“Hosea and Gomer” by Cody Miller.
1 The Lord said to me, “Go, love your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”
2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a half of barley. 3 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 behave the same way toward you.”
4 For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.
In the book of Hosea we see a heartbreaking story: the prophet Hosea is invited –instructed no less – to love a woman who would break his heart. “Go marry a promiscuous woman,” (Hos 1:2) God says. If the phrase is proleptic, it implies that Gomer became a prostitute after they were married. Perhaps she began in faithful union, but later wandered. If not, she was already involved with other men, loved by others, and now Hosea too. Either way, this heartbreaking story is told in parallel with another love story between God and his people Israel. God’s love, and Israel’s response is described in various places in the Scriptures, and each with different effect.
Jeremiah laments that Israel has been like an unfaithful spouse. (Jer 3) Despite being loved by a faithful love, a perfect love, Israel has descended to unimaginable depths. Worse than being paid for sex, Israel has sought its own lovers, and paid them for their time. Ezekiel describes Israel as an abandoned infant who is adopted, embraced, loved, and nurtured back to health, only to betray and reject her loving parent. (Ez 16) Isaiah says that Israel is like a flock of sheep who have gone astray. (Is 53:6) Impossibly, despite being the object of an eternal love, a perfect love, with a deviant will and with malice of forethought, we have been loved with a perfect love and yet we’ve walked away.
God grieves for his beloved, but is received, not with hostile rejection, or contempt, but with apathetic indifference. In Malachi God says, “I have loved you, but you say, ‘How have you loved me?’ ” (Mal 1:2)
After repeated betrayals Hosea’s marriage is ruined. In chapter two we read the formulaic charge of a rabbinical divorce ceremony, “She is not my wife. I am not her husband.” (Hos 2:2) Human relationships are fragile and delicate. Easily broken, and not easily repaired. There is only so far a man can forgive a woman. There is only so much that a woman can forgive a man. Hosea’s marriage is ruined, his home is shattered. Perhaps it was he who raised their three prophetically named children. God-Sows, Unloved, and Not-Mine, raised in a single parent home.
But God surprises us –shocks us– in chapter 3. It’s over and done–too far gone– but God says “Hosea, go love your wife, though she is loved by another… Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites.” (Hos 3:1) It doesn’t seem possible! How could God do that?! After the embarrassing betrayal, being openly rejected in favour of another lover, How could God ask this?
The situation may be even worse than we realize.
Hosea writes that he took her back, he bought her back! 15 shekels and a homer and an half of barley, the going rate of a slave. In the ancient world buying your own wife is a purchase that is as absurd as you can imagine. To 21st century sensibilities it is offensive to talk like this but in their culture, a wife was thought of as a husband’s property anyway. To reconcile with an unfaithful wife was foolhardy, but to redeem your wife was absurd!
The shock and gruesome spectacle of this story might distract us from one fact that might otherwise escape our notice. What God is commanding here is illegal! Deut 24:1-4 commands that a man cannot remarry his wife, once he has divorced her. How can God ask Hosea to do something that is prohibited in the law? Once he has divorced his wife, he cannot go back and remarry her.
But if we’re not careful we might be guilty of asking the wrong question here, for although law shapes and forms love, love precedes law. God loved Israel before he gave her the law. “While we were powerless,–God loved–Christ died for the unlovable.”
Love comes before the law. If the law took pre-eminence – if the law came first – there would be no gospel in the Old or the New Testament. It’s important to understand that Hosea is not being asked to break the law here. He is being asked to go beyond the law in the pursuit of love, rather than uphold the law. Hosea demonstrates God’s purpose in love which transcends (rather than violates) the law.
If the law were the only criterion, God could not have sent his Son to redeem the world, any more than Hosea could have gone out to remarry Gomer. But divine love is a force that knows no bounds. Law may follow love to give it shape and direction, but it can never have pre-eminence.
A Messiah dying on a cross was impossible to imagine. It was even more absurd than a man buying his own wife, but it testifies to the depth of God’s love for his people. “I am not just your King, I am not just a shepherd, I am more than a Father, I am your husband. I love you.”
Here in Hosea 3 we see a love recovered but we also see a love discovered. God says “I love you; I have always loved you. Not because you are more beautiful than the others, not because of what you can do for me, not because of what you bring to the relationship. I love you, just because I love you.”
God’s love is illogical. It isn’t logical for a man to buy his own wife. God’s love is not just illogical, it’s extra-logical; it is hyper-logical. It doesn’t contradict human logic, God’s love transcends human logic, it precedes logic.
In human figuring, betrayal marks the boundaries of love. I love you “if.” I love you “when.” I love you “until.” For human love, there are boundaries to what we are able to put up with. There are limits to what we are willing to endure. But God loves with a love that goes beyond betrayal. God’s love doesn’t not stand limited by the beloved’s compliance, or faithfulness. God’s love transcends the limitation of human categories. God loves not because we are lovable, or faithful, or compliant or true.
“I love you because I love you.” God loves with a perfect love, an eternal love. And God calls us to love each other the same way. How could God do that? How can God ask this of us? God asks us to love the way that he loves Israel.
God asks us to love the churches that don’t appreciate our talents or gifts. God asks us to love the people who don’t trust us. God calls us to love beyond rejection.
God calls us to love churches that are apathetic toward our leadership, and unmoved by our preaching. God calls us to love beyond the lack of a reciprocal response.
God calls us to love the person who has been receiving support from the benevolence committee for two years running and just sold the grocery store gift cards you gave them last week so they could buy smokes. God calls us to love past being taken advantage of.
God calls us to love churches who have hurt us, and wounded us and our families. God calls us to love stingy people, bitter brothers, and unrepentant sisters. God calls us to love beyond betrayal.
So love is not the boundary condition for discipleship: “Love like I do or else.” Love is not the minimum standard for continued blessing. God invites us to love like he does because his love is like a broad place, an open space. There is freedom when we love like God does. We are freed from calculated proportional responses: loving others in the manner we have been loved.
We are freed from an endless attempt to secure a reciprocal response. We are delivered from bitterness and strife when we love like he loves. He invites us to exceed a bondage to balanced equations: tit for tat, and wrong for wrong. Now, in these “last days” we love because we are loved by the one who is love.