It is not always easy, nor is it always appropriate, to try to avoid words in the Scriptures that might be unsettling to us. Sometimes the Scriptures are more explicit than we would like them to be, and this morning’s reference to the world’s oldest profession reminds us of that. God’s word is not always palatable or pleasant to us in a number of ways. But it still remains God’s word, whatever our opinion of it may be. And, as we have already noticed, delicacy is not the menu this morning.
Hosea is a prophet who is a contemporary of Amos, whom we have most recently encountered. When we read Hosea and Amos, we must understand that God’s people have already engaged in a civil war. This civil war did not result in a unified nation, as ours might have. Instead, this war created two separate nations. A divided nation was never God’s intent for his people. God created just one nation, and called just one people to be his chosen ones. But now because of sin, and because of this civil war that came about because of sin, God’s people, without any consideration for God’s intent, have divided themselves into two separate nations. We now call these two nations the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. But more often than not, the Scriptures themselves refer to them as Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Both Amos and Hosea focused their prophecies on Israel, or the Northern Kingdom.
But right away, in Hosea’s prophecy, we run into that which is offensive to us. 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.” And there we have it. Whoredom.
It is hard for me to imagine that God’s people could become so corrupt, so unfaithful, so sinful and so little mindful of God, that God would have to say that the entire land commits great whoredom against him. These people are special. They’ve been lovingly and mercifully set apart by God. They have witnessed great acts of power and might that God has done on their behalf. They have been blessed beyond all measure by God, and yet they have turned to a life of whoredom. They have been unfaithful to God in every way imaginable, but worse than anything else, they don’t seem to care.
Being special comes with its own set of disadvantages. Special people can develop a sense of entitlement. Special people can become complacent in their commitment to and worship of God. Special people can develop a sense of false security in their relationship with God, because they are, after all, special. And this is what happened to God’s people during the time of Amos and Hosea. God’s people wandered so far from God that they lost all sense of a personal and corporate relationship with God. And, of course, this was very displeasing to God. And while it is usually God’s intent to act lovingly and mercifully toward his people, as our psalm this morning has indicated, the time sometimes comes when God must act in judgment against his people.
As a pastor, I am always concerned about how the Church of Jesus Christ is doing in relationship with her creator. In many ways today’s church reflects the condition of God’s people in Hosea’s day in our complacency in worship and in adoration. Like God’s people in Hosea’s day, we too, are special. We’ve been called into a special covenant relationship by Jesus Christ to be his disciples. We’ve been set apart to carry on our Lord’s ministry on this earth. And yet so many things have intervened. Our culture has presented us with so many enticing opportunities that draw us away from fellowship with God and with one another that we are rapidly approaching a state of whoredom. And it’s not that all of these things are inherently bad or evil. Some of them, at least on the surface, seem to be very worthy obligations, easily defended. But in the end, they simply do what they are intended to do. They draw us away from our worship and adoration of God, and from our fellowship with God and with one another. The nifty thing about these things, though, is that we don’t really notice what has happened to us, and as a result, we spiral, deeper and deeper into a state of unfaithfulness. We’ve all heard the reasons that people use for not attending worship, but those aren’t reasons; they’re symptoms of something bigger and more insidious.
Many years ago, now, I had a seminary professor who maintained that it may not have been necessary for Hosea to seek out a wife who was an actual, bona fide, working prostitute. Now, granted, it would not have been very difficult for Hosea to have done this. Prostitutes can be easily found in every age and in every culture, and if he had wanted a bona fide working girl, he could have gotten one. But according to my professor, Hosea may not have had to visit a brothel at all. He may not even have had to inquire whether she was an actual prostitute or not. The corruption of God’s people at this time in their history was so great any woman that Hosea might have found and married would necessarily have been tainted by prostitution. And by prostitution, my professor meant a fascination with other gods, out and out idolatry and unfaithfulness and disloyalty to God. And so this commandment from God might be, just go get a girl, any girl will do, don’t bother to look for a girl who is morally upright, or spiritually stable, just get yourself a wife and have some children and bring them into this broken and faithless land. That makes me feel better, but not by much.
And so Hosea did just that. He took a wife, her name was Gomer, and before long she delivered a little boy. And along with this little boy comes the first of three frightful prophecies.
Hosea is to name the boy Jezreel. Jezreel is a town where there had been a horrible mass murder. And, as all mass murders are, this one was completely senseless and needless. As a result of that mass murder, a fellow named Jehu came to power, and he became the first of a long string of really awful, really evil kings. This mass murder was so horrific, that God will avenge the lives of those who were murdered by putting an end to the kingdom of Israel. The nation will be defeated. And in 721BC the Assyrians blew the kingdom of Israel right off the map.
After a bit, Gomer conceived again and presented Hosea with a baby girl. God told Hosea to name her Lo-ruhamah. Lo-ruhamah means no pity, or no compassion. God is angry. This is a terrible threat. Perhaps even worse than the threat of annihilation. This means that God is removing the protective shield of his grace and mercy that hovers over his people. God is about to step aside, and let things happen as they may. Without pity or compassion, God’s people will stumble about in the darkness of hopelessness and despair. Times will be tough. The people will have to fend for themselves. And, as if to rub this threat even deeper into what should be their frightened souls, God says that he will preserve Judah; that he will continue to have pity and compassion on the people of Judah. Remember that civil war? Judah was the southern kingdom that resulted from the war. Judah was a tad more faithful. Judah gets to survive for another century and a half. Israel should be stunned.
But here’s where I’m a little bit puzzled. With the terrible threat of being overthrown, and with the even worse threat of having the protective shield of God’s grace and mercy removed from them, why weren’t the people of Israel moved to repentance? Why didn’t they repent? There’s time. Destruction is years away. If God is going to remove his protective shield of mercy and grace, why weren’t the people of God stirred up in their hearts to recommit themselves to God? Is nobody paying attention? Does not anyone care? Does nobody remember that God is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing? Apparently not. Disbelief among them is so powerful that nothing concerns them.
Hidden away in verse eight is the indication that the opportunity for repentance has come and gone. It is subtle, to be sure, but it is there. In ancient times, women generally took up three years to wean their children. But during those three years, there was no response from the people, not even a stirring of faith, even with the threat of destruction and the threat of the loss of pity and compassion. The people remained as they were. And so Gomer conceived again, because it was time for another prophecy. And this time, another little boy was born. God says, name him Lo-ammi. Lo-ammi means not my people. God expands the whole thing a bit, and says, “…you are not my people and I am not your God.” That’s it. God has given up. The dire prophesies will be fulfilled. God has reached the breaking point.
But in verses ten and eleven there is awesome and wonderful news. While all of this is awful and terrible and horrific, and will come to pass, none of this is permanent. God has not given up on his people after all. God’s promise to Abraham will continue to be fulfilled. God’s people will be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered. And the not my people will one day be called “Children of the living God. And the divided kingdom will reunited under one king, and great will be the day.”
That promise was fulfilled over 2,000 years ago, when a man named Jesus walked on this Earth. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus announced, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is in your midst.” At the very end of his ministry Jesus proclaimed that he was the King of the Jews. Once again, God’s people are reunited in one kingdom, under the rule of one king. Once again God has established, within the kingdom of God, a theocracy. God had never intended for his people to be ruled by human kings. His intent was to rule them himself. And now God has re-established that theocracy. Monarchies and democracies and all other forms of human government come and go. But the kingdom of God is eternal, and all persons who respond to Jesus Christ are invited to join this kingdom, and to make Jesus their King. In Christ, the Apostle Paul says, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. All are united into one glorious kingdom. No one is outside of the grace and mercy of God. All may be called, “Children of the Living God. Repent, for the kingdom of God is in our midst, and we are in the midst of it.”