Hosea 2:19&20 “I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.”
We are considering the amazing love of God for his defiant and loveless people, and we are seeing how it was made real to Hosea and his people in the prophet’s marriage to his unfaithful wife, Gomer.
1. GOD’S LOVE FOR SINNERS IS SIMPLY BREATHTAKING.
One of the most frightening and appalling things you can see in another Christian – or in your own heart for that matter – is a taking for granted the love of God. It happens. Some of us have sung the words of the gospel hymn, “I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me” and underlined our own feelings singing the refrain, “Oh it is wonderful that he should care for me enough to die for me. Oh it is wonderful, wonderful to me” and yet it is all sung so matter of fact, minds wandering, repeated with as little conviction as singing an old Beatles song. “She loves you, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” Why is it that professing Christians . . . Christians . . . can become unmoved by the love of God? Let’s puzzle that out.
One reason is that we don’t read the Bible properly. We read the prophecy of Hosea, and we read ourselves into the story, and the role we imagine ourselves playing is Hosea’s – of course it is. He is the servant of the Lord just as we are. Obviously Hosea is me. I am always the hero when I’m reading. We put ourselves into that role, and then the problems start. You begin to think, “How could God ask Hosea to do such a demanding and immoral thing? God could never ask me to do such a thing.” Immediately we are on the wrong track, and difficulties arise from our identifying with the hero. Are we expected to keep loving Gomer and having her back after she’d lived in the red light area and slept in the gutter and done tricks for men for a few shekels for such a long time? We’ve taken our stand with Hosea and so we’ve got a moral problem. That’s our first error.
We’re not Hosea; we’re not prophets; none of us is a prophet. We are Gomer. And if you read this story after identifying with her then everything changes. Then we can’t see the problems because our eyes are too red and misted over with our tears. We’ve insisted that the approach to the story of Gomer is to see sin up close and personal . . . but so also we’re to see love like that. Love was not God entering into a contract or a business deal with us for our salvation. It was not merely God’s job to forgive us. It is never his job merely to stamp our application form for heaven with a big red word, FORGIVEN. He has no obligation to do that for you. It is not his automatic reaction to the good things that we’d done – that we’d attained 75% and so he was obligated to save us. In fact sin has contaminated our best; in truth we had nothing that passed the muster of heaven, nothing that was not tarnished by sin, nothing that God needed from us. Our best needs forgiveness. Sin is not falling short of our own high standards. It is falling short of God’s glory. It is us that God has always wanted, not our stuff and our service but us. God’s love saves us. In other words, there is nowhere God will not go and no price God is unprepared to pay, there are no limits to his grace, in order to save us. There is nothing that God refuses to give in order that we shall be his for evermore, not even his only child. He will freely give him up to Golgotha in order that he may have us for ever. Think of it!
The God who at creation brought all things out of nothing – think of it! His power was not stretched to its very limits to do that. Not at all, because his power is infinite. It didn’t tax him to organize everything on this planet so that we could feel at home with stars and oceans and all living things; his planning takes everything into consideration. And how organized are you? How organized is your sock drawer? Is it chaos? How organized is your desk? It is chaos. How organized are your plans for Christmas, four weeks away? “I haven’t started yet,” you murmur. Here is a God who organizes the whole cosmos. He micro-manages stuff that we don’t know exists. God knows all of us and every congregation everywhere like ours and unlike ours too, knows the thoughts and needs and longing and shame of every single one of us and is working everything that touches any Christian for his or her good. Every cog and mesh is synchronized in every piece of the machinery of redemption so that at the end it is all holy in the Lord – right down to the bells on the horses’ hooves. All that is elementary for God. He upholds all things by the power of his word. He just speaks . . . it’s done.
But for you and your sin, and dealing with its shame and its consequences then it’s a different matter. A word, a fiat, a command a decree alone could not do it! For you he couldn’t just speak and then forgiveness was yours. One moment we were utterly indifferent about God, quite hostile when we were probed, and like that for threescore years and ten, then the next moment . . . wow, heaven. He simply spoke and we were perfect and all ready for heaven, No! It couldn’t be done. He couldn’t just welcome you with all your self and ego and contempt for him and his Son and his laws and his righteousness. He couldn’t merely will you or speak you into likeness to Christ. He couldn’t do it. There was a price to pay. And he became the one who paid that price.
The indispensable incarnation of the Son of God began it. Our God contracted to a span, the densest heavy atom of deity with all its attributes, and that micro-span of the whole deity was joined to the egg of Mary, two natures, divine and human, came together for ever in one indivisible person, irreversibly – and permanently! That God-man is today the incarnate Son who is at the right hand of the throne of God, and he is the one who has paid your redemption price. He came from glory with its peace and joy into our world where there was murder and crucifixion and stoning and blasphemy and the exposure of babies. He came into our low condition, to a peasant family and working with his hands and sharing a bedroom with three or four siblings. He came almost totally unrecognized, and remained anonymous for thirty years. God’s necessary holy hostility to all that is nasty and cruel and mean and contemptible has to be removed from us. Every atom of it has to be absorbed and propitiated and atoned for. He came to do that. He became the Lamb of God and he took away all our sin. He stands in the forsakenness of our rebellion and corruption, and because he loves men and women like us, in such multitudes, he bears all their sins in his own body on Golgotha. Without that sacrifice of this God-man there could be no pardon, and no forgiveness. In the teeth of the astonishment of the angels, and the hostility of his friends, and his own desire that there might be another cup, Jesus drank the cup of our damnation to its dregs. Or as Isaiah prophesied, the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all.
So a sense of the love of God is essential at every kind of level, even a daily practical level. I cannot see how there can be any true heartfelt obedience unless the love of God is wonderful to us. There is an obedience that is born of duty, and there is an obedience that is born of fear, and there is an obedience that is born of pride, and there is an obedience that is born of church or institution-centredness. But such obediences are all shallow and flawed and sub-Christian. They may please men, but they cannot please God. True obedience is an overflow and it is an overflow of a heart that is full and running over with the love of God. What an appreciation of the love of God does is to change me from the inside. He loved me and gave himself for me so that henceforth I should respond in love to his good and acceptable and perfect will. What sustained the apostle Paul, travelling, shipwrecked, stoned, persecuted, meeting churches and individuals that have turned against him, locked up and requesting another blanket to keep him warm, writing letters, praying, preaching in synagogues and standing before kings and emperors defending the faith and never giving up, never giving up? It was the love that Jesus Christ had for him that made him persevere in trusting God, and mortifying sin, and serving people, and overcoming evil with God and praying every day in the morning and in the night because he never could get over the reality of being loved by God. “Think of it! He loves me ceaselessly and personally and totally – as much as he loves his own Son.” So nothing Paul could do could be too costly, no price too high to pay. He would willingly lay down his life for Christ and seven lives if that were possible. So that consciousness of the love of Christ for an evil persecutor like him drove him on and on, delightfully employed in serving the Lord. Hundreds of thousands have felt the same, and this is the reason the New Testament church grew. It is always the reason why the gospel spreads, because those who believe it find the love of God for themselves an utterly impossible wonder. We tell the world that the love of God is an impossibility and it is an outrage, and it is breathtaking.
2. GOD’S LOVE IS A SOVEREIGN, UNDESERVED AND SACRIFICIAL LOVE.
i] It is a sovereign love for her. It is God who takes the initiative in planning the marriage of Hosea with Gomer. It was not that God brought three of the most eligible and suitable women in the land to the prophet and told him to take his pick. There was no choice about this at all as far as the prophet was concerned. God told him to take this particular and unsuitable woman, “Go take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness” (Hosea 1:2). And we are told, “So he married Gomer,” (v.3). Hosea obeyed the one whose mouthpiece and whose communicator to the nation was this prophet Hosea. God determined this was to be, and Hosea obeyed. That sovereignty of Jehovah comes out as clearly in the second chapter as anywhere in the prophecy. I wonder if there is another chapter in the Bible that has as many occurrences of a certain phrase on God’s lips that we find in chapter 2, “I will . . . I will . . . I will.” I counted 22 occurrences (but that does not include a second verb when God adds another action “and this also.” The initial cluster of “I wills” at the beginning of the chapter are all declarations of judgment, but the last cluster of “I wills” are all declarations of grace. These are like the response of a bridegroom when I ask him as he stands in front of the congregation will he have this woman to be his lawful wedded wife? “I will,” he says. So God speaks in verses 19 and 20 of chapter 2 and he says, “I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.” Then again the Lord speaks in verse 23 and he says of the seed of Gomer, “I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one’. I will say to those called ‘Not my people’, ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” It is sovereign love in its initiation.
ii] It is an utterly undeserving love for her. A man will take as his bride a woman who has beauty of form and face and character in his eyes. He is drawn to that, and she is ‘fair’ in his estimation. He finds a growing attractiveness and ardour for her so that he would have her alone as his wife until it is death that parts them. He loves her that much. He makes a covenant commitment to be with her and with no other for ever.
Now who is it that are we told that God loved? We are told that God loved ‘the world,’ and he so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for her. Now the ‘world’ in the Bible is not some numerical concept. You do not magnify the infinite and immeasurable love of God by saying that it is this big, that he loves the 7 billion people who live on this planet. Do you praise a competitor in the Strongest Man in the World Competition by saying that he can support an acorn on the palm of his hand? You shrink the love of God when you give it a finite number, 7 billion, that is the size of God’s love, or 7 billion billion. The ‘world’ in the Bible is not an arithmetic concept, it is a moral concept. This is how it is defined for us in the Bible. Listen to the definition in the Bible of ‘the world’ in I John 2:15&16, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.” This is an accurate description of Gomer isn’t it? ‘The cravings of sinful woman, the lust of her eyes and the boasting of what she has and does.’ Yet we are told that God loved that which we are forbidden to love, and that if we were to love it then it would show that we were strangers to the love of God. It is not in us at all. Yet God loved the world prodigally, unimaginatively excessively, he loved what contradicted all he was. He loved it not with the love of complacency but with the love of redemption in order to save the world from that state, to prevent her from perishing in that condition and gave her everlasting life! He loved her so much that he sent his Son to die for her, the pure and holy and loving and blameless Jesus giving his life not for the noble and the brave and the true but for the impure and carnal and cruel and lawless sinner!
Or again, think of what we are told of Jesus’ love for his bride. In Ephesians 5 and verses 25, 26 and 27 we are told this, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”Do you see what it says about the people of God whom Christ saw in their condition? What was the bride of Christ whom he took to be his own for ever and ever? Evidently from those words in Ephesians she was not holy, and not clean, and not radiant and not blameless. She had to be made all those things. Whom did he love and change? Someone who needed changing – as much as a baby whose diaper smells and needs to be changed. One who was dirty, both inwardly and outwardly, stained, wrinkled and blemished. Can you see the scene? Here on the right at the front as the Bridal March is being played, stands the groom and he is the altogether lovely one, without spot, strong, righteous, abounding in love and anticipation for his bride, and then coming down the aisle to marry him is what? You gasp at the sight of her. She is a stinking, stained, wrinkled, blemished hag, but when he sees her he beams with delight and he loves her and he takes her and he lives with her for ever. There was never a more loving husband in the whole universe, one who supplied all her needs, patient and forgiving, always there when she needed him. He lays down his life for her, and she is changed by his love until she is like him. She becomes altogether lovely too, the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley, holy and blameless. Gomer will become as beautiful as Hosea. And it is all through the person and work of the coming Christ.
When did the Lord Jesus fall in love with Gomer? It was love at first sight. But when was his first sight of her? Before the foundation of the earth. In other words, there never was a time when he didn’t love her. He knew all about her. He had seen the file on her, the whole CV, the things she was most ashamed of and wanted no one to know. He knew and he loved her yet; on that day in creation when God made her first parents, he loved her. And when they rebelled and fell, he kept loving her, and when Gomer was born and took her first breath he loved her, and when she first failed to mortify the lust of the eyes and lusts of the flesh in her teenage years, then he still kept loving her, and when he gave her the magnificent Hosea as her husband he loved her, and when she behaved as abominably as a wife can behave then Christ still loved her.
iii] It was a lifelong love for her. When Christ left heaven and came into this world he loved her then, and every incarnate day from Bethlehem to Golgotha Jesus loved her quite deliberately, thinking of her and longing to see what she would ultimately become. It was for her he allowed the soldiers to whip him and mock him and crucify him and thrust a spear into him. Moment by moment he was making choice of the shame – that shame that was hers but he took it. He was making choice of the pain, and he was making choice of every element in the cup of the anathema of God, and he was doing that because he loved Gomer and all of us like her, for he alone could save us.
In the last weeks of his life he walked to Jerusalem with the little band of disciples, and Gomer was heavy on his heart, while he was the loner, and incommunicative and they got appalled and disturbed, “What is the terrible burden on the Master’s mind?” They never guessed that his burden was Gomer . . . and you . . . and me . . . and the Twelve. They don’t understand when he says to them, “The Son of man must suffer . . . he must be crucified . . . he must die.” There was no moment in that whole life when he had forgotten Gomer, no moment when he ceased loving her. She was always on his heart; he was going to redeem her from his guilt and he was going to clothe her with all the merit and all the eloquence and all the discernment of his unfaltering obedience of the Son of God.
iv] It was a self-sacrificing love for her. So Christ spent his last days in the darkness of that foreboding, and finally he ascended the hill of Calvary and as a lamb before his shearers is dumb so quietly he shed his blood for her. In other words he did not die as I hope you and I will die, blissfully and peacefully, with the help of some sedatives, surrounded by our family and with our pastor praying for us. No. He tasted the bitterness of death as he went through his appalling anguish. There was full consciousness; there was full realization of what Gomer had done; there was sensitivity. He was savouring all the elements of a debauched life. He had lived for months under the shadow of death, and then in the last weeks and hours there was an appalling intensification of his anguish. He who knew no sin had Gomer’s sin imputed to him. He died paying the wages of Gomer’s sin. He died being made the sin of Gomer. When God’s absolute integrity confronted Jesus our sin-bearer and our scapegoat there was no mitigation and no accommodation.
God did not stand before the glory of the baby who was in the manger, true God and true man in one person, look at the incarnate Son and then say, “I forgive Gomer.” God didn’t stand before the sensitive humanity of the Lord Jesus (his weeping with two sisters over the death of their brother and his sorrow at the unbelief of Jerusalem), and then. looking at that, say, “I forgive the city.” There is none of that. There is no mitigation, and no accommodation because of incarnation alone. God doesn’t say, “I must spare Gomer because of the character and nature of my loving sensitive Son.” God must make him sin. God made him a curse. God gave him all that Gomer’s sin deserved. It’s all poured over his soul as Christ assumes the suretyship of the church.
3. IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO TELL THE WORLD ABOUT GOD’S LOVE.
We who believe in the love of God, and claim to have known the love of God have to live it. Here is Hosea and many would feel sorry for Hosea. If I were going to be an O.T. prophet I’d like to be one who had a vision of God in the temple, or when I prayed that fire fell from heaven immediately and consumed my sacrifice and the water in the trench that I had dug, or that I had raised from the dead a little boy and returned him to his heart-broken mother. I want a high. I want people to be tearfully grateful that providence brought them near me. I want to have seen something to tell people about, or write a book about, make my autobiography more interesting, visit the USA and tell American Christians the wonderful things that happened to me in this faraway land of Wales. Hosea doesn’t get that does he? He doesn’t get a resurrection, a floating axe-head, fire from heaven, an Isaiah 6. You read Ezekiel one and you think how significant that commissioning experience was. It shaped the prophet and made him what he was, and so it had been with Isaiah. They were painful experiences, going to the temple – as Isaiah had done hundreds of times – and then that one day he gets up as usual, washes as usual, dresses as usual, has his breakfast as usual, goes to the Temple as usual, and Pow! He has the most unusual, never to be forgotten day of his life. He meets God and tht confrontation demolishes him. He cries to God, “Woe is me for I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips. With my own eyes I have seen the King.” A king, Uzziah, has just died, but Isaiah has seen THE king, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, the King of kings. And one immediate consequence is that this prophet’s self-righteousness, and self-entitlement, and self-esteem is mortified. He doesn’t think of any achievements he’s had in his first preaching for God to the people. He forgets every complement on being a fine young preacher. Then this educated man, this poet, this man with plans going on nicely to becoming a super prophet who will really do something with his life – he meets God in a face-to-face encounter, and he dies, spiritually and psychologically. God demolishes him so that God could rebuild him. What a painful encounter with Jehovah, and yet how powerful too, Because he is given backbone and humility and a new usability. He has a new depth of understanding of God and faith in God. He has been brought to a place where he is ready to say to God, “If you want me to preach to people’s ears but they’ll refuse to hear, to people’s hearts and they’re hearts of stone, and to people’s wills and they won’t be moved, I am still prepared to serve you. Here am I, send me into battle.” That is the place we need to be. We don’t know the future, but God knows what is our future and he has planned it all and he’ll guide me with his hand. “I am expendable,” and that is what he is saying to God. His service of God is unconditional. My plans and my career are dross. There is no, “I will serve you if . . .” No ifs. “Here am I send me.”
So we feel sorry for Hosea that God did not give him the experiences that Elijah and Elisha and Isaiah and Ezekiel all had. But then Hosea had something none of them had. He had . . . a marriage. He was married to Gomer. And none of the other prophets had such a marriage. Hosea had a wife that drove him to God five times every day. Hosea didn’t get some overwhelming experience that was also dangerously ego-reinforcing, While his marraige crushed him it was also reforming his whole life. For Hosea it was slow motion; it was a marathon to victory; it was the long haul of increased usefulness. He lived with concern, and with grief, and with pain and with loneliness, and with telling crying children that Mum isn’t coming home, and with being a single parent, but it had the same outcome as those different pilgrimages of the other prophets. It was his relationship with Gomer that taught Hosea how to preach to sinners. It was his chapter 3 experience that taught Hosea how to preach the gospel of the love of God more powerfully than any other prophet, though they were far more gifted than he was.
It is not enough to do a course on witnessing and speak accurately and quote the right Scriptures. You have to live your life before the God who says he resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. That is life; it is not a posture. So we raise a question with you today, and it is this, “Why is your life hard?” And it is hard. If you are a mother then it is hard. If you are a working man, then it is hard. If you are a student with deadlines and exams, then it is hard. If you are an old person then it is hard. If you are single then it is hard. If you are ill then it is hard. People are difficult; relationships are difficult; situations are difficult. There are impossible men and impossible women. There are brutal disappointments. There are handicapped children; there are the deaths of young wives or young husbands. There are profound heart-aches. What is going on? I tell you, God is at work. God is at work to will and to do of his good pleasure. He is demolishing the old you. He is breaking your schemes of earthly joy that you might find your joy in him. You’ve had a sense of achievement, and a sense of entitlement, and a sense of self-reliance and God has been breaking those senses one by one and over and over again. He was putting them in his crucible, and was crushing them and he would make an ointment out of the paste to heal you with what he’d broken. He has been turning you into a new man who is dependent and is humble and is confident only in God and feels that his best efforts and poor and unworthy of God using them. You feel expendable.
You may never have had your Isaiah 6, no resurrections, and no cleansings of famous generals from their leprosy. You never saw wheels within wheels and fire and light and thunder and smoke, but I guarantee that you have been in your Hosea 1 situation and so then you have to press on to Hosea 3. The discovery of who Gomer is, such a woman so close to such a man of God, is a live issue for us all. There are people who treated you badly and your reaction has been that you treat them badly. You want nothing to do with them, just a cursory nod as you pass on the pavement. Then you must pray this through. Is God saying to you, “Go and find them. Go and love them as the Lord loves Israel.”
In our town there are a lot of scary Gomers out there. We have a Saviour who deliberately went into Samaria and struck up a conversation with a woman at a well, taking the initiative and asking her for a drink of water. Where is your Samaria? Who is your heart-breaking but sanctifying Gomer? And when you think about that and meet her you must ask, “Is this she? Is it she? Is it she?” Go and find some Gomers. It is our job to find them and love them with a holy love, and display pure and undefiled religion to them, as the Lord loved Israel.
So there it is. It is not an idea to be discussed or even a truth to be believed. It is power and energy that constrains to action and to living it out day by day. It is a reality to be lived.
6th December 2015 GEOFF THOMAS