Our church recently came up with a new mission statement: Celebrating Christ as Lord, sharing His story, and serving our community. So I preached a sermon about God’s story based on Hosea 3:1-5 last Sunday.
Here it is.
Have you ever read a bedtime story to your kids? You tuck them in for bed, bring them that one final glass of water, and sit at the edge of the bed to read. I can remember staying overnight at my grandma’s house in Ohio. In the back bedroom my brother and I shared, there was a bookcase filled with Dr. Seuss books. They had The Cat in the Hat; the Lorax; Green Eggs and Ham; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish; Oh, the Places You’ll Go; How the Grinch Stole Christmas and dozens more. My brother and I would pick a book at night and read in bed. I don’t think it helped us fall asleep; in fact, we did it to stay awake longer.
Nowadays the stories kids “read” aren’t just in books, but also on the television. Stories like Sponge Bob Square Pants, High School Musical, Ratatouille, or other shows on the Disney Channel. As adults, we like stories too. Whether they come in book form or TV form, we like stories.
As Christians, not only do we read the Bible and the stories it contains, but we are also part of the story. God leaves an open ending to the story with promises of what is to come. And though there are hundreds of stories in the Bible, with hundreds of characters, spanning thousands of years, there really is only one story. God’s story never changes. God’s story never changes because He never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the Great I AM.
This concept is hard for us to grasp. In an age when philosophers tell us, “You are who you are right now,” how we’re not the same person today as we were a year ago, following a God who never changes is exactly what we need. Listening to His story of love for His people—Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New—brings consistency to a life of change.
Not only that, but listening to the message of God’s story brings hope and joy. Because God’s story is a love story: a story that tells of His unconditional love for people who leave Him for other gods, who try to mix Him up with their selfish desires, who only obey His commands and look to Him when life gets tough, who believe that all roads lead to Him, who reinvent Him to fit their needs as a God who only loves and is never just. God continues to love those people, you and me, no matter what.
Today we’re going to pick up God’s story in Hosea chapter 3, a chapter that reveals God’s love as much as any other.
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.” For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. 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 tells the story of Hosea and his wife. In chapter 1, God told Hosea to marry a woman from Israel. She is described in 1:2 as an adulterous wife, meaning she is at the very least worshiping Baal and therefore has turned from God as a woman turns from her husband. And at the most it means she is literally a prostitute. Now he is called to love her “again.” This word means that Hosea is called to resume doing something he had done in the past. Now that they are together again, he is to love her just as he did before.
Think of how crazy that is. His wife, named Gomer, the very woman he has three children with, somehow has gone out and become a prostitute again, and Hosea is supposed to love her. He’s not supposed to have sex with her, but to love her. In our society this would never fly. Most people I know would head straight to divorce court if they caught their spouse cheating on them. They would take the kids and run.
Even in the church this is the case. Sexual sins are the worst ones for us, whether that be adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, premarital sex. We treat people who commit sexual sins much worse than those who are proud or gossip or bull-headed. Maybe this is because we see our culture promote sex with anyone, anytime as being a good thing and we want to safeguard our families from it.
Guess what? It was just as bad in Israel when Hosea was alive. This other god, Baal, was worshiped by setting up shrines where prostitute could make a living. The idea was that the more you had sex, the better Baal would be in bringing rain to the earth to increase the harvest. And since Israel was in one of its most prosperous times, Baal worship would have been at an all-time high.
Somehow Gomer had gotten mixed up with all of this. Whether she was a prostitute for Baal or just a prostitute, that was how she made a living. And Hosea is commanded to love her “as the LORD loves the Israelites.” What this says to me is that God’s love is unexplainable and unconditional.
Leviticus 19:4 says, “Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.” Israel had been specifically told not to do what they were doing, and yet they still turned to worship other gods. They “love the sacred raisin cakes” at the end of verse 1. These raisin cakes were a delicacy and were eaten by those engaged in sexual worship of Baal. Song of Songs 2:5 says, “Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.” Thus this is a picture of just how deep Israel has fallen for Baal worship. As the raisins were supposed to be a part of marital sexuality, they had turned them into a perverted part of their Baal worship.
Verse 2 says, “So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.” The point here is that Hosea paid the full price for Gomer. The price for a slave was 30 shekels, and Hosea’s 15 shekels plus the barley would have equaled 30 shekels. The word for “bought” is literally “barter.” Hosea traded what he had for his wife Gomer. If he had been a well-off man, he could have paid the 30 shekels and went home. But this suggests Hosea was poor and had to give what he had. The barley he gave was a sacrifice for him.
When we read of Hosea and Gomer, it’s almost like reading about Jesus and us. We have “played the harlot” and at times turned to other gods: the gods of self, of greed, of envy, of power, of pride. And it took Jesus to pay the full price for our sin to redeem us.
That’s what the first two verses are about: God’s unconditional love and our redemption. In a time when most of Israel depended on its wealth, its good crops, and the Baals, having to be redeemed would have been a humbling position for Gomer. And I think it’s the same way with us. We have our minds dead set that we can accomplish anything if we try hard enough. Even when it comes to our sin. We believe that we can conquer certain sins with enough will power, with an accountability partner, with spending time with the right people or focusing our thoughts on the right things. All it takes is a consistent effort and sooner or later we’ll quit sinning. Hosea and Gomer’s story—which is really God’s story—preaches the exact opposite message. Gomer had tried all that. And she still needed redemption.
The truth is you and I still need redemption. We still need to put our trust in Christ, that what He did on the cross was all it took to pay our sin debt. Nothing we do in the present or the future can add to it or subtract from it. As Paul puts it, “God’s grace is sufficient for me.”
Verse 3 is Hosea’s instructions to Gomer. She is to live with him for many days, to not be a prostitute or have sex with any man, and he would live with her. This is the second part of the story. Hosea prevents Gomer from having sex with anyone. She cannot fall back into her old way of life. And the reason why is given in verse 4: “For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol.”
Gomer being chaste for many days signifies the Israelites being chastened from the things they hold so dear. At first glance this list of king, price, sacrifice, sacred stone, ephod and idol looks strange or random. But it’s actually quite specific and hits the heart of Israel’s culture. Taking away a king means they really don’t have national sovereignty like other nations do. They wouldn’t be able to have a voice in international matters and they would easily be subjected by another nation. “Princes” refers to any type of leader. Without a king, Israel would have tried to resort to placing another person in power, or they could have tried to follow a group of leaders. God says that even this won’t happen. They will no longer rule themselves, and therefore they won’t have leaders who lead them to follow idols like Jeroboam had.
To take away their sacrifices was a sign that they wouldn’t be able to mix worshiping the LORD with worshiping Baal anymore. To take away ephods meant the same thing, as an ephod was a garment worn by a priest. God is basically saying Israel wouldn’t be able to offer sacrifices or go to its priests anymore.
The sacred stones and idols were part of the Baal worship. Sacred stones had been outlawed in Deuteronomy 16:22, but obviously Israel used them anyway. Israel had become syncretistic, mixing God and Baal together. Now both would be taken from them. And the purpose was not to harm them. God wasn’t saying He would leave them forever. This would be for “many days,” and in the end Israel would turn back to Him as verse 5 says.
Look there with me. “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.” The reason God would deprive them of all the things they held dear was so they would return to Him. When he says they’ll return to David their king, this is a metaphor. David is long dead and many kings have come after him. But he was described as a man after God’s heart and the people followed God during his reign. That will happen again one day, God says, but not before discipline and chastening.
When my brothers and I fought over toys mom and dad took them away. If we couldn’t share, we couldn’t have them. Mom and dad did that so one of us would say, “You can have it.” They wanted us to share. That’s like what God is doing here. He’s taking away Israel’s prized possessions so they’ll learn how to live right.
That’s the second part of the story: discipline and return.
If we end the story at verse 2, we have a God who loves us but doesn’t care about how we act. If we end it at verse 4, we have a God who loves us and disciplines us, but we question his motives for discipline. But if we end at verse 5, we see His desire is for us to return to Him, to be together again.
Remember how we said that listening to God’s story brings hope, and how we love to hear stories. We said we enjoy hearing stories. The story of Hosea and his family reminds us that maybe God doesn’t just want us to listen but perhaps to take part. Maybe He wants to use you and your family to bring His message of love to people who don’t know He loves them. Maybe you need to discipline someone. And maybe you need to remind that person that God wants to be with them in the end.