The Love of God in Hosea 

 

The words of God as recorded in Hosea- both through the acted parable of Hosea’s love life, and in actual statement- are passionate and contradictory. The love of God in Hosea is a classic example of Bible paradox. God speaks with a raw anger rarely seen elsewhere in the prophets; and yet He says the very opposite of those things, in the love that He has towards her. And it’s not that God uttered words of judgment and then, years later, when Israel repented, softened His attitude. No, within the very same prophecy, God changes His position. In the midst of free-flowing wrath, He remembers mercy. This shows for one thing His passion as a personal being. Further, it shows that we can legitimately see within our own personal relationships a real reflection of the feelings of Almighty God. There is within every valid valid relationship an element of love/hate, patience/frustation, anger and yet also the tenderest love. And so it really was and is in God’s relationship with Israel. His love, patience and tenderness are, however, the dominant emotion; and it is these which are brought together in that wonderful final chapter of Hosea. There as we read, once we perceive what is going on, we feel caught up in the passion of God’s love for His people. He has expressed the love and anger, the justice and grace, the truth and mercy, throughout the book. And now He pours out that love, contradicting His former angry judgments, picking up the words He has used and turning them right around. He has told them He won’t love them any more. And now, He concludes- that He will love them freely. He would give them the valley of Achor, symbol and epitome of their miserable failure toward Him, a place best forgotten in their history, as a door of hope. And she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, when she came up out of Egypt (2:15). And so as you cough and hack your way through the routines of this monotonous life, know that there is a God above who passionately watches for your every move towards Him, who woos you to Him, as He seeks to allure Israel back to Him (2:14). When you decide or don’t decide to make that effort to get up earlier to pray more, to read, to meditate; when you weigh up whether or not to give something of ‘yours’ to Him; He is there watching as it were on the edge of His seat. This is the thrill of a living relationship with Him.  

Even within the space of a few verses, God says one thing in judgment and then appears to change it: “I will utterly take them away…yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea” (1:6,10), i.e. the Abrahamic promises would still be fulfilled to them. This is the love of God in Hosea. 

The key verse in all this paradox of the love of God in Hosea is perhaps 11:9. Exactly because God is God and not man, He will not punish His people according to what He had said He would do. His “repentings were kindled together” (11:8), alluding through the same Hebrew words to how Joseph’s innermost being “did yearn upon his brother” (Gen. 43:30), in prophecy of how God would accept Israel in the last days. And chapter 12 explains how God’s relationship with Jacob, who brought God to change His judgment concerning him, is the pattern for us all- for in those incidents, “there he spake with us”. 

Consider the ‘contradictions’ in God’s statements about His beloved woman Israel. They indicate if nothing else that He is a passionate God, with deep feelings. And the wonder of it all is that these are the feelings of God Almighty towards His tiny creatures who crawl this earth. This is just how important He has allowed us to be for Him. 

“I will break the bow of Israel” (1:5)

I will break the bow and sword of Israel’s enemies and save Israel (2:8)

“I will no more have mercy upon Israel” (1:6)

“I will show mercy unto her that had not obtained mercy…in [God] the fatherless [Israel] findeth mercy” (2:23; 14:3)

“I will utterly take them away” (1:6)

Israel will ask God to “take away” [s.w.] their sins, and He will (14:2)

“I will not be your God” (1:9)

“Turn thou to thy God…wait on thy God” (12:6); “I that am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt” (12:9; 13:4); “return unto the Lord thy God” (14:1)

“She is not my wife, neither am I her husband” (2:2)

Yet Israel are encouraged to return to her husband, i.e. God (2:7); He longs for her to call Him “husband” again (2:16)

God would “return” or “reward” Israel for her doings (4:9)

God would return [s.w.] the captivity of Israel (6:11); “I will not return [s.w.] to destroy Ephraim: for I am God and not man” (11:9); “mine anger is turned away [s.w.] from him” (14:4)

Both Israel and Judah had sinned equally; therefore “Judah also shall fall with them” (5:5). The judgments to come upon both of them are paralleled (5:12; 6:10,11).  God would be “as a lion” to devour both Ephraim and Judah (5:14)

Yet other passages state that Judah was more faithful than Ephraim and was as yet undefiled (11:12)

God remembered every one of Israel’s sins (7:2)

He will not remember the fact they worshipped Baal (2:17)

“They shall return to Egypt” (8:13; 9:3), and be buried in Memphis (9:6)- although this never happened

“He shall not return into the land of Egypt” (11:5)

“They shall reap the whirlwind” (8:7)

A repentant Israel will “reap in mercy” (10:12)

“They shall not dwell in the Lord’s land” (9:3)

“I will place them [s.w. dwell] in their [own] houses [dwelling places]” (11:11); “I will yet make thee to dwell [s.w.]” (12:9)

God would destroy Israel’s children and walk away from them and forget them (9:12)

God will never “forget” Israel (Is. 49:15)

God would slay every single man of Israel, so that there would not be a man left (9:12)

He never did this

“I hated them” (9:15)

God loves Israel with an eternal love, and hates their enemies Esau (Mal. 1:3). He will “love them freely” (14:4). In place of hatred, He will show them compassion (Is. 60:15).

“I will drive them out [s.w. divorce] from mine house” (9:15)

According to the acted parable of Hosea’s life, he never divorced his wife but loved her to the end.

“I will love them no more” (9:15)

“I will love them freely” (14:4)

“My God will cast them away” (9:17; Is. 54:6); the same Hebrew word occurs when God says He would “reject” Israel (4:6)

Even when Israel were to be in the land of their enemies as punishment for their sins, “I will not cast them away” [s.w.] (Lev. 26:44). God will not cast away Israel (Is. 41:9). Only if Heaven can be measured will God cast away Israel (Jer. 31:37). God has not cast away His people (Rom. 11:2)

“I will not enter into the city” (11:9)

But the enemies of Israel, manifesting God’s judgments, did enter into the city. The Hebrew words for “enter” and “city” occur together in several passages describing this (2 Kings 25:2; Jer. 32:24,29; 44:2; 52:5; Dan. 9:26; Joel 2:9). The promise that they would not was surely uttered in emotional passion?

Assyria would be their King, not God (10:3; 11:5)

Judah has God as her king (11:12)

God would give them up to their enemies and they would go to Assyria (9:3)

God would not ‘give up’ or deliver Israel to her enemies (11:8)

God would destroy / devour them (7:13; 8:14; 10:8; 13:8)

God would not destroy them (11:9)

In similar vein, Mic. 2:9 clearly states that God would “take away my glory for ever”; yet Ez. 48 and other passages picture the glory of God returning to the temple from which it had departed. One can find these kinds of things all over the Bible. They are profound witnesses to the depth of God’s passion for us. We live in a passionless age. Within our community, there's a culture of well-speak arising, which masks a legalism and disregard of the person and the individual. The well-speak culture whilst of course good in a sense, leads to a community and people lacking in any passion, obsessed with keeping a status quo, and that will never grow. Judging how something is said / presented rather than WHAT is said or done appears typical of what is the case in the world at large. Passion, emotion, genuine feeling, hot blood, are all somewhat despised. But these are very clearly the character traits of the God in whose image we seek to be. And they are brought together beautifully in the love of God in Hosea.

The Ultimate Resolution

The way God through Hosea speaks to His people verges at times on what appears to be abuse. Having threatened her with murder, death by starvation, slaying her kids with thirst, being stripped naked and raped before her lovers, He then speaks to her in terms of tenderest love and hopefulness for the future relationship. Outbursts of violence [verbal or otherwise] followed by tenderness is the classic pattern of the abusive husband. Cases of domestic violence and male abusers of women repeat this pattern time and again- it's a classic (1). Now why would the God of all love and true tenderness, cast Himself in this role? It seems to me that God is trying to express to Israel by this hyperbole that He understands just how they will see Him; just how hard it is for them to believe / trust in Him in that they think He's being abusive [although He isn't]; that He takes more 'guilt' than He ought to in it all; but that in the very end, "I will love them freely", and the Gentile world will ever know that. God lived in hope she would see the point, He hoped through the hope of Hosea that 'Gomer' would say "I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now" (Hos. 2:17). But Gomer / Israel would not; and so the Lord picked up the idea and puts it in the mouth of the returning prodigal son in Lk. 15:17. We in our daily repentances, in our coming to the Lord, are the ones who do touch the heart of God with joy, in seeing through the paradoxes and coming to see that God is in the end, love. Our struggling with these paradoxes is partly because of our Greek rather than Hebrew thinking. Greek thinking involves 'step logic', whereby you reason in a series of logical extrapolations. But Hebrew tends to reason through placing 'blocks' of ideas are put in opposition to each other, or 'dialectic', in order to come to conclusions. That's why we can read of God hardening Pharaoh's heart, and Pharaoh hardening his own heart (Ex. 7:3; 8:15). Or God being abusive to Israel, and then wonderfully loving. To Greek, step-logic thinkers, that's a worrying contradiction- only because they don't pick up the way that Hebrew reasoning involves these kinds of statements being put in opposition to each other, so that through the dialectic process we come to understand what is meant. And what is meant here in Hosea is ultimately that God is love, love beyond all reason, for the unloving and unresponsive, and that His love will find the ultimate way.

(1) See L. Walker, The Battered Woman (New York: Harper & Row, 1979) pp. 55-70 for further analysis.