God’s Story, Our Story: Return to Me

Preaching: Brian Keepers
Text: Hosea 11:1-11

When El Shaddai, God Almighty, first called me to be his messenger and spoke to me, it was not what I expected.

Go, take for yourself a wife who is a prostitute and have children with her, “ El Shaddai said.  “For the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the LORD.” (2:1-2)

I knew immediately of whom the Lord spoke.  Gomer, daughter of Diblahim.  A woman with a reputation soiled by scandal.  A woman who welcomed many men into her bedchamber, who offered her sexual services down at the pagan temple during the fertility rituals.   

Gomer, the harlot.

Go, “said the Lord, “and take that one—yes, her—to be your wife.”

So I did what the Lord commanded me.  I was perplexed by it.  But I went.  I went down to the temple and I found Gomer and I betrothed myself to her.

My friends and relatives were dead set against it.  “Have you gone mad, my son?” my father fumed.  “Can’t you see that this will ruin your name, will bring shame to our whole family?”  “She is filth,” my mother insisted, “trash, a woman unclean.  She is not the wife for my son!”   “We cannot bless this union.” They said.   “We will not bless it.”  

Still, I did it.  In obedience to God, I took Gomer as my wife and we went into my tent.  There was no wedding celebration, no feast, no music and dancing.  Only the two of us holding each other in the stillness of the dark.

The truth is, I loved her.  I gave her my heart.  There was so much more to her than what others saw.  Isn’t this usually the case?  They saw only a harlot, a woman with roving eyes who preyed on the lusts of men’s hearts; but I saw a human being who desired to be loved, to be known fully.  A human being, like us all, who was lost and scared and had figured out what she needed to do to survive in the world.  In her eyes I saw sadness and loneliness and deep longing.

Yes, I loved her.  She became my treasure, my joy.  I will never forget the birth of our first son, Jezreel.  The long, painful labor.  She squeezed my hand, such strength in her grip, and pushed with all her might.  She was so brave.  When I placed our baby boy in her arms, I combed back her matted hair with my fingers and leaned down and kissed her sweaty brow.  “He’s beautiful,” I whispered.  “I love you, my wife.” She looked into my eyes and smiled, “I love you, too, my husband.”

She bore me two more children.  A daughter, whom the Lord said, Call her name Lo-ruhamah, which means “Not-Pitied” because I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel to forgive them. (1:8)

Then another son was born.  And the Lord said, Call his name Lo-ammi, which means, “Not My People” because Israel is no longer my people.  (1:9)

Strange names you say.  But names that reflected El Shaddai’s judgment on his people who had broken covenant with him and went chasing after other gods.  It was a dark time in Israel.  All was not well.

Quietly we raised these children together.  Though it was a dark time in the land, these were good years for Gomer and me.  But rumors rippled through the community that my wife had not been faithful.  “They say the last two children are not even his but from other men,” people whispered.  I was met with pitiful stares when I walked the cobbled streets of the market and went to the Holy Temple to pray.  It pained my heart to say it, but I knew they were right.  I had always known.   

And then one day Gomer, my Beloved, gathered her things and left.

She went back to her old life.  Back to the streets.  Back to the pagan temple.  Back to giving herself to other lovers.

And my heart broke.   Agony overcame me.  The pain of it was too much to bear.  Have you ever been betrayed by someone you loved more than life itself?  Then you know what I mean.   You understand.

A jealousy burned within me.  Not a jealously fueled by insecurity and possessiveness, mind you, but one born of love.  How could she betray me?  How could she dishonor me?  After all I had given her!  How could she trade in a life of fidelity and love for a prison of reckless harlotry that, in the end, would only be her ruin?          

I cried out to the Lord in my loss and grief. 

El Shaddai heard me and again he spoke to me. 

Hosea, now you have been given a glimpse into my own heart. You have felt an ounce of the anguish I feel for my people.  Israel, My Beloved, My Treasure, has turned away from me and run off with other lovers.  Israel, my adopted Son, has turned against me and left his Father’s house.

Hosea, go and deliver this message to my people.  Say to them:

When you were a child, I loved you.  And I called you out of Egypt.  But the more I called you, the more you went away from me.  You burned sacrifices to Baal.  You burned incense to idols.

Yet it was I who taught you how to walk.  When you grew tired, I carried you in my arms.  I healed your weariness.  I led you with cords of compassion.  With bands of love I drew you through the wilderness to myself.  Where you chafed with your burdens, I eased you.  When you were hungry, I bent down to feed you.

What shall I do now, O my people—now that you refuse to turn back to me?

I will send you back to Egypt!

I will let Assyria rule over you!

I will send a sword to break the bars of your gates and to rage in your cities!

I will ignite war inside your fortresses, and war will devour you!

Oh, Israel!

Oh, my Child, My Beloved!

How can I give you up?  How can I hand you over to destruction?  My heart recoils within me.  My compassion grows warm and tender. 

No, I will not execute my fierce anger.  I will not destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mortal.  I am the Holy One in your midst.  I will not come to destroy.  I will seek you, and I will bring you home. (11:1-11)

Then El Shaddai said to me: 

Hosea, My prophet, listen to Me.  Go again and love the woman who has become an adulterer with other men.  Love her, Hosea, even as I the Lord love the people of Israel, though they have turned to other gods. (3:1-3)[1]

And so again I went.  Though she had broken my heart, betrayed my trust, dishonored my name.  Because the Lord commanded me, I went.

And it dawned on me what the Lord was doing.  By calling me to love Gomer, a woman unfaithful.  To love our children, two who were fathered by other men, children who spurned my love.  El Shaddai had not only given me a message to speak to his people.  I was the message—my life was the message-- a visible sign of God’s agony and tender compassion for his people to see.

I went and found Gomer, my Beloved, and I bought her back for fifteen shekels of silver and a measure of barley.  I said to her, “You must live faithfully to me.  You cannot belong to other men any more.  And I will be faithful to you.”

So I brought her home and I loved her.  Will she be faithful to me?  Will she stay?  I do not know.  Only time will tell.  But I will risk loving her again and pledge my faithfulness to her, no matter what.

And the Lord changed the names of our children.  Don’t call your daughter Not Pitied, said the Lord.  Call her, “She Has Obtained Pity.”  And call your son, “My People.”

Listen to what I shall do for my people, said the Lord.  Listen to what I shall do for Israel…

But now I will allure her.  I will lead her again into the wilderness as at the beginning and speak tenderly to her.  And even in the desert will I give her vineyards.  No other love can do this thing.  Baal cannot do this.  So she shall answer me again as in the days of her youth.

She shall call me her husband.

O Israel!  I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.

For I have pity on Not Pitied!

And I say to Not My People, no!  You are my people![2]

Please answer me.  Return to me.  Today.  Turn from your sin.  Leave your false gods behind.  Come home. 

Come home to the God who made you and redeems you.  Return to the God who loves you passionately, unconditionally, eternally… and is pleased to call you His own.  (2:14-24)

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] Adapted from Walter Wangerin’s translation of the text (The Book of God, Zonvervan, 1996, p.321).

[2] Adapted again from Walter Wangerin’s translation.  Ibid, p.322.

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