God is into second chances

Breakfast with the Bible, Chelmsford Cathedral 6 January 2019

INTRODUCTION

Hosea was one of the greatest of the OT prophets

  • More than any other prophet he reveals to us the heart of God. He tells us that God loves us – that even when we wander away God in his love will never let us go – he is the God of second of chances
  • More than any other prophet his professional calling and his personal life were closely linked: “the pain in the heart of the prophet became a parable of the anguish in the heart of God” (James Limburg)

Hosea was a great preacher – he was not a writer

Apart from the first three chapters, which deal for the most part with Hosea’s marriage, the rest of the book is a motley collection of sayings and sermons.

Here we have a reminder that in the first instance the prophets were preachers, not writers. Their words were written down and edited by their disciples.

Sometimes we could wish that he disciples had done a better job of editing

Hosea was a man about whom we know very little

Scholars tell us that Hosea was probably preaching in the period 750-715 BC: i.e. during the final troubled years of Israel before it succumbed to the Assyrians.

Where he preached, we do not know. However, the many references to the northern kingdom of Israel probably indicate that Hosea was a northerner.

HOSEA – A MAN WITH MEGA MARRIAGE PROBLEMS

The one thing we do know is that Hosea had massive marriage problems.

The problem is introduced in the very second verse of the book: “When the Lord first spoke to Israel through Hosea, he said to Hosea: ‘Go and get married; your wife will be unfaithful, and your children will be just like her” (1.2 GNB). NRSV: “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom”.

He went and took… Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim” (1.3 NRSV)

What a wedding day that must have been for Hosea. In the words of Kevin Logan: “It’s all hearts and flowers for the normal husband-to-be. His picture-book bride flats up the aisle toward him to the strains of the wedding march. The starts in his eyes tend to eclipse any fears that may lurk in the back of his mind. Things like wife-swapping, adultery and divorce are hidden behind a star-spangled blindfold of love. But for Hosea, there was no such blindfold. He proposed with his eyes wide open. He knew there would be problems. He foresaw one domestic tragedy after another. The only stars in his eyes were falling ones.”.

Why on earth did God tell Hosea to marry such a woman? Was God a sadist? Far from it. God called Hosea to marry Gomer in order to provide his people Israel with a visual aid of his love. Notice how that second verse of chapter one ends: “in the same way, my people have left me and become unfaithful”. (GNB) – or as the NRSV “for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking God”.

When God told Hosea to marry Gomer he was in effect saying: ‘Hosea, I need your help. I have marriage problems too. Israel is my bride, but she is unfaithful. Yet I have remained faithful to her. I have supported her, even when she has had love affairs with other gods. But the world has forgotten this. your marriage can remind them. I want you to love Gomer and to marry her, just as I have loved and married Israel. Gomer will have love affairs with other men, but I want you to stick by her. This will be a picture of my marriage to Israel.’

God wanted to have a visual aid to show Israel his love.

But what a visual aid it was going to be. Hosea was to be the loving, caring husband, while Gomer was to spend her life jumping into her neighbours’ beds.

Indeed, of his three children, only the first was actually his: the other two were Gomer’s. Gomer was on the game – and in those days there was no such thing as safe sex. Selling your body and giving birth went hand in hand.

Poor old Hosea. Just imagine his pain

Gomer left Hosea

It seems that finally Hosea lost patience and sent her packing

Precisely what became of Gomer is unclear: one possibility is that instead of being a free-lance prostitute, she went into the religious sex-trade instead and became a priestess of Baal. Baal, incidentally, simply means ‘Master, Lord’

Baal worship was Israel’s alternative religion. It was essentially a fertility cult.

Baal worshipper attempted to encourage their Lord in giving rain to the land by engaging in ‘sympathetic’ magic. It was a kind of Voodoo – save that instead of sticking pins into a doll, it involved having sex with sacred prostitutes.

It was to these practices to which Hosea refers when in 4.11-18 GNB he declares: “The Lord says… They have left me. Like a woman who becomes a prostitute they have given themselves to other gods. At sacred places on the mountain tops they offer sacrifices, and on the hills they burn incense under tall spreading trees, because the shade is so pleasant! As a result your daughters serve as prostitutes, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery… You yourselves go off with temple prostitutes, and together with them you offer pagan sacrifices…..”

Hosea took Gomer back!

Alas life for Gomer went from bad to worse. By the time we reach chapter 3 she is on sale in the market as a slave. “The Lord said to me, ‘Go again and show your love for a woman who is committing adultery with a lover. You must love her just as I still love the people of Israel, even though they turn to other gods and like to take offerings of raisins to idols.’ So I paid 15 pieces of silver and 150 kgs of barley to buy her” (Hos 3.1-2).

Absolutely amazing. Just imagine the comments people must have been making:

  • I’d rather be dead than bid for that slut
  • He must be out of his mind, after what she’s done to him
  • She must be stoned, not sold.

But Hosea took Gomer back – and in taking her back and loving her, he modelled God’s love for his people. God cannot give up on his people.

There is going to be a honeymoon period again: look at 2.14, 15: “I am going to take her into the desert again; there I will win her back with words of love. I will give back to her the vineyards she had and make Trouble Valley [NRSV: the valley of Achor: see Joshua 7.22-26 and Achan] a door of hope

Perhaps the key verse is Hosea is found in 2.19: “Israel, I will make you my wife; I will be true and faithful; I will show you constant love and mercy and make you mine forever” (GNB) or in the words of NRSV: “I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy”!

God decides that the marriage between himself and his people will not end in divorce. Instead, the marriage will be saved. “I will say ‘You are my people’, and they will answer, ‘You are our God’ (2,23), words which are echoed by Peter in his First Letter: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2.10)

THE MESSAGE OF HOSEA FOR TODAY

The message of Hosea is that God in his love is into second, third, and even fourth chances. The God whom Hosea depicts is a God of love – of undeserved love – a God of grace.

A God who centuries later revealed his love and grace in his Son Jesus Christ.

In particular, he is a God of second chances, who even when we wander away, calls us back to himself.

In some ways Hosea anticipated Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, who wandered into the ‘far country’. The good news is that none of us have ever wandered too far away from God – for God is always ready to receive us back.

It doesn’t matter who we are, what we have done, God loves us – and will forgive us. In the words of 1 John 1.9 “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive usour sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness

But is there more that we can learn? Is God into second chances when it comes not just to our relationship with him, but to our relationships with others?

Is God into second chances when marriages break down – and break down ‘irretrievably’. Is there hope in God’s sight after divorce?

Can people who have failed to fulfil God’s purpose for marriage be allowed to marry again? ‘No’ say some: Jesus in his teaching on divorce ruled it out. I’m not so sure.

Jesus was certainly against easy divorce – but commentators disagree as to whether Jesus totally ruled out the possibility of re-marriage.

My reading of Hosea, however, is that God is into second chances, and so too by extension should his church be into second chances – not least in the messy area of divorce and re-marriage.

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