Relentless and Scandalous

Third in a sermon series, “A Different Kind of Christmas”

The Old Testament doesn’t give us a lot of information about the prophet Hosea’s wife, Gomer. She may be described in English Bible translations as a promiscuous woman or a prostitute.

It may be that she worked in a pagan temple where ritualistic sex was associated with rain and the fertility of the land. It could be that she simply made several bad choices where relationships were concerned. What matters is this: To the Jews, she was a known sinner, a sexually broken, unworthy woman.

Don’t be too judgmental of Gomer, however. ┬áSymbolically, unfaithful Gomer also is us. And what God communicates through this strange story in the Book of Hosea should be of great importance to us, particularly as we approach the Christmas season.

Despite Gomer’s reputation, God told the prophet Hosea to take her as his wife and to have three children by her. The story at first seems to be one of prophetic condemnation. Gomer’s sexual choices symbolize the religious infidelity of God’s chosen people, who repeatedly have worshiped other gods despite having been bound to the One True God.

In particular, the God-given names of the three children were designed to evoke images of what the people deserved for their idolatry. “Jezreel” served as a reminder of a brutal massacre and an image of what should happen to a people who turn from God. “Lo-ruhama” meant “no mercy,” and “Lo-ammi” meant “not my people.” Clearly, God was trying through this marriage of Hosea and Gomer to communicate displeasure.

The strange baseline for this story leads to an even stranger twist, however. After naming the children, God said this: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the Living God.’ ”

Despite sin, God intends to show mercy. Despite sin, God intends to call the Israelites his people.

This is followed by the second chapter of Hosea, which is largely poetry that speaks of a husband’s jealous love for a straying wife and his deep desire to return her to a state of faithfulness. And then in Chapter 3, Hosea is told to once again take an adulteress and love her. It’s unclear from the text if this woman was supposed to be Gomer, but for her sake, I like to think so.

God was saying through Hosea that even in his quite righteous anger, he loved the Israelites so much as to be relentless about his pursuit of them, despite the pain their sin caused him. Through his prophet, God even went so far as to predict their full return to him in the “latter days,” a promise found in Hosea 3:5.

As Christians, we believe this deep, even scandalous love has been extended to all the world through Jesus Christ. That expansion of the promise to all the world is the fulfillment of the promise made in the Old Testament that God’s children will be like “the sand of the sea,” uncountable.

It doesn’t matter what we have done. It doesn’t matter how far we have strayed, or how publicly humiliating our sin may have been. Whether we’ve been literal adulterers like Gomer, or pursuers of other godless wants and desires, God wants us back. God is willing to forgive and forget so that we may live in close union with our Creator for all eternity. All we have to do is believe in the effectiveness of the work Christ did on the cross.

As we’re told in Romans 3:23-24, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

When I read Hosea, I’m left wondering if Gomer was sensitive enough to God’s ways to understand the tremendous gift of mercy she had been given. She was allowed to live honorably and bear children despite the dishonor she deserved. She even received love where revulsion was to be expected.

When I read the Christmas story, I wonder the same thing about us. Do we understand how our sin should have separated us from God? Do we grasp what it means to be given holiness and eternal life despite the evil we have done?

Do we know and appreciate how much we are loved?