Has a loved one ever told you something about themselves that left your jaw down on the floor near the fancy rug? Maybe not shocking because of the details, but because you’d known them forever and since when were they allergic to green olives!?
Well, that’s how I felt at seventeen when my pastor preached a sermon series on Hosea.
Hos…who? I had gone to Christian schools off and on moving around but always Sunday School, had always had a copy of some illustrated Bible between Bob and my twin beds, and once I transferred to the Baptist high school at age 14, well… there was chapel every day, church meetings on Wednesday nights, youth group on Sunday nights, and two services in the morning. HOW was I just now hearing this story of some guy and his terrible wife?
The sermon knocked me off my feet. Big because of it’s symbolism.
I don’t doubt that Hosea and Gomer were real and that what God did in their marriage and through her adultery and illegitimate children was real, but God shared their story with us ((and asked BIG things of Hosea)) because He wanted to illustrate Himself.
And at age seventeen, parked in my Mazda Protege in the cul-de-sac outside a pal’s house, I wrote my very first worship-y song. Actually, it was my very first song ever – if you don’t count the times I sang “originals” for my parents, which was just little Katie making a loud melody out of as many words as my parents could stand to listen to so I could get some attention away from Baby Bobby with his perfectly circular Charlie Brown head, owl-like blue eyes and angelic demeanor. I’d just grab a spoon or hairbrush or probably a stick and claim whatever coffee table I’d climbed on top of was a stage and that I had a LOT to share about autumn leaves. Cue eleven minutes of spontaneous rhyming. Those songs would’ve made a great “MTV Unplugged” CD.
But beyond that and some very emotional teenage poetry to my crush-of-the-week ((which occasionally plagiarized lyrics from Brandy and Monica)) this was my first song. Where the purpose was to draw attention to who God is, who we are, and to praise His name.
That summer my spirit poured out on those pages, which continued the next couple of years. Since I can’t tell you the difference between a treble note (is that a thing) and a french horn, well… I don’t think I anticipated anything every “happening” with those journal pages and loose-leaf notebooks, but I kept writing.
And for a long time I would “preach to myself” with the words of that first song, written for and from Hosea. Humming them when my heart was sad or mind was dark. Reminding myself of Himself.
It’s been seventeen more years since then and I can recall that first verse & chorus and their melody in a moment:
God chose his bride.
She made mistakes.
And as she stood there looking out among the crowd…
Her head hung low,
Her body ached.
But then a voice she knew rang out strong and loud:
“I love you.
I claimed you.
And I’ll pay any price that they would ask.
I missed you.
I’ll never leave you.
And I am so very glad to have you back.”
The message of God claiming back his bride, filthy with the sin of adultery, just like Hosea with his wife Gomer, was a beautiful and powerful image that stuck.
I never anticipated that this unfamiliar book of God’s word that’d already gotten my attention would do it again so many years later! But, while reading through it a few weeks ago per my One Year Bible, I ended up sobbing. No exaggeration… not tears, not crying, not bawling. Sobbing. Because I have been stuck in a very long long long long long dark season. Sin and doubt and anger and fear and anxiety and more sin have ruled every day. Maybe not all day every day, but at least part of each day. For many hundreds of days.
And I expected to read a couple of chapters that detailed the sweet reunion of God to His bride – encouraging my oft-wandering heart.
Instead, the ANGER of a God who had been cheated on – bigger and stronger than a husband who’d been cheated on – those were the details. The punishment and power and broken-heartedness and promises, that’s the surprise that I didn’t see coming… that I didn’t remember and that churned sobs out of my throat.
So this week, your Hopers are going to take the fourteen chapters of Hosea and summarize and apply them, two chapters per day.
I hope you come to our corner of the internet all week long and dig in deep with us. I also hope that you will pick up your Bible and read the full words to supplement our summaries – don’t rely solely on us. We aren’t the Holy Spirit or the originator of these words.
Chapter 1 starts off without pulling any punches:
“When the Lord first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, He said to him, ‘Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.’” And not only did he marry Gomer, the prostitute, but after she gave birth to three children from other men, Hosea took her back each time.
If God was that transparent in His plans with us, would we do it? If He told us that He had a plan for us that would hurt, that would break our hearts, all for His glory – would we do it when the details were revealed? I wouldn’t. Though I spend much of my time all-but-screaming to know what this plan is that He’s cooked up for my life that includes so much loneliness and longing, maybe it’s better if we don’t know. If what we’ve said in our journeys of faith is true – that our lives are truly His for the taking and we want mostly His glory to be known, we should be willing to showcase His truths and plans however He orchestrates, but this was a life of so much pain for Hosea.
And not only pain for a husband whose wife would have sex and babies with other lovers, but these first few chapters put God’s pain up to a bullhorn.
Israel was the land of God’s chosen people, but over and over again they had hurt Him.
She ran after other lovers – after idols.
“She doesn’t realize it was I who gave her everything she has – the grain, the new wine, the olive oil; I even gave her silver and gold. But she gave all my gifts to Baal.” Hosea 2:8
Our God poured His grace and generosity and mercy out and His people didn’t even acknowledge His love. They worshiped an idol THEY HAD MADE! They chose an inanimate object made of melted down metal and heaved up on a pedestal to worship over the God of the universe… the Lover they took for granted.
What about you?
And God punished her. He had every right to. No one’s ever looked at a spoiled screaming child throwing a temper tantrum and thought that the parent turning a blind eye was full of love and wanting that child’s best. No way!
The parent that loves the selfish, self-centered, screaming child is the one who disciplines out of love.
But ooooohhhhhhhhhhh how we hate discipline.
I HATE DISCIPLINE!
I hate punishment!
“Sure I might ignore your grace and mercy God, but it’s all I want! Because if you discipline me for my sin than you’re a jerk!” shouts my idol-worshipping heart.
I worry that the church as a whole has tried to over-correct in this generation. YES there are innumerable examples where “the church” has been hurtful and hateful in the name of God ((which is horrible and the result of broken horrible people that God’s far angrier with than we could ever be!)), but the church HE designed and demands and wants desperately is beautiful!! That’s why He refers to her as “His bride!”
But in an effort to apologize to the world around us, much of “the church”, aka millennial Christians, have trumpeted God’s all-encompassing forgiveness and love. And we’ve turned down the volume on the truths that God is the King who has every right, EVERY RIGHT to judge and punish and withhold. HE IS THE ONE WHO RULES, not us, NOT US!
But keep reading the words in Hosea because it doesn’t end there… yes, there was punishment and anger and withholding but there is also the heart of a God who is Himself the epitome of compassion…
“But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.” Hosea 2:14-15
What got me sobbing that night under my covers was the word “desert”
… all along I’ve wanted to be drawn OUT of the desert and then, and only then, am willing to hear the words of love from a God who loves me. But as long as we’re in the desert? Uh-uh.
I’ve entwined the two so much that in my brain and heart, they are incorrectly one and the same. Love means anywhere but the desert. There is no love if I’m in the desert.
And the reality is, Israel wandered in a desert for 40 years. And God loved them there no less than He loved them in a land of flowing milk and honey. And I might be stuck in a figurative desert of pain and less-than-I-hope-for for that long or longer, but it doesn’t mean God can’t or won’t love me right there in a dehydrated dust storm.
Later on in chapter two God shares that there will be a day where His people will look at Him as a husband instead of a master. Oh what a world of difference there is between the two and how desperate I am to see God as a committed, loving covenant-maker and not solely as the one who shouts and orders from the ship’s helm. How desperate I am to know the balance of both as He is fully Grace and fully Anger, fully Joy and fully Judgement. I want to know more of the fullness of the one true God of the universe. And stop worshipping the idols of sex and relationship and materialism and ___insert a hundred other idols here___.
I am not God. He is. So what a waste to chase other lovers and to worship them or myself! I am not the one to worship. He is. I might shout my demands, but am I the infinite all-powerful Creator? I might often excuse my sin by shoving “my truth” ((the buzzword of 2018, which is often proves to be palatable lies we feed ourselves that provide false happiness)) over the real truth of HIM… but which provides eternal stability, safety, and salvation?
The pastor I worshipped with yesterday mentioned that all we do and prioritize and are motivated by should be LOVE, and that we can’t give what we don’t know.
As one who knows a Master, I know how to follow and give commands.
I am desperate to know a Lover in this desert place. To be able to extend and receive Love without fear and anxiety and constant weariness and suspicion.
Like Gomer, and like Isreal – I have cheated on God. I have been a bride who left the altar in the middle of making forever vows to run after other lovers. I have worshipped other idols. I have believed that these years in the desert were the proof that He doesn’t love me. I have let that assumed lack of love excuse away my sin. And He doesn’t excuse away my sin.
“‘I will punish her for all those times when she burned incense to her images of Baal, when she put on her earrings and jewels and went out to look for her lovers but forgot all about me,’ says the Lord.” Hosea 2:13
But if God can, and more importantly desires, to reclaim us and provide for us, than I shouldn’t ignore the punishments justly earned – I should learn my lesson. And trudging through the sand, I should reach for his hand – believing that it’s there to hold mine while He leads the way, never absent, never only angry.
Oh that we would both sing, to each other “I love you. I claimed you. And I’d have paid any price that they would ask. I missed you. I’ll never leave you, and I am so very glad to have you back.”
“‘In that day, I will answer,’ says the Lord.
‘I will answer the sky as it pleads for clouds.
And the sky will answer the earth with rain.
Then the earth will answer the thirsty cries
of the grain, the grapevines, and the olive trees.
And they in turn will answer, ‘Jezreel’ -‘God plants!’
At that time I will plant a crop of Israelites and raise them for myself.
I will show love to those I called ‘Not loved.’
And to those I called ‘Not my people,’
I will say, ‘Now you are my people.’
And they will reply, ‘You are our God!’”