Hosea prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel. The subject of his prophecy was spiritual adultery and God's unchanging love. His prophecy shows that God's attitude toward His people was that of a husband who kept on loving an unfaithful wife.
Israel was called the "Bride of Jehovah" in the Old Testament. The relationship between God and Israel was to be like a marriage relationship - just like our relationship with Christ is today. If a wife loves a man other than her husband, or seeks to please other men, she is unfaithful and could rightfully be called "an adulteress". It is exactly the same with our relationship with our Lord. If we are married to Christ and we love money, we are spiritual adulteresses, because money is "another man". If we love the honour of this world, that too would be responding to "another man" (the world) trying to gain our attention. If we love sinful pleasure, that too is a part of the world. That is why James, speaking to believers, says, "You adulteresses, don't you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" (James 4:4).
Hosea deals with this very important subject. And God taught him this lesson in a very painful way. What we see in Hosea, perhaps more than in any other Old Testament prophet, is God trying to make His servant feel His heart. This is the principle of true prophetic ministry even in the New Testament. We have to feel towards God's people the way God feels towards them. We have to look at God's people the way God looks at them. Otherwise we will be just preachers who are preaching something, which may be true, but without the feeling that God has towards His people. So God has to take us through many painful trials in order to make us feel the way He feels towards people, before we can effectively minister to them.
For example, in Hosea's time, Israel was like an unfaithful wife. When she worshipped idols she was being unfaithful to the Lord. That was pictured as adultery. Adultery and idolatry were very closely linked in the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament, spiritual adultery is a form of idolatry. Idolatry means worshipping something other than the true God. It may be your business, your property, your money, your good looks. It may even be your ministry. Anything that takes the place of Christ as Number One in your life is an idol. And as soon as something has taken the place of God in your life, you have become an idolater, a spiritual adulteress. All the words that are spoken to adulteresses and idolaters will apply to you at that point.
The way God made Hosea feel His heart was by making him marry an unfaithful wife. That was a painful way for Hosea to learn the truth. Which man would be willing to marry a girl who he knows, from the outset, will be unfaithful to him and will commit adultery with other men? It was a heavy price that these prophets had to pay in order to be prophets. When Hosea's wife was unfaithful to him, he was told to keep on loving her. At one point she even went and sold herself as a slave to another man. Hosea then paid money to buy her back. And he still kept on loving her. But even after he bought her back, she still kept on committing adultery. Hosea must have found it very difficult to bear with her. As he went through this struggle, God told him, "Now you can understand how I love my people. Now go and preach to them." As a result, even when Hosea spoke sternly to God's people, there was a note of compassion in his message of holiness. What did he emphasise?
Holiness and God's unchanging love. These two themes were the burden of all the prophets:Holiness in God's people and God's unchanging love for His people even when they are in spiritual adultery and gone astray. God's desire was always to bring His people back. He disciplines them; but then He wants to bring them back to Him after the discipline is over. Jeremiah said, "After the discipline is over, God will bring you back. "Hosea said the same thing. Holiness is what God demands. When He doesn't find that in you, He will discipline you. But His love is so great that He will then speak tenderly to you and bring you back into fellowship with Him, saying, "How can I give you up? How can I let you go? How can I forsake you? My heart cries out within me. How I long to help you!" (Hosea 11:8 - Living).
This is how true prophetic ministry should function in the church too. A true prophet in the church today will have the same burden that the Old Testament prophets had for holiness among God's people. And He will be moved as they were, by God's unchanging, longsuffering, compassionate love that perpetually desires to bring His backslidden people back to Him and to genuine holiness. There should be a prophetic ministry in every church, if it is to be kept alive and functioning for God as it should. That was Hosea's basic theme. And so God allowed Hosea to suffer. God told Hosea, "Go and marry a prostitute. Some of her children will be born to you from other men." (Hosea 1:2). What a price to pay to be a prophet! How many would want to be prophets? God may not require you to do today what Hosea did. But the principle remains the same that He has to take us through deep suffering in order to get us to feel His heart. Read the suffering that the apostle Paul went through - many dangers, many beatings, imprisonments, being beaten with rods, robbed, not having enough clothes to keep himself warm, not enough food to eat (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). The purpose of all that was to make Paul live close to God's heart so that he could listen to God's heartbeat and feel as God felt. When we go through trials, we come very close to God's heart. We hear His heartbeat and we feel that, as we speak to His people.