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Welcome Home Sabbath
November 21, 2015

The Covenant Mender

 A Sermon on the Book of Hosea

“I'm leaving my wife! I’m going to divorce her!” he angrily told us. “She’s had an affair and according to the Bible it’s my right to divorce her!”

This troubled man was visiting the town where my husband and I were pastors and had made an appointment to talk. Wanting to be of help and possibly save the marriage, I asked him, “Have you considered forgiving her?” This was out of the question. She had broken their marriage vows and he wanted nothing more to do with her.

He felt betrayed. He had been faithful—why hadn’t she? How could she do such a thing? Because his hurt was so intense, forgiveness was simply unthinkable. Forgive an adulteress? No way! And yet this is the very thing God asked of one Old Testament prophet.

Hosea 1:2 says, “When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.’ ” This text tells us that Hosea is a man chosen of God to be a mouthpiece for Him. He is worthy of the calling. At the beginning of his public ministry, God instructs him to marry an adulterous wife.

What’s God’s purpose in asking this of Hosea? The answer is found in the text: Israel is guilty of adultery against the Lord. She has broken her promise—her covenant with Him—and has gone after other lovers. Those lovers come in the form of idolatry, apostate worship, and political and social corruption. God longs to have Israel see Him as her one and only love again. He wants to be a Covenant Mender—to bring her back to Him. So he chooses something tangible: a real life marriage/adultery/forgiveness situation to show them what He’s really like.

So Hosea marries a woman named Gomer, and she bears him a son. In verse 4, the Lord tells Hosea what to name this child, “ ‘Call him Jezereel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezereel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel.’ ” The Hebrew word “Jezereel” means, “to scatter” or “to sow.” There are several possible reasons why God gives the child such a name. Perhaps it will serve as a constant reminder that God was against the bloodshed that brought about the reigning dynasty, of which Jezereel was a victim. Perhaps it’s a prediction that Israel will be scattered. Or perhaps it’s a promise that God will sow and make Israel fruitful again.

In verse 6 Gomer conceives again, this time a girl. Because the text doesn’t say that she bore this child to Hosea (while verse 4 does), some suggest that this was the beginning of her adulterous ways, and that this child is not Hosea’s. Again, God chooses the name. Verse 6 says, “ ‘Call her Lo-Ruhama, for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them.’ ” A stroner translation of Lo-Ruhama than provided by the NIV would be “Not Pitied.” Now we see the consequences for Israel’s sin running even deeper. If they don’t renew their covenant with God, He will no longer show pity to them.

It must have been about two or three years before Gomer gave birth to her third child, because verse 8 says that she weaned her second child before giving birth to the third. (Most women at that time nursed two to three years.) This in itself has significance, because it shows that God patiently waits for Israel to return, even after His first and second warnings. Yet Israel does not repent. This third child is another son, and again God provides the name. Verse 9 has to be one of the saddest, most empty verses in all of scripture: “Then the Lord said, ‘Call him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.’ ” The Hebrew translation is actually “Not of my Clan.” Can you imagine the pain in God’s voice when He declares this? Because of Israel’s choice, He must separate Himself from them. They are no longer a part of His family. Hosea can relate to God’s pain. His lover, too, has been unfaithful. The child is not his son.

In chapter 2, we find what some of Israel’s punishment will be if she doesn’t repent. Israel will not have enough food or clothing. She will have no reason to celebrate. These punishments won't come because God is angry with her and wants revenge, but because she must face the consequences of her choice to live apart from God.

Yet in spite of these warnings, in verse 14 we find God trying once more to mend their broken relationship. “ ‘Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.’ ” This portion speaks of God’s longing to have Israel return to Him as her first love. He wants their relationship to be the way it used to be, when she came out of Egypt with devotion and praise. As a result, verse 16 says that Israel will then call Him, “my husband.” Isn’t that beautiful? And an even more beautiful part of this chapter is that God not only restores Himself to Israel as her husband, but He also takes the two children who are not His own. Look at verse 20-23, “ ‘In that day I will respond,’ declares the Lord—‘I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and oil, and they will respond to Jezereel. I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one called, ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ ” This portion of the story shows just how incredibly forgiving God is. Not only will He forgive Israel for breaking her covenant with Him, but He will also take on the consequences of her sins!

Chapter 3 returns us to the story of Hosea and Gomer as an illustration of God’s complete forgiveness. The chapter begins with Hosea writing: “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’ ”

Was God asking the impossible of Hosea here? If there’s one sin that would be hard for a married person to forgive, it’s adultery. To forgive a spouse for losing her temper can be done. To forgive him for lying—a little harder, yet still forgivable. But here we find God asking Hosea to forgive his wife for breaking their covenant—for giving to another man a very personal and sacred act that was meant for Hosea only. In fact, according to the Mosaic law, Gomer and her lover should have been killed. Leviticus 20:10 says, “If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” Not only was adultery an offense against the souse, it was abhorred in the community. Adulteress women were looked upon as outcasts and lowlife.

Yet we find God saying to Hosea, “Go, show your love....” This shows us that Hosea still had love for Gomer, even though she had wronged him—just as God had love for Israel, even though she had wronged Him. For some reason unclear in scripture, Hosea had to buy Gomer in order to get her back. In verse 2 he writes, “So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.” In Hosea’s time, fifteen pieces of silver was about half the price one would pay for a manservant. Barely was an inferior cereal in Palestine. The total amount of money and barley paid was approximately that of a common maidservant. This shows how low Gomer had fallen, and the parallel, how low Israel had fallen.

What Can We Learn From Hosea's Story?

So, Hosea takes her away from her sin and temptations, and when an appropriate amount of time has passed, she once again becomes his wife. What a beautiful ending! If the Bible is relevant to us today, and I believe that it is, what can we learn from Hosea’s story? If Hosea represents God, whom does Israel represent? You and me today—the church.

Many of us have broken our covenant with God. When we first came into a relationship with Him, it was, in a sense, like a marriage. We made a promise that He would be our only God—that we would spend time with Him, stay close to Him, and serve Him. But like Israel, we’ve wandered. We’ve begun to rely on ourselves and think we can do okay apart from God. In His place we have chosen other gods: entertainment, money, self-centeredness, independence, other people—anything that might separate us from Him and take His place in our hearts.

If like Gomer, you’ve broken your covenant with God by seeking other loves, this story is especially for you. Maybe you were raised Seventh-day Adventist, but now that you’re older you don’t sense the need for God. Life gets busy. One week follows another until He isn’t much a part of your life. You realize you’ve lost your First Love. If so, He is your Covenant Mender. Or maybe you recently became a Christian, but that first love for God is already dwindling. He is your Covenant Mender, too.

If you’ve broken your covenant with God, chapter 11:3,4 is calling you to remember His love for you from the beginning: “ ‘It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.’ ”

Do you parents remember when you taught your children to walk? You took hold of his tiny arms and balanced him, careful that he wouldn't fall. Or remember when you bent down to feed her because she was too little to feed herself? Those were tender times because your children depended on you completely. The way you expressed your deep love for them was to care for them. In our spiritual lives, we tend to rely totally on God when we’re babes, but then too often we become independent. Once we learn to walk and feed ourselves, we forget the One who raised us.

It’s not an unhealthy dependence that God wants from us. He’s asking only what we expect from our own children: “Please always remember me and stay close to me. Let’s always keep in touch. Let’s not let time or distance separate us.”

In Hosea 13 we find God amazed that His children could leave Him after He’s gone to such great lengths to show His love. He sees them making idols and offering human sacrifices as if He doesn't even exist. In verse 4 He reminds them, “ ‘But I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no other God but me, no Savior but me.’ ” I’ve had people tell me that this text makes God appear selfishly jealous and demanding. But it’s no more selfish than if you'd say to your spouse, “I don't want you to have any lover but me. I want our relationship to be unique—a closeness that we don’t share with anyone else.

Stop and think back on your life. Has God brought you out of your own Egypt? Maybe He’s brought you out of the bondage of a bad habit, the bondage of physical pain, the bondage of sorrow, the bondage of spiritual darkness. Why not remember how miserable that bondage was and turn again to the One who delivered you?

Can you hear the pathos in God's voice when He says in Hosea 11:1,2, “ ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me.’ ” You parents must know a bit of what God felt like. Imagine your feelings if you had a child who you loved very much, but he or she began to distance themself from you. And the more you called to them, the further they went from you. What anguish! You’d feel helpless because you couldn’t force them to come back. You could only show you love. And call. And wait. And hope. This is what God goes through when we, his sons and daughters, walk away from Him.

He longs for you. He misses you. Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “I can't come back after all the things I’ve done. I’ve broken my covenant with God and I don’t deserve to have it restored.”

My husband and I know a man who feels this way. He was raised in an Adventist home, but during Academy he began to search for other “gods.” When we met him he was longing to return to God, but he held back because he felt he wasn’t good enough. “I’ll get my act together and then come back to God,” he’d say. My husband spent hours walking and talking with him, trying to convince him to come to God first. But our friend just couldn’t accept that kind of unconditional, undeserved love.

Remember what we read in chapter 2? Hosea not only took back Gomer, but he also accepted her children of unfaithfulness. When God takes you back, He accepts all the scars from your past. You can come just as you are.

No matter what you’ve done, you are not forsaken. Hosea proves this. In chapter 11 verse 7, it sounds like God is finished with His people when He says, “ ‘Even if they call to the Most High, He will by no means exalt them.’ ” Yet in the very next verse, God's father-love shines through: “ ‘How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?...My heart is changed within me; my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my first anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.’ ”

Do you wonder how God can be so amazingly forgiving? Here's how: “ ‘For I am God, and not man--the Holy One among you....’ ” The Holy One is among us today. He is willing and wanting to forgive.

The Lord longs to have a strong bond with us. He doesn’t want our love to be fickle like Gomer’s—loving Him one day and being distracted by something else the next. He said of Israel in Hosea 6:4, “ ‘What can I do with you Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like early dew that disappears.’ ” He wants our relationship to be one that lasts throughout all eternity.

How do you go about returning to God? The last chapter of Hosea, chapter 14, tells us how simple it is: “ ‘Return, O Israel, to the Lord you God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.’ ” Reconciliation is simply acknowledging that you’ve broken your covenant, being sorry, returning to Him, and asking for forgiveness.

If you’ve distanced yourself from God, why not come back? He’s already bought you back as Hosea did Gomer. But not for fifteen shekels of silver and barley. It was something much more costly. He bought you back by the death of His Son, Jesus.

And that is why He can be called, the Covenant Mender.

Written by Nancy Canwell
Writer/Project Coordinator Center for Creative Ministry