Hosea 2
Expositor's Bible Commentary
Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah.

Hosea 1:1-11; Hosea 2:1-23; Hosea 3:1-5IT has often been remarked that, unlike the first Doomster of Israel, Israel’s first Evangelist was one of themselves, a native and citizen, perhaps even a priest, of the land to which he was sent. This appears even in his treatment of the stage and soil of his ministry. Contrast him in this respect with Amos.

In the Book of Amos we have few glimpses of the scenery of Israel, and these always by flashes of the lightnings of judgment: the towns in drought or earthquake or siege; the vineyards and orchards under locusts or mildew; Carmel itself desolate, or as a hiding-place from God’s wrath.

But Hosea’s love steals across his whole land like the dew, provoking every separate scent and color, till all Galilee lies before us lustrous and fragrant as nowhere else outside the parables of Jesus. The Book of Amos, when it would praise God’s works, looks to the stars. But the poetry of Hosea clings about his native soil like its trailing vines. If he appeals to the heavens, it is only that they may speak to the earth, and the earth to the corn and the wine, and the corn and the wine to Jezreel (Hosea 2:23) Even the wild beasts-and Hosea tells us of their cruelty almost as much as Amos-he cannot shut out of the hope of his love: "I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground." (Hosea 2:20) God’s love-gifts to His people are corn and wool, flax and oil; while spiritual blessings are figured in the joys of them who sow and reap. With Hosea we feel all the seasons of the Syrian year: early rain and latter rain, the first flush of the young corn, the scent of the vine blossom, the "first ripe fig of the fig-tree in her first season," the bursting of the lily; the wild vine trailing on the hedge, the field of tares, the beauty of the full olive in sunshine and breeze; the mists and heavy dews of a summer morning in Ephraim, the night winds laden with the air of the mountains, "the scent of Lebanon." {Hosea 6:3-4; Hosea 7:8; Hosea 9:10; Hosea 14:6; Hosea 7:7-8} Or it is the dearer human sights in valley and field: the smoke from the chimney, the chaff from the threshing-floor, the doves startled to their towers, the fowler and his net; the breaking up of the fallow ground, the harrowing of the clods, the reapers, the heifer that treadeth out the corn; the team of draught oxen surmounting the steep road, and at the top the kindly driver setting in food to their jaws. {Hosea 7:11-12; Hosea 10:11; Hosea 11:4 etc.}

Where, I say, do we find anything like this save in the parables of Jesus? For the love of Hosea was as the love of that greater Galilean: however high, however lonely it soared, it was yet rooted in the common life below, and fed with the unfailing grace of a thousand homely sources.

But just as the Love which first showed itself in the sunny Parables of Galilee passed onward to Gethsemane and the Cross, so the love of Hosea, that had wakened with the spring lilies and dewy summer mornings of the North, had also, ere his youth was spent, to meet its agony and shame. These came upon the prophet in his home, and in her in whom so loyal and tender a heart had hoped to find his chieftest sanctuary next to God. There are, it is true, some of the ugliest facts of human life about this prophet’s experience; but the message is one very suited to our own hearts and times. Let us read this story of the Prodigal Wife as we do that other Galilean tale of the Prodigal Son. There as well as here are harlots; but here as well as there is the clear mirror of the Divine Love. For the Bible never shuns realism when it would expose the exceeding hatefulness of sin or magnify the power of God’s love to redeem. To an age which is always treating conjugal infidelity either as a matter of comedy or as a problem of despair, the tale of Hosea and his wife may still become what it proved to his own generation, a gospel full of love and hope.

The story, and how it led Hosea to understand God’s relations to sinful men, is told in the first three chapters of his book. It opens with the very startling sentence: "The beginning of the word of Jehovah to Hosea:-And Jehovah said to Hosea, Go, take thee a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry: for the Land hath committed great harlotry in departing from Jehovah."

The command was obeyed. "And he went and took Gomer, daughter of Diblaim; and she conceived, and bare to him a son. And Jehovah said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little and I shall visit, the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will bring to an end the kingdom of the house of Israel; and it shall be on that day that I shall break the bow of Israel in the Vale of Jezreel"-the classic battlefield of Israel. "And she conceived again, and bare a daughter; and He said to him, Call her name Unloved," or "That-never-knew-a-Father’s-Pity; for I will not again have pity"-such pity as a Father hath-"on the house of Israel, that I should fully forgive them. And she weaned Unpitied, and conceived, and bare a son. And He said, Call his name Not-My-People; for ye are not My people, and I-I am not yours."

It is not surprising that divers interpretations have been put upon this troubled tale. The words which introduce it are so startling that very many have held it to be an allegory, or parable, invented by the prophet to illustrate, by familiar human figures, what was at that period the still difficult conception of the Love of God for sinful men. But to this well-intended argument there are insuperable objections. It implies that Hosea had first awakened to the relations of Jehovah and Israel-He faithful and full of affection, she unfaithful and thankless-and that then, in order to illustrate the relations, he had invented the story. To that we have an adequate reply. In the first place, though it were possible, it is extremely improbable, that such a man should have invented such a tale about his wife, or, if he was unmarried, about himself. But, in the second place, he says expressly that his domestic experience was the "beginning of Jehovah’s word to him." That is, he passed through it first, and only afterwards, with the sympathy and insight thus acquired, he came to appreciate Jehovah’s relation to Israel. Finally, the style betrays narrative rather than parable. The simple facts are told; there is an absence of elaboration; there is no effort to make every detail symbolic; the names Gomer and Diblaim are apparently those of real persons; every attempt to attach a symbolic value to them has failed.

She was, therefore, no dream, this woman, but flesh and blood: the sorrow, the despair, the sphinx of the prophet’s life; yet a sphinx who in the end yielded her riddle to love.

Accordingly a large number of other interpreters have taken the story throughout as the literal account of actual facts. This is the theory of many of the Latin and Greek Fathers, of many of the Puritans and of Dr. Pusey-by one of those agreements into which, from such opposite schools, all these commentators are not infrequently drawn by their common captivity to the letter of Scripture. When you ask them, How then do you justify that first strange word of God to Hosea, {Hosea 1:2} if you take it literally and believe that Hoses was charged to marry a woman of public shame? They answer either that such an evil may be justified by the bare word of God, or that it was well worth the end, the salvation of a lost soul. And indeed this tragedy would be invested with an even greater pathos if it were true that the human hero had passed through a self-sacrifice so unusual, had incurred such a shame for such an end. The interpretation, however, seems forbidden by the essence of the story. Had not Hosea’s wife been pure when he married her she could not have served as a type of the Israel whose earliest relations to Jehovah he describes as innocent. And this is confirmed by other features of the book: by the high ideal which Hosea has of marriage, and by that sense of early goodness and early beauty passing away like morning mist, which is so often and so pathetically expressed that we cannot but catch in it the echo of his own experience. As one has said to whom we owe, more than to any other, the exposition of the gospel in Hosea, "The struggle of Hosea’s shame and grief when he found his wife unfaithful is altogether inconceivable unless his first love had been pure and full of trust in the purity of its object."

How then are we to reconcile with this the statement of that command to take a wife of the character so frankly described? In this way-and we owe the interpretation to the same lamented scholar. When, some years after his marriage, Hosea at last began to be aware of the character of her whom he had taken to his home, and while he still brooded upon it, God revealed to him why He who knoweth all things from the beginning had suffered His servant to marry such a woman; and Hosea, by a very natural anticipation, in which he is imitated by other prophets, pushed back his own knowledge of God’s purpose to the date when that purpose began actually to be fulfilled, the day of his betrothal. This, though he was all unconscious of its fatal future, had been to Hosea the beginning of the word of the Lord. On that uncertain voyage he had sailed with sealed orders.

Now this is true to nature, and may be matched from our own experience. "The beginning of God’s word" to any of us-where does it lie? Does it lie in the first time the meaning of our life became articulate, and we are able to utter it to others? Ah, no; it always lies far behind that, in facts and in relationships, of the Divine meaning of which we are at the time unconscious, though now we know. How familiar this is in respect to the sorrows and adversities of life: dumb, deadening things that fall on us at the time with no more voice than clods falling on coffins of dead men, we have been able to read them afterwards as the clear call of God to our souls. But what we thus so readily admit about the sorrows of life may be equally true of any of those relations which we enter with light and unawed hearts, conscious only of the novelty and the joy of them. It is most true of the love which meets a man as it met Hoses in his opening manhood.

How long Hosea took to discover his shame he indicates by a few hints which he suffers to break from the delicate reserve of his story. He calls the first child his own; and the boy’s name, though ominous of the nation’s fate, has no trace of shame upon it. Hosea’s Jezreel was as Isaiah’s Shear-Jashub or Maher-shalal-hash-baz. But Hoses does not claim the second child; and in the name of this little lass, Lo-Ruhamah, "she-that-never-knew-a-father’s-love," orphan not by death but by her mother’s sin, we find proof of the prophet’s awakening to the tragedy of his home. Nor does he own the third child, named "Not-my-people," that could also mean "No-kin-of-mine." The three births must have taken at least six years; and once at least, but probably oftener, Hosea had forgiven the woman, and till the sixth year she stayed in his house. Then either he put her from him or she went her own way. She sold herself for money and finally drifted, like all of her class, into slavery. {Hosea 3:2}

Such were the facts of Hosea’s grief, and we have now to attempt to understand how that grief became his gospel. We may regard the stages of the process as two: first, when he was led to feel that his sorrow was the sorrow of the whole nation; and, second, when he comprehended that it was of similar kind to the sorrow of God Himself.

While Hosea brooded upon his pain one of the first things he would remember would be the fact, which he so frequently illustrates, that the case of his home was not singular, but common and characteristic of his day. Take the evidence of his book, and there must have been in Israel many such wives as his own. He describes their sin as the besetting sin of the nation, and the plague of Israel’s life. But to lose your own sorrow in the vaster sense of national trouble-that is the first consciousness of a duty and a mission. In the analogous vice of intemperance among ourselves we have seen the same experience operate again and again. How many a man has joined the public warfare against that sin, because he was aroused to its national consequences by the ruin it had brought to his own house! And one remembers from recent years a more illustrious instance, where a domestic grief-it is true of a very different kind-became not dissimilarly the opening of a great career of service to the people:-

"I was in Leamington, and Mr. Cobden called on me. I was then in the depths of grief-I may almost say of despair, for the light and sunshine of my house had been extinguished. All that was left on earth of my young wife, except the memory of a sainted life and a too brief happiness, was lying still and cold in the chamber above us. Mr. Cobden called on me as his friend, and addressed me, as you may suppose, with words of condolence. After a time he looked up and said: ‘There are thousands and thousands of homes in England at this moment where wives and mothers and children are dying of hunger. Now, when the first paroxysm of your grief is passed, I would advise you to come with me, and we will never rest until the Corn Laws are repealed.’" {from a speech by John Bright}

Not dissimilarly was Hosea’s pain overwhelmed by the pain of his people. He remembered that there were in Israel thousands of homes like his own. Anguish gave way to sympathy. The mystery became the stimulus to a mission.

But, again, Hosea traces this sin of his day to the worship of strange gods. He tells the fathers of Israel, for instance, that they need not be surprised at the corruption of their wives and daughters when they themselves bring home from the heathen rites the infection of light views of love. {Hosea 4:13-14} That is to say, the many sins against human love in Israel, the wrong done to his own heart in his own home, Hosea connects with the wrong done to the Love of God by His people’s desertion of Him for foreign and impure rites. Hosea’s own sorrow thus became a key to the sorrow of God. Had he loved this woman, cherished and honored her, borne with and forgiven her, only to find at the last his love spurned and hers turned to sinful men: so also had the Love of God been treated by His chosen people, and they had fallen to the loose worship of idols.

Hosea was the more naturally led to compare his relations to his wife with Jehovah’s to Israel, by certain religious beliefs current among the Semitic peoples. It was common to nearly all Semitic religions to express the ration of a god with his land or with his people by the figure of marriage. The title which Hosea so often applies to the heathen deities, Ba’al, meant originally not "lord" of his worshippers, but "possessor" and endower of his land, its husband and fertilizer. A fertile land was "a land of Ba’al," or "Be’ulah," that is, "possessed" or "blessed by a Ba’al." Under the fertility was counted not only the increase of field and flock, but the human increase as well; and thus a nation could speak of themselves as the children of the Land, their mother, and of her Ba’al, their father. When Hosea, then, called Jehovah the husband of Israel, it was not an entirely new symbol which he invented. Up to his time, however, the marriage of Heaven and Earth, of a god and his people, seems to have been conceived in a physical form which ever tended to become more gross; and was expressed, as Hosea points out, by rites of a sensual and debasing nature, with the most disastrous effects on the domestic morals of the people. By an inspiration, whose ethical character is very conspicuous, Hosea breaks the physical connection altogether. Jehovah’s Bride is not the Land, but the People, and His marriage with her is conceived wholly as a moral relation. Not that He has no connection with the physical fruits of the land: corn, wine, oil, wool, and flax. But these are represented only as the signs and ornaments of the marriage, love-gifts from the husband to the wife. {Hosea 2:8} The marriage itself is purely moral: "I will betroth her to Me in righteousness and justice, in leal love and tender mercies." From her in return are demanded faithfulness and growing knowledge of her Lord.

It is the re-creation of an Idea. Slain and made carrion by the heathen religions, the figure is restored to life by Hosea. And this is a life everlasting. Prophet and apostle, the Israel of Jehovah, the Church of Christ, have alike found in Hosea’s figure an unfailing significance and charm. Here we cannot trace the history of the figure; but at least we ought to emphasize the creative power which its recovery to life proves to have been inherent in prophecy. This is one of those triumphs of which the God of Israel said: "Behold, I make all things new."

Having dug his figure from the mire and set it upon the rock, Hosea sends it on its way with all boldness. If Jehovah be thus the husband of Israel, "her first husband, the husband of her youth," then all her pursuit of the Ba’alim is unfaithfulness to her marriage vows. But she is worse than an adulteress; she is a harlot. She has fallen for gifts. Here the historical facts wonderfully assisted the prophet’s metaphor. It was a fact that Israel and Jehovah were first wedded in the wilderness upon conditions, which by the very circumstances of desert life could have little or no reference to the fertility of the earth, but were purely personal and moral. And it was also a fact that Israel’s declension from Jehovah came after her settlement in Canaan, and was due to her discovery of other deities, in possession of the soil, and adored by the natives as the dispensers of its fertility. Israel fell under these superstitions, and, although she still formally acknowledged her bond to Jehovah, yet in order to get her fields blessed and her flocks made fertile, her orchards protected from blight and her fleeces from scab, she went after the local Ba’alim. {Hosea 2:13} With bitter scorn Hosea points out that there was no true love in this: it was the mercenariness of a harlot, selling herself for gifts. {Hosea 2:5; Hosea 2:13} And it had the usual results. The children whom Israel bore were not her husband’s. {Hosea 2:5} The new generation in Israel grew up in ignorance of Jehovah, with characters and lives strange to His Spirit. They were Lo-Ruhamah: He could not feel towards them such pity as a father hath. They were Lo-Ammi: not at all His people. All was in exact parallel to Hosea’s own experience with his wife; and only the real pain of that experience could have made the man brave enough to use it as a figure of his God’s treatment by Israel.

Following out the human analogy, the next step should have been for Jehovah to divorce His erring spouse. But Jehovah reveals to the prophet that this is not His way. For He is "God and not man, the Holy One in the midst of thee. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I surrender thee, O Israel? My heart is turned within Me, My compassions are kindled together!"

Jehovah will seek, find, and bring back the wanderer. Yet the process shall not be easy. The gospel which Hosea here preaches is matched in its great tenderness by its full recognition of the ethical requirements of the case. Israel may not be restored without repentance, and cannot repent without disillusion and chastisement. God will therefore show her that her lovers, the Ba’alim, are unable to assure to her the gifts for which she followed them. These are His corn, His wine, His wool, and His flax, and He will take them away for a time. Nay more, as if mere drought and blight might still be regarded as some Baal’s work, He who has always manifested Himself by great historic deeds will do so again. He will remove herself from the land, and leave it a waste and a desolation. The whole passage runs as follows, introduced by the initial "Therefore" of judgment:-

"Therefore, behold, I am going to hedge up her way with thorns, and build her a wall, so that she find not her paths. And she shall pursue her paramours and shall not come upon them, seek them and shall not find them; and she shall say, Let me go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now. She knew not, then, that it was I who gave her the corn and the wine and the oil; yea, silver I heaped upon her and gold-they worked it up for the Ba’al!" Israel had deserted the religion that was historical and moral for the religion that was physical. But the historical religion was the physical one. Jehovah who had brought Israel to the land was also the God of the Land. He would prove this by taking away its blessings. "Therefore I will turn and take away My corn in its time and My wine in its season, and I will withdraw My wool and My flax that should have covered her nakedness. And now"-the other initial of judgment-"I will lay bare her shame to the eyes of her lovers, and no man shall rescue her from My hand. And I will make an end of all her joyance, her pilgrimages, her New-Moons and her Sabbaths, with every festival; and I will destroy her vines and her figs of which she said, ‘They are a gift, mine own, which my lovers gave me,’ and I will turn them to jungle and the wild beast shall devour them. So shall I visit upon her the days of the Ba’alim, when she used to offer incense to them, and decked herself with her rings and her jewels and went after her paramours, but Me she forgat-‘tis the oracle of Jehovah." All this implies something more than such natural disasters as those in which Amos saw the first chastisements of the Lord. Each of the verses suggests, not only a devastation of the land by war, but the removal of the people into captivity. Evidently, therefore, Hosea, writing about 745, had in view a speedy invasion by Assyria, an invasion which was always followed up by the exile of the people subdued.

This is next described, with all plainness, under the figure of Israel’s early wanderings in the wilderness, but is emphasized as happening only for the end of the people’s penitence and restoration. The new hope is so melodious that it carries the language into meter.

"Therefore, lo! I am to woo her, and I will bring her to the wilderness,

And I will speak home to her heart.

And from there I will give to her vineyards

And the Valley of Achor for a doorway of hope.

And there she shall answer Me as in the days of her youth,

And as the day when she came up from the land of Misraim."

To us the terms of this passage may seem formal and theological. But to every Israelite some of these terms must have brought back the days of his own wooing. "I will speak home to her heart" is a forcible expression, like the German "an-das Herz" or the sweet Scottish "it cam’ up roond my heart," and was used in Israel as from man to woman when he won her. But the other terms have an equal charm. The prophet, of course, does not mean that Israel shall be literally taken back to the desert. But he describes her coming exile under that ancient figure, in order to surround her penitence with the associations of her innocency and her youth. By the grace of God, everything shall begin again as at first. The old terms "wilderness," "the giving of vineyards," "Valley of Achor," are, as it were, the wedding ring restored.

As a result of all this (whether the words be by Hosea or another),

"It shall be in that day-‘tis Jehovah’s oracle-that thou shalt call Me,

My husband, And thou shalt not again call Me, My Ba’al:

For I will take away the names of the Ba’alim from her mouth,

And they shall no more be remembered by their names."

There follows a picture of the ideal future, in which-how unlike the vision that now closes the Book of Amos!-moral and spiritual beauty, the peace of the land and the redemption of the people, are wonderfully mingled together, in a style so characteristic of Hosea’s heart. It is hard to tell where the rhythmical prose passes into actual meter.

"And I will make for them a covenant in that day with the wild beasts, and with the birds of the heavens, and with the creeping things of the ground; and the bow and the sword and battle will I break from the land, and I will make you to dwell in safety. And I will betroth thee to Me for ever, and I will betroth thee to Me in righteousness and in justice, in leal love and in tender mercies; and I will betroth thee to Me in faithfulness, and thou shalt know Jehovah."

"And it shall be on that day I will speak-‘tis the oracle of Jehovah-I will speak to the heavens, and they shall speak to the earth; the earth shall speak to the corn and the wine and the oil, and they shall speak to Jezreel," the "scattered like seed across many lands"; but I will sow him for Myself in the land: and I will have a father’s pity upon Un-Pitied; and to Not-My-People I will say, "My people thou art! and he shall say, My God!"

The circle is thus completed on the terms from which we started. The three names which Hosea gave to the children, evil omens of Israel’s fate, are reversed, and the people restored to the favor and love of their God.

We might expect this glory to form the culmination of the prophecy. What fuller prospect could be imagined than that we see in the close of the second chapter? With a wonderful grace, however, the prophecy turns back from this sure vision of the restoration of the people as a whole, to pick up again the individual from whom it had started, and whose unclean rag of a life had fluttered out of sight before the national fortunes sweeping in upon the scene. This was needed to crown the story-this return to the individual.

"And Jehovah said unto me, Once more go, love a wife that is loved of a paramour and is an adulteress, as Jehovah loveth the children of Israel," the "while they are turning to other gods, and love raisin-cakes"-probably some element in the feasts of the gods of the land, the givers of the grape. "Then I bought her to me for fifteen "pieces" of silver and a homer of barley and a lethech of wine. And I said to her, For many days shalt thou abide for me alone; thou shalt not play the harlot, thou shalt not be for any husband; and I for my part also shall be so towards thee. For the days are many that the children of Israel shall abide without a king and without a prince, without sacrifice and without maccebah, and without ephod and teraphim. Afterwards the children of Israel shall turn and seek Jehovah their God and David their king, and shall be in awe of Jehovah and towards His goodness in the end of the days."

Do not let us miss the fact that the story of the wife’s restoration follows that of Israel’s, although the story of the wife’s unfaithfulness had come before that of Israel’s apostasy. For this order means that, while the prophet’s private pain preceded his sympathy with God’s pain, it was not he who set God, but God who set him, the example of forgiveness. The man learned the God’s sorrow out of his own sorrow; but conversely he was taught to forgive and redeem his wife only by seeing God forgive and redeem the people. In other words, the Divine was suggested by the human pain; yet the Divine Grace was not started by any previous human grace, but, on the contrary, was itself the precedent and origin of the latter. This is in harmony with all Hosea’s teaching. God forgives because "He is God and not man." (Hosea 9:9) Our pain with those we love helps us to understand God’s pain; but it is not our love that leads us to believe in His love. On the contrary, all human grace is but the reflex of the Divine. So St. Paul: "Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." So St. John: "We love Him," and one another, "because He first loved us."

But this return from the nation to the individual has another interest. Gomer’s redemption is not the mere formal completion of the parallel between her and her people. It is, as the story says, an impulse of the Divine Love, recognized even then in Israel as seeking the individual. He who followed Hagar into the wilderness, who met Jacob at Bethel and forgat not the slave Joseph in prison, remembers also Hosea’s wife. His love is not satisfied with His Nation-Bride: He remembers this single outcast. It is the Shepherd leaving the ninety-and-nine in the fold to seek the one lost sheep.

For Hosea himself his home could never be the same as it was at the first. "And I said to her, For many days shalt thou abide, as far as I am concerned, alone. Thou shalt not play the harlot. Thou shalt not be for a husband: and I on my side also shall be so towards thee." Discipline was needed there; and abroad the nation’s troubles called the prophet to an anguish and a toil which left no room for the sweet love or hope of his youth. He steps at once to his hard warfare for his people; and through the rest of his book we never again hear him speak of home, or of children, or of wife. So Arthur passed from Guinevere to his last battle for his land:-

"Lo! I forgive thee, as Eternal God Forgives: do thou for thine own soul the rest.

But how to take last leave of all I loved?

I cannot touch thy lips, they are not mine

I cannot take thy hand; that too is flesh,

And in the flesh thou hast sinned; and mine own flesh,

Here looking down on thine polluted, cries ‘I loathe thee’; yet not less, O Guinevere,

For I was ever virgin save for thee,

My love thro’ flesh hath wrought into my life

So far, that my doom is, I love thee still.

Let no man dream but that I love thee still.

Perchance, and so thou purify thy soul,

And so thou lean on our fair father Christ,

Hereafter in that world where all are pure

We two may meet before high God, and thou

Wilt spring to me, and claim me thine, and know

I am thine husband, not a smaller soul

Leave me that, I charge thee my last hope.

Now must I hence.

Thro the thick night I hear the trumpet blow."

; Hosea 2:1-23; Hosea 3:1-5THE SIN AGAINST LOVE

Hosea 1:1-11; Hosea 2:1-23; Hosea 3:1-5; Hosea 4:11 ff.; Hosea 9:10 ff.; Hosea 11:8 f.

The Love of God is a terrible thing-that is the last lesson of the Book of Hosea. "My God will cast them away." {Hosea 10:1-15}

"My God"-let us remember the right which Hosea had to use these words. Of all the prophets he was the first to break into the full aspect of the Divine Mercy to learn and to proclaim that God is Love. But he was worthy to do so, by the patient love of his own heart towards another who for years had outraged all his trust and tenderness. He had loved, believed and been betrayed; pardoned and waited and yearned, and sorrowed and pardoned again. It is in this long-suffering that his breast beats upon the breast of God with the cry "My God." As He had loved Gomer, so had God loved Israel, past hope, against hate, through ages of ingratitude and apostasy. Quivering with his own pain, Hosea has exhausted all human care and affection for figures to express the Divine tenderness, and he declares God’s love to be deeper than all the passion of men, and broader than all their patience: "How can I give thee up, Ephraim? How can I let thee go, Israel? I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger. For I am God, and not man." And yet, like poor human affection, this Love of God, too, confesses its failure-"My God shall cast them away." It is God’s sentence of relinquishment upon those who sin against His Love, but the poor human lips which deliver it quiver with an agony of their own, and here, as more explicitly in twenty other passages of the book, declare it to be equally, the doom of those who outrage the love of their fellow men and women.

We have heard it said: "The lives of men are never the same after they have loved; if they are not better, they must be worse." "Be afraid of the love that loves you: it is either your heaven or your hell." "All the discipline of men springs from their love-if they take it not so, then all their sorrow must spring from the same source." "There is a depth of sorrow, which can only be known to a soul that has loved the most perfect thing and beholds itself fallen." These things are true of the Love, both of our brother and of our God. And the eternal interest of the life of Hosea is that he learned how, for strength and weakness, for better or for worse, our human and our Divine loves are inseparably joined.


Most men learn that love is inseparable from pain where Hosea learned it-at home. There it is that we are all reminded that when love is strongest she feels her weakness most. For the anguish which love must bear, as it were from the foundation of the world, is the contradiction at her heart between the largeness of her wishes and the littleness of her power to realize them. A mother feels it, bending over the bed of her child, when its body is racked with pain or its breath spent with coughing. So great is the feeling of her love that it ought to do something, that she will actually feel herself cruel because nothing can be done. Let the sick-bed become the beach of death, and she must feel the helplessness and the anguish still more as the dear life is now plucked from her and now tossed back by the mocking waves, and then drawn slowly out to sea upon the ebb from which there is no returning.

But the pain which disease and death thus cause to love is nothing to the agony that sin inflicts when he takes the game into his unclean hands. We know what pain love brings, if our love be a fair face and a fresh body in which Death brands his sores while we stand by, as if with arms bound. But what if our love be a childlike heart, and a frank expression and honest eyes, and a clean and clever mind. Our powerlessness is just as great and infinitely more tormented when sin comes by and casts his shadow over these. Ah, that is Love’s greatest torment when her children, who have run from her to the bosom of sin, look back and their eyes are changed! That is the greatest torment of Love-to pour herself without avail into one of those careless natures which seem capacious and receptive, yet never fill with love, for there is a crack and a leak at the bottom of them. The fields where Love suffers her sorest defeats are not the sick-bed and not death’s margin, not the cold lips and sealed eyes kissed without response; but the changed eyes of children, and the breaking of the "full-orbed face," and the darkening look of growing sons and daughters, and the home the first time the unclean laugh breaks across it. To watch, though unable to soothe, a dear body racked with pain, is peace beside the awful vigil of watching a soul shrink and blacken with vice, and your love unable to redeem it.

Such a clinical study Hosea endured for years. The prophet of God, we are told, brought a dead child to life by taking him in his arms and kissing him. But Hosea with all his love could not make Gomer a true, whole wife again. Love had no power on this woman-no power even at the merciful call to make all things new. Hosea, who had once placed all hope in tenderness, had to admit that Love’s moral power is not absolute. Love may retire defeated from the highest issues of life. Sin may conquer Love.

Yet it is in this his triumph that Sin must feel the ultimate revenge. When a man has conquered this weak thing, and beaten her down beneath his feet, God speaks the sentence of abandonment.

There is enough of the whipped dog in all of us to make us dread penalty when we come into conflict with the strong things of life. But it takes us all our days to learn that there is far more condemnation to them who offend the weak things of life, and particularly the weakest of all, its love. It was on sins against the weak that Christ passed His sternest judgments: "Woe unto him that offends one of these little ones; it were better for him that he had never been born." God’s little ones are not only little children, but all things which, like little children, have only love for their strength. They are pure and loving men and women-men with no weapon but their love, women with no shield but their trust. They are the innocent affections of our own hearts-the memories of our childhood, the ideals of our youth, the prayers of our parents, the faith in us of our friends. These are the little ones of whom Christ spake, that he who sins against them had better never have been born. Often may the dear solicitudes of home, a father’s counsels, a mother’s prayers, seem foolish things against the challenges of a world calling us to play the man and do as it does; often may the vows and enthusiasms of boyhood seem impertinent against the temptations which are so necessary to manhood: yet let us be true to the weak, for if we betray them, we betray our own souls. We may sin against law and maim or mutilate ourselves, but to sin against love is to be cast out of life altogether. He who violates the purity of the love with which God has filled his heart, he who abuses the love God has sent to meet him in his opening manhood, he who slights any of the affections, whether they be of man or woman, of young or of old, which God lays upon us as the most powerful redemptive forces of our life, next to that of His dear Son-he sinneth against his own soul, and it is of such that Hosea spake: "My God will cast them away."

We talk of breaking law: we can only break ourselves against it. But if we sin against Love, we do destroy her: we take from her the power to redeem and sanctify us. Though in their youth men think Love a quick and careless thing-a servant always at their side, a winged messenger easy of dispatch-let them know that every time they send her on an evil errand she returns with heavier feet and broken wings. When they make her a pander they kill her outright. When she is no more they waken to that which Gomer came to know, that love abused is love lost, and love lost means Hell.


This, however, is only the margin from which Hosea beholds an abandonment still deeper. All that has been said of human love and the penalty of outraging it is equally true of the Divine love and the sin against that.

The love of God has the same weakness which we have seen in the love of man. It, too, may fail to redeem; it, too, has stood defeated on some of the highest moral battle-fields of life. God Himself has suffered anguish and rejection from sinful men. "Herein," says a theologian, "is the mystery of this love that God can never by His Almighty Power compel that which is the very highest gift in the life of His creatures-love to Himself, but that He receives it as the free gift of His creatures, and that He is only able to allow men to give it to Him in a free act of their own will." So Hosea also has told us how God does not compel, but allure or "woo," the sinful back to Himself. And it is the deepest anguish of the prophet’s heart, that this free grace of God may fail through man’s apathy or insincerity. The anguish appears in those frequent antitheses in which his torn heart reflects herself in the style of his discourse. "I have redeemed them-yet they have spoken lies against Me. {Hosea 7:13} I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness-they went to Ba’al-Peor. {Hosea 9:10} When Israel was a child, then I loved him but they sacrificed to Ba’alim. {Hosea 11:1-2} I taught Ephraim to walk, but they knew not that I healed them. {Hosea 9:4} How can I give thee up, Ephraim? how can I let thee go, O Israel? Ephraim compasseth Me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit." {Hosea 11:8; Hosea 12:1}

We fear to apply all that we know of the weakness of human love to the love of God. Yet though He be God and not man, it was as man He commended His love to us. He came nearest us, not in the thunders of Sinai, but in Him Who presented Himself to the world with the caresses of a little child; who met men with no angelic majesty or heavenly aureole, but whom when we saw we found nothing that we should desire Him, His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form than the sons of men; Who came to His own and His own received Him not; Who, having loved His own that were in the world, loved them up to the end, and yet at the end was by them deserted and betrayed, -it is of Him that Hosea prophetically says: "I drew them with cords of a man and with bands of love."

We are not bound to God by any unbreakable chain. The strands which draw us upwards to God, to holiness and everlasting life, have the weakness of those which bind us to the earthly souls we love. It is possible for us to break them. We love Christ, not because He has compelled us by any magic, irresistible influence to do so; but, as John in his great simplicity says, "We love Him because He first loved us."

Now this is surely the terror of God’s love-that it can be resisted; that even as it is manifest in Jesus Christ we men have the power, not only to remain as so many do, outside its scope, feeling it to be far-off and vague, but having tasted it to fall away from it, having realized it to refuse it, having allowed it to begin its moral purposes in our lives to baffle and nullify these; to make the glory of Heaven absolutely ineffectual in our own characters; and to give our Savior the anguish of rejection.

Give Him the anguish, yet pass upon ourselves the doom! For, as I read the New Testament, the one unpardonable sin is the sin against our Blessed Redeemer’s Love as it is brought home to the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Every other sin is forgiven to men but to crucify afresh Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. The most terrible of His judgments is "the wail of a heart wounded because its love has been despised": "Jerusalem, Jerusalem! how often would I have gathered thy children as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not. Behold your house is left unto you desolate!"

Men say they cannot believe in hell, because they cannot conceive how God may sentence men to misery for the breaking of laws they were born without power to keep. And one would agree with the inference if God had done any such thing. But for them which are under the law and the sentence of death, Christ died once for all that He might redeem them. Yet this does not make a hell less believable. When we see how Almighty was that Love of God in Christ Jesus, lifting our whole race and sending them forward with a freedom and a power of growth nothing else in history has won for them; when we prove again how weak it is, so that it is possible for millions of characters that have felt it to refuse its eternal influence for the sake of some base and transient passion; nay, when I myself know this power and this weakness of Christ’s love, so that one day being loyal I am raised beyond the reach of fear and of doubt, beyond the desire of sin and the habit of evil, and the next day finds me capable of putting it aside in preference for some slight enjoyment or ambition-then I know the peril and the terror of this love, that it may be to a man either Heaven or Hell.

Believe then in hell, because you believe in the Love of God-not in a hell to which God condemns men of His will and pleasure, but a hell into which men cast themselves from the very face of His love in Jesus Christ. The place has been painted as a place of fires. But when we contemplate that men come to it with the holiest flames in their nature quenched, we shall justly feel that it is rather a dreary waste of ash and cinder, strewn with snow-some ribbed and frosty Arctic zone, silent in death, for there is no life there, and there is no life there because there is no Love, and no Love because men, in rejecting or abusing her, have slain their own power ever again to feel her presence.

The Expositor's Bible

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

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