I like old movies and perhaps due to my line of work, I especially like the old Biblical epics that were made years ago: classic films like: Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Robe, etc. Well, as I studied today’s text this week I wondered why Hollywood has never made a Biblical epic about the life of the prophet Hosea. I mean they’ve made films about the other love stories found in the Bible: Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheeba, Ruth and Boaz, but I’ve never seen one about Hosea and his wife Gomer-which is sad because, in my opinion theirs is one of the truly great love stories of all time. Look with me now at the story of this MAN ON MISSION and perhaps you’ll see what I mean. Take your Bibles and turn to the book of Hosea and follow along with me as I read 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.
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.
Hosea lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the last half of the eighth century before Christ. His ministry followed on the heels of that of Amos. As I told you last Sunday, in Amos’ day Jeroboam II was on the throne and during his 44 year reign Israel enjoyed a time of prosperity, political stability, and security. Well, unfortunately the burning messages of old afflict the comfortable Amos had little effect on the people of Israel. They were very content with their opulent lifestyle and as such were blind to their need for God. Things continued as is until Jeroboam II died. And then, after his death the nation went downhill fast. For the next thirty years near-anarchy reigned in Israel. There were six kings in that time period, of whom four were assassinated-usually by their successors. Due to this political chaos, the structure of society 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. You see, they had a new king by now-a strong king named Tiglath-pileser who threatened Israel’s borders with his growing military might.
Well, it was during these years of anarchy, bloodshed, revolt, and the break-up of a nation that Hosea the prophet preached in Israel. He had a tough row to hoe for, he was called by God to live through the chaos that Amos, the herdsman from Tekoa, had seen coming.
Now, I think Hosea admired the ministry of Amos. I say this because it seems to me that he modeled his preaching after the preaching of this farmer turned prophet. Apparently he too believed in preaching in such a way that you afflict the comfortable. In fact, in the first few years of his ministry he always preached against sin and warned of the peril that was VERY close at hand unless the people repented and returned to the Lord. I think Hosea may have even ENJOYED this kind of preaching. Reading about him 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 sins of the people.
Well, this was not something the Israelites wanted to hear. They didn’t like it when Amos preached this way and they didn’t like Hosea’s doing it either, so Hosea’s audience dwindled to the point that continuing to preach seemed pointless to him. When this happened Hosea no doubt spoke to God and asked for His help in getting the people to listen. When he did this 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 (based on the commentary of Ray Stedman in whom I am indebted for the background commentary of this message)-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 then, when God mentioned her 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.
Now, don’t get side-tracked by her name. I mean, I doubt seriously that she looked anything at all like Jim Nabors. Who knows, maybe in those days GOMER was an name that was associated with great beauty like, like Raquel or Sophia, or SUE. You get my point.
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.
Now undoubtedly, Hosea was very puzzled by God’s strange command just as Abraham was puzzled by God’s command to take his son out and sacrifice him on an altar. From our limited perspective sometimes it seems that God does strange things, things we don’t understand 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 and 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 book of prophecy in the Old Testament without seeing that. Reading these pages of God’s book indicates that in the beginning Gomer and Hosea must have been wonderfully happy together and then they had their first child. It was a boy! Hosea’s heart was filled to bursting and 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 a name of shame in Israel. Let me tell you why. Do you remember the bloody story of Queen Jezebel and King Ahab? II Kings 9 tell us that Ahab cheated his neighbor out of his property and stole his neighbor’s vineyard and Jezebel was the wicked 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.
Hosea obeyed God and gave his son the name God had picked for him, for he understood that his son was to be a living 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. Hosea realized that this was to communicate to the people that God would no longer have pity on His people if they continued to live as they were living. Hosea’s little daughter’s name was to communicate to the people that God’s patience was wearing thin, a time was coming when He would hand them over to invading armies. 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, then you need to understand that this 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 the meaning of names 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 nation that they were in deep trouble-that the prey was on the way to ravish their nation.
So, 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 about 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 one a note from Gomer. She 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 gave 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 kept on loving her deeply, just as God kept on loving the people of Israel even after they had left Him to worship other gods. And, 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 no longer did he preach this by angrily pounding the pulpit. No-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. 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 him to give the world a picture of the HEART OF GOD. Perhaps he shared his observations with his fellow prophet in the south, for Isaiah began to talk like this as well. 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, a very important principle in fact for all people on mission to grasp. 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 temple. She had become 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 is tears, and God said, Then go show your love for her in the same way that I love the nation of Israel.
So 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 offered fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel of barley. Together all this was equal to more than a year’s wages, an unbelievably high price to pay for a slave. 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. 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-he in essence renewed his marital vows to he, 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 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, faithful 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 the 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.
Isn’t that a wonderful love story? Don’t you agree that it would make a great movie!?
Now, I think the reason God wanted us here at Redland to study Hosea’s life is because our task as we are on mission for Him is to let the world know all we know about His love. This year as we serve ON MISSION for God here in Montgomery County, Maryland and up in Conway, New Hampshire, and in Jefferson City, Missouri and Puebla, Mexico and Nairobi, Kenya. We need to go to all these places with a mature understanding of God’s love. And I believe our study of Hosea’s life can help us in this, because his experience reveals to us several basic truths about God’s love.
1. First of all, Hosea helps us to see that God’s love is a PERSONAL love.
This is an important message for us to convey because people hear of God loving the WHOLE world so much that many buy into the misconception that God loves them because He’s stuck with them. People think they are part of the whole world, so God HAS to love them. But 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.
We used to tell the VBS kids to insert their names into John 3:16 and say, For God so loved MARK….that He sent His only Son that if MARK believed in Him MARK would not perish but have everlasting life. In fact, let’s say that verse together, but insert YOUR name in the places I inserted mine. This is a good thing to do, because that is the kind of LOVE God has for us: a PERSONAL love. This was the message Jesus was communicating when He told the parable of 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. So hear this. No matter what you have done, or no matter what your life has been like, God loves you. He doesn’t love you as part of the 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. That is one message we must learn to convey as we go on MISSION.
2. And then secondly, Hosea’s experience teaches us that God not only loves us individually….He also loves us UNCONDITIONALLY.
Hosea’s experience with Gomer helped him to see that in spite of Israel’s sin, God continued to loved 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 because as…I 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.
As Amos so faithfully preached, one of God’s characteristics is HOLINESS and as a HOLY Being, 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 offering salvation in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve it…and in fact deserve judgement instead. 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.
A few years ago there was a Wendy’s commercial that began with a mother saying, Kids. Most days you love them but other days, well… Then 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. No matter what they do, you love them. And even on OUR WORST DAYS, God keeps right on loving us. His is an UNCONDITIONAL love.
But there’s something else we need to understand about God’s love that is taught here in the book of Hosea…
3. …We need to realize that God’s love is also a HOLY love.
I mean, people need to know that in order for us to experience God’s personal, unconditional, love we have to turn from our sin, just as Gomer did. In Hosea 5:15 God speaks through this prophet of love and says that He would turn His face from the people of Israel, …UNTIL, they admitted their guilt and sought His face and in their misery earnestly sought Him.
It is the same for you and me. To experience God’s love, to feel God’s arms around us, to know the blessing of His loving guidance in life, we must turn from our sin and return to Him. Sin will destroy our lives and disrupt our relationship with God UNTIL…UNTIL we turn from sin and return to God. This is a very important point for us to remember, because if we are not careful we will misunderstand the gracious love of God. We’ll think that it doesn’t really matter what we do in life, after all God will still love us and forgive us. And that is true. God will ALWAYS love you, but to BENEFIT from His love we must turn from sin.
Remember the story Jesus told about the prodigal son? The story doesn’t say that the father tracked his son down while he was still far off. It doesn’t say that the father went to find him as he was rebelliously squandering his inheritance on riotous living. Oh, the father loved the son. He never stopped doing so, but in order to experience that love the son had to turn from his sin and return home to his father. God’s love is a HOLY love, and to benefit from it we must turn from our sin, and return to God and pursue holiness.
4. And then, one other thing Hosea would tell us to note about God’s love is this: It is a SACRIFICIAL love.
All people need to hear this wonderful truth that God acts in love toward us-even when it is costly for Him to do so. We see this illustrated in Hosea’s action 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.
This reminds me of the story of a little boy who loved sailboats and who was also very good with his hands. So, one day he decided to build his own little model sailboat to sail on a nearby lake. Well he worked for many months until it was perfect…and then he spent many happy days sailing it along the shore. But one day the wind came up and before the boy could grab his boat, it was pushed farther and farther out into the lake, until he could no longer see it. For hours he looked along the shore all around the lake for his precious sailboat but to no avail. A few weeks later he was walking down the main street of his town and he saw a familiar looking sailboat in the window of a pawn shop. He looked closely and sure enough, it was his. It must have been found by the shopkeeper. Well he ran inside excitedly and explained what had happened but the shopkeeper would not give him the boat. He insisted on full price, which was a great deal of money. So, the little boy went home and he worked and saved for weeks until he had enough money and then he hurried into the shop and bought back his little sailboat. And as he was leaving the shop he held it up and said, You’re mine twice. You’re mine once because I made you. You’re mine twice because when you were lost I bought you back.
That is what God has done for you and me. He created us in His image but we yielded to the tug of the winds of sin and were lost. And then God loved us so much that He paid the highest price possible to buy us back. That is the message we have been given to share as we go on mission. This is the GOSPEL that as Christians we are commissioned to share, that God loves the world, and everyone in it with a personal, unconditional, holy, sacrificial love.
If you feel led to join us in sharing this message. I mean, if you are a Christian and if God is leading you to join our church, then I invite you to do so right now by walking forward in just a moment, as we stand and sing. But, some of you here today may have never experienced God’s love in a personal way. All that we have said is news to you. You’ve never heard that God loved you in this way. And if that is true I encourage you right now to respond to God’s love in sending His Son to pay the price to set you free from sin. Right now, close your eyes and talk to God. Tell Him that you want to be free…that you believe that Jesus Christ is His Son and that He died for you. Tell Him you want Him to take your life and use it as He sees fit. Become a Christian and then walk forward and share that decision with me. Won’t you come now as God leads as we stand and sing?