My name is Hosea. My profession is prophet of the Lord Jehovah. My prophetic ministry took place in the northern kingdom of Israel between 750 and 725 B.C. I have been summoned by some of your contemporaries who are part of the apostolic tradition to share with you brief excerpts from my biography.
I was making my way back home from one of my many prophetic crusades when, as I descended from the heights of Mount Tabor, suddenly I was apprehended by a strange and invisible presence. This presence was so mysterious that I was at once both terrified and fascinated. Although rare, this experience was not new to me. Having been there before, I knew I was in the presence of the Eternal. His voice came to me as it were riding the crest of the wind, and he said to me, "Hosea, I must speak to you concerning the infidelity of my people. You remember our contractual agreement: that Israel would be my people and that I would be her God. But now, Hosea, she has fractured our friendship, she has ruptured our relationship, and she has allowed strange gods to encroach upon my private domain. Because of her apostasy, idolatry, and immorality, her goodness is as the morning dew. It had faded away."
As God spoke to me that day at the foot of Mount Tabor, I didn't say very much. What does one say when God is talking? He took me—I don't know whether in the body or out of the body. I was somehow there and yet not there. He took me on a historical voyage and allowed me to see time and time again where Israel had flagrantly pursued other gods. His voice was the voice of a man who had experienced excruciating pain; pain only known to those who have had their love rejected. I prepared myself to hear the worst. Listening to the tenor and the tone of his discussion, I just knew God was about to say to me, "Hosea, I am going to so thoroughly wipe Judah from the face of the earth that not even her memory will be recorded in the annals of history." That's what I prepared myself to hear.
But to my utter amazement, do you know what he said to me? He said, "Hosea, I will save Judah not by bow nor by battle, not by horseman nor by sword, but I will save her by the power of my love."
I said to him, "God, now I'm really glad to hear all of this, and I'm sure the people of Judah are glad to hear this, but what does all of this have to do with me?"
He said, "I'm glad you asked. Hosea, I want you to get married. I want you to be my liaison. I want you to be my go-between. I want you to be my living allegory. I want you to be my living dramatization.
"But Hosea, before you represent me, there are some things we need to talk about. I listened in to your last crusade. You were knowledgeable, and you were eloquent in Scripture, but there were some things that were missing, Hosea. As I listened to you, it was obvious to me that you have not yet fully comprehended my cosmopolitan concept of salvation. You do not yet understand the height, the depth, the width, and the breadth of my love. You don't understand how relentless I am in my concern for humanity. Hosea, you are still too parochial: You are still hemmed in by customs and cribbed by your habits. In order to get you ready to represent me, I must send you through the crucible of domestic difficulty."
"Married," I said, "that's not so bad. Especially when you have an omni-competent God personally selecting the bride. That's not so bad. You want me to get married? God, it's interesting that you would bring that subject up, because just the other day I had a conversation with myself and I said to myself, 'Prophet, it's time for you to take on a wife.' And the other interesting thing, God, is that I've had my eye on this one young lady. She would make a great prophet's wife, I know she would. I haven't spoken with her father about her hand as of yet, but she will make a great prophet's wife. I know she comes out of a prophet's family. She comes to all my crusades; she helps me to pass out Ten Commandment tracts. She will make a great prophet's wife."
God said to me, "Hosea, I know the girl that you speak of, and you are right: She will make somebody a great wife. But Hosea, she is not the one I have in mind. The girl I have in mind does not come out of a prophet's family; she's not out of an orthodox Jewish family. In fact, Hosea, she is a pagan prostitute, and I want you to marry her. That's what I said—I want you to marry her."
Can you imagine the internal conflicting impulses that were crawling underneath my skin? Can I tell you how it made me feel that I served Jehovah all of this time, and now he asks me to do something I thought I could not do? He asked me to marry a pagan prostitute. After a while, I said to him, "No, no, no. I will not embarrass my religion; I will not commit this infamous act against the people of Judah. I will not put the prophetic fraternity shame. I'd rather die. There are some things you ought to die for: to die with dignity rather than live in disgrace."
I said no. When I said no, I prepared myself to die. I stood up erect, and I got ready to die. Come on, death, let's get it over with. I knew the danger of talking to God like that, and I just knew that at any moment, death was about to run over me, to smell the properties of my body. So I stood there at Mount Tabor and got ready to die.
And after I had been standing more than an hour and nothing had happened, I opened one eye to see if I could see death charging, riding its pale horse. I didn't see death, and I didn't see God, so I prepared to slip away from the mountain.
God said, "The woman's name is Gomer."
I said, "Gomer? Who wants to marry somebody with a name like Gomer? Can't you give her some other name?"
He said, "Her name is Gomer, and I want you to marry her."
I said, "Lord, please … maybe I will, God, but can't you just give me some reasons? What am I going to tell my family? What am I going to tell the prophetic community? What am I going to tell the people of Judah? I can hear them saying, 'Yeah, right, God told you to marry her.' Can't you just give me some reasons, Lord?
"By the way, didn't you tell us that anything that we do should be done to the glory of God? What glory will you get out of this? What glory will you get when the prophet marries the prostitute? What glory will you get when piety is allied with promiscuity? What glory will you get when there is a coupling between the wretchedness and righteousness? What glory will you get when the devilish is allied with the divine? What glory will you get when there is an inner core between the secular and the sacred? What glory will you get when there is a confluence between the terrestrial and the celestial? What glory will you get?"
And it was right there that God taught me an invaluable lesson. He said to me, "Hosea, when I called you to be a prophet, I told you then that in our partnership I am the senior partner, and as senior partner, I reserve the right to make some decisions without your approval. Hosea, I don't always give a pre-flight itinerary on where I'm going. Sometimes I just say, 'Follow me,' and for you, it becomes a matter of faith: not faith in how reasonable my request is, not faith in how practical or pragmatic I am, not faith in how much sense I make, but for you, it's a matter of whether you can trust my heart when you cannot trace my hand. It's a matter of faith, Hosea. And by the way, I will not subject divine wisdom to the short-sighted scrutiny of human understanding. You make your decision, and then we'll talk."
I said, "All right, God." As I found myself in the path of obedience, only then did God begin to shed light on my understanding. As I walked toward the temple, he said to me, "Hosea, let me tell you what this is about. Don't stop—keep going."
I said, "Yes, what is it about?"
He said, "I wanted you in this seemingly incompatible partnership of the prophet and the prostitute so I could dramatize to all humanity that God loves the unlovely. I want you to marry her so I can tell the collective Gomers of history—the male and the female Gomers—that you can break God's heart but you can't break his love. Tell them no man or woman can fall so low that they fall outside of the hand-reach of God. I've selected one of the most heinous and repugnant things I can imagine to tell them that in spite of their unloveliness, God still loves them."
Loving and forgiving
I'm glad God loved my wife. Some of those synagogue folk, like some of you, were pretty hard on Gomer. Every time they saw her coming down the road, they would say something like, "There goes … "—well, you know what they called her.
It's been a few centuries now, but I still get a lot of joy when I think about how that woman tried. Oh, she tried. She came home shortly after we were married and said, "Look, Hosea." She had been shopping, and she came in with a lot of bags and said, "Look, look, I changed my whole style."
She tried. She got some new dresses with longer hems. She tried. She changed the rouge and lipstick. She changed. The time she went down to the village mill, she said, "I can't run with my old friends anymore; I'm a prophet's wife now."
She tried. But she was caught between an awful pull and a terrible push. Underneath her skin, she was dealing with the pull of the wiles of her old world. She was pulled by her old habits and old customs.
I think I had something to do with that, because that day I met her at the temple, I said to her, "Listen, God told me to marry you, but you're going to have to change your ways. You must make an absolute commitment to me." I made her make a commitment to me, but I never helped her make a commitment to God. When times got tough, her commitment to me was not strong enough. There was a pull. Finally, she was pulled back to her way, but that was also a push. Some of those old synagogue folk, with their self-righteousness and piety, would never let her forget what she used to be. They would always remind her of where she came from and what she used to do. One day, she came home and said, "Hosea, if that's what your religion is all about, I don't want it." And they pushed her and pushed her.
Well, I remember when it started happening. The first time it happened, she stayed out all night. The next time it happened, she was gone three days. The last time it happened, she just didn't come back. She had been gone about a year, and I had raised our children alone. Finally, I had as much of it as I could stand. I decided to go back up to Mount Tabor. I wanted to tell God, "I told you she would do this."
When I get up to Mount Tabor, God was waiting on me. I wanted to get mine in first. I said, "God, I'm—"
He said, "No, hush, sit down. Where is Gomer?"
I said, "Where is Gomer? You're God, you ought to know where she is. I don't know where she is."
He said, "I need to ask you something, Hosea. How do you feel about her?"
"How do I feel about Gomer?"
"Yes, how do you feel about her?"
"That woman who insulted me, who embarrassed me?"
"Who made me the laughingstock of the prophetic fraternity?"
"Yes, she's the one, yes. How do you feel about her?"
"God, is there anybody else out here but us?"
"I don't want anyone else to hear this, but I still love her."
He said, "Hosea, that's good. Now you are ready to represent me. You get off this mountain and you go tell Israel that God said, 'If my people who are called by my name shall humble themselves, seek my face, and pray, then will they hear from heaven and I will heal their land.' Tell them, tell them, tell them, tell them."
You should have seen me running off that mountain. I was running and falling and sliding and rolling. Finally, I hit the ground, and when I got ready to take off, God said, "And one more thing, Hosea."
I said, "What now, God?"
He said, "Just so you can have the record straight: Not only did I want you to marry her and dramatize that God loves the unlovely, but I want you to marry her because I want to teach the forgiven how to forgive."
"Well, what do you mean by that?"
"You're already a part of my family, Hosea; you've been forgiven. When I called you to be my prophet, you were already in the forgiven crowd, but I had to teach you how to forgive like you've been forgiven."
See, I can understand why a prostitute needed a prophet, why the wretched needed righteousness—but I didn't understand why piety needed to rub up with promiscuity, of all things. He said to me, "Hosea, you have a form of righteousness, but it is really a self-righteousness, and you don't know what's really in you until you come in contact with that which is unlike you. Then the real you comes out."
In my culture, we believe in 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' and I had a kind of love-hate relationship with her. I loved her but I hated her; I resented her although I cared for her. I hated her from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet, and I wanted to get back at her because of what she had done to me.
The Lord said, "I know, but I want you to forgive her. Haven't you realized yet that law without love is legalism? Hosea, I wanted you to marry Gomer to teach you that just like I've forgiven you, you have to forgive those who trespass against you."
That was a hard lesson and a hard pill to swallow. But I want to say to those of you who are in this century: Some of you claim that you love God, whom you've never seen, but you hate your brother whom you see every day. Your God said, "That's a lie. You've got to love even the unlovely, and you have to forgive even those who have wronged you, because it's difficult to do right when you've been done wrong."
Well, I've got to go. My furlough was just for an hour; I've got to get back. But before I get back, let me tell you the conclusion of my story.
One day I was out in the field pulling corn, and my children were up there in the tent, and I heard this voice way in the distance. I looked down the row of corn and someone was standing up there by my tent. I could hear him saying, "Hosea, Hosea."
I put a knot in my sack and put it over my shoulder. I began to elbow my way through those stalks of corn. When I got there, it was one of the men of Judah. He said, "Hosea, I don't know what you plan to do about it, but I thought you should know. I just left the marketplace and your wife of many years is on the auction block, being sold as a common slave. I thought I'd tell you. It's up to you what you want to do about it."
I went into my tent and got on my knees. I asked God, "God, what do I do now?"
He said, "I thought you said you love her."
I said, "I do."
He said, "Well, you've got to go on your way. Go and get her. Bring her back."
I put on my prophetic regalia and began to make my way through the streets of Judah. That fellow who told me must have told everybody, because on every corner there was a little crowd that had gathered. They were whispering as I walked by. I overheard one crowd saying, "There goes Hosea; he's on his way to have the last laugh." Another crowd said, "There goes Hosea; he's on his way to shake his vindictive finger in the face of his unfaithful wife." But they didn't know what was in my heart.
As I made my way around the corner, I heard the voice of the auctioneer saying, "We have a woman here—her name is Gomer, and her profession is a prostitute. Anybody willing to pay the price?" I had to suffer the indignity of hearing all the men bid on my wife. I heard one man say five shekels; another said six. I got in the bidding wars at seven. Another man said eight, one other said nine, I said ten.
It kept on going. One said 11, another said 12, I said 13. Another said 14. I didn't have much left. I said 15 shekels. The auctioneer said, "Sold to the highest bidder."
I helped her down from that auction block as she stood there naked, without any dignity. I took off my robe and put it around her. As we walked away, I saw her drag behind and fall down on her face.
I said, "What are you doing?"
She said, "Oh, Hosea, I am so grateful. I've done so wrong, and I'm so sorry. I know you may never want me as a wife again. Just let me be your slave the rest of my life."
I said, "Get up—I don't need a slave. What I need is a wife. My children don't need a slave; what they need is a mother. What I need is for you to love me and let me love you."
If you think my story is something, my story was only to get you ready to hear about the real story. That really brings me to what I want to preach about. Because the real love story started back in the beginning, when God walked out and said, "Let us make man"—and man sinned. Justice stepped up and said, "Let the wages of sin be death." Jesus said, "Yes, let the wages of sin be death, but let the gift of God be eternal life, and I'll be that gift. Justice, you go down on Calvary and wait for me, and I'll be there after a while." He took a long time, and Justice thought Jesus wasn't coming. He stood up one day to slay a man. Ezekiel said, "Wait a minute, I see him; here he comes. He looks like a wheel in the middle of a wheel." Job said, "Hold on, Justice; here he comes. He looks like a horse pawing in a valley." Amos said, "There he is—he looks like a plumb line." Daniel said he looked like a rock.
Hold on, Justice; he's coming. And one Friday evening, there he is, coming up Calvary, the cross on his shoulder. They stripped him of his clothes and put him on that cross, dropped him low and hung him high. He gave his hands to the nails, gave his feet to the rivets, gave his side to the spear, gave the brow to the thorns, gave his mother to John, and gave his back to the splinters. He gave his spirit to his Father and said, "It is finished." He dropped his head on his shoulder, gave up the ghost. They took him down and put him in a borrowed tomb, but he didn't stay there.
Early Sunday morning, he got up, with all power in his hands, and because of his move to get up Sunday morning, the good news for you is that you too can rise up in Jesus Christ. My story was just to get you ready to hear about the real love story. If you're going to preach to a pagan world, tell them about my story: that God loves the unlovely. Tell them about the story of Jesus—the one who died, was buried, was raised on the third day for an unlovely people.