Devotional: Hosea 1 – The Scarlet Letter Covered by Crimson Blood

            Whore. What reaction does that word illicit in us when we read it? What does it illicit in us toward someone who has it as their societal label? Perhaps our current generation’s loose sexual ethic maybe has dulled our senses to the full weight of such terms – after all, we’re not a bunch of prudes right? But the sexual stigma of a derogatory slur is not what my focus is here. There was a certain crassness and disgust attached to such terminology and labels in Bible times (and even still today in societies which have retained their traditional or conservative values). But what does this book have to do with us today? I was sparked to spend some time in Hosea from my devotions this morning using a little book gifted to me by a dear friend (“Faith’s Checkbook” by C.H. Spurgeon) which wasn’t on this passage, but got me reading Hosea. So if you’re not already familiar with the passage, I’d suggest reading Hosea 1:1-2:1 before continuing.


The Scarlet Letter

            To be known as the ‘whore’ was to be the outcast of ill-repute, one only sought by men of ill-intention to satisfy illicit desires then to be ill-treated and abandoned. Perhaps to provide for herself she turned to her ‘profession,’ but surely that very profession prevents her from the security of being wedded. It was the catch twenty-two of ancient Israel. The cycle the label created would trap the one scarlet lettered in a cycle of ‘turning tricks,’ after all – what man with enough honour to take a wife would bethroth a prostitute? But this is exactly what God commands Hosea to do.

“When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.” (Hosea 1:2-3)

            Some words there should jump out at us. A “wife of whoredom” is not exactly what our mainstream Christian media would recommend in an article of 10 things to look for in a Christian wife. You definitely won’t be seeing that on the countless Proverbs 31-style blogs! (Not implying that you should, btw) Gomer’s whoredom is meant to be used as an illustration of what Israel had done to God in forsaking Him. Also, “So he went and took Gomer” should jump out at us. Why? Because God never told him the name of who to go marry, just to take a wife of whoredom. I could almost imagine the sighed response of Hosea, “No need to say anymore Lord, I think I know who you’re talking about.” Hosea seems to make a bee line directly to Gomer – which tells us that her reputation perhaps proceeded her. Imagine the scandal – a holy prophet of God wedded to the lady who is the subject of the whispered gossip of the town!


Unrequited Love

            Now, we’d expect that after such an amazing show of grace by Hosea – to take one who did not, by any traditional standards at least, deserve to be married, that Gomer would be overwhelmed with thankfulness for this undeserved blessing and be forever faithful to her lover. Come on lady! The guy is a catch – what are you doing? When we see  “children of whoredom,” it should pop out that the kids she bore are from her harlotry! Notice that nowhere in the text do we see what we usually do in the OT when a wife bears children from her husband. We would expect to see “she bore HIM a son” – but nope. Children of whoredom. The text simply says “she conceived” (v. 3, 6, 8) – not specifying the father of these children. They are illegitimate offspring from unknown suitors and Hosea is left to pay the price of child support – raising kids who perhaps remind him of his wife’s unfaithfulness every time he looks at their faces. Three pairs of little eyes which look nothing like his. What heart break! (And this is only the first chapter of a book that will describe Gomer’s continual forsaking of Hosea to her adulterous night escapades.) This is the analogy that God chooses to illustrate what His people do to Him.


As a side note: This should make us also pause to question our culture’s understanding of the purpose of marriage to be for our own gratification and selfish best interest. Could it be that marriage and a husband’s love for his wife was meant to illustrate something much bigger than this? Hmmm, that sounds almost Biblical (Eph. 5:25). Marriage is also for our sanctification – something inevitable to happen when two sinners join together is there will be some clashes. That man greatly used of God, John Wesley, had a terrible wife also who tormented him beyond measure. However, he attributed most of his success to her because she kept him on his knees. What an outlook on marriage!

A young man once went to see Dr. Harry Ironside to confess a fault. “I’m loving my wife too much!” he told the well-known Bible teacher. “In fact, I’ve put her on such a high plane, I fear it’s sinful.” “Do you think you love your wife more than Christ loved the Church?” inquired Ironside. The husband didn’t dare say he did. “Well, that’s the limit to which we may go,” he continued (Ephesians 5:25).
—H. G. Bosch as quoted in Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 575.


Biblical Names NOT to Name Your Kids

            The naming of the children is an interesting note, if ever there was an understatement to be made! The first, God tells Hosea to name Jezreel – as a prophesy of the coming destruction of the kingdom of Israel (v. 4-5). The other two kids are not much luckier with the names.

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” (Hosea 1:6-9)

            If you think you had problems on the playground growing up with malicious nicknames from 11 year olds (they can be brutal! I think it’s that age where a verbal filter from depravity of heart to speech leaving the mouth hasn’t yet developed), imagine having the names “No Mercy” and “Not My People” (ouch!)! If you think your parents calling you by your whole name when you were in trouble – imagine being called No Mercy when your dad is about to unleash a spanking! hah! In Hebrew the daughter’s name is Lo-Ruhama, and the son’s name is Lo-Ammi (keep this in mind for later, there’s some word-play going on in the text later on). Gomer’s sin, like ours, never is in isolation. Her husband and kids both pay. These names drip loaded with the agony and pain of the betrayed Lover.


Merciless and God-forsaken

         In the context of the analogy, these names also serve as pronouncements of judgment from God against His people, who like Gomer had repeatedly been unfaithful to Him and abandoned Him for ‘other lovers.’ The fruit born of these adulterous pursuits would be their own judgment – no mercy and God-forsakeness. Such is the fruit of our sin though. It brings the righteous wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18) and separation from God. We were all once ‘children of wrath’ before we were made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:3). We too repeatedly go after other lovers, and even now as God’s bride – His Church still can be drawn away to sinful pursuits.

            We often fail to remember that we were betrothed though we were unworthy (Rom. 5:8, Eph. 2:13), and so we go back to our harlotry, forsaking our first love. Like the foolishness of a dog returning to its vomit, how crazy that we who have been set free from slavery to sin take up its yoke again (Prov. 26:11, Gal. 5:1)!? I’ve often sat beside myself lamenting this folly after yet again the enticements of sin prove to be empty promises that exchange momentary pleasure with prolonged regret and sorrow. I think it not presumptuous to assume that many of you have been there too. It is with great weight that we should consider what Peter says of those who,

…after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:20-22)


Disowned

The jealous anger of a wronged faithful husband is just.

Not. My. People.

            “For you are not my people, and I am NOT your God.” – “You are no wife of mine…” Let that moment sit for a while. Let it sober us, after the blinding lust of sin’s passions have dwindled and recessed. The morning light floods in to show the fruit of deeds done in last night’s darkness – Gomer slowly enters through the curtain of their tent and a lover’s slouched back slumped over in despair and sorrow greets her shameful entry. Hosea has his head buried in the tear soaked palms of his hands as those bitter words drip off quivering lips. And if the text had left us there, it would be utterly fair. Divorce her. That’s what she deserves. Why should you take her back? Another nine months of caring for her swollen feet and back pains? Why pay to raise kids that are not your own and deal with problems you didn’t create? Hosea could justly assert his rights – after all, unfaithfulness is Biblical grounds for divorce, right? After all, this wasn’t a one time or two time mess up by now – who would fault him for tapping out?


YET

            “Yet.” Those who have been caught guilty love the sound of that single syllable. That glorious word rings a resounding echo of hope amidst the awkward silence laden with guilty tension. If this word is not underlined in your Bible – underline and highlight it. This word, though it is not explicitly there in the Hebrew text, rightly introduces the apposition that is implicitly in the text. This verse is a turning point in the text.

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them,“Children of the living God.” (Hosea 1:10)

            We had seen a pronouncement of destruction (v. 4-5), a withdrawal of mercy (v.6-7) and a disowning by God (v.8-9). Yet, here in this one verse God shows He has not forgotten His promise to Abraham – though destruction and judgment are coming, there will be a remnant from which His people will outnumber the sand of the sea. The place where it was said to them, “You are not my people” – could be understood as Jerusalem. Hosea was writing around 755-725 BC, and eight centuries later, around 30-33AD the Faithful Lover hangs on a Cross outside Jerusalem to redeem His people. In that place, through the blood of Christ, we were made to become “Children of the living God.”  (Gal. 3:13-15, 1 Pet. 1:18-19, Eph. 1:5-7, Rom. 5:9, Col. 1:14)

Yet.


Messianic Foreshadows of the Bridegroom yet to come

            But wait, Jesus is nowhere in the text you say. Where are you getting this? The apostle Paul quotes this very verse in what is probably one of the most debated chapters in the NT (and we will not be exploring those debates here). In Romans 9:22-26, Paul applies these words as a testimony to the election and calling of non-Jews as God’s people.

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
(Romans 9:22-26)

In Christ, Paul sees this promise fulfilled – that those who were once called “Lo-Ammi” (not my people), i.e. Gentiles, would be called “Ammi” (my people). He even echoes the Abrahamic covenant quoted in Isaiah of their number being as the sand in Rom. 9:27. Peter also sees this connection in 1 Peter 2:10, “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.” Though Gomer had been repeatedly unfaithful and bore illegitimate offspring, God – as He commanded Hosea – has committed to be faithful to His people, and even to adopt those offspring as His own by the blood of His Son so that those who were once called “not my people” would be called sons and daughters.

         This calling and adoption was not because of their will or faithfulness, but because of His Divine mercy and grace. His covenant love that, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13) The Gospel analogies throughout the book of Hosea abound, that though Gomer goes off again to play the harlot,  Hosea pursues her and buys her back to himself.


As a side note; what does this teach us about our approach to marriage as a covenant reflection of Christ’s love for the Church? How does this affect how we pursue marriage if we’re single, or live out our married life if already wedded? How do we display unconditional covenantal love if we only love those who meet our conditions and are quick to break commitments?


Lover and Lord

The allusion to Christ continues right there in the next verse:

And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. (Hosea 1:11)

            They appoint One Head. The Lord Christ, the Messiah, that Davidic King. This link is seen more explicitly in chapter 3: “Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days.” (Hosea 3:5) Though Jesus is the Church’s bride, also Christ is King of His people. Not simply accepted as if He needed our acceptance. His is a Kingdom, where He reigns as Sovereign, to which we must bow the knee in humble and faithful submission as His people. However, let us also remember that such allegiance and demands of obedience are only requisite after grace has been shown. Grace bestowed always precedes obedience required. This is what it means to live as a citizen of the Kingdom  – our faithfulness to Him is thankfully not based on our track record but should be in response to what He has done, conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Phil. 1:27-30).

            Like Gomer, we frequently go astray, but the relentless pursuit of our Covenant Lover has bought us back – and our continued obedience to Him is lived in light of that final “well done” which has been already declared of every blood-bought son and daughter. Yet still, it is not as if we sit back passively succumbing to sin – shall we continue to sin that grace would abound? Surely not! (Rom. 6:1-2) Christ did not come to save us from Hell alone, but to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). As such, we find continually that the Bible implores us to forsake our sins, to stop going after other lovers, we have died to sin in Christ (if we truly be in Christ) and we live continually in light of that reality (Rom. 6:11, 7:4, Gal. 2:19, Col. 2:20, 3:3, 1 Pet. 2:24, 4:2). It is this continual calling back of us to Himself that we take ear to as saints, that He will not utterly forsake His own – if even for a time He disciplines us. It is this stopping in our tracks that shows to us we are His, that though we sin still from time to time, we do not persist in rebellion but God grants repentance as a lifestyle (see 1 John 2:4, 3:6-9, 5:18).


Redemption’s Reversal

Say to your brothers, “You are my people,” and to your sisters, “You have received mercy.” (Hosea 2:1)

            Hosea 2:1 then emphatically makes the point of this reversal explicit. Whereas we saw the son being called “No Mercy” (v. 6) and the daughter, “Not My People” (v.9) – we now see in reverse order, brothers being told, “You are my people” and sisters, “You have received mercy.” God has redeemed for Himself a particular people, for whom His covenant faithfulness shall never fail. He knows that her illegitimate children come with the bride, just as He knew your sins – past, present and still to come – when he paid your ‘dowry’ on the Cross, adopting you into the Church, His bride. Why then do we often try to beat punish ourselves for sins which were already paid for at the Cross as if to thereby earn some merit or sadistic therapeutic relief of guilt? We question the finished work on the Cross – saying not “Jesus paid it all” but rather, “Jesus paid most, but I got some more down payments to make still…” We repudiate God’s forgiveness and holiness when we seemingly piously say, “I know He’s forgiven me, but I just can’t forgive myself.” Oh, because you’ve got a higher moral standard than GOD Himself right?

            The Book of Hosea reassures us of God’s unconditional love for His people, but also of how God is dishonoured and angered when we sin. To you He has said, “you are my people, you have received mercy.” This is where this passage brings us, when we have played the harlot again and sinned, in repentance to the foot of the Cross where “it is finished” still rings true today as it did then on Calvary’s hill. Our Faithful Bridegroom does not let go of His bride. He pursues, redeems, and sanctifies her for Himself.

The scarlet letter is covered by His crimson blood.

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