One of the reasons the Book of Hosea exists is to help us see our relationship with God from a different angle. He gives us a new perspective on our own hearts and God’s.
One of the reasons we perhaps don’t take God seriously is because we don’t take sin seriously (and vice versa). In order to remedy this, we may take our current view of sin and raise our voices a bit. But if we view our problem as fundamentally that of violating standards, we will miss the point. Our deepest problem isn’t that we transgress a standard, but that we violate a relationship. Hosea shows us that sin, as others have noted before, is not just breaking God’s rules, but breaking God’s heart. Likewise, salvation is not just tweaking our behaviors, but winning our hearts.
The Problem of Spiritual Adultery
Israel’s deepest problem is spiritual adultery. Just several words in and repeated throughout, Hosea announces that Israel “commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (Hos. 1:2). There is plenty of sexual unfaithfulness among Israel, but that’s not primarily what is in view. They are committing adultery – not first against one another (though that may be true) – but against God. He is the husband, Israel the wife. God is faithful, she is sleeping around. This is idolatry and spiritual adultery.
Their problem runs deep. “A spirit of whoredom” has entered into their hearts and led them astray (4:12; 5:4). This is a mindset. An ethos. A pervasive attitude. And this mindset is deep within them. It is this attitude and ethos that is driving their actions. Their deepest problem is a mindset that is opposed to valuing God above all things. Their spiritual mindset is like the mindset of an unfaithful and adulterous spouse. The mind is set against the husband; no longer loving the husband; sneaking around the husband; living a double-life.
Hosea’s language is provocative and personally offensive. Why? To wake them up to see who they are. Hosea is written so that we would acknowledge that we have a husband in heaven lavishing blessings on us, and yet we have too often found our true satisfaction in other things. We have gone after other lovers.
We often think of sin primarily as breaking rules, and that it is. But here sin is redefined as not just breaking God’s rules, but breaking God’s heart. It is not just disobeying God; it is betraying God. Hosea redefines sin as spiritual adultery. This is a new perspective on sin for us.
When we pursue “other lovers” it actually isn’t even fitting with reality. This is because the very things we think we are receiving from our “other lovers” – our idols – we are actually receiving from God: “she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal” (2:8). Spiritual adultery is receiving gifts from God and giving thanks to something or someone else. It fails to acknowledge God as our provider. It is continuing to receive what only God can give and attributing the success to other things. This is like a child ignoring his parent and thanking stuffed animals for his meals. He thanks a gift of the parents for the gifts of the parents but without giving thanks to the parents and loving the parents above the gifts.
The Hope of Spiritual Allurement
The scandal of spiritual adultery leads us to see God’s love as a scandal of its own. What does he do? He wins us back, and he does so in the most surprising way (Hosea 2:14, “Therefore, look!”). He allures us: “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” The English Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs, summarizes what God says in this allurement: “I will unfold the beauty and excellency of the infiniteness of my goodness and lovingkindness, and set in array before their souls the exceeding glory of the riches of my grace” (Burroughs, The Prophecy of Hosea, 130). God will become artful in the way he shows his love. He will strategize to win our hearts.
And it will work. His people will call him “my husband” instead of “my baal” (2:16). God will turn them away from pursuing their other lovers. He will turn them away from spiritual adultery. She will no longer have divided loyalties. She will be truly repentant, and truly turn to him. It will be like a marriage because it will be a marriage: “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteous and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord” (2:18-20). To “know the Lord” is a pretty innocent phrase on its own. But it in contexts of marriage it refers to sexual intercourse (cf., Gen. 4:1). Sex is about more than physical union; it is the consummation of a whole-life union – physical, spiritual, and emotional. This knowing and being known is applied to our relationship with God. Not in a physical way; but in a deeply intimate way. The highest end of salvation is knowing and communing with the Triune God. Knowing Christ and being known by him.
And he goes to the greatest lengths to win us to himself. The cross is where Jesus Christ, a faithful husband, dies for spiritual whores to make them his bride. If the Christian life is about being allured to Jesus, let’s be ok with being allured.
Captivated By His Beauty
Here is a hymn by Ora Rowan titled, Hast Thou Heard Him, Seen Him, Known Him?, which expresses the hope of being captivated by Christ’s beauty. The music below is by Indelible Grace (and the song can also be sung to the tune of Tis So Sweet).
Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not thine a captured heart?
Chief among ten thousand own Him,
Joyful choose the better part.
Captivated by His beauty,
Worthy tribute haste to bring.
Let His peerless worth constrain thee,
Crown Him now unrivaled King.
What can strip the seeming beauty,
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless worth.
‘Tis that look that melted Peter,
’Tis that face that Stephen saw,
‘Tis that heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw.