Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that the entire world loves a lover. And if he was right that all the world loves a lover, then the best loved book in the entire Bible should be the prophecy of the prophet Hosea. In some ways the story of Hosea differs little from millions of other stories that take place every year in London or New York or Boston or Chicago or Los Angeles or Singapore or Sydney. It's the story of a broken vow, a broken home, a broken heart, a broken life. But in other ways this story is so utterly unique that it ranks as one of the most amazing in all of literature. Now we've ignored this story of Hosea. We've clipped it from our Sunday school lessons and shunned it in our pulpits, but God has chosen the sad sorted story of this broken-hearted prophet to reveal his love and to demonstrate his grace.
The love story begins
The setting for the story of Hosea takes place in the city of Samaria, the capital city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Hosea, a young preacher, is led by God to meet and woo and win a young woman by the name of Gomer. Gomer was part of a soft, easy going life of her time, but Hosea brought much to this marriage. He brought the unsquandered treasure of a young man's purity, for Hosea had never sacrificed upon some wayside altar. And as a result he came to this supreme moment of his life with much to give. I imagine that Gomer must have been swept off her feet by this young man of genius, who had the heart of a hero and the passion of a poet and the zeal of a saint.
Now a preacher's life, like any man's, I guess, is blessed or ruined by the woman that he marries. And so I imagine that when Hosea was told by God to meet and marry Gomer he must have thought she was as pure as the lily of the valley in his favorite love poem, The Song of Solomon. But as the days passed and he grew to know her better, he realized that petals of her purity had already been taken and trampled under the passions of vile and impure men. Yet it was a command from God in verse one of the prophecy that told Hosea to marry Gomer. And so I imagine that the prophet thought, Well, her past wasn't very good, but since God has brought us together, our future will be filled with happiness and delight. But he was wrong.
Perhaps Hosea did not have the time for his pleasure-loving young wife that he should have had, for Hosea was attempting to save a nation. Hosea the prophet realized that the nation of Israel would fall victim to the war machine of Assyria unless it repented of its sin. And so he spent his days and nights calling the people back to God in an all-out effort to avert disaster. But Gomer did not share the heart of her righteous, religious husband. She thought things stupid that he thought serious, and often she pouted that Hosea cared much more for his preaching than he did for her. And so bit by bit Gomer drifted back to the old wild life from which she had come, and day after day Hosea returned home wondering where his wife was. Night after night he lay awake long after it was good for him … waiting for his wife to return. And I'm confident that the prophet must have prayed. I'm confident he must have taken his domestic burden to the Lord.
And one day it seemed God answered the prayer, for Gomer gave birth to a baby. And I imagine as the prophet held that infant in his arms he said, "This is God's doing." This little baby will take one hand and put it around my heart and another hand and put it around Gomer's heart, and he'll draw our lives together. And he called the name of the child, in verse four of chapter one, Jezreel. And the name Jezreel was the name of a city that had played a tragic part in Israel's history. It was in Jezreel that the apostasy under Ahab and his queen Jezebel came to its frightening conclusion. For it was in Jezreel that Jezebel was hurled from the window of her palace and her body was eaten by dogs on the streets of Jezreel. So when Hosea called his son Jezreel he was making the boy, his marriage, his family an object lesson of God's relationship to his people. It would be as though a Jew today would call his son Dachau, the name of one of the horror camps that Hitler used to murder Jews in World War II. That name Dachau would bring back out of the cemetery of memories grim ghosts of a bygone day. So when Hosea called his son Jezreel he was making the boy and his marriage and his family a kind of object lesson of God's relationship to his people. Every time he summoned his son it played. Every time he called "Jezreel" in the marketplace that name sounding in the ear of a pious Jew would be a reminder of the fact that in the past God had dealt with the nation's sin. And then they had a second child, a little girl, and they called her, according to verse six of chapter one, Loruhamah, which means Not Pity. And then after little Loruhamah was weaned they had a third child, a second boy, and they called his name, according to verse nine of chapter one, Loammi, which means in the Hebrew No Kin of Mine.
The love story unravels
Now these three names of Hosea's children—Jezreel and Loruhamah, which means Not Pity, Loammi, means No Kin of Mine—do a couple of things. One, they give us a sketch of the nation Israel until the present hour. But secondly, they give us an insight as to what was taking place in the prophet's family, because the name of this third child Loammi, which means No Kin of Mine, indicates that in bitterness and in brokenheartedness Hosea became possessed with a suspicion that became a damning certainty that these children born into his home were really not his children at all. But even though Gomer was living in adultery Hosea refused to divorce her.
And then one day another blow fell. Gomer left him. You could imagine that Hosea came home and found a note on the nursery door. She told him she was leaving. She was tired of being tied down. She wanted to have her freedom, and she was going out back to the culture. And she wanted him to know that he was not the father and he was not to bring the children. And so you can imagine. You can imagine what happened to the prophet that night. He has to be both a mother and a father to them. He fixes them a bit of supper and hears their childish prayers, tucks them into bed, watches them as they drift off to sleep. But there's no sleep for Hosea. For even though Gomer has left his home, she has not left his heart. You can imagine how the gossip went across the back fences of the community, mouth to ear: "That prophet's wife has left him." "Prophet's wife is gone." Or some folks would say, "Well it serves him right. I mean, he's so busy telling everybody else how to live he couldn't hold his own home together." But there were others who knew Hosea and knew Gomer, knew how she had played him false, who simply shrugged their shoulders and said, "Well, now that she's gone she's better off forgotten."
The love story goes on
But Hosea loved Gomer and he could not forget. And I suspect that when Gomer left Hosea she must have thought she was bettering herself. Undoubtedly she was lured from his side from the whispers of exotic food, exciting clothes, and a dynamic lifestyle. But as it sometimes happens with folk who take that path in life, it seems at first to lead up to the top but has a way of turning and then going down to the bottom. That's what happened in the life of Gomer. After she left Hosea she passed from man to man until she fell into the hands of a man who could not provide for her the basic necessities of life. In all that time Hosea watched from a distance the downward path his wife had taken. And finally when he realized she was living with a man who just could not provide the basics of life for her, he went to the man. "Are you the man that's living with Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim?" "Well, what if I am?" "I'm her husband." Man clenches his fist. He's prepared for a fight. Hosea said, "No, you don't understand. I love my wife, and I wonder if you would do me a favor. I wonder if you would take some of my gold, some of my silver and buy for her the things that she needs." The man stares incredulously at the prophet and then sees the money in his outstretched palm and thinking, "Yeah, there's no fool like this fool," he agrees to the preacher's plan.
But, you say, to be that just doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense that a man is going to pay good silver, good gold, pay to keep a woman who's betrayed him. But you find that, don't you, in 2:5 where Hosea says, "Their mother has been unfaithful and she has conceived these children in disgrace." And she said, 'I'm going to go after my lovers. My lovers who gave me my food, my water, my wool, my linen, my oil, my drink.'" But in verse 9 Hosea laments, "But she has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain and new wine and oil, and I was the one who lavished on her the silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal." And so some place in the shadows we see Hosea. He catches a glimpse of this woman who fills his heart and stands and watches as this lover of hers comes home with the good things that Hosea's money has purchased. He watches as Gomer rises from the hut and throws her arms around this man and thanks him profusely for the things that true love provided and treachery offers and folly accepts.
But if you're tempted to sit in judgment on Gomer, I remind you that that's the way you and I have acted all of our lives. It's from the hand of God that we receive life's rich blessing—food for our table, clothes for our body, and a warm place to live. And yet how easily we can thank everyone and everything except the God who provided them. We can thank our government for its supply. We can thank our family, our friends, the strength of our own right hand—everyone and everything except the God from whom the blessings flow.
You say to me, "Look, does God really love us like that?" And I say to you that everything in the Word and everything in the world testify that God does love you just like that. And we've wanted desperately to have our own way. We've flung away from God in a fit of rebellion. And when we have run from him, we think he is gone, he's out of our lives, we don't have any use for him anymore, there's a tap on our shoulder and we turn and we find he's there, and he says, "I love you. And I want you to know that after you're through with your running, going astray, I'll be here to take you to myself again." You say, "Well, does God really love us like that?" I say to you that everything in the Word and everything in the world testifies that God does indeed love you just like that.
God gives to us metal in the mine. God gives to us trees in the forest. Then the miner with the skill God gave him goes into the earth and digs up the metal, and the woodman with his skill chops down the trees. And then when the metal is mined, the smithy takes that metal and forms it into a spike. When the tree is cut the carpenter comes and forms it into a cross. And when the cross is ready, God comes, and in Jesus Christ he stretches his arms along the arms of that cross and allows soldiers to pound with cruel violence nails into his hands and feet. And he dies there on that cross for you and for me, that we might have the forgiveness of our sins, that we might have eternal life, that we might have heaven forever more. This is even our God, and there is none like unto him.
And yet even though Hosea was paying the keep for Gomer, she did not change. And so in the latter part of chapter two, beginning at verse fourteen, Hosea decides to take his hands off of her life. She has planted the seed. Let her eat the bitter fruit. She had planted the wind. She'll reap the whirlwind. And so he says in verse fourteen of chapter two: "Therefore I am now going to allure. I will lead her into the desert and there in the desert speak tenderly to her. There in that desert I will give her back the vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she will sing as in the days of her youth and in the days she came up out of Egypt."
That word Achor from the Valley of Achor, verse fifteen, simply means the valley of trouble. And Hosea's saying I'm going to lead her out into the wilderness. I'm going to allow her to stumble into the Valley of Achor, and there in that awful, dreadful place I will open to her again the door of salvation and hope. And what God did with the nation Israel God sometimes does with us. Sometimes when we persist in our running and our going astray it's almost as if God took his hands off of our lives and let us suffer and feel the consequences of what we did. We stumble into the Valley of Achor, place of broken dreams and broken hearts and broken lives. But it's often in that dreadful place that God opens to us a door of salvation and hope.
At any rate, that's what happened in the life of Hosea and Gomer. Because when you turn to chapter three you discover that Gomer has sunk lower and lower until she fell into the hands of a man who did not care for her at all. And that man decided he would sell her into slavery. In the ancient world slavery was an established institution. There was hardly a city that did not have some time during the year or many times during the year a place where men and women were bought and sold like animals. Secular historians say that in some of the auctions that when a woman was auctioned she was stripped of her clothes and forced to stand before the gaze of the crowd. It was evidently to such a place that Gomer was taken and to such a place that Hosea was called to go.
You can imagine the scene. Gomer led up to the slave block. And then folks noticed on the edge of the crowd there was Hosea. You can hear the gossip. "Well, he's come to see her get what she deserves. Here to see her get her punishment; be sold into slavery." Then the bidding begins. Someone says, "I'll give you ten pieces of silver for her." Somebody else says, "I'll give you twelve." Hosea says, "I'll give you fifteen." And somebody else said, "Well, I'll give you fifteen pieces of silver and a homer of barley." Hosea said, "I'll give you fifteen pieces and a homer-and-a-half of barley." The gavel sounds, and Hosea pushes forward to buy his wife. But he doesn't buy her to punish her; he buys her to redeem her. That's what he says in 3:2. "So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a half homer of barley. And I told her, 'You are to live with me many days. You must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any other man. And so I will live with you.'" What Hosea is saying is something like this: I have bought you, and now I want you to live with me. I want you to be faithful to me, and I promise you that whether you're faithful to me or not I will be faithful to you.
You say to me, "How could any man do that? I mean, how could any man go before a crowd that knew him and buy his wife to nurse her back to purity? How could anyone do that?" And the answer to that is found in verse one of chapter three in one of the great sentences in the Bible. The Lord said to me, "Hosea, go show your love to your wife again, for she is loved by another, she is an adulteress, but love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, for they turned to other gods and loved the sacred raisin cakes," which were offered on idols altars. And the reason that Hosea was able to love Gomer as he did was that the love of God was shed abroad in his heart, and Hosea is playing the part with Gomer that God has played with you all of your life and that God has played with me.
God's love story never changes
And from this prophecy of Hosea there are just two lessons I'd like to lay before you tonight. The first is for those of you who have come to know God through faith in Jesus Christ. You're Christ followers. And that lesson comes from verse one. The Lord said to me, "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she's loved by another. She's an adulteress. But love her as the Lord loves the Israelites." And then you get it again in verse 3: "You are to live with me many days. You must not be a prostitute or intimate with any other man. And so I will live with you." And what Hosea's saying is, "Look, I've redeemed you. I brought you to myself. And now I ask you to live with me and for me in faithfulness." That is one lesson that comes from this story. And that is that God does not love you because of what you do. God always loves you in spite of what you do. God does not love you because of what you are. He always loves you in spite of what you are. But when you understand how much he loves you, respond to him with love and praise and sacrifice and service. But mark it well. God does not love you because of what you are. God does not love you because of what you do. God always loves you in spite of what you are, in spite of what you do.
That's a hard lesson for us to learn. Many of us bring over from the old life the bookkeeping mentality. The bookkeeping mentality is "I will do certain things and then God will do certain things for me. And so in a way he will reward me." That's heresy. That is not the gospel. That's not the truth of God. God doesn't bless us or reward us because of what we do; it's in spite of what we do. If you decide tonight to give your life to God in some distant place, and if you spent your life there, God would not love you any more than he loves you right now. If you were to give your money to your local church, or a Christian organization, or to someone serving Christ—give it all to them, make that kind of sacrifice—but God would not love you more than he loves you right now. You stand beneath the cross and see Jesus died for you. It is when you understand that love, that grace that you respond in wonder and worship and praise.
When theologians talk about this they talk about grace. And you say to a theologian, "Well, what do you mean about grace?" And they say in their kind of abstract way, "Well, grace is unmerited favor." You know what that means? Grace means that the favor that God bestows upon us is without merit. There's nothing we could do for it. Hear it well. Mark it down. Put it where you put sacred truth. God does not love you because of what you are. God does not love you because of what you do. He loves you in spite of what you are, in spite of what you do. But when that dawns on you, when you realize that unconditional love of God, no strings attached, then you respond with love and worship, praise and service. That's one implication that comes from the prophecy of Hosea.
God's love story never gives up
But there's a second lesson, and that lesson is directed for those of you who have not yet come to put your faith in Jesus Christ. And some of you may still be on the way but you're not there yet. And that lesson also comes from chapter three. You may feel sometimes deserted. You may cry from the depths of your heart, "Where is God? Where is he that I might know him?" And the answer from the book of Hosea is that God isn't lost; you are. That he has pursued you up a hill called Calvary and through the tunnel of an empty tomb and down the labyrinthian ways of life to this place tonight or to wherever you are as you listen. And he pursues you, because he wants so much to make you his own.
Clovis Chappell was a noted preacher of the last century, and he told of a young man who lived here in Chicago who went down to the bluegrass regions of Kentucky where he met and wooed and won a young woman who ultimately he brought back to Chicago as his bride. They enjoyed three lovely years of marriage, and then one day in the midst of a sickness in a seizure of pain the young woman lost her mind. I mean when she was at her best she was a bit demented. At her worst she would scream and neighbors complained because the screams cut the air and it was hard to live with. And so the young businessman left his home in the middle of Chicago, went out to one of the western suburbs, built a house, determined that there he would try to nurse his wife back to health and sanity again. One day the family physician suggested that perhaps if he were to take his wife back to her Kentucky home that something in those familiar surroundings would help her restore her sanity, and so they went back to the old homestead. Hand in hand they walked through the old house where memories hung on every corner. They went down to the garden and walked down by the riverside where the first cowslips and violets were in bloom. But after several days nothing seemed to happen.
So, defeated and discouraged, the young man put his wife back in the car, and they headed back to Chicago. When they got close to the house he looked over and discovered that his wife was asleep. It was the first deep, restful sleep she had had in many weeks. When he got to the house he lifted her from the car, took her inside, placed her on the bed and realized she wanted to sleep some more. So he placed a cover over her and then just sat by her side and watched her through the midnight hour, watched her until the first rays of the sun reached through the curtain and touched her face. The young woman awoke, and she saw her husband seated by her side. She said, "I seem to have been on a long journey. Where have you been?" And that man, speaking out of days and weeks and months of patient waiting and watching said, "My sweetheart, I've been right here waiting for you all this time."
And if you ask me where is God the answer is very much the same. He's right here. Right here speaking to you again. Right here waiting for you to respond with love to love. Waiting for you to respond with trust to promise. Waiting for you to cast yourself with a reckless abandon upon the grace of God, and waiting for you to discover in the depth of your experience what it means to be loved by God according to the love he demonstrated through the prophet Hosea.
Will you bow with me in a moment of prayer? O love that will not let us go, we cast ourselves on you. And with grateful hearts and minds we thank you for the grace of our Lord Jesus. Amen.
Haddon Robinson was a preacher and teacher of preachers all over the world. His last teaching position was as the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.