3 The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to 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 lethek 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.
(Hosea 3:1-5 NIV)
As we recap the first two chapters of Hosea, we see God call Hosea to marry and have children, knowing that his wife would ultimately leave him and become a prostitute.
As we begin chapter 3, it’s three grown kids and many years later. The kids are raised and have left the house, and are living their own lives and probably have their own families. Hosea is doing whatever the Lord has called him to do, living faithfully in God’s service. His former wife, now long gone, is off doing her own thing, living however she chooses, fully embracing the profane culture of Baal worship that is rampant in Israel.
And then Hosea gets another word from the Lord.
God rocks Hosea’s world – again.
Chapters 1 and 2 are God speaking. Hosea is merely a scribe to record and obey the Lord’s words. In chapter 3, however, The Lord speaks, then Hosea records the rest of the chapter in the first person narrative. In this, we hear not only the command of the Lord and Hosea’s obedience, but also his emotion, energy, and passion. This account is intensely personal, and Hosea allows us to sit with him in the moment.
Notice that the Lord tells Hosea to love Gomer again. In chapter 1 verse 2, the Lord had told Hosea to marry a woman (with love implied). With their history of love, betrayal, and abandonment, the Lord now tells Hosea to love Gomer.
The Lord’s command for Hosea to love Gomer implies that Hosea has to forgive Gomer, seek reconciliation with her, be fully committed to her, and be willing to have his heart broken again. There are no guarantees in the Lord’s command to love Gomer again; she may come back for a while, but leave again. The only thing the Lord says is to step out in faith and obey.
Notice that the Lord empathizes with Hosea as part of His command. The Lord uses a form of the word “love” four times in verse 1 (my paraphrase):
- Go love Gomer again
- I love Israel just as I am asking you to love Gomer
- Other men love Gomer, and she loves other men (her heart is not toward Hosea)
- Israel loves other gods (Baal, as shown by the sacred raisin cakes)
God is not asking Hosea to do something that He is not willing to do Himself. In the microcosm of Hosea’s life, God is calling him to love Gomer again. In the larger macrocosm of eternity, God is reaching out to His people, the kingdom of Israel and loving them again.
In this portrayal of love, we need to see the deeper focus of what the Lord is saying. On the surface, it seems that the Lord is focused on the object of Hosea’s love vs. Gomer’s love – Hosea’s love for Gover vs. Gomer’s love for other men rather than her husband.
While this is certainly true, the deeper focus of the Lord is the extent of Hosea’s and Gomer’s love, their capacity to love. Hosea’s love is outward-focused toward one woman (Gomer), while Gomer’s love is inward-focused toward anyone who will provide her wants and needs and desires (hence, all the other men).
In this relationship of Hosea and Gomer, the Lord has painted the picture of His love for Israel, and their selfish pursuit of other gods who they think will satisfy their longings. God offers them peace and joy and provision, and Israel chases after other gods that will fill their appetite for “sweets”.
In verse 2, Hosea tracks down Gomer and buys her back. From chapter 2, we know that the Lord predicted that Gomer’s life and chasing after other lovers would not end well. While not explicitly stated, it appears that Gomer has wound up on the trash heap of life and is now a prostitute in the Baal temples. Once the belle of the ball, a lusty, ravishing beauty, she is now a broken-down middle-aged woman just trying to get by. Her supply of fine meals, fancy clothes, the attention and friendship of many lovers, and anything else she desired has all dried up. She is now alone and starving.
We see Hosea choose Gomer a second time, paying the price of a common slave to redeem her. Hosea sees Gomer’s value as a person, not in what she can do for him, and not because of what or who she is (or was). He does not require her to “clean up her act” or earn her way back into his life. He takes her just as she is, hot mess and all.
Isn’t that such a beautiful picture of God’s love for us, how He loves us even in our worst?
In verse 3, we see Hosea addressing Gomer after he redeems her (buys her back). Hosea asks her to make a commitment of faithfulness to him, and he makes the same commitment back to her. In short, Hosea is saying, “Come home.”
As part of that commitment, Hosea is asking Gomer to live in relative seclusion with him. This is not to force her into being a personal slave for him, nor is it punishment for her unfaithfulness to him. Instead, Hosea is asking Gomer to join him in re-establishing trust, love, and intimacy of the heart between them. This will take time and focused effort on both their parts.
Verses 4 – 5 again use Hosea and Gomer’s relationship to paint the larger picture of what God is calling Israel to do, to come back to Him and re-establish their covenant relationship and love.
As we see this calling to love unconditionally in the physical lives of Hosea and Gomer, we know the same is true in our spiritual lives. The Lord gave up everything for us, even His own life, in order to redeem us. And He did this with no promise that we would love Him back, or that we would stick around.
When we do make that commitment to the Lord, He gently calls us to Himself to develop that deep trust in Him, to demonstrate love toward us, and to share life with Him on an ongoing basis – to “abide”, to live together in love.
Loving after being hurt involves risk and sacrifice. Hosea most likely had a comfortable life, full of kids, grandkids, friends, and ministry. Yet God called Hosea out of the good life to risk having his heart broken again, to be a living example of redemption.
Now Hosea would have to learn to live with someone again, to sacrifice and share life together. There would be rough patches, with no guarantees that it would work out.
I pray that the Lord would open my heart to love others deeply, to extend the dimensions of my heart to love others unselfishly, to love well with no guarantees of that love being reciprocated.
Jesus took that chance of love with us; may we step out in faith by loving others unconditionally as He loves us.
Can I love another with the telos of God and think and yearn only of their ‘coming home’? Instead of my own felt rejection populate my mind with kind and good thoughts about the other, praying their crusty heart would be touched by God’s love? I wonder if Hosea operated more out of obedience to God or if he had true love for Gomer and was thinking in the larger story? Would like to ask him that 🙂
That’s the age-old question, isn’t it Michaela?
I thought a lot about that when studying this passage. We tend to measure these in polar absolutes – 0% or 100%. In reality, it was likely somewhere in between, just like every other person (including me and you).
Thanks for your thoughts!