This is the second in a series of Lenten reflections in which we are looking at the promises given to God’s people to renew, reestablish, recreate and resurrect God’s people as we look towards Jesus and his death on the cross. Last Sunday, we reflected on Jeremiah, and the promise of God to establish a new covenant. This morning we go back in time bit to the prophet Hosea, who brings a message of judgment and the need for repentence in Israel, but does so with a “living parable”- his own life is used by God as a teaching illustration.
Let’s briefly sketch Hosea’s story to refresh our memory:
God tells him, “go marry a promiscuous woman”… no really, marry a woman who sleeps around, a woman of ill-repute if you will. You know, the kind of girl you DO NOT take home to mom and dad. And Hosea does. He married a woman who he knew in advance would be unfaithful.
In the course of time, Gomer has 3 children, two of whom have paternity in question. The first son Jezreel appears to be Hosea’s (we are told she bore Hosea a son in this case) but then a daughter and a son Lo-Ruhamma and Lo-Ammi are referred to as Gomer’s… it seems they may be biologically related to one of Gomer’s other lovers. Someone call Maury…
Lo-Ruhamma is not the type of name you give a daughter, usually rendered “not my beloved” but the root word raham is compassion, so more litterally this little girl is named “not one on whom I will have compassion/ not a recipient of compassion.”
Lo-Ammi is also not the sort of name you give a son; “not my people”… a scathing indictment of Gomer.
Then, Gomer takes off to live with another lover, inexplicably. She is cared for, loved, but she leaves that for another. In chapter 3 we find out she has turned to harlotry (often we read into the text that she’s turned to prostitution, but the language of the Hebrew text shows no signs that she is being paid for her actions- this is worse in Israelite culture- she’s giving it away for free).
But God has asked Hosea to show your love for her, and bring her home again.
So Hosea pays off the people he has to pay off to get her away from this life she’s trapped in, and he takes her home, and pledges his fidelity to her and her alone.
What’s the point of this story?
1. Though we are unfaithful, God redeems us.
Gomer is symbollic of Israel’s faithlessness. She runs away from the husband who has loved and cared for her and shacked up with another lover.
Go, get her back.
Hosea is called not just to do so out of duty, but he is said do so out of love- to redeem her and care for her and love her. In 3:1 Hosea is told “Show your love to her.”
Go redeem her.
The word redeem isn’t here in Hosea 1-3, but it does show up later as God unpacks all of this symbolism and speaks of redeeming Israel. So the redeeming of Israel is reflected in Hosea’s redeeming of Gomer.
What does it mean to be redeemed? John Goldingay (Old Testament Theology Vol. 1: Israel’s Gospel. Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2003 p. 297-8) suggests three different meanings.
i. Buy back
As Hosea pays for Gomer’s release, God redeemed/released Israel from Egypt (Ex. 6:6) and again from Babylon, and finally from sin and death through Christ’s redemptive work. God pays a ransom for the release of his people into his possession. He purchases a people to himself.
ii. Bear the burden of someone else’s debt
In ancient custom, someone who can’t pay their debt can be “redeemed” by a family member who had the means- the alternative being enslavement of the debtor. As God’s family members, he bears our debt.
Repairing a broken relationship. To provide a way for two people whose relationship has become out of whack, to be become once again as it was. We were made in the image of God and through Christ’s redemptive work we are restored to that standing.
2. He does so according to his compassion.
The ones who have not received compassion, will experience compassion (Hosea 2:23). Compassion is given indiscriminately. God’s redemptive act is an act of compassion.
What is compassion? Litterally, the english word means “Suffer with”. As we suffer, God suffers along with us. He entered our suffering, and speaks softly in the midst of it. Lent is about this suffering of Christ, a suffering he is willing to take on because of his great compassion for people. The Hebrew word raham has to do more with mercy and love, but one can still see the relationship of mercy and love to the act of joining another in suffering to assist them through the darkness. In the redemptive work of God, he demonstrates the extent of his love by loving when he has every reason not to. Benedict XVI wrote “Dear brothers and sisters, let us look at Christ pierced on the Cross! He is the unsurpassing revelation of God’s love … On the Cross.”
God does not enter a sinful world to condemn it (John 3:17), but to redeem it. He is not angry with the world and punishes Christ in our place, but God is in Christ, loving and lifting our suffering at the hands of our own sin. The cross is the ultimate act of love and compassion, not an act of redirected anger and wrath (God’s wrath was deserved, and there is in a sense wrath poured out onto Christ for us, but the motivating force behind this is God’s love and compassion for mankind).
And we are called to “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate” Lk. 6:36. Being incarnational means being like Jesus who enters sinful world to alleviate to suffering under the weight of sin- to be compassionate. Lent is about understanding the journey of suffering Jesus took. We follow Jesus in his journey of the cross, which is a journey of compassion.
3. God not only pays to free us from our debt, but make us his people
In Hosea 2:19-20 we read that God’s intent is to “betroth” himself to his people. Not just Gomer, but Lo-Ammi and Lo-Ruhmma. Hosea 1:10 & 2:23 proclaim that God intends to bring compassion to those who have not received compassion. Even though the children may not be his, he draws them into his family, and adopts the reminder of his wife’s infidelity. We could possibly read into this the promise to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, to the illegitmate children- those not of God’s family. God adopts us into his family (Rom. 8:15-21), and we become co-heirs with God’s Son Christ (God’s legitimate Son).
4. This story finds its highest fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:18-19 says:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Through Christ’s death the work of redemption is made possible. We are purchased from slavery to sin, and our debt is paid, and we are restored to the image of God to live in covenant relationship to God. Hosea 13:14 proclaims:
“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
Where, O grave, is your destruction?”
Redemption in the New Covenant begins with a “buying back” and payment of debt, in the death of Christ. Through Christ we have been redeemed and drawn back to God, adopted, reconciled, and restored to live free from guilt in him. We have been passed from death to life by way of the cross. In this lenten season, we reflect on the cost, on the debt paid by Christ, but we do so not in some morbid glorification of violence, but in the knowledge that the compassion of God finds its fullest expression in Christ’s obedience. That is why God has raised him up and given him the name above all names- because Jesus’ redemptive act is the highest and fullest act of our God, gracious and merciful. We are the recipients of this highest and greatest love. Our Lord is our redeemer, and we are now his redeemed people.