“A Love Beyond Compare”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
July 28, 2019
In my sermon last Sunday I made the observation that things are not always as they seem when it comes to the prophets of the Bible. That was certainly the case last week as we thought about the basket of fruit God gave to the prophet Amos. What is usually a nice, welcomed gift for a housewarming or holiday turned out to be a display of God’s anger with Israel and a call to a better way of life. Today, things are again not as they seem. These words from Hosea, as harsh and hard to hear as they may be, are some of the strongest in all of Scripture on the topic of God’s amazing, unconditional, eternal love for us and for all of us creation. But in order to better understand the love of God that Hosea is speaking of in this troubling prophecy, we need to go back in Israel’s history to the very beginning when God first made a covenant with the chosen people.
After wandering for quite some time in the desert outside of Egypt, the Israelites settled at the base of Mt. Sinai. On a daily basis, their leader Moses would ascend Mt. Sinai, have lengthy conversations with God, and come back down the mountain. One time, though, Moses went up the mountain and did not return for over a month. In that time on the mountain with God, Moses received the tablets of God’s Ten Commandments. The second of the Ten Commandments establishes a monogamous relationship between God and the people of Israel. It says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not bow down to idols or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”
Some scholars call this the ‘wedding in the wilderness.’ When Moses returned to the base of Mt. Sinai and read the Ten Commandments to the people, the nation of Israel became God’s spouse. But this marriage covenant had a condition. Ifthe people could keep their hands and eyes off of other gods, ifthe people did not wave their idols and treasures in God’s face, God would be their God. If not, then God would not be their God and they would have to find the Promised Land for themselves and likely never find it. When Moses was done reading the commandments, the people said, “We understand. We will be your people and you will be our God.” From there, the people walked off with God, hand in hand, toward their honeymoon in the Promised Land.
But the honeymoon didn’t last long. Even before they got to the Promised Land, the people of Israel start to wander in their devotion to God. The lands they traveled through were like one Las Vegas after another. Every place the Israelites went they found something they liked more than God. Usually it was the gods of other nations. In some cases, it was the women and carnal pleasures that got them. Elsewhere, Israel’s armies couldn’t stop themselves from attacking weaker nations for sport. By the time we get to our text for today, some 500 years after Mt. Sinai, the people of Israel have worshipped every foreign god they can find, as if their lives depended on it.
And, to be frank about it, God’s people worshipped the gods of other nations because they likely thought that their lives did depend on it. If the rains didn’t fall, if their crops didn’t grow, if the soil was too rocky or too sandy, they wouldn’t have anything to eat. And if they didn’t have anything to eat, they couldn’t last long in the new home God was bringing them to. So, when they entered the land of Canaan and learned that there was a local god, Baal, who was responsible for the rainfall, they figured it couldn’t hurt to toss a few prayers in his direction. When they learned that there was a fertility goddess in Canaan, Anath, who could help them realize their dream of becoming a huge nation, it couldn’t hurt to light a candle for her in the shrine. It might seem that this was just a harmless flirtation with foreign gods, but it was the beginning of the end for the marriage between God and Israel. By worshipping other Gods, the people of Israel said to God, “You are not enough god for us. So just to be on the safe side, we’ve brought some other gods into the relationship.”
What will God do with the adulterous spouse he took at the base of Mt. Sinai? According to the terms of the covenant, God has every right to put Israel out on its ear. Instead, God comes to Hosea and tells him to do something strange. God tells Hosea to go and marry a prostitute, and have children with her. Not everyone would have followed this command, but Hosea was faithful. He went down to the red-light district of Samaria and he found his future wife, Gomer. The two were married but their honeymoon did not last very long. Just days into their marriage, Gomer was back to the work she had done most of her life. And not long after that, Gomer gave birth to the couple’s first child. By God’s command, Hosea and Gomer named their first child, a son, Jezreel, as a reminder of the wickedness done in Israel during King Jehu’s reign. Soon after, Gomer was pregnant again, this time with a girl, and God commanded them to name her, literally, No Mercy. Gomer and Hosea’s third child was another boy, and his name was a clear sign that God had had enough—his name was Not My People.
You may be wondering at this point how this story is in any way associated with God’s love. But the key is in the details, some of which are just below the surface of the text. Hosea is a representation of God and Gomer is a representation of the people of Israel. From out of all the people on the earth, Hosea was told to choose Gomer to be his wife—she is not a princess, she is not wealthy, she is not honorably employed as far as ancient Israel is concerned, she is not prime wife or mother material. Nonetheless, and regardless of societal shame and scrutiny for marrying such a woman, Hosea takes her hand in marriage and promises to be faithful to her even though he knows full well that she will not be faithful to him. Hosea would have been a laughing stock in town. It is not even entirely clear that his children are his own, bucking a whole economic system that was based on a father’s ability to give his possessions to his son when he dies. Hosea is God and Gomer is Israel—one is faithful and the other is not.
And yet, if we read further into the story of Gomer and Hosea we see that never once does Hosea question his marriage vows or walk away from Gomer. Not once does he put her out on her ear for being unfaithful. Not once does he question the paternity of his children. Not once does he complain about all of his happily married friends. Not once does Hosea even consider breaking off his relationship with Gomer. Instead, Hosea constantly runs to her, believing that one day his love will finally break through the hard, outer shell of her heart. Hosea constantly showers Gomer with love and affection, believing that one day she will put aside the only life she has ever known in order to be fully faithful to him. He does not raise his voice, he does not threaten her with violence. Hosea loves Gomer and their children, and though we don’t know much about how their relationship progressed over the years, we can be sure Hosea continued to love Gomer until the very end. Hosea is God. Gomer is Israel…and you and me, too.
The Hebrew word used to describe Gomer as a prostitute does carry the nuance of sexual behavior. But it also used to describe those in the Bible who have multiple allegiances, whether they are military, political, or religious. Gomer may have been a prostitute, but she is a representation of anyone who has ever made a covenant with another person or with God and come back from a night out on the town with eyes still glittering. Gomer is a representation of anyone who has said “I trust in God,” or “Jesus is Lord,” or “Till’ death do us part,” and then chased after someone or something else to trust in or worship or adore. Gomer is anyone who has ever bowed before another god or idol, imagining that anyone other than the God who created the heavens and the earth is dependable for the necessary things of life. Gomer is anyone who has ever looked at the neighbor’s house, the neighbor’s car, or the neighbor’s spouse and thought, “I can do better than that,” or “I can have that if I want it.” Gomer is any one of these people and she is all of us.
But the good news of the Scriptures today, my friends, is that even though Gomer ran around on Hosea and possibly had children that were not his; even though Gomer made a promise to be faithful to Hosea and she routinely broke that promise; even though Gomer never fully came to terms with just how good she had it in Hosea’s house, Hosea loved her and loved her deeply and faithfully. Hosea never let her go even though he had every right to, and through their story we can be sure of God’s unwavering, faithful love for us. No matter how far we run, God is close behind. No matter how many other gods we bow down to and worship, God is loving us back to faithfulness. No matter how much glitter we get in our eyes from things that want our hearts and minds and dollars, God is there to wipe the glitter away so that we can see true love clearly. No matter how many times we promise we are going to be faithful, and no matter how many times we break that promise, God calls us Children of The Living God. No matter how hard our hearts become, no matter how tightly we close our ears, no matter how cold and indifferent we try to be, God is there breaking down the walls, opening our ears, and warming us with the goodness of amazing, unconditional love.
And so, my friends, I ask you today: how will respond to this love? It is a love that will never let you go. It is a love that will open your eyes and gladden your hearts. It is a love that we don’t deserve and it is a love that we can never shake off. It is a love that saves wretches like you and me. It is a love that is not conditioned by gender, race, social condition, class, status, awards and honors, or your adherence to any sort of human standard or expectation. How will you respond to this love today? A love beyond compare—will you accept it and let it change5 you, or will you chase after and bow down and worship whatever god seems to be offering a better deal? Today and always, may God give each of us courage to make the right choice. Amen.