A testimony to God’s steadfast lovingkindness towards Israel and Judah.
From the start, Hosea tells the story of our God whose unfailing love paves the way for the redemption of God’s people even as they commit adultery with every lover they can find.
Read Hosea 1-2. Note the intentionality of the writing. Pay attention to the meaning of the names. Let the movement of the plot become apparent. Watch carefully what God is doing behind the scenes.
It is astounding. It is delightful. It is transforming.
The book is likely written in the final days before Israel’s exile during the rapid succession of kings (six in twenty-five years). God pled with God’s people through many prophets to turn back from their idolatrous ways to avoid the cleansing God would bring through the exile.
In verse 1:2, Hosea is instructed by God to go take a wife, Gomer, from among to harlots and to have children with her, an analogy for Israel and Judah’s adultery.
Three children are born.
The first is named Jezreel in reference to a massacre in 1 Kings 9-10.
The second child is a daughter named Lo-ruhamah, meaning “she has not obtained compassion.” God tells Hosea to name the innocent this for, “…I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I should ever forgive them” (1:6b).
A third child is born. Another son. His name means “not my people.” Verse 1:9 reads:
“And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.”
Chapter two opens with the two younger siblings instructed to contend with their mother for her harlotry. Hosea writes of how Gomer cheated on the children’s father and warns the father will strip the mother naked and leave her exposed unless she repents of her adultery and no compassion will be had for the woman’s children.
Such brutality is shocking to modern Western readers.
But then something beautiful happens in 2:6.
The harlot’s husband says something even more shocking!
He tells the children of prostitution that even as their mother pursues her lovers, she will never overtake them. He has put a hedge up along her way. He has walled the paths so that she can run, but she cannot hide from him. She can seek her false lovers, but she will never find fulfillment with them.
‘Then she will say, “I will go back to my first husband,
For it was better for me then than now!”‘
What Israel does not know is that God provided for all her needs while she chased her false lovers. The grain, the new wine, the oil. Even the silver and gold which she and her lovers sacrificed to Baal were lavished upon the her by the harlot’s husband, God.
Still, God says, she will be punished for her unfaithfulness in the sight of her lovers.
But then. Oh, then, declares the Lord, “I will allure her” (2:14b).
Did you hear that? God will allure the bride who ran off after all her lovers, chasing them with God’s own gold and silver, new wine and oil.
God loves God’s bride so richly, so heavenly, that even the ones called “Not My People” and “She Has Not Obtained Compassion” are worthy of God’s alluring efforts.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness,
And speak kindly to her” (2:14).
And God does. After the adultery/idolatry is removed from the people by means of the exile, the people are brought back to their land. The bride returns to her first love.
“And it will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi [husband]” (2:16).
Hosea 2 ends like a letter between two lovers. No more false lovers, no more war. Israel will lie down in safety, betrothed to God forever in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion.
God will betroth God’s bride to himself in faithfulness and she will know the Lord.
And God will respond.
God will respond in the heavens and Israel will respond on the earth.
And the earth will respond with grain and wine and oil 2:18-23.
In grand triumph, the children return:
I will also have compassion on
her who had not obtained compassion,
And I will say to those who
were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they will say, Thou art my God!’ (2:23 b,c)
(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)
This is the story of God and Israel.
It is my story.
My precious love story with God who allures me.
Yes. God strips me bare and uncovers my nakedness in front of my false gods.
Then God removes those unkind lovers from my lips and betroths me to God forever.
This is also your story.
(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)
God is always seeking God’s people. Providing for them.
Loving you steadfastly and making a way for you to be found.
Let God’s lovingkindness and compassion wash over you.
God calls you God’s people.
Christine Fox Parker serves as President/Executive Director of PorchSwing Ministries, Inc., a non-profit ministry she founded to offer healing and safe space to survivors of all forms of church abuse and to educate churches and Christian institutions in creating safer spaces and improving care for abuse survivors. She earned a Masters in Christian Ministry and a Master’s in Counseling from Harding School of Theology.
A popular speaker and teacher across the country, Christine co-edited and contributed to Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for God’s Broken, published by Leafwood Press in May 2018.
In the wake of last Friday’s Paris attacks one of the attackers was quickly identified as someone who had entered Greece back in October with the wave of Syrian refugees before finding his way to Paris. The list of people, including presidential candidates, and states pushing to prevent more Syrian refugees resettling in the United States is growing.
It seems that the actions of one person have suddenly resulted in tens of thousands of others receiving the “UNWANTED” label. Overlooked in the process seems to be the fact that these are mostly Muslim refugees fleeing ISIS related fighters.
It wasn’t that many months ago that social media blew up when the body of a young boy washed up on a Turkish beach. At that time the refugees were seen as suffering people and all of us with children wept for those parents who took such risks to protect their children.Embed from Getty Images
How things have changed.
Although this issue is inherently political, I am more concerned by the attitudes expressed on social media and other forums from Christians. Christians seem to be among the first worry about protecting their families from bombers who will slip into the USA as refugees. This is their number one concern in this conversation.
While I understand these serious concerns, it is sad to see followers of Christ so consumed by fear.
It is sad to see people fearfully fleeing Muslim hatred being met and turned away by Christian fear.
This crisis prompts the church to ask itself some hard questions around the central issue of “What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?”
God gave his only begotten Son… for his enemies.
When Jesus came to earth there was a 100% certainty that Jesus would be killed by his enemies.
What are the chances that a terrorist will be one of the 10,000 Syrian refugees currently scheduled to be admitted to the USA in 2016? Is that a greater risk than that one of the 320 million people currently living in the United States will commit an act of terror? And what are the chances that your loved one would be the victim of that heinous act?
I’m not meaning to be callous. I detest all people who intentionally cause suffering to others for the sake of making a political or religious statement. I believe ISIS should be stopped, and I accept that it will probably take military force to diminish their power and influence.
However, I am convinced that all the bombs dropped on ISIS heads and all the military blood shed will not have a sliver of the impact for the Gospel that providing for those in need will have. Love will always prove a more effective evangelistic tool than the sword.
So in the meantime, I believe that Christians should provide shelter to the homeless. We should feed the hungry. We should give water to the thirsty. We should invite in strangers, clothe the naked, and provide healing for the sick. (Matthew 25:34-36)
We should proclaim good news to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed. We should bear witness that this is the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
And we shouldn’t let fear that our chance of premature death may increase ever so slightly in the process of following Christ stop us from carrying out his mission.
Each Easter churches around the country celebrate the resurrection of Christ. We celebrate that his resurrection gives us hope to live our lives because we believe that death is defeated. Yes, we live in the presence of death, we feel its pain still, but we have confidence in our destination and in Christ’s victory. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
Jesus was a Refugee
I’ve mentioned Easter, but the Christmas story is equally relevant to this conversation. Matthew 2:13-23 tells how as a young child Jesus’ family fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s soldiers. I’m glad that Jesus wasn’t stopped at the Egyptian border and told to wait there for 18 months while the government conducted a background check. I’m not proposing that zero vetting of refugees should take place, let’s just get them to safety first.
This picture of Jesus fleeing violence and persecution influences the way I see refugees today. Matthew 25 (referenced earlier) says we encounter Jesus when we encounter the poor and hurting. The story of his flight to Egypt reminds us that Jesus never was a middle class American or Australian, but he was a refugee… and Egypt welcomed him.
How About Those Samaritans?
As we follow Jesus we’re also challenged by his attitude toward his national enemies, The Samaritans.
Some of the most beloved Christian stories involve Samaritans: The Woman at the Well (John 3); and The Good Samaritan (Luke 10). In both instances Jesus paints his enemies is a good light and treats them well.
This is not to say that Samaritans in general treated Jesus well. In Luke 9, just before telling the story of The Good Samaritan, a Samaritan village refused to let him stay the night there. The first instinct of his disciples was to call down fire from heaven upon that village. Jesus rebuked his disciples and moved on to the next village.
“Yes, but those villagers weren’t trying to kill him!” some will argue.
Correct, but he also didn’t call down fire on those enemies who were trying to kill him!
The Story About Weeds
I believe the story Jesus tells in Matthew 13:24-30 is also applicable to this discussion. Jesus warns that if his followers try to uproot all the weeds that find their way into His kingdom, they’ll uproot the good plants also. Instead he tells his disciples to leave the weeds for him to sort out during the harvest.
I know Scripture elsewhere warns of wolves entering the church dressed in sheep’s clothing, but those passages are aimed at false teachers. In Matthew Jesus is willing to take the risk of uncommitted people mixing with his disciples and his disciples mixing with non-disciples.
If Jesus will take this risk in his church, will we take a similar risk in our nation?
Church and State
Lastly, I understand the role of the government is to protect its citizens. But I’ve also seen how Christians lobby that same government when it makes decisions they don’t like on issues like abortion and gay marriage. We don’t step back on those issues and say, “Well, the government has a responsibility to care for all its citizens and that’s what it’s doing.” I understand why people protest those decisions. This country is a democracy and Christians have a right to have a voice.
Christians also have a right to have a voice with how their representative government treats the desperate and the homeless. Let’s make sure the message of the church is one filled with love, not fear.
- Read Colossians 1:12-14 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon (16 January) you can listen to it here (the first minute or two are missing).
Our congregational theme for 2011 plays on the initials of our name, Lawson Road (LR). The first word was a no-brainer: LOVE. The second word continues to have me second guessing myself: RESCUE. While everyone on the planet should agree on the virtue and desirability of Love, perhaps only a minority would agree that they need Rescue. This means there’s a reasonable chance that using this term as a congregational theme will offend someone.
An article I read today (Myron Augsberger, 1990) captured some of my reservations regarding the term Rescue. Speaking as a well-educated white male moving to work in an inner city ministry, he wrote, I was going to the inner city, I explained, not to be like the people there or to rescue them heroically. I was going simply because I cared. Choosing the theme Rescue does not reflect our position of superiority in relationship to those around us. However, we face a distinct risk of developing an attitude of arrogance, or that we at least portray arrogance to people we encounter.
In order for this word to truly motivate the church we must adopt the fundamental truth “we have all been rescued.”
- For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. (Col 1:13)
- the Lord Jesus Christ… gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (Gal 1:3-4)
- Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thess. 1:10)
In each of these verses, the word Rescue is not used as a missional statement for the church, but as a description of the church. Only this consciousness can ensure we maintain our humility as we also pursue the mission of rescue.
Although Rescue doesn’t show up on every page of the Bible, we shouldn’t dismiss it as an insignificant word. To me, it’s synonymous with the concept of Salvation, which is a lot more common. (but doesn’t being with “R”) The logic may be a little convoluted, but I do believe the church has been given a mission of Rescue.
I don’t think there can be any argument that Christ has given the church the mission of spreading the message of the Gospel throughout the world. Romans 1:16 states, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” The message of the Gospel brings salvation, or rescue, to everyone who believes. Our commission is to spread that message of rescue as broadly afield as we can.
Jesus gives an example of how Love and Rescue complement each other in Matthew 9:36. First, Jesus sees the crowds and is moved with compassion, or love, then he sends his disciples out to expand his mission of proclaiming the kingdom of heaven (10:5). Likewise, our message of rescue must always be motivated by love to be effective, not personal or corporate ego.
So what do you think? Please share your reaction below.
- Do you think many people would find the term “Rescue” offensive as a church theme?
- Can you suggest an alternative “R” word for a church theme?
- What would you consider the biggest challenge: Getting the church to acknowledge their own rescue, or motivating them to share the Gospel of Rescue?
My elders at the Lawson Rd Church of Christ have agreed to make the congregational theme for 2011 a play on the initials for our name, Lawson Road (LR). The first word was a no-brainer: LOVE.
I suspect this word often becomes a cliche around churches. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded how central the theme of love is to our faith.
- The Greatest Command – Love God with your whole being. (Deut. 6:5; Matt 22:37)
- The Royal Law – Love your neighbour as yourself. (Lev. 19:18; Jam. 2:8; Matt. 22:39)
- A New Command – Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (Jn 13:34)
- Love Your Enemies – (Matt. 5:43)
- The Golden Rule – Do to others what you would have them do to you. (Matt. 7:12) (I know, it doesn’t say “love”)
- It Identifies Disciples – By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another. (Jn 13:35)
- John 3:16 – Love for the world motivates God. (Perhaps the only verse better known for its reference than for what it says.)
- The Greatest of These… – 1 Corinthians 13
I’ve also been doing some reading on how churches can be more welcoming to guests, and one of the recurring messages in the literature is that “Every church thinks they’re friendly.” So every church wants to practice love. But not every church is known as loving. We need to consider the question, “Who do we love?”
Most people who stay at a church for any length of time come to regard it as a loving church, whether that was their first impression or not. How long would you continue to attend an “un-loving” church? Most churches do a good job of loving their members, but just as important is the question of how well we love those outside the church. Yet it’s not possible to say that internal or external love is more important than the other. Rather, the church just needs to be characterised by love regardless of who crosses its path.
- Can you add a “key verse” or two to my list of love passages?
- What type of behaviour have you experienced that would prompt you to describe a church as loving. (let’s keep it positive.)
- Do you think it’s more important for the church to love those inside or outside the church?
- Given the centrality of the Bible’s teaching on love, “Why don’t more churches have a reputation in the community for being loving?”