Hosea is one of the most emotional of the prophets. For Hosea, the prophecy is his life, and Hosea’s own pain seeps through every word! He is torn. He loves and he is betrayed. And still he loves. So it is with God.
Hosea’s life tells this story. We could call it, “Performance Prophecy”
Hosea was a preacher who lived at a time when religious folks didn’t want to hear his message. The Israelites were more interested in worshiping anything that offered to bring them health, wealth and security. God just wasn’t like that. They remembered that desert time. That was miserable!
One day, God told Hosea his bachelor days were over. He needed to get married. The problem was that he wasn’t dating anyone at the time. And more than that, God told him how to choose the person he was going to marry: go to the other side of the tracks and pick a person who makes a living selling her body.
There is no surprise when I tell you that his wife would break his heart. I wonder how he picked Gomer. Did he see something in her which gave him hope? Was she funny, and beautiful or just available? And what inspired her to say yes? Did she see something in herself for a moment which was worth loving? Or was it just a different way to use a man to get what she wanted?
They got married. Hosea and Gomer. A match made in heaven? Yes and no, as life would prove.
How many times had Hosea dreamed of late night talks, stolen kisses in the courtyard and holding hands as he drifted off to sleep beside the one with whom he longed to build his future? Instead, he awakened from his marriage vows to emptiness and abandonment. The other side of the bed was empty and cold.
And his heart began to break. His beloved was going off with other men. She hardly ever came home. He couldn’t even be sure the children she bore were his. Hosea—a broken-hearted father, a betrayed husband and a bewildered preacher—felt like his fragile heart would never recover.
And, then, the final blow. Rather than go home to Hosea in shame, Gomer had to pay her debts by selling herself into slavery. All rights to her body were sold and bought by another. Her life of choosing whatever she wanted to do with whomever she wanted to do it were over. She was a slave.
God told Hosea about what had happened to Gomer (because Gomer didn’t). And then God asked Hosea to go do something about it. Go buy your wife back from the slave-owner. Hosea must have cried out to God, “She’s thrown my love away. Why should I have to buy back what is already mine?” But there was an ounce of love left in Hosea. And he went. She cost him a hefty price, too. Was it happily ever after? The story doesn’t say. But it does assure us that in the end, Love wins.
Hosea’s message was pretty simple. He says: God feels just like I do – betrayed. The people God has chosen and loved and given a land, they decided to love other things. They never even came home anymore.
In Hosea, we meet a conflicted, complex picture of the Holy One, the Creator of the Universe. When we think of God it is easy to imagine the “the one with all the answers,” the one who knows how it all works and what the ending will be. But here, we meet God in turmoil.
God is in the agony of betrayal. God is in pain, but also admits that disowning the ones God has chosen is abhorent. God is in internal conflict: “My heart recoils within me / my compassion grows warm and tender” (verse 8). This is no aloof, detached deity. Rather, God’s relationship with humankind involves emotional risk. The choice to love is the choice to open oneself to pain. God shows up here as vulnerable, as we often feel. Out of control. Yet firm in Essence.
These verses depict a tension between divine anger and divine compassion, which the poet John Milton would much later describe as “the strife of Mercy and Justice in [God’s] face” (Paradise Lost, 3.406-7). This tension is a consistent characteristic of the God of the Bible. The Hebrew Scriptures describe God as “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty” (see Exodus 34:6; see Numbers 14:18-19; Jeremiah 32:18; Nahum 1:3; etc.). There is a sort of tug-of-war in God’s identity. Who will win?
The one God feeds.
You know the story of the two wolves: An elderly Cherokee brave tells his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
“My dear one, the battle between two ‘wolves’ is inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good. It is: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”
In Hosea, we see a God who is battling with these same internal wolves. Not so much the wolves of good and evil. But the wolves of justice and mercy. Justice demands one thing; mercy the opposite. Which one will win? The one God feeds.
Hosea refuses to leave the tension unresolved. In verse 9 God chooses which to feed. Compassion gets the nod. The scales of justice are important, and part of God’s character, but loving compassion is the one God chooses. It is the triumph of mercy over justice (see James 2:13). For God is God and not a mortal. God does not live by mortal prejudices, griefs and pains. Oh yes, God feels all that. But God is not bound by the laws of justice, the human laws. God is bound by God’s heart, which is bigger than the universe and can embrace all.
Hildegard of Bingen put it this way: “God hugs you. You are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God.”
Although the threat of judgment returns in subsequent chapters in Hosea, God’s compassion has the final word, in chapter 14:
I will heal their disloyalty;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,
they shall flourish as a garden…. (14:4,7)
Too often, contemporary Christians accept the false and unhelpful dichotomy between the “Old Testament” God of wrath and the “New Testament” God of love. Hosea 11 offers a more compelling portrait of a divine tension that gradually but decisively resolves itself on the side of mercy. That mercy is no where more powerfully presented than at this table. God’s mercy is God’s final act and God’s ultimate gift. As we receive these elements today, receive compassion again. God loves you freely, God’s anger has turned away. You shall again live in the shade of God’s house. You shall flourish as a garden.
God chose you and loves you. This love story is your story.
If you are enslaved, God will buy you back.
If you are lost, God will find you.
If you are ashamed, God will cover you.
If you wander off, God will bring you home.
If you give up on God, God will not give up on you.
No matter where you are – wandering after your own desires, or at home on God’s shady porch – God sees who you are, and loves you with a love which is not bound by human laws or expectations. God hugs you. You are encircled by the arms of God.