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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:I Am Your Husband
Text:Hosea 2:14-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-02-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 85:1,2                                                                                     

Ps 81:7,8,9

Reading – Hosea 2:2-23; Ephesians 5:22-33

Ps 136:1,2,6,7,8,12

Sermon – Hosea 2:14-20

Hy 15:1,2,3

Hy 52:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, say you’ve met that “special someone.” It’s one you’ve come to love, it’s the one you want to marry. Probably we all can picture this very human event: meeting someone, falling in love, becoming husband and wife. There’s a lot of joy in this great gift! But then something takes place that nobody wants to imagine. There’s unfaithfulness. Your spouse, with whom you made those promises of love and commitment, breaks the bond of marriage. And not just adultery once, and not just with one other person, but many times, and with many people! It’s unfaithfulness to the extreme.

Think for a moment of what you’ll do. According to God’s Word, you could ask for a divorce. Few would think less of you if you did. But you don’t. Instead, you take back your unfaithful spouse, and you renew your love. You forgive and seek restoration. By God’s grace you don’t let what’s happened bring the relationship to ruin. And your relationship survives, with a new and deeper joy.

Imagine the miracle of such a thing. And now consider how this is our story. It’s the story of God and his covenant people. It’s the tale of a wayward wife, but a faithful husband too, who amazingly keeps on loving. This story gets told by the first of the twelve so-called “minor prophets,” the prophet Hosea. He was told by the LORD exactly whom to marry. Not “a special someone” whom he met at school, or the nice girl that his parents had arranged. He has to marry Gomer, a prostitute. And Hosea does. This was already asking a lot—the thought would’ve been appalling to anyone. Marry a prostitute! And it gets worse. When Gomer then returns to her ways of chasing men, God says that Hosea needs to take her back into his house, and love her again. Love the sinner, take back the offender.

Why such an incredibly difficult ministry? Why this kind of calling for the prophet? It’s because not just Hosea’s words, but his whole life, was to be a message for Israel—a message of how God so deeply loves his sinful people, despite all our sin. Hosea was to be a faint reflection of how the LORD himself keeps on forgiving and restoring, out of the abundance of his grace in Christ Jesus. This is our theme,

In love the LORD pursues Israel, his wayward bride:

  1. with reminders of his past love
  2. with expectations of her true commitment
  3. with promises of an eternal covenant

 

1. with reminders of his past love: If you look at verse 13, and then verse 14, you’ll be struck by a great difference. In verse 13 the LORD says of Israel, “I will punish her for the days of the Baals… She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, and went after her lovers; but me she forgot.” The LORD is remembering what Israel had done in her unfaithfulness, and He is grieving the loss of what once was. 

He grieves, because tying Israel and him together was that precious relationship called “covenant.” Since the days of Abraham, this was a permanent bond of love shared by the LORD and his people. Between them there were beautiful promises, and holy obligations.

Maybe you can see in that why marriage is also described as a “covenant” in the Bible. In many ways the marriage covenant is similar to what God has with us: there’s two sides who join in a bond of faithfulness to each other, and who make promises, for now and always. So though they’re not equals, and though it depends entirely on God’s initiative, the LORD and his people are “married,” committed to one another. There’d even been an official ceremony at Mt. Sinai, and there were outward reminders of commitment: like circumcision, and Passover.

But in verse 13 God says, “I will punish her.” Earlier in chapter 2, He’d spoken of stripping her naked, exposing her, and slaying her with thirst. If you read through Hosea this afternoon or this week, you’ll see that a lot of this book is about judgment.

Hosea saw the beginning of this punishment. The nation Israel, the northern tribes where the prophet was ministering, was being troubled by political turmoil, and social unrest. Kings kept getting assassinated, and the people had to pay an expensive tribute to nearby nations. God’s righteous curse had only begun, for there were still going to be invasions, massacres, and finally exile.

“So what had Israel done,” you ask, “to be treated like this? How could this husband treat his loved one with such anger?” We may celebrate God’s forgiving love, but we also have to remember that He deals with unfaithfulness. God doesn’t simply overlook our sin. And in Hosea’s time, Israel was overrun with idolatry and injustice, paganism and immorality.

We read about her unfaithfulness. The LORD complains about Israel and her ugly past, “Their mother has played the harlot; she who conceived them has behaved shamefully” (2:5). Notice that it’s again put in terms of marriage, and faithfulness. The covenant bond between God and Israel was broken, “for she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink’” (2:5). Israel would love the Baals, the Asherahs, and any other god who’d offer something nice. The people showed themselves untrue to their Husband, putting on jewelry and chasing “lovers.” They’d all but abandoned the LORD.

No longer could God tolerate this spiritual adultery. Only so many times could He watch his people walk away, hand-in-hand, with someone else. The LORD our God is a jealous God. He wants the exclusive love of his people. So He’ll take action in judgment. There will be pain.

But then comes that contrast which is so striking. For after punishment, there’s peace. After judgment, salvation. Verse 13 fades into verse 14, and God suddenly says, “I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her.” Just when you thought it was over and they were headed for divorce, God embraces her. Despite everything that’s happened, God has not given up.

Beloved, this is a powerful statement of how great is God’s love. For the LORD really needs nothing. Even if God had no people, no church who sang his praises, God’s glory would be complete and perfect. If God was “unmarried,” as it were, He wouldn’t feel like He was missing out on something. He doesn’t need us. Yet the LORD wants to show kindness, and He’ll be gracious to his people. “From heaven He came and sought her!”

To teach us about this amazing kind of love, God speaks of himself in human terms. Verse 14 is the language of courtship, “I will allure her,” or literally He says: “I will speak to her heart.” God compares himself to an earthly husband, like one tenderly devoted to his wife, or even like a young man who is seeking to win over a young woman with his attention. God allures her: He takes the initiative, He reaches out even as she wanders away. This is because God desires communion with us, and He’s pleased when our bond with him is strong.

So He promises to bring her “into the wilderness and speak comfort to her” (v 14). After humbling his wife, now He’ll restore her. And the place of restoration, He says, will be the wilderness. Now to us, that’s not the most likely destination for a honeymoon. “The wilderness” was the desolate and burning desert that Israel needed to cross centuries before, on their difficult way to the Promised Land.

It was a place of hardship, yet it was where they had learned to depend entirely on God’s loving care. Looking back on it, Israel could actually see the wilderness as a place of blessed seclusion. Prophets like Hosea spoke highly of the wilderness years, because that was a time when Israel could freely commune with God. Just be with him, away from all the traps and temptations of the world. It was in the desert that they knew without a doubt that God was with them, to lead and protect.

So God reminds his people of that happier time, before things went off the rails. His covenant love was the pledge for a new day, a new beginning. This heavenly Husband looks to a time when He and his bride could start afresh. So the prophet says about Israel, “She shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt” (v 15).

There in the wilderness, God will “speak comfort to her.” Picture a loving husband doing that for his wife when she’s troubled about something: speaking softly to her, easing her fears, reassuring her. So God will do for his people—so God does for us. You don’t need to feel guilty. Don’t be afraid. Try not worry and be anxious—these can all be laid to rest, because God is with us forever. The brokenness of sin is being healed, and our unfaithfulness has been covered in Christ. God declares that between him and his bride, between him and us, things have been made right. He speaks comfort…

What a miracle, this love of God! For we too, have been unfaithful. Haven’t we too, led the life of a prostitute? What I mean is: Surrounded by this world’s idols, attracted by things that we love and cherish, we’ve chased after them. We’ve often rejected the One who gave us life, gone days and weeks ignoring our loving Saviour. Like Gomer did, we’ve often plunged back into sin, even though we know it’s wrong. Yet God in Christ still calls us his precious bride.

Hosea is our story: the story of God and his people! It’s the story of a wayward wife, but also the story of a faithful husband who keeps on loving. The LORD himself asks later in Hosea, when it seems that the time to finally reject his people has come: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? …My heart is changed within me; all my sympathy is stirred” (11:8). He can’t bring himself to walk away.

Paul speaks of this in Ephesians 5. There he’s talking about how husbands and wives should treat each other. But while he teaches on that topic, Paul wants to mention an even greater love: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her” (vv 25-26). Christ didn’t just buy us with gold and silver, like Hosea bought Gomer. Christ bought us with his own precious blood, pouring it out, giving himself for us, “to be his holy bride.” We belong to him, He loves us, and He helps us make a new start.

 

2. with expectations of her true commitment: By now the words are engrained in our minds, “Every covenant contains two parts, a promise and an obligation.” That is true also for marriage—and God’s marriage to us. If we’re in relationship with God, then on our part there’s a real obligation.

So it was nice for Hosea to share God’s loving words, but he also needs to reveal God’s expectation of faithfulness. If this bond will survive and then thrive, a husband (and a wife) have to be able to count on total loyalty. That’s absolute commitment, to the exclusion of all others, otherwise the whole thing will fall apart.

This kind of faithfulness must’ve seemed unreal at the time, but Hosea foretells such a day. Verse 16: “‘It shall be, in that day,’ says the LORD, ‘that you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master.’” After being forgiven, after being brought into the wilderness and comforted, there comes a change—there’s a deepening in their love.

For Israel will accept the hand of her husband with true affection. Hear how she speaks to God: no longer “my master,” but “my husband.” To understand what this means, we should know that an Israelite woman would sometimes call her husband “my lord.” The apostle Peter says that this is what Sarah called Abraham. It’s a term that emphasises the legal position of the man as the master and head of his wife.

But there’s more to this relationship than headship and submission. There’s also intimacy. After chasing other lovers, Israel will be glad to speak of God as “my husband.” She won’t just reluctantly respect God, and stand at a distance. No, she’ll remember the covenant they have, and cherish their bond of love. “My husband!” He is hers, and she is his! It’s the confession of faith that God seeks from his people.

Yet it’s possible only if those intruding lovers are removed. Verse 13 says that Israel had all but abandoned the true God. Now God will make her forget all others, “I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, and they shall be remembered by their name no more” (v 17). Every association with Baal will be cut off; there won’t even be a hint of immorality. It’s as God cried out in 2:2, “Let her put away her harlotries from her sight.”

And for Israel, this wasn’t as simple as destroying the idols of Baal, or breaking down the shrines. Because over the years, they’d taken idolatry and true worship and melded them closely together. The rituals of Baal-worship often went right alongside the sacrifices to the LORD. It seemed too drastic to forsake the LORD completely, they said, so they’d be in “relationship” with him, while dating many others on the side. Call it an “open marriage.”

That’s probably a good description of our own idolatry, still today. We’d never get rid of the true God completely, for deep down we know He is God, and that his gospel is true. So instead, we mix God in with others; take the “combination” approach. Often, the LORD is one of many in our life. He’s there alongside the gods of the world that we’ve also chosen to serve.

I won’t provide a list of these various gods. There’s too many. There’s also the risk of overlooking one, and letting someone off the hook. But in general, we should all know from Scripture that “the gods” are those things that we’ve made all-important to us. They’re often those things we can touch and control. They’re the things that we count on to bring us joy, or to instill a feeling of security and value. The gods we chase after are those things and people and activities that we spend much time and energy and anxiety on, to the point where the LORD is neglected. We give our best to these gods. And we would find it hard to be happy if they were taken away from us… Look for these things. These are the idols we worship.

No, we haven’t forgotten the LORD. We just like it better this way, when we have God, and we have all those other gods too, ones we’ve come to trust. But think how offensive this is to the LORD. For comparison’s sake, think how destructive it might be to a marriage. Say you’re married, but then you also have other intimate relationships, a boyfriend here, a mistress there. You expect your spouse to live with that, to accept it, because that’s just how it is. But a marriage doesn’t work that way. It needs whole-hearted love, exclusive love.

This is why God calls his people to full commitment, and He says that He “will take from her mouth the names of the Baals.” We too, have to cleanse ourselves from every idol. Put them away. Don’t accept those things that destroy your bond with God, and draw you away from him. But fight those idols, and be rid of them!

And then God calls us to keep loving him with that active, living love! Just remember how Jesus warns the church in Ephesus. He calls them to keep alive the spark of their affection for him: “I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love…Repent, and do the things you did at first” (2:4-5). Don’t forsake your first love. You began loving him, even as a child, as young person, or you drew especially near to God in a season of hardship. You began with him, now continue. Love him!

After all, Christ our faithful Husband took the initiative, and He gave himself completely, so we might be completely his. And why did He do this? Explains Paul in Ephesians 5:27, “that [Christ] might present her to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” Notice the purpose of that redeeming work of Christ. Jesus gave himself, so that we’d be holy and without blemish. So that we’d his—and his alone—never mind other gods! He doesn’t just purify us from sin, but calls us to live undefiled for him!

When we strive for that holiness, the LORD is so perfectly forgiving. We’ll return to verse 20 in a moment, but we highlight one phrase, “I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD.” In relationship with his sinful people, God wants to be known. What is this knowing? “Knowing the LORD” isn’t simply having good theology. The Israelites had all the knowledge of God they needed. You too, can know a lot about God, but it has to bring you to revere God, and love God. For God wants to be known by us—known in a true and living fellowship.

It’s on purpose Hosea uses a Hebrew word that’s often found in contexts of marriage to describe intimate marriage relations, as in “Adam knew his wife, and she conceived and bore a son…” “You shall know the LORD!” the prophet says. Our covenant God wants to be known personally, intimately, vitally. He wants us to look to him with deep affection, and to depend on him always, because we know him. Foster that true commitment to God, listening to him, speaking with him, walking with him. Then the covenant will endure, even forever.

 

3. with promises of an eternal covenant: When a man took a wife for himself in Israel, he’d have to pay what’s called a bride price. This was an amount of money or property, given to the family of the bride, to balance out the loss of her earnings for the family. A bride price could be quite high, but it showed a man’s sincerity. He fully intended to marry this woman—and to stay married—for he had paid the price.

It’s that language of engagement and marriage that again fills the last couple verses of our text. For though He’s God and owes nothing to anyone, the LORD affirms his commitment to Israel. This is how: “In that day I will make a covenant for them” (v 18). And God will give the gift of peace to his people. For, He says, the animals that ruined their vineyards and crops will no longer do so. The enemies who once attacked Israel’s borders will lay down their weapons. All these things threatened Israel’s safety as long as they were estranged from God—but now He’ll protect them. He’ll take full responsibility.

For the LORD vows to take them into an everlasting covenant, a holy marriage. See how in verses 19-20, the word “betrothal” is mentioned three times: “I will betroth you to me forever…” The people were ashamed of their sin, had experienced God’s judgment—with good reason they feared that it was all over. But with a new intensity, God vows his love, “I will betroth you to me forever…” Let Israel no longer be thought of as a prostitute, but as a bride.

For listen as God promises to pay the price. It’s He who makes all the promises, and gives all the pledges. “I will betroth you to me forever; yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD” (vv 19-20).

This covenant of love has seven precious marks: permanence, for we are God’s people “forever,” He says. And righteousness, for God will always treat us in accordance with his Word. Justice, for our God always does what is right. The bond is marked by his lovingkindness, as He cares for us. Mercy, as He pities us in our weakness. He also betroths us to himself in faithfulness, with a loyalty that doesn’t waver. And finally, this new covenant between God and his people, is marked by that holy communion, for “you shall know the LORD.”

God promises his wayward wife a covenant that lasts. To us, a sinful people, the LORD pledges a restored bond of communion. He says we can have a relationship without shame. And it’s possible only through Christ, who died for our life, that his church might be holy and without blemish.

So may God help each one of us—and all of us together—to be faithful to our vows to the Lord. May we love and obey him, and live with him in holiness. May we never forsake God, but to be true to him always, in good days and bad, for as long as we shall live!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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