Hesed: the lovingkindness of God in Hosea

hesed

In the purposes of God, Hosea’s life was a message to God’s people about the ways God would show love to His people. With Hosea’s life as a reference point, God tells the people He will relate to them like a faithful and loving husband relates to his wife. In particular, God will steadfastly love His people, even though they have become like a wife who strays in her heart and actions. This is how Hosea describes that love, speaking on behalf of God to His people:

“I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.” (Hosea 2:19-20)

The love of God is undeserved and extravagant. God’s love is beyond our understanding and enduring.

In the midst of those verses there is one little word that I want to give more attention to in this post. It is the word translated as “love” here in Hosea 2:19, and it becomes a theme throughout the prophecies of Hosea. That word is, in Hebrew, hesed. It is one of the most significant words in the Hebrew Bible. Hesed speaks both of the reality of God’s character and the ideal of His people’s character.

It is sometimes translated as ‘love’ or ‘steadfast love’ to convey the persevering love, tender affection, and ongoing care one person has for another.

It is sometimes translated as ‘mercy’ to convey an undeserved kindness or passing over of deserved judgment.

It is sometimes translated as ‘covenant faithfulness’ to convey the loyalty of one partner to another in promises made. Hesed speaks of fulfilling the promises fully in action and attitude.

Hesed is the sort of thing we see in the best of friendships, in the most-enduring marriages, in athletic teams that band together to achieve a goal, in soldiers who stick together through hell and high water, and partnerships in business or non-profits that attain their highest goals while upholding honorable relationships.

In Hosea 2, we’re told that God’s hesed is so great and strong that He will not ultimately forsake His people but will faithfully love them forever and loyally care for them based on the promises of His covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Even though Israel is a faltering and weak partner in those promises, God will be faithful. In fact, God is saying that because of Israel’s inability to exhibit hesed, God will pick up the slack, so to speak, and bring it all to fruition because He is a hesed sort of God. He is merciful. He is faithful. He is loving.

God shows us what true love is like, what faithfulness is like, what mercy is like. It begins with Him and it changes Israel – and all of us who encounter God.

Perhaps you know what it is like to be loved with an enduring, tender, faithful love. Perhaps you have had a friend who has stuck with you in difficult times. Perhaps you have had a family member – a daughter or son, a father or mother, a brother or sister, an auntie or uncle – who has been there for you when no one else has. Perhaps you have experienced unwarranted mercy from a colleague at work, a teacher at school, a business partner, or neighbor. All of these experiences of love, mercy, and faithfulness change us. When you have that on your side, it helps you stand up again, get going, and feel supported in whatever may come.

So, too, when we encounter the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God, it changes us. The story of Hosea begins, as we even explored last weekend, with the powerful love of God.

God’s love – his hesed – is so strong for His people that He will do whatever it takes to recapture them with His love. And when we begin with that love, mercy, and faithfulness of God it should change who we are and how we live.

Hosea, part 2 [God in the Ruins]

God in the Ruins Series GFX_App SquareThis past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our series, “God in the Ruins: The Message of the Minor Prophets,” by looking at the second part of Hosea, chapters 4-14. The challenge of preaching a message on eleven chapters is that you really have to choose which way to go and what to focus on.

Based on the message I delivered the previous week with my wife, Kelly, I focused in on themes of hesed in Hosea. Hesed is a difficult word, appearing five times in Hosea, and is a major theme throughout the Hebrew Bible. Notoriously difficult to translate with precision, hesed has a range of meaning including steadfast love, covenant faithfulness, and mercy based on the context.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series on the minor prophets here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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Hesed Prayer: inspired by the prophet Hosea

Almighty God,
You have loved us first
with an everlasting love,
showing us what love truly is.
You have shown us great mercy,
preeminently in the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ,
who lived among us, died on the Cross, rose again,
and now eternally intercedes on our behalf at Your right hand.
You have invited us into loving relationship with You,
both in our daily lives now
and unto eternity as Your bride.
Because of Your hesed
Your steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness –
make us people of hesed,
living in love and loving others,
receiving Your mercy and showing mercy,
held in Your faithfulness and living faithfully,
until the day we see You face to face.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

Worship and the Idolatrous Heart: Spiritual Harlotry in Hosea

Minor Prophet Slides_HOSEA

One of the pervasive themes in Hosea, chapters 1-3, is that God’s people have become like a promiscuous spouse through their idolatry. Like a harlot seeking after other lovers, God’s people turned to other gods, seeking good things in them as lovers, even though God is the source of every good thing they have.

This longing for other lovers shapes the way we worship, in particular what we are looking to find in the worship we offer. Worship that arises from a spiritually wayward heart, from the Baal worshiper, is self-focused and looks more to the satisfaction of our own desires than meeting with the Living God. To encounter the God of the Bible in worship means the displacement of ourselves and our desires from the center.  It means we let God be God, speak what He wants to speak, and shape us the way He wants to shape us. This theme echoes throughout Scripture, as Eugene Peterson points out in his book The Jesus Way in a chapter on Elijah and the encounter with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18.

‘Harlotry’ is the stock prophetic criticism of the worship of the people who are assimilated to Baalistic forms (Jer. 3:1ff.; 5:7; 13:27; 23:10; 23:14; Ezek. 16 and 23; Hos. 1:2ff. and 4:12; Amos 2:7; Mic. 1:7). While the prophetic accusation of ‘harlotry’ has a literal reference to the sacred prostitution of the Baal cult, it is also a metaphor that extends its meaning into the entire theology of worship, worship that seeks fulfillment through self-expression, worship that accepts the needs and desires and passions of the worshiper as its baseline. ‘Harlotry’ is worship that says, ‘I will give you satisfaction. You want religious feelings? I will give them to you. You want your needs fulfilled? I’ll do it in the form most arousing to you.’ A divine will that sets itself in opposition to the sin-tastes and self-preoccupations of humanity is incomprehensible in Baalism and so is impatiently discarded. Baalism reduces worship to the spiritual stature of the worshiper. Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant, and exciting – that I ‘get something out of it.’

[From Eugene H. Peterson, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 110.

Hosea’s family: biography, allegory, parable, or something else?

Minor Prophet Slides_HOSEA.png

One of the key interpretive issues in the book of Hosea is whether the account of Hosea’s family – his marriage to Gomer and three children – in chapters 1 and 3 is based in true events from the prophet’s life or whether it is a prophetic parable or allegory with a teaching purpose yet not based in real-life events.

James Luther Mays, in his commentary on Hosea writes, “Disagreement about the nature of this family narrative is as old as the interpretation of the early Church Fathers” (Mays, Hosea 23).

Claude Mariottini, with whom I studied the book of Hosea in seminary, catalogs the different views on Hosea’s family life, and the proponents of each view, as follows:

  • Inconclusive – The prophetic symbolism behind the marriage makes reconstruction impossible (Gerhard von Rad)
  • Historical – The marriage is an actual experience in the life of the prophet: Gomer was a prostitute before marriage (C. Hassell Bullock and James D. Newsome)
  • Proleptic – Gomer lapsed into prostitution after marriage (Walter Harrelson)
  • Cult functionary – Hosea married a sacred prostitute (Theodore H. Robinson)
  • Idolatry – Gomer’s harlotry was spiritual unfaithfulness to God (Robert H. Pfeiffer)
  • Gomer was not Hosea’s wife but only a concubine (Thomas Aquinas)
  • Literary device – Hosea’s marriage was only a literary device to convey a message (Hugo Gressman)
  • Vision – This marriage never occurred, but was only a vision or dream of the prophet (Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg)
  • Parable – The marriage is only a parable to illustrate the sins of Israel (Jerome and John Calvin)
  • Allegory – The marriage is only an allegory invented by Hosea to illustrate the love of God (various Jewish rabbis)
  • Drama – The marriage of Hosea was a stage play (Yehezkel Kaufmann)

With all of these various views presented, the case could be made that at one level it makes no difference to the interpretation of Hosea which view we hold. However, I find James Luther Mays illuminating here. He writes:

Is the story an allegory whose only reality is the meaning, or do the marriage and births represent actual episodes in the life of Hosea? The majority of recent commentators agree that the latter is correct….The story reports the real. And yet it is not, indeed cannot be, approached as though it were biography. The interest is not in Hosea and the experiences of his life, and perhaps it was the recognition of this which led to the allegorical approach before prophetic symbolism was properly understood. There is a severe concentration on the divine word through the prophet’s family life….The narrative is kerygmatic, not biographical….The details of Hosea’s family life are hidden behind the word-function of the narrative.

As Mays suggest, Hosea’s prophecies in chapters 1 and 3 brings together real-life events, while presenting those events through a theological lens so that a specific message from God might be communicated.

Hosea, part 1 [God in the Ruins]

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our series, “God in the Ruins: The Message of the Minor Prophets.” My wife, Kelly, and I co-preached a message on the first three chapters of the prophet Hosea.

Hosea is an interesting book of the Bible, and one of the longest of these shorter prophetic books. Hosea spoke during the time of the divided kingdom, primarily addressing the northern kingdom of Israel from about 750-724 BC.

You can watch our message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

I’m also including below a chart that I pulled together related to the kings of Israel that overlap with the ministry of Hosea.

King Dates bc References
Jeroboam II 786-746 2 Kings 14:23-29
Zechariah 746-745 2 Kings 15:8-12
Shallum 745 2 Kings 15:13-16
Menahem 752-738 2 Kings 15:17-22
Pekahiah 738-737 2 Kings 15:23-26
Pekah
(may have co-ruled Gilead since 752)
737-732 2 Kings 15:27-31
Hoshea 732-724 2 Kings 17:1-6
Fall of Samaria 722 2 Kings 17:7-23

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