Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
1The Lord said to me again, “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes*.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer of barley and a measure of wine. 3 And I said to her, “You must remain as mine for many days; you shall not play the whore, you shall not have intercourse with a man, nor I with you.” 4 For the Israelites shall remain many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. 5 Afterward the Israelites shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; they shall come in awe to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. (Hosea 3:1-5, NRSV)
There was a woman who lived not far from here who was some years ago fortunate enough to marry the man of her dreams. They were married on a lovely spring afternoon in the presence of all their family and friends. The minister pronounced them man and wife after they promised to love one another “till death do us part” and everybody in attendance that day imagined it would be so.
As they grew together as husband and wife this woman made her husband the number one priority in her life. Though she had lots of other commitments, she never allowed anything to become more important than loving her husband. She shared her heart with him, her thoughts, her body, her very soul, entrusting things to him she had never entrusted to anybody else. She sacrificed much for him and would have given her life for her husband if it ever came to that. Her goal in life was to help her husband live well.
Then one day he left her. Without warning he simply packed his bags, walked out on her, and went to give himself to another woman who had walked out on her husband to be with him. In other words, he gave his heart to one who had already proven that she wasn’t to be trusted with the heart of another.
Can you imagine the anguish? Some of you can. Some of you have been in the place of this woman, having given your heart and your life to another in such an intimate and permanent way only to have the other person walk away into the arms of another and leave you devastated. Even those of us who have never been married have at least some sense of the heart wrenching agony this would bring upon a person.
In the days of Hosea, this is what happened. Only it wasn’t a man walking out on his wife but a people walking out on their God. You see, God had entrusted himself to this people as he had never done before. He called them his children, delivered them from bondage, established them as a nation, provided for them repeatedly, shown them grace beyond imagination. They even knew his name. And in response, the people walked away and threw themselves into the arms of their idols, worshipping false gods, giving their ultimate devotion to created things rather than that Creator of all things.
So what did God do? Well, God chose for himself a prophet, a man named Hosea, a man he would send to his people with a message. It would begin as a message of judgment but would end as a message of grace. But for Hosea to communicate the message properly he had to first understand the message. For this prophet to faithfully represent the heart of God to God’s people he was first going to have to know the heart of God. And to know the heart of God he was going to have to go through what God had gone through. Which is why, by the way, nobody usually voluntarily enlists to become a prophet. Lots of job openings on the prophet field!
This is how it all happened. In Hosea 1:2 we read, “The Lord said to Hosea, ‘Find a whore and marry her. Make this whore the mother of your children. And here’s why: This whole country has become a whorehouse, unfaithful to me, God.’”
Amazingly, Hosea obeyed the Lord. He went and married a lady in his village named Gomer who had a well-deserved reputation as a promiscuous and immoral woman. And I’m trying to imagine what Gomer must have thought when Hosea the prophet proposed marriage to her, the prostitute? I’m trying to imagine what the rest of the village thought when they heard the news? Imagine the whispers from the shadows and the disapproving glances shot across the marketplace.
In spite of it all, Hosea gave himself fully to his wife in marriage. She became his first priority, the focus of his affection and devotion. He provided for her, cherished her, sacrificed much for her. And perhaps along the way she even learned to love him a little in return. At least they had three children together. As best they could, they were building a life together.
Then one day she left him. As one writer put it, “While Hosea was off hitting the sawdust trail, Gomer took to hitting as many night spots as she could squeeze into a night, and any resemblance between her next batch of children and Hosea was purely coincidental.” Night after night Gomer would leave the house to go and lay in the arms of one lover or another, time after time forsaking the only man who was ever willing to give everything for her in exchange for men who cared only about what she could give to them.
Not a single person in the village would have blamed Hosea for doing what he wanted to do. Change the locks, man. Move away. Cancel her credit cards. Call your lawyer. Serve her papers. Nobody should ever be treated the way Gomer was treating Hosea.
Then one morning she didn’t come home. A day went by, and then another. She was gone and maybe it was for the best. This relationship was a one-sided affair from the get go anyway. Hosea must have wanted to do what any of us would have wanted to do, to cut his losses and wade through the pain and try to make a fresh start of it all. And maybe that’s what he would have done if God hadn’t showed up again. But God did show up again, this time saying to Hosea, “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods.” In other words, God was telling Hosea that he can’t do what he wants to do. Instead, he must go out and find Gomer and do whatever it takes to bring her home. Then, perhaps, he will finally know the heart of God well enough to speak to the people on God’s behalf.
So Hosea goes. And he finds Gomer, not in the bed of another man but on the auction block. Likely, somebody got tired of her and saw one last opportunity to use her to make a few bucks. In those days, she would have been stripped naked before she was presented so that all her perspective buyers could see exactly what they were getting for their cash. It’s not hard to imagine that as she stood there her eyes were closed, darkness her last defense against what had become her cruel reality. As she listens to the voices of the men bid for her life, she suddenly hears a voice she recognizes, the last voice she ever expected to hear.
Hosea’s bid is the winning bid, fifteen shekels of silver and a homer of barley and a measure of wine, about what a man might expect to pay for a slave girl in those days. As he leads her off the block and wraps her in a blanket to cover her, Gomer’s head must have been swirling. What is he doing here? After all that I have done, why would he want me back? Perhaps for revenge? That would have been the only reason a man would buy back a woman who had torn his heart out and wanted nothing to do with him ever again.
Hosea takes Gomer home because, after all, she is still his wife. He says to her, “You must remain as mine for many days; you shall not play the whore, you shall not have intercourse with a man, nor I with you.” And suddenly we see that the price Hosea is paying here is a whole lot more than a few shekels, a homer of barley and a measure of wine. Imagine his reputation now, the social price he was going to have to pay. Imagine the emotional work that now must be invested over the long haul if this relationship would ever have a chance. Imagine the old memories he was going to have to live with as he and his wife tried to build a new life together. Imagine the risk he was taking, that she might one day leave him and tear his heart out all over again.
It’s a heavy price, but Hosea pays it anyway. He commits to his bride once again, saying all over again, “You are mine and I am yours. From now on, you’re living with me and I’m living with you.” And finally, though it was no easy road to get there, Hosea is now ready to go to God’s people and bring to them God’s message. Finally, Hosea has some idea what it is that God has been through.
I bet you’ve heard a thousand love stories over the course of your life. But have you ever heard a love story like this? And if this is what a love story sounds like, what do we make of all the other ones that sound nothing like this? In the introductory notes to Hosea in his Message paraphrase of the Bible, Eugene Peterson writes, “We live in a world awash in love stories. Most of them are lies. They are not love stories at all—they are lust stories, sex-fantasy stories, domination stories. From the cradle we are fed on lies about love.”
His words got me thinking about the love stories I have heard since I’ve been out of the cradle. Early on, many of them came from Walt Disney. Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. Snow White. Beauty and the Beast. Aladdin. Every one of these love stories ends with two lovers embracing in a passionate kiss, scenes I didn’t enjoy so much as a kid but have come to appreciate a bit more as an adult. The more I thought about it, all these love stories shared at least this one thing in common. The world has rejected some person but then somebody else comes along who sees something in that first person that everybody else missed and, in the end, falls in love.
Belle, the beauty, comes to see that deep in the heart of the Beast is something beautiful and her heart softens for him. Prince Charming, who seems to get around quite a bit in fairy tales, sees behind the ash-stained rags of Cinderella, the strange dwarfish company Snow White keeps, the evil curse that has left Sleeping Beauty as lifeless as a statue, and he looks beyond these things and sees something lovely in each and he also falls in love. Jasmine eventually sees in Aladdin a diamond in the rough and gives her heart away to him before the credits roll.
Do you see the thread that runs through them all, and runs through most every other love story we’ve ever heard. You cannot love another until you see something lovable in the other. It may be buried deep, deep beneath a beastly shell, but if you find it, once you find it, then you can love. And the subtle message we have been given, over and over and over in life from the time we were too young to understand what we are being told, is that we are loved when we show ourselves worthy of being loved.
How then can we not help but imagine that this is also how God loves? And if this is the way God loves, if God loves those who are worthy of being loved, then God’s love is nothing all that different from the love we see everywhere else we look in the world. And I suppose we might say that’s good news because at least God doesn’t hate, but can it really be very good news if God only loves those who show themselves to be worth of loving?
The apostle Paul understood this truth all those years ago. In his New Testament letter to the Romans he wrote, “Rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might possibly die.” You see his point? Love ultimately is sacrifice and there is no greater sacrifice than to die for another. But in the end it is only a good person who ever is worth receiving a sacrifice like that. We love those who are worthy of our love.
In light of all this, Hosea’s life is a parable, a real life human story which God uses to teach us something about Himself and about the way he actually loves. We play the part of Gomer. God gives everything to us, gives us life, invites us into His life, and promises to be faithful to us beyond even death. And in return, we wander. One day we just pack our bags and walk out. Like the old hymn put it, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” We give ourselves away to other lovers. We make other things in life more important than God. We turn to our careers, our money and possessions, our status and image, hoping that these things will make our life count for something. We turn to other people, asking them to provide for us what only God in the end can provide, security, peace, enduring life and meaning.
And in all this we fail to understand what this does to the heart of God. You see, God is our king, yes. But this is more than just a king who has to punish his subjects because they have disobeyed his orders. God is our shepherd, yes, but how much does a shepherd really lose when his sheep wander off. They’re sheep, after all, and that’s what sheep do. Certainly God is our Father, but when children grow up and leave home it’s as natural as it is painful.
You see, things are altogether different when a loving and faithful husband watches his beloved wife decide one day to simply pack her bags and go off into the arms of another man who in the end cares nothing for her. Of all the parables God could have chosen to show his people what it is like when they are unfaithful, this is the parable God chooses. For this is the pain God endures when those to whom he has given himself fully choose, in response, to give themselves to someone, or something else.
And so who could blame God if he changed the locks, moved away, cancelled the credit cards, and filed for divorce. Who could blame God really? “Rarely will anybody die for a righteous person – through for a good person someone might possibly die.” Well, where in the world can God find a good person? And yet Paul goes on in the next verse, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
God asks Hosea to do the unthinkable, to go after the woman who had already torn his heart out. And in this God shows us what he has also done. Hosea pays a price to get his wife back, not just the shekels and the barley, but the social scorn and the years of heartache. God also pays a price, a much greater price. When the time was right he sent his Son, his only Son, to suffer and die in our place and buy us out of our slavery to sin and to death that he might take us home with him where forever he would be our God and we would be his people.
Once again, Hosea 3:4-5 reads,
For the Israelites shall remain many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the Israelites shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; they shall come in awe to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.
God is making clear to his people, then and now, our unfaithfulness to Him has a cost and consequences. There will be many days when life is not easy. We’re living in those days, days full of hardship which have come as a result of our misplaced affection and devotion. A day is coming, however, a day in the latter days when David the king will come and set things right between God and his people.
Now, what could this have meant to the people who first read these words? By the time of Hosea, King David was long dead. What help could he now be to them? None, of course. But one of his descendants could be. And so when they made a record of his life in the Gospels, the Gospel writers were very careful to point out that Jesus, the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, was, in fact, a direct descendant of King David. He was the one the people had been expecting all those years, the bridegroom who had finally come to pay the price and bring home his bride.
Later in the book of Hosea, at a point when God is tempted to do what we would do if we were betrayed and scorned as he has been betrayed and scorned, God instead speaks these words about his people:
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
He didn’t. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, has not come to us in wrath. He has every right to do so, but he has not. And if in your life you are given the gift of even glimpsing the depth of the love that God has for you and for everybody you know, it cannot help but change everything. For one, once you realize that this is how you are loved, that in the midst of your sin and your unfaithfulness this is how you have been loved by God, you then will begin to love like this yourself. You will begin to love the God who loves you and you will love those around you whom God loves. Once you realize that the Creator of the universe loves you to this extent, you will be set free. All your deepest fears, fears rooted in the possibility that in the end your life will not matter to anybody, will disappear. If the Holy Creator of the universe loves you in this way, what in the world do you have to fear?
I pray this morning that you will hear, maybe even for the first time in your life, the voice of One who calls you beloved even when you realize you are no such thing. There are so many voices bidding for your life, voices which care nothing for you in the end. But in amongst them all is the voice of One who, in spite of all the times you may have walked out on him, is willing to buy back your life, has already bought back your life, and now wants to take you home, and set you free, and make things right, and call you his forever.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Re-read the passage from Hosea 3:1-5. If you’ve got time, read the first couple chapters of Hosea as well which lead up to this point.
God asks Hosea to marry a whore so that Hosea can understand what God has gone through and then be able to accurately communicate God’s message to the people. What is the hardest part of what Hosea had to do?
God compares his pain over our unfaithfulness to the pain a husband feels when his beloved wife is unfaithful to him. What do we learn from this comparison?
Have you ever experienced anything like the sort of heart-wrenching loss Hosea experienced? If so, how did it change you? Do you think you now better understand the heart of God?
The old hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Why are we so prone to wander from the One who has given us everything?
Hosea pays an awful price to get Gomer back. What price has God paid to get you back?
Do you see Jesus as your “spouse”, the one to whom you are devoted to above all others? Or do you simply see Jesus as your boss? Or your friend? Or your helper?
When your life is hard, is it possible that God is making you into a prophet (like Hosea) so that you can speak into the lives of others?
 Hosea 1:2 (The Message)
 Fredrick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures (San Francisco: Harper, 1979), 43.
 Hosea 3:1 (NRSV)
 This imagery, though speculative, is helpful to enhancing the story. I’m indebted to Timothy Keller for these images, taken from his sermon, “The True Bridegroom” (preached December 2, 2007, at Redeemer Presbyterian Church). Listen at http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/true-bridegroom
 Hosea 3:3 (NRSV)
 Eugene Peterson, The Message (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), 1392.
 Romans 5:7 (NRSV)
 From Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
 I’m borrowing this from Tim Keller who says something like this in his sermon.
 Romans 5:8 (NRSV)
 See, for instance, the genealogy in Matthew 1.
Hosea 11:8-9 (NRSV)