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Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Studies in Hosea (5) (Hosea 3)

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Study Number 5

(Hosea 3)

The theme of Hosea's prophecy is the amazing love of God for His people Israel. This love relationship was illustrated by the relationship between Hosea and his wife Gomer. The Lord had commanded His servant to marry this immoral woman. Almost from the start the marriage had gone bad. After bearing him three children, the last two probably not his, she left him to live with other men.

In this way Gomer's unfaithfulness became an object lesson to show Israel how she had committed spiritual adultery. Jehovah had married His people, but like Gomer, the Lord's bride also had gone after other lovers. Israel had become an idolatrous nation.

Instead of finding happiness this way, however, the people ended up in great misery. This too was illustrated by what happened to Gomer. The affairs she had with other men all turned sour, as one after another of her lovers dumped her and left her more miserable each time. Gomer sank lower and lower in the social scale until at last she was sold as a slave in the capital city, Samaria.

This too was a picture of what had happened to Israel and what happens to every sinner who seeks happiness apart from God. The world thinks that freedom from God and religion is the best thing for man, but it really is the worst thing that can happen, because instead of finding freedom this way, man finds himself enslaved by sin.

This is the choice we have all made in paradise. We exchanged the fellowship with God, our Maker, for the friendship of Satan. That is how we became his slaves.

The story of Israel, however, shows us something that is even worse. Because Israel had been delivered from slavery, God had redeemed that people from Egypt and married them at Sinai. But soon after the marriage Israel again showed a perverse desire to follow other gods. Idolatry became her besetting sin.

Isn't that still our besetting sin today? Not that we literally serve idols made of gold or silver, but we serve idols that are just as real, or even more so. For, what is idolatry? In the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, idolatry is, instead of, or besides the one true God who has manifested himself in his word, to contrive, or have any other object in which men place their trust (Question and Answer 95).

This makes all of us idolaters, doesn't it? Like Gomer, we think that this will bring us happiness and satisfaction. It does not, because it cannot! Whether we realize it or not, we are by nature, and even after conversion, big fools.

God could justly leave us all to our foolishness. He has every right to say: have it your way and perish in your sin. But He does not do that!

Hosea 3 tells us what God has done and still does for guilty, foolish sinners. He says to Hosea, go and 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 flagons of wine (sacred raisin-cakes). The Lord tells Hosea to love Gomer, even though she had been unfaithful to him. We should not interpret this as if the prophet was forced to love her against his will, but rather that the Lord had implanted such a deep love in Hosea's heart, that even after everything she had done to him, he could still have affectionate feelings for her.

To get her back, however, he must purchase her back from the man who owns her. This means Hosea has to go to the slave market in Samaria, where Gomer along with other unfortunate wretches, is being put up for sale on the auction-block.

We know quite a bit about the slave trade in antiquity. Before the auction began, there was an opportunity to inspect the merchandise. This meant that the slaves were carefully checked for any physical defects while they stood there naked before their prospective buyers.

No doubt, that is how Gomer was also put up for sale. Hosea had to put in his bid along with others. What is she worth to you, the auctioneer asked? Ten pieces of silver, one man shouted. Eleven, said Hosea. Twelve pieces of silver said another gentleman. Hosea upped his bid: thirteen! Fourteen, countered the first man. Hosea tried again: fifteen pieces of silver.

The lower bidders started to drop out, but one man tried again: fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel of barley. Hosea, determined to have her, cried: fifteen pieces of silver, plus a bushel and a half of barley. The other man gave up. Looking around to see if anyone else was interested and making sure there were no other bids, the auctioneer said: sold to Hosea for fifteen pieces of silver, plus a bushel and a half of barley!

Hosea got himself a real bargain, because what he paid for his wife was about half the amount charged for a good ox or donkey. The point is that he became the legal owner of his wife. Gomer was his property, which meant he could do with her as he pleased. He could have sold her again or even put her to death as punishment for infidelity. But he did neither! At this point, Hosea's love, which is only an illustration of God's love for us sinners, comes out most beautifully. Instead of seeking revenge, he put Gomer's clothes on her and took her home with him. He added this stipulation: Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot and thou shalt not be for another man: so shall I also be for thee.

What Hosea meant was this: Gomer will be restored to her former position as his wife, but because of her past conduct she must prove her love and devotion to her husband by living celibate for some time. She is to have no contact with any man, including Hosea. He, from his side, promises not to take another woman either.

Why does Hosea impose this restriction upon their relationship? Not to take revenge, but to give her time to think. While in seclusion, Gomer will reflect on her shameful behaviour and begin to long for her true husband again. In the meantime, he also will look forward to the end of this period of seclusion.

Remember that all this is an illustration of God's love for sinners. Just as Hosea purchased Gomer for himself, so Christ bought His Church to be His special possession. Our Saviour stepped, as it were, into the market place of sin and purchased His Own out of sin's bondage. But He got no bargain. The price Jesus paid was very high: we were redeemed, Peter says, not with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (I Pet.1:18,19).

This is how we became His! He ransomed us, set us free from the slavery of sin and Satan and made us His Own. He took us and covered our nakedness with the garments of salvation, with the robe of His righteousness. He said to us also: prove your love to me by never looking at another man again. Flee from the world and sin and I will live with you and love you forever.

Hosea applies the story of his dealings with Gomer to the way the Lord would deal with Israel. In verses 4 and 5 he prophesies:

For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king and without a prince and without a sacrifice and without an image and without an ephod and without teraphim: Afterward shall the children of Israel return and seek the Lord their God and David their king and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.

Commentators are divided as to the fulfilment of this prophecy, whether the reference is to the return of the exiles from Babylon or the restoration of the Jews to Israel and their national conversion to Christ.

Personally, I believe in a fulfilment in stages. That is to say, the return of which Hosea speaks refers initially to the end of the captivity when representatives from the exiles went back to Jerusalem. This marked the end of the division of Israel and thus a return to David their king.

Next, a further fulfilment took place in the New Testament, when both Jews and Gentiles came to know Christ, the great Son of David. We may also look for a final fulfilment when many Jews will be converted to Christ.

Apart from these literal fulfilments, however, I see here also a spiritual application, which should not be ignored. What we have in these verses is a good description of what all sinners experience when they are converted to God. They all go through a period when the Lord puts them in seclusion, so to speak, a time when they are made to reflect on their state, like the prodigal son, who after he had spent his father's inheritance in the service of sin, came to himself and returned to his father.

When a sinner repents and returns to God, he or she will experience what Hosea says about repentant Israel: they shall fear the Lord and his goodness. The Hebrew says, they shall come trembling before His goodness. How is that possible? Realizing how great their sins and miseries are, they are overwhelmed by the Lord's goodness. How can He love such a sinful people?

During the exile Israel would be deprived of all her privileges. She would live in a heathen land, not only without its own king, but worse than that, there would be no fellowship with Jehovah. Worship services, such as they had enjoyed in Jerusalem's temple, would no longer be possible. They could not even engage in false worship, their idols having been taken away from them as well.

Just as Gomer had to live for a while without affection from either husband or lovers, so Israel would be starved spiritually. Throughout this period of seclusion, the Lord would wait patiently for their repentance.

What a miracle! God waits for sinners to return! Is He still waiting for you? Has He put you in seclusion too? Do you feel deserted, forsaken?

This is for a purpose. It is to make you think, so that you will search and try your ways and then turn to the Lord in faith. He is good; He is merciful; He forgives and heals. He heals the breach we have made by our sins through Christ, Who paid the price of His blood to make us His own. When He died on the cross, He purchased also the Spirit whereby He renews us and causes us to walk in His ways. When we wander away, He brings us home every time, until we shall sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb and abide in house forever.

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