I have been in the Old Testament nearly all of 2011. Some books have been really intense and hard to get through, but I feel that I have a much better understanding of Israel and their history is more pieced together for me. Also in studying in the Old Testament I see God's character revealed with His chosen people. He knew from before time began that they wouldn't be able to keep the covenant He made with them, but He still had mercy and compassion on them anyway.
I think sometimes we can have a skewed perception about how God works. We can think that God is just waiting to pounce on us as soon as we mess up or fall short. That's not how God operates and the more we read His word, the more we will understand how God truly works. He said way back in the first five books of the bible what would happen to the Israelites if they didn't obey God and remain true to Him alone. They had no excuse because they knew. However, even though they messed up and turned away from Him, God sent prophet after prophet to send them a message of repentance.
God chastises those who He loves. If we are truly His children, He will provide us with several warnings to turn back to Him. We can choose to repent and turn back to Him or harden our hearts and go our own way. If we choose the latter, we need to prepare ourselves for whatever God chooses to to use to draw us back to Him.
Hosea was one of the minor prophets sent with a message from God to Israel. God used a different approach to try and get the message to Israel through Hosea. The first three chapters talk about Hosea's marriage and how it was a picture of His relationship with Israel. God told Hosea to select a wife named Gomer. She was known for practicing prostitution, who would be unfaithful to her vows, who would go after other men and have children with them. I can't imagine what Hosea must have thought when he received that word from God. What a lifetime of heartache ahead of him!! As a woman, that is one of my worst nightmares.
Hosea was faithful to God and did as He requested by marrying Gomer who commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord. They had a son named Jezreel. We don't know for certain, but this was probably the only child that was Hosea's. She had two sons and a daughter each named by the Lord to indicate consequences of Israel's idol worship and continued rejection of God. Some time during the marriage, Gomer left Hosea for another lover. She became a slave to him, but Hosea continued to love her and God sent him to go redeem her as his wife. She received undeserved forgiveness and was granted mercy after being unfaithful.
Before we look at Gomer with too much judgement, we must remember that we too are a picture of unfaithfulness and harlotry anytime when we put anything before God as an idol.
A GREAT book that I highly recommend is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It is a retelling of the story of Hosea in an 1850s California setting. I couldn't put the book down and I read it in no time. It beautifully retells this story in a more current setting.
In Hosea 4-14, the message is directly toward Israel. God says through Hosea what He holds against them and what is to come for the nation. God called His chosen people a harlot because they were led astray by idol worship and departed the one true God. They also looked to kings and other nations for protection instead of the only One who has true power to provide.
Because of their continual sin without repentance, God had to judge them. He could no longer look past it. He gave them chance after chance to turn back to Him with their whole hearts but they refused. In Chapter 13, God says He will be like a lion to them. He will tear open their chests and devour them. He said His compassion will be hidden from them and they will fall by the sword, little ones will be dashed into pieces, and pregnant women will be ripped open.
God allowed them to be taken into captivity by Assyria in 733 B.C. During that time, many perished, just as foretold by God through numerous prophets. They could have avoided such calamity, dark times, loss, and despair if only they had listened and turned back to God.
How do we "return to the Lord?" We are told in 1 Samuel 7:3-4, Isaiah 55:7, Lamentations 3:40, and Joel 2:12-13
*return to Him with all your heart
*remove foreign gods
*serve Him alone, direct your heart toward Him
*forsake your own ways
*examine and prove our ways
*with fasting, weeping, and mourning
*rend your heart and not your garments
When you've strayed away from someone you once loved for no fault of theirs, how do you return? Isn't it hard? It means admitting you have to change and it means being forgiven. Are you ready to be forgiven? Can you be forgiven if you have strayed from God? With God, the answer is always, "Yes, you're forgiven. Come back!"
Hebrews 12:5-11 tells us we are God's heirs, we are daughters and sons, adopted children. We quickly remind ourselves of this fact but forget that as daughters and sons we also bear a responsibility for obedience and right behavior. We're also quick to remember that He is love but conveniently forget that love includes discipline. God wants us to be pure, holy, and blameless at the coming of Christ.
Although God poured out discipline and judgement on His chosen people, at the same time, He extends hope to them. The last chapter of the book offers the future hope to Israel. He knew from eternity that His bride would stray from Him. He knew she would play the harlot with foreign gods. He knew she would reject Him regardless of how many times He called. Yet, He continued to call, always holding out on the hope of redemption.
God never gives up on His people. His anger burns only enough to turn them back to Him, never to completely destroy them. It's the same with us today. When we stray, God uses whatever means necessary to draw us back because He promised never to forsake us.