This term I am kicking off a new series on ‘major truths from the twelve minor prophets’ with a Bible study on Hosea. So I thought that in my blog today I would reflect on Hosea, who points us to the amazing truth that God is into second chances!
For the most part we know very little about Hosea. 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.
The one thing we do know is that Hosea had massive marriage. 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).
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 ends: “”in the same way, my people have left me and become unfaithful”. 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 love 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.
At one point Gomer left Hosea altogether. For in Hosea 3 we discover Gomer is on sale in the market as a slave. But amazingly, Hosea took Gomer back. He paid fifteen shekels and 150 kgs of barley for her. Yet again we have a picture of a God who cannot give up on his people altogether.
The message of Hosea is that God in his love is into second, third, and even fourth chances. He is a God of grace, 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.
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.