Hosea is a book about the love of God and the treachery of our wrongdoing. It is about the character of God and the character of you and I, and how the gap between the two magnifies his love for us.
THE PATTERN OF JUDGMENT TO GRACE
There is a pattern that the book of Hosea follows. Seeing the pattern helps us see the point of the book. The content is deep, but the pattern is simple. It’s a two-beat rhythm of judgment and grace.
This pattern repeats itself several times through the book. The majority of each section is about Israel’s wrongdoing and judgment, and then grace comes in. And when grace comes in, it often does so as a surprise. It has a startling, intruding entrance. The judgment is so complete and just; and then grace shows up.
The image is of a storm coming. Dark, ominous clouds are brewing. Each section is dark and gets darker. But then, by the end of each section, there is a break in the clouds. A shaft of light pierces through. That is the heart of God, the love of God, and the grace of God breaking in. And this grace is always future-oriented; it is in the form of a promise. These promises were made in the 8th century BC, and they pointed forward to a day when grace would shine brighter than ever. And that day came in Jesus.
THE UNIQUE FOCUS OF HOSEA
But this pattern isn’t very unique to Hosea. This is how all the prophets speak. They speak against the wrongdoing of God’s people and the judgment they deserve, and then they give hope for the future. The pattern in all the minor prophets is sin, judgment, and salvation.
But Hosea is unique because he overlays this pattern with the image of marital love. He uses the marriage metaphor to give us a perspective on our human condition and on the nature of God’s love.
G. Campbell Morgan, a pastor at Westminster Chapel in London in the early 1900s, wrote, “We have in the book of Hosea one of the most arresting revelations of the real nature of sin, and one of the clearest interpretations of the strength of Divine love” (Morgan, Hosea: The Heart and Holiness of God, 13). This is because of the image of marital love.
Regarding the real nature of sin, Hosea helps us see it from a new angle. He shows us the pervasiveness of it in our hearts, and he shows us the offense it is to God. He equates it with spiritual adultery.
And regarding the strength of divine love, as we see our wrongs more clearly, we see his love more brightly. Everyone talks about God’s love, but we don’t know it. Not like we could. There is a continual rediscovery of the wonder of God’s love that is supposed to happen in the Christian life. And it is this continual rediscovery that animates us to grow.
THIS IS WISDOM
Now, we may think, “this sounds pretty basic: The real nature of sin, and the real strength of divine love.” That is gospel 101. That is Christianity 101. Hosea isn’t for me; I know those things.
But Hosea tells us who he is writing for, and it isn’t only those who don’t grasp these matters.
The last verse in the book is telling. Hosea 14:9, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.”
This is wisdom literature. Hosea is writing for those who are already wise and discerning, and he is making an appeal to them. He is saying, “listen to these things, understand these things, and know these things so that you would live in a way that pleases God.” Hosea isn’t just writing that those who reject God would trust him; he is writing that those who wisely follow Christ would know him more truly and live for him more consistently.
One of the greatest dangers of the Christian life is thinking we’re wiser than we are; thinking that we’re more holy than we are. A great danger is thinking that we already know the nature of sin in our lives and we don’t have much more to repent of. A great danger is assuming we know God’s love, and we can move on beyond that.
We all need to grow, and grasping what Hosea says about the human condition and the heart of God are primary ways in which we grow. We don’t move beyond these central realities in the Christian life; we move deeper into them. Our growth in the Christian life is marked by a continual rediscovery of the wonder of God’s love for us in Christ. Hosea uniquely awakens us to that wonder.