How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
The prophet Hosea is famous for God’s command to marry and pursue a faithless wife. Although it’s doubtful that Gomer was a prostitute, in many ways she was worse – she was faithless for no personal gain, she offered herself to others for personal satisfaction, not financial gain. She pursued her course with such determination that eventually she had no choice but to be redeemed, bought back by Hosea. Her adultery had brought her to slavery.
Why did God choose this devastating path for Hosea? Because it demonstrated more than anything the relationship between God and man, God and the Church. Just consider the implications of the instruction in Ephesians for a man to love his wife as Christ loved the Church – this mystery is profound.
I believe that very often in our well intentioned determination to ascribe to God all that he is we actually take away from him that which makes him personal. I understand that our emotions, our feelings are fallen and are often laden with sin. But joy, hope, love also contain an emotional element. We are made in God’s image, and I believe that our feelings, as a part of our whole being are part of that image. I need to be careful here not to ascribe to God passing whims or mindless anger, but the other error is equally dangerous – God is a God of love, and if that love is impersonal we are tending towards the error of deism – a pervasive but impersonal deity.
Take a look at the language God uses through Hosea. It is the language of the betrayed lover, the one who has loved and received back faithlessness. Just look at how often God says: but I.
11:3,4 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up by their arms, I led them with arms of kindness.
13:4,5 But I am the Lord your God … It was I who knew you in the wilderness
14:8 It is I who answer and look after you.
There is incredible tenderness in the words of 11:8 – How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? This is the language of a God who loves, who in anger at apostasy will judge, but in true personal love will bring back and restore.
Israel had sinned deeply, repeatedly, determinedly and their judgement was well deserved, and yet God still offered hope based on his love for his people.
God repeatedly uses the picture of marriage throughout the Bible as an illustration of his love for his Church, because that is the best way for us to understand his love. God is the husband who will seek his straying wife, who will redeem her, pay to free her from the slavery into which she has fallen by her own faithlessness. God is the lover who will forgive. Of course, we understand from the rest of Scripture that the basis for that redemption and forgiveness is the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ in our place to redeem us from our deliberate sin and innate waywardness.
Wherever we are today, no matter how far we have fallen, or strayed; no matter that we have actively pursued other lovers, God is pursuing us, God loves us personally and has personally offered a way back to himself. No matter how deep the hole that you have dug for yourself – understand this – that God still loves you and is still willing to take you back.
Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us that he may heal us.
I will heal their apostasy;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
Can there be anything more reassuring in the depths of our self made pit than to know that the God of the universe loves us in this way? Whatever path you have taken, please know that a loving, personal God says to you today:
Return, O Israel to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you (these) words
and return to the Lord.