Probably around the same time Amos arrived in town, at the idolatrous temple in Bethel, God was asking another prophet in the Northern Kingdom to do something even more outrageous: “Get yourself a prostitute wife and have some kids with her.” Of course, Hosea’s peers did not understand. Hosea was likely a middle to upper-class man. He was supposed to be an upstanding citizen. But his life decisions led people to say he was a “fool” and “out of his mind” (9:7).
In some ways, the nation of Israel was founded from the beginning on idolatry, as the people quickly made a golden calf and called it their God, Yahweh. Now, the people are again worshiping God at a golden calf in Bethel. Yet they say they know God. This claim would be their undoing. It was one thing not to worship God—but to worship a distorted image of God–while still calling it God–was fatal.
Through the risk and suffering in this prophet’s personal life, God communicated His own grief and spurned love with His people. Hosea models the gut-wrenching risk of love, especially the grief of God trying to love the people He created. Perhaps Paul was reflecting on Hosea’s life and marriage when he later wrote that our marriages tell a story of love: ideally, the story of God loving his people (Eph. 5:32).
Hosea compares Israel to a “silly dove, easily deceived and senseless—now calling to Egypt, now turning to Assyria. When they go, I will throw my net over them; I will pull them down like birds of the air . . . I will catch them” (7:11-12). This description is a callback to Jonah (Jonah means dove in Hebrew). Just like Jonah cared more about God blessing himself or his country (crying over a weed but getting angry when God saved an entire city) so these people don’t mourn over the right things but rather cry when their comfort is disturbed (7:14) The nation does not realize the dangerous situation she’s in because of her outward prosperity. Her corrupted priorities were symptoms of the malaise that had crept in through their idol worship—their unfaithfulness to the God who had rescued them in the first place. They cared so little about the right things their strength was being sapped and they didn’t even know it (7:8-9). They were already living the curse.
Despite Israel immediately prostituting herself to that golden calf, God was said to have married the nation, the people of Israel, when He entered in covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. Now, even though she had continued to abandon Him to play the whore with every other idol in sight, He still wanted to be with her. However, just as Gomer, Hosea’s wife, was sold into slavery in the interim, God’s people too would be led back into slavery. They would be exiled. But . . . as the story played out before their eyes between the prophet and the prostitute, God wouldn’t be angry with them forever. Just like Israel in Egypt, just like Hosea and Gomer, He would buy his people back out of slavery to be with them again.
Watch: Bible Project video on Hosea
Listen: Hosea 1-4