Hope – genuine, heartfelt, confident hope – is often at low ebb in human experience. Hope in the Biblical sense is certainty based on trust in the Word of God, knowing that the Lord’s promises, pledges, and assurances will be upheld and fulfilled. Hope in the worldly sense is mere wishful thinking and vague longing with no guarantee attached. Such hope is easily dashed and often disappointed because human intentions usually fail or fall short of expectations and because human desire and purpose has little control over all the factors that prevail, and not infrequently the pledges and plans of men are riddled with deceit, incompetence, and lack of resources to attain projected ends. Our confidence in our fellow creatures is necessarily limited because their ability is limited and their trustworthiness is not absolute. The cry of the Christian can only be, “All my hope on God is founded”. There is no other reliable source of hope.
Hope is one of the major themes of Holy Scripture. It runs counter to human self-reliance, and heals the pain of human inadequacy. Israel (OT) lived in the hope of a Saviour. The Church (NT) lives in the hope of eternal life that he has won for us. There was never anything unsure in God’s word of hope to Israel. There is nothing to doubt in God’s promise to those who truly believe in Christ. Human confidence may wax and wane because of our frailty, but God’s guarantees stand forever. Our moods and convictions fluctuate in strength. God’s sworn intentions are unchangeable.
It is not only that God grants hope in circumstances that are favourable and filled with confirmatory signs, it is also true that God issues grounds for hope in situations that are desperate and where the possibility of good fortune is utterly dead. God delights in a pattern of behaviour that baffles human expectation and which calls for a faith that surmounts disaster, defeat, and death. God majors in performing that which we declare impossible. We are not able to determine or demand specifically where, when, or how, but we are to entertain hope from our side because we know that “God can”, and that in his sovereignty “he may”, effect a marvellous deed on our behalf. There is a dimension of divine activity beyond all that we can sense or see, and whilst, in awareness of his power and compassion, we cannot dictate any outcome, we may present our holy desires and urgent needs to him knowing that if our requests accord with the advancement of his kingdom he will deftly coalesce our prayer with his performance, for we regard him with Scriptural warrant as the One “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). He can order external circumstances and also reach and move us in our internal reluctance or residual impediments of soul. He can make things happen through his personal and enabling intervention. Our particular plight may not point to the door of hope that he intends to create and open for us. Our efforts are often obstructed and frustrated by walls, but God opens doors for our deliverance where no way out can be perceived.
Hosea was a prophet who proclaimed a message of divinely wrought reversals. The symbols of his “strange” message were geographical and domestic. They did not seem to admit of any hope, and yet he was to uphold symbols of hopelessness as examples of the hope that God would produce and perform from a faithful lovingkindness that would overrule the faithlessness and sin of his disobedient, undeserving people.
The vibrant message of future hope that Hosea declaims employs the change of historical significance in place names, and the removal of negatives from his children’s names.
1) Jezreel (1:4) Hosea’s son is to be called Jezreel as a reminder of the town where massacre and mayhem occurred in Israel’s violent history and where eventually the nation was undone by its own sin and God’s punishment. The name was a portend of the divine retribution that would occur where death was sown and crimson blood was spread over the soil, appearing ominously like some ghastly crop sown by the evil of man. Jezreel (2:22) means, “God sows” and in that condemned and most unlikely place God avers that he will plant Israel once again as his precious possession and lavish favour upon her. God may sow life where death and disgrace prevails; where there was no expectation of the land receiving favour and yielding prosperity. The place of doom and divinely wrought destruction becomes a field where gracious salvation is the luxuriant harvest.
2) Lo-Ruhamah (1:6) Hosea’s daughter bears the unfortunate name “Not Loved” as a sign that God has ceased to love his people because of their spiritual infidelity and promiscuity in religious devotion. The marriage covenant has been broken and God accepts the reality “as final”.
3) Lo-Ammi (1:8) Gomer, Hosea’s errant wife, had another son to be named “Not My People”, the notification of divine rejection, and in terrifying terms, the reversal of the covenant arrangement: “For you are not my people, and I am not your God”. This is the ultimate consequence of stubbornness in sin. It emphasises the human plight beyond help or hope and fixed in despair and destruction. And yet God reverses the irreversible curse, showing that although man is beyond any desert or expectation of deliverance (presumption disallowed) yet mercy cancels the decree of judgment: “Say of your brothers, ‘My people,’ and of your sisters, ‘My loved one’ (2:1). The sinner is scarcely saved (1 Peter 4:18) yet lavished with divine forgiveness and love. God relents and, after all, chooses to recall men to himself as his purpose of grace unfolds throughout history (1: 10-11).
4) The Valley of Achor (2:15) Achor (trouble) was the place where Achan, having grievously sinned against God by stealing and concealing the plunder of holy war, was punished for withholding the spoils of victory (devotion) that were due to God alone in acknowledgement of his glory (Joshua 7: 18-26). Hosea is caused to proclaim that the place of trouble and administration of divine wrath – Achan’s miserable end – will no longer represent the inescapable displeasure and vengeance of God upon the rebellious, but afford the prospect of hope and great rejoicing in restoration to fellowship with God and the enjoyment of his blessing.
Believers are the beneficiaries of divinely wrought reversals or supernatural changes. God’s hatred of the offender converts to love through a sovereign and unconditional decision. The sinner’s nature is transformed from evil to holy. The sinner’s direction is altered from taking him away from God to turning toward God in repentance. The believer’s impossibilities vanish as God shows his hand and bears his arm, and cul-de-sacs become doors to hope through divine command of difficult situations.
Hosea shows us that what is lost may be restored, what is wasted may be retrieved, what has been forfeited may be re-found, not through human ability and endeavour, but because of God’s irreversible love that threatens abandonment but cannot bear to his give his chosen ones up (11:8a). “My heart is changed within me: all my compassion is aroused (11:8b). God alarms us as to our condition, fills us with dread at our desert, and overwhelms us by his compassion.