In these verses we have two conversations between God and his servant Hosea about the situation in Israel (or one conversation in two parts). The first conversation is detailed in verses 10-14 (God speaks in verses 10-13 and Hosea responds in verse 14); the second conversation is detailed in verses 15-17 (God speaks in verses 15 and 16 and Hosea responds in verse 17). Right away we can see that one of the strengths of Hosea’s character was his fellowship with God. We can also see that the Lord shared his thoughts with his servant (which he now does with us in the Bible).
Conversation 1 begins with God recalling the onset of his relationship with the Israelites. He found it to be a pleasant, enjoyable experience, similar to someone finding refreshing grapes in a desert or tasty figs on a fig tree. Yet their delight in God did not last long because within a short time they committed idolatry at Baal-peor. Instead of becoming like God they became like the idols (v. 10). I wonder what the Lord recalls about the days of our first love with him.
The sins of Israel will bring about their demise as a nation. All their attainments would disappear like a bird in flight. They would vanish as a nation and soon no-one would be able to point to an Israelite child. This would happen when the Lord withdrew his protection and they would be conquered by their enemies. Despite living in a beautiful place (like a palm in a meadow), they would lose their location and national identity through the slaughter of war (vv. 11-13). Divine providence can be very difficult to bear when it includes specific judgment for sins.
In verse 14, Hosea responds and says that he agrees with the divine purpose of bringing judgement on his people. No doubt, he found this hard but he was aware of their persistent rebellion. And he was also aware, through previous prophecies depicted by the names of his children (Hos. 1), that judgement was the road to future restoration.
The second conversation begins with the Lord referring to what the Israelites do in Gilgal, where a pagan temple had been built (Hos. 4:15; 12:11). When the Israelites began to worship there, their action brought about a change in the Lord’s affection for them – indeed he says that he began to hate them, which means he now regarded them in the way he had regarded Esau. Instead of working for them, he would now work against them and not display any signs of love. Their history was about to come to an end because they had departed from God (vv. 15-16).
Hosea responds in verse 17. His words reveal that he understood the situation: ‘My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations.’
The love that God ceased to have for Israel should not be confused with his saving love for those who trust in Jesus. Rather the kind of love highlighted here is connected to the relationship Israel as a nation had with God. As long as they remained faithful to him they would experience expressions of his love revealed in what he promised them when he made a covenant with them at Mount Sinai. That covenant also included dire threats if they would be unfaithful. They did, and most of the northern tribes disappeared among the nations. In this sad event, we can see how God works in providence to keep his threats as well as, at other times, working to keep his promises.