Sunday, March 7, 2021
Hosea and The Mercy of God
The Scriptures describe the relationship between God and his followers in multiple ways.
- God is the Lord Almighty, and so we are his subjects, his servants.
- He is Creator, and we are creatures made in his image.
- And then there is a shocking description: Father and children. One of the astounding truths of the gospel is that God, through the work of his Son, adopts all those who believe in Christ, and so they become sons and daughters of God. This is so personal and so tender.
These are rich and remarkable descriptions, and the they show the many facets of our relationship with God.
But there is at least one more unique description.
- God is the Husband, and his people are like his wife. The gospel says that we are the Bride of Christ.
It is this latter relationship that our text today focuses on.
This morning we are beginning a new sermon series going through some of the prophets in the OT. We are focusing on a group called the Minor Prophets. They are not minor because they are less important but because they’re shorter. The Major Prophets like Isaiah are much longer.
The first Minor Prophet we’ll look at today is Hosea.
The foundational storyline of Hosea’s book is something quite unique and surprising. It has to do with whom Hosea marries.
I am going to read from the CSB version.
1 The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and of Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel.
First, let’s give a quick biographical look at Hosea and some background to the story.
- His ministry was at 30-40 years long, probably from the 750’s to 720’s.
- Hosea was a contemporary with prophets Isaiah and Micah.
- He ministered primarily to the northern kingdom of Israel.
(Israel divided into two nations about 200 years prior during the reign of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam.)
- The northern kingdom had about 20 kings in 200 years, and every single one of them was evil and led the people astray to worship false gods.
200 years of adulterous living toward their God.
- The prophets’ role: spokesmen for God; covenant enforcers. They called Israel to obedience, warned them about rebellion, and gave them hope of salvation. And some of their words pointed to the coming Messiah, Jesus.
We’ll talk more about the covenant in a few minutes.
2 When the Lord first spoke to Hosea, he said this to him: Go and marry a woman of promiscuity, and have children of promiscuity, for the land is committing blatant acts of promiscuity by abandoning the Lord.
3 So he went and married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
This is a stunning story. A story without parallel in biblical history. God commands one of his godly followers to marry….And not marry just anyone, but a woman of ill repute. The Hebrew word can be translated in a variety of ways: Harlot, whore, promiscuous woman, adulterer. You get the idea.
The Lord commands Hosea to do this because Hosea and his wife Gomer are going to be a living illustration to the people of Israel. Hosea, a faithful, godly man, represents the Lord. Gomer, a woman of ill repute, represents the nation of Israel.
[By the way, this story in no way says that women are always the sinner in marriage. Far from it. God is simply using this to illustrate how his own people (men and women) are his bride who has gone astray.]
We’re told nothing about Hosea’s thoughts to all this. But it’s not hard to imagine that this is a woman that Hosea would not have chosen otherwise. We may wonder if Hosea was ridiculed for such a marriage by his own family and townspeople.
Gomer had a reputation before marriage as a loose woman. An immoral woman. And she proved to be an unfaithful wife. An adulterer.
It may be hard for us to grasp the drama here. The emotion. Adultery in marriage is utterly devastating.
Over the years, I have helped counsel a few couples after adultery, and it is one of the more devastating, emotional occurrences in any human relationship. As far as the intensity of emotion and pain from adultery, it may compare only with the pain of the death of a spouse.
So for the Lord to use this word picture of Hosea and Gomer’s relationship reveals the same intensity of emotion that the Lord feels towards his covenant people.
Sometimes we may have difficulty understanding how God views sin. Our sin seems small. God seems small. So we wonder, Is sin really that big of a deal? Does it matter that much to God?
This story of Hosea and Gomer lays a foundation for the rest of the book. The Lord loves his people, but they turn away to another lover.
Israel was unfaithful to God…just like Gomer was to her husband. They broke their covenant relationship with God.
Before going further, I want to give an overview of the covenant that God made with Israel. The covenant was given to Israel through Moses. So we can call it the Mosaic Covenant.
In its simplest form, here’s how I explain the covenant.
- Believe in and obey the Lord, and he will pour out blessing. He longs to bring good.
- Rebel and disobey him, and he will bring curses upon you in judgment, even to the point of exile (casting them out of the land). He is just and holy.
- Eventually if they humble themselves and repent, He will restore them. He is merciful.
This cycle describes most of the OT. It describes Israel’s rejection of God, his judgment on them, God calling them back to himself, Israel repents and walks in love and obedience. Then the cycle repeats over and over and over again in the 1000-year period from Moses until the last prophet, Malachi.
So if we understand the basic components of God’s covenant (contract, promise) to Israel given through Moses, we will understand much of the OT.
This is important: God did not fail in the covenant, but Israel failed to keep the covenant. And this pointed to the need for a better covenant, a new and eternal covenant brought about by the coming of Jesus Christ. It’s called the New Covenant, or the New Testament. Our covenant with God through Jesus is far, far better than the covenant Israel had.
Let’s continue with this dramatic story:
4 Then the Lord said to him: Name him Jezreel, for in a little while I will bring the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu and put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.
5 On that day I will break the bow of Israel in Jezreel Valley.
The Lord chooses the name for Hosea’s son to speak to Israel, warning them of the coming judgment for their sin.
Jezreel was the location of much bloodshed and numerous violent acts in Israel’s history found in 2 Kings. So this is a picture of God’s judgment coming. He graciously warns Israel to repent.
6 She conceived again and gave birth to a daughter, and the Lord said to him: Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel. I will certainly take them away.
7 But I will have compassion on the house of Judah, and I will deliver them by the Lord their God. I will not deliver them by bow, sword, or war, or by horses and cavalry.
Lo-Ruhamah is the Hebrew word for “No Mercy” or No Compassion. What a teaching point to Israel: The Lord named Hosea’s daughter as a message to the nation. Israel should have been awakened by this: The Lord will no longer show compassion and mercy to them because they have been unfaithful to him.
For us to get some specific ideas of Israel’s sin, let’s take a peek at Chapter 4.
1 Hear the word of the Lord, people of Israel, for the Lord has a case against the inhabitants of the land: There is no truth, no faithful love, and no knowledge of God in the land!
2 Cursing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery are rampant; one act of bloodshed follows another.
Now back to Chapter 1:
8 After Gomer had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and gave birth to a son.
9 Then the Lord said: Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people, and I will not be your God.
Lo-Ammi is the Hebrew word for “Not My People.”
Here’s another powerful teaching point to Israel. God named Hosea’s son to tell Israel he was going to cast them out. They would no longer be his people.
So far, Hosea’s book is rather sobering. Even depressing.
But the tone changes radically in the next three verses:
10 Yet the number of the Israelites will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted. And in the place where they were told: You are not my people, they will be called: Sons of the living God.
11 And the Judeans and the Israelites will be gathered together. They will appoint for themselves a single ruler and go up from the land. For the day of Jezreel will be great.
2:1 Call your brothers: My People and your sisters: Compassion.
In the face of all the bad news so far, we get a hint that something will change. The Lord has not given up on Israel forever. He speaks of a coming day when all things will change.
God will take his people from desolation to restoration. From shame to glory. From guilt to forgiveness. From Not My People to Children of the Living God.
So we get this glimpse of good news. Even a hint of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.
But now Chapter 2. The first half of the chapter speaks of God’s judgment. Israel continues to prove to be unfaithful, and the Lord judges her.
Hosea 2:2–13 (CSB)
2 Rebuke your mother; rebuke her. For she is not my wife and I am not her husband. Let her remove the promiscuous look from her face and her adultery from between her breasts.
3 Otherwise, I will strip her naked and expose her as she was on the day of her birth. I will make her like a desert and like a parched land, and I will let her die of thirst.
4 I will have no compassion on her children because they are the children of promiscuity.
5 Yes, their mother is promiscuous; she conceived them and acted shamefully. For she thought, “I will follow my lovers, the men who give me my food and water, my wool and flax, my oil and drink.”
Among human marriages, when there has been adultery, whether the husband or the wife, has strong emotions.
One of those emotions is anger. Justifiable anger, for adultery is a betrayal of the worst kind. It is a breaking of a covenant that should NEVER to be broken as long as the man and woman are alive.
So it is with God. His anger toward Israel, his wayward bride, is completely justified. They have broken the covenant with him.
This is the tone of Chapter 2 through verse 12.
But then in the second half of the chapter, the tone changes, reminiscent of the end of chapter 1.
Though his bride, Israel, has given herself to other lovers, the Lord still wants to woo her back to himself.
14 Therefore, I am going to persuade her, lead her to the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her vineyards back to her and make the Valley of Achor into a gateway of hope. There she will respond as she did in the days of her youth, as in the day she came out of the land of Egypt.
This is surprising. Though Israel has constantly offered themselves up for 200 years like a promiscuous woman and broken the marriage covenant, the Lord desires to extend mercy. He is after repentance. He will restore her to fruitful living.
16 In that day— this is the Lord’s declaration— you will call me, “My husband,” and no longer call me, “My Baal.”
17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth; they will no longer be remembered by their names.
This seems to speak of a future day when a new covenant is made. The Covenant from Moses is not working. The people continually break it. So the Lord will make something new.
18 On that day I will make a covenant for them with the wild animals, the birds of the sky, and the creatures that crawl on the ground. I will shatter bow, sword, and weapons of war in the land and will enable the people to rest securely.
19 I will take you to be my wife forever. I will take you to be my wife in righteousness, justice, love, and compassion.
20 I will take you to be my wife in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord.
What forgiveness and mercy the Lord shows to his wayward bride, Israel.
21 On that day I will respond— this is the Lord’s declaration. I will respond to the sky, and it will respond to the earth.
22 The earth will respond to the grain, the new wine, and the fresh oil, and they will respond to Jezreel.
23 I will sow her in the land for myself, and I will have compassion on Lo-ruhamah; I will say to Lo-ammi: You are my people, and he will say, “You are my God.”
What a turnaround! They will go from “No Mercy” to Mercy. From Not My People to My People.
The remainder of the book builds on this graphic word picture from Hosea’s and Gomer’s marriage. God is completely faithful and loving. He longs to bring good to his wife, the people of Israel. Yet in sharp contrast, they continually reject him. They commit spiritual adultery, betraying their God who brought them out of Egypt and has never failed them in 700 years.
It’s a stunning and grieving contrast.
So what can we take out of this book? I want to offer three lessons for us to take from Hosea.
A significant lesson from not only Hosea but from all of Scriptures is that we must…
- Learn that we are all named Gomer.
Israel became evil like the pagan nations surrounding them. And we become like them, too.
So what we learn from Hosea and elsewhere in Scriptures is that we ought to humble ourselves and admit that we are all spiritual adulterers.
The NT language for it is in Romans 3:
Romans 3:23 ESV All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
In our pride, it’s so easy to judge and condemn others like Gomer and like all of Israel when we read the Bible. “What a bunch of wicked losers!” we can say.
It’s tempting to be proud and critical, looking down on others around us. Our neighbor. Our co-worker. A fellow student.
But the Scriptures are clear, and the Holy Spirit confirms it in us, and even our own conscience testifies, that we all have some Gomer in us.
Typically we tend to grossly overestimate our own goodness, and we grossly underestimate the holiness and power of God.
Jesus warned us of this in Luke 18 in a parable involving a religious leader (a Pharisee) and a tax collector (well-known sinners in those days). The Pharisee in pride prayed, “Lord, thank you I’m not like all these sinners around me.” But the tax collector in humility prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me, for I am a sinner.”
This graphic word picture in Hosea—that of a marriage to an immoral woman—is a vivid portrait throughout every age of the devastating impact sin has toward a relationship with God.
That God himself compares our rejection of him, our sin against him, to adultery in a human marriage, is a stunningly graphic illustration.
We all need new hearts. This is why the New Covenant of Jesus holds out promise to us, the promise of transformation and salvation. God changes our hearts from the inside out.
2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
To be made new, we all must start by humbling ourselves and acknowledging our own sin, that we are more Gomer-ish than we want to admit.
But stopping there is a place of hopelessness and despair. So we must press on to…
- Know how long-suffering God is.
Know his patience. His mercy. Know him and ALL his attributes. Don’t simply know ABOUT him. But seek to know him as a wife would know her husband.
God is long-suffering, and therefore there is hope for us. We ought never think we have sinned so much that we cannot humble ourselves and find mercy again. Israel, though they were like an unfaithful wife, were recipients of God’s patience, and his longing to restore them.
Hosea 2:14 CSB Therefore, I am going to persuade her, lead her to the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.
God woos his people back to himself. How beautiful his love and patience are!
If we don’t read the OT carefully, we may think that God in the OT is always angry. But we are misinformed. God gives his people many chances to repent over many years, even decades. Hosea’s ministry spanned 30-40 years.
The NT also speaks of God’s great love and patience..
Romans 5:8 ESV God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The reason he was willing to send his Son was because he was willing to endure more suffering caused by us, in the hopes that we would believe in his Son and so live.
And Paul offers his own testimony of God’s patience.
1 Timothy 1:16 NIV I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
We certainly don’t want to test God’s patience. This is grieving and simply foolish and profits us nothing. But when we are weighed down by guilt and wonder if the Lord is done with us, remember Hosea’s words. Remember Paul’s words.
How do we learn how long-suffering—how patient—the Lord is? Simply read the OT. Read Genesis. Read Numbers. Read Kings. Read Hosea. Read the Apostle Paul’s words. And when you read, pray for understanding deep in your heart. To understand his immense patience and his great love. And if you have a good commentary or a Bible handbook, you can get a sense of time. How many years God put up with Israel.
God is not required to be long-suffering. Justice would call him to bring punishment on the first sin, and to wipe us out.
But his mercy and his deep love hold him back for a while in the hopes that we will repent and so live.
Hosea teaches us press on to know the Lord, how long-suffering and merciful he is.
The story of Hosea should…
- Compel us to joyful submission to God.
In Hosea, we find that God simply wanted to bring truckloads of blessing down on his people.
If they would simply submit to and trust in the Lord, they would find blessing and rest and fruitfulness.
By contrast, fighting against God, resisting him…would lead to futility and exhaustion and death.
We are like that: We fight to hold on to our sin. We fight in our grumbling over our trials. We fight even in our guilt over sin, refusing to yield to his grace and forgiveness.
Read God’s gracious words here:
Hosea 14:1–5 CSB Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Take words of repentance with you and return to the Lord. Say to him, “Forgive all our iniquity and accept what is good, so that we may repay you with praise from our lips… I will heal their apostasy; I will freely love them, for my anger will have turned from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like the lily and take root like the cedars of Lebanon.
Yielding to his will brings life and peace. And a fruitful life, like a blossoming flower which we will see many of in just a few weeks as we enter into Spring.
This reminds me of something Jesus said:
Matthew 11:28–30 ESV Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We are burdened by many things, including our sin. Jesus invites us to come to him and draw near to him.
May we yoke ourselves to the Lord, submit to him, and pull with him in this yoke. We will learn from him. For he is gentle and humble in heart. He is a place of soulful rest.
A couple of weeks ago, I was discontent in my trials. I was grumbling. I wanted out. I wanted my suffering to end.
So I found myself thinking about and even praying like the Lord Jesus did in the Garden hours before his crucifixion.
“Lord, if possible, take this cup of suffering from me.”
But I also found myself NOT wanting to finish Jesus’ prayer: “Yet not what I will but what you will.” I was resisting God’s will. I wanted life MY way and no other way. I am slowly learning, though, that resisting God’s will and God’s way is not the place of forgiveness and peace and rest. Yielding to him is. Submitting joyfully to him is.
Hosea’s appeal to his wife reflects the heart of God: Come to me, the Lord says. Come back to me. I will heal you. I will set you free. I will make your life fruitful like a blossoming flower.
So let me ask us all:
Is there something you are fighting God over?
Is there a sin you are hanging on to?
Is there guilt from sin you simply can’t or won’t find peace from?
Take heed from the words of Hosea and Jesus. Joyfully submit to our God. Seek after knowing him. Therein is a place of mercy and grace.
What a book this is. This stunning, real-life word picture. Hosea was willing for Israel’s sake and for our sake to take on this difficult situation. Through this, God gives us a glimpse of our own hearts and God’s heart.
Let me finish with these words:
Hosea 6:1–3 CSB Come, let’s return to the Lord. For he has torn us, and he will heal us; he has wounded us, and he will bind up our wounds. 2 He will revive us after two days, and on the third day he will raise us up so we can live in his presence. 3 Let’s strive to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land.
May we press on to know him as he truly is. And we will find he is like a spring rain, watering the land.