One of the greatest illustrations to explain the relationship between God and His people is the marriage metaphor (Eph. 5:23–27). God is the husband and His people are His spouse. Jeremiah 2:2 initially describes the relationship in tender terms, but he later laments the forgetfulness of the bride (vv. 32, 33). One could say that their initial union happened when God saved His people out of Egypt. This is found in the preamble of the Ten Commandments. With the giving of these commandments, a covenant sealed the union between the two parties. But the historical books of the Old Testament describe the waywardness of His bride. Ultimately, Jeremiah laments this broken relationship and points to the pending divorce papers in Jeremiah 3:8.
Whereas the faithlessness of Israel could be explained using merely a romance story, under inspiration, the prophets of God take this one step further to accentuate the broken heart of God. The prophets of old would at times speak oral prophecies of rebuke, prediction, and/or counsel. At other times, they would act out their sermons as real-life parables so that the people would visibly and viscerally understand the divine messages. These included cooking with human dung (Ezek. 4:12), while others had prophets beaten up and made to look like soldiers coming back from war (1 Kings 20:37–40).
One of the most dramatic acted-out messages is the well-known story of the prophet Hosea. He wasn’t to experience his wife’s infidelity only, but he was to wed a harlot, actively engaged in the sex industry. The details of the story infer that this was more than an imagined allegory. Children were born to the couple, whose names themselves became sermons. The first was Jezreel, meaning “God scatters”; the second, Lo-Ruhamah, meant “no mercy”; and the last was Lo-Ammi, or “not my people.” Imagine each evening when their names were called out loud by their mother to come back home. The entire town would have heard their unique names. Every time their teacher took roll call, their names would have been the shortest sermons preached out loud. One can find the word play of these names with the corresponding rebukes in Hosea 1:3–9. The motifs of the three children echo through the book in 1:11–2:1 and 2:22, 23 as well as in the New Testament in 1 Peter 2:9, 10.
The sexual infidelity, seduction, adultery, and justification of divorce are the immediate background for the message and theology of the book of Hosea. Despite the incredible pain of the relationship and despite the justification of the divorce, He instructs the prophet to go back and love the adulterous woman (read Hosea 3:1–5). Of the two, God opts for mercy over justice. This is just an amazing and jaw-dropping demonstration of faithfulness and forgiveness. The book of Hosea then continues to indict Israel for her sins, idolatry, and selfishness.
It is at the center of the book where the promise is found. Chapter 6 starts with the call to repentance and to return. Not only does God forgive, call us to return, and continue to love us, but through His Spirit there is the promise of revival, resurrection from the dead, and transformation. In order words, God doesn’t only forgive us, but through the covenant promises, He desires to transform us. This transformation is beyond religious forms such as sacrifice and burnt offerings (6:6). It is the intimate knowledge of God; not about God but knowing Him and experiencing His personal mercy and heart.