First Reading Hosea 1:2-10
Second Reading Colossians 1:15-23
Gospel Reading Luke 10:38-42
Sermon: “Unconditional Love”
The book of Hosea contains many things that at first seem right out of a modern day movie or soap opera – love, betrayal, illegitimacy, putting broken pieces back together and ultimately – redemption. The story is set in the covenant relationship between God and Israel. A covenant even stronger and more permanent than the marriage covenant portrayed here since In Marriage we promise “til death do us part” but with God, the promises are eternal. This is not only a beautifully poignant allegory acted out in the prophet’s own life – speaking to the Northern kingdom of Israel, but the story of God’s gracious redemption of us too. As Paul says in Romans 5:6-11: God in the person of Christ Jesus reaches out to us while we are yet in our sin and makes reconciliation possible through his redemption. It speaks to us of the great love of God for his people, even when they act shamefully. It is a love that is not dependent on circumstances, it is Godly, unconditional love. That is not to say, as we shall see, that the relationship can be violated without consequences, but rather that the love of God never fails, even if we do; and God’s objective is always restoration and redemption.
The first three chapters of Hosea act out this story against the background of the idolatry of Israel. Hosea is a contemporary of Amos and Isaiah, apparently prophesying over a 38 year long period leading up to the fall of the Northern Kingdom. It is a time of chaos where 6 kings ruled and only one managed to have his son succeed to the throne. Murderous succession was the norm and the shadow of Assyria hung heavy over the land. Hosea writes about what God has commanded him to do in his own life. This is a living allegory, a story with a larger meaning for the nation, if they could only understand that it was really about them and their God.
We don’t know much about Hosea and Gomer before the story begins, but it is easy to imagine that they knew each other and perhaps even loved each other before Gomer fell into prostitution. The equation of idolatry in worship and adultery in marriage is a common theme in scripture, particularly in Jeremiah for instance . Even in the New Testament, the Church is held up as the Bride of Christ. It sounds shocking for God to tell someone to go marry a prostitute, but that is the position that Israel’s idolatry has put them in with respect to God and that is what God wants Hosea to live out and illustrate to Israel. The object is redemption and God is like that – reaching out to those who have forgotten who they are.
Hosea marries Gomer and she has three children, though apparently only the first one is actually Hosea’s. They are named with harsh names as a sign to Israel. Vernon McGee describes the children and their names this way:
“There were three children—two boys and one girl. Their names, in their meanings, tell the awful story. And there is the larger meaning and message for the nation Israel.
Jezreel was the oldest. His name means “God will scatter, and God will avenge.” The reference, God told Hosea, was directly to the house of Jehu. Although Jehu had carried out God’s instructions to destroy the house of Ahab, he had done it with hatred and great personal vengeance. For this, God says, “I’ll judge. I’ll scatter Israel, but there will be mercy in My judgment.”
The second child was Lo–ruhamah, which means that she never knew a father’s pity. It was not that she was an orphan, but she did not know who her father was. What a scandal in the home of Hosea! God is saying through this circumstance to the people of the northern kingdom who had gone into idolatry, “You will not know My pity, for I am not your Father.”
The third child was Lo–ammi—which means “not my people.” If you put this in the singular, it would mean “not my child.” What a message that was to Hosea’s day! And what a message it is to our own day when some claim that everyone is a child of God. God says they are wrong. He has no illegitimate children. God says, “I know who My children are. Do you think that My children are the offspring of a man–made union? Absolutely not! A person becomes My child only through faith in Jesus Christ.” As we studied in John Wednesday night last week. The Lord Jesus said to the men in His day who claimed to be the sons of Abraham, “Ye are of your father the devil …” (John 8:44, italics mine). They could make no claim of being God’s children.”
With each child name, the application is made to Israel’s condition. We see that for the time, the Southern Kingdom is to be spared. The story of the Southern Kingdom’s salvation at the time of the Northern Kingdom’s fall is recorded in Second Kings chapter 19 and Isaiah chapter 37, where the story of King Hezekiah and Isaiah is told. Yet even here in the midst of sin and heartbreak, the promise of eventual unity and reconciliation is prophesied.
As the story continue past our reading today, God pleads with Israel to repent or face punishment. As the sins of the mother affect the children, so the sins of the nation are to be applied to the people that compose it. And as we go further, we find a sad, verse – we learn that the reason for Gomer’s (and Israel’s) prostitution is money and the love of luxuries.Therefore, God will punish Israel and take away the luxuries in hopes of pushing them to repentance.
Now here is where we need to step back and look at the definition of idolatry. The definition I would offer is ‘anything that attempts to take the place of God in our lives’. Now that is a pretty long list that has nothing to do with carved statues or pagan symbols. Rather it asks where we look for our identity, that is what defines us at our deepest core. Is it child of God or something far less: like profession or political affiliation, where do we look for ultimate security, is it in wealth? force of arms? power and position? or do we seek to place God first and trust God to see us through? I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
As the story goes on, even after all this betrayal, God says “I will allure her and speak softly”. this speaks powerfully of rekindling lost love and forgiveness. Note especially vs 16 of chapter 2, where God says that Israel will call him “my husband” rather than “my lord”. This is the goal of mutual love between God and humanity. God promises blessings to Israel, both Spiritual and material. The harshness signified by the names of Hosea’s children is to be reversed and healed.
As we read on into Chapter 3, The promised reconciliation with Israel is now to be acted out in Hosea’s life. Gomer has left Hosea’s home and returned to her former profession and became a full time prostitute. We might expect God to say to this man, “Hosea, you have done all that you can. You tried to reform the woman, but it didn’t do any good. Let her go and be done with it.” But no! God says, “Go get her and bring her back to your home.” Hosea went after her. She refused to come back. He sent the children to plead with their mother. Still, she would not return. Then, as prostitutes sometimes had to do in those days, she sold herself into slavery. Hosea went to her worldly master and literally bought her and brought her back to the home.
She is literally redeemed for the usual slave fee but must wait in obedience and purity for a time after which Hosea will take her back fully as his wife. The New Testament version of this is easy to see, 1 Peter 1:18-19 NRSV  You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold,  but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. Or Paul’s version in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NRSV  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
Dear friends, what a picture this is of Jesus. He created us and we belong to Him. Yet we were guilty of going from Him and giving our love, our affection, our time, to the things of this world. And while we were yet sinners, He came down to this earth and bought us in our ugly condition that He might make us His legitimate children. What wonderful, unconditional love!
One final word. I know many of you are horribly concerned about current events in the affairs of churches, cities, states and nations, but take this story of Hosea to heart and understand that these larger issues are to be solved the old fashioned way, one heart, one person at a time. Until people change, churches cannot. Until people change, states cannot. Until people change, nations cannot and will not. And always, always God is calling us to return, to recommit to the covenant of his love, and to witness to what God’s love has done for us.