I woke up this morning with the intent to start reading through the minor prophets in Scripture. Honestly, it’s not something I often wake up with the intent to do – read the Bible. Usually in the morning I’m dragging my feet trying to get ready for work.
That’s one of the beauties of Sundays. You just might have enough time that you don’t have to drag your feet.
Anyways, I read Hosea 1-3 and it was a fascinating picture of the Gospel.
The story of Hosea and his prostitute wife Gomer was most recently modernized in the popular novel Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. In summary: Hosea is a prophet of God and he is told to “take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (1:2). So he marries a prostitute in order to be a living example of the faithfulness of God to His faithless people. God then spells out His punishment on Israel and then His mercy. Then Hosea redeems Gomer, who had abandoned him, by buying her back and saying, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whole, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you” (3:3), echoing God’s love for His people.
I had read this before, but when I took the time to digest this, I got something beautiful out of it, mainly in Chapter 2.
Chapter 2 is entirely prophecy and God or Hosea speaking to the people of the nation of Israel. It roughly breaks down into two sections, and they are quite reflective of our everyday lives following Jesus.
Israel’s Unfaithfulness Punished/Our Unfaithfulness Explained (v. 1-13)
God opens by saying some pretty harsh things about Israel:
Plead with your mother, 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; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst. Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom. (v. 2-3)
The punishment is severe. But we get to learn why she did what she did in v. 5:
For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, “I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.”
The “mother” here played the whore, she went after sources of life other than God. She did this because she thought that her “loves” would give her bread, water, wool, flax, oil and drink. These are things that are necessary for life: bread, water and drink give physical sustenance, wool and flax are good for clothing, and oil lights the house and helps cook the food.
One reason we daily pursue after things other than God is that we feel they will give us life or help us meet our basic needs. And they will. They truly will. To sit here and say that sinful pleasures bring no satisfaction whatsoever would be to tell a straight-up lie.
We lie to others because we’ll avoid awkward or painful conversation. We pursue sexual intimacy outside of marriage because we want to experience the pleasure without the commitment. We boast in ourselves because we want to feel like we’re worth something. We work super hard super late because we want to have money for security or to buy things to feel good.
We do tons more crappy things in order to find that satisfaction. We’re pursuing things that are good. We’re just pursuing them in the wrong source, as the nation of Israel was here in Hosea.
But we see a change in the “mother” here. God hedges her way so she can’t find those “lovers.” “Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now,” v. 7 tells us. God is the “first husband” here because He is our original creator, the one who originally sustained us. “And she did not know,” v. 8 says, “that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.” Here we see that God is the ultimate source of the things we need, but our “lovers” misappropriate those needs.
Over the next few verses, God puts an end to the opportunities for the “mother” to find her satisfaction in following false gods, in playing the whore. There is punishment doled out.
But then we get to the best part.
The LORD’s Mercy on Israel/God’s Mercy on Us (v. 14-23)
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. (v. 14-15)
Think of what Israel found when they were brought out of Egypt. They found freedom, hope, and (eventually) a new homeland in Canaan. God offers that to the wife of whoredom, His people, who abandoned Him. And there is a new establishment of relationship, spelled out in v. 19-20:
And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.
God doesn’t abandon His people forever. He wants them to learn where they’ve fallen short, He wants them to see how they’ve been missing His commands. But then He “allures” them back to Him.
I love that language of “alluring.” To allure is to be attractive. God makes Himself attractive to us, more attractive than the things we pursued before. This is how He shows us grace: He shows us that what we pursued before wasn’t truly satisfying and then shows us that He is truly satisfying. He gives us what we need – the bread, water, wool, flax, oil and drink – just by being Himself.
The best part: we don’t have to do anything to earn this sustenance. It’s given freely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The biggest difference between this story and our story is that we have available to us the gospel grace of Jesus Christ earned for us on the cross. The people of Israel had to do work to repent of their sins, and then God showed them mercy. All we have to do is repent and believe. We don’t have to do any certain amount of work to earn back God’s favor. We’ve been given the right to no longer be condemned if we are in Christ (Romans 8:1).
But the relationship is the same: we are betrothed to God forever. We enter a relationship with God that is like a marriage: it’s binding, it’s lasting. And while earthly marriages end on earth, a marriage with God in Christ is eternal. Despite our whoredom, despite our disobedience, despite how we constantly fall short of what His command spell out for us, He loves us and commits to us.
That’s a God I can get behind. I hope you can as well.