Many of you already know this, but I love punk music. When I first heard "I Wanna Be Sedated" with all the speed and simplicity of my adolescent heart-rate, I knew punk music would resonate with me until the day I die. In my life con-Ramones, I've developed a tendency to love the generally unloved or overlooked. If you are so deep into underground or unknown artists you sometimes feel you scarcely relate to the general public, then I think you share this sensibility. Try not to get smug about it. It's just entertainment.
Maybe it's because of this sensibility I feel led to write about the Minor Prophets (in Hebrew Shneim-'Asar, meaning "The Twelve"). A good deal of Christians seem to overlook these books, vaguely recall them as a part of the Canon, or recite them only in patches learned for Bible memorization quizzes. It feels redundant to tell other believers, "Every part of the Bible is important." We should know this. And yet, I didn't know the main theme of many smaller books in the Bible. I found myself overlooking parts of scripture with little love or satisfaction in the text.
A few weeks ago, I met with a woman who at one time was on her way to becoming a minister in the American Episcopalian Church. She had met with disillusioning elements in her church's leadership and left some years ago. During our conversation on the purpose of Jesus's ministry on earth, I asked her, "How would you finish this sentence? 'The whole Bible is about _____.'" She blinked and said, "I know people who can quote most of the book and still not answer that question." The Holy Spirit must have given me the words to say in that moment because the answer surprised me as I said it. "The whole Bible is about Jesus. Even the 'boring' parts."
Over the next few months, I want to write a short summary of each minor prophet and explain how the individual books point to Jesus. Beginning in order, we'll start with Hosea and take the text from Stern's Complete Jewish Bible (with some translation).
It's okay to consider Hosea one of the more scandalous books in the Bible. Verse 2 of the first chapter says, "The Lord's opening words in speaking to Hosea were to instruct Hosea, 'Go, marry a whore, and have children with this whore; for the land is engaged in flagrant whoring, whoring away from the Lord." In the first three chapters, the prophet marries Gomer, a known prostitute, and has children with her. After a while, she leaves her husband and returns to her former trade. God tells Hosea to find and retrieve her.
A casual take on the story goes like this: God makes a covenant with a wayward bride and redeems her even though she proves herself unfaithful. When God displays His goodness and faithfulness, it will cause the unfaithful bride to tremble. The following prophecies make far more direct statements toward Israel, Ephraim, and, in particular, the priesthood. My friend the would-be priest might take some comfort in this.
Probably the most recognizable verse in Hosea comes from 4:6, "My people perish for lack of knowledge." The full verse in Stern's reads, "My people are destroyed for want of knowledge. Because you rejected knowledge, I will also reject you as priests for me. Because you forgot the Law of your God, I will also forget your children." My ordinary and uneducated take on this verse is that the church leaders had turned away from God's Torah, or Law, which was their covenant with Him as a people, not unlike that of a marriage covenant.
It wasn't just the individual sins (swearing unholy oaths, lying, killing, stealing, and committing adultery for example in 4:2) because all humans struggle with sin. It was their attitude as leaders toward God's commands in turning from the knowledge of His Law. They denied their covenant "husband" and became "joined to idols" (4:16). As further indication of God's anger toward the leadership, He says in 4:14, "I won't punish your daughters when they act like whores, or daughters-in-law when they commit adultery; because the men are themselves going off with whores and sacrificing with prostitutes. Yes, a people without understanding will come to ruin."
Much of the book tells of God's pain and anger because of His unfaithful people. What's worse, it appears as if the people have gone so far from God they are unable to help themselves. Hosea 5:4, "Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God, for the spirit of whoring is in them, and they don't know the Lord." Even though God is sovereign and in total control, never in surprise or having frustrated plans, He feels pain and anger in regard to sin. He knew from the beginning of man's rebellion in Genesis 3 that He would have to redeem us at a high cost. No one on earth could pay for the sins of mankind. We all have our own sins for which to account. Isaiah 59:3 speaks painful words of convictions, "For your hands are stained with blood and your fingers with crime; your lips speak lies, your tongues utter wicked things" (emphasis mine).
And yet in this same passage, God promises to fulfill His own plans for our redemption. "He saw that there was no one, was amazed that no one interceded. Therefore His own arm brought Him salvation, and His own righteousness sustained Him" (Isaiah 59:16). Further reading into the New Testament gospels shows how God the Son, Jesus, came to earth and died to pay the price for our crimes of unfaithfulness. In Isaiah 59:20, He makes a promise to redeem those who turn from rebellion of sin and put their trust in Jesus.
Hosea prophesies this promise of Jesus coming to redeem us despite our wayward ways in 6:1-2, "Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, and He will heal us; He has struck, and He will bind our wounds. After two days, He will revive us; on the third day, he will raise up; and we will live in His presence."
I mentioned how some people consider Hosea a scandalous book. Inspired teachers such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Terry Virgo have echoed this sentiment and readily admit the scandal of Grace. We're the whores who know nothing of faithfulness. We don't deserve redemption and yet Jesus came to save us. Unlike Israel, led away from God by unrighteous priests, Jesus Himself has become our High Priest (Hebrews 3:1), leading us to the Father. We couldn't help ourselves. We were dead in our sins and transgressions (Ephesians 2:1) but our trust in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross gives us hope in the life He now offers. When we die to our old life of unfaithfulness, He will raise us up and we will live a new life in His presence.