Do you ever grin—or wince—when you hear the names that some celebrities give to their newborns? They seem to have a real knack when it comes to “creative” baby naming. For example, do you remember when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin made headlines after naming their daughter “Apple?” Before that, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis gave us “Rumer,” “Scout” and “Tallulah Belle.” Even before that Frank Zappa named his kids “Moon Unit,” “Dweezil” and “Diva Thin Muffin.” About few weeks ago, rapper Rick Ross named his newest son “Billion.” I’m wondering if his next child will be called “Billion and One.” In late October, Hilary Duff named her daughter “Banks Violet Bair.”
And giving babies weird names is nothing new. In 1676 a man named “Dancell-Dallphebo-Mark-Anthony-Gallery-Cesar” named his child after himself, continuing the long-winded tradition. A Puritan family whose last name was “Barebones” gave several unusual names to their babies, including “Praise-God,” “Fear-God,” “Jesus-Christ-came into-the-world-to-save,”—and “If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned.” By the way when this particular baby grew up, he chose to go by the name “Nicolas.” I read about a child born in the 1800’s who was named “Die-well.” Sounds like his parents were a bit pessimistic.
Well, if those names shock you—hang on because the next person we are studying in our series of “Connecting With People of the Bible” gave his kids some very odd ones! I’m referring to Hosea—a prophet of God who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the last half of the eighth century before Christ. Take your Bibles and let’s read from the book that bears his name. I will be reading Hosea 1:1-9 and 3:1-3.
1 – The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel:
2 – When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.”
3 – So he married Gomer, daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
4 – Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him ‘Jezreel,’ because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel.
5 – In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.”
6 – Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her ‘Lo-Ruhamah,’ for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them.
7 – yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the Lord their God.”
8 – After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son.
9 – Then the Lord said, “Call him ‘Lo-Ammi,’ for you are not My people, and I am not your God.”
3:1 – The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”
2 – So, I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.
3 – Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.”
Okay—let’s begin our study of Hosea by looking at his early years—his bachelor years—BEFORE he married and had children. Hosea began serving as a prophet of God during years when the nation of Israel—the northern kingdom—was almost literally falling apart. To show you how bad things were, there were six kings in thirty years, four of whom were assassinated—usually by their successors. And, due to all this political chaos, the structure of society in Israel began to come apart at the seams. Violence in the streets became commonplace and to make matters worse, the threat of an invasion by Assyria increased during this time.
The Assyrian threat was a real one because they had a STRONG, stable government led by a king named Tiglath-pileser—and Tiglath threatened Israel’s borders with his growing military might. The reason Israel was in such a sad—vulnerable spot—was because they had abandoned God.
It was a tough time and place to be a prophet of God!
Well, Hosea decided to deal with all this by preaching what are often referred to as “turn or burn” sermons. I mean, in the first few years of his ministry Hosea always preached against sinners—and warned them that the peril posed by Tiglath-pileser was VERY close at hand unless the people repented and returned to the Lord. And—I think Hosea may have even ENJOYED this kind of preaching. There is after all a power rush that comes from delivering messages like this and I get the impression that Hosea embraced that feeling of superiority. He liked people to leave his sermons with their heads bowed in shame.
Reading about Hosea reminds me of a comment I heard about a similar hell-fire and brimstone preacher. People who heard him speak said they had the feeling that he was saying, “You folks are sinners and if you don’t repent you are going to Hell, and it would give me GREAT PLEASURE to see that you get what you deserve.” This seems to have been Hosea’s preferred theme—the coming judgment of God upon the many sins of the people.
Well—this was not something the stiff-necked Israelites wanted to hear. They didn’t like it when Hosea preached this way—most people wouldn’t. And because of that, Hosea’s audience dwindled to the point that continuing to preach seemed pointless. When this happened Hosea no doubt spoke to God and asked for His help in getting the people to listen. When he did God told him to do a strange thing. Remember what it says in verse 2 of this little book? God said to Hosea—and this is a rough paraphrase— “I want you to get married. In fact, I have a girl all picked out for you.”
Now. I think Hosea must have brightened up a bit at that, because he was a bachelor. And when God mentioned the girl’s name, Hosea’s heart must have fluttered—because the name of this girl was GOMER—and GOMER was one of the most beautiful girls in all of Israel—but don’t get side-tracked by her name. I’m certain she looked nothing like this.
Anyway—when God told him to marry Gomer, Hosea was definitely interested. But God warned him and said, “I want you to know the whole story about this girl, Hosea. I want you to marry her but understand—she is going to be unfaithful to you. In fact, she will eventually become nothing but a common street prostitute. But I want you to marry her anyway.”
I’m sure Hosea was very puzzled by God’s strange command. And, let’s face it, from our limited perspective God’s commands can often seem strange. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. I mean, God often does things we can’t always understand—often until later when we can look back on them.
Do you remember what Philip Yancey said about this? He said that following God involves having a faith in Him such that you believe in ADVANCE what will only make sense in REVERSE. Well—Hosea apparently had enough faith that, in spite of these somewhat odd instructions, he obeyed—so he went courting. And—sure enough, GOMER was attracted to this shy young preacher man. After some time, Hosea finally summoned up the courage to ask her to marry him. To his great relief she said “YES!” and they were wed.
At first it was heaven on earth. Hosea genuinely, deeply loved this girl. You can’t study his little known book of prophecy without seeing that. Reading these pages indicates that—at least in the beginning— Gomer and Hosea must have been wonderfully happy together—and then they had their first child. It was a boy—the son of a preacher-man! Hosea’s heart was filled to bursting!
But then God asked him to do ANOTHER strange thing. He instructed him to name the boy, “JEZREEL.” Now Jezreel means “cast-away” and at this time it was an odd name—in fact it was a NAME OF SHAME in Israel. Let me tell you why. Do you remember the bloody story of Queen Jezebel and King Ahab? 2nd Kings 9 tell us that Ahab cheated his neighbor out of his property and stole his neighbor’s vineyard—and Jezebel was the wicked, pagan queen who put him up to it—and other crimes. Well God’s judgement eventually fell on this evil, demonic woman.
She was looking out her upper story window one day when General Jehu was down in the courtyard and he ordered the servants to CAST her AWAY—to throw her out the window. They did, and she fell to her death on the pavement below and the dogs ate her flesh. The courtyard where she fell had been called JEZREEL— “cast-away” ever since.
Well, Hosea obeyed God and gave his son the strange name God had picked for him—for he understood that his son was to be a living “turn or burn” sermon illustration—a warning from God to the people of Israel, that they too would be CAST AWAY if they didn’t recognize the folly of their sinful actions. Eventually another child—a daughter—was born to Hosea and Gomer. God instructed this one to be named “Loruhamah” which means, “not pitied.” That’s worse than “Talullu Belle” almost as bad as “Die-Well.”
Hosea realized that the name of his little girl was another living sermon illustration. Loruhamah was to communicate to the people that God would no longer have pity on them if they continued to live as they were living. The name of Hosea’s little daughters was to communicate to the people that God’s patience was wearing thin—that a time was coming when He would hand them over to invading armies. Then, when this little girl was weaned, Gomer conceived again and bore a 3rd child—another little boy. God named this one, “Lo-ammi” which means, “not My people”—for God was saying, “You are not My people and I will not be your God.”
Now—if you think it is STRANGE that Hosea would give his kids these odd names—remember, preachers can be odd—sometimes they dress like Mr. Rodgers and sing the theme song of his show as a sermon introduction. All kidding aside—sometimes preachers have to do odd things to get their peoples’ attention. And Hosea’s naming his children for this purpose was nothing new back then. You see in Hosea’s culture it was customary to teach by using SYMBOLS. God often used this method of instructing His people. Hosea also knew that NAMES were very important.
God repeatedly used them as symbols to teach Israel certain truths. And now God was planning to use this prophet and his family as a living object lesson for His people. Perhaps Hosea read in the “newspaper” that something like this was happening with his fellow prophet, Isaiah, at about this time down in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. You see, Isaiah, had two children, both boys.
Their names were jaw-breakers to pronounce but they also had a special meaning. The younger boy’s name was Shearjashub, which means, “a remnant shall return.” Giving this name was to remind the people of God’s promise to Judah that even though they were taken into captivity, a remnant would one day come back.
Isaiah’s older boy’s name was Mahershalalhashbaz. Mahershalalhashbaz means “haste to the prey” or “hast to the spoil,” —and it was God’s prophetic way of telling the southern kingdom that they were in deep trouble—that the prey was on the way to ravish their nation. In any case—giving children names like this to communicate important spiritual truth was not that shocking back then. Well, after the birth of little Lo-ammi—there were no more children in Hosea’s household. And—that little family began to have hard times because Gomer started to fulfill the sad prediction that God had made when He had told Hosea to marry her in the first place. What a heartbreak it must have been to this young preacher as he heard the whispers that began to circulate about his wife and what happened when he was away on his preaching trips. His own children may have even unconsciously dropped some remarks about the men who visited when Daddy was away. Things went from bad to worse and soon the children were left un-cared for while Gomer wasted all her time running around behind her husband’s back.
One day Hosea came home and found a note from Gomer. It said that he had decided to find the happiness she felt she deserved and she was leaving him with the children to follow the man she really loved. Eventually she went so far as to give herself over to the life of a temple prostitute. I imagine that she bragged to Hosea that her lovers provided her with rich foods, raisin cakes, wine, and gifts—all things that he could not afford on his preaching income.
NOW—Understand—Hosea never stopped loving Gomer deeply—just as God never stopped loving the people of Israel even after they had left Him to worship other gods. Well, about this time a new tone came into Hosea’s preaching. Oh—he still warned people of the judgement that was to come and the fact that God was going to send the Assyrians down across the land—but he no longer preached this by angrily pounding the pulpit. Now He spoke to them with tears.
And in his sermons Hosea began to speak of a day when love at last would triumph—when after Israel learned the folly of ignoring God’s law—they would return to the God Who loved them. With God’s help, Hosea saw that a time would come when his children’s NAMES would be changed—to foretell a coming change in the HEARTS of the people of Israel. In Hosea 2:23 God said, “I will say to those called ‘not my people,’ ‘You are My people’ and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” In chapter 1, verse 11 God said, ‘The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.”
You see, through Hosea—even in this time when God was announcing His JUDGEMENT—God was also showing His GRACE. So—understand—Gomer broke HOSEA’S HEART but his response to this also made it possible for this little-known prophet to give the world a picture of the HEART OF GOD. Perhaps he shared his observations with his fellow prophet in the south, because Isaiah began to talk like this as well. I mean, in Isaiah 63:9 he spoke of God’s perspective on the sins of the people of Judah saying, “In all their distresses, God too was distressed.”
It began to dawn on these two prophets that God may have turned His face from His people—but it was a face streaked with tears. Hosea realized that if his love for Gomer could exist in spite of her betrayal of their marriage vows—then God might still love His people no matter how sinful they had been. So—in all this Hosea saw something that he had missed before—back in his—hell-fire and brimstone preaching years. He saw a very important principle. Hosea saw that all sin is not so much against God’s LAW as it is against His LOVE. When this happened he began to change the whole tune of his preaching—and started speaking about the LOVE of God for SINNERS instead of the judgement of God upon SIN. His sermons included loving words from God like this, “How can I give you up Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? My heart is changed within Me; all My compassion is aroused. I will not carry out My fierce anger—for I am God, and not man—the Holy One among you.” (Hosea 11:8-9)
So, it was his response to a domestic tragedy that gave Hosea the motivation to become the truly great preacher that he was. Well—one day word came to Hosea that Gomer was to be sold in the slave market. She was no longer as lovely as before—no longer requested by the male worshipers who frequented the pagan temple. Her sinful lifestyle had made her too unattractive for use as a temple harlot—so she was to be sold as a slave.
I imagine that this brokenhearted prophet didn’t know what to do at this point. So, he went weeping to God and asked for His guidance. And God must have said something like this, “Hosea, do you love this woman in spite of all that she has done to you?” Hosea nodded through his tears, and God said, “Then go show your love for her in the same way that I love the nation of Israel.”
So, that’s what he did. Hosea went to the marketplace and watched Gomer being brought up and placed on the dock where she was stripped of all her clothing and stood naked before the crowd. The auctioneer pinched her and prodded her and showed how strong she was, and then the bidding began. Someone bid three pieces of silver and Hosea raised it to five. Someone else upped it to eight and Hosea bid ten. Another bidder went to eleven. He went to twelve.
Then Hosea put a stop to all bidding by offering fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel of barley.
This was equal to more than a year’s wages—an unbelievably high price to pay for a slave—especially one as unattractive as Gomer had become. Well, no one could beat that, so the auctioneer’s gavel fell as he shouted, “SOLD!” and Hosea officially had his wife back. He went to her and put her clothes back on and he led her away by the hand and took her to his home.
And then I think what follows is one of the most beautiful verses in all the Bible. In chapter 3, verse 3 Hosea said to Gomer, “You must dwell as mine for many days; you shall not play the harlot, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” Did you catch the love in these words? Hosea pledged his troth to his wayward wife all over again. In essence, he renewed his marital vows to her—and that was more than this poor sinful woman could take. She had gotten down to the very dregs of shame and disgrace—but the grace-filled love of this man melted her cold heart, and from this time on tradition says that Gomer was faithful to Hosea. She became an honest, industrious, selfless wife—a foreshadowing of the way Israel would one day return to God.
The final picture in Hosea’s book is one of beauty and glory, for it looks to that day when Israel would come back to God—her true Husband and would say in essence, “What have I to do with idols? I have seen (God) and heard Him and He has won my heart.” (Hosea 14:8ff) Okay—what can we learn from our connection with Hosea?
(1) Sin KILLS.
Do you remember how Paul puts it in Romans 6:23? He says, “The wages of sin is DEATH.”
Well—that doesn’t just refer to the end of life. It means that whenever we disobey God—whenever we rebel and turn from His love—something dies—in that—our lives are robbed of life—robbed of joy—robbed of fulfillment. We see this in Gomer’s experience. Sin took her from a loving husband to a place where she was only desired—and not truly loved. Sin took her from her family and made her a slave. Sin always does that. It always kills—a relationship—a family—a career.
This week I read that Rembrandt painted two self-portraits. The first was when he was a young man. It shows him as a handsome youth with the lamp of love burning in his eyes. He is a man full of potential whose creative genius is evident. Twenty years later, Rembrandt painted himself again. During those two decades this famous artist had denied himself no pleasure. He had embraced sin over and over again. And this second portrait showed the result of that. The joy and potential of the young man was replaced by a face marked with the lines of sinful living—eyes dull and without vision. This is an illustration of what sin does to us. As James put it in his epistle, “Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth death.” (James 1:15)
Here’s a second thing we can learn.
(2) God LOVES.
And when I say that I am referring to each of us—because God loves us as individuals. I mean, when Jesus said in John 3:16 that God so loved THE WORLD—that doesn’t mean He loves us in a group sense—as part of THE WORLD. I’m saying He loves you—He loves me. Turn to the person on your right and say, “Hey—God loves you.” Now to the person on your left. Good—God doesn’t love you as part of the human crowd. He loves you as an individual. He knows YOUR name, YOUR needs. He understands YOUR hurts and fears. He loves you as if you are the only person in the world. In fact, if you were the only sinner in all mankind, Jesus would still have come to die on the cross.
This is the message of that parable Jesus told about the shepherd who had one hundred sheep—who lost 1 and left the 99 to go after the one lost lamb until He found it. Hosea’s experience teaches us that God loves us individually with all His heart just as Hosea loved his unfaithful wife, Gomer with all his heart. And nothing changes or diminishes that love—not even our sin.
Hosea’s experience with Gomer helped him to see that in spite of Israel’s sin, God continued to love her, and that is the way God feels about you and me. We don’t have to EARN or DESERVE God’s love. He doesn’t love us because we are loveable. He loves us in spite of the fact that we are often unloveable. Turn to the person on your right and say, “You are not always loveable—but God loves you anyway.” No to the person on your left. Good! God loves us because as 1st John 4:8 says, “GOD IS LOVE.” Make sure you grasp the message of this little text. It doesn’t say that God is LOVING, as if LOVE were one of many divine attributes of God—like His patience, His power, or His wisdom. No, it states that God is LOVE. LOVE is the essence of His being. Love in fact pervades and influences all of His attributes and activities. When God creates, He creates in love. When He rules, He rules in love. He even judges in love. Love never is and never can be absent from His being.
Now—I think I can read your minds.
You may be remembering a sermon not too long ago where we talked about the fact that God is HOLY. When many people think of God’s holiness—they think it would be perfectly understandable for God to view all sinners with the utmost of contempt. But since God is love, then His is a holiness that REACHES OUT to sinners like me and you, offering salvation in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve it—and in fact deserve judgement instead. In other words, God’s is an UNCONDITIONAL love. I don’t know about you, but I consider that great news because there are many times in which my thoughts and actions are not all that loveable, times in which it would be hard to love me. Do you remember the Wendy’s commercials from a few years back that began with a mother saying, “Kids. Most days you love them but other days, well…” The commercial went on to say that Wendy’s was a great reward for GOOD kids. Well, due to the complaints of thousands of angry parents Wendy’s pulled the commercial after a short run because they realized that it communicated a bad message. I mean any parent knows that, even on their worst days, you don’t stop loving your kids. It’s like a bumper sticker that, instead of saying something like “Proud honor roll parent or something—it said “Proud Parent—PERIOD!” No matter what our kids do, we love them. And even on OUR WORST DAYS, God keeps right on loving us. His is an UNCONDITIONAL love. Here’s a third thing our connection with Hosea can teach us.
(3) Jesus REDEEMS.
Remember what Hosea did in chapter 3? He went and paid an enormous amount to ransom his wife from the slave market—and this is what God has done that for you and me. In fact, Hosea’s story is really OUR story. Because at Bethlehem God entered the slave market of this world, where all of us were enslaved to sin by our own choosing. And, in sending His Son into the world to die on Calvary’s cross, God paid the ransom to set us free from our sins. As Jesus said in Matthew 20:28, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a RANSOM for many.”
I remember my dad telling a story about Czar Nicholas of Russia. He said that the czar would sometimes walk about his military camps and barracks dressed as an ordinary officer—in order that he might know firsthand what was going on without being known by others. Late one night, the Czar was making one of these tours of inspection and noticed a light under the paymaster’s door. He opened the door quietly and stepped inside. There, a young officer—son of an old friend of the Czar—was seated at a table, his head resting on his arms, sound asleep. The Czar thought to awaken him, but changed his mind when he noticed a gun on the table along with some money, a sheet of paper—and a pen which had fallen from the hand of the sleeping man.
The Czar looked at the paper which contained a long list of gambling debts as well as other bad debts accumulated over a period of time. The debt amounted to thousands of rubles. The paymaster had realized how much he owed and how impossible it was for him to pay it. His only way out, so he thought, was to end it all with the gun as he could not face the disgrace which awaited him, having used the army funds to cover his debts. Weary with sorrow and remorse, he had written below the terrible total: “WHO CAN PAY SO GREAT A DEBT?” The Czar’s first thought was to have him arrested. The nature of the crime was such that it could not be ignored. But as he pondered the matter he thought of his long friendship with the officer’s father. A feeling of compassion took possession of him and he took up the pen which the officer had dropped and wrote just one word: “NICHOLAS” The young officer awoke soon after the Czar had gone, intending to end his life, but noticed the name “Nicholas” below his own question.
He was astonished and could not believe what he saw! He compared the Czar’s signature with that on other papers in his possession, and there was no doubt about its genuineness. Joy and shame filled his heart as he thought of the fact that the Czar knew all about his dishonesty and recklessness and yet was willing to pay his debt. The following morning the money arrived from the Czar enough to pay “So Great a Debt” down to the last ruble.
That’s what Jesus has done for sinners like you and me—and when we accept His gift—when we ask for His forgiveness and commit to follow Him as Lord—He gives us a new name—and it may sound weird in our fallen world—but the names Jesus gives us are wonderful. I’m referring to names like “Forgiven” “Redeemed” “Son” “Daughter” “Beloved.” If you are a Christian—and you are THANKFUL for the freedom and forgiveness that you have experienced through faith in Jesus, will you just raise your hand? Thank you. You know, the older I get—the more humble and grateful I am for what Jesus for me. The longer I live—the more clearly I can see my sin—and the more I see it—the more I praise God for His grace. Do you know what I’s talking about? I mean—isn’t it wonderful to feel what Gomer must have felt—but to a much greater degree…to see our SIN in the light of God’s amazing GRACE? If you are here this morning and have never responded to that love—if you’re NOT a Christ-follower then I invite you to become one right now. To use Hosea’s words, “Come to the Lord, say to Him: ‘Forgive my sins and receive me graciously.’” (Hosea 14:2) I will testify that God will answer that prayer—if you ask Him, He will forgive your sin and come into your heart and life—and you will know what it means to be truly free. If you make that decision come and talk with me or Kevin. If God is leading you to join this church family—or if you would just like us to pray with you come forward. Come now as God leads.