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The Wayward Wife
February 2, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

HOSEA 2:2-8

Did you notice how the Manteca Bulletin did not approve of my sermon for this morning? At least, they felt the necessity to change the title. According to the Bulletin, this sermon should be titled, "The Wayward Life”which just misses the whole point. Evidently they felt “The Wayward Wife" was too risque! But, the prophet Hosea whose window we are looking at today, did have a wayward wife, and the experience had a profound effect not only on Hosea's personal life, but on his understanding of God and of Israel’s situation and future.

Hosea and his wife Gomer had three children, but Gomer lost interest in her home and in her husband. She left Hosea. Hosea was hurt, shocked, angry. Chapter two reveals the process, the feelings a person works through when hurt by someone you love. Hosea was angry and bitter. He was disillusioned, depressed. Then as he worked through these feelings, expressing them by writing poems, he realized his deep love for Gomer. Even though she was a wayward wife, he loved her. He would forgive her, welcome her back if she would come. Hosea even went to find her, to ask her to come back. Eventually they were reconciled.

As Hosea reflected on the experience with Gomer, he realized he had learned a great deal about life. Hosea had been driven to the bottom, beneath disillusionment, hurt, bitterness, anger, despair. Malvina Reynolds has written a song, "Do you think you've hit bottom? Oh, no, there's a bottom below. There's a low below the lowest low. You can't imagine how far you can go down. Do you think you've hit bottom? Oh, no, there's a bottom below."

Hosea felt he went to the bottom, and he discovered the bottom to be love. Love is at the bottom, love is at the center. The essence of life is love. The final word, the nature of God himself is love. Because Hosea found the capacity within himself to forgive, to reconcile; out of his own experience—not books, not other people's interpre­tations— he felt there was hope for Israel.

Hosea and Amos lived about the same time with most of Hosea's prophesies coming after Amos. They lived in a time of national deterioration with the threat of Assyria as the hand of God’s judgment hanging over the nation. Amos prophesied in a time of luxury for the few, a time of prosperity, a time when most could not see what was happening. Therefore his words were harsh, severe, designed to shock the nation into action. Hosea prophesied when the decline of' the nation was evident to most of' the people. Hosea like Amos emphasized judgment but Hosea had more hope, more mercy in his message. Hosea seemed to feel that despite the total eclipse, the sun was still shining.

Out of his own experience, he drew an analogy of Israel's covenant with God to be like the marriage relationship. The covenant between God and Israel which was formed, developed, refined, celebrated in the wilderness so many centuries before is like a marriage covenant. The New Testament, especially in Revelation, developed this idea also, likening Christ as a bride and the church as his bridegroom. In Hosea's analogy, God is seen as the groom, and Israel as his unfaithful bride.

To liken the relationship with God to the marriage relationship adds a whole new dimension to our understanding as to possibilities. The covenant is not just a legal pact with laws, duties, rewards, punishments. The covenant is more like a marriage, a good marriage where two people develop an intimate communication, where there is sharing of feelings, love, intimacy, where one is known by another as in no other relationship. This means that a good marriage relationship is the closest we can come on this earth to an understanding of God's love for us. The love of God is experienced most deeply in the marriage relationship. This analogy also signifies that God's will for us is to know him in a way that a husband and wife know one another. Through prayer, worship, service, it is possible to experience intimacy, warmth, communication with Christ.

Israel as a bride was unfaithful. Hosea calls her a harlot. She pursued the god Baal. She was immoral. She mistreated her fellow people. But, the hope for Israel, even in the dark days in which Hosea lived was redemption, restoration. As Hosea and Gomer were reconciled through suffering, so the Lord and Israel can be reconciled.

Do you realize what Hosea is saying about God? Hosea developed an understanding of God that had profound influence on the Bible and on Christianity. For Hosea saw and felt that God suffers, that the Lord suffers when Israel, his people, you and I, are unfaithful, suffer as Hosea did when his wife Gomer was unfaithful. What a statement of faith and what a statement about the nature of life! The Creator, the omnipotent, almighty God, who made all there is, who is lord of life and death, who has the vast and countless universes under his providence, who knows no time but eternity, this God suffers. He grieves, he cares. Hosea said that the Lord says, “My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender."

Whoever said that the cross is only in the New Testament has not read the Old Testament. Hosea discovered the reality of the cross in his own life and in the Lords relationship with Israel. The cross upon which Jesus died is a symbol of the love of God, of God's heart breaking with grief and concern. God suffers out of love. The cross is the supreme example of the pain which God bears because he loves and love is vulnerable. One who loves takes a huge risk, makes him­self vulnerable to pain and hurt. The recipient of love is not perfect. The one we love may not always return that love, will not always live up to expectations.

Love involves suffering. For what does God do when he sees us hurting ourselves? He watches and suffers. What do you do when someone you love is hurting? You suffer. Someone said, "My baby brother knew all about life the moment he was born. He cried.” Crying has a lot to do with life. There are those who suffer with pain, and those who love them suffer along with them. There are those marriages where one is unfaithful, or wants another chance, leaves the family. The one who still loves suffers. There are those parents who watch their children reject the heritage, choose another way of life, want to make their own decisions, and get hurt. The parents suffer. There are those children who watch their parents make fools of themselves, mistreat each other, develop strong feelings for someone else, bring hurt and loneliness upon their family. The children suffer and watch.

Crying, suffering, are very real elements in life, and Hosea teaches us through his own experience, and his understanding of God, that there is meaning in our suffering. God suffered with Israel. The Lord suffers with us and there is a purpose in the suffering. For the cross upon which Christ suffered is now the symbol, the hope of redemption, of reconciliation. To suffer with someone, to suffer for someone, is to keep open the possibilities of redemption. For it is in love, and through love that persons grow, mature, find themselves, are redeemed and reconciled. When you suffer, there is purpose, there is meaning, there is hope, for in and through your suffering, in and through your deep love, God can work and bring about redemption.

Don't despair.  Don't retreat from suffering. Don't stay uninvolved so you won't get hurt. For it is in your being willing to be hurt, your willingness to take risks, to be vulnerable that love can heal and redeem. There is always hope when someone cares.

Hosea prophesied to the despairing nation of Israel that there was hope because God cared, and God suffered with them as a husband suffers over a wayward wife.

Israel had a difficult time responding to the God who judges and the God who loves. What about you? Are you open to his love? Do you let him love you? Have you entered the covenant relationship with him where you honestly and openly consciously say that he is your Lord and you are his people? Let him love you in an intimate, loving, forgiving relationship. Take the risks involved in loving others. 

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris