“I will love them freely.”
Hosea was a prophet contemporary with Isaiah, Amos, and Micah. He was a faithful prophet of God for 65-70 years. He was God’s messenger to the northern kingdom of Israel, only mentioning Judah (the southern kingdom) incidentally. This is important. You will remember that from the time that the kingdom was divided the northern kingdom was engulfed in idolatry (1 Kings 12:1-33). The practice of idolatry, as it always does, brought Israel into a state of utter decadence morally.
Hosea addresses Israel sometimes as Samaria, sometimes as Jacob, and sometimes as Ephraim, deliberately choosing names connected with failure, sin, rebellion, idolatry, and corruptions, calling for wrath and judgment. And Hosea speaks plainly about the wrath and judgment of God we deserve. But the message of Hosea is a message of immutable grace, unfailing mercy, and indestructible love. This is seen clearly in Hosea 14:4. Here the Lord God declares his purpose of grace toward his chosen, a purpose from which he cannot and will not be turned. ― “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.” We have a blessed portrayal of God’s immutable love to chosen sinners in chapter 11.
“And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city” (vv. 7-9).
A Portrait of Grace
The Book of Hosea begins with the story of Hosea and Gomer. It describes Hosea’s love for Gomer, her infidelity, her despising Gomer’s love and goodness toward her, and the gracious triumph of his love over her. This sets the background for and tells us the meaning of the rest of the Book. What we have in the first three chapters of this Book is a tremendous, blessed portrait of God’s free and sovereign grace toward chosen sinners in Christ.
Hosea, whose name means “savior,” is presented in this story as a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was commanded of God to go down to the red light district and take a wife from among the harlots. ― “The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD” (1:2).
He chose Gomer, whose name means “consumption.” That is a picture of God’s elect by nature, consumed with sin and consumed by sin. Gomer was the daughter of Diblaim, whose name means “dried” or “dead.” Like Gomer, we are the dead children of a dead father. But Gomer also means “consummation.” That pictures us, too. As Gomer was the consummation of all Hosea’s purposes and work, the consummation of his great love, so God’s elect are in their ultimate end the consummation of all God’s purposes, works, and great love.
The Lord gave Hosea and Gomer three children who also represent us. Jezreel means “seed of God.” — Loruhamah means “no mercy.” — Loammi means “not mine, or not my people.” We who were not his people and had not obtained mercy are now his people and have obtained mercy in Christ. That is exactly how the Holy Spirit interprets this story for us in the Book of Romans (Rom. 9:25-26).
Hosea came home one day, and Gomer was gone. She had gone back to her lovers. Chapter 2 tells us about Gomer’s great fall and Hosea’s purpose of love and grace concerning her. Chapter three tells us how Hosea’s love and grace prevailed; and he fetched Gomer home again. Read the first three verses of chapter three.
“Then said the LORD unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the LORD toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine. So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley: And I said unto her, Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee."
“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessing on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace,
Behind the frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain:
God is His own Interpreter,
And He will make it plain.”
Once Gomer had proved herself unfaithful, abandoning her husband and going after her lovers, though she proved herself “a wife of whoredoms,” Hosea did not cease to love her. Instead, he slipped away into the haunts of shame and ill repute. There he found the object of his love, found her in the arms of her lovers. What did he do? He did not have her stoned to death, executing the just sentence of the law. He did not force her to return to him, though he might have done so. He did not leave her there, though most would have done so. What did he do? He loved her! As chapter 2 describes Gomer’s horrible sin, it also describes Hosea’s incomparable, indestructible love for her.
But, as I have already indicated, there is more to this story than the love of Hosea for Gomer. This is a picture of the love of Christ for us. ― Just as Hosea took Gomer for his wife and married a woman altogether beneath him, unworthy of him, and totally without regard for him, so the Lord God our Savior is married to his elect. ― Just as Gomer forsook her loving husband and went after her lovers, you and I went astray from our God as soon as we were born. Just as Gomer’s pursuit of her lovers brought her into bondage, slavery, and utter ruin, so we have ruined ourselves, walking after the lusts of our own flesh. Just as Hosea hedged up Gomer’s ways to force her into his arms again (2:6-7), so our God and Savior hedged up our ways to graciously force us, to force our hearts, to return to him (Ps. 65:4; 110:3). ― Just as Hosea secretly provided for and took care of Gomer, though she ran after her lovers (2:8), so our great God graciously took care of and provided for us throughout the days of our rebellion (Jude 1; Heb. 1:14). ― Just as Hosea, in order to save Gomer, came to where she was and walked through the haunts of iniquity, so the Son of God, in order to save us, came into this world and walked in this land of darkness. ― Just as Hosea redeemed Gomer with a legal ransom price, our Lord Jesus Christ redeemed us by the price of his own precious blood. ― Just as Hosea made Gomer his faithful wife and was faithful to her, so the Lord Jesus, by his omnipotent mercy, irresistible love, and almighty grace, makes the objects of his love his faithful bride (3:3; Jer 32:38-40). ― Just as Hosea did all that he did for Gomer, in obedience to the will of God because of a covenant of love, so the Lord Jesus Christ does all that he does for us in obedience to the will of God as our Surety because of his covenant love for us (2:18-20). ― Just as Hosea conquered Gomer’s whorish heart by his love for her, so the Lord Jesus Christ conquers the hearts of chosen, redeemed sinners in the time of love (2:9-17).
The rest of the Book of Hosea describes the sins and sinfulness, the utter debauchery of God’s people, the horrible evil Israel brought upon itself, the horrible evil we bring upon ourselves by rebellion and sin, and our God’s matchless, unalterable purpose of grace and love, his determination to save his elect. This is not an over-simplification of Hosea’s message, but precisely the message Hosea was inspired of God to convey. In chapters 4-6 we see that Ephraim, Israel, and Judah fully deserved and constantly courted God’s wrath. They would not forsake their idols (4:17). They dealt treacherously with the Lord God, often pretending in time of fear to turn to him, but clinging still to their own devices (5:4-6:6). But the pretended repentance, which comes as a result of fear and judgment, is only another mockery of God (6:4-6)
Yet, in spite of all their iniquity, in spite of all the wrath they heaped upon themselves, the Lord God would not give up his own. He declares, “though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them” (8:10). Why? Because he will not give them up (11:8-9). Because his love for his elect is free, unconditional, indestructible love (14:4, 7-9).
Prophecies of Christ
Prophecies of Christ in these fourteen chapters are crystal clear. Both Peter and Paul show us that the prophecy of Hosea 1:10 has been fulfilled in Christ (1 Pet. 2:10; Rom. 11:25-26). The Book of Hosea is not talking about God’s love and grace toward Abraham’s physical seed. It describes, in prophetic type, God’s mercy, love, and grace toward his elect in every nation, Abraham’s spiritual seed, the Israel of God.
After giving us the tremendous picture of his mercy, love, and grace by which we are saved (1:1-3:3), Hosea declares the meaning of the picture, assuring us that God will save his people (3:4-5).
Hosea 6:2 speaks of the resurrection of Christ; and our resurrection in him could not be more plainly foretold. The prophet expressly mentions two days, after which life should be given, and a third day, on which the resurrection should take place. Christ will come again as “the Day-spring from on high,” coming forth from the grave on the resurrection morning, and it is written of him that he shall “come down like showers upon the mown grass.”
Hosea 11:1 had its fulfillment in Matthew 2:15. Who can read Hosea 11:3-4 and not hear the Lord Jesus Christ speaking of his great, gracious method of grace to our poor souls? ― “I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them.”
In chapter 13 (verse 4) our great God and Savior declares his singularity as God and his gracious determination to make us know it (Isa. 45:22; Matt. 1:21). Verse 14 speaks again of our resurrection by Christ in the last day. ― “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” The word translated “ransom,” means “rescue by the payment of a price.” The word “redeem,” speaks of Christ’s work as our Kinsman Redeemer. Our risen Redeemer sings triumphantly, “O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be they destruction!” Soon, we shall sing the same song (1 Cor. 15:51-58).