in which they ate of the tree. They lived many hundreds of years after that, according to Genesis. But the objection betrays a misunderstanding of what death is. The objection would be valid if death were only a physical thing, but death is more than physical. Death is also spiritual, and the spiritual death (though not the physical death) took place instantly.
Actually, death affects each part of the human constitution. When God created the man and woman He created them in His image, and one of the things this means is that He created them a trinity, as He is a Trinity. God is three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Adam and Eve possessed a body, soul, and spirit. When they sinned, each of these either died or began to die. The first part to die was the spirit. The spirit is that part of the human being that has awareness of and is capable of communion with God. It is what sets the human being apart from animals, who have something like a personality but who do not have communication with God. Animals do not worship. People worship, and this is due to their spiritual nature. However, when Adam and Eve sinned this part of their constitution died.
They proved it by hiding from God when He came to them in the garden. It had been God's custom to visit Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day and this had apparently been a joyous time for them. Having sinned, it was now anything but joyous--so rather than come to Him, they hid from Him in the shrubbery. God is the holy One. When we sin a barrier is erected, and the communion that we originally had in Adam and which we are still meant to have is broken. We may describe this by saying that the spirit died. It died instantly.
Something else also happened: the soul began to die. The word "soul" is often used in the Old and New Testaments as if it were synonymous with "spirit," that is, as descriptive of the non-material part of the human constitution. But it is also distinguished from spirit in that it is used for animals, which is not the case with the word "spirit." Spirit always relates to God, as we have indicated. Soul refers more broadly to what we might call individuality or personality. It has to do with our likes and dislikes, our dispositions, our ambitions or lack of them, the way we see ourselves. Above all, it concerns the moral or ethical side of our nature. This part of Adam and Eve began to die, which they demonstrated by their sinful answers to God and by their treatment of one another.
When God came to Adam He asked Adam what he had done: "Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" Adam could not deny the fact, but he pleaded extenuating circumstances, blaming the woman who had given him the fruit and, indirectly, God who had given him the woman: "The woman you put here with me--she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Likewise, the woman blamed the serpent. Here was the first evidence of their dying in soul. They were trying to excuse themselves, rather than admit their wrongdoing. From this point things went downhill. In the next generation one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain, killed his brother. Within several generations the world of that day had become as wicked as our own.
Finally, the body died too. God said, "Dust you are and to dust you will return" (Gen. 3:19).
HOW NATIONS DIE
This pattern of biblical teaching was in mind as Hosea began to write this section of his prophecy. For the death of the nation described in these verses closely parallels the death of our first parents. How do nations die? The answer is that they die in spirit first. Next they die in soul, Eventually the body of the nation also dies and vanishes.
This needs to be looked at in greater detail, however. So we ask first: How does a nation die in spirit? A nation dies in spirit when it forgets God and begins to worship that which is not God. Hosea describes this in the case of Israel by saying, "He became guilty of Baal worship and died" (11:1). In more recent times the worship of Baal has been replaced by worship of the race (as in the case of Nazi Germany) or material prosperity (as is happening in most of the western nations).
When we talk about the death of a nation's spirit we do not mean that there has ever been a nation on the face of the earth, including Israel, in which every individual was regenerate. No nation has ever had a total awareness of God, involving every one of its citizens. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as God-consciousness in a nation, and it has sometimes been the case, particularly at the birth of a nation or at some period of special religious awakening, that many people have been aware of God and have been so anxious to serve Him that they have impressed truly spiritual principles and standards on their corporate life. This was true of the United States of America. Not all our founding fathers were Christians. On the contrary, many were mere deists. Some probably believed almost nothing biblical. But these views were not formative for the nation and did not dominate its first organization. In those days, people who did not believe the principles of the Christian revelation did not express their disbelief or fight for their secular outlook as people do today. Consequently, a certain God-consciousness was present and expressed. Prayer was part of national life. "In God we trust" was a genuine slogan. In the schools the Bible was read and taught by thousands.
Unfortunately that ended. The first step in a nation's death takes place when its God-consciousness dissipates or, worse yet, is deliberately removed. We cannot speak of other nations at this point--we can speak only for ourselves--but we can say that this is precisely what has happened in America. In our country, particularly in recent years, there has been a deliberate attempt to remove any kind of overt dependence on God from national life. Prayer and Bible reading have been removed from the schools. Public figures have become afraid of identifying policies with Christian principles. Trust in weapons or diplomacy has replaced dependence on God.
Second, the soul of the nation dies. This means that the national character deteriorates, We see this in the lowering moral climate of our citizenry, the accelerated corruption of business, the breakup of families, materialism, the increase in crime. We also see it at the national level in the failure of government to keep faith with its people and those of other nations.
One example of how governments break faith with their people is by permitting inflation, particularly on an epic scale (which happens in periods of decline). In the days of their greatest vitality and earning power people save money to see them through their old age. The money they lay aside is worth something when they save it. But as the years go by the value of their dollars is deflated so that the money is actually worth much less when they come to use it. In ten years (figuring from a base year of 1967), inflation in the United States has topped one-hundred percent, meaning that a dollar saved in 1967 was worth less than fifty cents in 1977. Therefore, the working, saving people of America were half as well off as they thought they would be and have a right to be.
Governments break faith with the people of other nations when they fail to honor treaties or trade agreements. The United States did this when it broke treaties with Taiwan. Why? Because mainland China demanded it as a condition for establishing diplomatic relations with us, and it seemed to our financial and political advantage to have such new relations.
Hosea talks about this stage of Israel's decline in verse 2, saying, "Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of these people, 'They offer human sacrifice and kiss the calf-idols."' Hosea's point is that, although Israel is spiritually dead (v. 1), she nevertheless goes on sinning. She is a walking, sinning corpse. It is what Paul says of the former life of the Christians at Ephesus. They were "dead in transgressions and sins." Nevertheless they sinned, following "the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air" (Ephesians 2:1, 2).
At last, the body of the nation dies. By degrees! To use the analogy of a body, it is as if one organ after another fails to function properly and the body as a whole gradually sinks down until it collapses utterly. Nations seldom die cataclysmically by sudden and total overthrow at the hands of an enemy. They break down bit by bit. The police cease to be effective. The courts become technical battlegrounds and so cease to perform their proper function of punishing the guilty and exonerating the innocent. Politicians become no longer worthy of the trust committed to them. Schools cease to educate. Workers cease to work. Managers cease managing. Eventually the whole thing caves in, the country becomes a third-or fourth-rate power, and at last the nation is taken over or is dominated by another country whose star is rising.
This is what Hosea refers to in verse 3. He has spoken of the death of the spirit of the nation, which is past. He has spoken of the present moral decline, the death of the soul. Now he looks to the future and sees the eventual disappearance of the body: "Therefore they will be like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears, like chaff swirling from a threshing floor, like smoke escaping through a window." Mist! Dew! Chaff! Smoke! It is hard to think of four images better calculated to express how light, weak, and empty the nation had become. It is difficult to picture more graphically how she was to vanish at the first ray of heat or breath of air
A NEW CREATION
If the death of a nation unfolded along these lines for Israel, if it became true for Judah later, if this unfolding of spiritual death has characterized nations throughout history and seems to be descriptive of our own nation in the present day is it nevertheless possible to say at any point that there is hope? Is there a gospel of salvation?
It is hard to answer this where nations are concerned, though there is always the possibility of grace. A people can always turn to God and find that He is ready and willing to receive them and will gladly postpone or fore-go judgment. There have been examples of this in history both in biblical times and since. With God all things are possible. Still, this is not the same as saying that repentance of this scope will occur or that judgment will be stayed where our particular nation is concerned. Will we be spared? Perhaps. But we must note that for every nation that has experienced repentance on a national scale and been spared, there are hundreds of others that have continued on their sinful way oblivious to the whirlwind coming upon them. I doubt if we will see a major turning to God again in America, though we may.
At the same time we can say this: although repentance may not occur nationally so that the nation is saved, it can always happen to and for the individual so that the individual is saved. It can happen to you personally. The death I have described--the death of the spirit, soul, and body--is something each of us has experienced, for all have sinned and died. But each can also experience salvation in those areas. You can be a new creation. This is what God does; He makes us new creations. He does not take the old dead spirit and patch it up. What would He do with a patched-up corpse? He does not take that old soul, decaying under the weight of its sin, and plug up the holes. What would He do with a plugged-up soul? He does not keep alive that old body. God gives us a new spirit, a new soul, and a new body, and each is far better than what we had before.
God works with the spirit first of all. Our old spirit died. God gives us a new spirit when we are born again. That is what the new birth means; it means to be made alive in spirit, reanimated by the Holy Spirit of God. Our old soul has been dying. God gives us a new soul known as the new man. He brings about an inward transformation so that we begin to think and act differently. It is what Paul is speaking about when he writes, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern. of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2). At last we are given a new body at the moment of the resurrection. We become new creations.
Christians have an opportunity to live, serve, and pray for the nation of which they are a part. If we do that, by the grace of God we may be instrumental in bringing about the repentance and revival of our nation. It may be that, at least in this generation, we will not die...but live to the glory of God."
"How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Zeboiim! My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come to destroy." (Hosea 11:8-9)
Ray Stedman says,
"In the closing chapters after all the sorrow in the heart of God you come at last to the final picture:
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. (Hos. 14:1)
After all it wasn't God who was to blame. He was simply trying to get them to see the truth. And the only thing that can relieve their agony is to return. That's always the case. God can't bless us or restore us until we come back. And so God says:
Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him,
"Take away all iniquity; accept that which is good and we will render the fruit of our lips" [That is praise.] "Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride upon horses [no military power is going to avail] and we will say no more, 'Our God,' to the work of our hands [idolatry]. In thee the orphan finds mercy." (Hos. 14:2-3)
God's response is:
I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them, I will be as the dew to Israel; he shall blossom as the lily, he shall strike root as the poplar; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom as the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what have [you] to do with idols'? [A better rendering than "what have I"] It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress,from me comes your fruit. (Hos. 14:4-8)
And the prophet adds this lesson from his own heartache and yet in the joy of restored love:
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, but transgressors stumble in them. (Hos. 14:9)
Can you see in this beautiful story all the elements of the eternal triangle? There is the loving God. the faithless human heart and the deceptive attractiveness of the world. This is your story and my story isn't it? So many times we try to satisfy ourselves with the lying idols of self-importance or wealth or a good time. Ours is the blindness that like Gomer's cannot distinguish between lust and love.
We try to run from God and drown our miseries in empty pleasures or drink or work or social life but as surely as we think we have escaped, as surely as we think we have run far enough, God touches our sleeve with his love saying My child, my name and my nature are love and I must act according to what I am. When you tire of all your running and your wandering and your heartbreak, I'll be there to draw you to myself again."
That is the story of the Bible isn't it? At Bethlehem God entered the slave market where the whole human race was putting itself up for auction, prostituting itself and its humanity to a cheapened life. But on the cross the Lord Jesus paid the price, the full price for our freedom, and bought us back. This is the story of God's love and God's heart -- his loving desire to make of his people the full persons he intended them to be." --Adventuring Through the Bible, by Ray C. Stedman, (http://raystedman.org/adventure/0228.html)
References: James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, Kregel, Grand Rapids, 1996. Don't miss the essays, books and tapes of Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Ariel Ministries, (http://www.ariel.org), POB 3723, Tustin, CA 92781. For those interested in prophecy, the free online book "Thy Kingdom Come..." (http://ldolphin.org/kingdom/) which Ron Graff and I wrote five years ago has enjoyed 82,000 downloads so far. We hope it will prove helpful to you or a friend.
By the way, the Old Testament calls Israel the wife of God--and depicts her spiritual adultery for us to learn from. The New Testament, on the other hand, calls the true church the chaste and virgin bride of Christ, waiting for her wedding day. (See 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:25-27, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Revelation 19:6-9; 21:9-22:5),
"Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."