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Before you begin ...
Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and wisdom as you go through this lesson.
Read Hosea 1—3. This lesson references chapter 1 in Be Amazed. It will be helpful for you to have your Bible and a copy of the commentary available as you work through this lesson.
From the Commentary
After the death of King Solomon, his son Rehoboam pursued a course that divided the nation into two kingdoms. Rehoboam reigned over Judah, the southern kingdom, composed of Judah and Benjamin; and Jeroboam II ruled over the remaining ten tribes that formed the northern kingdom of Israel, also called Ephraim.
Fearful that the people would go back to Jerusalem to worship, Jeroboam I put golden calves at Bethel and Dan, thus leading the ten tribes into idolatry. Along with idolatry came immorality, and soon the religion of Israel become an evil blend of Jewish ritual and pagan idolatry. The people loved it.
The prophets were God's spokesmen to call Israel and Judah back to the covenant God had made with them at Mt. Sinai. But the people refused to listen, and both kingdoms suffered for their disobedience. Israel became an Assyrian vassal in 733 BC and then was conquered by Assyria in 722 BC. The Babylonians invaded Judah in 606 BC and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. Thousands of Jews died, and thousands more went into exile in Babylon.
Hosea ministered in the northern kingdom from about 760 to 720 BC. Israel was enjoying great prosperity, but Hosea could see that the nation was rotten to the core; for honest government, pure religion, godly homes, and personal integrity had vanished from the land. Judgment was inevitable. Hosea faithfully preached the Word, but the nation refused to repent and was finally swallowed up by Assyria.
—Be Amazed, pages 13–14
1. What do you think is the attraction of idolatry? Why do idolatry and moral/political corruption go together? How is Hosea's story like that of preachers and teachers today?
2. Choose one verse or phrase from Hosea 1—3 that stands out to you. This could be something you're intrigued by, something that makes you uncomfortable, something that puzzles you, something that resonates with you, or just something you want to examine further. Write that here.
From the Commentary
Prophets sometimes do strange things. For three years, Isaiah embarrassed people by walking the streets dressed like a prisoner of war. For several months, Jeremiah carried a yoke on his shoulders. The prophet Ezekiel acted like a little boy and "played war," and once he used a haircut as a theological object lesson. When his wife suddenly died, Ezekiel even turned that painful experience into a sermon.
Why did these men do these peculiar things?
"These peculiar things" were really acts of mercy. The people of God had become deaf to God's voice and were no longer paying attention to His covenant. The Lord called His servants to do these strange things—these "action sermons"—in hopes that the people would wake up and listen to what they had to say. Only then could the nation escape divine discipline and judgment.
But no prophet preached a more painful "action sermon" than Hosea. He was instructed to marry a prostitute named Gomer, who subsequently bore him three children, and he wasn't even sure the last two children were fathered by him. Then Gomer left him for another man, and Hosea had the humiliating responsibility of buying back his own wife.
—Be Amazed, page 17
3. What was Hosea's story all about? Compare the "action sermon" God told Hosea to live out (Hos. 1 and 3) to the words He gave Hosea to say (Hos. 2). How did the actions live out the words? How do God's people experience the same kinds of temptations as Israel did during Hosea's time? (See James 4:4.)
From the Commentary
Hosea names four kings of Judah and only one king of Israel, Jeroboam II. The kings of Judah, of course, belonged to David's dynasty, the only dynasty the Lord accepted (1 Kings 11:36; 15:4). The kings of Israel were a wicked lot who followed the sins of Israel's first king, Jeroboam I, and refused to repent and turn to God (2 Kings 13:6).
After Jeroboam II died, his son Zechariah reigned only six months and was assassinated by his successor, Shallum, who himself was assassinated after reigning only one month. Menahem reigned for ten years; his son Pekahiah ruled two years before being killed by Pekah, who was able to keep the throne for twenty years. He was slain by Hoshea, who reigned for ten years, the last of the kings of Israel. During his evil reign, the nation was conquered by Assyria, the Jews intermingled with the foreigners the Assyrians brought into the land, and the result was a mixed race known as the Samaritans.
What a time to be serving the Lord! Murder, idolatry, and immorality were rampant in the land, and nobody seemed to be interested in hearing the Word of the Lord! On top of that, God told His prophet to get married and raise a family!
—Be Amazed, page 18
4. Why was this such a violent time in history? What does that say about the people who lived during that time? About their understanding of God? Why would God choose to use Hosea in such a symbolic way to make His point? What other approaches might God have used?
More to Consider: Read Jeremiah 2—3; Ezekiel 16; 23. Why was prostitution used as a symbol for idolatry? (See also Ex. 19—21.) Why might this have been a particularly appropriate comparison considering the Israelites during Hosea's time?
From Today's World
Prostitution is often referred to as the "oldest profession in the world." Though legal and strictly regulated in some Nevada cities, prostitution has retained its negative perception in the minds of most Americans. Even most nonbelievers consider it an immoral practice. However, despite all the disdain for prostitution, it continues to flourish in the shadows, where people of all backgrounds seek pleasure at the expense of women's and men's dignity. In the darkest corners of our world, prostitution has become a form of slavery, and human trafficking is big business, even in the United States.
5. Why does prostitution—something that devastates all parties involved—continue today? What does this say about the culture in which we live? About how it compares to the culture during Hosea's lifetime? How would such an "action message" as God gave through Hosea's life be received today? Was God's plan for Hosea to make a statement about prostitution? Why or why not?
From the Commentary
As with Isaiah's two sons (Isa. 7:3; 8:3), and numerous other people in Scripture, Gomer's three children were given meaningful names selected by the Lord.
The first child, a son, was called Jezreel (Hos. 1:4–5), which means "God sows" or "God scatters." Jezreel was a city in the tribe of Isaachar, near Mount Gilboa, and is associated with the drastic judgment that Jehu executed on the family of Ahab (2 Kings 9—10; and see 1 Kings 21:21–24). So zealous was Jehu to purge the land of Ahab's evil descendants that he murdered far more people than the Lord commanded, including King Ahaziah of Judah and forty-two of his relatives (2 Kings 9:27—10:14).
Through the birth of Hosea's son, God announced that He would avenge the innocent blood shed by Jehu and put an end to Jehu's dynasty in Israel. This was fulfilled in 752 BC when Zechariah was assassinated, the great-great-grandson of Jehu and the last of his dynasty to reign. God also announced that the whole kingdom of Israel would come to an end with the defeat of her army, which occurred in 724 BC.
The second child was a daughter named Lo-ruhamah (Hos. 1:6–7), which means "unpitied" or "not loved." God had loved His people and proved it in many ways, but now He would withdraw that love and no longer show them mercy. The expression of God's love is certainly unconditional, but our enjoyment of that love is conditional and depends on our faith and obedience. (See Deut. 7:6–12; 2 Cor. 6:14—7:1.) God would allow the Assyrians to swallow up the northern kingdom, but He would protect the southern kingdom of Judah (Isa. 36—37; 2 Kings 19).
Lo-ammi (Hos. 1:8–9) was the third child, a son, and his name means "not My people." Not only would God remove His mercy from His people, but He would also renounce the covenant He had made with them. It was like a man divorcing his wife and turning his back on her, or like a father rejecting his own son (see Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1).
—Be Amazed, pages 19–20
6. What were the new names God would eventually give these children? (See Hos. 1:10—2:1.) What are the meanings of these new names? What message did God give in the changing of the names?
From the Commentary
Hosea is preeminently the prophet of love, but unlike some teachers today, he doesn't minimize the holiness of God. We're told that "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16), but we're also reminded that "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1:5). God's love is a holy love, not a sentimental feeling that condones sin and pampers sinners.
The prophet focuses on three particular sins.
The first of these is idolatry (spiritual adultery; Hos. 2:2–5a). God speaks to the children and tells them to rebuke their mother for her unfaithfulness. Israel was guilty of worshipping the gods of the pagan nations around them, especially the Canaanite rain god, Baal. Whenever there was a drought or a famine in the land, the Jews repeatedly turned to Baal for help instead of turning to the Lord. (See 1 Kings 18—19.) Pagan worship involved sensual fertility rites; and for these rites, both male and female prostitutes were provided. In a literal as well as a symbolic sense, idolatry meant prostitution.
Since the people were acting like prostitutes, God would treat them like prostitutes and shame them publicly. He would no longer claim the nation as His wife because she had broken the solemn marriage covenant and consorted with idols. According to Hebrew law, adultery was a capital crime, punishable by death, but God announced that He would discipline Israel and not destroy her.
—Be Amazed, page 21
7. Why did the people continue to seek help from pagan gods? How was this a way of playing it safe? How do people do the same thing today? Why did God choose to discipline Israel instead of destroy her? (He'd done that once before—remember the Flood?)
From the Commentary
The second sin Hosea focuses on is ingratitude (Hos. 2:5b–9). Instead of thanking the true God for His blessings of food, water, and clothing, the nation thanked the false gods and used those gifts to serve idols. What ingratitude! God provided rain for the land (Deut. 11:8–17), but the Israelites gave the credit to Baal, the rain god. Because it is God who gives us power to earn wealth (8:17–18) and enjoy the blessings of life (1 Tim. 6:17), we must thank Him and acknowledge His goodness. What wickedness it is to take the gifts of God and use them to worship false gods!
God had every right to abandon His people, but instead, He chose to discipline them. The nation would chase after false gods, but Jehovah would block their paths and confuse their plans so that they would stumble on the way. He would take back His gifts and leave the nation as naked as a newborn baby and as barren as a desert.
It's remarkable how many times God's people are admonished in Scripture to be thankful.
—Be Amazed, page 22
8. Why was it so hard for the Israelites to thank God? Why did they give Baal the credit? How should they have responded (and how should we respond) to the blessings in life? (See Ps. 100:4 and Col. 3:15.) What does a lack of thankfulness lead to? (See Rom. 1:21.)
From the Commentary
The third sin Hosea focuses on is hypocrisy (Hos. 2:10–13). The people still enjoyed celebrating the Hebrew festivals, but in their hearts, they gave the glory to Baal and the other false gods that they worshipped. Unfortunately, the same sin was being committed by their brothers and sisters in the temple of Jerusalem (Isa. 1).
But the truth would eventually come out, for God would judge His people and expose their hypocrisy. He would take away their blessings and abandon them to their sins, for one of the greatest judgments God can inflict on any people is to let them have their own way. God is holy and will not permit His people to enjoy sin for long or to live on substitutes. Eight times in the Bible we read, "Be holy, for I am holy"; God means what He says.
—Be Amazed, pages 22–23
9. In what ways were the Israelites just going through the motions of worshipping God? Why does this happen? (See Matt. 15:7–9.) How does this happen in today's church? What is the solution for this error?
More to Consider: Hosea 3:3 suggests that Hosea didn't immediately enter into intimate relations with Gomer but waited awhile to make sure she would be true to him. It's also possible that he wanted to make sure she wasn't pregnant with another man's child. What is the spiritual message of this aspect of Hosea's story? (See Hos. 3:4–5.)
From the Commentary
Hosea's three children have taught us about the grace of God, and Gomer taught us about the holiness of God. Now Hosea will teach us about the love of God.
The repeated "I will" statements in Hosea 2:14–23 assure us that God has a wonderful future planned for the Jewish people. Let's note His promises.
He begins with "I will allure" (v. 14). God doesn't try to force His people to love him. Instead, He "allures" (woos) them as a lover woos his beloved, seeking her hand in marriage.
The next promise is "I will give" (v. 15) as the Lord guarantees a return to His people's land and a restoration of their prosperity.
God's third promise is "I will take away" (vv. 16–17). God declares an end to idolatry among His people.
God's fourth promise is "I will betroth" (vv. 18–20). God's wooing of Israel will result in her yielding to Him and entering into a covenant relationship that would never end.
The fifth promise is "I will respond" (vv. 21–22 NIV), (KJV, "I will hear"). These two verses describe a tremendous cosmic conversation in which the Lord speaks to the heavens and the earth, and they respond to each other and bring blessings to God's people.
The final promise in this text is "I will plant" (v. 23 NIV). The word Jezreel means "God sows." The image is that of God sowing His people in their land the way a farmer sows seed.
—Be Amazed, pages 23–25
10. How does each of these promises show God's love? How did the promises apply to the Israelites? How do they still apply today?
Take a moment to reflect on all that you've explored thus far in this study of Hosea 1—3. Review your notes and answers and think about how each of these things matters in your life today.
Tips for Small Groups: To get the most out of this section, form pairs or trios and have group members take turns answering these questions. Be honest and as open as you can in this discussion, but most of all, be encouraging and supportive of others. Be sensitive to those who are going through particularly difficult times and don't press for people to speak if they're uncomfortable doing so.
11. How has God "changed your name" since the days when you weren't a believer? What would your name have meant before coming to Christ? What does it mean today?
12. Are there any ways in which you're going through the motions as Israel did in the book of Hosea? What leads you to go through the motions instead of fully investing yourself in the experience of faith? What might help you change that pattern?
13. What is the greatest expression of love you've ever received from another person? What role did forgiveness play in that relationship? How is that like the way God expresses His love for His people through Hosea's story?
14. Think of one or two things that you have learned that you'd like to work on in the coming week. Remember that this is all about quality, not quantity. It's better to work on one specific area of life and do it well than to work on many and do poorly (or to be so overwhelmed that you simply don't try).
Do you want to practice loving unconditionally? Be specific. Go back through Hosea 1—3 and put a star next to the phrase or verse that is most encouraging to you. Consider memorizing this verse.
Real-Life Application Ideas: Spend time this week expressing your gratitude to God for all He has done for you. Do this in a variety of ways—through prayer, worship, Bible study, loving acts toward others. Instead of seeing all the things that aren't going well in life, thank God for all the things He is doing in your life. Turn your perspective around to see even trials as God's hand shaping your life. Then try to continue this practice as you live forward.
Excerpted from THE WIERSBE BIBLE STUDY SERIES: MINOR PROPHETS (VOLUME 1) by Warren W. Wiersbe. Copyright © 2013 Warren W. Wiersbe. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted September 24, 2013
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