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What Wondrous Love is This? (Hosea 3)

January 10, 2007

The Lord spoke to the prophet Hosea and told him to marry a woman named Gomer, who would prove to be an adulterous woman.  After bearing a son to Hosea, she would go on to bear two more children of unknown paternity.  She was a promiscuous woman, and Hosea must have agonized and wondered why God told him to marry such a whore.  And God told him the reason:  It was because the land of Israel also was committing great whoredom against the Lord.  Israel’s idolatry was spiritual adultery committed against the Lord, and the emotional trauma of Hosea’s marriage to a promiscuous woman was preparing him to deliver the Lord’s word to his people.   That was chapter 1.

Then in chapter 2 we read what the Lord planned to do with Israel, his unfaithful wife.  First, he would restrain her.  He would build a wall against her and hedge up her way with thorns.  He would frustrate her pursuits of other lovers so that she would come back to him.  But ultimately, this strategy didn’t work.  Israel was hell-bent on pursuing her idols.  So God will lead her back out into the desert, not to destroy her, but to get alone with her and speak to her heart.  He allures her, he subdues her with love and kindness and turns her heart back to himself.  He will make a new covenant with her and betroth  her to himself forever.   And this is the way that the Lord loves us.  This is the love that will not let us go.  His kindness leads us to repentance from our idolatries.  He remains faithful to us despite our unfaithfulness.  And by his flabbergasting faithfulness and mercy, we are humbled and broken and become more and more faithfully and passionately in love with Him.

As we sang this morning,

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless worth.

Not the crushing of those idols,
With its bitter void and smart;
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.

Though I’m not yet ready for it to be over, we come in today’s text to the end of the story of Hosea and Gomer.  Next week in chapter four we begin a new major section.  But now we read beginning in 3:1 how Hosea is to love Gomer…

 

I. Even as the Lord loves the children of Israel (read 1-2)

Pay special attention to the word “again” in verse 1.   This word tells us that some time has passed since the marriage and the adulteries of chapter 1.  Gomer has now left him and is with another man who is not her husband.   We might speculate that Hosea is a little relieved to be apart from this woman he can’t trust, for he needs another word from God, another command to go again and love Gomer, though she is an adulteress.  

 

 

One commentator wrote somewhat famously on this verse, “There’s always an again with love”   Human love doesn’t always measure up to this standard.  Human love does often give up on its beloved.  But God never completely gives up on his people.  He has betrothed us to himself forever, and he will come after us again and again and again when we are going astray.  

 

In fact, it’s interesting to observe that the word “love” occurs 4x in verse 1 (read) just as the word “whoredom” occurred 4x in 1:2 (read)  If Gomer’s and Israel’s unfaithfulness was the emphasis of chapter 1, Hosea’s and the Lord’s love is the emphasis of chapter 3.

 

The Lord loves his people, even though they love…raisin cakes.  What’s up with that?   Some have suggested that raisin cakes were considered aphrodisiacs and were used in the idolatrous worship of Baal.   Others have suggested that the word could mean a kind of raisin wine and so it is drunkenness and worldly pleasure that is loved by the Israelites.  That is persuasive to me, but I think there is a reason why he uses this unusual word to describe their sensuality.   I think that even in Hebrew the phrase is supposed to make you laugh.  Raisin cakes?  They love raisin cakes?   The point is that our affections are absurdly misplaced.   And aren’t they?  What are the raisin cakes in your life upon which you are lavishing absurdly disproportionate passion?    What do you really love?   What are you putting ahead of God in your affections?  These are your idols.  These are your affairs of the heart.  These are the things that provoke the Lord to jealousy.  Some of them might not be all bad.  If you were enjoying created things with thanksgiving and sanctifying your pleasures by the word of God and prayer, you might not be guilty of idolatry.  But the truth is that we all do let our worldly pleasures eclipse our pursuit of intimacy with God.   And of this spiritual adultery we need to repent.  And the good news is that we can, because of the Lord’s unfailing love that will not let us go. 

 

We see it illustrated in verse 2 where Hosea had to purchase back his wife.  We don’t know what were the circumstances that got Gomer into this position, but somehow or other she must have had to sell herself into slavery.  Fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley was about the price of a slave.  Actually it was the price of a cheap slave.  Gomer has so degraded herself that she’s not worth much of anything to anyone anymore.    But Hosea steps up and buys her back for himself anyway.

 

 

Clearly we are to see in this a picture of our Bridegroom Jesus purchasing us, the church, his bride, out of well-deserved slavery for our sins.  In fact, the grammatical structure of the Hebrew links this verse back to 2:19.  Some of your versions bring this out by translating it “I bought her to me” in 3:2 just as God said “I will betroth you to me” in 2:19.  God paid a bride price to betroth us to himself.  But in our case, the price was not cheap.  The price was the blood of Jesus.  The greatness of the price is not an indicator of our worth, for we have cheapened ourselves just like Gomer did.  But the greatness of the price reflects the greatness of the demands of divine justice against our sins.   The price tag on us indicates not our worth, but the infinite debt we owe to God.   We need the infinite merit of the blood of Christ to make atonement for the infinite demerit of our sins against God.   

 

Herein lies the meaning of the cross.  On the cross Jesus suffered in our place the punishment that our sins deserve.  He was making an atoning sacrifice to take away the wrath of God against our spiritual adulteries.  He was paying our debt.  He purchased our pardon on Calvary’s tree, says the hymn.  Or as Revelation puts it, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is worthy because with his blood he purchased for God people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.    

This is the gospel, this is the good news.  This is the glorious love of God that if truly beheld in its beauty and peerless worth will strip the seeming beauty from the idols of the earth. 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 11, 2007 8:57 am

    I really enjoy the story of Hosea and Gomer- it’s metaphorically fascinating (and literally pretty interesting too). Of course, I also feel (have felt? am able to relate to?) both the emotions of Hosea, and the emotions of Gomer… it is truly flabbergasting that God is so merciful to us, in ways that I think only people who have been forgiven by other *humans* for grievous errors can really know. Maybe not- It would certainly be nice if people didn’t have go through sin to get to flabbergasting forgiveness, but I suspect that those who do really, really “get” this story. But all the more incentive to be forgiving to others in a way that makes no sense to them from a worldly perspective.

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