Certain heavy metal and rock songs from the late seventies and early eighties are known to be recorded in a way that if you play them backwards you hear certain hidden messages. Some of the messages have even been reported to proclaim satanic themes. Parents in the seventies and eighties didn’t only have to worry about the lyrics of the music their kids listened to, they had to worry about what would happen if the lyrics were played backwards. Now, in all honesty, we need to realize that much of this is urban legend and fearmongering towards parents who never seem to be able to understand the music their children listen to. There was even a band who actually worked into one of their songs that if you played it backwards you heard a voice saying, “you have too much time on your hands”. And then there’s country music. I’m sure you have all heard what happens when you play country music backwards; you get your wife back, you get your dog back and you get your truck back.
Well, I wonder if Hosea might be one of the first country songs out there, for in it we see a man whose wife cheats on him, and then leaves him and seems to take their children with her. But then Hosea turns the song around and starts playing it backwards for he gets his wife back and the children back and things turn around for him. But we also discover with Hosea that he didn’t sit and wait for his wife to come back to him, he actually went out and got her, he even had to pay money for her because she had become a slave, but obviously not a very good one, because the amount he paid was about half what a slave usually goes for.
But we see something much more than the makings of a country song in Hosea’s marital woes. We see an example of God’s relationship with us, God’s people, and we learn that, like Hosea’s wife, Gomer, we have been bought with a price by our loving God.
Today we continue with some of the minor prophets that are found at the back of the Old Testament. We so often skip over these teacher’s of God’s will and I think we miss out by doing so. Last week we looked at Amos and his call for God’s people to be people of justice and righteousness. Today we are going to look at Hosea and his example of God’s grace and mercy.
It is important to pay attention to both of these: justice and mercy; righteousness and grace. The two go together and need to be understood in context with each other. Too often, this world has tried to present God as a God of justice without mercy or God as a God of grace without righteousness. And if you fall into either of these traps you end up with a very skewed idea of who God is. Justice and righteousness without grace and mercy gives us a God who is vengeful and angry. When we start to see God this way we see a God who is constantly smiting the people of this world for not living up to impossible standards. This understanding of God has been used by people throughout the history of the church to scare people into doing right. And it causes people to wonder whether they really want to be a Christian and serve such a demanding God.
A God who only pays attention to grace and mercy without letting justice and righteousness enter the picture is wishy-washy and lets anything go. This God tells you that you don’t need to worry about how you live because you’ll be forgiven no matter what. This understanding of God is even more insidious in many ways. This understanding of God has allowed the strong to lord it over the weak and excuse themselves for their sins against each other. It makes God into the champion of the person who sins against someone else where God is so very clearly the champion of the person who is being sinned against. When God oly pays attention to mercy and doesn’t care about justice, he becomes the God of the oppressor. If God is only forgiving sins without calling us to a better life, he becomes an excuse to behave however we want without consequences. This understanding of God allows us as Christians to ignore much of what the prophets say and even what Jesus taught during his life.
And so there needs to be a balance. There needs to be a focus on Gods mercy and forgiveness, but there needs to be an acknowledgement that God desires for his followers to live just lives.
As we will see, Hosea lives with this balance so very deeply and profoundly.
We often look at the prophets to see what they have to say. This makes sense. But at the same time, we also look at how they live. We do the same with teachers and preachers today. We ask ourselves whether their message in line with their lifestyle? Someone preaching against greed probably shouldn’t be living in a mansion. We sometimes even go a step farther and compare the way they are living to the full gospel. Even if I don’t get up here every Sunday and preach against adultery, if I began having an affair there would be something wrong. My message would not be in line with my lifestyle.
Well, Hosea is the story of someone taking this idea of keeping their lifestyle in line with their message to an extreme. For God doesn’t just give Hosea words to speak. He also asks him to live out God’s relationship with God’s people in a very profound way.
In Hosea 1, long before we get to any of the prophecies that Hosea has for God’s people, we are told about God’s command to Hosea. God tells him to go find himself an unfaithful wife. God tells him to marry a woman who is going to cheat on him. Go find an adulterous wife because my people have been adulterous to me. And then, when your wife cheats on you and then leaves you, you will know how your God feels when you do the same to me. So Hosea marries a woman named Gomer and she has a number of children, and Hosea doesn’t really know if they are his own. But God tells Hosea to name them different things to point out Israel’s sin towards God. One is named Jezreel which means “God scatters”. Another is named Lo-Ruhamah which means “not loved” and the third is named Lo-Ammi which means “not my people”. And you complain about what your parents named you. Imaging being named “not loved”.
And here is where we see Hosea’s understanding of God’s need for justice. Hear chapter 2, verse 2: “Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.” Harsh words. It sounds like these words are coming from Hosea as he explains to his children what it is that Gomer has done to him and their relationship. But these are not Hosea’s words to his children, they are God’s words against God’s people who have turned from him. Hosea, in living out his love for a wife who was unfaithful has learned how brokenhearted God is when we turn from him.
III. God’s Love
You see, God desires us. When we are unfaithful it hurts him. He feels betrayed. And just like the people of Israel 2500 years ago, we tend to be unfaithful. We may not chase after the local gods, we may not have idols of Baal in our living rooms, but we are unfaithful in our own ways. We so often do not put God first. And though we do not have idols in our houses, we sometimes have other things that take up so much of our energy and our time. God doesn’t come first in our priorities, but rather we put the things of this world before him… And as a church we have even messed it up because we have related going to church with putting God first when what we are often doing is just finding something else to put before God.
So how do we put God first? God wants us as his people to be faithful to him. He wants us to live by what we refer to as the great commandment. Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. An important message and one that I’m afraid we don’t always live up to, and so we find ourselves like Gomer, running off after an easier way; perhaps trying to convince ourselves that God doesn’t really care how we live so we can do whatever we want; perhaps figuring that we don’t want to put off the rewards for tomorrow if we can have them today. And so we enjoy ourselves the best we can and forget that when we prayed a prayer asking Jesus into our hearts, we were committing to a relationship with him that is eternal.
And then we get to the good news of Hosea 3. You see, God has Hosea act out his message yet again. God has Hosea go rescue Gomer from the predicament she has gotten herself into. Hosea actually has to go and purchase his wife from a slavery that she had gotten herself into. And Hosea does this. He shows grace and mercy to a woman who had spurned his love. He reaches out to the one who had rejected him and offers her redemption. Redemption here isn’t some pie in the sky good that happens after you die. Hosea redeems Gomer by buying her out of slavery. She has gotten herself into a mess and he rescues her from it. And in this, again, we see our relationship with our God. As Hosea rescued Gomer, Jesus came and paid the price for our slavery and set us free. God’s love showed mercy. But mercy came with a call for faithfulness. Gomer was told when she was rescued from slavery that she was to live with Hosea many days and that she must not cheat on Hosea again.
God looks for the same commitment from us, his followers. He doesn’t want our relationship with him to be a revolving door. He doesn’t want us to come to him when we need help and then run away when we think we can handle it on our own. He really doesn’t want us to be adulterous, he doesn’t want us to cheat. If we do, he will forgive us, but he has a much better idea for us.
We see a glimpse of what he wants our relationship with him to be in Hosea 2, starting at verse 14. Notice that this is relational imagery, God is so very clearly relating to his people as a husband relates to his wife. “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the days she came up out of Egypt. In that day you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.”
God’s justice is great. He desires faithfulness from us. He desires commitment. He longs for us to follow the great commandment. God wants us to put him first, before all the other things that this life has to distract us from him. This is key to who our God is. It is central to God’s very being. Again and again in the Old Testament God refers to himself as a jealous God and this is precisely what he is talking about. But this desire for justice is balanced in God’s very being and we see in Jesus that it is mercy that balances it.
But it’s not enough to look at this and apply it to our relationship with God, for as I said, God wants our lifestyle to match our message. And so, God wants us to live lives of justice and at the same time he wants us to show mercy to those around us. As Hosea showed love and mercy to his cheating wife, we are called to live out this same forgiveness and mercy in our own lives. Hosea is an extreme example, and I don’t think God is coming to any of us and telling us to name our kids, “I don’t love you.” With Hosea God was able to show more clearly what kind of God he is, and remind us what we are called to be. But our actions can be affected by Hosea’s. We can learn to temper our actions with mercy. We can learn how to reach out to those around us with God’s love: a love that expects much, but also forgives much. We can learn to be more like our God and reach out to those who have hurt us with forgiveness in our hearts. Our God shows us the way. Will we follow it? I can’t help but go back to the Lord’s Prayer where we pray for God to forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Are we ready to take up the second half of this phrase? Are we ready to follow God more clearly and directly? Are we ready to follow the way Hosea did? Amen.