November is moving fast, and Christmas is approaching! Time to think of what presents to buy for friends and family! I quite like planning what to buy for the people I know well enough to have a good idea of what to get them, but some people are harder to buy for than others. At times like these the invention of vouchers is something invaluable. I tend to always get vouchers from a member of my family at Christmas, and it’s quite fun choosing what to spend them on. I enjoy the satisfaction that comes from getting a good bargain. But although I want to get the most out of what I spend, I know it isn’t worth spending money on something that’s cheap and low-quality. It’s far better to exchange my shiny pieces of paper for something that I know that I’ll enjoy for a while. You wouldn’t redeem something broken or old or tatty with your vouchers, would you?
You might be wondering why on earth I’m talking about what I’ll be spending my Christmas money on, but I think that as we go through the short and sweet chapter of Hosea 3 we’ll find something surprising. We’ll see a God who spends big on something that we might think is a rip-off, but something He thinks is worth every last bit of what He paid.
In Hosea 1, God describes Israel’s relationship with Him like that of an unfaithful wife. They were a people who keep on forsaking God for idols, and God says He’ll judge Israel because of their spiritual adultery. God originally warned against forgetting Him a few generations before in Deuteronomy 8, yet we see in Hosea 2 that Israel did just that, and left God her husband for the empty promises of other gods. So God says He’ll take away everything she has to bring her to her senses. He will then allure His unfaithful wife, and give back all He has taken away, and Israel will once again call Him her husband. Not only will God restore their relationship but He will make it a closer, deeper, purer one. An eternal one.
In chapter 3 we take a short break from God’s message to Israel to see what is happening in Hosea’s life. This is the last time we hear about Hosea himself in the book, and again God uses it to show profound and powerful truths about His relationship with, and His plans for, His people. In this passage it involves two actions: redemption and restoration. This won’t be an easy passage to look at. We will be challenged. We will be humbled. But we will also be allured by the unrelenting love and astonishing forgiveness of our God. A God who willingly redeems a broken people at a cost much greater than a gift card.
So let’s look at the passage:
The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love has as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin-cakes.”
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 for many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.”
For the Israelites will live for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterwards the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.”
Firstly, the passage describes redemption. The chapter begins with God giving Hosea some instructions: ‘The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin-cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.’ (v1-2)
Gomer has left Hosea. Not only has she left him, but she has left him for another man while still being his wife. By Old Testament law, Hosea was well within his rights to drag both Gomer and her lover to the city gate to be stoned to death. And, let’s be honest, wouldn’t you sympathise? If the man, or woman, you loved, you had married, you had given all that you had to, you had looked after, who had promised to be with you for life, one day turned around and said “Sorry, I’m in love with someone else” upped sticks and left – wouldn’t you be angry? Wouldn’t you be hurt? Would you ever want to see them again? It’s incredibly painful when anyone you’re close to hurts you, and all the more for a marriage, a relationship that’s meant to be one of intimacy and close trust.
Yet what does God tell Hosea to do? “…Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites…” (v1) God is using Hosea’s life as a picture of His relationship with Israel. Can you see the parallel here? “Go, show your love to your wife… though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin-cakes.” (v1) God is saying that just like Gomer left Hosea for another man, Israel has abandoned her divine Husband for the idol Baal, and loves not God, but raisin-cakes, things used in rituals. She does not love God Himself, but desires things, and has turned to other gods to give her those things. And God, being holy, righteous, and just, has every right to condemn Israel to destruction for her unfaithfulness.
Yet He doesn’t do that. If you remember, in chapter 2 God didn’t declare intentions to annihilate Israel, although He would punish her. He said He would love her and woo her and betroth her to Him for ever. And as God decided to show His love in restoring His idolatrous people, He asks Hosea to do the same for his wife. And verse 2 says that that involves buying Gomer back. The price is fifteen shekels of silver and one and a half homers of barley. Some interpreters think this adds up to thirty shekels of silver – this was how much it cost to buy a slave’s freedom. Hosea doesn’t say why she needs to be bought back, but Gomer’s return came at a price. And the fact that Hosea had to make up the difference with barley shows He couldn’t pay in cash. It was costly for him.
God didn’t give Hosea the option of backing out of his relationship with his wife, because God is uncompromising in His relationship with His people. He would not give up on Israel, although abandoning them would save Him the pain of their unfaithfulness; and He wouldn’t settle for anything less than for them to call Him their husband. The love that God asks of Hosea is but a taste of God’s own love for His people – vast, relentless, eternal.
But was it worth it? Hosea knew that Gomer was adulterous right to the core, it was why God told him to marry her in the first place. Wouldn’t Gomer just keep on running to her lovers? Wouldn’t Israel just turn away again? It’s what they had been doing for generations! It wasn’t enough to merely remove the wife from slavery. No, she would have to change as well.
Therefore, after redemption the second act we see is that of restoration. After Hosea has bought Gomer, he says to her, “You are to live with me for many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.” (v3) This sounds a bit cryptic, but Hosea is saying that she is to remove herself from the temptation of adultery. She is to live with Hosea as his wife, yet since sexual intimacy was her downfall, she is not to sleep with any man – including Hosea – for a time. Gomer had to get out of the habit of unfaithfulness so that she could be a faithful wife. And then Hosea would fully be a husband to her again.
Why did Hosea do this? “For the Israelites will live for many days without a king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol.” (v4) God will remove from Israel the things that were leading them astray. They weren’t all bad things in themselves. It wasn’t wrong for Israel to have a king, to offer sacrifices, or to have objects of worship. These were all good things. But Israel’s rulers had led them astray, and more often than not had rejected God. Sacrificial offerings were something ordained by God, and in previous years God’s people had set up memorial to remind them of what God had done for them. Yet the people were now sacrificing to other gods and making idols in honour of them. Even ephods, parts of the system of worship that God had set up through Moses, had become idols. In fact, the history of the northern kingdom of Israel was founded on idolatry and a broken relationship – they rebelled against King David’s grandson and set up their own king and made their own rival religion. Israel was riddled with idolatry! Like a shopping trolley with a dodgy wheel, they kept veering away from God and running in the wrong direction.
Like Gomer, Israel needed to be removed from the things that were leading them astray. It would be hard: They would be conquered, and their system of worship would be removed. Yet instead of being an unloving thing for God to do, this purging is a part of His love. God will remove the very pillars of Israel’s culture, but He will not remove Himself. And He knows that for Israel this will prove to be ultimate gain: “Afterwards the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.” (v5) The people of Israel needed to have these things removed so that they would return to God. So that they would see that it was the Lord who gave them everything, the Lord who heard their prayers, the Lord who kept them safe – not anything else. They would turn to God again, remembering their divine Husband for who He really is. Hosea says that they will come trembling – in repentance, knowing the wrong they have done, and asking for forgiveness. But there is more to this, and I’ll come to that soon.
The best is yet to come…
In this chapter of Hosea, we’ve seen two things: That an unfaithful wife was bought back at great cost, and that her husband would help her to be someone who would love him fully again. Does this story sound familiar?
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That’s Romans 5:6&8.
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures… But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
That’s Titus 3:3-7.
You see, in verse 5 Hosea when talks about “the last days” he isn’t just looking for a time when Israel would be restored. No, he is talking about something beyond the Old Testament, looking forward to a time when God would fully restore His relationship with His people. He was looking forward to the time when God would buy an unfaithful people from a master that would drive them to death, paying a great cost, and making them His own people. A people who love and desire Him greatly.
We saw first that Hosea bought back his wife at great cost. And this is what God has done at the cross. Sin is not just breaking rules – it’s the breaking of a relationship. The breaking of God’s heart as His beloved people run after other lovers. As the Titus quote said, we were enslaved by desires and a broken nature that couldn’t help but be unfaithful to God. Like that Romans passage said, we were powerless to get ourselves out of the situation. And just like Hosea had every right by the law to have his adulterous wife executed, that same law condemns us to death for our sin. Yet at this time, when we had rejected the God who created us, when we had turned to other things to satisfy our cravings for love or security or hope, at this time Jesus Christ died to free us from our slavery to sin. He swapped places with us so that we could be free from the punishment we deserve, and instead be made into God’s perfect bride. As 1 John 4:10 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and send his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Isn’t this the greatest display of love? God didn’t give up on the human race, even after we had rejected Him from the beginning, after the people He chose to display Him to the world consistently turned to other gods, and even now when those He has redeemed still fall by the wayside every so often.
If you aren’t a Christian, then please hear this. The relationship that God has with His people is not a cold contract of rules. It’s a living, breathing, vibrant relationship; one that satisfies our need to be known, to be accepted, to be loved. It’s a relationship that has cost God dearly to have. Isn’t that something worth thinking about?
For those of us who may think that we’re too broken for God to want anything to do with us, or know that we keep on getting things wrong and wonder whether we’re one mistake away from being abandoned, who know that secret darkness in the deepest corner of our heart – don’t disqualify yourself from coming to God. Jesus knew what He was doing when He died for you. And He came back from death so that you could be made whole again and be caught up in the life that He has. And don’t be fooled – these Christians may look like they’re all sorted and holy, but they’re not. I’m one of them, and I’m far from being the woman that I’d like to be. Becoming a Christian doesn’t instantly transform you into a perfect demi-god. It just starts the journey of being made right.
And God knows this. I find it incredibly moving that Jesus deliberately took the punishment for His unfaithful Bride upon Himself. That as He was taking those last excruciating breaths on the cross Jesus knew He was saving a people for Himself that wouldn’t get it right until He brought them to heaven. This is the greatness of God’s grace – that He knows we will hurt Him again, and forgives us anyway. He knows that before the day is out, I’ll have acted like something is more important than He is, probably done something to hurt the people I know and love, and definitely got something completely wrong, but still when I ask for forgiveness He can’t wait to give it. He is our heavenly Husband, who betrothed us to Himself at the cross, and again and again when we turn from Him He is ready to welcome us back with open arms. All we need to do is come trembling to the Lord, fully acknowledging our weakness and asking for Him to take away our wrongs, and trusting that He will forgive us like He’s promised.
The second thing we’ve seen in Hosea 3 is that Hosea had to guide Gomer away from running after other livers and bring her back into living as his wife. If you are a Christian, we’ve got a great warning and encouragement to take from this. We have been saved by Jesus from condemnation and judgment. He has given us His righteousness so that we have a good relationship with God. But we would be fooling ourselves to think that we’re all perfect now, wouldn’t we? The battle against sin in our hearts is still ongoing. I know that if I take a long, hard look at myself I won’t like what I see. Because I see that I do still have a heart that runs to things other than God. As human beings, we are very good at making things into idols and putting them in the place that God should have in our lives. And I find that this is still a problem now that I’m a Christian. It’s not just the obvious things that we can see people who aren’t Christians run after – things like money, or escapism, or success, or the dream house or family or car. More dangerous is when good things, sometimes God-things like having quiet times or serving at church or praying – anything that can become a box-ticking exercise – these become idols because we can easily fool ourselves that it’s out of some desire to please God that we care so much. But the thing is, idols consume you and leave you empty. They promise us everything, and give us nothing. Every time I sin – and I sin frequently – it’s because I think doing wrong is better than doing the right that pleases God. In that moment, I believe that I will get more satisfaction, more pleasure, by that thing rather than by loving God; whether it’s getting my own way, or not doing something because it puts me at risk of rejection, or giving in to that constant temptation because I just can’t keep fighting it any more.
We need to keep an eye on where our priorities lie because if you’re anything like me it’s all too easy to forget that it’s God, not my money or job or that relationship, who gives me joy and is worth everything. We’re on the right track, but the wheel of our proverbial trolley isn’t quite fixed yet. So we need to make sure that we aren’t led astray permanently. We should pursue God first and foremost, and if something is stopping that happening we need to do something about it. Also, we shouldn’t be afraid of times when God does take things away that distract us from Him, or when life gets hard, because He is growing us to be more faithful and could well be preparing us to be captivated by Him again.
As we’ve looked at Hosea 3, we’ve seen that Hosea buying back his unfaithful wife was meant to reflect God’s unrelenting love and forgiveness of His people; how God refused to give up on them despite their constant turning away from Him to other gods. And we’ve seen that God has bought us for Himself with the blood of Jesus, who died so that we could be forgiven. And we’ve seen that, although we still do get things wrong, God forgives us time after time. He does not leave us to die in our sin, but welcomes us back to Him, and He will make His people to be a perfect Bride for Himself. A Bride who longs for Him, and who will enjoy perfect relationship with Him into eternity. In verse 5 what it says Israel will return to “the LORD and his blessings”. The blessing of relationship with Him now, and the future blessing of heaven – where there will be no more death, or evil, or anything that would cause us pain; where we will spend eternity with the Lover of our souls, seeing Him face to face, forever. This is what we have to look forward to! So let’s leave the empty seductions of this world and run towards the Husband who will give us more than we can dream of.