You men, how would you feel if this happened to you. You love your wife dearly and give her everything. You women can pretend it’s your husband. You are deeply in love with your spouse and loyal to the extreme despite his/her faults. One day your wife, or your husband, leaves you and becomes a prostitute. How would you feel? The betrayal. The rejection. The shame. The love given and not returned. Isn’t that miserable? Now hold on to that feeling while we digress.
Where were you around 2,800 years ago?
If you are British, you were entering the Iron Age. You may have lived in a roundhouse. These could be made of timber or stone, with a roof covering of thatch or turf.
If you are Korean, you were just entering the Bronze Age. If you are Indian, the Iron Age was entering its later Vedic period.
If you are Egyptian, the pyramids were already 2,000 years old.
This is the time when Rome and Carthage were founded. The Olympic games began. Greek language and culture spread. Homer became a popular writer throughout the Mediterranean.
In the other direction, India and China were developing civilisations. Israel and Judah were at the centre between these two great developments. The promised land was the crossroads of the world. God had placed his people at this crossroads to teach the whole world about him. But there is a problem.
The promised land has split. The tribes are disunited. The people of God are separated into two rival groups.
When God made a covenant with the Chosen people in the time of Moses, there was a penalty clause. He said he would bless them more than any other people if they obeyed, but if they disobeyed he would curse them more than any other people.
Two hundred years earlier, God’s people had demanded an earthly king.
God gave them Saul, the people’s choice. He was handsome and tall, and had serious character flaws. Saul was disobedient so God replaced him with a man of his own choosing, David. David was a man after God’s own heart, but he also disobeyed and the decline began. The third king was David’s son Solomon. There was great glory for the Hebrew people and their king, who built the temple for Yahweh in Jerusalem. There was also great taxation and a heavy burden of forced labour.
As soon as Solomon died there was civil war. The 10 northern tribes broke away. The two tribes in the south were left with Jerusalem and the temple and the royal line. The north had no royal line and no temple. It was chaos.
What was God going to do? Assyria was a great power and there was peace. Jonah’s visit to Nineveh had postponed the threat, because the evil Assyrians had repented.
The economy was doing very well. Many people were prosperous and had second homes.
Many other people didn’t have any homes at all.
There was rampant moral corruption with bribery and financial scandals. Does that sound familiar? Judges were corrupted. There was no justice. There was widespread permissiveness and heavy consumption of alcohol. People sought money and possessions.
In the midst of this atmosphere, the churches were full. Religion was booming. But it was not the faith of Moses. It was worship of golden calves and the religions of the pagans from foreign nations. It was disgusting. Instead of pursuing a holy relationship with Lord God Yahweh, the people were having sexual relationships with shrine prostitutes.
Into this time and to these people God sent Hosea. Hosea was God’s last prophet to the ten tribes of the north. His message was ignored. 10 years after Hosea, the Assyrian army arrived and took away the ten tribes. They never returned. They vanished without trace.
They key word of Hosea’s message to the ten tribes was ‘chesed’. Chesed/hesed is a Hebrew word commonly translated as ‘loving-kindness’, ‘kindness’ or ‘love’. The closest English word is troth, as in betrothed. A strong part of the meaning is loyalty.
God’s message through Hosea was that his covenant relationship with his people was like a marriage. Their relationship was not business or legal. God wasn’t going to simply say of them that they had broken their contract and had to pay the penalty. They were married and so he wasn’t going to walk away from the Chosen people. God proclaimed his love and loyalty. God declared his intention to do all he could to save his marriage.
So that his prophet could truly understand his message and convey it to his bride, God led Hosea in unusual ways. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute. This would be shocking today. What would you think of a young pastor who married a prostitute and claimed God told him to do it? It was shocking then. Gomer had three children, but Hosea was the father of only two.
It is a picture of Israel’s relationship with God. Israel is like Hosea’s wife, Gomer. Hosea was like God. Hosea was always faithful to his wife. She was repeatedly unfaithful but he kept taking her back. Her children told her she was doing wrong, but she continued to sleep around. Just like the prophets who warned Israel and were ignored.
It is a crazy tale of love and heartbreak. It is a drama of betrayal and despised loyalty.
The ten tribes are long gone, and instead there is today the church. How much is our relationship with God today like the one of Hosea’s day? How loyal and loving are we toward God and how much effort do we devote to accumulating money and possessions?
God has not changed. He always did remain faithful. He is still faithful. God loves us. How much he loves us and how his heart is broken is explained in this morning’s Bible reading.
Hosea 3:1 says,
‘Then the Lord said to me,
‘여호와께서 나에게 말씀하셨다.
“Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover.
“너는 다시 가서 간음한 네 아내를 사랑하라.
“This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.”’
“이스라엘 백성이 다른 신을 섬기고 우상에게 제물로 드리는 건포도 빵을 즐겨도 나 여호와가 여전히 그들을 사랑하는 것처럼 너도 네 아내를 사랑하라.”’
Hosea has to go to the market. The streets are filled with noise and smells as merchants and shoppers seek a good deal. There are sheep, goats, bulls, and heifers. Trinkets, fine cloth, and ornate bottles of spices and perfumes. And a woman. Her hair is dirty. Her ragged clothes are dirtier. Her beauty is long gone.
She is for sale, but nobody wants her. She is an old prostitute. Hosea steps up to buy his disgraced disloyal ex-wife. Do you remember how you felt earlier?
This is God’s love for his people. God sees them as his wife, however disgusting they appear to be when judged by appearances. This is how God saw Israel. This is how God sees us.
God has already declared this love in Hosea chapter two.
Speaking of the future, God says in Hosea 2:16, “you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.’”
God promises to purify our hearts with the words “I will wipe the many names of Baal from your lips”. God promises that no animal will harm us. God promises to end all war and bring peace. He says in verse 18, “I will remove all weapons of war from the land, all swords and bows, so you can live unafraid in peace and safety.”
God’s love for us is so powerful and unchanging. He could not save his wife that time. She insisted on betraying him despite his passionate appeal of love. And that is how we hurt God and broke his heart. In verse 19 God says, “I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion.”
It is we he is calling out to today. Not the people of Israel 2,800 years ago. Today are we going to make God feel as though he is married to a prostitute, or are we going to show God faithful love in return for his faithful love. We are married. We have to choose what kind of bride we are going to be. Are the we the kind of bride that makes her husband joyful or sorrowful? We have a husband who promises us such wonderful things, but if we are unfaithful we cannot blame him for the consequences.