"Hosea & Gomer: Living Picture of God's Lovingkindness"

July 16, 2006 Hosea 1:2-11Love - Romantic or Real?

Well, it's midsummer and wedding season is upon us. The sound of the wedding march fills the air; happy couples pose for pictures in front of beautiful flower gardens; and at showers and receptions, those of us who are already married are asked to share words of wisdom with the newlyweds. But how can you express in a few words what's needed to prepare two very different people for a lifetime process of becoming one? How can you sum up what real love is supposed to be about? What's needed to equip them to get past the infatuation stage, when they're young and beautiful or handsome, and nudge them into the staying power of true unconditional love that hangs in there when the going gets tough?

Tony Campolo notes, "American society has glorified romance and made it the basis for marriage. There is nothing wrong with romance; it is an extremely potent force in driving people into matrimony. But in today's world, it has become the primary factor in the creation of marriages. Romance is highly conditional on physical appearances. The object of romantic love excites and entices a person. This means taht there is often a shallowness about romantic relationships, but because the emotions are so overpowering, people sometimes don't realize what they're getting into until it's too late.

[he continues] The superficiality of romance is articulated very well by a woman I know who was abandoned by her husband for another woman. When I asked if the other woman was younger, she said, 'Of course he left me for a younger woman. Anybody his own age would be able to see right through him!'"

Today we come to the point in our study of Hosea where we see how the prophet's home life ties in with his overall message. In previous weeks we saw how off-course the northern kingdom of Israel was in its religious, political, commercial and moral life; and the serious consequences this contempt for the things of God would have in the very near future (around 722 BC). As we look at the prophet's family life, we see his marriage depict the unending love of God for a wayward people, and the names of his children carry an appeal for them to turn back to God before it's too late.

Amorous Love, and Israel's Adultery

How would you define love? What's your frame of reference for describing it? Start from the world's point of view and you may come up with some unhelpful definitions. Plato said, "Love is a serious mental disease." Sigmund Freud, the famous psychologist, said, "One is very crazy when in love." W Somerset Maugham observed, "Love is what happens to a man and woman who don't know each other." Or Charles Kingsley describes it thus: "Love is sentimental measles."

I prefer the Bible's definitions, which are rather more positive. 1John has much to say on the subject: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.[and] This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1Jo 3:16; 4:10)

Hosea has been called "St John of the Old Testament" because he refers a lot to love, and knowing God as a person. There are 3 main terms Hosea uses in referring to love (overall the New Bible Dictionary lists some 7 Hebrew words for love). By way of general introduction, the New Bible Commentary: Revised explains, "Covenant-love (hesed) is prominent. Two other words for love occur frequently: ahaba, affection for people, things and actions (including sexual attraction), rahamim, pity for the helpless, like that of a parent for a child. Hesed, translated 'steadfast love, kindness, mercy' is choice-love, involving strength, gentleness, zeal and perseverance to carry out the obligations of a contractual relationship. In early married life Hosea knew ahaba and rahamim; it was later in reclaiming his wife that he learned hesed too." We'll look at this under the headings "Amorous Love", "Parental Love", and "Covenant Love" - as each is illustrated in the prophet's own personal life.

First, Amorous Love - the type mentioned by Hosea most often throughout the book. This in Hebrew is ahab or aheb and translated "love" 169 times in the King James Version. This is the most braodly-used term for love. The New Bible Dictionary states, "In the non-religious sense aheb is most commonly employed of the mutual urge of the sexes, in which there is no restraint or sense of uncleanness. It is also used of a multitude of personal and sub-personal relations which have no connection with the sexual impulse. Fundamentally it is an inner force which impels to performing the action which gives pleasure, obtaining the object which awakens desire, or in the case of persons to self-sacrifice for the good of the loved one, and unswerving loyalty." Although in this section I call it 'amorous love', you see it can have non-sexual applications too. In Hosea 11(1,4) it's the term God uses when He says, "When Israel was a child, I loved him...I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love..." Obviously nothing to do with sexual passion.

But it's most often used in the book in conjunction with Gomer's and Israel's lovers. You see, Hosea's wife had a problem, seemingly sort of a sexual addiction: she couldn't stay faithful to him. In fact, God knew about this beforehand; He ordered Hosea at the beginning of the book, "Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife..." The simplest explanation is that God was commanding Hosea to marry a prostitute - as a symbol or living picture of the country's unfaithfulness to Yahweh their God. 1:2 explains, "because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord." At first things seemed to go OK, and Gomer bore Hosea a son. But later she started to wander, and eventually fell off the wagon, sleeping around as a common prostitute again. For some reason she just gave in to her physical lustings too easily.

This painful predicament for the prophet became a startling and vivid picture he held up to the country, which was wild in its luxury and devotion to Baal, the pagan fertility god. Just as adultery shatters the marriage covenant, chasing after other gods shattered their religious covenant with God. Several verses in chapter 2(2,5,8,12f) compare their idolatry with adultery (root is ahab): "Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face...Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, 'I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.' [there's active pursuit of the paramours, for pay]...She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold-- which they used for Baal.(see how they spurn the Giver)...I will ruin her vines and her fig trees, which she said were her pay from her lovers...I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals; she decked herself with rings and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but me she forgot, declares the LORD." The picture is of a brazen prostitute, intentionally decked out and painted up to do business, deliberately rejecting the husband who provided her needs. Hormones and appetites out of control. How painful this must have been for Hosea to stand back and watch - both his wife and his country, sucked into shocking immorality! 3:1 says the Israelites "turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes." (Sweet cakes offered to the pagan gods in conjunction with harvest celebrations.)

Chapter 11(2,7) also tells of this turning away from Yahweh to idols: "The more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images....My people are determined to turn from me." They were altogether adulterous, having rejected God and His Covenant.

Parental Love, and Children "Not Mine"

Another Hebrew term for love is racham, found in 2:4: "I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery." This is translated as to have mercy 32 times in the KJV, compassion 8X; to have pity, show fondness. It's related to the term for womb, as a mother's womb cherishes the unborn baby. It's the tender love of a parent for a child, related also to the term to fondle (in a good sense). Imagine a parent has just changed the baby's diaper, and they pause while the baby's there on the change table gazing up into the parent's face; what do you do? "Cootchicootchicoo..." You grab his or her feet and do a little dance. Baby smiles and chuckles. You play "this little piggie went to market" - and baby laughs some more. You stick your index finger into baby's tiny fist and baby wraps his or her fingers tightly around yours. You're giving expression to racham - just as years later when they fall off their bike you hold them and then help them bandage their bruised knee. Or you find yourself making the long drive to check out with them the various college possibilities. Why? Because they're yours. They belong to you; you have connection with them, responsibility for them.

Yet even this aspect of love was being pushed to the limit by Israel's flagrant disobedience and rebellion. Studying the names of Hosea's three children, we discover increasing degrees of distance, as their names are symbolic for God's strained relationship with the nation. "Jezreel" is the name of the oldest boy; sort of like calling your firstborn "Auschwitz" or maybe "Oka": a historical place of bloody confrontation, in this case Jehu's massacre of King Ahab's family line, spilling over unnecessarily to include the King of Judah and Ahab's friends and advisers. Also the place where in the future God would break the power of Israel's military might against the conquering Assyrians.

But the names of child2 and child3 are even more chilling. A girl, born second, is named "Lo-Ruhamah": "Lo" in Hebrew means 'not' or 'un' as a prefix; ruhamah means 'loved', so Lo-Ruhamah together means un-loved. I wonder if Hosea winced as he gave her that name! Surely would only have done it because God told him to. Such an unusual name for a kid was designed to get people's attention. The explanation? 1:6, "for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them." They were too far gone in their wickedness.

Even more brutal was the name for child3, "Lo-Ammi", meaning "not my people". God adds, "For you are not My people, and I am not your God." Sounds like He's dis-owning them! Scholars suspect, though it's not obvious, that child2&3 may not have been fathered by Hosea - given Gomer's lack of chastity. Note 1:3 says in the case of the first kid she "bore him a son"; the 'him' (referring to Hosea as father of the child) is missing in the case of the other two. That would have made Lo-ammi's name even more ironic. Hosea would look at him every time, see the red hair and green eyes and have to admit, "He's not mine."

This break in attachment is made explicit regarding the nation in 2:2 when God says concerning Israel, "Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband." The covenant relationship that was agreed upon at Mount Sinai was shattered by the rampant idolatry and injustice.

So Hosea's family life became a picture to everyone of the fracture between Yahweh and the people. His wife's affairs must have kept the rumour mill churning. His children's pedigrees kept the neighbours guessing. Even the unconventional names...Gomer must have drawn some stares picking them up at day-care and calling out, "Here, Auschwitz! Come to mama, Unloved! Time to go, Not-My-People!" Who's that lady talking to??!

Maybe you're a little uncomfortable at this point because your own family background isn't perfect: the dates of your parents' marriage and your birth are a little too close; your dad now isn't your biological father; or a sibling has run off to become a prodigal, and it casts shame on everyone, or you're feeling a failure as a parent because your daughter's showing an inclination to copy Gomer. Be heartened by Hosea's scenario: God can use imperfect families. He used a Rahab to help the Hebrews at Jericho; He brought Jesus' family line through David and Bathsheba. If God only used perfect people, there'd only be angels to praise His Son in heaven. Keep praying and watch to see how God's going to work in your messy relationships and redeem the scene for His glory.

Covenant Love, Redeemed from Slavery

So far we've seen Amorous Love (ahab), and Parental Love (racham); that brings us to our last term for love in Hosea, checed (translated 149 times in KJV as mercy, 40X kindness, 30X lovingkindness). It occurs in 2:19f, where god speaks of renewing His covenant with the nation in the future after they repent, in terms akin to a marriage covenant: "I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love [checed] and compassion.I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD." Let's call this type of love "Covenant Love".

This is a very important concept in the Old Testament, one of God's most vital and essential qualities. The New Bible Dictionary notes a study of the passages where it's found "reveals its close connection with the two ideas of covenant and faithfulness.Its meaning may be summed up as 'steadfast love on the basis of a covenant'."

Hosea as a husband was called upon to exercise checed in his painful relationship with unfaithful Gomer. After giving birth to the 3 children, it seems she eventually returned to her former ways of prostitution and left home altogether. Some time later - perhaps older, less appealing, finding it hard to make ends meet, she ended up selling herself as a slave just in order to survive. At this point, when she's been used and discarded like an old rag, God tells Hosea in 3:1, "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress." Although Hosea had every reason to divorce her - probably with no lack of witnesses - he searched for her, found her, and did what was necessary to claim her as his wife again. We read (3:2f), "So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 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."" The amount given translates to 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave - half in cash, the other half in produce. Note that he set some limits in terms of a period of probation and purification - a length of time he would continue to deny himself his own marital rights. This symbolized the "many days" the Israelites would be in exile without privileges or symbols of nationhood, a time in which they could repent and change their ways by turning back to God (3:4).

This is true covenant love: not based on 'amorous love', the attractiveness of the other person, or how they can turn you on; but based on kindness, faithfulness, your loyalty to them DESPITE the wrongs they've done you, the many ways they've failed you. It's not because the other person has any claim on you at all - far from it - but based in pure love for them, and because in your heart you know you've made a promise, it's the right thing to do.

The prophet Jeremiah was a contemporary of Hosea. He too emphasized God's unconditional 'covenant love' towards a wayward nation that caused Him pain: "let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness [checed], justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD...The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: "I have loved you with an everlasting love[ahab]; I have drawn you with loving-kindness[checed]." (Jer 9:24; 31:3)

This comes powerfully into the New Testament and the doctrine of the Church. We were all sinners - wayward as Gomer in God's eyes. In our sinfulness, there was nothing the least bit attractive to Him. But Jesus shed His blood on the cross to pay the price that would free us from our slavery to sin; Hebrews 9(15) states, "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance-- now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant." That's real covenant love.

This is particularly good news for Gentiles, who were not part of the original covenant with Abraham and the other patriarchs. The apostles Paul and Peter both quote Hosea as applying to the inclusion of non-Jews who believe in Jesus as now officially "God's people" - we who previously were Lo-Ammi, "not My people" (Rom 9:25f; 1Pet 2:10). Because Jesus was rejected and disowned as He bore our sin at the cross, we can revel in the truth of Hosea 1:10 coming to pass: "Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'"

Praise Him for including us! Truly He has led us 'with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.' (Hos 11:4)

Beyond Those Endearing Young Charms

Thomas Moore (1779-1852), an Irish-born lawyer and poet, authored some 130 poems and a popular ten-volume set of Irish Melodies. This included a favourite of many, "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms." There is a story, around which there's some doubt, but apparently accepted as fact by Paul Harvey which connects this poem with an incident in the poet's married life revealing solid covenant-love. (http://www.icpf.org/fisherman/May2006/article4.htm) The story goes that Moore married a much younger woman (Bessie Dyke) and while he was on one of his tours, she contracted smallpox. When he returned, she refused to let him see her face, because the disease left her with pock-marks and scars. His appeal to her was written in the form of this poem. (To appreciate it, you need to be aware that sunflowers actually rotate their heads to follow the sun through the sky, then return to face east through the night, ready for the next morning.)

Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,

Which I gaze on so fondly to-day

Were to change by to-morrow, and fleet in my arms,

Like fairy-gifts fading away,

Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,

Let thy loveliness fade as it will,

And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart

Would entwine itself verdantly still.

It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,

And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,

That the fervor and faith of a soul can be known,

To which time will but make thee more dear;

No, the heart that has truly loved never forgets,

But as truly loves on to the close,

As the sun-flower turns on her god, when he sets,

The same look which she turned when he rose.

Moore's persistence and poetic persuasion prevailed. His wife allowed him to throw back the curtains and see her once more in the light.

The question for us is - will we "love on to the close"? Or is our affection dependent on "those endearing young charms" which can "change" and "fleet...Like fairy-gifts fading away"? When others let us down (not just marriage partners, but business partners, family members, friends), despite their failures, can we forgive them and seek healing for the relationship? Are we willing like Hosea to pay the price, to absorb the cost, and take the debt to the cross of Jesus? When we yield to the Lord, His Spirit will engender a faithfulness and kindness toward others that mirrors His abundant covenant grace and mercy for us in Christ. Let's pray.