Today’s passage may take a bit longer for you to find, so I’m going to ask you to start looking now. It’s in the Old Testament, somewhere past the middle of your Bible just after Daniel. It’s the book of Hosea, and we’re going to look at chapter one today.
Last week I mentioned I was going to speak on “I am Gomer” today. I think I confused some of you, because you thought I was talking about Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith show. I’m sorry to disappoint you. We’re going to look at someone else called Gomer in one of the strangest yet most beautiful stories in the Bible.
Have you ever thought of the lengths that God goes to in order to communicate with us? Think about the plagues in Egypt. Every time the Egyptians refused to listen to God, God found a more effective way to get his message through. That’s just like God. He seems to be pretty good at getting our attention.
Then there’s the ultimate way that God has communicated with us. Hebrews 1 says that after sending his prophets, who spoke “many times and in many ways,” God took the ultimate step of communicating to us. He sent his own Son. You can’t do much better than sending God to come in the flesh to communicate to us.
But we can’t forget the prophets. Imagine if God asked pastors today to do what the prophets did. In Isaiah 20, God asked the prophet Isaiah to go naked and barefoot for three years as a sign to Egypt and Ethiopia. I was going to ask you to picture a pastor coming in naked to church and saying, “God told me to do this as a sign, and the good news is it’s only for three years.” But really, I don’t want you to picture this. Maybe try to imagine it, but please don’t picture it in your mind. We’d think that this pastor should be committed into some institution.
Then there’s the story we’re going to look at today. Imagine if God asked a pastor to do what he asked Hosea to do:
2When the LORD first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, openly committing adultery against the LORD by worshiping other gods.”
Hosea’s immediate reaction isn’t recorded. We know that he obeyed, but I have to think that he may have had a few questions or doubts along the way. I know I would have. Hosea was being asked to live out a story, a parable of God’s relationship with his people. Where would he find this prostitute? I’m not sure Hosea would have known how to go about this. How would he get one to agree to marry him? Imagine Hosea saying, “Okay, my to-do list for tomorrow: find and marry prostitute. Better get a good night’s rest.” I can’t even imagine.
God was about to communicate something profound about his relationship with his people. I’m sure that Hosea gained a new perspective on God through this marriage. As I read this passage this week, I began to see myself represented in this story too. This story is our story. I am Gomer. You are too.
The people of that day probably would have said, “We’re not that bad. Sure, we mess up just like everyone else. But we still worship Yahweh. Give us a break. We’re not that bad.”
It’s interesting that the image God chose to communicate his relationship with us here isn’t a judge who’s passing sentence, or of a father scolding his children. The picture here is of one of the most intimate relationships possible. It’s of a marriage relationship. It’s a picture of intimacy, love, trust. Those of us who are married know that these qualities aren’t always present in a marriage, but the desire is usually there. God paints a picture of himself as a husband who longs for intimacy and closeness with his people. We’re pictured as violating this trust.
I tend to focus on certain qualities of God at different times. I find that I can sometimes get pretty glib about my lack of faithfulness to him. When I’m not living faithfully, I focus on certain passages that talk about God’s forgiveness and mercy. Those are true passages, but they’re not the complete picture. I like Hosea’s picture, because it shows me what my sinfulness really is like, while still also showing God’s compassion and forgiveness. When I sin, when my heart wanders from God, it is a big deal. It’s a lack of faithfulness. It’s spiritual adultery. Yes, God is compassionate and forgiving, as we’re about to see, but my sin causes great damage to our relationship. It’s hard to even think of God in emotional terms, but there’s the same type of damage and hurt that a husband might experience when his wife is unfaithful. That’s what my unfaithfulness does to God.
Truthfully, some of you have probably experienced that type of hurt. I haven’t, but I had one of those weird dreams a few months back that seems so real that you’re sort of stunned when you wake up. In this dream, my wife was unfaithful. I don’t remember the details. I do remember the overwhelming sense of betrayal and hurt, that our trust had been broken. I remember the relief that overwhelmed me when I woke up and realized that it had all been a dream. The hurt of broken trust in the most intimate of our relationships is the picture of what happens between God and his people when they’re unfaithful.
The news gets worse before it gets better. Not only does Hosea marry Gomer, but he then has some children. Now it’s getting serious. Each of the three children are named to communicate the consequences of unfaithfulness to the people.
3So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she became pregnant and gave Hosea a son. 4And the LORD said, “Name the child Jezreel, for I am about to punish King Jehu’s dynasty to avenge the murders he committed at Jezreel. 5In fact, I will put an end to Israel’s independence by breaking its military power in the Jezreel Valley.”
2 Kings 9-10 records a slaughter of innocent people by King Jehu so he could consolidate his power. The child was named Jezreel, after the place where this took place. The name means, “God scatters.” The child symbolized that Israel would cease to be an independent nation as a result of the slaughter. The child represented God’s judgment. Within Hosea’s lifetime, this prophecy came true.
Then, a second child was born:
6Soon Gomer became pregnant again and gave birth to a daughter. And the LORD said to Hosea, “Name your daughter Lo-ruhamah-‘Not loved’-for I will no longer show love to the people of Israel or forgive them. 7But I, the LORD their God, will show love to the people of Judah. I will personally free them from their enemies without any help from weapons or armies.”
A child’s born with the name “not loved”. Here’s a daughter who doesn’t experience the love and affection of parents. Israel was split into two nations – Judah and Israel. To Israel, God says, “I’ll no longer show love to you or forgive you.” To Judah, he continues to show his love, but to Israel, it’s over.
If I were Hosea, I would hope that this was enough to get God’s message across. But then a third child is born:
8After Gomer had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she again became pregnant and gave birth to a second son. 9And the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi-‘Not my people’-for Israel is not my people, and I am not their God.
Here you have a breaking of the covenant relationship God had with his people. He would no longer see them as his people. He would no longer be their God.
Do you get the impression that God is ticked? In a recent movie, a husband meets a private investigator he’s hired to follow his wife. The investigator shows him pictures of his wife with another man. His worst suspicions have been confirmed. His wife has been unfaithful. The husband faces the decision of how to react, and he also faces the emotional effects of the betrayal. These are the same questions that God faces as he sees the unfaithfulness of his people.
You know what strikes me about this? It’s how much God desires relationship with us. This redefines our understanding of sin. So often, we talk about sin as a violation of some moral standard. It’s more than that. It’s a violation of a relationship. So often God is pictured as an angry judge. Here he’s pictured differently: as someone who loves us, who wants relationship with us. Sin isn’t just about violating some moral code. It’s an act of rebellion against the love of God. This helps to redefine sin for us.
When I let Charlene down, she sometimes communicates her displeasure. She’s good at that; it’s a healthy thing. What happens next is that I get defensive. What helps me get past that defensiveness – sometimes! – is the realization that she’s not voicing her displeasure because she’s judging me. Instead, she’s communicating disappointment because she craves for intimacy, for relationship with me. It’s not an attack as much as a desire to connect with me. It’s hard to be offended by that. In the same way, God’s desire is for connection, for relationship with us.
That’s what makes these next few verses easier to understand. A lot of scholars find Hosea 1 hard to swallow. They can’t understand how God could ask a prophet to marry a prostitute. Then they read the chapter and it’s all about judgment. All of a sudden, without any transition and for no apparent reason, the tone changes It’s a lot easier to understand why once we see what God desires from us, when we understand it’s not about judgment as much as it is relationship. Read Hosea 1:10-11 with me:
10″Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ 11The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.
Despite the unfaithfulness, despite the violation of trust, God says, “I’m not done. I’m going to restore you as my people. I’m going to continue my love relationship with you.” It’s not over, because God simply won’t give up on us.
Here’s the deal: God loves us at our worst. He didn’t choose us because we were moral or virtuous. He wasn’t enamored with us because he had an unrealistically positive view of us. He knew about the worst things that we would ever do, things that we can barely stomach ourselves. And yet he loved us when we were in our very worst condition.
He keeps after us until he gets us. We run, we continue to be unfaithful. God doesn’t force his love upon us, neither does he give up on us.
And then God makes lovers out of men and women who know nothing of real love. He cleans us up, brings us close to himself, and never, never gives up. This is God’s love for us today.
We’re about the celebrate communion today. Another picture of God’s love is found in a beautiful Old Testament book called the Song of Songs, or the Song of Solomon. At one level, it’s a celebration of love and sensuality. In another sense, it also pictures God’s relationship with us.
Song of Songs 2:4 says, “He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love” (NIV). The Message puts it this way: “He took me home with him for a festive meal, but his eyes feasted on me!” God knows us. He’s not surprised by our doubts, our insecurities, the things we’ve done to mess up. Yet he invites us to come. He loves us. He doesn’t pretend that he hasn’t been hurt, and he doesn’t downplay our mistakes and our sins. But he still invites us to come and to be in relationship with him. That’s his invitation today.