Hosea’s Prophecy Helps Us to Walk With God
“After Jehovah they will walk.”—HOSEA 11:10.
1. What symbolic drama is found in the book of Hosea?
DO YOU enjoy dramas with fascinating characters and intriguing plots? The Bible book of Hosea contains a symbolic drama.* That drama deals with the family affairs of God’s prophet Hosea and is related to the figurative marriage that Jehovah contracted with ancient Israel by means of the Mosaic Law covenant.
2. What is known about Hosea?
2 The setting for this drama is found in Hosea chapter 1. Hosea apparently lived in the territory of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel (also called Ephraim, for its dominant tribe). He prophesied during the reigns of Israel’s last seven rulers and of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah. (Hosea 1:1) So Hosea prophesied for at least 59 years. Though the book bearing his name was completed not long after 745 B.C.E., it is relevant today, when millions are pursuing a course like that foretold in the words: “After Jehovah they will walk.”—Hosea 11:10.
What an Overview Reveals
3, 4. Briefly explain what is covered in Hosea chapters 1 through 5.
3 A brief overview of Hosea chapters 1 through 5 will strengthen our resolve to walk with God by exercising faith and pursuing a course in harmony with his will. Although inhabitants of the kingdom of Israel became guilty of spiritual adultery, God would be merciful to them if they repented. This was illustrated by the way Hosea dealt with his wife, Gomer. After she bore one child to him, she apparently had two illegitimate children. Yet, Hosea took her back, just as Jehovah was willing to show mercy to repentant Israelites.—Hosea 1:1–3:5.
4 Jehovah had a legal case against Israel because there was no truth, loving-kindness, or knowledge of God in the land. He would hold an accounting against both idolatrous Israel and the wayward kingdom of Judah. When God’s people were “in sore straits,” however, they would seek Jehovah.—Hosea 4:1–5:15.
The Drama Unfolds
5, 6. (a) How widespread was fornication in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel? (b) Why is the warning given to ancient Israel significant for us?
5 “Go,” God commanded Hosea, “take to yourself a wife of fornication and children of fornication, because by fornication the land positively turns from following Jehovah.” (Hosea 1:2) How widespread was fornication in Israel? We are told: “The very spirit of fornication has caused [the people of the ten-tribe kingdom] to wander off, and by fornication they go out from under their God. . . . Your daughters commit fornication and your own daughters-in-law commit adultery. . . . As to the men, it is with the harlots that they get off to themselves, and with the female temple prostitutes that they sacrifice.”—Hosea 4:12-14.
6 Fornication was rampant in Israel in both a physical and a spiritual sense. Jehovah would therefore hold “an accounting” against the Israelites. (Hosea 1:4; 4:9) This warning has significance for us because Jehovah will hold an accounting against those practicing immorality and engaging in unclean worship today. But those walking with God meet his standards for clean worship and are aware that “no fornicator . . . has any inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and of God.”—Ephesians 5:5; James 1:27.
7. What was symbolized by Hosea’s marriage to Gomer?
7 When Hosea married Gomer, she evidently was a virgin, and she was a faithful wife at the time she “bore to him a son.” (Hosea 1:3) As portrayed in the symbolic drama, shortly after freeing the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1513 B.C.E., God similarly made a covenant with them that was like a contract for a clean marriage. By agreeing to the covenant, Israel promised to be faithful to her “husbandly owner,” Jehovah. (Isaiah 54:5) Yes, this figurative marriage of Israel to God was symbolized by Hosea’s clean marriage to Gomer. But how things changed!
8. How did the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel come into existence, and what can you say about its worship?
8 Hosea’s wife “proceeded to become pregnant another time and to give birth to a daughter.” That girl and a later child were probably conceived by Gomer in adultery. (Hosea 1:6, 8) Since Gomer represented Israel, you might ask, ‘How did Israel come to prostitute herself?’ In 997 B.C.E., ten of Israel’s tribes separated from the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Calf worship was set up in the northern ten-tribe kingdom of Israel so that its people would not go to Judah to worship Jehovah at his temple in Jerusalem. Worship of the false god Baal, with its sex orgies, became entrenched in Israel.
9. As foretold at Hosea 1:6, what happened to Israel?
9 At the birth of Gomer’s likely illegitimate second child, God told Hosea: “Call her name Lo-ruhamah [meaning “She Was Not Shown Mercy”], for I shall no more show mercy again to the house of Israel, because I shall positively take them away.” (Hosea 1:6) Jehovah ‘took them away’ when the Assyrians carried the Israelites into captivity in 740 B.C.E. However, God showed mercy to the two-tribe kingdom of Judah and saved her but not by bow, sword, war, horses, or horsemen. (Hosea 1:7) During a single night in 732 B.C.E., just one angel killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers who were threatening Judah’s capital city, Jerusalem.—2 Kings 19:35.
Jehovah’s Legal Case Against Israel
10. Gomer’s adulterous conduct illustrated what?
10 Gomer left Hosea and became “a wife of fornication,” living adulterously with another man. This illustrated how the kingdom of Israel entered into political alliances with idolatrous nations and began to depend upon them. Instead of crediting Jehovah with her material blessings, Israel attributed these to the gods of such nations and violated her marriage covenant with God by engaging in false worship. No wonder Jehovah had a legal case against the spiritually adulterous nation!—Hosea 1:2; 2:2, 12, 13.
11. What happened to the Law covenant when Jehovah allowed Israel and Judah to go into exile?
11 What penalty did Israel pay for leaving her Husbandly Owner? God caused her “to go into the wilderness” of Babylonia, the nation that conquered Assyria, where the Israelites had been exiled in 740 B.C.E. (Hosea 2:14) When Jehovah thus caused the 10-tribe kingdom to end, he did not cancel his marriage covenant with the original 12-tribe nation of Israel. In fact, when God let Jerusalem be destroyed by the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E. and allowed the people of Judah to become captives, he did not abolish the Mosaic Law covenant by which 12-tribe Israel had entered into a figurative marriage with him. That relationship was done away with only after Jewish leaders rejected Jesus Christ and had him put to death in 33 C.E.—Colossians 2:14.
Jehovah Admonishes Israel
12, 13. What is the substance of Hosea 2:6-8, and how did those words apply to Israel?
12 God admonished Israel to “put away her fornication,” but she wanted to go after those passionately loving her. (Hosea 2:2, 5) “Therefore,” said Jehovah, “here I am hedging your way about with thorns; and I will heap up a stone wall against her, so that her own roadways she will not find. And she will actually chase after her passionate lovers, but she will not overtake them; and she will certainly look for them, but she will not find them. And she will have to say, ‘I want to go and return to my husband, the first one, for I had it better at that time than now.’ But she herself did not recognize that it was I who had given to her the grain and the sweet wine and the oil, and that I had made silver itself abound for her, and gold, which they made use of for Baal [or, which “they made into a Baal image,” footnote].”—Hosea 2:6-8.
13 Although Israel sought the help of nations that had been her “passionate lovers,” none of them were able to assist her. She was hedged about as if by an impenetrable thicket, so that they were unable to get any help to her. After a three-year Assyrian siege, her capital city, Samaria, fell in 740 B.C.E., and the ten-tribe kingdom was never reestablished. Only some individuals among the captive Israelites would realize how good things had been when their forefathers had served Jehovah. That remnant would reject Baal worship and seek a renewed covenant relationship with Jehovah.
Another Look at the Drama
14. How did it come about that Hosea renewed marital relations with Gomer?
14 To understand more fully the connection between Hosea’s domestic affairs and Israel’s relationship with Jehovah, consider these words: “Jehovah went on to say to me: ‘Go once again, love a woman loved by a companion and committing adultery.’” (Hosea 3:1) Hosea complied with this command by repurchasing Gomer from the man with whom she had been living. Afterward, Hosea firmly admonished his wife: “For many days you will dwell as mine. You must not commit fornication, and you must not come to belong to another man.” (Hosea 3:2, 3) Gomer responded to the discipline, and Hosea renewed marital relations with her. How did this apply to God’s dealings with the people of Israel and Judah?
15, 16. (a) Under what circumstances could God’s disciplined nation receive his mercy? (b) How has Hosea 2:18 been fulfilled?
15 While exiles from Israel and Judah were captives in Babylon, God used his prophets to ‘speak to their heart.’ To receive divine mercy, his people had to manifest repentance and go back to their Husbandly Owner, as Gomer had returned to her husband. Then Jehovah would take his disciplined wifelike nation out of the Babylonian “wilderness” and bring her back to Judah and Jerusalem. (Hosea 2:14, 15) He fulfilled that promise in 537 B.C.E.
16 God also fulfilled this promise: “I shall certainly conclude a covenant in that day in connection with the wild beast of the field and with the flying creature of the heavens and the creeping thing of the ground, and the bow and the sword and war I shall break out of the land, and I will make them lie down in security.” (Hosea 2:18) The Jewish remnant who returned to their homeland lived in security, with nothing to fear from animals. This prophecy also had a fulfillment in 1919 C.E., when the remnant of spiritual Israel was freed from “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion. They now dwell in security and enjoy life in a spiritual paradise with their companions, who hope to live forever on earth. Animalistic traits do not exist among these true Christians.—Revelation 14:8; Isaiah 11:6-9; Galatians 6:16.
Take the Lessons to Heart
17-19. (a) What qualities of God are we here urged to imitate? (b) How should we be affected by Jehovah’s mercy and compassion?
17 God is merciful and compassionate, and that is how we should be. That is one lesson taught by the early chapters of Hosea. (Hosea 1:6, 7; 2:23) God’s willingness to extend mercy to repentant Israelites is in harmony with the inspired proverb: “He that is covering over his transgressions will not succeed, but he that is confessing and leaving them will be shown mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) Also comforting to repentant wrongdoers are the psalmist’s words: “The sacrifices to God are a broken spirit; a heart broken and crushed, O God, you will not despise.”—Psalm 51:17.
18 Hosea’s prophecy highlights the compassion and mercy of the God we worship. Even if some deviate from his righteous ways, they can repent and turn around. If they do, Jehovah welcomes them. He showed mercy to repentant members of the nation of Israel, with which he had entered a figurative marriage. Though they disobeyed Jehovah and ‘pained the Holy One of Israel, he was merciful and kept remembering that they were flesh.’ (Psalm 78:38-41) Such mercy should move us to keep walking with our compassionate God, Jehovah.
19 Even though such sins as murder, stealing, and the committing of adultery were rampant in Israel, Jehovah ‘spoke to her heart.’ (Hosea 2:14; 4:2) Our own hearts should be stirred and our personal attachment to Jehovah strengthened as we reflect on his mercy and compassion. Let us therefore ask ourselves: ‘How can I better imitate Jehovah’s mercy and compassion in my dealings with others? If a fellow Christian who has offended me asks for forgiveness, am I as ready to forgive as God is?’—Psalm 86:5.
20. Give an example to show that we should have confidence in God-given hope.
20 God gives true hope. For example, he promised: “I will give her . . . the low plain of Achor as an entrance to hope.” (Hosea 2:15) Jehovah’s ancient wifelike organization had the sure hope of being restored to her homeland, where “the low plain of Achor” was located. Fulfillment of that promise, in 537 B.C.E., gives us sound reason to rejoice in the sure hope that Jehovah sets before us.
21. What role does knowledge play in our walking with God?
21 To continue walking with God, we need to keep on taking in knowledge of him and applying it in our life. Knowledge of Jehovah was sorely lacking in Israel. (Hosea 4:1, 6) Yet, some prized divine teaching highly, acted in harmony with it, and were greatly blessed. Hosea was one of them. So were the 7,000 who in Elijah’s day had not bent the knee to Baal. (1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:1-4) Our own gratitude for divine instruction will help us to keep on walking with God.—Psalm 119:66; Isaiah 30:20, 21.
22. How is apostasy to be viewed?
22 Jehovah expects men taking the lead among his people to reject apostasy. However, Hosea 5:1 says: “Hear this, O priests, and pay attention, O house of Israel, and you, O house of the king, give ear, for with you people the judgment has to do; because a trap is what you have become to Mizpah and as a net spread over Tabor.” Apostate leaders were a trap and a net for the Israelites, enticing them to practice idolatry. Mount Tabor and a place named Mizpah likely were centers of such false worship.
23. How have you benefited from a study of Hosea chapters 1 through 5?
23 So far, Hosea’s prophecy has shown us that Jehovah is a merciful God who gives hope and blesses those applying his instruction and rejecting apostasy. Like repentant Israelites of the past, let us therefore seek Jehovah and always endeavor to please him. (Hosea 5:15) By doing so, we will reap what is good and have the incomparable joy and peace experienced by all who faithfully walk with God.—Psalm 100:2; Philippians 4:6, 7.
A symbolic drama is presented at Galatians 4:21-26. Concerning it, see Volume 2, pages 693-4, of Insight on the Scriptures, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
How Would You Answer?
• What did Hosea’s marriage to Gomer symbolize?
• Why did Jehovah have a legal case against Israel?
• Which lesson in Hosea chapters 1 to 5 impressed you?
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Do you know whom Hosea’s wife represents?
[Picture on page 19]
The inhabitants of Samaria were conquered by the Assyrians in 740 B.C.E.
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Joyful people return to their homeland