I'm going to start with a quick: 'What was the year?' question. You know what I mean by that? So for example, I might say: It's a World Cup year and an unfancied England team capture the hearts of the nation by winning the trophy… What was the year? And you would answer that sadly it is not 2018, but 1966 – And can I just say that as a Scotsman I personally never tire of hearing about that victory every time a World Cup rolls around. Anyway – that was your example, here's my actual 'What was the year?':
- It seems to be a time when the nation's moral life had sunk to a greater depth than ever before.
- There is a spiraling crime rate, binge drinking, and the old sexual norms have been rejected – as just about anything goes.
- In politics honesty has increasingly been replaced with spin. And foreign policy has been driven not by ethics, but by thinly disguised self-interest.
- It goes without saying that God is not on the agenda of the politicians. In fact, God has been thoroughly dismissed out to the margins of the nations' life. He is relegated purely to the religious sphere.
- But even there, things are not much better, as many religious leaders point not to the God of the Bible but in other directions – directions the culture will approve of. And so, far from challenging the sins and excesses of the nation – they join in! And provide spiritual justification for it.
So… what do you think? What was the year?
Well to many of us that might sound like modern day Britain… But… that's exactly what was going on in Israel in the 8th century BC in Hosea's day. And it is crucial that we have that picture of the state of the nation lodged in our minds as we start a new series in the book that bears Hosea's name this morning. So let me encourage you to grab a Bible and turn to Hosea 1. And there we meet the prophet Hosea straight away in verse 1. Can you see? Hosea 1.1:
"The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel."
So right at the start of this book we can see that Hosea is no invention – as that list of Kings' names are not there to bore us to death, but to earth what is being said in a particular time and place in history. Roughly 750 years before Jesus was born, Hosea was God's mouthpiece to the nation of Israel – at a time which looked like a golden age of peace and prosperity for the people.
And yet God, through Hosea, is saying that things are not really what they seem… because underneath it all, people were turning away from the living God in droves, even though he was the one who provided all of the blessings they were so richly enjoying. And the question that is raised again and again in this book of Hosea, more than any other book in the Bible is this:
How does God feel about that? How does God feel about the sin that has spread through the nation's life?
It's such an important question for us because the similarities between Hosea's day and ours are so obvious. I mean – in probably the most disappointing and depressing game of 'What was the year?' that you will ever play – I didn't have to try too hard to make it sound like 21st-century Britain. So we have to ask: As God sees the self-seeking, the living for material things, the greed, the corruption – in the culture, in the church and in our hearts, what is he thinking? What is he feeling?
You see, what we're going to discover in this book of Hosea is that God has feelings. You might think that one of the great advantages of being God is that you don't have to experience the pain and heartbreak of being let down. But God loves his people and longs that we would love him – and when we choose not to, God is no impersonal statue like Buddha whose expression never changes. No he has feelings… he suffers… he weeps. That's what's blown me away as I've looked at this, this week – that I can hurt God and grievously disappoint him. And so can you!
So let me show you three truths about God from this opening chapter of Hosea. The first is that God is…
1. The Jilted Lover
Have a look down to verses 2-3:
"When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, "Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD." So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son."
When I was a teenager I remember my mates and I going through a phase of daring one another to do the most outrageous pranks – but God's command to Hosea trumps anything we ever tried to pull off! It's almost unthinkable isn't it – that God would tell his prophet to marry a prostitute. But folks, we are meant to be deeply shocked and offended by this. The shock doesn't mean this couldn't be true – it's the whole point of the matter! Because we are supposed to see that Hosea's scandalous domestic arrangements are a picture of God's relationship with us.
I mean just imagine you're an old school friend of Hosea's. You were both part of the same youth group at church – in fact you all looked up to him because he was so deeply committed and wholehearted in his faith. Now after a few years of not seeing him, you hear that he's back in town and he's here with his wife. And you wonder what she'll be like. So Hosea comes to visit and as his wife, Gomer gets out of the car you can't help noticing that she is wearing a very, very short skirt. And the top she's got on… well it doesn't leave a lot to the imagination. And there's so much make up!
So you remind yourself that you shouldn't judge by appearances and you greet her warmly – and as you get chatting you ask her what she was up to before she married Hosea and she says with a playful laugh: 'I was in the leisure industry.' And so you say, 'What exactly did you do in the leisure industry?' And she says to you without a blush, 'I was a call girl.' And looking you in the eye she says, 'I still do a bit of that on the side actually; here's my mobile number.' And as she hands you a printed business card she grips your hand and says: 'Do you know, we aren't here for a long time, but we are here for a good time. Call me! We could be great together.'
I mean imagine it! What would you be thinking? Hosea – marrying a prostitute! And she is shameless! How could he – of all people – have come to marry such a woman? Answer: Because the Bible wants us to know that this is how we all treat God. As we open this chapter of the Bible God wants to make it really clear that I am Gomer. You are Gomer. Verse 2:
"…for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD."
You see Hosea's marriage to Gomez represents God's marriage to Israel – His people at that time. So every time the people saw Hosea walking around the town with his arm around this prostitute, they are meant to see what a shocking thing was going on in the nation – and make the connection with God setting his love on sinful, shameless people like you and me. For we have not deserved his love for a minute – we are men and women of unfaithfulness – hanging on to our idols and our sins, so often refusing to acknowledge them, let alone turn from them.
Folks it is so easy to drift from God in life and think that what God has to say or the purposes he is calling us to in his life don't matter that much. But Hosea's marriage was supposed to jolt the people of Israel out of that kind of complacency – of assuming that all was fine between them and God. As God, through Hosea, is saying… 'No! It is not fine!' He says, 'Can't you see what you're doing? Your sin – of which you think so little – is no trivial matter! It is a gross act of betrayal towards the God who has committed himself to you in love. It is adultery! It is spiritual adultery. You are jilting him!'
When I first moved to Newcastle 23 years ago I lived with a couple who fairly regularly hosted troubled teens for a night. One lad came to stay with us who was fleeing a terrible situation at home. We fed him, listened to him, gave him a bed for the night and sent him on his way with breakfast and a food parcel to set him up for the day. But after he left us we found that he had stolen some money from us. We were hurt. Our feelings weren't hurt so much because of what we'd lost, but because of the betrayal of trust. And though we may have struggled to handle a betrayal like that over 12 hours – how do you think God feels about our regular acts of betrayal, day in and day out?!
Well Hosea shows us: He is a wounded husband... a wounded lover. Just as Hosea married a prostitute, God has reached out to me in love – willing to forgive my past, prepared to provide for me, commit unconditionally to me, to send his son to die for me, His Holy Spirit to contend with me so that I might grow more like Christ – and see that my sin is not only breaking God's law… but it is also breaking God's heart. Do you realise that with your sin? It is not just breaking God's law; it breaks his heart.
He is the jilted lover, but secondly, God is also…
2. The Angry Lover
Now the thought of God being angry is sometimes enough to put us off even the very thought of him. I'm sure we've all experienced hot headed displays of temper – where someone has flown off the handle irrationally and wounded us and others in a most unnecessary way. And something tells me that we may from time to time behave like that too. Often our experience of anger is sinful… But not always. Not all anger is wrong. I mean just imagine that you're married – it doesn't matter whether you are or not – just imagine for a minute that you've made those incredible marriage promises that eight couples made at the front of this church last year to give themselves, in love to one another:
"for richer, for poorer, for better for worse, in sickness and in health – forsaking all others, till death us do part"
Those are serious promises – people! So imagine that you've stood at the front of the church and made those promises to one another – and yet from the very start they have broken their vows to you…
- They have slept with other lovers and yet still come back to you to eat your food and take your money but never with the word of gratitude; they just use you!
- They not only chase after other lovers, they also have children with some of them and expect you to fund and raise them!
- You come back from work and your spouse meets you at the door and hands you a child that is not your child and says, 'Just take the child I'm going out.'
Well how do you think you'd feel about that? I think it's pretty obvious that you would be angry, wouldn't you? And rightly so! A husband or wife who feels no anger in that circumstance has no love. If you care about someone – you will be hurt when they betray you.
No doubt Hosea was angry with Gomer. And God was certainly angry with his people. But his anger, unlike ours, is pure. It is not a selfish jealousy and there is no intent to harm us in it – but it is anger nonetheless. Because how we live in the world God made, with the lives that he gave us, matters to him. So God is angry with our sin and that message is made very clear in these three children that Hosea has... or at least Gomer has. Have a look at the names that they were given (v.4):
The oldest boy is Jezreel. Jezreel was a city in Israel that was infamous as the place where King Jeroboam's ancestor Jehu chopped off the heads of 70 young princes, and piled them up at the city gates – in order to win the throne for his family. And as he did that the people were so cowardly that they stood back and did nothing. And the boy Jezreel is given this name to remind the people that God has not forgotten these evil deeds and he was going to make them pay. Do you get the point? You may think you are getting away with your sin today, but you can be sure that you will have to pay for it one day.
Gomer's second child is Lo-Ruhamah. Meaning 'Not loved'. I mean, can you imagine that in the playpark? 'Not loved, Not loved – get off the swings! It's time to go home Not loved.' But she too has been named by God (v.6-7) as we are told that though the southern kingdom of Judah will be passed over for now… God would show no mercy to Israel in the north and allow them to be destroyed.
Then comes the third kid. It's another boy. He's called Lo-Ammi – 'Not my people'. As verse 9 explains:
"…for you are not my people, and I am not your God."
Perhaps this is the most shocking name of all because there's a phrase that runs right through the Bible – and if you read from Genesis at the start, all the way to this point you would read it over and over again and it's: "You will be my people, and I will be your God." God promises Israel over and over: 'You're my people and I'm your God.' This is the theme tune of the Bible if you like – and here it's like God gets out the CD and smashes it up. SMASH! He says, 'That is no longer our theme song. It is the end of our marriage – you are not my people; I am not your God.'
And folks, many of us tend to think: 'Look if I sin God's patience will never run out...' But we must heed the warning here. It does! If we keep deliberately keep testing God's patience in our sin, then there comes a time when God's heart will shut. God's judgement is going to come. In fact, it wasn't long before judgment did come just after Hosea's death. Those three children had been a genuine warning to Israel – but they would not listen and the mighty Assyrians came down like a wolf on the fold and the nation was destroyed.
And my question is: Brother, sister – Do you see how dangerous sin is? Does the judgement of God actually change your behaviour? Because it should! For God says, that as the jilted lover, he is the angry lover and that day of judgement will come for all of us.
But finally, God is also…
3. The Faithful Lover
Incredibly, God will not let us go! We might have broken our vows to him – but in the end he will not and cannot break his vows to us! He's not prepared to see his people destroyed forever. So verse 10 gives us one of the great 'yets' of the Bible (Hosea 1.10 – 2.1):
"Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God." And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. Say to your brothers, "You are my people," and to your sisters, "You have received mercy.""
What a change of mood that is! Do you feel it? From solemn judgement to glorious hope! It's not a gradual change, but a dramatic one!
But that is the anguish of a loving husband, isn't it? Isn't that true of people you've been close to? You can flip in a moment – from anguish to love. Ask any parent. And this is almost a picture of the tension in God's mind. He wants to punish his people, his bride – and yet… he wants to embrace her at the same time! No sooner has God's righteous anger handed us over to judgement… than his love revolts against such a prospect. Can God really be as inwardly torn as this? Well yes he can!
- God can't deny the offence that sin has provoked in him. Sin must be punished if justice is to be done.
- But neither can he deny the longing for mercy his loving promises produce in him.
And the question is: where are these two things reconciled? Where can we see God's heart wounded by our ingratitude, our sin? Where can we see God's moral outrage inflamed as his anger is rightly aroused over our sin? Where can we see Israel – not loved, not loved, not my people – and yet… at the same time… where can we see God going on loving us despite our sin?
"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5.21)
Do you see? Jesus' death on the cross expresses the contradictory emotion at the heart of God. There his love and justice meet – and God's heart is truly satisfied. On the cross of Christ my sin is fully paid for through the death of Jesus – as judgement falls on him instead of me. And I am both judged and loved as God gives his son for me.
So the question is: will that love, that justice – that cry on the cross "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" – will that cause me to finally take sin as seriously as he does… that he would pay for it… with the death of his very own Son? Will that move me to stop being complacent about my sin… and repent? Where are we tolerating sin in our lives? Where are we jilting God? Where are we rightly making him angry? Let's take a moment now to root out that sin, to resolve to do it... in the light of how it makes God feel. Let's pray together...
Father God, we ask that we may never forget how our sin hurts you, how it disappoints you. Thank you so much that we are forgiven at the cross. And Father we pray now afresh today that you would help us to turn from our spiritual adultery. We ask that for our own sake, for the sake of the Lord Jesus and indeed for the sake of your heart. Amen.