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 realise 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.
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
At first glance, the book of Hosea seems rather strange. In the opening chapter, God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a woman by the name of Gomer. As we know, making the right decision about whom to marry is one of the most important decisions in life, so when God clearly tells us who to marry, what could possibly go wrong?
Hosea 1:2-3 says “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.’ So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.”
The Lord told Hosea to marry Gomer knowing full well that she would be unfaithful to him. The first question we need to ask is, why on earth would God tell Hosea to do such a thing? And secondly, what does this mean to us today?
In its introduction to the book of Hosea, the Life Application Commentary says “Hosea was commanded by God to marry a woman who was unfaithful in marriage and would cause him many heartaches. Just as Gomer lost interest in Hosea and ran after other lovers, we too can easily lose appreciation for our special relationship with God and pursue dreams and goals that do not include Him. When we compromise our Christian lifestyles and adopt the ways of the world, we are being unfaithful.”
The story of Hosea’s difficult marriage presents a very clear reflection of God’s ‘rocky’ marriage with the nation of Israel, and also His ongoing marriage with the Church today. Even the most successful and happy marriages have their challenges, so it is easy to see the parallels in our own relationships with the Lord.
Israel was God’s chosen people, and the reason He told Hosea to marry someone like Gomer was to symbolise how Israel related to God at that time. Hosea lived nearly 3000 years ago, but in the words of Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Then as now, there are many who have been delivered by God but now He doesn’t make any difference in their lives anymore. Like a marriage which has fallen on hard times, many have fallen out of love with God, but He has never stopped loving us.
In His prophecy through Hosea, God reminds the people of who He was and how He had worked in their lives. He called them out of slavery. Even before they were a nation, God loved them, and He loved them way before they loved Him. Before you were saved, God loved you. He loved you before you ever loved Him. When did God start loving you? There’s no date on a calendar that you can circle and highlight each year. Time cannot measure His love for you, because He has loved you from before time began. There has never been, and never will be a moment when you are not the object of God’s love. I love my wife dearly, and at times I feel like I loved her even before we met. It’s a line you often hear in the movies, and it’s a wonderfully romantic idea, but we all know it’s not really true. But for God, it is absolutely true.
He has always loved us. He called the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, and in verse 4 of Hosea 11 He says He lifted the yoke of bondage from them. One day, God called you out of your slavery. He brought you out from under the yoke of sin and guilt and set you free. He bought your freedom with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. What this means is that if you are saved, if you have confessed with your own mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, you are free. And you are free for all of eternity.
The Lord led His chosen people on their journey through life.
How did you feel when your child took their very first step? Is it possible to describe in mere words how it feels when your heart bursts with pride? Having those tiny hands gripping your little fingers as they take those first wobbly steps is one of the most amazing feelings in the world. This is why it tugs at our heartstrings when we read God’s words in verse 3: “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms.”
In love, He drew them through the hard times. When you turned to God for the very first time and took your initial wobbly steps of faith, He taught you to walk. He was then, and He is now, working in your life to bring you closer to Him. It has always been His purpose to bring you into the closest relationship possible with Him. He wants you to know the fullness of His love. Everything He has ever done in your life is for one purpose, and one purpose alone – to reveal His love to you, and yes, that includes the difficult and sad times too. God is love. Love is not something He has or does - it’s what He is.
He saves us because He loves us, and He wants that loving relationship with us because He loves us.
But how did the Israelites respond to His love? And how do we respond to the love of God? Because there are remarkable similarities between God’s people of the Old Testament and God’s people of the 21st century.
The Israelites responded the same way many Christians do. They went back into the world. Verse 2: “The more I called Israel, the further they went out from me.” As soon as they heard the world calling, they ran right back into it, and they started doing the same things as the world. They began chasing after the same “other gods” the rest of the world chased. How many times have we seen Christians drawn back into the world?
The world calls and they go running back in, and the result is that their life is no different than those who are still lost. They live just like the world, and there is little or nothing that distinguishes them from those in the world. Verse 3: “They did not realise it was I who healed them.” The Israelites had become so tangled up in the world that they soon forgot about God and soon forgot what He had done for them. It reached the point where they no longer acknowledged God because they were too busy sacrificing to Baal and the other false gods.
There are so many Christians today that have fallen into exactly the same trap. Despite having been touched by His grace and mercy, God no longer has any relevance in their lives. They’ve become so caught up in worldly things and they have bought into the lie that God has no relevance in their lives. The Cross of Jesus Christ means nothing to them anymore.
Life happens and we all find ourselves drifting away from God at times. It is something even the most faithful of Christians struggle with, but it is so easy to find yourself in a place where you actually rebel against God once more. Verse 5: “They refuse to repent.” That is a dark place to be. Even though people know the truth, just like the Israelites all those years ago, they stubbornly refuse to repent. They will not do what they know to be right. They refuse to turn back to God, and defiantly shake their fists in their Saviour’s face.
Many Christians are living a life counter to the way God wants them to, and the biggest tragedy is that many of them are doing it deliberately. They know how they should live but it doesn’t seem to matter to them anymore. Verse 7 is a warning to us: “My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, He will by no means exalt them.”
This is about giving God lip service. They called on God and talked about God and went through the motions, but it was nothing more than words, because their lives don’t honour Him. It’s easy to talk the talk, but can we walk the walk?
All over the world you will find people who profess to be Christians who will talk about God and call on God and say all the right things, but their lives speak louder than their mouths. It’s all lip service.
The scary thing is that you can come to Church and be backslidden. You can be involved in the ministries of the Church and be backslidden. Whenever you find yourself faced with the choice of doing things God’s way or your way, and you choose what you want to do, you have removed Jesus from the throne and put yourself there.
It’s a great tragedy, but this is often how God’s people respond to His love. The greatest betrayal, the greatest act of unfaithfulness is to reject His love.
But how does God react? This is such an important question for us to ask, because there is always hope. Unlike many human marriages which sadly do come to an end, God’s marriage with us can always be restored.
He shows us His heart. When God’s chosen people reject Him, what does it do to Him? Just listen again to the hope we find in verses 8 and 9: “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. 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.”
How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? How can I destroy you? Just like Hosea’s heart was consistently broken by Gomer’s unfaithfulness, God’s heart breaks, but because love is who He is, and because love defines His very nature, He will not reject us. He is full of compassion. His heart may well be broken, but it remains a heart full of love. He says, “I am God, and not man.” All we can say is, thank God for that!
We thank God that He does not react as we would. He is full of grace and mercy, and He continues to act in love towards us. But, as we well know, we are slow learners and many of life’s lessons we need to learn the hard way.
This is what God talks about in verse 10: “They will follow the Lord; He will roar like a lion. When He roars, His children will come trembling from the west.” What does He mean when He says He will roar like a lion? God roared at Israel and Judah. Because of their unfaithfulness and betrayal He sent them into captivity until their hearts were turned to Him again.
And the warning to us is very clear: We must not think we will get away with our unfaithfulness and our betrayal. If you are a true child of God, He will roar in your life too. But we must remember this one thing: Whatever He does, He does for one purpose only – to draw us back into the relationship He created us for. Forget Hollywood and Mills and Boon. The greatest love story ever told is the one so graphically depicted on a blood stained Cross. It’s been said that sometimes God whispers, and sometimes He shouts. When necessary, He will also roar if that’s what it takes to get our attention.
Our second reading from Hebrews 12 challenges us, because we don’t like being disciplined. But we do know that Godly discipline is a healthy thing. When God disciplines and chastens us, it’s for our own good. He loves us and He knows what’s best for us, and because of His love for us He will do whatever is necessary to draw us back to Him.
He wants your heart turned back to Him and He will work in your life to do it.
So what are we to do? Firstly, confess. Confess that you’ve drifted away from Him. As hard as it is, we have to come clean with Him and admit that our hearts have not been totally His. But then do more than pay God mere lip service. Repent. That’s the second step.
Turn from the things that have separated you from God, and make a serious commitment to Him and then follow through with it. In a moment we’ll have an opportunity to come before Him with our own prayers of confession. Tell Him you cannot do these things in your own strength. Ask Him to get you out of the mess you’re in and lean on Him as He does it.
One of the most wonderful things is seeing marriages that have been almost torn apart by betrayal being restored by love and forgiveness, and those marriages become stronger for it. Tragically, many break down and reach the point of no return and people are damaged because of it. That’s the awful reality of what our sin can do to us.
But God will never reject you, no matter how unfaithful you’ve been to Him. Whatever it is you’ve done or are doing that separates you from God, the blood of Jesus Christ and the power of His love and forgiveness is greater than your sin. Always.
Just listen to the hope in these words: “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” (Jeremiah 3:22)
“They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 37:23)
The Lord God Almighty, the great lover of your soul offers you forgiveness. He can and will heal you. Through Jesus and because of Jesus, He has the power to fix whatever it is in your life that has kept you away from Him, but the choice to accept His healing is yours and yours alone. Will you return to God today?