(A brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders, of the Lifeway “Explore the Bible” for Sunday, October 16, 2022. A video version of this overview is available at:
INTRO: One way to introduce this lesson would be to ask your group to share: “What’s one of the hardest things God ever called you to do?”
(I can think of several difficult mission trips I’ve been on; a couple of hard evangelistic visits I needed to make; one time Tom Elliff was scheduled to preach a big mission conference at our church, and he called the Saturday afternoon before and said, “Shawn, God’s giving you a great opportunity today: I’m sick and won’t be able to be there. You’re going to need to preach it!” You and your group members will have experiences you can share: hard things God asked you to do, to go, to say to someone, etc.
THEN you can say: today we’re looking at the story of a man that God asked some very difficult things of, in order to convey a strong message to His people.
THE CONTEXT here: We’re looking at the Book of Hosea, the first of the 12 Minor Prophets in the Bible. Chapter 1:1 tells us that Hosea served as God’s prophet during the time of King Uzziah (the King Uzziah who died when Isaiah had his vision in Isaiah 6) to King Hezekiah in Judah (the Southern Kingdom) and Jeroboam II in Israel, the Northern Kingdom. So it’s about the same time as much of Isaiah; it was an “up and down” time in Judah: Uzziah had been a good king, then Ahaz set up idols, but Hezekiah was a good king after him. But in the North (Israel) Jeroboam II ruled during a very prosperous time for Israel. I read where one historian said it was the most prosperous time economically and militarily that the Northern Kingdom of Israel ever experienced. But with all that “success,” they were worshiping idols, and God’s judgment was coming on them.
I might use an outline like this to teach the focus passage for this week in the first part of Hosea:
I. The Messenger
II. The Message
III. The Amazing Love
I. THE MESSENGER
The messenger, of course, was Hosea the prophet. Verse 2 says: ‘When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea: ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry, and have children of harlotry, for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD.”
Now right off the bat, I might ask the class here:
??? How do you think Hosea felt about “taking a wife of harlotry and having children of harlotry”???
(I can’t imagine he was really excited about it; but it is what God commanded him to do, to be a living symbol to His people about what THEY were doing to HIM, as we will see in point II.)
ONE IMPORTANT APPLICATION we can make here is: we need to remember that everything is not about US. We tend to think that everything in the world revolves around US: we want to do what’s best for me; what’s in it for me; how do I feel about it. And that’s the “natural, worldly” way of looking at things. We are self-centered.
One story you could use to illustrate that would be:
Back in the 1800’s, P.T. Barnum, in a way unknown to us today, had offended his friend Moses Kimball, also a museum owner and showman. Barnum, from overseas, wrote and apologized.
“Barnum … pled guilty to ‘selfishness, selfishness, selfishness.’ … After his repetition of the word ‘selfishness,’ he signed off with the equivocal confession, ‘I plead guilty to this general crime & can only give my poor excuse that it is a part of human nature.’”
(Robert Wilson, Barnum: An American Life, p. 110)
Barnum was right. Selfishness is part of our sinful human nature. But God has not called us as His followers to be like the world. He has called us to follow Christ, who was selfless, and did not only consider what was in things for HIM.
??? What are some instances in the life of Christ where He did what He perhaps didn’t “want” to do, or “feel” like doing, that wasn’t “best for Him,” one might say???
(— Leaving heaven to come to earth in the first place!
— In Mark 6 when He and His disciples needed to get away and rest for a while, but the crowds ran ahead and met Him. He had to be exhausted. HE needed rest, but it says He had compassion on them, and ministered to them. He set aside His own needs and ministered to them.
— In the Garden of Gethsemane, when He cried, “Not My will but Thine”
— At the cross, when He bore the wrath of God for OUR sins)
And on and on. You/your group can think of many examples. Jesus did not just do what “was best for Him” like we often do, but what the Father needed Him to do to minister to others. Jesus was very self-LESS. We tend to be self-ISH. God has called us to set aside our self-ISH-ness and follow His example of self-LESS-ness.
This is exactly what Philippians 2:5 teaches were are to do: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” And just before that, :4 said, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” We are not to be self-ISH, but self-LESS, following Christ’s example.
Hosea’s obedience to God here is an example of self-LESS-ness. This situation was not “good” for him. Why should he marry this woman and have this kind of family? But he did it to obey God and to speak to His people.
??? You could ask your group: What are some ways that God might call US to be self-LESS for Him?
(Some examples might include:
— to serve in the nursery when we’d rather be in worship. It’s not what WE want, but what God needs us to do.
— to teach or help in a class when we would rather listen in one.
— to go on a mission trip when we’d rather go on vacation.
— to witness to someone when we’d rather stay comfortable.
— to serve your husband or wife or children, when you’d rather have some “me” time.
There are tons of examples: you/your class can think of many.
The point is: we need to get OUT of the mindset of always evaluating everything just by whether it is good for US, and instead consider: does God want me to do this, even if it’s not good for ME, in order that I might minister to others?
Basically we need to set aside our self-ISH-ness, and follow Christ’s example of self-LESS-ness, like we see in Hosea here.
II. THE MESSAGE
And what was God saying to Israel and Judah through Hosea’s selfless symbolic acts? There are four symbols in Hosea’s family, the meaning of which is spelled out in the text:
A. :2 He was to take a wife of harlotry “for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.”
God says, just as your wife is being unfaithful to you, so My people have been unfaithful to ME.”
How did they do that? Through idolatry. They were unfaithful to God by worshiping other gods besides Him.
B. :4 tells us that after Hosea takes Gomer as his wife, they had a child, and God said name him “Jezreel” WHY? Because God was going to judge Israel (the Northern Kingdom) for the sins they had committed at Jezreel, and for the judgment that was coming upon them at the valley of Jezreel, where they would be defeated and taken into captivity by the Assyrians.
C. :6 says then they had a daughter, whom God said to name: “Lo-ruhammah”, which literally means “no compassion”
(The Hebrew word “lo” means “not.”)
D. :8-9 then they had a son; God said to name him: “Lo-ammi” NOT/My people (“lo” = NO/NOT, “am” = people, “i” = me/my.)
In Exodus 6:7 God had told Israel before the Exodus: “I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.” God showed Israel through the events of Exodus that He was their God, and they were His people.
But now Israel (the Northern Kingdom) had rebelled against God’s commandments for generations. Ever since the first Jeroboam they had worshiped golden calves in Bethel and Dan, and idolatry had spread throughout the whole land. And finally now God says: You are NOT my people — “Lo-ammi” — and I am not your God.
So all these things were symbolic. God was communicating His message to His people through Hosea and his family:
— Just as Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea, God says, so YOU have been unfaithful to ME.
— Just as Hosea had a son named “Jezreel”, so Israel was going to be judged at Jezreel.
— Just as “Lo-ruhammah” means “no compassion,” God says I am not going to have compassion on Israel (here the N Kingdom) but only on Judah (S. Kingdom)
— Just as Lo-ammi means “not My people,” so you are not My people any longer.
It was a harsh message God was giving Judah — and Israel especially — through Hosea.
Is there a message for US here today too? Of course there is!
Many people in America today claim to be God’s people, but they don’t show it by the way they live.
Many of US too, have been unfaithful to God, putting other “gods” in front of Him. Maybe not “literal” idols, but idols still yet.
??? You could ask your class to share some examples of things that might be other “gods” we’ve put ahead of the Lord:
(money, success, sports, hobbies, entertainment — on and on.)
??? You might follow that up with: many of these things are not “bad” in themselves (sports, hobbies, money, etc.) “What might be some “giveaway” signs that they have started to become an idol to us?
(Some answers might include: when you start giving them what belongs to God: when you start giving them God’s time; God’s money; the attention and love that belong to God, etc. When it begins to take God’s place in any way, it has become an idol.)
III. THE AMAZING LOVE
Despite the harshness of the message, God’s love and grace shine brightly in the last part of the passage, in Chapter 3.
God tells Hosea, “Go again and love a woman, who is loved by her husband yet an adulteress — even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods …”.
What an amazing message. Even after all the words of judgment of Chapter 1 (and the first part of Chapter 2 has a lot about Israel’s unfaithfulness) God says, even yet I still love Israel.
If you look back in Chapter 2, God says
— in :14 “I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her …”
— He says in :16 “You will call Me ‘Ishi’ (my husband)
— In :19 “I will betroth you to Me forever …”
— He says in :23 “I will have compassion on her who had no compassion;” “I will say to those who were ‘not My people,’ You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!’”
Do you see what is happening here? God is REVERSING all those things: I had no compassion, but now I will show compassion. You weren’t My people; but now you ARE; now I WILL be your God.
We see this fulfilled in the New Testament: I Peter 2:10 says “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Of course, Peter is writing about what has happened to us in CHRIST.
This is where you could share the Gospel this week: God made us to be His people, but we had all sinned against Him; were unfaithful to Him. But He had compassion on us in Christ, and sent Him to die on the cross and pay for our sins. Now by accepting the mercy God showed us in Him, we have become the very people of God! The message of Hosea has been fulfilled in us, through what God did in Christ!
But the point I would really focus on, is the amazing love of God for us, even when we have sinned, and been unfaithful to Him. Hosea pictured that for us, but God DID it! He forgave us, even when we had been unfaithful to Him.
There is a GREAT story from Bruce Catton’s Civil War Trilogy that is a perfect illustration of this passage. It’s not a short story, but it is true, and I believe it is a powerful one that speaks to this point. See if you can use it:
Major General Dan Sickles served in the Union Army in the Civil War. “Sickles had been a state senator and then member of Congress … he had his sights fixed on the presidency … And then he killed Philip Barton Key. Son of the man who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Key … handled certain legal business for Sickles, and Sickles in turn helped to persuade President Buchanan to reappoint Key as United States attorney when his term expired. Key became friendly with Mrs. Sickles, had assignations with her in a shabby flat on Vermont Avenue in Washington, and one day was shot dead by Sickles on the sidewalk bordering Lafayette Square, across from the White House. Having killed him, Sickles walked down he street and surrendered his revolver and his person to Attorney General Black.
His trial was a circus. It belonged in the 1920s, in the era of sob sisters and flashlight bulbs. … They raised for the first time the plea that Sickles was not guilty because of temporary insanity brought on by the shock of discovering that his wife had been untrue to him with his best friend. Like the plea, the verdict set an immutable precedent. Sickles was triumphantly acquitted.
So far, so good. The unwritten law ran strongly in predominantly Southern chivalry Washington of the 1850s, and it was hard to think the worse of a man who killed by it.
But Sickles then put himself beyond the pale by the simple act of forgiving his wife and restoring her to his bosom. It may be that after his own fashion he loved her.
This was a shocker. Washington was scandalized to the eyebrows … not that he had killed his friend but that he had (FORGIVEN her!). Sickles wrote a defiant open letter to the press remarking. “I am not aware of any statute or code of morals which makes it infamous to forgive a woman …”.
(Bruce Catton, Civil War Trilogy, p. 313)
Dan Sickles’ forgiveness of his wife is one of the amazing and true stories of history — but his love, and Hosea’s — are just a picture to us, of the kind of love that God has for us as His people, even when we have been unfaithful to Him.
I hope this will help you as you prepare for your lesson this week.
Remember if you’ll write something in the Comments section, I will be sure to pray for you this week.
God bless you, as you share God’s amazing love and grace with your group this week!
Per licensing agreement with Lifeway:
– These weekly lessons are based on content from Explore the Bible Adult Resources. The presentation is my own and has not been reviewed by Lifeway.
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Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for your ministry of sharing these Bible lesson overviews on Lifeway Explore the Bible. This has been a tremendous help to me in preparing the lesson.
I started leading a senior adult Sunday School class in June of this year. I’ve mostly served in the children’s department for the past several years. Serving as Bible study leader for my peers was a challenging thought and your overviews have made that challenge easier.
You are very welcome, Joan. I’m grateful that it is useful to you. YES that would be quite a change from children’s Sunday School to adult — but how neat that you are open to something new; that’s the spirit! I am praying for you and your group this morning!
Your comments and suggestions are so helpful in preparing my lesson for adults. Thank you so much!
I am so thankful that it is helpful to you, Midge! Thank you for letting me know. I am praying for you and your group this morning!
Thanks for your comments which are very helpful in teaching. I am 84 and just began teaching last year after my husband, a retired pastor, entered an extended care facility with Alzheimer’s. Dr Betts commentary during this quarter are the best yet. I especially appreciate the illustrations.
I am surely praying God’s comfort for you personally, and that He would use you to minister to your group today. How great that you are continuing to serve! Thank you for letting me know that the overviews are helpful to you!
Your research , applications, and questions are so helpful as I prepare to teach a group of single moms and single attendees. I would covet your prayers.
Yes ma’am Lynda; I am praying for you and your group of ladies this morning!
Thank you Shawn!!!
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