Well we're looking at a hefty passage this morning – the whole of chapter 2 and chapter 3. But let me say it is absolutely worth the effort to dig into this part of God's word. As we jump back into Hosea this week we are going to see the next shocking development in this story of Hosea and his adulterous wife Gomer. It could be a soap opera!
But the incredible thing is that this outrageous, painful story is going to help us grasp how shocking, surprising and amazing God's love is for you and for me – possibly more than ever before. And it challenges us to ask the question – what are we pursuing more than God? What are we treasuring more than God's love? That's what's hit me this week as I've prepared. Let's pray.
Father, thank you for your word. Thank you that it is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Please illuminate where we need change as we listen this morning and help us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Well let me remind you where we've got to in our Hosea series. Ken kicked us off last week in Hosea chapter 1. Hosea was a prophet in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The kingdom was fairly successful at the time but they were spiritually bankrupt on the inside. And if you were here last Sunday, you'll remember that God does the unthinkable. He commands his prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute called Gomer. And this week things get even more scandalous. I've got two points and the first one is:
1. Unfaithful Love
So let's dive in. Take a look at Hosea 3.1:
"And the LORD said to me, "Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress""
I'm sure many of us know the story of the prodigal son. The son who demands his father's inheritance whilst he is still alive, heads off to a faraway country, not caring about his family, and squanders the wealth in reckless living. He spends the lot and ends up feeding pigs, wishing he could eat their food. Well here's the story of the prodigal wife. In chapter 1 Hosea takes Gomer as his wife. They've got 3 children, or at least, we think they're Hosea's children. And here we see that Gomer is being unfaithful. She marries Hosea who loves her and looks after her, but like the prodigal son, she heads off to look for satisfaction elsewhere, chasing after other men. And just like the prodigal son, she ends up in a mess. Look at verse 2:
"So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley."
Things have got so bad for Gomer that Hosea has to buy her back. It seems she's so in debt that she's had to become a slave. Can you imagine being in Hosea's position? Your wife has gone off after others. She's been unfaithful to you after you've both made marriage vows. It's made you look like a fool, but more than anything it breaks your heart. But not only that, you've now got to buy her back! It's unthinkable.
And yet what's even more outrageous is that this isn't really about Hosea at all. It's actually about God and his 'adulterous wife'. You see, chapter 3 is an enacted parable that illustrates the message of chapter 2. Did you get that? Hosea and Gomer's story in chapter 3 is a stark visual representation of God's message to the people in chapter 2. And the message of chapter 2 is that, just like Gomer, God's people have been unfaithful and are pursuing other lovers. They're chasing after other Gods and idols. His love for his people is unreciprocated. And it breaks God's heart. Take a look at Hosea 2.1-2. This is God speaking here, and he says:
"Say to your brothers, "You are my people," and to your sisters, "You have received mercy."
"Plead with your mother [meaning plead with the nation of Israel as a whole], plead—
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband—
that she put away her whoring from her face,
and her adultery from between her breasts""
I wonder if you've ever seen one of those comedy sketches where a family are in the house and the husband says to the kids, within hearing of his wife 'tell your mother I'm going to the pub', and before the kids can speak the wife replies 'you can tell your father he'll not be getting any dinner if he doesn't stay here and get the washing done!' But the scene here in chapter 2 isn't funny. God says plead with your mother… "for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband". What he's saying, given the rest of the chapter is, 'it's as if you're not my wife. You're not acting like my wife'. God is pleading with his people to remember that they are his people. You see, God's not distant and uncaring. He's passionate about his people and he's hurt by their unfaithfulness. So why are they being unfaithful? The passage gives us two clear reasons for their unfaithfulness. They've forgotten what God's done for them in the past and they've mistaken where their current blessings are coming from.
Verse 3 reminds us of the past. Through Moses, God led the people out of slavery in Egypt. And in the wilderness and at Mount Sinai God birthed them as a nation - a nation that was in a covenant relationship with God. It was like a marriage. They weren't just a nation; they were a holy nation. They were set apart for God and special. But now Israel has forgotten her identity. They've forgotten all that God had done for them, in rescuing them and making them his people. Look with me at verse 5:
"For their mother [the nation of Israel] has played the whore;
she who conceived them has acted shamefully.
For she said, 'I will go after my lovers, [that is, other Gods]
who give me my bread and my water,
my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.'"
Like an adulterous wife, God's people are chasing after other lovers. They're going after other gods who they believe give them all that they want. But the irony is, not only have they forgotten their past, they're also mistaking where their current blessings are coming from. Look at verse 8:
"And she [the nation of Israel] did not know
that it was I [the true God] who gave her
the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and who lavished on her silver and gold,
which they used for Baal."
Think of a doting husband who buys his wife a fantastic necklace. He wraps it up and sneaks it into her handbag as she goes to work. But she's being unfaithful. And tragically, when she wife opens it, she thinks it's from her lover. That's the awful scenario here. God's people are thanking Baal, the made-up god of the local people instead of the true God who has really lavished these blessings on them. So they're forgetting all that God's done for them in the past, they're mistaking where their current blessings are coming from, and they're pursuing other lovers. They're a mess. And it's very easy to look at them and think, 'what fools!' But the truth is, we too pursue other lovers, in a spiritual sense. And we need to examine ourselves.
Every culture has its own set of gods or idols – the Israelites back then, the Athenians in the time of the apostle Paul, and even our modern day culture. Now when you hear the word idol in reference to our culture, it may be that the only thing that comes to mind is Pop Idol. And so you might not think that our culture is full of idols. But here's how the Bible defines idols. It says that an idol is any person or thing that we treasure more than God. Anything we're tempted to worship more than God. And idols start in the heart. They're wanting, enjoying, being satisfied by anything that you treasure more than God. That is an idol. And that's why in Colossians 3.5, Paul says:
"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry."
Paul says 'greed is idolatry'. It's not just worshipping a statue in a temple. Money can be like a God that we worship and look to for satisfaction. Sex and power can be too. The Bible tells us that the human heart is like an idol factory. We want to worship something, and so we easily take good things like our careers, our possessions, love, families – and we put them at the centre of our lives rather than putting God at the centre.
We all have idols. Some of us might know what they are. Some might be thinking – I've no idea what you're talking about. But if we're struggling to identify our idols, here are a few questions to ask from a good book called 'Counterfeit Gods' (which is a really good read):
- What do you enjoy daydreaming about? Where do your thoughts go when you aren't occupied? Not just every now and again but regularly? Is it thinking about your dream home? Or that dream relationship? Or maybe it's planning your career progression?
- How do you spend your money? Jesus says "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Our patterns of spending reveal our idols and what we love the most.
- Particularly for those of us who are Christians, how do we respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes? When God doesn't give us that promotion or that spouse that we want. Are we sad and disappointed but then able to move on – because we know they're not everything in life? Or do we respond with massive anger or deep despair (which might indicate the real gods in our life)?
- And finally, look at your most uncontrollable emotions. The ones that never seem to lift, and drive you to do things you know are wrong. Whether it's anger, or fear or despair or guilt. Often these strong emotions show us that there are things that are too important to us. Even really good things.
I wonder whether those questions have brought to mind things for you? Just like God's people back in Hosea's day, we forget what God's done for us in the past (he's rescued us in Jesus!), and we forget that it's God who's given us all the good things we have. And we go after other lovers. And like last week's passage, the shock message here is that we are like Gomer. We're shockingly and brazenly unfaithful.
And as we saw last week, it breaks God's heart. God has feelings! And he's rightfully angry. In Hosea 2.3, we see God's reaction to Israel. He will expose her – he'll strip her naked. The reality of the nation's sin will be laid bare. And the Bible tells us that it will be the same for us. 2 Peter 3.10 says:
"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed."
All works will ultimately be exposed. But even right now, God sees our hearts – he knows the idols there and what we are really pursuing. And there are serious consequences. Look at Hosea 2.13:
"And I will punish her [Israel] for the feast days of the Baals
when she burned offerings to them [i.e. worshipped other Gods]
and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry,
and went after her lovers
and forgot me, declares the LORD."
Then verse 14, he says, 'therefore'. Therefore what? Stick with me here! What do you think God's going to say next? Surely God will punish his people when they pursue other lovers. 'Therefore, I will send an earthquake to destroy them?' 'Therefore, I'll cut them off so that they are no longer my special people?' 'Therefore, I'll no longer bless them?' No, take a look at verse 14:
"Therefore, behold, I will allure her"
Err what? That's not a logical next sentence? 'I'll charm her and speak tenderly to her'. Which brings us to my second point. God's:
2. Shocking, Surprising, Amazing Love
We expect things to be logical don't we. 2 + 2 = 4. If we put petrol in a petrol car – it'll run nicely. If I put diesel in, it won't. Sadly, I learnt that the hard way as an 18-year-old in my parents' car! If we steal things and are caught, we can expect to be punished.
But the logic of God's grace doesn't work like that. It's surprising – as that sudden twist in the passage points us to. God's grace is his undeserved favour. So by very definition, it's surprising. It's always a surprise when it comes. And the reason it's a surprise is because he shows amazing grace where he should show judgement. It says 'therefore' because the need for judgement is actually the very point at which God is able to demonstrate his shocking, surprising, amazing love. And let me point you to three amazing ways that God is going to demonstrate that love to them. Firstly, he's going renew their love.
i) Renewed Love
Take a look at Hosea 2.14:
"Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her."
God says that he is going to take them back to the time that he rescued them and he's going to win their love all over again. Reminding them how good their relationship can be. The second thing we see that he's going to do, is renew their marriage:
ii) Renewed Marriage
"And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me 'My Husband,' and no longer will you call me 'My Baal.'"
There's a bit of a play on words here – as Baal was the term used for the local Canaanite gods. But it also literally means 'my master'. So it means both that they won't call 'Baal' their god any more, and it also means that they won't call the true God 'my master' any more. Instead they'll call him 'my husband'. It'll be a relationship that is warm, intimate and affectionate. Verse 19 says:
"I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD."
Israel had forgotten God, but here he points to a day when they will have a marriage that lasts. And one where they will know God – they'll have a deep relationship with him. The final way that God will show them his amazing love is with a…
iii) Renewed Home
The end of verse 18 tells us that God will abolish war from the land and give them a safe home. And the language in these verses makes us think of the garden of Eden. A land of plenty with food and wine. God will reverse the effects of Israel turning away from him. And these reversals continue in verse 23, take a look:
"I will have mercy on No Mercy,
and I will say to Not My People, 'You are my people';
and he shall say, 'You are my God.'"
Despite their unfaithfulness, God is going to renew their love, renew their marriage and renew their home. Well how's God possibly going to do all this?
Bought with a Price
Let's look again at the beginning of chapter 3. Hosea & Gomer's relationship is a visual representation of God's message to his people. So what happens with Hosea and Gomer? Hosea has to buy her back, doesn't he? (v.2) A price had to be paid for their relationship to be restored. And you see, a price had to be paid for our relationship with God to be restored. But God didn't just buy us back with silver. Look at this from 1 Peter 1.18-19:
"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ."
God bought us back with the blood of Jesus. Friends, we are like Gomer. The way Gomer treated Hosea is the way we have treated God. We're shockingly unfaithful. We chase after idols. And yet God has shown us his shocking, surprising, amazing love – by buying us back with the blood of Jesus.
Surely we should treasure that above everything else? You see, the idols that we identified earlier, the things we treasure more than God, we can't just remove them. We have to replace them with something that we treasure even more. Author Tim Keller says this:
"Jesus is the only Lord [the only thing you can worship] who, if you receive him, will fulfil you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally."
Father, we are conscious that we so easily love and pursue other things more than we love and pursue you. Thank you for your faithfulness to us. And please help us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ – so that we treasure you above everything else, and pursue you wholeheartedly. In Jesus' name, Amen.