Everyone is captivated by a good love story that stirs our emotions and leaves our eyes moist. We are mesmerized when we witness a love that seems to transcend the ordinary boundaries of human experience. Our hearts long to experience such love and we are enchantedly moved inwardly when we witness such love genuinely demonstrated. As one thumbs through the pages of the Old Testament, the fingers seem to magically stop at the book of Hosea where we find such a love story. For woven into the very fabric of its pages is found a wondrous love that runs deeper than the deepest ocean and foreshadows the Divine Love flowing forth from He who called Himself the Water of Life – Jesus Christ.
The book Hosea presents to the reader an eternal love story that is illustrated in the life of the tender-hearted prophet. Hosea takes his place among the greatest lovers of all the ages, and having his heart crushed and broken, his actions that followed gives to the world a picture of the heart of the Divine Lover – God.
Most prophets begin the books that bear their names by retelling the event which led them to respond to God’s call. Hosea, who began his ministry about 785 BC during the reign of Jeroboam II, begins by recounting a strange request by the Lord, “The beginning of the word of the Lord by Hosea. And the Lord said to Hosea. Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and the children of whoredoms: for the land has committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord. So he went and took Gomer [and married her]” (Hosea 1:2).
Before proceeding with this amazing love story and how it illustrates the love of God, a question needs to be answered: Did Hosea wed Gomer while she was a harlot or was she chaste at the time of the marriage, later becoming involved in pagan idolatry and harlotry? If Hosea married her while she was already a harlot this presents a moral dilemma, as it diminishes God’s high view of marriage, contradicting His command to the Jews not to marry those involved in pagan idolatry and harlotry (Lev. 21:7). Since God would not violate His own character and commands, it is best to see Gomer as chaste at the time of the marriage to Hosea, only later becoming involved in harlotry. “Take unto thee a wife of whoredoms,” is best understood proleptically, meaning looking to the future and calling her what see would eventually become – a harlot. Hosea is writing after the fact; marrying a chaste woman he records what she later became – unfaithful. As well, Gomer wouldn’t have been a true type of Israel if she was unfaithful at the time of the wedding, as Israel was faithful at first then later committed spiritual adultery.
Hosea and Gomer upon their marriage set up housekeeping and all seemed well. Three children were born into their home, two boys and a girl. Then one day Hosea came home from work and his wife was gone, as she had taken on the life of a harlot. His heart was crushed by unrequited love and he begins to weep uncontrollably. In the midst of his gush of tears Hosea hears the voice of another weeping. It is the voice of God who tells the broken-hearted prophet, “Hosea, just as your wife has adopted a lifestyle of idolatry and harlotry, so my people have gone into spiritual adultery.” In that moment Hosea’s tears became a telescope though which he saw more clearly the very heart of the infinite love of the Divine Lover. He learned the Gospel through his tears. He spoke to the people out of this own suffering and brokenness.
Gomer’s harlotry was tragically a symbolic picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord. Even though many in Israel had turned a deaf hear to the prophet’s preaching, even the most tone deaf could see his flowing tears over his heartbreak and sympathize with his deep sorrow. In effect, Hosea’s wounded love became a living sermon before the people. Hosea had covered Gomer with his love; God had covered Israel with His love. And what Gomer did to Hosea by playing the harlot, Israel did to God by engaging in spiritual harlotry. Hosea’s love for Gomer in spite of her whoredoms did not make sense to onlookers; in like manner God’s love for unfaithful Israel defies understanding. Hosea desired a relationship with Gomer based on love; God desires a relationship with you and I anchored in love.
In Hosea chapter three the prophet out of genuine love travels into the sinful environment of pagan idolatry and immorality and reclaims his unfaithful bride. Gomer was enslaved in pagan harlotry, yet Hosea was willing to pay the redemption price to get her back. Hosea recounts, “So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley” (Hosea 3:2) O, what love, what grace. Returning to the one who loved her most (3:3), the restored relationship of Hosea and Gomer supplied the people with an illustration of God’s Love for them. Just as Gomer was still beloved of her husband, though she had been unfaithful; God still loved Israel, though unfaithful.
God had “wedded” Himself to Israel, but they drifted into spiritual harlotry. Israel had been unfaithful to God’s goodness and defied His holiness , but God in a love beyond our comprehension sought to actively reclaim them. The Lord sought to reclaim them not by tolerating their sin (Hosea 3:4), but restoration would be accomplished through the loving action of redemption by judgement upon their sin, which afterwards the children of Israel would return and seek the Lord their God (3:5). Through the Assyrians, judgement fell upon the Northern Kingdom (722 BC). Judgement was not for the purpose of destroying them, but bringing about repentance from sin unto restoration and reconciliation of relationship with Him. It is hard for the human mind to fathom that in judgment God has a redemptive purpose. True love does not allow continuance in sin, but seeks to redeem out of sin and its destructive nature for the purpose of restoration in relationship.
God is pained by sin and takes action against it. The action of God’s holy-love is two-fold: (1) to justly judge sin in its rebellious opposition to divine holiness, revealing sin’s destructive nature as an enemy of God’s holy nature; sin having created a barrier between God and man; and (2) in the condemnation of sin He reveals the love in His holiness which actively seeks to redemptively reconcile the ruptured relationship with Him caused by sin. God’s love is anchored in His holiness which justly judges and condemns sin in order to redeem; in order to bring about repentance; in order to restore; in order to reconcile; in order to renew the broken relationship with Him. The holiness in such love seeks to crush the sin not tolerate it, for only then can true fellowship be enjoyed with One whose character is holy-love.
The love we see demonstrated in Hosea, was not only an illustrative example of the love God had for unfaithful Israel, but it was a foreshadowing of the great love that God would reveal in Jesus Christ. God in Christ traveled to the environment of sinful man to pay the redemption price. At the cross we see not only the forgiving love of God, we see the holiness of such love. Christ came to crush sin not tolerate it. Christ came to atone for sin not overlook it. P.T. Forsyth has written, “By atonement, therefore, is meant that action of Christ’s death which has a prime regard to God’s holiness, has it for its first charge, and find man’s reconciliation impossible except as His holiness is divinely satisfied once for all on the cross. Such an atonement is the key to man’s redemption and reconciling.” Holiness requires sin to be dealt with not tolerated or simply swept under the rug. On the cross Christ, taking upon Himself holiness’ justifying judgement upon sin and confessing the holiness found in such love, extends the forgiving holy-love of God to sinners like you and I (Romans 5:8).
As sin was judged on Calvary’s Hill for man violating and willfully opposing the holiness of God, the holiness found in such love makes possible our redemption. Christ, as our Substitute, paid the price of redemption, and not with silver and gold but with His precious blood (I Peter 1:18-19). God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Ah, such love, such grace…it escapes our comprehension. And it is such holy-love that beckons us and calls us to His side. While the love of Hosea demonstrated amazing love for Gomer, the holy-love of God in Jesus Christ far exceeds that displayed by Hosea. In Christ we find Divine Love condemning sin, in order that He might be our Redeemer, our Reconciler, our Restorer, the One in whom we can have an abiding relationship.
As Hosea sought out Gomer, today the Lord Jesus Christ seeks after you. The redemption price has already been paid by His atoning work on the cross. May such holy-love woo us to His side.
O, what a Savior!