Passion. Covenant. Intimacy. Faithlessness. Jealous love. Relentless pursuit. The book of Hosea weaves a poignant story that displays the depths of God’s heart and His relationship with His people. In summary, God tells a prophet named Hosea to take a wife. And not just any wife – He wants Hosea to marry a prostitute. Hosea’s marriage became an allegory for God’s covenant relationship with His people. To me this seems unfortunate, because God’s people were continually unfaithful to Him, throwing their devotion away on loves that were lesser than His.
First we need to set the stage with some backstory. It has always been God’s plan to live in a covenant relationship with His people. A covenant is a formal, binding agreement between two parties – in this case, God and His people. This covenant relationship is a solemn promise to be faithful to Him in every way and receive His love even as we give Him the whole of our devotion. If God’s desire is for a covenant relationship, why did He give His Old Testament people the Law? God had to give the Law because His people couldn’t abide in the boundaries of the covenant.
The problem with the Law is that it requires no relationship, merely a Law-Giver and some Law-followers. Throughout Scripture we see God continually calling to His people, alluring them into true relationship with Him – into covenant. The book of Hosea pinpoints the problem with God’s people, the reason they couldn’t live in pure covenant with Him. Though idolatry is a major issue, the underlying cause of their idolatry is a spirit of harlotry: “For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, and they have played the harlot against their God” (Hosea 4:12). Again in chapter five we see that “they do not direct their deeds toward turning to their God, for the spirit of harlotry is in their midst, and they do not know the Lord” (v. 4). Harlotry is not just sexual; it is a destructive spirit that taints everything it touches – it invariably causes pain and ruins lives and relationships. Hosea’s wife was a prostitute and didn’t try to hide it. Much like Hosea’s wife, God’s people were continually running to the arms of their various “lovers” – their vain idols and lesser loves, those things that they cleaved to more than their King. The Israelites mistakenly thought that it was these other loves that provided for them, that satisfied them and filled them with good things. They failed to comprehend that it was God who was providing for them, blessing them, and caring for them.
This is the bitterest draught of harlotry – the selling of one’s heart for something that is nothing but an empty delusion. God’s love burns strong and deep for His beloved people, and throughout this book of Scripture I see reflected in Hosea’s pain the agony of God over His unfaithful Bride. As I read through this book again, I found my heart twisting to think that I, just like God’s Old Testament people, had ‘“transgressed the covenant”’ (6:7). How many times have I ‘“spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant”’ (10:4)? I am false to my first Love in that I give away pieces of my heart to lesser things, things that do not last. Anything that becomes more important, more sought-after in your life than God is a lesser love that entangles you in the deceptive chains of self. Even dreams and plans, if not kept in perspective, can become lesser loves in our lives. And to cling to lesser loves is a sin. I say “lesser loves” because God’s love is so perfect, so passionate and pure, that everything is made lesser in its light. So often, though, we are drawn away by these lesser loves, and all too quickly we are snared by things that cannot satisfy but sap us of our strength and our life.
The truth is that there is no real beauty in lesser loves – any beauty, any attraction is but a fleeting illusion. “Because Ephraim has made many altars for sin, they have become for him altars for sinning” (Hosea 8:11, emphasis added). This verse is saying that when we delight in or depend on other things more than we delight in and depend on our Lord, we build altars in our hearts for those things. Then, as we continue to cherish these unholy altars, they become places for sin to reign in our lives. “They became an abomination like the thing they loved” (Hosea 9:10). This powerful but painful verse is connected to the earlier verse. God’s people let sin into their lives and became like the vile things that they loved above their God. Like the Israelites, the things we pursue dictate what we become.
God’s heart is to heal His people of their unfaithfulness and love them freely. As His love saturates us, it brings beauty where there was none. Think of Hosea’s wife, Gomer. She left him and transgressed their covenant relationship over and over again. She was a prostitute, and she continued to prostitute herself after their marriage, leaving Hosea and her children multiple times. There is nothing beautiful about that. We don’t really know quite how Hosea’s story ends. He brings Gomer back into his home – again – and with an air of finality declares that she is his and will remain with him; she will not play the harlot any longer. What we do know is the end of God’s story with His people, the glorious ending that has been written since before time began. Take a look at these verses from the last chapter of the book:
‘“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon.”’ – Hosea 14:4-7
There was no beauty in God’s people; there was nothing lovable about them. That is the mystery of God’s perfect love: it creates beauty out of brokenness and makes its object lovable. Not one of us was worth loving; not one of us was truly lovable. But then Jesus came. He loved us before we even knew Him, before we were lovable; and He chose to die on our behalf. As Romans 5:8 tells us: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So often we fail to grasp the depths of love behind Christ’s sacrifice. Yes, He died to reconcile us to God, but do you realize that, just as Hosea did when he bought his wife back from slavery, God paid for what was already His? When God redeemed us with the blood of His Son, He bought back what already belonged to Him. That is what it means to redeem something – to buy back what is yours. We already belonged to Him – He is our Creator and our Father – but we chose to prostitute our hearts to lesser loves and sell ourselves to the chains of lesser laws. His unfathomable, eternal love demanded that something be done to restore us to Himself, pure and undefiled.
It is His jealous love that relentlessly pursues each one of us, because He is eager to redeem His Bride, His beloved people, His Church. His love makes us able to love and be loved; His love makes us beautiful. Let go of the lesser loves, for they do not satisfy; they will not make you whole.
‘“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her. I will give her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth….And it shall be in that day,” says the Lord, “that you will call Me ‘My Husband’ and no longer call me ‘My Master…’”’ – Hosea 2:14-16
The King of Kings is alluring you into deeper intimacy with Him; He is ready and waiting to break off those chains of lesser loves and lesser laws that have so long held your heart captive. He is giving you a door of hope through relationship with Him; He is restoring you to the passion and the love you first felt for Him. He does not want to be merely your Master; He wants to be your Lover and you His devoted Bride. He, in the passion of His jealous, perfect love is drawing you gently back to Himself, your first Love. Do you feel Him wooing you?
‘“I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.”’ – Hosea 2:19-20