What is love?
The Bible has much to say in answer to this deceptively tricky question,
but perhaps few biblical perspectives on love are more startling or more confronting than the picture offered by the prophet Hosea. It’s here that the God of the universe is depicted as a scorned, betrayed husband—one whose selfless love has been thrown aside by a spiritually adulterous people.
We might wonder how we would respond to being treated this way, but what about the holy, righteous God? How will he respond to his perfect, steadfast love being spurned by an ungrateful bride? What does he demand from his people, and how can they return to him? How will he continue to show his love?
Hosea, the 8th-century ‘minor prophet’—minor in length but major in message—answers these and many other vital questions. Presenting us with God’s holiness and unending love, it’s an ancient book with an urgent message that speaks compellingly to us today.
You may also be interested in this free article by the author of this study, James Stone, on how being familiar with two places Hosea mentions helps you understand the book better.
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Our world continues to experience confusion when it comes to the meaning and expression of love. Just one example is the revolution that the Western world has witnessed in the attitudes towards, and practices of, marriage. Love, it would seem, remains a mystery—and our homes, societies and nations continue to suffer as a result.
Yet for all our uncertainty about love, there are some areas where almost everyone would still agree. Few would argue, for example, over whether a child should respond to a loving parent with love. Few would argue over whether a husband and wife can rightly expect the unconditional, committed love that they have promised to one another. How incredible and confronting, then, to turn to the pages of the Bible and find the God of the universe pictured as a jilted lover—a betrayed husband and a rejected father. Yet this is exactly what we encounter in the message of Hosea, the 8th-century bc prophet to Israel.
These images communicate sobering and uncomfortable truths about humanity. As it was for the nation of Israel, so too for people today—we have all been like an unfaithful wife and a disobedient child towards God, more than we could ever have realized apart from God’s word revealing the truth. Our attitudes and actions show that we are justly charged with nothing less than the spiritual equivalent of adultery. We are undoubtedly deserving of judgement. Yet Hosea’s prophecy also communicates rich and precious truths about God’s unbreakable love. Incredibly, he steadfastly remains the ever-faithful husband and the ever-gracious Father. And all this penned by a prophet who, far from being removed from the truths he proclaimed, actually embodied them in his own marriage!
In Hosea, the first of the 12 ‘minor’ prophets, we find a message that was major in its importance for Israel and a message that is no less important for us today. We find a love that takes people’s attitudes and actions seriously. We find a love that is not the opposite of judgement but rather, and necessarily, incorporates it. We find a love that passionately and repeatedly calls for repentance and return. We find a love that goes to extreme lengths to forgive and reconcile. We find a love that prepares us for God’s graciousness revealed in all its fullness in the coming of his own dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ. It is a love that will not let you go.