A Love Beyond Degree1
I read the Old Testament story of Hosea with shock and amazement. Hosea may have lived 2,700 years ago, but his idea of marriage wouldn't have differed greatly from mine. Like most other men, he wanted a wife who was faithful and pure and gentle and loving. He didn't get one.
Hosea married a whore. Sorry, but there's no reason to tone down the language. Hosea's wife, Gomer (I've often wondered if she had a brother named Goober!), was a whore, a prostitute. She was unfaithful, ungrateful, unbelieving, and unloving. Why, then, did he marry her? Because God told him to.
"Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord" (Hosea 1:2).
Hosea was to represent God. Gomer, his wife, was to play the part of Israel. Instead of simply telling his people how sinful they were and how he was determined to love them anyway, God brought Hosea and Gomer center-stage to dramatically act it out.
So Hosea married a harlot. He adopted the children she had conceived because of her immoral trysts (cf. Hosea 1:2). She then bore Hosea three children whom God also used to illustrate the depth of Israel's sin.
I'm fascinated with the reasons people give for naming their children the way they do. Often names are selected which they hope will instill confidence in their child. Others pick whatever is fashionable at the time. I happen to be named after my grandfather.
My father once told me of a family in his home town who named their six children Victor, Vada, Vida, Velda, Vester, and Vernon! A friend of mine, less concerned with alliteration, opted for biblical names for his seven kids.
When God named the offspring of Hosea and Gomer, his decision was shaped by the lesson he wanted to teach Israel. Thus, the firstborn, a son, was named Jezreel, which means "God scatters". This clearly pointed to the judgment that would befall Israel. The second child was a daughter, Lo-Ruhamah, which means "not pitied." And the third child, another son, was called Lo-Ammi, "not my people."
Marriage and motherhood did nothing to temper Gomer's promiscuous passions. She cheated on Hosea. She turned her back on him, spurned his love, and committed adultery.
Love, so we are told, like most everything else, surely has its limits. So who would dare speak ill of Hosea for divorcing Gomer? But he didn't. God's love, symbolically expressed in the action of Hosea, unlike everything else, shatters the mold. Indeed, it stretches the limits of credulity.
How can I even begin to describe a love so deep that it would pursue a chronic fornicator even as she seeks illicit pleasures in the arms of her paramour? Yet that is precisely what God told Hosea to do!
"The Lord said to me, 'Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.' So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, 'You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you'" (Hosea 3:1-3).
Hosea, playing the part of God, was to purchase back to himself his wayward and wanton wife. Gomer, playing the part of unfaithful Israel, is redeemed by the relentless love of her husband.
Moreover, the threats implied in the names of their children are graciously transformed into blessings. Such is the power of God's love that Jezreel no longer means "God scatters" but "God plants" (Hosea 2:22). Lo-Ruhamah becomes Ruhamah, "pitied." And Lo-Ammi becomes Ammi, "My people."
Make no mistake. The redemptive love of Hosea for Gomer, that is, of God for Israel, was a foreshadowing of God's love for the church, for you and me. Let me be blunt: you and I are spiritual fornicators. We are worthy of eternal divorce in the depths of hell. But "this is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God [any more than Gomer loved Hosea], but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:9-10).
Gomer was redeemed by Hosea for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethek of barley. God redeemed us through the precious, spotless blood of his dear Son, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19)! Indeed, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8; cf. John 3:16; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2).
Merely sending Jesus into the world could hardly be construed as an act of unparalleled love. But sending him to die as the redemptive price for the souls of scurrilous spiritual adulterers like you and me is love beyond degree.