In verses 1-3, Hosea was prophesying that the bulk of the ten tribes would be taken as captives to Assyria, and some would flee to Egypt, where they would be ferreted out and punished. This was the literal, or natural, lesson. In addition, there is the spiritual lesson of the professed Church of Christ going astray into Papacy and the ways of the world. Paganism came into the Church and defiled it. In antitype, the more numerous ten-tribe kingdom pictures Catholicism; the two-tribe kingdom represents Protestantism.
“Ephraim hath hired lovers.” The thought of the rebellious wild ass continues. Israel not only showed a lack of judgment in going to the king of Assyria for help but also desired the fellowship of others. Israel looked for new pleasures in foreign lands. Most prostitutes get paid for their work, but Israel was even worse. Contrary to nature, Israel went out and paid the one she had an illicit relationship with; that is, Israel bought her lovers. This is powerful language!
Imagine the prophet saying these bold things to the ten tribes! And he was addressing the honored representatives (the king, the priesthood, etc.)—he even used a trumpet (see verse 1).
What a tongue-lashing Hosea gave them, using powerful illustrations! The people understood the analogy about the wild ass. Hosea was a truly courageous prophet. Incidentally, Assyria was not satisfied with the pay, or tribute, and swallowed up the ten tribes.
The ten tribes were like a “deceitful bow,” for they broke their covenant. Instead of the bow being clean and hitting the mark—instead of admitting and recognizing their sinful condition, their utter dependence upon God, and their need for salvation—they only pretended to look to God for help. In reality, Israel looked to the world. A crooked bow misses the mark, even if it is aimed straight. And so Israel’s desires were not fulfilled because of their “deceitful” lips. The bow was crooked; that is, the covenant was not in proper order. The ten tribes formalistically returned to the Lord, but they feigned repentance with meaningless words.
With natural Israel, the “former rain” refers to their earlier period of favor. Israel had prophets, the Law, the Tabernacle, the Temple of Solomon, etc. The early rain ended with the Diaspora, the great gulf fixed between the Jews and God, as shown in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Now the dry bones (Ezekiel 37) are beginning to come together. Sinews (organizations) are attached to the bones, and flesh has even appeared on the body state of Israel. However, from God’s standpoint, the breath of life has not yet entered Israel.
Not until Jacob’s Trouble will that happen—when the nation of Israel will stand on its feet in a real way. When God fights for Israel as He did in days of old, that will be like an awakening from the dead (Zech. 14:3). There will be a mighty shaking and a resurrection, as it were, both figuratively and literally (the Ancient Worthies).
Verse 5 is like saying to the Holy Remnant that the hopeless condition both the ten- and the two-tribe kingdoms were in necessitated the Lord’s turning His face from Israel for a long period of time so that they would get the lesson. In the past, through the prophets, God warned of the sinful condition, but Ephraim and Judah turned a deaf ear to the need for repentance. God “cut … [them] in pieces with the prophets” (NIV). It is as if at this end of the age, God is explaining about the warnings given to the ten- and the two-tribe kingdoms before they got so corrupt, and then, when they were in an unfit condition, what the necessary steps of repentance were. Because the warnings were ignored, judgment was necessary. Hewing the nation by the mouth of the prophets sounds like Jeremiah’s ministry.
“Judgment is toward you,” or as stated in the RSV, “The judgment pertains to you.” This part of verse 1 is a play on words, for in exercising their judgment, the people were found wanting and guilty—priests, judges, people, and king. (Much of the Book of Hosea is a play on words, especially with regard to individuals.) Because the judges misused their prerogative of judgment, retributive judgment would come upon them. In other words, because of their misjudgment, God would judge them.
Hosea addressed the ten tribes in the name of “Ephraim,” the most numerous tribe, but lest the other nine tribes think they were excluded from judgment, the prophet also used the term “Israel.” Then Hosea included Judah, for the two tribes would fall later. All were guilty, and the various judgments were just a matter of time. Hosea had been emphasizing the evil of the ten tribes, but little by little, he started to include Judah in the condemnation. Verse 5 is prophetic.
When Hosea purchased Gomer back, she had to be separated, for according to the ritual in the Law, she was unclean. Hosea was not “husband” to her, and neither was anybody else. In other words, in antitype, even though God purchased back Israel through the death of Jesus, He did not immediately show His love and affection for the nation in a “husbandly” way. He took Israel back, as it were, and put the nation in quarantine for many days—that is, for the Gospel Age and the period of the “double.” A great gulf has existed, as shown in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Diaspora is also pictured in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37:1,2). Israel was in a dry and forlorn condition until rather recently.
The first three chapters of the Book of Hosea are introductory or preparatory, showing that an experience had to be created in the prophet’s life so that when he subsequently published his message to the nation, he could do it with feeling. How would this happen? When Hosea would see the Lord’s mercy on behalf of Israel and also have in his own life a personalized experience along these lines, he could speak with great fervor, realizing the tenderness of God in dealing with His people. Hosea’s message would thus have more power and effect. Therefore, it is not until chapter 4 that Hosea began his public message and ministry to the nation: “Hear [hearken to] the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel.” In the first three chapters, Hosea was merely being instructed. In other words, some years had to pass before Hosea could begin his public ministry; all three children had to be born first.
“The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea.” In the beginning of his ministry, Hosea was told to take “a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms.” Bible scholars have been puzzled by this verse, but it was preparing for a lesson on spiritual prostitution, the harlotry of worshipping idols.
The instruction was blunt and direct, whereas later chapters furnish a more rounded-out picture. Did God tell Hosea to deliberately go out and marry a known harlot and worshipper of idols? Why would the Lord give such an instruction, especially since it contradicted the moral precepts of Scripture? Actually, the Lord was prophesying what would happen with regard to the woman Hosea was going to marry. It was as if God were saying, “Go out and take unto thee a wife. In due time, she will prove to be a harlot and will bear children by other men.” God wanted to illustrate, through Hosea, His relationship to Israel and how the nation went into unfaithfulness. In other words, the union forcibly demonstrated to the public Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.
The fourth chapter of Hosea is directed to the ten tribes. Proof that Judah is not included is verse 15: “Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend.” God had a controversy with the inhabitants of the land because there was “no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God.” This condition existed in Israel in Hosea’s day, and it is also true today.
“No truth” means no righteousness, no fair play, no justice. In other words, there is no standard of righteousness. Everyone is out for himself, and hypocrisy and ulterior motives are the norm. Demands along all lines are getting more and more unreasonable. The standard of truth is missing in politics and in everyday life—even in the home. This condition will get much worse as the trouble comes on the world.
Also, there was no mercy in the land. That was the prevalent condition in the prophet’s day. How dreadful! Of the last days, the Bible says that men shall be “without natural affection,” that is without tenderness and compassion (2 Tim. 3:3). Patience, reasonableness, and consideration are lacking. The women are getting hard today, like the men, and the men are losing their masculinity. Imagine a condition so bad that it could be said, “No truth, no mercy, and no knowledge of God”! Things are not that bad yet, but trouble is coming. Hosea was speaking doubly—to Israel in his day and, unwittingly, to the end of the present age.
The NIV reads, “I will settle them in their homes.” God will settle the Holy Remnant in His own way in the homes He will make for them, for when the Kingdom is established, the contemporary generation of Jews will go back to Israel first. The Jews who come forth from the tomb throughout the Kingdom will comprise the second phase of the regathering that takes place after Jacob’s Trouble, for they will come forth in the various lands where they lived previously. As they go back to Israel, God will settle them as He did the Holy Remnant—in His way in the homes that He will make for them, for each man will have his own vine and fig tree.