“Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land” (Hosea 4:1, ESV)
God’s complaint against ancient Israel sounds very relevant in modern culture. Like Israel, many moderns find love to be fleeting, circumstantial, and highly subjective. It is a matter of emotions – that is feelings – and therefore not subject to one’s will or control. They “fall in” and “fall out” of love regularly, based on moods, whims, or new attractions.
Biblical love on the other hand is not an emotion, though it produces much emotion. It is not a matter of how one feels. Feelings and emotions cannot be commanded, yet love can be and is (Matthew 22:32-40; Ephesians 5:21-22). Love is a commitment and a decision. Paul commanded Christians in Philippi to “have the same love” and therefore to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:2, 4).
True love is the commitment to assist in the well-being of others, even when that might conflict with one’s own convenience or desires (1 John 3:16-18). It is demonstrated (confirmed) by action, not just by statement.
And, perhaps even more importantly, love is a constant, not shifting or disappearing due to changing circumstances. Unlike Hosea’s audience, we are to show our love constantly and faithfully. Paul described this pre-eminent virtue as always abiding, in contrast to those things which are temporary (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). Other things pass away but “Love never ends.”
The prophet Hosea predicted harsh judgement against a people whose love for God was wavering, inconsistent, and fickle. In times of trouble, they remembered him and called for his help. But when problems disappeared so did their devotion to God. At those times they fell prey to the attractions of idolatry, immorality, and the lifestyles of their pagan neighbors.
It is in response to this confirmed pattern that the prophet asks, “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4, ESV). The answer to this rhetorical question is provided by the prophet’s predictions of harsh punishment for their unfaithfulness and for the shallowness of their professed love.
We are well reminded today of the sentiment of traditional wedding vows: “In plenty or in want; in health or in illness; until death separates us . . . ” This level of commitment does not pertain only to the love between husband and wife, but to all bonds of love. When our love for others and for God is once proclaimed, we should recognize it as a lifelong promise defining who we are as well as our relationship to those to whom we have declared love. Israel did not recognize this and they suffered the consequences.