New year; new devotional series. And as it’s January, a time of new resolutions and perhaps of girding our loins, why not immerse ourselves in a text we might otherwise overlook. For this series we will be traveling though the book of Hosea, which can make for uncomfortable reading at times, because God gave this prophet the unenviable task of living a metaphor. He was to marry a prostitute and share his life with an unfaithful woman. He would mirror God’s experience of enduring heartbreak from his marriage to Israel, who betrayed him repeatedly for other gods.
This Old Testament book has many difficult passages, and at times we may recoil or wonder what sort of loving God could make such pronouncements. But when we see the book in the bigger context of God’s love, within his desire for both truth and grace, we can begin to understand the harder texts. For his people rejected him again and again. They would turn to other gods or rely on themselves, becoming prideful in the process. God could have just obliterated them completely, saving himself the heartache.
But he never does. And we who have the gift of the New Testament know the whole story, that he sends his only Son to fulfill the tenets of the law as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He turns from his anger and gives us the means of staying faithful, through the indwelling of his Son and Spirit.
Though Hosea has hard texts, it also boasts some striking passages of God’s love and affirmation. The Lord speaks of alluring his people, speaking tenderly to them (2:14). Of betrothing them to him for ever, in love, compassion and faithfulness (2:19-20). Of him appearing even as the sun rises or the rains that come to water the earth (6:3). Of deliverance from the power of the grave; of redemption from death (13:14). Of love that heals his people’s waywardness (14:4) and compassion that roots the fatherlessness (14:3).
These promises of love and affection are for us too, these thousands of years later. For as we return to the Lord, he forgives us all of our sins, that we may dwell again in his shade.
Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” they will be called “children of the living God.” (Hosea 1—2:1)
We might find this first chapter of Hosea disheartening. God wants a prophet – a holy man – to tie himself to a promiscuous woman. And then to call the three innocent children by painful names: Jezreel, where there would be a massacre; Lo-Ruhamah, meaning not loved; and Lo-Ammi, meaning not my people. Not exactly monikers to induce self-esteem. And as 2:4 confirms, the second and third children weren’t even Hosea’s, for only in 1:3 does the text say that “she bore him a son.” Why would the Lord ask so much of Hosea and his family?
We simply don’t know. God’s ways aren’t our ways, as the prophet Isaiah says (55:8). If we try to perceive the situation from God’s point of view, perhaps we can see his mercy shining through the mess. He has the right to smite his wayward people, but he relents. They will be his people, dearly loved. Though they have betrayed him, his very nature is love, and he can’t help but to express it. Though his people are undeserving.
Have you experienced God’s overwhelming acceptance and affirmation, even when you’ve messed up big time? If so, how did it feel? If not, what’s holding you back from receiving the love that he longs to rain on you? One practical exercise is to affirm that Jesus’ cross is a living place of exchange. We can write out a sin or a false name we’ve been called or have taken on and pin or nail it to a cross that we fashion out of twigs or wood. In doing so, we can ask God to release us from that name or wrongdoing and to pour in his love and forgiveness. We who have been called Rejected now bear the name Accepted.
Prayer: Father God, you run towards me with the love that permeates your being. Help me to accept your grace and know deep within my soul that I am yours.