REMEDY FOR BACKSLIDING BELIEVERS
J. Fredric Dawson
The messages of the prophet Hosea are more of admonition and rebuke in nature than predicting future events. The prophet ministered to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel starting from the rule of King Jeroboam-II, son of Jehoash (when King Uzziah was the king of Judah) till its last king Hoshea (when King Hezekiah was the king of Judah). They were spiritually bankrupt and wicked and were serving many foreign gods instead of Jehovah, though they were materially prosperous. Hosea pointed out the multitude of their sins and pronounced Godís impending judgement upon them. He also brought Godís message of His deep love and compassion for them in spite of their unfaithfulness, and His willingness to restore His relationship with then, if they repented and turned to Him. Thus Hoseaís messages have many lessons for believers in a similar condition.
The Sins of Israel
There is a background to the continued and wilful violations of Godís laws and unfaithfulness by the kings and the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. It was the result of the deliberate, politically-motivated decision taken by Jeroboam-I, when, under his leadership, 10 tribes of Israel broke away to form a separate northern kingdom with Samaria as the capital (1 Kgs. 12:25-33). He feared that if the people went to Jerusalem now and then for various festivals and worship, they would in due course start shifting their allegiance to the kings of the southern kingdom of Judah. In order to prevent people going to Jerusalem, he set up two idol worshipping centres in the northern kingdom itself, at Bethel and Dan, with two golden calves. People started worshipping these idols and, in due course, the worship of other foreign gods such as Baal and Asherah slowly crept in. They also indulged in sexual immoralities, male and female prostitutions, drunkenness, sacrificing their sons to those idols, etc., usually associated with such Baal worship. Not a single king of Israel, from Jeroboam-I to the last King Hoshea, (19 kings) did what was right in the eyes of God. All of them were evil and wicked. They basically violated the first two commandments of God.
Hosea expresses his indignation and sorrow at this dismal spiritual situation in Israel, issues appeals and warnings of judgement and also promises Godís love and compassion and His plans of restoration. The main charge against Israel is summarised in 4:1, ďThere is no faithfulness, no love and no acknowledgement of God in the land.Ē There are six specific areas of accusation which Hosea brings out in these chapters:
i. Lack of knowledge or understanding of Godís laws. 4:6,14; 6:6; 11:3; 13:13
ii. Idolatry, making altars to other gods. 4:12,17; 8:4,5,11; 9:10; 10:5,8; 11:2
iii. Prophets and priests. 4:5,6,9; 5:1,10; 6:9; 9:8
iv. Immorality, prostitution, drunkenness. 4:12,17; 8:4,5,11; 9:10; 10:5,8; 11:2
v. Anarchy and lawlessness. 6:8,9; 7:1; 9:15; 10:4; 11:12
vi. Wrong political affiliations. 5:13; 7:11,12; 8:9; 12:1
In between all these accusations, Hosea also prophesies about Godís punishment on them in 5:1,8,9,14; 8:14; 9:7,15- 17; 10:6,10; 11:5,6; 13:7-13,16 as well as Godís continued love for them and His promises of restoration in 11:8-11.
The Analogy of Hoseaís Marriage
Hoseaís style of writing is also metaphorical and figurative. In the first three chapters, Hosea describes his marriage experience with Gomer. This analogy is used to express Godís love for His people Israel, in spite of their unfaithfulness in rejecting God.
God asked Hosea to marry Gomer, who became unfaithful to him. But still God asked him to get reconciled to her and to love her. Godís command to Hosea to marry an adulterous wife in 1:2 is generally misunderstood. The question arises as to how God could ask His prophet to so grossly violate His own commandment not to marry an adulteress. The only plausible interpretation can be that she belonged to a family or sect of adulterous people, though she herself was a virgin at the time of marriage with Hosea and became adulterous only after her marriage and the birth of the first child. The narration of the birth of the three children supports this view. The birth of the first child is recorded in 1:3 as her conceiving and bearing him a son. But the births of the other two children are given in 1:6,8 as Gomer giving birth to a daughter and Gomer having another son. The absence of the word Ďbore him (Hosea) a childí gives rise to the interpretation that she must have sought after other lovers, after the birth of the first child through Hosea, and got the other two children through her lovers.
God directed Hosea to give all the children prophetic names, each of which expressed Godís anger and wrath against His people. The name of the first child was that of a place in Israel, Jezreel, a place of massacres and bloodshed. It was this place where the palace of the most wicked king of Israel (Ahab) and the vineyard of Naboth were situated (1Kgs.21:1,2) where Naboth was murdered in cold- blood by the scheming of Jezebel, wife of Ahab, to grab his vineyard (1Kgs.21:8-16). About 14 years later, it was here that Jezebel died a ghastly death, pursued by Jehu, and her flesh was eaten by dogs, as prophesied by Elijah, as a measure of Godís punishment (2Kgs.9:30- 37). Again, it was here that Jehu planned and executed the massacre of seventy sons of Ahabís family, other family members of Ahab, and all his chief men and his close friends and his priests, (2Kgs.10:1-12). Thus the name ĎJezreelí signifies Godís judgement of the sin of idol worship and other wickedness of Israel and the subsequent bloodshed there. This judgement came upon Israel a few years later when they were defeated by the Assyrians and carried away as exiles to Assyria.
The name of the second child ĎLo-Ruhamahí also prophesies about God not showing His love for Israel and allowing the Assyrians to defeat them.
The name of the third child ĎLo-Ammií shows Godís complete abandonment of His own people Israel who would no more be the elect people of God. Yet, in spite of all these judgements, God still loved them and yearned for their fellowship. 1:10,11 and 2:1 are prophecies indicating Godís restoration of His people which took place many years later when they returned to their land.
Though in 2:2-13 the prophet brings Godís words expressing His fierce anger at the unfaithfulness of His people and His determination to punish His erring people, through the same words the prophet pours out his own resentment against his unfaithful wife and his eagerness to punish her for her misdeeds. Similar is the case with verses 2:14-23 in which both God and Hosea express their continued love for their defaulting beloveds and their determination for reconciliation with them.
In 3:1-3, God finally ordered Hosea to initiate steps to reconcile with his adulterous wife. And Hosea promptly obeyed Godís order. Vv. 4, 5 give the prophecy of the punishment as well as the future restoration of Godís chosen Israelites. It is important to note that the word ĎIsraelitesí used in 1:10 and 3:4 refers to the children of Israel whom God had brought out of the bondage of Egypt and settled in the promised land and not the people of the northern kingdom of Israel only.
Two important characteristics of God are revealed in the figurative narrations in these three chapters: i. Godís continued love and care for His chosen people. ii. While God is eager to restore the relationships with His people, He will also not hesitate to inflict punishment for their unfaithfulness.
Chapter 14 sums up the entire truth of this book. i. The reason for the downfall of Israel was their sin (v.1). ii. Israel tried to prevent this downfall by looking to Assyria, the strength of their army and other gods (v.3). iii. But Godís solution to prevent their downfall was for Israel to return to the Lord their God and to plead with Him to forgive their sins (v.1), as God still loved them and promised to heal their backwardness and turn His anger away from them (v.4). iv. Further, God promised that if they turned to Him, they would lead a life of fruitfulness (v.5), their fragrance of life would spread Godís love (v.6), they would be a blessing to others (v.7) and they would be witnesses to Godís love and care (v.8). v. Finally, God told them that His ways and solutions were right (v.9).
We can apply these truths in our lives too by drawing a parallel between the Israelites and backslidden believers. i. Sin is always the cause of the breakdown of the relationship of a believer with God. At the time of his conversion, the sins of a believer are cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ and are forgiven.
But as time passes, some of them allow themselves to be squeezed into the mould of the world and start serving other gods like money, wealth, power, sex, worldly possessions etc., at the same time scrupulously following all the spiritual rituals just as the Israelites did. ii. In this condition, there is no other source they can turn to save them, except Jesus Christ who still continues to love them in spite of their unfaithfulness. iii. So, they should return to Jesus, acknowledge their sins and seek His pardon. iv. God is sure to forgive them, as He has promised in His word (1Jn.1:7-10) and restore His relationship with them. v. Only then can they lead a fruitful life, a life that spreads Godís fragrance around; and they can be a blessing to others and be a witness to the Lord.
The concluding wise statement of Hosea in verse 9, which each one of us should take note of, is that the only way to live is the Lordís way. The righteous walk in the way of the Lord. This is so relevant in these modern days when the current assertion of the younger generation is, ďThis is my life; I will live it in the way I want.Ē With this philosophy, they misuse their bodies and indulge in all sorts of wickedness such as pre-marital sex, live-in-relationships, same-sex marriages, etc., ruining the society. The only solution for them is to accept that the only way to live is the Lordís way so clearly given in the Bible.