Hosea and Gomer—A Sermon About the Love of God

When my friends and I used to sit around and talk about women (and the chasing of them), I used to say that I was looking for somebody with three “G”s.  I wanted somebody who was Genuine, Gentle, and Godly. (Kelly and I have often debated whether I have in fact gotten my wish list—I generally think she has a more gentle side than she recognizes herself.) There were two others aspects that, if pressed, I would have admitted pursuing. One is “Gorgeous”, although I might not have confessed that because it doesn’t sound too spiritual.

The final element—and if I’m honest, this was at times the most important element of all—was that I was looking, quite simply, for a woman who would love me. For a while Kelly wasn’t sure about that, and eventually, this was not just a peripheral issue, but THE issue. If she did in fact love me, we’d get married. If not, we were probably done. I knew I loved her, but if it didn’t go both ways, I just wasn’t willing to go any further.

I suppose that isn’t that uncommon. If you peel back the surface of what we all chase in relationships, it comes to this: we want somebody to love us.  We just want to love someone and be loved back. All the world’s tragedy and comedy comes down to this.

And so we can only come to Hosea’s story with bewilderment. While Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was introduced in the first chapter, there it is essentially the context for the children and their prophetic names, in an account told by a third person narrator—”this is what happened to Hosea”. In chapter 3, it takes center stage, in a first person account. This is Hosea saying, “This is my story.” The first verse is enough for us to start with: “The Lord said to me again, Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods…”

God invites Hosea to dive into God’s own heart by entering into a relationship which he knows will be unreciprocal. God wants Hosea to love someone—not just marry them, but love them!—in the knowledge that his love will not be returned.

You ever been there? Maybe not on purpose, but have you ever found yourself completely in love with someone that just wasn’t that into you?That is simply one of the most painful things that can happen to humans—and it happens to most of us at some time or another.

What is amazing is that God experiences this in his own heart. This is the most fundamental story we tell about God and his relationship with humans—God loves us, knowing that we often won’t love him back. Indeed, this isn’t accidental, but God created us with this precise possibility. God created us to live in community with him, but also created us with the possibility that we could choose to walk away from him. We often say that God did this so that our love would be of a certain kind—love freely given is the only kind that really matters, after all.  I suppose there is a good bit of truth in that, but I think that this Hosea story reveals a deeper truth.

The metaphor here works not because Gomer is going to love Hosea in a particularly powerful way after her faithlessness, although that is a possibility. Gomer’s love simply isn’t the point. It’s all about Hosea’s love—which of course means that it’s all about God’s love. See, God doesn’t just give us freedom only for the sake of making sure that our love is free and thus particularly powerful. Even more, our freedom works to show us the incredible power of God’s own love. God’s love is a powerful “even though” sort of love that loves despite going unreturned. God loves even when repeatedly rejected.

And yet, God’s love always pursues us. God relentlessly chases us, desiring to draw us into relationship with him. God desires for us to respond to him, to freely come and join him. His desire in this text is that Israel would—eventually—come to love him, that eventually Israel would seek God out and join him.  He desires the same of us, that as Ephesians says, we may have the power to comprehend the breadth, length, height and depth of God’s love for us, and that perceiving that we may be live in the fullness of God, firmly rooted in his love.

Radically, we might even take this further. Not only does he desire that we realize his love and return it to him, but God’s vision for his people is that we join him in loving the world. Jesus roots his command that we love our enemies in exactly this, that this is how God loves the world. He knows it is different than how the world thinks about love—that’s his point!

“You have heard it said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your father in heaven; for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Mt 5:43-48)

God loves even when his love is unreturned, and Jesus calls us to learn to love in exactly this way.

Do we have the audacity to mimic God’s love in our own lives—can we learn to love those who simply do not and will not love us back? Can we stop using our love simply as a tool to gain love back for ourselves? Once, God called the prophet Hosea to put his love—God’s love— on display by loving someone who would not love him back—now he calls the church to do the same. We are called to be “Hoseas.” Despite the knowledge that it will often be unreturned, we are called to love all—even our enemies. We do it in the hope that such love might communicate the unbelievable, relentless love of God—in the hope that even our enemies may be redeemed by God. And yet, even as we hope for their redemption, we are called to love regardless whether it ever has that effect or not. We are called to become like God, to break away from the limited nature of our natural way of loving. We are called to become, by the working of God’s own spirit, capable of loving with God’s own love.

Thus the story of Hosea is a story of the gospel, that God loves us furiously. But that gospel is never for us alone. As soon as we grasp its meaning for ourselves, we are drawn into living it out for the world around us. We love with God’s own love, for the sake of God’s own glory.  Amen.

7 thoughts on “Hosea and Gomer—A Sermon About the Love of God”

  1. Thanks for the awesome lesson Steven. I’ve always loved the story of Hosea and while looking for what God is trying to tell me through a recent event in life, I can’t believe I didn’t suspect a “Hosea” story. It isn’t what I was looking at it for and it may not even be it, but it is certainly something God may be trying to weigh on my heart. I miss you man, Uplift was great this year. My favorite so far. Talk to you soon.

    Sam.

  2. Thanks, Sam! I’m glad this was helpful for you! I had a blast following all of the PV tweets from uplift. it sounds like it was a fantastic time of renewal for the group!

  3. Dear Ps Steven,

    How about unreciprocal love to a girl?

    Don’t get me wrong…I am not a stalker or anything. I am just like yourself, desire a Godly woman in my life…I read the book “I kissed dating goodbye” by Ps Joshua Harris…I believe the book recommended a good way to show God’s love bibilicaly to the potential sister in Christ

    I typed “unreciprocal love bible” and your sermon comes up about Hosea and how God asked us to love others unconditionally (with the possible outcome of not being loved back) and to always hope and always persevere…1st Corinthians 13:4

    Is your sermon related to this kind of love between a man and a woman?

    My heart desire is to love her as much as I could…truth to be told, of course I also desire to be loved back but I am willing to keep loving her unconditionally as God loves us and keep persevering because I haven’t met any other godly sister who is (in my opinion) so compatible with me and also whom I am attracted to so much…

    My fear is that as time goes, I am not getting any younger and other relationship opportunities pass me by

    I trust God and He has a perfect plan for me…and that could be why I am led to this sermon of yours about Hosea

    What is your advice please, brother Steven?

  4. Sorry I didn’t see this earlier! It seems that wordpress is getting choosy about what comments to notify me about.

    The question gets pretty thorny pretty quick, and I’d avoid being really absolute in the way I handle it—I think romantic relationships often carry a lot of ambiguity, and the tension has more theological elements than the one explored here.

    That said, I would want to point out first that this is a prophetic action meant to underline something about God’s relationship with Israel at a particular point in her history. I don’t think it’s intended to be romantic advice, and it seems that other places in the Bible would have a lot to say about investing romantic love in a reckless way. (proverbs comes immediately to mind)

    Second, and perhaps even more importantly, I would say that there is a fundamental difference in the kind of love I’m suggesting God calls us to show to the world and that which we call romantic love. The former is something we give to everyone, the latter is something that exists between myself and a single other person. the former is selfless, and while the latter can be driven by a servant spirit, it also has a selfish bent. The former is a tool that I think God uses in us to change the world. The latter is a tool that can be used to great affect to change us.

    Persistent, unreturned romantic love may be a way of providing testimony to God’s faithful love for us at times—I don’t think that’s completely out of the question. But I do think that the vast, vast majority of times, such a situation can get really unhealthy destructive. And while it seems unselfish, I think a huge checkpoint for the unselfish quality is asking why all that love should be focused on one person. sure, the love itself may be unselfish, but I think the decision to focus it on one person isn’t. and to me, that changes the situation substantially.

    I can certainly appreciate the impulse that says, “I’m just going to keep loving, no matter what.” I think that most of the time, God’s plan for humanity is that we would reserve that kind of romantic commitment for relationships based on mutual commitment and covenant.

  5. This interpretation of Hosea’s story is well written and gives a cogent voice to a common homiletic approach to this subject. While I really appreciate the head long dive into the indescribable depths of God’s love, grace and mercy, I must confess, I find this perspective two dimensional and lacking in regards to the multi-faceted (manifold) wisdom of God. The Bible also says that, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” In Hosea 2, God anticipates the day that He will say to a people who are not yet His people, “You are my people” and they will say to Him, “You are our God.” He also speaks in Matthew 13 in various ways of people who do not respond to His initiatives of Love…and their final destruction. God’s love is relentless and long suffering. No doubt about it. He made The Way and He will lead us on The Way, but I don’t believe that He carries us on it without our participation or against our will. He is still looking for voluntary lovers. He willingly loves us at His expense. He asks us to receive His love…and knows that those who are sincere will be changed by it. He offers us Life, but we are required to surrender our own to receive it. His love was proven on the Cross and He loves us daily by ever making intercession for us. Likewise, we are to take up our cross and follow Him and daily crucify anything part of ourselves that would prohibit our full surrender to Jesus, the Lover of our souls. The notion in Christian circles that Jesus paid it all therefore this love won’t cost a thing is well, um, heretical! Love is sacrifice. For love to be shared, both must be willing to sacrifice for it. While your illustration is romantic and beautiful and very true in a sense, I don’t think it paints a 3-D picture of what God is saying here. On face value, a person could feel obligated to love a person who is abusing them or cheating, citing Hosea as biblical precedent for their choice to stay. Worse yet…they might not consider it a choice but their Christian obligation! If Hosea was to be considered a model for dealing with unfaithful spouses, maybe we should consider using Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac as a model for parenting! Absurd right?! However, in both cases God specifically called Hosea and Abraham to do something extreme to demonstrate something that God was saying to His people. Hosea would illustrate God’s love for us as a Husband to a faithless people to break our hearts with His fidelity and tenderness. Abraham would lead his son up a hill to sacrifice his son…God would allow His only begotten Son, His Son of Promise, to be lead up a hill but there was no ram in the bushes for Him. Although I believe that God might lead a person to redeem a misguided but repentant spouse, I don’t think that God was establishing precedent to be strictly followed in these situations, do you? Although Jesus extends His love to all, He is not reconciled to unrepentant sinners and He only gives Himself to those who willingly surrender. A regenerated heart is the only heart who can love with the Love of God…and this regenerated heart will surely love God. In fact, we are commanded to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. God does expect to be loved in return by those who are called by His name. In conclusion, I affirm your assertion that much of God’s love goes unrequited, but I tend to believe that he who rejects His love will not only be unable to love in return but will ultimately be held responsible for his actions. To allow a person to transgress with little or no consequence will only allow him to be blindsided by the worst possible, ultimate result of his selfish life choices. He also cannot give Himself to those who reject Him…so I suggest we should do likewise. He requires those who receive the blessed benefits of regeneration to bear fruit…and that fruit is first of all LOVE…Love for Him and others. (He that does not love does not know God for God is Love, 1 Jn.) Please respond. I am very interested in a dialogue with you. God bless you, my brother!