What is Love? (Hosea)

I love ice cream. I love that new Italian restaurant. I love big dogs. I love children. I love…The word love is overused in our culture. Our culture does not have any real respect for words. We do not use them well and we do not use them appropriately. Words have lost their meaning. So what is love? Truly, what is a love defined by God’s Word? And what kind of love does God require of us? I remember being in Venezuela and arguing with one of my fellow missionaries about love. I was arguing that my friend’s parents who were not believers loved each other. They were a couple that I believed epitomized “love.” The day following my argument during my quiet time I read 1 John 4:7-8,

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

The Lord showed me that it was impossible to truly love the way God requires us without being born again. What I witnessed in my friend’s parents was a glimpse of the love that God has shown us, but it was not full biblical love. True biblical love can only happen when we have been born of God for true biblical love is supernatural. Biblical love is far beyond our natural ability to love. We need God’s supernatural help to love as He loves. True biblical love rooted and established in the character of God. God is love. Hosea shines a spotlight on the amazing, undeserved love of God.

    Hosea was a prophet in the late eighth century. While most Minor Prophets address the southern kingdom of Judah, Hosea primarily prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel. He warned the Israelites of the coming destruction of Assyria in 722 BC. Hosea prophesied before the exile. Hosea can be broken down roughly into 2 sections. The first 3 chapters address Hosea’s personal life and the last 11 chapters contain the prophecies of the coming judgment and the few promises of hope[i]. The book starts with the beginning of a love story, but one that is unexpected.

True Love is Supernatural

   The word of the Lord came to Hosea. God supernaturally spoke to Hosea. We should never allow the truth that the Creator God speaks to sinners. Hosea 1:1-3,

The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

He told him what he wanted to do. This is supernatural communication. The supernatural word and the supernatural love that God gives to Hosea only makes sense if it seen as supernatural. Human love cannot understand God’s request.

Hosea is told to take a prostitute as his wife. He is told to love a woman that gives herself to other men. Why would God do this? He wanted Hosea to model God’s love for an adulterous people. We see the purpose at the end of verse 2, “for the land commits whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” The nation of Israel was committing spiritual adultery. They were not giving themselves exclusively to worship of Yahweh, but they were giving themselves to other gods. The root sin of the Old Testament is idolatry. Idolatry is loving something or someone more than God.

    The relationship between God and his people is so intimate that He views worshipping other gods as an act of adultery. God is married to His people. God is our husband, we are His bride. This imagery is contained throughout the Scriptures. There is a tremendous amount of intimacy that God expects with His people. The covenant/betrothal language is seeped with the intimacy we are called to have with God. Hosea 1:4-9,

And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

This sounds like a very harsh judgment. And it is, for true biblical love is a righteous love.

True Love is Righteous

    God’s love is a righteous love meaning that He loves that which is good and right. We may say we love, but if we do not love that which is righteous then we do not love as God would have us love. True love must be concerned with righteousness. This is one of the reasons God commands parents in Proverbs 13:24 to establish a love of righteousness through discipline, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”

Discipline is an act of love so if we refuse to discipline God says we hate our children. If we refuse to correct people when they enter activities, lifestyles and behaviors that harmful and against God’s word, we are not showing true biblical love. Biblical love is always connected to righteousness and truth. Therefore, God is demonstrating His love for the people of Israel in sending them discipline in the form of the Assyrian army because they have strayed from their first love. Hosea 5:1-2,

Hear this, O priests! Pay attention, O house of Israel! Give ear, O house of the king! For the judgment is for you; for you have been a snare at Mizpah and a net spread upon Tabor. And the revolters have gone deep into slaughter, but I will discipline all of them.”

The Lord promises discipline as an act of love. They did not acknowledge God as the giver of good gifts (Hos. 2.8-10). Chapter 4 outlines the main thrust of Israel’s sins. Hosea 4:1-14,

Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel, for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away…My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame…. My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good.

Because of the sin of the people, we read, Hosea 9:1,

“Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples; for you have played the whore, forsaking your God.”

It sounds like very harsh language. It may even make us uncomfortable, but we must call sin what it really is: forsaking God, chasing after other lovers. These are not politically correct words, but one of the reasons why people engage in this type of behavior is because we live in a society that refuses to use biblical words to define sin. It is disgusting. Israel was breaking the ten commandments. They were lying, murdering, committing adultery, coveting, and most importantly they were not loving the Lord God. God hates sin, it is disgusting in his sight. And when we remove the disgust of sin, we start to engage in it or to give approval because of our silence. We are trained to think that pointing out sin is unloving and judgmental, but it is not. Biblical love is righteous. It hates evil and clings to what is good. Do you love like that? Do you love what is righteous? Is your life characterized by righteousness? Do you love God or are you loving the world?

            Have you ever walked into a dirty house? When you see a house that has been overtaken by clutter, dust, trash, you ask, “How can they live like this?” If you live in filth long enough, you stop seeing the filth. It just becomes normal. If someone walked into the “house” of your life, would they ask, “How can you live like this?” Is your life cluttered with worldly filth and godless clutter?

            God takes sin very seriously so seriously that if are sin is not dealt with it will experience a far greater punishment than a national takeover. God will punish sin in an eternal hell where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, where the worm does not die and the fire is never quenched. Many question the reality of hell; have you ever asked why you question Hell’s existence? Why do you doubt it? Why has it been neglected in pulpits and conversations through America? I believe we question hell because we have lost a vile, ugly, heinous view of sin. As we minimize the true vile of sin, we lose what sin deserves. Hosea is a very fresh reminder of how God views sin. He hates it. Stop for a moment and think about your sins. Are there any sins that you have explained away? Or sins you have coddled and allowed to grow? Are there secret sins in your life?

            God’s righteousness demands him to love what is good and hate what is evil. We should desire the same.

True Love is Forgiving

    We pick back up the strange love story of Hosea and Gomer. Gomer does not deserve Hosea’s love, yet God tells him to go to her again. Chapter 3,

And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.”

He commands Hosea to go again, love a woman, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel. Hosea is called to model to Gomer, God’s love for the children of Israel. God wants to forgive and restore the people of Israel. God’s forgiveness always starts with Him extending his hand to us.

            Gomer is in the arms of another man living as an adulterous woman. It is while she is still in her sin that God tells Hosea to go to her. In going to his sinful wife, Hosea is modeling the love that God has for his people. We love God, because He first loved us. He takes the initiative to rescue and to redeem us while we are in the pit of sin. Gomer received love she didn’t deserve by her loving husband. Hosea who made a promise to love her forever.

               As you read this strange love story, you may start feeling sorry for Hosea. You may understand his plight for it is very hard to love sinners, but we are not like Hosea. We are Gomer. We are sinners in need of forgiveness. We are rebels in need of restoration. Mark Dever writes,

Regardless of all the ways you may compare your righteousness with someone else’s, when you compare yourself with God and what he has called you to be, it should be clear that you are Gomer. You and I are the unfaithful objects of God’s ever-faithful love. Only when we understand this do we begin to understand what love is.[ii]

We all are Gomers. We all have been unfaithful to our Husband, the Lord God Almighty. We must always hold these core truths together. We are far more sinful than we could ever imagine AND we are far more loved than we could ever dare dream. Hosea loved Gomer. Hosea pursued Gomer while she was in her sin. God loves us. God pursues us while we are in our sins.

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

 And in the face of our great need, we need to be reminded of God’s great promise of hope.

True love is Hopeful

    God’s judgment always is mixed with hope. His love always gives hope. At the end of chapter 1, after God tells Hosea to name his children, No Mercy and Not My People, he gives this great promise 1:10-2:1,

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. Say to your brothers, “You are my people,” and to your sisters, “You have received mercy.”

God promises that one day the children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea and those of whom he said, “you are not my people,” will be called, “children of the living God.” All the children of God will be gathered together and shall appoint for themselves one head. And that one head is the head of the church, Jesus Christ. Israel had failed as the son. They were called to be a light to the nations, but became like the nations. And since they failed, God sent forth his Son. Jesus Christ did not lie like Israel, but rather no deceit was found in his mouth. Jesus Christ did not bow his knee to idols, but rather said you should shall worship the Lord God and serve him only. Jesus was obedient to death even death on a cross. He was dead and buried and God rose him from the dead. Jesus was the firstfruits of the resurrection. And in his resurrection, Jesus would show mercy to sinners and call them his people. For anyone who did receive him, he gave the right to call them children of God. Peter writes that those who turn from their sins and receive Jesus Christ have become,

A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).

We have become a people through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have been purchased through his death and resurrection. Jesus Christ is our head and our hope. Paul referenced the same hopeful promise in Romans 9:25-26 showing how only God will save us from his wrath by his mercy.

            We should never fear because God has caused us to be born again into a living hope through His resurrection of the dead. What we know in part, we shall fully know. All of history will bear witness of God’s gathering of sinners as his children. God promises in Hosea 2:14-23,

14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. 15 And there I will give her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. 16 “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord. 21 “And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, 22 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, 23 and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy,and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’ ” [1]

Now hear how this promise in Hosea looks forward to the end of human history in Revelation 21:1-4,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

True love is hopeful. Once you were not my people, but now you are God’s people. The Bible is full of great promises.

            God spoke many harsh words to Israel because of their sin. God called out their sins, but he called out their sins so that they would return to him. God spoke of his tender mercy and never-stopping, never-giving up love for his people. Beloved, there is no sin too grievous, too heinous, and too evil that can keep you from the mercy of God. God’s hopeful love will always triumph over your sin. In chapter 11, God speaks through Hosea,

When Israel was a child, I love him, and out of Egypt I called my son…It was I who taught her (Ephraim) to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know what I healed them. I led them in with cords of kindness, with the bands of love., and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them…how can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?...My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender (Hosea 11:1;3;8).

The Lord will never give up on his people. The Lord will always show His people His love. The New Testament references this when Jesus returned from Egypt after escaping Herod. As God would call his Israel out of Egypt to lead an exodus of redemption, God would call his Son, Jesus, out of Egypt to lead an exodus of redemption from sin to his glory. Only God can give us victory over death. Hear what Gods promised in Hosea 13:14, “I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?” After quoting this passage, The Apostle Paul writes, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

            The Lord will ransom all the sinful, adulterous Gomers in the world from the sting of death and the power of sin when they repent and trust in Christ. The Lord will never give up on his people.  Neither should we!! Know God’s love today is extended to sinners. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received God’s mercy. Once you were not my people, but now you are God’s people. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ho 2:14–23). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


[i] Dever, Mark. Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament.

[ii] Dever, Mark. Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament. Pg 690.