Lessons From the Scriptures: Hosea 1:1–14:9
Jehovah Our God Is Merciful
JEHOVAH is “a God of acts of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.” (Nehemiah 9:17) He abides by his righteous standards but invites wrongdoers to repent and enjoy a good relationship with him. How well this was illustrated by what God said to the wayward Israelites through his prophet Hosea!
The Bible book bearing Hosea’s name was completed by the prophet in the district of Samaria after his long service of some 59 years (from about 804 B.C.E. to after 745 B.C.E.). Hosea prophesied in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel in the days of King Jeroboam II and Judah’s rulers Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. (Hosea 1:1) Because Israel ignored calls for repentance, the nation fell to the Assyrians, and its capital city, Samaria, was destroyed in 740 B.C.E. Though Hosea’s prophecy was directed to people of past centuries, it contains lessons for us regarding the mercy of our God, Jehovah.
Israel’s Wayward Course
Jehovah grants mercy on the basis of a sinner’s heartfelt repentance. (Psalm 51:17; Proverbs 28:13) God’s willingness to show mercy to Israel was illustrated by Hosea’s dealings with his wife, Gomer. As commanded, he took “a wife of fornication.” After bearing one child to Hosea, Gomer evidently bore two children in adultery. Yet, the prophet mercifully took his wife back. Similarly, Israel was like an unfaithful wife to Jehovah, wrongly ascribing blessings to the false god Baal. But Jehovah was willing to show them mercy if they repented of their spiritual adultery.—1:1–3:5.
Sinners desiring divine mercy must turn from their sinful course and conform to the knowledge of God. (Psalm 119:59, 66, 67) Jehovah had a legal case against Israel’s inhabitants because truth, loving-kindness, and the knowledge of God were lacking in their land. Since they rejected knowledge, Jehovah would reject them. There would be an accounting for idolatrous Israel and Judah. But it was foretold that they would seek God when they found themselves “in sore straits.”—4:1–5:15.
Reaping a Storm Wind!
Works befitting repentance are essential if wrongdoers are to experience God’s mercy. (Acts 26:20) “Let us return to Jehovah,” pleaded Hosea. But the loving-kindness of Israel (called Ephraim for its chief tribe) and Judah was “like the dew that early goes away.” The people had overstepped God’s covenant and produced no fruits befitting repentance. “Like a simpleminded dove without heart,” they sought aid from Egypt and Assyria. But these political measures would do them no more good than “a loose bow” unable to shoot arrows at a target.—6:1–7:16.
To reap what is good, those seeking Jehovah’s mercy must sow what is good. (Galatians 6:7, 8) Because the Israelites cast off good, they reaped what was bad. ‘They kept sowing wind and would reap a storm wind.’ God would “give attention to their sins,” and they would reap not his mercy but his adverse judgment. They would become “fugitives among the nations,” Assyrian conquest likely contributing to this situation.—8:1–9:17; Deuteronomy 28:64, 65; 2 Kings 15:29; 17:1-6, 22, 23; 18:9-12; 1 Chronicles 5:26.
We will keep on benefiting from God’s mercy only if we continue to appreciate sacred things. (Hebrews 12:14-16) The Israelites lacked such appreciation. Instead of sowing seed in righteousness and reaping in accord with loving-kindness, they plowed wickedness and reaped unrighteousness. God called Israel out of Egypt as a son, but His love was repaid with deception. “To your God you should return, keeping loving-kindness and justice,” Jehovah counseled. But Ephraim engaged in gross wrongdoing and deserved reproof instead of mercy.—10:1–12:14.
Return to Jehovah
Even those who err seriously can return to Jehovah and be shown mercy. (Psalm 145:8, 9) Hosea again cited God’s tender care for the Israelites. Though the nation turned against Jehovah, he promised restoration, saying: ‘From Sheol I shall redeem them; from death I shall recover them.’ Samaria (Israel) would have to pay a price for rebelliousness. But the Israelites were urged to come back to God with wholesome words, ‘the young bulls of the lips.’ The prophecy concluded with the comforting thought that the wise and righteous who walk in Jehovah’s upright ways would enjoy his mercy and love.—13:1–14:9.
Lessons to remember: Jehovah grants mercy on the basis of a wrongdoer’s heartfelt repentance. But sinners desiring his mercy must conform to the knowledge of God and produce works befitting repentance. They need to sow what is good and must continue to appreciate sacred things. And comfort can be drawn from the knowledge that even those who err seriously can return to the Most High with hope, for Jehovah our God is merciful.
[Box on page 14]
BIBLE TEXTS EXAMINED
○ 2:21-23—Jezreel means “God Will Sow Seed.” Jehovah would gather a faithful remnant and sow them like seed in Judah, where there would be grain, sweet wine, and oil. In behalf of the needy remnant, these good things would ask the earth to release minerals to the grain stalks, the grapevines, and the olive trees. The earth would appeal to the heavens for rain, and they would ask God to produce clouds that would give needed rainfall.
○ 5:1—The apostate priests and kings of Israel became a trap and a net for the people by enticing them to engage in false worship. Likely, Mount Tabor (west of the Jordan) and Mizpah (a city east of that river) were centers of false worship. Throughout Israel, people were practicing idolatry because of the bad example of their leaders, who would experience God’s adverse judgment.
○ 7:4-8—Adulterous Israelites were likened to a baker’s oven, or furnace, apparently because of the evil desires burning within them. For mingling with the nations by adopting their ways and seeking alliances with them, Ephraim (Israel) was also like a round cake baked on only one side.
○ 9:10—The Israelites ‘dedicated themselves to the shameful thing’ when they became attached to the Baal of Peor on the plains of Moab. (Numbers 25:1-5) Hosea used a Hebrew verb meaning “to withdraw themselves to; to hold themselves separate for.” The Israelites were dedicated to God but separated themselves to Baal of Peor. That incident may have been cited because the worship of Baal was a principal sin of the ten-tribe kingdom. (Hosea 2:8, 13) May we heed this warning and never break our dedication to Jehovah.—1 Corinthians 10:8, 11.
○ 10:5—Beth-aven (meaning “House of Hurtfulness”) was used in a derogatory sense for Bethel, which means “House of God.” Bethel had been a house of God but became a house of hurtfulness because of the calf worship practiced there. (1 Kings 12:28-30) When the calf idol was carried into exile, the people would be frightened for it. The lifeless idol could not protect itself, much less those who worshiped it.—Psalm 115:4-8.
○ 13:14—Jehovah would not spare the disobedient Israelites by rescuing them at that time from the power of Sheol or recovering them from death. He would show no compassion, for they did not deserve mercy. But the apostle Paul showed that God would eventually swallow up death forever and nullify its victory. Jehovah demonstrated his power to do so by raising Jesus Christ from death and Sheol, thus giving a guarantee that persons in God’s memory will be resurrected by his Son under Kingdom rule.—John 5:28, 29.