Hosea, the Persistent Lover
[A sermon preached at St. Barnabas Anglican Church, Three Hills, AB, July 28, 2013]
Old Testament Lectionary Reading: Hosea 1:1-11
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “All the world loves a lover.” If that statement is true, then perhaps the best-loved book in the Bible ought to be the book of Hosea. It’s one of the most amazing stories in all of literature. The book of Hosea is built around an astonishing historical event: God commands a prophet to marry a common whore and have children with her. Even more astonishing is the message behind Hosea’s marriage: “God loves us in just this way—[he] goes after us at our worst, keeping after us until he gets us, and makes lovers of men and women who know nothing of real love.”
Throughout the O.T., God’s love for Israel is often depicted in terms of a romantic love relationship, where God is the persistent lover who enters into a covenant relationship with a nation that turns away from him again and again, to idolatrous, pagan worship. Their apostasy, he says, is spiritual adultery. The message of the prophets is the cry of a heart-broken lover, who is relentless in his efforts to bring the nation back to himself, or to use the metaphor of Hosea’s story, to restore the marriage.
The book of Hosea is just such a book, but in this case, we see the message illustrated in the life experience of the prophet himself. The setting is the northern kingdom of Israel, during the years leading up to the fall of that kingdom to the Assyians in 723 B.C.
The story begins in verse 2 of chapter 1, where God tells Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD. So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.” Marry a prostitute – because (to paraphrase) “this is what I, the Lord, have done in committing myself to you.” God’s command “Take to yourself an adulterous wife” is a warning to Hosea: “Be prepared, Hosea; the wife you marry will break your heart, and that heartbreak will become an object lesson of my own heartbreak over Israel’s spiritual adultery. And even as you continue to love her and care for her in spite of all her unfaithfulness, my love for the people of my covenant is unconditional, and I will spare no effort to win them back to myself.”
Hosea’s family life:
We read in chapter 1 that Gomer “conceived and bore [Hosea] a son” (vs. 3). After that she had two more children, who were apparently not his (vss. 6, 8). Then she left him (ch. 2). Imagine the pain he must have felt day after day, when Hosea returned home from preaching in Samaria and the other towns and villages in the northern kingdom. Hosea found the house empty, and when Gomer did come home, it was clear that she cared nothing for him. Hosea, on the other hand, continued to love her, even as he saw her embracing other men.
Gomer’s three children (1:3-9):
The names of Hosea’s children reflect what was happening in the nation.
1. Jezreel (v.4): “I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel.” Jezreel was a reminder of the tragic past of Israel’s history, the city where Ahab and Jezebel set up Baal worship in Israel. It was also the place where Ahab had Naboth executed on false charges, so he could steal his vineyard (1 Ki. 21:1-16). God used Jehu to wipe out the dynasty of Ahab, but in the process Jehu established himself as king through a bloodbath that set the kingdom on a collision course with God’s judgment (1 Ki. 21:17-24)
2. Lo-ruhamah (v. 6): “Call her name ‘Not pitied,’ for I will no more have pity on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.” This child, a girl, was apparently not Hosea’s. “Lo-ruhamah” was a reminder that the people would shortly come under the power of a cruel, pitiless invader.
3. Lo-ammi: (v. 8): “Call his name ‘Not my people,’ for you are not my people and I am not your God.” Whenever Hosea called this boy by name, he would be reminded that Lo-ammi was a product of Gomer’s harlotry.
Gomer leaves Hosea (2:1-5)
One day Hosea comes home to find a note from Gomer, telling him that she has left him. She is tired of being tied down, and she has other lovers, who she believes will give her a better life. In 2:5: “she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink’.” But “although Gomer has left his home, she has not left his heart” (Haddon Robinson).
Gomer takes up with a man who is not able to care for her, but Hosea gives him money to buy food and clothing for her. He helps to support her, to pay the keep of the woman who has betrayed him (2:8). And so Gomer is cared for, even though she doesn’t know that it is her own husband who is her benefactor.
She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold—which they used for Baal (2:8).
This was a picture of Israel in Hosea’s time—and of humanity today. We receive God’s rich blessings, without acknowledging him.
In 2:14, after all the broken dreams, broken hearts, broken hopes, God says, “I am going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” What was the Valley of Achor? It was they place where Achan was stoned for taking the spoil at the fall of Jericho—they place of God’s judgment on sin. Gomer had to hit bottom before she could receive the love of Hosea.
God never forces us. But he does allow us to experience the consequences of our choices. And Israel would have to experience the full force of these consequences before she would recognize God’s love for her. God’s punishment is not “getting back at us for our wrongs,” it is never revenge, but correction, designed to bring the unfaithful partner back to a right relationship with him. And it’s at that point where we finally reach the end of our ability to run from him that we find hope.
Gomer hits bottom (ch. 3)
As Gomer is passed from one man to another, her situation gets worse and worse, until finally she falls into the hands of an evil and unscrupulous man who sells her as a slave. Slavery from this era meant the loss of all indignity, stripped of their clothes, forced to stand naked before the leering eyes of those who come to bid, or just to gawk.
The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer of barley (3:1-2a).
Hosea scraped together enough money and grain to outbid the other buyers, and he buys his adulterous wife. The people at the slave market must have shaken their heads in disbelief as Hosea came up to claim his wife. “Well, old Hosea’s really made a fool of himself. He must really mean to punish her.” But he didn’t buy her to punish her, but to redeem her, as he wrapped his cloak around his wife and took her home. Notice the beginning of verse 1: “The LORD said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again.” In loving Gomer this way, Hosea acted out the love that God had for Israel; his ultimate purpose was to bring her back to himself—and that’s still a part of his ultimate purposes. But he also played the part that God has played with you and me all our lives. God does not love us because of what we are, but because it is his very nature to love. “Whether you’re faithful or not, I will be faithful to you.”
Hosea’s purpose was to reclaim her love—and he knew it would still be a long and painful process. Verse 3: “Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.”
Conclusion and Application
How can we apply the story of Hosea and Gomer? I’ll mention three ways:
First, for the person who has not trusted in Christ for salvation, who may not understand the meaning of God’s love for you:
- Hosea and Jesus (Yeshua) come from the same Hebrew root, meaning “Saviour.”
- Where is God? I can’t find him. God isn’t lost, you are.
The story of Hosea and Gomer reminds us of the prodigal son in the NT. In that story, the son returned to the father. In this story, the father goes in search of the lost one.
Second, for followers of Christ, God is utterly committed to us. Nothing we can do will make him love us more–or less. Many Christians live lives of discouragement and shame over their failure to live up to what they think God expects of them, or the expectations of others–or of themselves. And so they feel God must be so utterly fed up with their failures that it would take a monumental act of commitment and goodness to get God to love them. Listen: God wants to free us from a “bookkeeping mentality.” Romans 8:38-39 tells us that nothing in this universe–not even our the worst repeated sin we can imagine–is able to keep us from God’s love. It’s never too late to start again with God.
Finally, as followers of Christ, God gives us in this story a pattern of living to which he has called us. In every whether husband and wife, parent and child, in the church and in the world–even in our relationships with our enemies–we are called to live lives of sacrificial, unconditional love.
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate, when he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:20-23).
O love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul I give thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be. (George Matheson)