Preaching Pointers from Hosea

 |  September 6, 2017

Hosea is a powerful story of love. It’s not a romantic story—there’s no romance in it (which is important to the story). Hosea tells of God’s kesed love for his unlovable people, paralleled by Hosea’s kesed love for his unlovable wife. Both “wives” failed miserably at faithfulness, but God and Hosea show us a love without conditions. If you decide to preach this book you need to be prepared. Resist the temptation to turn Hosea into a topical series on love. There is so much more in there. The content of Hosea is sharp, shocking, angry, depressing, hopeful, redemptive, and emotional. The preacher’s job is to communicate not only the content of the text, but the tone also. When preached well, Hosea can resuscitate your congregation’s appreciation for the nature of God’s covenant love and reinvigorate their worship. Here are some tips as you prepare to preach this exiting book.

Tips for Exegesis

  1. Understand the layout of the book. Chapters 1-3 contains the main story and all the main themes. Chapters 4-13 are like a prequal which expands in greater detail the themes in 1-3. Chapter 14 is a call to repent and what God’s response would be to that repentance.
  2. You will need to know Israel’s history in the background to Hosea for two reasons: (1) The history of God’s covenant with Israel and their relentless habit of breaking it is the backdrop which provides the immense tension between God and Israel. (2) There are numerous name-drops of places and events from Israel’s history which provide crucial explanation (like with the names of Hosea and Gomer’s children). With that, you also need to work on how to preach the history content without boring your audience or going over their heads. Tell the story.
  3. You need to make a decision on where you stand regarding Gomer’s status as a “woman of harlotries.” It will significantly affect the way you preach the story and the illustrations or analogies you use. The two main options are that Gomer was either a prostitute when Hosea married her, or that she was a “loose/flirtatious” woman with unfaithfulness in her heart. We know that she was married to Hosea long enough to have three children. Then chapter 3 assumes she bolted at some point after (I went the route of Gomer not being a prostitute and not being unfaithful until after the three children, based on how that option more closely parallels Israel’s relationship to God—see Jer. 2:2).
  4. Hosea is a downer on purpose. You need to know where the “hope” passages are and chart your way to them (examples: 2:14-23; 3:1-5; 11:8-11; 14:1-9). Don’t miss these because you want your audience to feel and know the hope that comes on the other side of repentance and reconciliation to an immeasurably gracious God.
  5. Give special attention to the very last verse. It is written to the reader instead of Israel. This means that Hosea is relevant for anyone who reads it (couple this with Romans 9:24-26, which quotes Hosea, and you have a compelling reason for us as 21st century Gentiles to heed Hosea’s words).
  6. Take note of the practicality of love in Hosea. There is no romance behind God’s or Hosea’s actions to go get their “wives” back. God and Hosea loved the unlovable. Love is always first practical; love is what you do, not what you feel. This is a crucial and timely reminder for us who live in a culture which only knows the love of fleeting romance.

Tips for Preaching

  1. Consider preaching Hosea as a two-parter; maybe even three. To be sure, there is enough in Hosea to warrant a close study that goes paragraph by paragraph, but that is not where the power of the story is found. Dissecting every line may be appropriate for a seminary class, but not necessarily for the pulpit. Your congregation will likely get lost in the large section of poetry in the middle. I recommend you preach the story. You could preach the story in one sermon or two (preach up to climax of the conflict between God and Israel/Hosea and Gomer, then come back for the resolution and conclusion in part two). Then you could preach a more topical sermon that extends what was learned about God’s covenant love in Hosea to things like marriage, God, family, church, etc.
  2. Consider singling out the most accessible verses (i.e. they don’t require much explanation of history or poetry) in chapters 4-11 to give your audience a good feel for God’s view of and emotional reaction to Israel’s sin. There’s a considerable amount of poetry in these chapters and you can easily get bogged down if you are trying to preach Hosea in 1-2 sermons.
  3. Create a contemporary illustration of Hosea and Gomer’s story. This can help your audience better visualize what’s happening, rather than tune out the ancient setting that doesn’t resonate with them. I chose to talk about a man whose wife left him. He decided to go get her back and do the right thing for their marriage. He finds out where she’s living and with whom. The boyfriend/pimp won’t let him in and won’t give her back. He asks how much money the husband has. The husband swallows his pride, empties his life savings, and “buys” back his wife. Something like this can contextualize the story to help them feel it more.
  4. Know your people when using “whorish” language. There is no reason to be ashamed of the strong terms God uses in Hosea. Words like “whore,” “harlot,” and “prostitute,” are part of how God communicates the grave nature of Israel’s idolatry. The preacher shouldn’t shy away from these, but he should also know his congregation. Your people may be the type who would actually become more distracted than educated by the time you utter your 36th “whore.” Just be strategic and wise in this respect.

Finally, remember to conclude this great story of God’s covenant faithfulness with the person who ratified the New Covenant in his blood. Though theologians disagree, 3:5 has compelling evidence for being a reference to the Messianic King and Israel’s return to God and him. All people are truly unlovable to God because of their sin. Yet Jesus the Messiah came and showed the ultimate love for the unlovable by giving up his life. God still loves the unlovable, and Jesus even died for them—there’s your Gospel connection. As a bonus, just as God and Hosea vowed to teach their “wives” how to love in return (2:14-23; 3:3), Jesus gives his Spirit to believers to do just the same.

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