The message of grandma’s passing was difficult for our family. But we knew it was coming. The same can be said for the message we are about to read in Hosea. The prophet announced the coming judgment for their sin. His message should not have come as a surprise. The people had been rejecting God for many years. Their time had finally come.
As we began this study of Hosea, I promised that it would be a difficult one. The minor prophets major on the judgment of God. But some of them also talk about the hope available through the one, true God. Hosea is such a prophet. Although he declares God’s judgment against Israel (and to a lesser degree Judah), he also gives God’s message of hope for the future. As we study the promised judgment of Israel, try to do two things: (1) look for the reasons for their judgment, and (2) look for the source of their future hope. This will help each of us to learn something from this book.
The Symbolism of Hosea’s Family (1:2-9)
At the beginning of Hosea’s ministry, God told him to do something that seems beyond the call of duty. He tells Hosea to marry a woman who would prove to be unfaithful and to have children who would be a product of that unfaithfulness. Imagine the feelings of this man as he carried out God’s orders! What should have been a happy occurence for Hosea, was filled with the thought that his wife would soon be found unfaithful to him. Why did God tell him to do this? The marriage was to serve as a symbol of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.
As we study this first chapter, we will see very clearly that Hosea’s family was to be a sign to the people of Israel. Their names and activities would picture something about Israel’s unfaithfulness or God’s coming judgment. Studying the meaning of each name will help us to understand God’s message to Israel. But it won’t be easy as the judgment of God is quite severe. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So, stick with me as we study Hosea’s family.
Gomer was the wife chosen by Hosea to fulfil God’s command to him. Her name is a significant reminder of what was happening in Israel. It is derived from a Hebrew verb that means “end, come to an end, complete” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 170). That same verb is used elsewhere to describe the completion of God’s compassion (Psalm 77:8) and the complete lack of godly men in the land (Psalm 12:1).
Her name was a sign to the people of Israel that their sinfulness had finally reached the point of no return. They had repeatedly rejected God to worship false idols. This was spiritual adultery against the One who had always been faithful. But they didn’t know how good they had it. They slowly spiraled downward away from God, looking for pleasure in what the world, the flesh, and the devil could offer. God had been merciful, but his mercy would end soon.
Soon after their marriage, Gomer conceived and gave birth to a son. What is usually a happy occasion turned out to be quite unhappy. God commanded Hosea to name their beautiful, little son Jezreel. The name Jezreel is taken from a verb which means to plant seed (BDB 281) and means, “God plants.”
Although the meaning of the name does have significance, its real significance is in its geographical location. Jezreel (southwest of the Sea of Galilee) “was the site of Jehu’s ruthless massacre of the house of Ahab” (Bible Knowledge Commentary—Old Testament 1380) where Jehu murdered King Joram of Israel, King Ahaziah of Judah, and Joram’s seventy sons (2 Kings 9-10). A question comes to mind when you think through the history of Jehu’s massacre. Wasn’t that ordained of God? Consider what Charles Feinberg says about this subject.
Jehu was the instrument of God to execute His judgment upon the house of Ahab. But he came to the throne through dastardly crimes of bloodguiltiness (2 Kings 9:14 and following). True, his act was commended (2 Kings 10:30), for it was such in itself, but later events showed the motivating causes in Jehu’s life had been pride and ambition. … It is clear that although Jehu was the instrument of God for a visitation upon punishment-deserving Ahab and his dynasty, nevertheless God required it of him because his own heart was not right and because he had personal ambitions contrary to the mind of God.
The Minor Prophets, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1990), 16.
Jehu did what God wanted. But he did it with a wicked heart (Proverbs 15:8). Feinberg goes on to point out other examples of God’s judgment against nations who fulfilled his judgment against Israel. Both Assyria (Nahum) and Babylon (Habakkuk 2) were later judged for their cruelty toward Israel and Judah despite the fact that they were carrying out God’s command. Why was this? They were judged because they were doing God’s will with the wrong motives. Although Jehu thought he had gotten away with his sinful behavior, the truth of Numbers 32:23 and Galatians 6:7 found him out.
Hosea’s prophecy against Jehu was fulfilled when Shallum assassinated Jehu’s great-great-grandsonand, Zechariah (2 Kings 15:8-12). And the prophecy against Israel was fulfilled when after a three year siege the Assyrian King Shalmaneser conquered Samaria (2 Kings 18:9-12).
After a period of time, Gomer gave birth to another child. This time it was a daughter. God commanded Hosea to name here Lo-ruhamah. This name is made up of two Hebrew words, lo (which means not) and ruhamah (which means compassionate). Her name was to signify the end of God’s compassion toward Israel. Think about that! God was removing his compassion from his chosen people. When the enemy came in to attack them, he would not show any mercy. He would allow them to be killed or taken captive. God would do this as a punishment for their spiritual adultery against him. What a punishment!
But even as this pronouncement was made against Israel, God spoke with compassion toward the southern kingdom. Judah was known for a roller coaster relationship with God, but they had not yet come to the complete apostasy of Israel. Because of this, God promised to deliver them apart from their own power. After Israel was defeated by the Assyrians, it looked as if Judah would soon follow them. But Hezekiah sought the Lord and was delivered when the angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers during the night (2 Kings 19:35-36). It was just as Hosea had prophesied.
Soon after Lo-ruhamah was weaned, Gomer gave birth to another son. God was quick to instruct Hosea again. His name was to be Lo-ammi. As you already know, lo stands for not, but what does ammi mean? Ammi means, “my people” (Brown, Driver, & Briggs 520). Put the two together and you find that God was sending a stern message to Israel. “You are not my people!”
As you will remember from our study of the kings, some of the kings of Judah were believers. But none of the kings of Israel were. All of them were ungodly, self-seeking men who only obeyed God when it would supplement their wicked designs. Many prophets had been sent to them, most notably Elijah and Elisha. And, yes, at one time there were 7000 who had not bowed to Baal. But things had become worse. Just years before the Assyrian Captivity of 722 B.C., Israel was so bad, that God rejected them as his people and refused to be their God.
“Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord.” That statement had been used to describe the history of our nation. But is it an appropriate description for today? I don’t think so. Our country is on the same downward spiral toward destruction which Israel took. As the nation collectively turns away from the Lord, how long will it be before God totally removes his protection from this great nation and allows us to be destroyed for our wickedness?
We don’t know the answer to that question, but we do know what happened to Israel. They were conquered and taken captive by the Assyrians because of their apostasy against God. “And yet … .” This is the way Hosea continues his prophecy to this nation about to be destroyed.
The Symbolism Reversed (1:10-2:1)
After such a dreadful pronouncement, Hosea reveals a future hope in those two words. But what could he say that would make the future of Israel any better? In effect, he pronounces that God was going to overturn the judgment against Israel at some time in the future. This was good news.
Some day in the future, God has promised that Israel will become very numerous. This was especially remarkable during World War II (see Feinberg 18). And instead of being called Lo-ammi, they will be called Ammi, which means, my people. Has this taken place yet? I don’t think so. While the nation of Israel exists again, they are not so numerous as promised in this passage. Neither would you call the people of Israel the sons of the living God because most Israelis are still unbelievers. Until they turn to Jesus Christ as their Messiah, they will not be considered God’s sons again.
This then must refer to the millennial kingdom during which the Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the combined kingdom of Israel and Judah (Rev. 20:4-5). But this will only take place when God gathers them from around the globe and gives them a new heart that is tender towad him (Ezek. 11:14-21). At that time, the restored kingdom of Israel will no longer be called Lo-ruhama (not compassionate) and Lo-ammi (not my people). Instead, they will be called the exact opposite, Ruhamah (Compassion) and Ammi (my people).
The symbolism of these names is significant. Each name says something important about what God was going to do and will do in the future. But that symbolism was only significant to those who listened to Hosea’s message. You have to wonder how many of the Israelites laughed at the prophet and were surprised when his words came true. But what about you? Have you been listening? God wants you to learn from this message, but you can only do so if you have been listening with an open heart to what God’s Word says.