The Prophet of Divine love
One of the early writing prophets, Hosea used his own marital experience as a symbolic representation of God and Israel: God the husband, Israel the wife. Hosea's wife left him to go with other men; Israel left the Lord to go with other gods. Hosea searched for his wife, found her and brought her back; God would not abandon Israel and brought them back even though they had forsaken him. The book of Hosea was a severe warning to the northern kingdom against the growing idolatry being practiced there; the book was a dramatic call to repentance.
Besides the voice of the doom for the people of Israel (as we see in Prophet Amos) we also need to hear the voice of a forgiving love, a voice of the broken and bleeding heart of God. Hosea preached about God's love. Why this prophet is linked so much with divine love? Which aspect of divine love does he reflect? Is he still relevant for today's world? We shall try to answer these questions as we go along.
B. Who was Hosea?
The word 'Hosea' comes from Hebrew 'Hoshea,' which means 'Yahweh saves', or 'Salvation.' From this Hebrew root come the names of Jehoshua, Joshua, Yeshua or Jesus. We hardly know anything about the personality of Hosea except that he was the son of Beeri. Bible scholars suggest that he must have been a small farmer.
C. The Call of Hosea
Hosea's personal life was tragedy. He was asked by Yahweh to marry a prostitute called Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. He loved her tenderly hoping that she would change her lifestyle after the marriage but she was unfaithful to his marriage vows and kept on running away from him. He wanted to divorce her but the Lord told him to go and bring her back (or redeem i.e. buy back).
Because of the two references to the marriage of prophet Hosea biblical scholars wonder whether his marriage was real or was it symbolic? Did the prophet marry Gomer once or twice? Did he marry the same prostitute or another? After much discussion today the scholars believe that the prophet's marriage was real and that he married Gomer only once. It reflected the relationship between the people of Israel and Yahweh.
D. Purpose of Writing
Hosea wrote this book to remind the Israelites that ours is a loving God whose loyalty to His covenant people is unwavering. In spite of Israel’s continual turning to false gods, God’s steadfast love is portrayed in the long-suffering husband of the unfaithful wife. Hosea’s message is also one of warning to those who would turn their backs on God’s love. Through the symbolic presentation of the marriage of Hosea and Gomer, God’s love for the idolatrous nation of Israel is displayed in a rich metaphor in the themes of sin, judgment, and forgiving love.
E. The Ministry of Hosea
Hosea is the only prophet from the Northern Kingdom of Israel who preached in his hometown. He exercised his prophetic ministry little more than a decade after Amos that is from 746 to 725 BCE. These were the last years of the Kingdom of Israel whose capital Samaria was besieged by the Assyrian Emperor Shalmanesser V between 726 and 722 BCE and captured by his successor Sargon II in 721 BCE.
Hosea attacks two institutions in Israel: Monarchy and Religion. The kings had brought the nation to the brink of the ruin and priests had misled the people to Baalism. Therefore there was a breach in the covenant relationship between the people of Israel and Yahweh. Let us study these two aspects of Hosea's ministry under seven headings:
- Violence: Between 746 and 721 BCE, that is, in a period of 25 years, six kings succeeded one another, four of which were assassinated, 3 reigned for very short period of time (1 month, 6 months & 2 years). These details tell us that the political situation was unstable during this period. Violence has reached its peak. King Jehu killed Jehoram, the king of Israel, the son of Ahab and Jezebel. He was instrumental in killing Queen Jezebel and 70 male descendents of Ahab. Finally, he gathered all the devotees of Baal in the temple and got them mercilessly butchered. In his opinion he did this to protect the good name of Yahweh. But Hosea suggests that Yahweh does not approve such violence.
- Breach in Political Treatise: Among the six kings mentioned above, the last was King Hoshea Ben Elah. He rebelled against Assyria who had made a treaty with Israel and tried to get the assistance of Egypt. As a result of this breach of treaty, the Assyrian Emperor Shalmanesser V came, deposed the king and took him in exile. It is against this background that Hosea says, what can the king do? He can neither save Israel nor himself. He is powerless.
- Break Down of law and order: Because of the above situation, there was a complete breakdown of law and order. The kings were not only unfaithful to God and his plans but they were also negligent about the situation. They took no action to condemn the false behavior of the merchants and traders.
- Baal Worship: Israel was originally the land of the Canaanites. These Canaanites were farmers. They had to depend on nature for their occupation. They believed that it was Baal who sent rains to the earth. Monsoon for them was symbol of the physical union of God Baal and Goddess Asherah. This belief reflected in their fertility cult. Furthermore, there were temple prostitutes (male as well as female) and union with them was considered as union with God. (King Joshiah destroyed these sanctuaries in 622 BCE.)
When the Israelites captured Canaan they started practicing this cult and broke the first, second, sixth and ninth commandments of God. Actually, when the altars at Shechem, Shiloh, Dan and Bethel were established, images of calves and bulls were also established as the vehicles of Yahweh. But people forgot the true God and started worshipping the bull that was representing Baal.
Prophet Hosea corrects this notion of God. It is not Baal but Yahweh who sends rain from the sky. It is not through prostitution that the devotee of Yahweh is united with God but through prayers. In this way the worship of Yahweh protects the dignity of human person.
- Covenant: Among the OT writers Hosea has shown the most boldness in expressing the relationship of Yahweh with the Israelites as that between a husband & his wife. In Hosea 2:19-20 the Lord says three times that he will take Israel as his wife. This covenant relationship is expressed through three elements: those who attack the crops won't damage it, there will be no more war, and Israel will relax in safety and prosperity. (Hos 2:18). God's love is steadfast but people's love is fleeting and flickering. Hos 6:4 expresses the pain of God's wounded heart because the beloved has not responded to his love.
- God's Passionate Love for Israel: Hosea expresses God's love for his people in two ways: the first one is husband-wife relationship and the second one is the parent-child relationship. In Hos 11:1-4 there are 6 terms which express Yahweh's love for his people:
- He freed them from Egypt,
- taught them to walk,
- took them in his arms,
- held them close to his cheek and
- bent down and
- fed them.
But this is not the affectionate love of a father for his child but a demanding love and therefore Yahweh will punish Israel. She will go in exile and finally return. Yahweh's hand hurts but it also heals (Hos 6: 1-2).
- Knowledge of God: According to Hosea the people of Israel are not faithful to the Covenant because they have no knowledge of God. This knowledge of God is not merely theoretical or academic knowledge but it has five aspects:
- Experience of God (4:1),
- Transformation of one's life (4:1),
- steadfast love (6:6),
- observance of Law (4:6),
- to make a new start (10:12= Jer 4:3)
The Book of Hosea assures us of God’s unconditional love for His people. But it is also a picture of how God is dishonored and angered by the actions of His children. Only by remembering how much God has done for each us will we be able to avoid rejecting the One who can give us eternal life in Glory instead of bringing self condemnation on us. It is essential that we learn to respect our Creator. Hosea has shown us that when we do make a mistake, if we have a sorrowful heart and a promise of repentance then God will again show His never-ending love to us (I John).
Fr Emmanuel K.T.
21 December 2008