‘Honey, I’m home!’ You walk into the house, but she’s not downstairs. You walk up the stairs and into the bedroom. There she is in bed with a man you never met before. He grabs his trousers and scuffles past you out of the room. How do you feel as you look at her, angry or heart-broken? Do you want to shout or cry?
After much counselling and many tears, you manage to put the marriage back together. Then she tells you that she is pregnant. That’s great. But she doesn’t seem to be happy. She seems uncomfortable, and she won’t look you in the eye. Finally she confronts you with the awful truth: the child isn’t yours! Can you take any more?
Most men would walk away. They would have every right to do so. But God tells you not to give up on this woman. ‘Oh, and by the way, this won’t be the last time she cheats on you!’ Can he be serious?
You are an adulterer (1:1)
The Old Testament is the history of God loving people who are constantly unfaithful. He gave Adam and Eve a beautiful home, but they were not content with his love. They betrayed him, but he did not give up on them. He chose Abraham and said that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand of the seashore, they were to be a blessing to all the nations of the world, but they behaved just like the rest of the nations of the world. He gave these people a new home, a promised land, but they complained against God and ran after idols. He divided their nation in two, but they refused to return to him. Now it is the eighth century before Christ comes to Bethlehem. Hosea in ministering in the northern kingdom, called Israel (or Ephraim), but his message was written down for the southern kingdom, Judah. This was written down for us too.
You see, we all have been guilty of an adulterous heart. If you are a Christian, knowing Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, then think of those days when you resisted his love. You thought it would be embarrassing to be one of those ‘born again’ types. You didn’t want anyone, not even God, telling you how you should live. You knew he loved you, but you didn’t want his love. You rejected him. You grieved him. Tragically, even though we now know that his love is the source of our greatest joy, we still act like a cheating wife at times.
If you are not a Christian, that is not simply your own business. Who do you think gave you life and breath and so many good pleasures? He loves you and calls you to embrace the joy of his love. It is wicked to think he does not deserve your thanks. It is wretched to simply disregard his good rule. It is evil to say that he is not worth your passion. God offers you love, and you seek your pleasure everywhere else but with him!
We act like Gomer (1:2-9)
In the Hebrew original the same word is used three times in verse two, which might better be translated ‘whoredom’. God says to Hosea, ‘Go, take yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking me’ (2, ESV). Hosea is to marry a woman who will act like a prostitute. His marriage is a living illustration of the relationship between God and the unbelieving people of Israel.
Gomer bears Hosea a son. God tells Hosea to call this child Jezreel. In Israel’s history Jezreel was associated with bloodshed. ‘Go call your son Auschwitz’. ‘Name him Bloody Sunday’. At Jezreel a king called Jehu had slaughtered the prophets of the false god, Baal. God is now saying, ‘I am going to do the same to you because you are acting with such evil.’
Gomer conceived again and bore a daughter. We are not told that this was Hosea’s daughter. Someone else had fathered a child with his wife. Hosea is to name this daughter Lo-Ruhamah, which means ‘unloved’ or ‘no mercy’. God hates spiritual adultery so much that he promises that he will have no mercy on these cheating people.
After Gomer has weaned Lo-Ruhamah she has a third child. Again, Hosea is not the father. ‘Call his name Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God’ (9). God had said to Israel, ‘You will be my people and I will be your God.’ Now it seems like God is divorcing them.
These people of Israel had many spiritual advantages. God had spoken to their nation. But they did not know him personally. He did not have their hearts. If they don’t come back to him, they will be in serious danger. They will be punished for all their evil, experience a day of judgement when God no longer shows them mercy, and hear him say ‘you don’t belong to me.’
We are all spiritually privileged people. We sit hear listening to God’s Word. Maybe you grew up going to church. You may have been baptised and take communion. But these things can’t put you right with God. If you haven’t let your life be transformed by God’s love, he is speaking to you. He is warning you, because he loves you. You do not want to hear those dreadful words of Jesus, ‘I never knew you!’
If you are sitting her as someone who has experienced God’s life transforming love, then you know that you can never be happy when you are being unfaithful to him. Don’t be too quick to judge the adulterer, because we have often cheated on our heavenly lover. We have known intimacy with him, but we have betrayed that intimacy by fantasising over a naked woman on a screen. We claim that he is our joy, but we have sought our joy through retail therapy. He has shown his love through the cross of Christ, and we have claimed that he does not care for us. If you love him this breaks our hearts as well as his. This godly sorrow leads us to repentance. As we seek his strength and rejoice in his forgiveness we can be freed from regret.
God keeps his wedding ring on for you (1:10-2:1)
Peter and Jean were long-standing members of their church. They seemed to have the perfect marriage. Then Jean had an affair with a work colleague and worked out. Peter was left to raise the kids. Everyone admired Peter for the brave way he held things together. But he was broken. He could be seen at times crying in church. Peter did something unusual: he kept wearing his ring. He didn’t give up on Jean. He never lost hope that she would return. He was always ready to welcome her home. Sadly, she never did come back.
God warns the people of Israel of dreadful judgement if they refuse to come home to him. But he is not ready to give up on them. The book of Hosea thrills us by showing God’s passionate love for this adulterous nation. Despite all Gomer’s cheating, Hosea kept his ring on for her.
Israel had forsaken him, but God will not give up on his promise to Abraham. ‘The number of children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea’. ‘In the place where you are called, “Not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.’ He will show mercy to those who deserve ‘no mercy’ (10).
There will be people who heed his warnings and turn to the ‘one new head’ (11). Ultimately that new head is Jesus. Hosea speaks of another day of Jezreel, a day of bloodshed. There was a day when Jesus spilled his blood to cleanse us from our wickedness, cheating and betrayal. His blood makes us into a pure and spotless bride. His blood goes on cleansing us from all our sin. He heals our wandering heart.
This offer isn’t just for the nation of Israel that Hosea was addressing. This offer is open to all. To people from all sorts of backgrounds who turn to the one new head, God says, ‘once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy’ (1 Peter 1:10).
Sometimes people come to me and tell me that they fear that they have fear that they have let God down too many times for God to accept them back. Others tells me that they fear that they have done something so awful that God would never forgive someone like them (this is something that I have feared too). I hope that, as we study Hosea, you will see that God is more gracious than you have realised. He wants to forgive you. He delights to restore you. He tells you to take him at the word of Jesus, who promised that I will never drive away anyone who comes to me (John 6:37).