Today, we’re going to be looking at a passage from the book of Hosea. You might wonder about that because Hosea is not a book in the Bible that we read from all that often. In fact, it’s one of those little books in the back of the Old Testament that even seasoned Christians sometimes have trouble finding.
So let’s start with a bit of background so you can understand the context. Hosea was a prophet who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BC – so about 750 years before Jesus was born. This was a tumultuous time in the history of God’s Chosen People.
From about 1000 BC to 930 BC, Israel had been the dominant nation in the region under King David and his son King Solomon. But after Solomon’s death, the kingdom had fallen apart. Civil war had broken out between the twelve tribes of Israel and the kingdom was split into two distinct nations – the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom. And this is where it gets a bit confusing because the name Israel begins to change in meaning. The northern was called Israel and the southern kingdom became known as Judah. And from then on, they did not get along at all. While the southern kingdom of Judah remained reasonably faithful to God, the northern kingdom began to fall away and worship other gods. So the people of Judah saw the people of Israel and unfaithful people who had abandoned the one true God in favour of the false gods of the neighbouring nations.
Even in Jesus’ day the two nations did not get along at all. When Jesus walked the earth the northern kingdom was no longer called Israel. It was called Samaria and, as is clear from the New Testament, the Jews still despised the Samaritans who actually were their cousins. So even back then, as today, old wounds in the Middle East are not easily healed.
Enter Hosea. He is from the northern kingdom of Israel and has witnessed first hand the unfaithfulness of the people. But he himself is a faithful man and so God chooses him to be a prophet. But what is a prophet and what does a prophet do? Even Christians sometimes get that mixed up. The prophet’s main role is not to tell foretell the future. It is to lead the people back to faithfulness. Generally, the only time the future comes into play is when the prophet says, “If you don’t get your act together are return to God, you’re not going to like what happens.” The prophet’s job then is to warn the people of the negative consequences of straying from God’s path.
GOD CHOOSES A WIFE FOR HOSEA
God uses Hosea, however, in a very unusual way. Not only does God speak through Hosea’s words – which is what generally happens with prophets. He also demonstrates the relationship between God and Israel through Hosea’s marriage. Let’s find out how that unfolds. We begin with Hosea 1:2-3 (NIV): “When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.’ So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.”
So God wants Hosea to marry a “promiscuous woman.” Actually, it’s worse than that. The NIV is very kind in its translation of this passage by translating the Greek words as “promiscuous woman”. Other translations are not so gentile. I think the New Revised Standard Version rather hits the nail on the head when God tells Hosea to, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” That rather puts a sharper edge on things, doesn’t it. So God is not merely asking Hosea to marry a woman who strays from monogamy from time to time. She’s actually a prostitute; “a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”
You might wonder why would God do that? But the answer is right in the verse: “for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” God is going to show the people of Israel something. They have been like an unfaithful wife. They have not been faithful to God because they have worshipped other gods, the gods of the nations around them whom there were told not to worship.
We might think that God’s being a bit harsh with poor Hosea. Asking someone to marry a prostitute is a bit of a stretch even for God. But this is not the first time God has asked someone to do something that, on the surface, appears to be totally unreasonable. There’s another example of that back in Genesis 22 when God told Abraham to go to the land of Moriah where he was to sacrifice his only son Isaac. That was odd. So this is not the first time God has done something like this. But in both cases, we discover that God does this for a reason.
So God is commanding Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman who will represent how unfaithful Israel has been to God. But then, in the midst of all of this talk about unfaithfulness, what does Hosea do? He decides to be faithful and do exactly what God commands him to do. He marries Gomer daughter of Diblaim – a prostitute. And not only does Hosea marry her but he lays with her, she conceives and bears a son.
THE THREE CHILDREN
This son is the first of three children that Hosea and Gomer will have. And each of these children will represent something about God’s judgement on the nation of Israel, the northern kingdom. Let’s read about him. Hosea 1:4-5 (NIV) says this: “Then the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.’”
This refers to an event that is recorded in 2 Kings 9-10. King Ahab of Israel had died and there was an uprising over who would replace him as king. Jehu came out on top. But to secure his position, he had Ahab’s wife killed along with all of Ahab’s children, close friends and priests. 2 Kings 10:11 says that Jehu left Ahab not survivors. He wiped out everyone who had anything to do with the previous king. And it was all done at a place called Jezreel.
This is what God is referring to when he tells Hosea to name his first son Jezreel. It is to remind Israel that their ancestors, without mercy or compassion, slaughtered a whole family of innocent people who had done nothing wrong. Just as Jehu had put an end to Ahab’s family at the slaughter of Jezreel, so too will God put an end to the kingdom of Israel, because it had shown no mercy or compassion to those around it.
That’s the first son. The story continues in Hosea 1:6-7 (NIV): “Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, the Lord their God, will save them.”
So this time, Gomer delivers a daughter. And again the name that they give to her means something. She is called Lo-Ruhamah which means “not loved”. Why did she get this name? Again, God explains, because he will no longer show love to Israel. In fact, Israel has been so unfaithful that God isn’t even sure that he will forgive them anymore. Clearly God has had enough of Israel’s unfaithfulness. God has had enough of those who are supposed to be his people worshipping other gods instead of the one true God.
But then God says something interesting. In verse 7 God compares what he will do to Israel, the northern kingdom, with how he will treat the southern kingdom of Judah: “Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, the Lord their God, will save them.” While God has said that he will abandon Israel, God will show love to Judah and save them. Why? Is it because Judah is perfect? No, Judah is far from perfect. In fact, God had never demanded perfection from his people. Judah gets lots of things wrong. And if you read the Bible, you will find lots of prophets who spoke in Judah as well. The difference between Israel and Judah is that while Judah makes lots of mistakes, Judah still chooses to worship God. Judah has not been unfaithful – at least not yet – and they have not worshipped the false gods of their neighbours. That’s the key difference.
And now comes the third child. Let’s find out about him in Hosea 1:8-9 (NIV): “After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” The third child of this unfaithful woman is named Lo-Ammi which means not my people. Why? Because God has declared that, because of their unfaithfulness, God no longer considers Israel to be his people nor he their God.
Three children by an unfaithful wife each with a name that reflects the unfaithfulness of Israel. It looks pretty bleak. In fact, it will get very bleak in the years ahead. God will be good for his word. He will put an end to Israel. He will abandon them. Basically, God will say to Israel, “Okay, you want to go and do your own thing. You want to be just like the nations that surround you. If that’s what you really want, I’ll let you do that. But there will be consequences.”
Three years after Hosea’s prophecy ended, in 722 BC, the Assyrian army ended its siege of Samaria, the capital city of Israel. The city fell and the leading inhabitants were either slaughtered or taken captive back to Assyria from which they would never return. And so what Israel had done to the family of Ahab eventually also happened to the rulers of Israel. Because Israel had not shown any mercy to Ahab’s family, God showed no mercy to Israel and did not prevent Assyria from defeating Samaria.
I know that a lot of people find this notion of God rather unsettling. People don’t like the idea of God punishing people for doing something wrong. To tell you the truth, the idea causes me more than a little discomfort as well. But then we think about what’s really going on here. Is God punishing the people or merely making them accountable for their own decisions? I actually think it’s the latter. Nothing that we have read today indicates that God wants to punish his children. God does not actively seek to make us suffer for our sins. But God will let us be accountable for our actions and decisions.
I believe in God’s love. I believe in God’s mercy because I have experienced God’s love and I have experienced his mercy in my own life but I also know that there are times when I have strayed from the path that God would have be walk and I have had to accountable for those actions. And because of that, I’ve learned that if want to live my life as fully as it can be lived, then I have the best chance to do that by staying on the path that God wants me to walk.
Like everyone else here today, I’ve done lots of stupid things in my life. Is there anyone here who can say otherwise? No there’s not because, as I said earlier, God doesn’t expect us to be perfect because none of us are. But God does ask us to the do the same thing that God asked Israel to do. God wants us to worship him. That’s it, just worship. What that means is that God wants us to put him first in our lives and to give him glory for all things. And when we do that, God promises to walk with us through the good times, the bad times, the happy and the sad times. God promises to love us and never leave us.
Do you remember what I said right near the beginning of this message about the purpose of prophecy? It is not so much about telling the future as it is about something else. The main purpose of prophecy is to lead the people back to faithfulness. And that’s the purpose of Hosea’s prophecy as well.
In this prophecy, Hosea has married Gomer, a prostitute, to demonstrate how unfaithful Israel has been to God. Through Gomer, Hosea has had three children: Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi. These three children represent something else about God’s relationship with Israel. None of this has seemed very positive. Basically God told the people that if they want to go their own way and worship other gods they are welcome to do that. But there will be consequences of abandoning the one and only true God.
But now we get to the end of the passage. Like so many other prophecies in the Bible, this very last verse turns things around. Let’s read what it has to say in Hosea 1:10 (NIV): “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.”
Despite everything, despite Israel’s unfaithfulness and her whoring after other gods and walking away from the path that God would have them tread, God has not given up on these people. Back in Genesis, when God first made a covenant with the people of Israel through Abraham, God made them a promise. In Genesis 22:17 (NIV), this is what God said to Abraham: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”
The same promise that God made way back in Genesis, 1,000 years before Hosea’s prophecy, the same words show up. Even though the people have been unfaithful, God has not forgotten his promise. He will still make them like the sands of the seashore which cannot be measured or counted.
Do you understand what this tells us? It reminds us that even when we are unfaithful, God is faithful. Even when we stray from God’s path, God leads us back again. Even when we forget about God’s promises to us, God does not forget.
God’s love is unfailing and his mercy never ends. Love and mercy are two of the most powerful attributes of God. They aren’t separate. They are not distinct. They are like two parallel tracks running through the path of our lives. When God’s love goes, God’s mercy is found. Where God’s mercy flows, God’s love is found. And when we pay attention to both of them, God takes us where we need to be.
That is shown most clearly when, “You are not my people” is changed to “children of the living God”. God’s greatest desire is to restore us to himself. He wants all of us to be known as children of the living God. And ultimately, he wants us to be with him in eternity.
Before closing, I want to say one more things. The way that God treats us is the way that he wants us to treat one another. Just as God will never give up on us not matter how far we stray, neither should give up on each other. And yet, some of us are too quick to do just that. We hold on to past grudges. We blame others for things that happen to us. We stop talking to those who were once close to us. And in doing so, we separate ourselves from one another.
That is not God’s plan for his children. His desire for us, as children of the living God, is to emulate the character of God in our own lives and to be reconciled to one another. Do you remember that line in the Lord’s prayer: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. The point is that if we want God to forgive us, we need to be willing to forgive one another.
So take a few moments to think about who in your life needs to be forgiven. From whom are you separated? What long held grudge do you need to get over? What relational baggage are you carrying that you need to deal with? Whatever it is, whoever it is, it’s time to find the courage and the wisdom to get past it.
Those two tracks of love and mercy need to
reflected in your life as clearly they are reflected in God. Ride those tracks
to wherever God takes you, to whatever lies ahead. That’s part of what it means
to be faithful. That is what it means to be called a child of the living God.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Father God, we offer our praise to you in morning and in the evening, in our homes and at work, everywhere, without hesitation or reservation! When difficult times arise, you are our refuge and strength. Thank you for the assurance that we are never alone. We can depend on you when our own resources come to an end. You are worthy of praise and adoration and we will honour you with our thoughts, words and actions, acknowledging who you are and what you have done for us.
Holy and Living God, the dog days of summer are upon us but at least we have had a brief respite these past two days. Send your cool winds upon us as you have sent your Spirit. As the crops ripen, we become concerned for the farmers and their production. Bless them with good weather and supportive communities.
We also remember our American cousins as they endure what seems to be an increasingly adversarial political system. We look with sadness at the hateful things that are said and grieve that we are sometimes guilty of succumbing to the temptation of sharing in that hate. Forgive us, O God, that we may live by your standards and treat all people with dignity and respect regardless of their political affiliation.
Our prayers are lifted up for the sick and recovering of our congregation and community. We remember, especially, Sharon and John and we offer our support in their lives.
of Love, thank you for the assurance that, as we grow to know your Word, peace
and grace will increase in our lives. That is your promise and your promises
never fail. Thank you for the many other promises that you have given. Enable
us to walk in them fully, trusting in your great mercy, so that through them,
and by them, we may become more like you.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
July 28, 2019 / Pentecost 7 / Proper 12
Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Luke 11:1-13; Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Hear us when we call to you, O God.
ALL: Speak your word of peace to your people.
ONE: Mercy and faithfulness are one with God.
ALL: Justice and peace shall embrace.
ONE: Make our paths straight, O God;
ALL: as we come into your presence.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Justice, we come to you with great rejoicing, with an exuberance of praise and heartfelt thanksgiving for the great and incomparable things you have done. You are the source of our live and the fountain of our strength. By your hand the heavenly bodies move upon their courses. By your love you take note of the smallest of your creatures. Through your word, you teach us how to be your children. Come into our presence and renew us with your Spirit that we may be empowered for compassion and ministry. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful One, we offer our thanks for the ultimate expression of love that you gave to us in Jesus Christ. Through your grace, when we had no hope, you made it possible in us to achieve righteousness through your Son. We acknowledge that it would be impossible to stand before your throne of grace by mere human means but you, by your grace, have made it possible through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice. Lead us back to your path every day that we may confess our sins and walk in your light. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
In the midst of the darkness of life, there is a light which shines God’s love. Our light is in Jesus. Our hope is in Christ. When we honestly repent of our sins. God will forgive and, in forgiving, will give to us a place in the procession to God’s heavenly kingdom.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We offer our resources for your work. We offer our touch that we might be at one with all people. We offer our lives for your redemption and service. We present all that we have in the name of Jesus Christ who gave all for us. Amen.
God has called us. God has blessed us. God has opened our eyes to new
and wonderful possibilities. Let us walk the road that God has placed before us
with hope and confidence.