By Justin Borger with assistance from Generous Giving staff
Hosea prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel after a period of prosperity, when the people’s wealth was polluted by idolatry and social decay. Like a harlot, Israel had been unfaithful to the Lord and run after the pagan fertility gods of the surrounding nations. To illustrate the nation’s spiritual adultery, God told the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute in order to symbolize his own redeeming love in contrast to his people’s unfaithfulness.
Our study of Hosea consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of the author’s goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study Notes
Hosea 2:5-8 (Key Passage) — Economics of Idolatry: Gomer’s chasing after her “lovers” provides a picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. God’s people played the whore and ran after pagan fertility cults, worshipping the Baals instead of the Lord. The question is “why?” and the answer is that they were belly-worshipers. They cared more about the “stuff” that God had created than about the One who had created it. But this was not the only problem. In the process of worshiping the creature instead of the Creator, they had fashioned their own gods for themselves and credited these “gods” with the overwhelming prosperity and success of the promised land. The people even took the gold that God had lavished on them and made God’s blessings into idols (Hosea 2:8). Thus, the people’s excessive desire for money wasn’t the only problem. After all, God wanted to bless them and had told them to “remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). The biggest problem, then, was that God’s people had substituted false gods for their true Provider (cf. Matthew 6:24). Regardless of whether we think of ourselves as idol worshipers today, similarities exist between the idols that tempted the Israelites to forsake the Lord and the materialistic gods of our own day. God’s people worshiped idols made of costly materials like silver and gold (Jeremiah 10:4, 9; cf. Isaiah 2:7-8, 20; 44:12-20; Hosea 2:8), just as we are tempted to get too wrapped up in our material possessions like houses, cars, furniture and other costly items. In the New Testament the apostle Paul labels this as idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). In sum, just as the ancients worshiped images fashioned after God’s creation, Christians today often worship and trust in God’s good gifts like jobs, wealth, possessions and opportunities instead of the One from whom all blessings flow. American materialism may be different in form, but it is no different in substance from the fertility cults of Canaan many centuries ago.
Hosea 2:9-13 — These verses reveal the consequences of idolatry. Because the people forsook the source of their blessing, their provision was to be taken away. They had run after the other gods for wool and linen (Hosea 2:5) but now would be exposed to nakedness (Hosea 2:10). When we look for some other source for safety and satisfaction, we find ourselves abandoned by the very things for which we abandoned God.
Hosea 3:2 (Key Passage) — Bought at a Price: The covenant relationship God shares with his people hinges on the idea of belonging. Just as Hosea purchased Gomer, Jesus Christ bought us at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). Indeed, nothing we have belongs to us, not even ourselves. Strictly speaking, our own private feelings and thoughts don’t even belong to us—never mind the more tangible goods we possess. Certainly, the fact that all we are and have belongs to God should transform the way we use our resources and possessions. After all, if the reality of God’s absolute ownership isn’t reflected in the way we use our resources, how can we claim to understand the fact that we belong to God in the first place? See related passages on belonging to God: Leviticus 26:12; Psalm 24:1; Jeremiah 3:22; Zechariah 2:8-10, 12; 8:2; 13:9; Romans 14:7-8; 1 Corinthians 3:23; 6:19-20; Titus 2:14; Revelation 21:2-3. See Genesis theme essay God’s Ownership and Zechariah theme essay Belonging to God.
Hosea 4:7-10 — As the priesthood grew, it became more and more corrupt. The priests fed on the sins of the people (Hosea 4:8), which apparently means that they took greedy portions from the sacrifices that the people brought to be offered to God. Accordingly, the Lord proclaims that the priests “will eat but not have enough” (Hosea 4:10). The point is similar to that of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes 5:10—the more we have the more we want (cf. Hosea 6:7). Ironically, our appetite for money grows as it feeds. In the New Testament both Jesus and the apostle Paul tell us to combat greed and consumerism by giving our money and possessions away (Mark 10:17-31; Luke 12:33; 1 Timothy 6:17-19), for God makes us rich in every way so that we can be generous on every occasion (2 Corinthians 9:11). See also key passage Hosea 10:1-2.
Hosea 6:6 (Key Passage) — Mercy, Not Sacrifice: Like Hosea, Jesus told the Pharisees that God cares far more about the way we care for our neighbors’ needs than with the way we perform religious rituals (Matthew 23:23). Tithing, church attendance and other rote acts of obedience are less important than the weightier matters of the law, which call us to express our devotion to God by loving our neighbor as ourselves (cf. Hosea 9:12-13; 12:7). Note the way in which other passages de-emphasize religious ritual in contrast to covenantal love and obedience: Isaiah 1:11-17, 43:23-24; 58; Jeremiah 6:19-20; 7:21-23; Hosea 4:19; 5:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8. See Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy theme essay Tithing and Generosity and Hosea theme essay Mercy, Not Sacrifice.
Hosea 9:4 — Because of their exile from the land (Hosea 9:3), God’s people will no longer be able to worship God through sacrifices and offerings. In exile such worship is impossible. This verse shows us that our gifts are totally dependent upon God’s prior blessings (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:11).
Hosea 10:1-2 (Key Passage) — Wealth and Wickedness: Israel’s increasing prosperity leads to increasing unfaithfulness to God. The more money they made, the more idolatrous they became—as Israel “built more altars,” they “adorned sacred stones” (Hosea 10:1). In the law, Moses warned God’s people repeatedly about the dangers of increasing levels of wealth and prosperity (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). He described how God’s abundant blessings in the promised land previously led the people into sin: “He made him ride on the heights of the land and fed him with the fruit of the fields. He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag, with curds and milk from herd and flock and with fattened lambs and goats, with choice rams of Bashan and the finest kernels of wheat. You drank the foaming blood of the grape. Jeshurun [Israel] grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior. They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols” (Deuteronomy 32:13-16; c.f. Deuteronomy 8:10-14). While money itself may be a blessing from God, the Bible teaches that large amounts of money are spiritually dangerous. Wealth makes it very hard for a person to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:24) because people are so strongly tempted to love money and possessions rather than God (1 Timothy 6:10).
Hosea 12:6 (Key Passage) — Maintaining Justice: Maintaining justice means coming to grips with our passive involvement in the misfortunes and oppression of others. It means recognizing that our luxuries often keep others from getting their basic necessities. Accordingly, when we see our wealth alongside the poverty of others, we should realize that we need to adjust our spending habits to increase our giving. The Bible views the practice of giving to those in poverty not just as a matter of generosity, but as central to what it means to do justice (Micah 6:8). World relief organization Food for the Hungry reminds us that that 24,000 people die from hunger and hunger-related causes every day. That is one person every 3.6 seconds, more than 16 people each minute, 1,000 each hour and 8,760,000 every year! Accordingly, if feeding these people isn’t merely a matter of justice in addition to generosity, then failure to contribute to their needs means that we are not only stingy but also positively unjust.
Hosea 12:7 — The word translated “merchant” here literally means “Canaanite.” Thus, through their preoccupation with prosperity, the Israelites had taken on the character of the Canaanites, who were known for their dishonest business practices (cf. Proverbs 31:24; Job 40:30; Zephaniah 1:11; Ezekiel 17:4; James Luther Mays, Hosea, 167). Of course, Christians often fall into the same problem. Instead of transforming the world through the radical generosity that springs from the gospel (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 8:9), we conform to the world and all its commercial interests. See other passage on dishonest scales: Deuteronomy 25:13; Leviticus 19:36; Proverbs 11:1; 16:11; 20:23; Job 31).
Hosea 12:8 (Key Passage) — Success and Self-Righteousness: Success often produces a sense of self-righteousness that keeps people from seeing their sin. After all, when a person has a good job and access to prosperity, he usually feels less of a need to worry about his relationship with God. That’s why financial difficulties can be blessings in disguise—they often provide an opportunity to examine ourselves and grow in our sanctification. God can use financial trials as a way of loosening our grip on the things of this world in anticipation of our true home in heaven. After all, it would be much better to experience financial difficulties that provide the opportunity to be humbled and trust in God than to experience great financial success that makes it easier to sin. See other passages linking pride and prosperity: Deuteronomy 8:10-14; 32:13-16; Amos 4:1; 6:4-6; Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29).