Welcome to our new series “ORIGINS.” As we prepare for the Advent season, we’ll be bringing to life a few of the Old Testament prophets whose stories will cause you to want more. There’s got to be more.
Today, we’ll be looking at the prophet Hosea who comes on the scene when the nation of Israel was almost literally falling apart . . .
- There were six kings in thirty years, four of whom were assassinated by their successors.
- And with all this political chaos . . . corruption ensued
- Crime was up and violence in the streets became commonplace.
- And to make matters worse, Israel was beginning to lose its identity as the people of God.
Remember, Israel had settled in Canaan after a very dramatic rescue from slavery in Egypt. And for five hundred years they’d been making their home in the new land, grappling with this covenant relationship that God had established with them that they would be his people and he would be their God.
I don’t think I would be completely out of line to say . . . they were not doing such a great job.
In fact, assimilation with other cultures around them was the order of the day.
And honestly you can’t blame them . . . you see, their kingdom was largely agriculturally dependent, leaving them at the mercy of the rain and the sun, and some years they had plenty and some years they starved. And all around them were other cultures in the same situation.
And as they were becoming more and more dependent on each other, it made it more difficult to maintain a unique perspective and identity.
So the people of Israel began flirting with the ideas of their neighbors . . . the gods they worshipped and the rituals they followed to insure adequate rainfall or fertility or good harvest. When everyone around you is doing it, it’s hard to be different, unique and independent.
And the prophets’ role was to sound a warning, to raise an alarm: God is not happy about your unfaithfulness in your covenant relationship with Him. And he wants you to remember that there are consequences to your behavior.
But most of all he wants you back; He misses you; he loves you; he most desperately wants the relationship with you restored.
So, this was the basic message Hosea was tasked with bringing to the people, who considered him an annoying, trouble-making dude.
They wanted to do what they wanted to do and Hosea’s constant reminders that God was disappointed in their behavior was making them uncomfortable, to say the least.
One day Hosea received a word from the Lord. It wasn’t your typical prophetic assignment, either—you know, go out and tell people something they don’t want to hear, hoping that you don’t get run out of town or killed in the process.
No, prophecy got personal for Hosea. God told Hosea to go out and “take a wife of whoredom.”
God told Hosea to head on down to the red-light district and look for a cute girl he might marry. But I imagine that Hosea thought, “Well, her past wasn't very good, but since God has brought us together, our future will be filled with happiness and delight.”
But he was wrong.
You see, Gomer didn’t share the heart of her husband who was called to bring people back into relationship with God and although she had been swept off her feet by this young prophet, it quickly became clear to Gomer that Hosea cared much more for his preaching than he did for her.
So Gomer drifted back to the old life from which she had come.
And day in and day out, Hosea would see his wife, this woman with whom he had entered in to a covenant relationship with . . . putting on her lipstick and heading out for a night on the town.
Whatever the details of Gomer’s indiscretions, Hosea was living the pain that God was feeling as he watched his people stray from their commitment to him.
And I'm confident that Hosea must have prayed and brought this burden to the Lord.
And one day it seemed God answered his prayer as Gomer gave birth to a baby. And I imagine as Hosea held that infant in his arms he was thinking, "This is God's doing. This little baby will draw our lives together and everything is going to be filled with happiness and joy.”
And he called the name of the child, Jezreel.
The name Jezreel was the name of a city that had played a tragic part in Israel's history. It was in Jezreel that Jezebel . . . the one who encouraged her husband King Ahab to abandon the worship of God and encourage the worship of other gods . . . was hurled from the window of her palace and her body was eaten by dogs on the streets of Jezreel. You can read about this and other fun things in 1-2 Kings.
So when Hosea called his son Jezreel he was making the boy and his marriage a kind of object lesson of God's relationship to his people. Every time he called "Jezreel" in the marketplace that name would be a reminder of the fact that in the past God had dealt with the nation's sin.
And then they had a second child, a little girl, and they called her, Loru-hamah, which means, I no longer have pity. What a beautiful name, huh?
And then after little Loru-hamah was weaned they had a third child, a second boy, and they called his name, Loammi, which means “You are not my people”.
Now these three names of Hosea's children do a couple of things.
- First, they show us the relationship between God and His people. Year after year, God had watched His people offering of themselves to other gods. And over and over He forgave them and hoped they could remember, if just for a moment, the love and commitment they felt when they’d made their covenant with him.
- But now God has gotten to the end of his rope. The covenant relationship that hinged on this conditional arrangement—if you will be my people, I will be your God—just wasn’t working.
- But secondly, these names give us an insight as to what was taking place in Hosea’s family. They indicate a bitterness and broken heartedness. But even though Hosea’s heart had been trampled by Gomer, he refused to stop loving her.
And then one day another blow fell. Gomer left him. You could imagine that Hosea came home and found a note on the nursery door. She told him she was leaving. She was tired of being tied down. She wanted to have her freedom. And she wanted him to know that he was not the father of her children.
Can you imagine how that felt?
But Hosea still loved Gomer. He held tightly to the hope that one day she would remember the love and commitment they felt when they made their covenant relationship together.
Now, I suspect that when Gomer left Hosea she must have thought she was bettering herself because now she was free to experience the world and all it had to offer. But what tends to happen with people who take that path in life is that it may at first lead up to the top but it has a way of turning and then going down to the bottom.
That's what happened in the life of Gomer.
After she left Hosea she passed from man to man until she fell into the hands of a man who could not provide for her the basic necessities of life. And so Hosea went to the man. "Are you the man that's living with Gomer?"
"Well, what if I am?"
"I'm her husband."
Man clenches his fist. He's prepared for a fight.
Hosea said, "No, you don't understand. I love my wife, and I wonder if you would do me a favor. I wonder if you would take some of my gold, some of my silver and buy her the things that she needs."
The man agrees to the preacher's plan.
And so Hosea hangs out in the shadows to catch a glimpse of this woman who fills his heart and he watches as this lover of hers comes home with the good things that Hosea's money has purchased.
And He watches as Gomer throws her arms around this man and thanks him profusely for the things that he has provided for her.
Now before we’re tempted to sit in judgment on Gomer, I remind you that we’re not much different. When God provides for us; food on our table, clothes for our body, or a warm place to live, we often thank everyone and everything except God.
We thank our government. We can thank our family, our friends, the strength of our own hands, the brilliance of our own minds—everyone and everything except God . . . who provided those things.
After this, Hosea decides that the most loving thing he could do is to allow her to stumble and suffer the consequences of her choices.
And this is exactly what happens . . . Gomer falls into the hands of a man who didn’t care for her at all. And he decides he would sell her into slavery.
In this time period slavery was an established institution. There was hardly a city that did not have a place where men and women were bought and sold like animals. They would be stripped of their clothes and forced to stand in shame before the crowd as the auctioneers poked and prodded them to show them off.
So when Hosea hears about this, he goes to God for guidance.
- And God says, “Hosea, do you love her?
- Hosea nodded through his tears, “Yes, Lord, you know I love her.”
- And then God says, “Then start all over again. Love your wife again. Go Love her the way I love the Israelite people, even as they flirt and party with every god that takes their fancy.”
So he goes to where the auction is to be held and you can imagine the scene. Gomer led up to the slave block. And then people noticed on the edge of the crowd there was Hosea. You can hear the gossip. "Well, he's come to see her get what she deserves. Here to see her get her punishment; be sold into slavery."
Then the bidding begins.
- Someone says, "I'll give you ten pieces of silver for her."
- Somebody else says, "I'll give you twelve."
- Hosea says, "I'll give you fifteen."
- And somebody else said, "Well, I'll give you fifteen pieces of silver and a bag of barley."
- Hosea said, "I'll give you fifteen pieces and a bag-and-a-half of barley."
The gavel sounds, and Hosea pushes forward to buy his wife. But he doesn't buy her to punish her; he buys her to redeem her.
And he wraps a cloak around her to cover her naked body and her shame and he looks at her in her eyes with love and compassion and says, “I have bought you, and now I want you to be faithful to me, and I promise you that whether you're faithful to me or not I will be faithful to you.”
Do you hear what he is saying? He’s saying I forgive you and I renew my covenant relationship with you.
You see, Hosea’s message is about the true nature of God and his relationship with his people. He’s a God who so desperately loves us and longs to be in relationship that he that pursues us into the depths of our brokenness in order to restore us.
This is what we call Grace. This is what we call the gospel. This is what we wait for in hopeful anticipation during the advent season.
And in the same way that Hosea purchased Gomer, although she was already his, God sent his son Jesus to the earth to walk among us and make a journey that would take him to the cross to pay the price for our restoration.
And with this he established a new covenant and he gave us a sign of his covenant, which is communion. Every time we gather at this table we are to remember this covenant.
A he gave us a covenant community called the church to be in a covenant relationship with one another and to hold each other accountable.
And so, like we do every week, let us gather around this table together to remember and renew.