GOD LOVES GOMERS

HOSEA 1:1-3; 3:1-5

 

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            This morning we begin a twelve message series on the Minor Prophets, which I’m calling “Majoring in Minors” and as we do I want to assess our level of knowledge about prophecy and Old Testament prophets, so that I can tailor the messages to that level of knowledge.  In so doing, I’ve devised a short, seven question true-false quiz.  Ready for it?  Here we go.  True or false?    

 

1.   Prophecy is another word for fortune telling?

2.   The last authentic prophecy came from a man named Malachi?

3.   In Old Testament times prophecies were given by obese old men who enjoyed a lot of free meals, hence the term “pro-fat.”

4.   All you really need in order to prophesy is to have a lot of nerve and make far-out predictions.  If you weave that into an appearance on Oprah, all the better.

5.  Any statement that begins with “Thus saith the Lord,” is a prophecy.

6.  A pastor begins prophesying whenever his or her voice goes over 80 decibels.

7.  This is a stupid quiz.

 

            Well, the answer to all the questions were false, except the last question which is a matter of opinion.  Now, if you answered “false” to all the questions you are an expert on prophecy and I give you permission to go to another church for the next twelve weeks.  If you had one “true,” I encourage you to make sure you are here for every message in the series.  If you had two “trues,” I suggest you make sure you are here for every message and that you take notes on the messages.  If you had, more than two “trues,” I encourage you to take notes on all the upcoming messages and listen to each sermon a second time on the web site. 

            Well, all fun and games aside, as we begin this series on the Minor Prophets, I want to begin by clearing up two misconceptions, one concerning prophets in general and the other the Minor Prophets in particular. 

            Misconception #1 - The prophets were primarily concerned about revealing the future.  Well, that is not the case.  In fact, the very opposite is true.  The prophets were primarily interested in speaking to the moral, social, spiritual, and political issues of their day.  That’s why prophets were often unpopular.  After all, we do not really mind people telling us what the future holds.  People pay big money to read science fiction and go to science fiction movies.  We are rather curious about what the future holds, but tell us where we need to shape up, where we need to get it together, now that’s a different story.  That’s, however, what the prophets did.  They primarily told people to shape up, to get with God’s program.  Of course, they did talk about the future, but only to shed light on the present.  They said things like, “If you do not shape up, here’s what is going to happen,” or “Do not be afraid.  Do not lose hope because this is what God is going to do.”  Put another way, they only pointed to the future to motivate people to act in a certain way in the present.

            Misconception #2 - The message of the Minor Prophets is not as important as the message of the Major Prophets, as the messages of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  Wrong again!  The term “minor” has nothing to do with the importance of their message.  Rather these prophets have been called “minor” due to the length of their message, not the importance of it.  These minor prophets were characterized by brevity, unlike a certain pastor you may know. 

            With those two misconceptions addressed, let’s turn our attention to the first minor prophet listed in the Bible.  His name is Hosea, and let’s look at the man, the marriage, and the message. 

            First, the man.  When the prophecy begins Hosea is a young man.  He’s probably in his late teens or early twenties.  Also, he lives up north, in Israel rather than down south in Judah.  If you are up on your biblical history, you know that Israel divided between the north and the south.  We almost did that during the Civil War, or as they say in the south “The War of Northern Aggression,” but our nation did not divide, our nation stayed together.  Not so in Israel.  After the death of Solomon the northerners split from the southerners.  You see, the southern kingdom was controlled by tax and spend monarchs .  They taxed the people heavily to pay for all of Solomon’s building projects in and around Jerusalem in the south, and the northerners did not want to pay for all the elaborate southern buildings, so they revolted and broke away from the south in a bloodless revolution.  The northern kingdom was called “Israel” and the southern kingdom “Judah.”  The capital of Judah was Jerusalem and the capital of Israel was Samaria, and people in the south did not like the people of the north because they felt like the Northerners or “Samaritans” as they called them left them holding the bag, that they, the southerners had to pay for Solomon’s projects and the northerners, the Samaritans, did not.

            Anyway, Hosea is from the northern kingdom, and he’s the only minor prophet from the northern kingdom who speaks to the northern kingdom.

            That’s the man, not let’s turn to his marriage.[1]  Taking a little poetic license, I picture Gomer, Hosea’s wife, as the sort of gal who was always good company, who was a little heavy with the lipstick maybe, a woman who not all that choosy about men, a little loud, but great at a party and a good laugh.  They met when Hosea walked down the red light district of Samaria wearing a sandwich board that read, “The End is Near” on one side and “Watch Out” on the other.

            The first time he asked her to marry him, she thought he was kidding  The second time she knew he was serious, but thought he was crazy.  Why would a prophet of God want to marry a hooker?  But the third time he asked for her hand in marriage, she said, “Yes.”  Hosea wasn’t exactly a party-animal, few prophets are, but he had a kind face and was generous, and he wasn’t all that much crazier than the other men with whom she had been.  Besides, any fool could see how much Hosea loved her.

            And she loved him back for awhile, and they had three children whom Hosea gave strange names like, “God will no longer pity Israel now that it’s gone to the dogs” so that every time they called the roll at school, and the teacher would call, “Abraham,” and “Ruth” and “Sarah,” she would also call out Hosea’s son’s name - “God will no longer pity Israel not that it’s gone to the dogs.”  And when the teacher did, well Hosea could score a prophetic bulls-eye without having to be there himself.  He could dig at Israel in absentia, but everybody could see the marriage wouldn’t last, and it didn’t.  How could a holy man and a hooker make it?

            And while Hosea was off hitting the sawdust trail telling the Israelites that if they did not shape up, God was going to ship them out, Gomer took to hitting as many bars as she could squeeze into a night, and any resemblance between her next batch of children and Hosea were purely coincidental.  It almost killed Hosea, of course.  Every time he raised a hand to her, he burst into tears.  Every time she raised a hand to him, he wound up apologizing. 

            He tried locking her out of the house a few times when she wasn’t in by two in the morning, but he always opened the door when she finally showed up and helped her get back in bed when she couldn’t see straight enough to get their herself.  Then, one night she didn’t show up at all.

            He swore that this time he was through with her, but of course, he wasn’t.  When he finally found her, she was lying passed out in a massage parlor located above an adult bookstore, and he had to pay the management plenty to let her out of the contract.  She had lost a couple of teeth and picked up some scars you had to see to believe, but Hosea took her back again, and that’s all that mattered to him.

            Why did he do it, you might be asking?  How could he be so dumb?  Why did he keep taking her back?  In fact, why did he marry her in the first place?  Talk about a relationship doomed to fail from the start.  Why did he ever do such a thing?  Well, here’s the shocker.  God told him to marry her.  Listen to the second verse of his prophecy,

 

            When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”  So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 

 

            That’s the marriage.  Holy man and hooker.  Prophet and prostitute.  Can you imagine God telling Billy Graham to marry the Mayflower Madam?  Well, that’s what God asked Hosea to do.  Why?  Well, that leads us to the message.

            For years people watched how Hosea treated Gomer.  How he kept taking her back despite her endless flirtations and unfaithfulness.  And after year of loving her and forgiving her, Hosea spoke.  He said, “How I love Gomer, God loves you.”  That’s the message.  Even though you have been unfaithful, even though you have gone to bed with other gods, even though you have played the harlot, God wants you back. 

            Remember the sandwich board Hosea was wearing when he met Gomer, how it read “The End is Near” on one side and “Watch Out” on the other?  Well, after being married to Gomer, Hosea changed it.  And when he went out into the streets his sandwich board read, “God is Love” on one side and “There’s no end to it” on the other, and let me tell you, when Hosea stood on a street corner in Samaria and belted out words like these from the eleventh chapter of his prophecy,

 

            How can I give you up,

                        How can I hand you over, O Israel?

            For I am God and no mortal,

                        The Holy One in your midst

                        and I will not come in wrath (11:8,9).

 

            Well, when he belted out those words, nobody knows how many converts Hosea made, but one thing for sure is that there was seldom a dry eye in the house, including Gomer’s.

            The message of Hosea is the message of God’s forgiving love.  The message of Hosea is, “Come back.  No matter what you have done, no matter how much you have blown it, no matter how bad it seems, come back.  I still love you.  I will always love you.”

            Folks, the love of God is too good to be true and too great to be missed.  God loves unfaithful Gomers like you and me.



[1] Adapted from Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), 43-44.