The book of Hosea is extremely challenging. The message of the book shines like a powerful beam of light highlighting the unrelenting faithfulness of God’s love in stark contrast to the persistent faithless rebellion of His people. It is set in Old Testament time where, despite the covenant relationship between God and His people, the nation persistently rejected God, rebelled against Him and pursued other gods.
The central image of the book of God as a faithful husband to His unfaithful wife Israel is introduced in the opening chapters in compelling fashion using the real-life story of Gomer and Hosea. As their story unfolds the story of God and His people is also in view. It is worth reading Hosea 1-3.
The book begins with God telling Hosea to take a wife who is a prostitute and to have children with her. This is a shocking command because prostitution was explicitly banned in the law (see Leviticus 19:29, Deuteronomy 23:17) and in some instances the prostitute was killed for her harlotry (see Leviticus 21:9, Deuteronomy 22:21).
However, Hosea took the Lord at His command and chose Gomer to marry (1:3). Yes, you read that correctly – Hosea looked for a prostitute to marry and chose Gomer. She was chosen to be loved as a wife. Despite her past, despite her occupation, despite having nothing pure and untainted about her, Gomer was chosen to be loved as a bride.
She soon conceived and gave birth to children – a son, named Jezreel, a daughter called Lo-ruhamah (meaning ‘No compassion’), and another son called Lo-ammi (meaning ‘not my people’) (1:4-8). Each of the children’s names prophetically signified a feature of the relationship God had with His people.
At this stage in the narrative it seems that a powerful point has been made: God is prepared to claim His people from their whoreish behaviour with other gods and unite with them in a covenant relationship. This, in itself, is an incredible display of grace and love towards an undeserving people. However, the story continues…
Gomer betrays her faithful husband Hosea and scandalously returns to her prostitution. Chapter 2:1-13 describes the way Gomer ‘plays the harlot’ (v5), ‘acts shamefully’ (v5), ‘pursues her lovers’ (v7), and does not realise that all the good things she has come from the hand of her husband whom she is rejecting (v8ff). The catalogue of offences is lengthy and the outcome of her unfaithfulness should be judgment. But remarkably God instead says, ‘Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her back into the wilderness and speak kindly to her’ (v14)!! He then goes on to describe a complete restoration of relationship: ‘I will betroth you to me forever…in righteousness, and in justice, in lovingkindness and compassion…and faithfulness’ (vv19, 20). This is then displayed in the Gomer-Hosea story as God speaks to Hosea a second time and tells him to go and buy back his wife, presumably from the equivalent of the brothel owner, and claim her for his wife again (3:1,2).
This is astounding! Despite Gomer’s rejection of Hosea’s love, her breaking of the covenantal relationship and her whoreing of herself to others, Hosea is prepared to extend his love towards her and buy her out of slavery back into the marriage relationship. As Gomer returns, Hosea commands her, ‘You shall stay with me for many days. You shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man’ (3:3). This seems fair enough but he goes even further and pledges, ‘So I will also be toward you’ (3:3). This truly is astonishing! Even with the full awareness of her sinfulness and rejection of Hosea’s love he pledges a faithful unwavering love towards her. Instead of judgment she receives blessing. Instead of death she receives life. Instead of rejection she receives restoration. Instead of hatred she receives love.
And this is how God acts towards us, His people. He has made a covenant with us. He has loved us. He has wooed us from our lives of rebellion and harlotry. He has made us His people. We are no better than Gomer, the persistent prostitute, as we time and again reject the love of the One who made us and loved us and substitute Him for other lovers. And yet, He has renewed His commitment towards us, underlined His love for us, bought us back at a price and welcomed us again into His household.
There is no limit to the extent of His love for us!