Today we start a new sermon series called, “Who Are These Guys?” We’re going to take a look at what are called the Minor Prophets. There are twelve of them, each with one book in the Bible. We’re going to look at who they were, what their message was, and what they have to say to us today.
The Minor Prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Most likely you’ve heard of at least some of them. But we don’t read them very often. In fact, unless you’re one of the people who’s read through the entire Bible, the chances are that you’ve never read their books.
That’s too bad, because they do have something to say to us. They are not called Minor Prophets because their books are unimportant. It’s not like these are the bush league prophets, the prophets who couldn’t make the majors and got stuck in Triple-A. The Major Prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah and the rest, are not sitting in heaven making fun of the Minor Prophets. The only reason they’re called Minor Prophets is that their books are shorter. But their books are just as important and just as much a part of the Bible as any other books. We’re going to look at them in order, starting with Hosea.
Hosea lived, as far as we can tell, in the eighth century B. C. As you may know, the Jewish nation was divided into two parts at this time. There was the Northern Kingdom, which we call Israel, and there was the Southern Kingdom, which we call Judah. This was the period of Israel’s decline and fall. The kings and the priests had led the people away from the worship of God. Instead, they were worshiping other gods, especially the Canaanite god Baal.
Because of that, the people of Israel are compared to a person who has been unfaithful in their marriage. And to illustrate that, God uses Hosea’s life as an example. God tells Hosea, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord”. And Hosea does. He marries a woman named Gomer, and they have children.
Maybe it seems like God is being a little tough on Hosea, using his life as an object lesson for the nation of Israel. It kind of seems that way to me, too. But, you know, being a prophet of the Lord is not an easy thing. It never has been. As we’ve talked before, following God and obeying God does not guarantee an easy, stress-free life. Lots of prophets suffered terribly in their lives.
Even the names of Hosea and Gomer’s children have messages in them. God says the first son is to be named Jezreel because that is where Israel’s kingdom will be ended. The first daughter is to be named “Lo-Ruhamah”, meaning “not loved”, because God is no longer going to show love to Israel because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. The second son is to be named “Lo-Ammi”, meaning “not my people”, because God is no longer going to consider the people of Israel to be God’s people.
Most of the rest of the book goes into detail about that, explaining all the charges against Israel, all the ways in which Israel has been unfaithful to God, and how Israel is going to suffer the consequences of its actions. But then, in the last chapter, Israel is given hope. We’re told that if Israel will only turn back to God and ask for forgiveness, God will once again love Israel and give it God’s blessings.
And God once again uses Hosea’s life to illustrate this. God tells Hosea, as we read, to go and take Gomer back as his wife, even though she has been unfaithful to him. Hosea is to forgive Gomer and lover her again, just as God will, eventually, forgive Israel and show love to Israel again.
So, what does the book of Hosea have to say to you and me? How can we apply what it says to our lives?
Well, I think it says a few things. One of the things it says is that actions have consequences. When we ignore God, when we turn our backs on God, when we put other things ahead of God, there are things that happen as a result of that. We like to say “God is love”, and that’s true, but it’s also true God is not a fool. God may love us no matter what, but that does not mean we can use God or take advantage of God. God is love, but God is not obligated to love us. If we think we can do anything we please and nothing bad will happen to us because, after all, God loves us, we’re probably going to be in for a rude awakening at some point. When we turn our backs on God, when we put other things ahead of God, there are going to be consequences we have to deal with.
And most of us have times when we do. We may not be terrible, evil people, but how many of us can say that we give one hundred percent of our lives to God? Probably not very many. I cannot say it, at least not honestly. And if we’re not giving one hundred percent of our lives to God, what does that say? It says that we’re giving a certain percentage of our lives to other things. There are times, at least, when we’re putting other things ahead of God. And there are consequences for that.
Now, don’t get me wrong. When I talk about giving one hundred percent of our lives to God, I’m not saying we all need to spend all of our time praying and reading the Bible and doing other specifically “churchy” activities. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we can do other things and still be giving one hundred percent of our lives to God. But if we’re doing things just for ourselves, if we’re doing things with no thought of God, then we’re putting those things ahead of God. And while our salvation is based on our faith and not our works, the things we do should reveal our faith, or our lack of it. And if they show our lack of faith, again, there are consequences for that.
But while there are consequences, there is also forgiveness. The book of Hosea also teaches us about forgiveness in two ways. We need to receive forgiveness. And we need to give it.
In the last chapter, Hosea tells the people of Israel “Return, Israel, to the Lord your God…Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: ‘Forgive our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.” And if they do that, God says, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely for my anger will turn away from them.”
As badly as Israel treated God, all Israel needed to do was turn back to God and ask for forgiveness. If they would do that, God would forgive them and heal them and love them and bless them.
That’s true for you and me, too. Most of us have times when we treat God badly. Maybe we don’t intend to, maybe we don’t even think about the fact that we’re doing it, but we do. I know I do. But when we do, all we need to do is turn back to God. When we do, God forgives us and heals us and loves us and blesses us.
But there’s one other thing. God told Hosea to take Gomer back and forgive her and love her. But notice a couple of things about that. For one, we’re not told that Gomer asked for forgiveness. We’re not even told that she was sorry for what she’d done. But Hosea was to take her back and forgive her and love her anyway.
Jesus said many times that the way we forgive others determines the way God will forgive us. Even in the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. We talked a few weeks ago about how we need to forgive people even if they don’t feel they’ve done anything to be forgiven for, not for their sake so much as for ours. That’s what Hosea did. That’s what we need to do.
But notice something else, too. Hosea said to Gomer, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.” That says a couple of things to us.
First, it says that forgiving someone does not require us to be played for fools. Hosea would forgive Gomer, but Gomer needed to change. She could not expect Hosea to take her back if she continued to hurt him and take advantage of him. In the same way, when we forgive someone, we don’t need to let them continue to hurt us or take advantage of us.
But it also says that, when we ask God for forgiveness, we need to change our behavior. Again, God is not a fool. We cannot expect God to forgive us and take us back if we continue to ignore God or take advantage of God. God loves us, but God does not allow us to take advantage of God.
Hosea may be a minor prophet, but he has a major message for us. We need to give God one hundred percent of our lives. When we don’t, we need to ask God for forgiveness. But we can’t take advantage of God—we need to change our behavior. And we need to forgive others, but we can’t let them take advantage of us—they need to change their behavior, too.It’s not easy. It was not easy for Hosea. It’s not easy for us. But if we do it, we will be a lot closer to truly being the people of God.