God seems to have a knack for asking His followers to do strange some things. One of the strangest requests that I can think of did not cause a miracle to happen, but something he asked of the prophet, Hosea. What is so strange about this request it seems to be so out of character with God to ask one of His followers to do such a thing!
"Hosea, I want you to get married!" "Terrific Lord! I've been kind of had that in mind myself. What do you think about Rebecca? You know, the girl in my subdivision? The one with the beautiful long eye-lashes and the cute smile. My mom even likes her! I do too. We've been dating for a while now, Lord. What do you think of her?" "I think that she is very sweet, Hosea. But I have someone else in mind for you. Go down to the corner of Tenth and Main Street in the middle of the night. One of those women standing on the corner is to be your wife. I don't care which one you pick but you must marry that kind of woman. And, by the way, I want you to raise any illegitimate children that she might have."
"What?" "Is that story really true?" Turn with me to the book of Hosea. It's easy to find. It comes just before the book of Joel. Just after the Book of Daniel. I notice that these tiny books of the Bible often pack a wallop. Hosea is no different.
Hosea 1, we'll start with verse 2. When the Lord began to speak though 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, that's why. The theological implications are clear. God did not pick Israel to "marry" her because she was a wonderful, pure bride. He chose her while she was a sinning slave simply because He was gracious and loving and wanted to keep His promise. It sounds familiar, doesn't it. "While you were yet sinners, Christ died to show His love." If Hosea's experience is meant to be a mirror in which we can see God, then it makes sense that he is to show the same amazing grace as God does. That means taking and loving a sinful bride. As the prophet was literally commanded to take an immoral, unfaithful woman as his wife and adopt her children, so God takes sinful people in all their ugliness as His wife and children. Our state is never so bad that God refuses to stop courting us, to stop marrying us, and to stop taking us back.
Verse 3. So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. Well, as long as he has to marry a harlot, he might as well marry one named Gomer! So, they got married and had a son. "Lord, we were thinking of naming him Bob. What do you think of that?"
Verses 4. 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. Jezreel? That would be like God telling you not to name your son Robert. "You need to name him Hiroshima because your people dropped an atomic bomb on that city. You've got to name him Nagasaki, Auschwitz, Dacchau." Jezreel, a destroyed city.
Verse 6-9. Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, "Call her Lo-Ruhamath, for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them. It would be like naming your daughter I'm not going to give you a hug, I'm not going to kiss you, I'm not going to tuck you in at night. That's what this name is like. "I'm not going to show my love to you. It doesn't say "I won't love you." but I'm not going to show it. That will be born out in the next chapter.
Let's skip down to verses 8 and 9. After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamath, Gomer had another son. Then the Lord said, "Call him Lo-Ammi, for you are not my people, and I am not your God. What a name! That would be like naming your boy "You're not my son and I'm not your dad." It kind of makes you wonder how this child came into being. This is a very sordid story. And how would you like to be a son that every time Hosea called you you are reminded that "I'm not his, he's not mine?" That's what that name meant.
Hosea chapter 2. Well, in the first verses God changes their names. You can look at this. "Say of your brothers, 'My people.'" Something has changed here. Chapter 2 is a vivid description of the lifestyle of Gomer and the Israelites. Gomer has left Hosea to love other men. Israel has left God to love other gods. The Old Testament world often seems strange to us. Chronologically and culturally distant, its images and stories often need special interpretation to become relevant. But Hosea is an exception. This tale of an immoral spouse who leaves her husband and children to be with her lover immediately strikes us as relevant. Unfaithful husbands and wives, broken marriages, and abandoned children are all too familiar to us. We can easily identify with the hurt and heartbreak and deep emotions portrayed in this story. And so could they.
Hosea 3:1. The Lord said to me, "Go, show your love to your wife again." What, Lord? She went back to her old ways. She's a prostitute again. You want me to take her back? 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." "Even though they love other gods, I love them. Even though the wife loves other men, you go love her, and take her back." What a twist to the story! Something not quite so easy to understand.
Hosea not only had to take her back, he had to do something else. verse 2, So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. He had to buy her back from her master, if you want to make it real relevant. This was her pimp. Wow! Just as God had to buy us back from our satanic master.
Verse 3. Then I told her, "You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you." A better translation would end this verse by saying "I will wait for you." The implication is clear. You left me. I bought you back. But we will not be able to enjoy our intimate relationship that was in the beginning until the end. You must show your faithfulness to Me. Verse four bears this out.
Hosea 3:4,5. For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward 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. Israel will live without full privileges of the covenant, of the marriage with God until it is reunited under one king. That is a reference to when Israel was not a divided kingdom and David was king. But here, the intended king is the Lord. All will be reunited under Him in the Last days and receive the full privileges of marriage. The intimate relationship that was once had by Adam and Eve with the Creator will be had will be ours, with our Creator in the last days. Yes, we can be close to God today, but we cannot be face to face. It's a probationary time. We have sinned. We must show our faithfulness to our Husband.
What a demonstration of God's love for backsliders!
Turn with me to Hosea 11:7. My people are determined to turn from Me. The King James translates it very well: ..My people are bent to backsliding from Me."
Is there hope for today's backsliders? We have a prayer request box in the foyer. I open it every Monday morning, take out the slips of paper and we bring them to the table in the office and we have prayer over every one of them. Even the many we get requesting a pony! But most of the ones we get seem to refer to family members: "Please pray for my husband, or my brother, or my sister that is slipping away from the church, is slipping away from God, is backsliding. Please pray for them. Please pray for me. I'm not as close to God as I once was." Our hearts go out to these people because we've been there, too. We've all been there. We've all slipped. And we may know someone who is on that path, that slippery path, that is close to us. What is sad is that many of the people whom we might consider to be backsliding would be the most genuine and dedicated Christians if they only understood the Gospel. If they only understood the character of whom they were backsliding from.
We usually think of backsliders as those who don't come to church very often, if at all. But the disturbing thing is that it is possible to be the most faithful attender and "active" individual and still be a backslider. Some may come to church for the purpose of running away from God! This is called a religion of externals. The Pharisees in Christ's day were guilty of this. "Give me something to do so that I don't have to admit that I can do nothing toward my salvation." A person with this attitude tends to be very unforgiving of others, and of self.
Some are backsliders because they believe that the church represents a list of do's and don'ts. If it tastes good, don't eat it. If it looks good, don't look at it. If it feels good, don't touch it. And if it's fun, then by all means don't do it. Not very attractive, is it. Here again, the Gospel is misunderstood. God is not a list of do's and don'ts. God is Love. His commandments are an extension of that love. If you love me keep My commandments. That is said throughout all of Scripture. The love for doing what is right comes from loving He who is right.
Unfortunately, the common theme is, "I just won't be a part of the church. I'll just serve God on my own. After all, the church is full of hypocrites." What's a hypocrite anyway? A hypocrite is the guy that complains about the sex and violence on his VCR. There's a hypocrite. "I'll just serve God on my own. I will live my own life. I'll worship at home. 1 Corinthians 12 shows us that it is impossible to live apart from the body of those who believe in Jesus. I have seen it too many times. People that believe like this very quickly go one of two directions. Most drift away from anything spiritual. There is no one there to encourage them. Some become fanatical about some aspect of religion. The reason the one slips away is that there is no one there to encourage. The reason one becomes fanatical is because there is no one to balance out their view point.
You have seen a lizard on your porch. You know the one. The one with the blue tail. The one that shows up one day without a tail. Have you noticed that the tail grows back? I have seen many a lizard grow a new tail. But I have never seen a tail grow a new lizard! Have you? The tail always decomposes. When we separate ourselves from the body, we rot. But the body lives on. Not perfect, but alive and growing.
Some are backsliding because of open sin in their lives. King David was like this. He stole a man's wife and had her husband killed. But he was still in the church. He was still king. This sin was a symptom of a backsliding heart. Hope comes for this kind of backslider when he realizes just what he has done to break God's heart. After the prophet Nathan pointed this out to David, he responded this way. Look that up some time. This whole chapter is David's response In this way was not, "Well, Lord I'm king, or that was a bad day, or, it wasn't my fault, I'm a man after all and..." He did not make excuses, did he. He said, "You are right!"
And art of that chapter, Psalm 51, is one of my favorite verses where David says, "Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.
Then there is the prodigal backslider. The one who has been close to the Father, who has tasted His love and knows that He is good. But believes that he knows a better way. But even the prodigal son was received home one day when he came to himself and remembered his Father's love. He was received back as a son because he was still a son! A son gone wrong is a son still! He was welcomed back before he even got his confession out. God accepts a person who comes in his rags, just as he is! That's a good thing, because that is all we have to offer. The Bible tells us that all of our righteousness is filthy rags.
Backsliding happens easily and effortlessly. Unsuspected often by self or others. No one wakes up one morning and says, "I think I'll be a backslider today." It's like when you wreck your car. You didn't intend to do that. It is seldom planned. That is why it is called an "accident." If you had been warned that you were going to have an accident if you went on that road, wouldn't you take a different road? I've never yet heard someone say, "Officer, I had an on purpose." It's an accident. Take a different road before that accident happens.
Satan's roads always lead down. Pick the one that goes up. If you are on top of Signal Mountain and are headed down toward Chattanooga, you are on one of two roads. One road is the W-Road. Have you ridden on that? Oh, it's better than Six Flags. You need t go down the W-Road. It drops straight off the mountain. It zig-zags back and forth just like a W. Two cars can't make the curve at the same time. They are so sharp. The name fits. It was built during the Civil War so that soldiers could drag their cannons to the top of the mountain. It can be a very frightening path, especially in the ice! I know. The other road is the main highway. Multi lanes, a gentle descent. For some reason, far more cars are on this road than on the W-Road. Far more people take the slow, gentle route away from God than choose the drop-off.
The devil prefers us to take the long, slow way because he knows that it just makes it seem that much further back.
One day, I watched an elderly gentleman come to stand behind be in line at the post-office. I was there for some stamps. I turned around and watched him get out of his car. His steps were mere shuffles. It took him forever to get to the sidewalk. Stepped slowly onto the sidewalk, shuffled across the sidewalk, shuffled through the door, shuffled in to stand in line behind me. I finally got up to the desk and was paying for my envelop and I heard him exclaim in despair to the person behind him, "I left my envelop in the car. That's too far for me to go back. It would take me forever." The kind gentleman behind him said, "I'll go get it for you." "Oh, no, I'll just mail it again another day." And he shuffled back out to his car. It may seem a long way back to God, but Jesus has offered to make up the difference. Don't refuse that offer! Don't wait for another day.
Is there hope for the backslider? It doesn't seem like it when he looks back and sees how far he's fallen and the struggle it would take to get back to Jesus. But the good news is that Jesus makes up that difference. The way we return to God is through repentance. Just the way we are. That is the point of Hosea's bizarre marriage.
Turn with me to the last chapter of Hosea. Hosea 14:1,2. Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: "Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously... Look at verse 4. "I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. What does he say? "I will heal you. Don't heal yourself and then come. I will do the healing. I will heal you." No one can look at this and say, "That's cheap." Some may try. You can look at it and say, "That's easy. I can backslide all I want and then come back. But remember the Bible also teaches that we reap what we sow. Sin will always have it's consequences. Sin is unacceptable in God's sight. We will reap what we sow even when we return to God. Just as David found out. He confessed. A true repentance. But Uriah was still dead. The result of his sin continued. The difference is that when we return to God, having sown whatever wild oats it was, He will be with us to help us reap. He will be with us to help us bear up under the reaping.
God wanted Israel, His bride, to witness the kind of love he had for her even in her totally adulterous and backsliding condition. So he asked Hosea to marry a prostitute, a prostitute that he had to buy back. God bought us back from our master. He bought us back and the price wasn't chap. It was His son. And that is something my brain can't wrap around: That unfathomable love of God.
But, God asks us to do something even stranger than He asked Hosea to do: Accept this unfathomable love and then, love Me in return. Let's remain faithful to the Bridegroom so that we can once again in that last day be intimate with Him again.
Hymn of Praise: #6, O Worship the King Scripture: 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 Hymn of Response: #75, The Wonder of it All
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last updated 5/27/2001 by Bob Beckett.