In the time that I have been away with my family this summer I have spent a lot of my time reading the Minor Prophets. Calling these twelve men, used by God in such a powerful way, “minor,” is a misnomer to say the least. Amos, Joel, Habakkuk, Zechariah, Malachi and the rest are “Big Daddy Prophets” to say the least. As we take a look at Hosea this morning you will begin to understand how these twelve men are giants of the faith.
As I read through the last twelve books of the Old Testament I found myself stopping with each one and saying, “This is the one. This is the next book that we are going to study in morning worship.” Well, needless to say, we aren’t going to study all twelve of the Minor Prophets in depth. Eventually we will take a longer look at the prophet Amos, but before we get to Amos, I want us to take each of the eleven remaining Minor Prophets and try to hit the highpoint of each prophet’s message so that we might see what we can learn. I hope you will join me for the next eleven weeks as we study the messages of these bold men of God.
Our very first study will surely challenge some of you who have been taught that the God of the Old Testament is a “God of wrath” while the God of the New Testament is a “God of love and forgiveness.” There is no more beautiful picture of the love, compassion, and mercy of God than what we will find in this book.
Others of you who believe that God is purely logical and rational will be challenged as well. Let me give you a few examples of what I am talking about. Throughout history God has called His people to do some strange things. He called Moses through a burning bush and then later told Moses to stand at the edge of the Red Sea and hold up his staff so that the waters would part. You think that is strange? I’m just getting started. Try these on for size…
• God told Ezekiel to lay on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for 40 more days to represent the number of years Israel and Judah would be punished. (Ezekiel 4:4-7)
• God called Jeremiah to make a yoke, the kind worn by oxen as they plowed a field together, and then put it on his own neck. Jeremiah wore the yoke to illustrate to the people of God that things were going to get even worse for them because of their disobedience. (Jeremiah 27:1-2)
• In Isaiah 20, God told Isaiah to walk around naked for three years. Isaiah’s nakedness was a sign of the terrible troubles that God was going to bring on Egypt and Ethiopia, or the Cushites. It also served as a warning to King Hezekiah of what could happen to the people of Judah as well.
I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that if, when you walked into church this morning, I was strolling down the aisles naked you would think I had lost my mind. Don’t you know the people who saw Isaiah walking around in his birthday suit must have thought the same thing? I’ve heard of lots of church growth ideas through the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone who has tried this one. Can’t say I would recommend it either.
Well, in our study for this morning we find God giving His prophet, Hosea, some strange marching orders as well. As you begin reading Hosea you immediately run into Hosea’s predicament. Read along with me from Hosea 1:2-3.
2 When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.” 3 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. (Hosea 1:2-3 NIV)
That’s quite an introduction isn’t it? Hosea doesn’t tell us much about himself because the focal point of the story is not so much Hosea and Gomer as it is God and His people. Before we get to that I want to give us some background as to what was going on at the time that Hosea was called by God to speak to the nation.
We can get an idea of about when Hosea’s ministry took place by reading Hosea 1:1. Read along with me.
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 during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel: (Hosea 1:1 NIV)
The United Kingdom of Israel was no more—the nation was divided in two with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Hosea tells us that he began to prophecy when Jeroboam, the son of Jehoash, that would be Jeroboam II, was king of Israel. Jeroboam II reigned as king over Israel from 793-753 B.C. That’s 41 years (2 Kings 14:23-29). It was a long period of stability, expansion, and prosperity for the nation. Under Jeroboam II the nation expanded its borders and surrounding nations paid tribute to the powerful Israel. Prosperity came rushing in like floodwaters.
Many believe that Hosea came to be a prophet to Israel about 760 B.C.—less than ten years before Jeroboam II died. Hosea served as prophet for almost forty years, until just before the nation was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.
When Hosea stepped onto the scene during the final decade of Jeroboam II reign, nobody paid him any attention. Happy days were being experienced by the upper crust of the Israelites. Money was plentiful, Israel had become the “big man on campus” to all of her former enemies, and arrogance and extravagance ruled the day.
There was something else going on in the nation as well. Something that God was acutely aware of, but that the people didn’t give any thought to. The people had turned away from God. It was this turning away that caused God to send His messengers to His people to urge them to turn back. Dr. Richard Strauss, in his sermon, Undying Love—The Story of Hosea and Gomer, writes,
As is often the case, with prosperity came moral and spiritual degeneration. Secularism and materialism captured the hearts of the people and sin ran rampant. The list reads like twentieth-century America: swearing, lying, killing, stealing, adultery, drunkenness, perversion, perjury, deceit, and oppression, to name but a few. But the thing that grieved the heart of God more than anything else was the sin of idolatry (Hos. 4:12, 13; 13:2). The golden calves set up by Jeroboam I about 150 years earlier had opened the floodgates to every evil expression of Canaanite idolatry, including drunkenness, religious prostitution and human sacrifice. (Richard Strauss, Undying Love—The Story of Hosea and Gomer. http://alturl.com/3hat3)
Hosea was told to take an adulterous wife as a real life example of what God’s people had done in their relationship with Him. This is made clear from our reading of Hosea 1:2-3. We read in verse 3 that after Hosea married Gomer she “conceived and bore him a child.” Gomer has two additional children, but there is no hint that these two kids were fathered by Hosea. God instructs Hosea to name the children. The first was named, “Jezreel,” which means, “scattered.” It was a clear sign of judgment for the people of God. Hosea was prophesying in the years just before the mighty, powerful nation of Judah would fall in 722 B.C. The second child, a daughter, was to be named, “Lo-Ruhamah,” which means, “not loved” or “not pitied.” When the time of judgment came God would have no pity on His people. The third child, a second son, was to be named, “Lo-Ammi,” which means, “not my people.” There is no indication that the second and third children born to Gomer were fathered by Hosea.
Things went from bad to worse for Hosea. Gomer didn’t have a change of heart after the birth of her children. She didn’t come to her senses, repent of her sin, and ask for Hosea’s forgiveness. As a matter of fact, she did just the opposite. In Hosea 2:5 we read,
5 Their mother is a shameless prostitute and became pregnant in a shameful way. She said, ‘I’ll run after other lovers and sell myself to them for food and water, for clothing of wool and linen, and for olive oil and drinks.’ (Hosea 2:5 NLT)
Can you imagine how devastating it must have been to Hosea? Sure God called him to marry an adulterous woman, but that wouldn’t have diminished the pain and agony of Hosea’s heart in the least. Just think about the difficult times that you have been through in life. God may have given you insight so that you knew that He was leading you through the storm, but did that make it enjoyable or somehow shield you from the pain of the experience? I don’t think so.
God is not giving Gomer a pass for her behavior. In Hosea 2 we read that she will be punished for what she is doing, for her adultery. God says,
13 I will punish her for all those times when she burned incense to her images of Baal, when she put on her earrings and jewels and went out to look for her lovers but forgot all about me,” says the LORD. 14 “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. (Hosea 2:13-14 NLT)
There’s a great lesson for you and me right here if we will only have ears to hear. God is going to punish Gomer, He is going to discipline her for her ungodly behavior, but the punishment is not intended to destroy her, it is meant to draw her back into His arms.
When we come to Hosea 3 we find Gomer in a bad shape. Evidently she has in fact been sold as a slave. There were reasons in the ancient world why a person was sold as a slave. One of the reasons was because of military conquest. When the conquering army captured a city they took some of its citizens as slaves. Another reason a person became a slave was by birth. You were born into a slave family and so you became a slave as well. Thirdly, you could be sold as a slave because of debt. Well, we know that Gomer wasn’t on the auction block because of her birth or because of conquest. We don’t know exactly why Gomer was sold into slavery, but Dr. James Montgomery Boice, in his commentary on Hosea, gives us some insight into what the actual auctioning process looked like when he writes,
There is a Greek play in which a fat man is put up for sale. The bids are starting, and the men who are buying bid: ‘Ten cents!’ ‘Fifteen cents!’ ‘Twenty cents!’ They begin to joke with one another. One man says, ‘Why do you bid twenty cents for that fat slave? As soon as he gets in your house he’s going to eat up all your food.’ The man who bid twenty cents justifies his bid, saying, ‘You don’t understand. I’ve got a squeaky mill; I’m going to cut him up and use him for grease.’ At last a beautiful woman is put up for sale. Her clothes are taken off, and now the bidding is not ‘Ten cents…twenty cents.’ It is: ‘A hundred dollars…a hundred and twenty dollars!’ The men are bidding for the body of the female slave. (James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: Volume 1. Baker Books. pg. 34-35.)
The slave market was dehumanizing. The slave market was ungodly. The slave market was filled with the stench of sin. God calls Gomer’s husband to go to the slave market and buy back his unfaithful wife. In Hosea 3:1-3 we read,
1 The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.” (Hosea 3:1-3 NIV)
I want you to visualize something with me just for a moment. Close your eyes and see the slave market before you. Men, women, boys, and girls on the auction block—stripped not only of their clothes, but their dignity and humanity. These are people created in the image of God and yet they are being sold as slaves. Some, like Gomer, have made some really bad decisions that have led them to the auction block. Others simply because of their birth find themselves being sold like a bushel of wheat or barley. Those who are doing the buying make snide remarks, sexually explicit remarks, and there in their midst is the husband of the woman who is standing naked before the crowd. Hosea has to listen to all that is being said. Gomer is not a sex object to Hosea; she is his wife, the mother of his child, and the hammer that has broken his heart. God said, “Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…” Hosea begins to bid and he won’t stop until he wins her back no matter how much it costs him. Finally the auctioneer cries out, “Sold! Fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel and a half of barley.” Hosea goes to Gomer, helps her get dressed, and walks with her through the crowd as they make their way home.
I have to tell you something. Hosea was the first book that I read while I was on my sabbatical. I’d read it before, but as I read it again I really read it. I stopped. I saw Hosea in the marketplace watching his bride stripped naked before they led her out before the ungodly men who whistled, “oohed and ahhed,” and make comments as she was brought out onto the auction block. I thought about my own wedding day and the hopes and dreams I had for Connie and me as we exchanged our vows. Doesn’t every groom have those same hopes and dreams for himself and his bride? Surely Hosea wanted the same things even though it wouldn’t be possible. God had told him to marry an adulterous woman, but I don’t think Hosea had any idea of the heartache that would follow.
Broken, humiliated, shattered, and spurned Hosea went to the marketplace and he redeemed his bride. Is that the way God loves? You better believe it is! We have each and every one of us turned away from the Father and sold ourselves to another. For some of us we are like Gomer. We’ve sought to fill our emptiness with the love of another only to find out that we’ve been used and not loved. Others have tried to find fulfillment in the marketplace by acquiring power and prominence and prestige. Making a name for ourselves isn’t the same as finding fulfillment in life. Others have tried to form alliances with powerful people around them instead of aligning themselves with the Father’s will and trusting in His plan. I could go on and on with scenarios, but the end result is always the same.
I need to tell you that you may have abandoned God, but He has not abandoned you. He has searched you out. He has made His way to the marketplace, to the place where you’ve been stripped naked in more ways than one, and He has come to take you home, to buy you back, to redeem you my friend.
Once we get past Hosea 3 we don’t hear any more about Gomer and Hosea. The attention turns to God and His “wife,” Israel. It is a sordid tale. The nation was thriving militarily and economically, but it was rotting from the inside out because of its dismissal of God and its “adultery” with idolatry. There is a very telling verse in Hosea 4:6. The NIV, NAS, and most other translations say, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” This really doesn’t tell the whole story because the truth is that the nation is teetering on the verge of collapse because of a lack of a specific kind of knowledge. That is why I like the New Living Translation of this verse so much. It says,
6 My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me. (Hosea 4:6 NLT)
Oh, how they have forgotten! Oh, how we so easily forget. Who was it that had blessed Israel? Who was it that had “purchased” a group of slaves from the Egyptians and set them up in a land all their own? Who was it that had provided for them at every turn? That was back then. Back before prosperity had captured the minds and turned the hearts, back before Israel was a military power, back when they knew they were weak and poor, and if God didn’t provide in every respect they would be doomed.
When Hosea stepped on to the scene things had changed. The people no longer saw themselves as weak, they certainly weren’t poor, and they were occupied with their extravagance and indulgent lifestyles. They had forgotten God.
In Hosea 11, we have one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching chapters in the whole Bible. Listen to the Lord describe His relationship with His people.
1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. 3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. 4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. 5 “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? 6 Swords will flash in their cities, will destroy the bars of their gates and put an end to their plans. 7 My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, he will by no means exalt them. 8 “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. 9 I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man– the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. 10 They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. 11 They will come trembling like birds from Egypt, like doves from Assyria. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the LORD. 12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, the house of Israel with deceit. And Judah is unruly against God, even against the faithful Holy One. (Hosea 11:1-12 NIV)
I wish we had time to let each of us take our Bibles and reread that chapter and then meditate on the mercy, provision, grace, and love of God for His people. I wish we had time to contemplate our own waywardness. I can say without hesitation that God has provided for you and me with equal measure to His provision for the Israelites.
God has provided for you and me throughout our lives. Before we were ever even aware of His existence—He was there. He has been leading you and me throughout our life with cords of kindness, with ties of love. What has been our response? Well, I don’t think it is any different than the response of the Israelites. In verse 7, God said, “My people are determined to turn from me.”
If you and I were simply presented with the facts of Hosea and Gomer’s marital mess, who of us would counsel Hosea to hang in there? Who would tell Hosea to stay the course and keep loving her? I’m certain that most of us, if not the vast majority of us, would tell Hosea to cut his losses and move on down the road. Hosea didn’t turn away; he didn’t unleash his fury on his wayward wife because he was to love her like God loves His people. Read with me once again from Hosea 11:9-10.
9 No, I will not unleash my fierce anger. I will not completely destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy. 10 For someday the people will follow me. I, the LORD, will roar like a lion. And when I roar, my people will return trembling from the west. (Hosea 11:9-10 NLT)
If you do not learn but one lesson this morning let this be it: God is not like you and me. He has demonstrated His love for us time and time again, most clearly through the life, death, and glorious resurrection of His Son Jesus. Though we may be bent on turning away, His desire is to turn us back into His arms of mercy and grace. He will use any means necessary, just like He did in the lives of His people before us, to turn us away from that which will destroy us. His discipline is not to destroy, but to save.
There are so many things being said about God today in our country, but let me say something about us—we are being destroyed because we do not know the Lord. I want to urge you today to make your highest aim in life to know Him. The first step in knowing God is to surrender our lives to His Son. Nothing can happen in your life until that happens. Like Hosea of long ago who redeemed, bought back his wayward wife, Jesus came to redeem you and me, to buy us out of slavery and set us free to serve Him all the days of our lives. Won’t you invite Him into your heart this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 15, 2010