They Know Not The Lord.

Hear this, O priests! Pay attention, O house of Israel! Give ear, O house of the king! For the judgment is for you; for you have been a snare at Mizpah and a net spread upon Tabor. And the revolters have gone deep into slaughter, but I will discipline all of them. I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from me; for now, O Ephraim, you have played the whore; Israel is defiled. Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord.

The pride of Israel testifies to his face; Israel and Ephraim shall stumble in his guilt; Judah also shall stumble with them. With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them. They have dealt faithlessly with the Lord; for they have borne alien children. Now the new moon shall devour them with their fields. – Hosea 5:1-7 ESV

Everyone is guilty. Priests, people and king are all culpable for what is about to happen to Israel. There is no one who can escape the coming judgment of God by claiming innocence. The religious and governmental leaders were all guilty of orchestrating the downfall of the entire nation, having established policies that encouraged idolatry and led the people away from God. But like dumb sheep, the people willingly followed, satisfying their base desires and fulfilling their sinful passions, with no regard to the will or wrath of God. The corporate mindset had become one of spiritual rebellion and everyone was involved. Justification of their actions was the order of the day. And Hosea made the foreboding pronouncement, “their deeds do not permit them to return to their God” (Hosea 5:4 ESV). They had become so infected with “the spirit of whoredom” that repentance was impossible for them. They no longer knew God. Their lifestyle of sin had virtually erased His memory from their minds.

The imagery in this passage is one of hunting. Hosea described nets being spread and slaughter taking place. It is as if the priests and the king had purposefully set out to capture the people of Israel and slaughter them like prey. And others had joined in the hunt, capturing the helpless people in their nets of idolatry and rebellion. But God was going to hold them accountable. He was going to discipline them all. Because nothing is hidden from His eyes. No activity takes place on this planet that He does not see and to which He will hold all accountable. The people may forget God, but He does not forget them.

Things had gotten so bad, that even Judah, the southern kingdom, would eventually be infected by the sinful actions of Israel. They too would end up rebelling against God and suffering His discipline and judgment. At the last minute, the people of both nations would attempt to worship God and repent of their sins, but it would prove too little, too late. Their repentance would not be based on a love for God, but simply a fear of His coming judgment and a desire to escape it. But Hosea warns, “With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them” (Hosea 5:6 ESV). They had gone too far. God knew their hearts and He was able to see through any attempt on their part to feign repentance. He was not going to accept their last-minute sacrifices and pleas for forgiveness, because He knew their hearts were not in it. Their actions would not be motivated by a love for Him, but out of a fear of punishment. As God had said of the people of Israel, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT).

This was all a heart issue. The sinful practices of the people of Israel flowed from their hardened hearts. They no longer had any love for God. Their hearts had been stolen away by false gods and the promises of pleasure, happiness, satisfaction and contentment those false religions promised. They loved themselves and their own pleasure more than they loved God. And as a result, they had proven unfaithful to God. Just as Gomer had left Hosea and given herself to other men, Israel had left God and given themselves to false gods. And now they would face the punishment of God. But we must always remember that one day God was going to restore them. Just as He commanded Hosea to buy back Gomer from her life of prostitution, God would redeem Israel from their slavery to sin. Not because they deserved it, but because God is loving, gracious and faithful. He would keep His promises to Israel, in spite of them. Their unfaithfulness would do nothing to diminish His faithfulness. And we too can always count on the faithfulness of God. His redemption of us has nothing to do with any merit on our part.

But the saddest statement in this entire passage is that they knew not the Lord. Despite all He had done for them over the years, the people of Israel had no real knowledge of or relationship with God. Yes, they had an intellectual knowledge of who He was, but there was no intimacy or personal relationship. They didn’t understand His greatness or appreciate His goodness. They had long ago forgotten all the incredible miracles He had done on behalf of their forefathers. God had become just another god among the many that they worshiped. And the sad reality is that we are guilty of the same thing. There are those today who claim to be worshipers of and believers in God, but they have no real knowledge of Him. Their understanding of Him is of the text book variety, provided to them second-hand and with no personal experience involved. They know about Him, but it is an impersonal and experience-depleted knowledge. The book of Judges portrays a similar situation in the life of the people of God. “And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10 ESV). A whole new generation came on the scene that was devoid of any real knowledge of God. Their parents had failed to teach them the truth about God, including His incredible power to deliver them and provide for them. So they turned to other gods. Their ignorance of God led them to rebel against Him. And the same pattern is repeating itself today. Each generation must tell the next about the greatness and goodness of God.

For he issued his laws to Jacob; he gave his instructions to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, so the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands. – Psalm 78:5-7 NLT

God Will…

And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children 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 whore, 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 household gods. 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 3:1-5 ESV

Evidently, a fair amount of time had passed since chapter one. Gomer, Hosea’s wife, had left him and committed adultery, having been “loved by another man”. Not only that, she had become the property of that man, little more than his personal slave. Having rejected the love of Hosea, she had essentially sold herself off to another man in order to survive. Hosea had been forced to watch his wife, the mother of his three children, walk out on him and give herself to another man. There is little doubt that Hosea was better able to relate to the pain and anger that God felt toward Israel because of their unfaithfulness. Hosea had done nothing to deserve the treatment he had received from Gomer. He had been faithful. He had been loving. He had provided for her. But she had turned her back on him, choosing to give herself to someone else.

But God commanded Hosea to show her love once again. He was to seek her out and bring her home. Not only that, it was going to cost him to do so. He would be forced to buy her out of her slavery. And it’s interesting to note that the price her paid for her was very low because her life had become worthless. It was the equivalent of the price paid for a dead slave. Paul paints a very similar situation when speaking of what God has done for those whom He has redeemed from sin. “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins” (Colossians 2:13 NLT). He essentially said the same thing to the believers in Ephesus:

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:4-6 NLT

Hosea was going to have to buy Gomer out of dead-end life and there is no indication that she desired for him to do so. She was returning to him in remorse and repentance. She was not calling out to him in despair and dissatisfaction with her condition. This would all be Hosea’s doing. He would redeem her in spite of her. He would love her at a time when her love for him was non-existent. And God is using Hosea’s earthly relationship as an illustration of exactly what He was going to do for Israel.

Both Gomer and the people of Israel would have to go through a period of cleansing. Hosea would require Gomer to live with him for a certain length of time, during which she would not be able to seek out the affections or attention of another man. In the same way, Israel would go through a period of time when they would be unable to practice spiritual adultery against God. They would “dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods” (Hosea 3:4 ESV). After the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom in 721 B.C., the Israelites would find themselves in captivity, unable to worship their false gods. They would have no king or kingdom. They would find themselves as little more than slaves, no longer able to commit the spiritual adultery they had before. Their condition would best be described as dead in their trespasses and sins.

And yet, just as Hosea was to do with Gomer, God would intervene. He would see to it that “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 3:5 ESV). After a period of time, God will restore Israel to their place as His children. But it will all be His doing. He will seek them out. He will restore them. He will reveal Himself to them. And He will shower His goodness on them.

The people of Israel are currently in this period of waiting. They have a kingdom, but no king. They have no temple and, therefore, no sacrificial system. They are no longer a theocracy, living under the leadership of God. But the day is coming when all that will change. God will faithfully restore them to their former condition, and Jesus Christ, the Messiah, will be their King and Lord. God’s plans for Israel are far from finished. He has much yet to accomplish on their behalf, and all that happens in the future will be as a result of His love, grace and mercy. He will love them in spite of them. He will restore them, not because they deserve it, but because He is faithful to keep His promises. That is the God we worship. He is loving, patient and kind. He is faithful. He keeps His promises. And He has a plan for this world that He is working out in His perfect timing. God will do what He has promised to do. He will finish what He has begun. He will fulfill His redemptive plan for Israel and for the church. We can count on it and rest in it.

You Are My God.

And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, “You are my people”; and he shall say, “You are my God.” – Hosea 2:21-23 ESV

Remember the three names that God commanded Hosea to give his children? His first son was to be named Jezreel, as a reminder of the sins of the Israelites committed in the Valley of Jezreel. His daughter was to be named Lo-ruhamah which means “no mercy”. His third child, a son, was to be named Lo-ammi, which means, “not my people”. As we have seen before, these names all held an important significance in God’s message that Hosea was to give to the people. His own family life was going to be a living testimony to the judgment, as well as, the love of God.

God was gracious to give Hosea a glimpse into the future so that the commands of the Lord regarding Gomer and their children would make sense. What God was telling Hosea to do  was not some arbitrary and unloving task designed to make his life difficult. It was meant to give the actions of God regarding the people of Israel an earthly and easy-to-understand picture of what was going to happen. And it was probably as much for Hosea’s sake as it was for the people of Israel.

God graciously informed Hosea about a day to come when He would renew and restore the people of Israel, but not because they would somehow deserve it. He would reach out and redeem them in spite of their spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness. And God told Hosea, “in that day…” He would do some pretty incredible things for the people of Israel, ultimately restoring them to their former position as His children. Even the land of promise, given to the people of Israel to Abraham by God would go through a physical transformation. God would bring about the miracle of agricultural rebirth. And it is interesting to note that Baal, one of the false gods that the people of Israel worshiped, was known as the Canaanite god of rain and fertility. What he had been unable to do for the people of Israel, God would do. This is where the names given to the children of Hosea come in. The name Jezreel meant “God will sow” and spoke of what God would do for the land of Israel “in that day”. The name Lo-ruhamah or No Mercy referred to God’s present attitude toward Israel, but God told Hosea that the day was coming when He would show mercy on No Mercy. The name Lo-ammi or Not My People, which was a reminder of the Israelites’ current status before God because of their sins, also plays an important role in God’s future plans for Israel’s restoration. He told Hosea, “I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’” (Hosea 2:23 ESV). In that day, things would be different. God would not only restore the Israelites to their former place of prominence as His people, He would make that relationship even better than it had been before. They would not just worship God out of duty, but out of delight. He would not just be another deity thrown in among their litany of false gods. He would be their one and only God. And they would say to Him, “You are my God” (Hosea 2:23 ESV).

There is a personal, intimate aspect to that phrase, “You are my God”. It conveys the idea of an up-close and personal relationship, in which God and His people enjoy unbroken and non-distracted community, free from unfaithfulness and idolatry. God would no longer have to compete for their attention and affection. He would be their only God. It is interesting to note that the apostle Paul used this very passage when speaking to the Gentile converts in the church in Rome.

As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” – Romans 9:25-26 ESV

Paul was not appropriating the prophecy of Hosea regarding the people of Israel and transferring it to the church, but he was simply using it to illustrate that God grace and mercy regarding all mankind is one and the same. Regarding the Gentiles or non-Jews, God takes those who were not His people (Jews) and makes them His children. He does this when they place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. When they do, He shows them mercy and He makes them sons and daughters of the living God, not because of anything they have done or any merit on their part. It is all due to the grace and goodness of God.

In terms of the immediate future for Israel, things were going to get worse before they got better. Their destruction was coming. God’s punishment on their sins was unavoidable and inevitable. But there was going to be a happy ending to the story. Why? Because God is the author of that story and He is loving, gracious, merciful and forever faithful. The story of redemption is a love story. It reveals the love of God towards a rebellious and unloving people, both Jews and Gentiles. While some people may rail against the judgment of God, they fail to recognize that any mercy shown to any human being is due to God’s love, not man’s merit. As the apostle Paul so succinctly said it, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV) and the punishment for that sin is death (Romans 6:23). No one is righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10). Everyone human being on the planet is living in opposition and rebellion to God and deserve His just judgment. But He graciously offers mercy and restoration through His Son. He provided a remedy to man’s deadly sin problem by sending His Son to die on man’s behalf. Jesus lived the life we could not live and died the death we deserved to die – so that we might have eternal life and be able to say, “You are my God”.

Testing God’s Patience.

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” – Hosea 1:2-5 ESV

Talk about a tough assignment. Hosea had been chosen by God to be his mouthpiece to the ten northern tribes of Israel. Being a prophet of God was a hard enough job without the special added task that Hosea was given by God. God instructed Hosea to “take for yourself a wife of whoredom.” This poses all kinds of ethical questions. Would God really command His prophet to marry a prostitute and, by doing so, defile himself? God had warned concerning the Levitical priests, “They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God” (Leviticus 21:7 ESV). It seems unlikely that God would ask one of His prophets to violate the same command He had given to priests. So it would see that God was speaking prophetically about what was going to happen between Hosea and his future wife. This interpretation seems to make the most sense and would parallel the experience between God and the people of Israel. When Hosea married Gomer, she would initially be faithful, just as Israel had been to God, but in time she would sell herself like a prostitute, proving unfaithful to Hosea. God was going to use Hosea’s family as a visual illustration of the blatant unfaithfulness of the people of Israel, as is clear by his words to Hosea: “for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”

Can you imagine the impact these words had on Hosea when he heard them? And yet, amazing, we read of no dissent or disagreement from Hosea. In fact, the text reads, “So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son” (Hosea 1:3 ESV). Knowing what he knew, Hosea still obeyed God. Hosea and Gomer were blessed by the birth of a son, but as God had warned, he would be a child of whoredom. What this most likely means is that when Gomer eventually turned to prostitution, her children would be recognized as children of a prostitute. Their character would be questioned because of their mother’s immoral actions. Just as generations of Israelites were saddled with the legacy left by their ancestors – a legacy of immorality and unfaithfulness to God.

God commanded Hosea to name his new son, Jezreel, which means, “God sows.” It refers to the scattering of seed by a farmer. But the real significance of the boy’s name would be linked to the Valley of Jezreel, where God said He was going “to punish King Jehu’s dynasty to avenge the murders he committed at Jezreel. In fact, I will bring an end to Israel’s independence. I will break its military power in the Jezreel Valley” (Hosea 1:4-5 NLT). It was years earlier, in the Valley of Jezreel, that Jehu, the newly anointed king of Israel murdered the reigning king, Joram. But not only that, he took the life of Ahaziah, the king of Judah. Jehu would go on a killing spree, taking the life of Jezebel, and slaughtering the 42 family members of King Ahaziah. He also wiped out any of the prophets of Baal that were left after Elijah’s encounter with them on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). Jehu seemed to enjoy his killing spree and saw himself as acting on behalf of God. But God made it clear to Hosea that He was going to avenge the slaughter committed by Jehu in the Valley of Jezreel. He was going to bring an end to the dynasty of Jehu in Israel. It would occur some years later when Shallum murdered Zechariah, a descendant of Jehu, and made himself king of Israel. 

So what’s the point of all this? God takes sin seriously. He will not tolerate the sins of those who even believe they are acting on His behalf. Jehu thought he was doing God a favor by wiping out Jezebel and the prophets of Baal, but he overstepped his authority. He made himself judge, jury and executioner, and he would answer to God for his actions.

The incredible thing about this passage is that Hosea was going to have to watch as his wife and children became visual illustrations of God’s indictment of the people of Israel for their unfaithfulness. But as we will soon discover, they would also prove to be living examples of God’s steadfast love and forgiveness. Hosea would be allowed to play the part of God in the life of his rebellious wife. This real-life scenario would have a dramatic impact on those who watched God’s prophet wrestle with the unrequited love of his unfaithful wife. But he would persevere. He would patiently reach out to her and love her, in spite of her. Just as God had done for years with the people of Israel.

But there would be a limit to God’s patience. He would not tolerate Israel’s unfaithfulness forever. And in 733 B.C., the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pilesar would destroy Israel and take the people into captivity, never to return. In the meantime, God was calling His people to return to Him. He used the prophets to warn them of the danger to come. He begged them to give up their idolatry and return to Him, just as Hosea would beg his wife to return to him and remain faithful. God is loving. He is kind. He is patient. But He is also holy and will not tolerate unfaithfulness forever. The judgment and justice of God are not to be taken lightly. He sent His Son into the world to provide salvation. But there are those who reject His offer and spurn His attempt to love them through the redemptive death of His Son. The day is coming when the offer will be removed and the opportunity to be saved is no more. The apostle Paul would have everyone come to grips with the incredible kindness and patience of God, so that they would not refuse His offer of salvation.

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. – Romans 2:4-8 NLT