Hosea – A Book About Hurting Children – Part 1
Bible Study About Children
Hosea—A Book About Hurting Children
Part I: Hosea–A Biblical Book for Child Care Workers!
Hosea is a seldom-read, fourteen-chapter Minor Prophet that remains a remarkably relevant book. Those who work with hurting children will find the painful images and harsh descriptions all too familiar. Contemporary foster parents, today’s case workers, and those who serve the church’s most vulnerable children walk in Hosea’s footsteps. They hear what he heard. They wince at what he saw. They cry at what made him sad.
Context Parallels Our Own
Written to people who benefited from a half-century of economic expansion, government stability, and world peace, the people of Hosea’s day lived in a time remarkably similar to the life Americans have enjoyed for the last half-century. Unfortunately, their culture drifted into the same injustices faced in our time: Israel developed into a two-class society of the rich and poor, the nice side of town and the ghetto. Much of the population seemed obsessed with a popular, sexually-charged, imported religion. Attendance at religious events hit record levels, but worshipers paid scant attention to the God of Scripture. The social, religious and cultural observations one might draw from the Hosea’s eighth century B.C. world echo the way in which many Christians see their contemporary society.
Why Hosea Used Children
In order to get the people’s attention, to crack open their lives of denial, and to convey to them the intent of the Biblical God, Hosea used children. Jesus brought a child into the midst of the disciples to illustrate innocence and blessing. Hosea used children to tell the people of how their lives offended God and to provide insight into an increasingly dark future.
Understanding How Hosea, the Book, Unfolds
Hosea’s work revolves around two personal stories. From a close reading, we might recreate the stories in this way: In chapters 1-3, Hosea marries an adulterous woman named Gomer. After their son is born, she has two more children apparently by other men. Gomer returns to a life of promiscuity leaving Hosea to raise the kids. Finally, Hosea brings Gomer home. In chapter 11, Hosea finds himself a single parent with rebellious teenagers. After recalling tender moments from their childhood, Hosea anguishes over how to discipline them.
The prophet’s personal stories reflect God’s experience with Israel. As chapters 1-3 unfold, Hosea the husband becomes God the spouse seeking the return of his adulterous wife, Israel. In chapter 11, the story quickly turns to God as a father agonizing over the discipline he must impose on his wayward child, Israel.
The Old Testament prophet, Hosea, knew all about pain. We imagine that he could remember the moment when he found out the second and third children were not his. He recalled the day he found his wife with a neighbor man. Despite all his efforts and his love, she still moved out of his house, but never out of his heart.
Hosea uses the pain of life’s most intimate relationships to reveal God’s agony when humans reject his offer of relationship. By using the pain of children, Hosea hopes to blast through their massive denial and lead Israel back into a relationship with God. Despite his gallant effort of using some of life’s most painful images, few responded to Hosea’s invitation. In his own time, many would consider Hosea a failure since few changed after his preaching and he was unable to call the people to repentance.
What Hosea Says About Children
Although Hosea is not primarily about young people, there is considerable material in the book about them. Consider these insights into hurting children:
Adult Decisions Hurt Children. Key text: Hosea 1. Hosea’s three children bore revolting names given to them by God’s command in order to spread the message of the consequences of adult decisions. The effect of their names would be like naming a child “Ugly” or “Stupid.” Even without such revolting names, these children faced a stormy future. God hoped that such drastic names might prompt real change in Israelite society, a transformation that might give Hosea’s three children the hope of living in peace.
Children Live in a Painful World That They Did Not Create. Key text: Hosea 9. Throughout Hosea, the prophet announces that God will discipline the nation for its sins. The consequences of their wicked ways would fall most heavily on their children. The punishment comes because of the sins of the parents, but the children bear the pain of the consequences. In that context, God reveals “I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6). Just as Israel had intentionally rejected God despite the consequences for their own offspring, God must block the children out of his mind as he acts in tough love.
Chapter 9 deals with the “days of punishment” (9:7). Birth rates will drop, infant mortality will rise, and civilian deaths will involve large numbers of children (9:11-13). Obituaries will include an uncommon number of young people (9:14). Hosea’s words are not easy to hear, even more difficult to imagine, but reflect the ever-present consequences of a world gone mad with sin. Children did not create this world, but they endure the pain.
Rebellious Children Means Tough Love. Key text: Hosea 11. Just as parents agonize over invoking a policy of tough love on a wayward child, so Hosea describes how God ponders when and how to punish his disobedient people: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! …My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim” (Hosea 11:8-9). Hosea’s description of God reveals how the divine mind wavers between sending the discipline and giving them more time. Finally, God acts out of a deep love for his people. Just as a parent reluctantly invokes a policy of tough love, so God seeks their ultimate good through discipline.
God is the Only Hope for the World’s Hurting Children. Key text: Hosea 14. Hosea imagines a day when adult hearts respond to the invitation of God. So inept in matters of faith, Hosea gives them the words to say and the actions to do as they return to God. They are to ask for forgiveness, confess their sins, admit that they cannot live life on their own, reject all human alternatives and refuse all false gods. Then Hosea tells them one more thing to say, one final admission: They are to admit that God is the only hope for the world’s hurting children: “In you the orphan finds mercy” (Hos 14:3).
In a world before video, Hosea uses words that describe misery, pain, slaughter, and destruction. No contemporary film maker can out do the revolting images of Hosea. The close reader of Hosea sees war orphans, children who witness what no youngster should ever see, nine and ten year olds heading households, and young hands scavenging for food. Then in his final words, he describes new life that begins with the mercy of the Almighty falling on those left parentless in the painful consequences of their wicked lifestyles.
Articles to Use in Raising Biblical Awareness About Vulnerable Children.
The following short essays further develop the reflections on children in Hosea. Each piece is intended to stand on its own and can be used in printed material advocating for today’s hurting children.