God’s Unrelenting Love And The Unfaithful Bride!
Old Testament prophets did not live easy lives by any measure. They were ridiculed, opposed, threatened, bullied, persecuted, parodied, and not infrequently killed (1 Kings 18:13; Luke 11:47-51). Death, however, might have been an easier fate than that to which God called the prophet Hosea; remain faithful to your unfaithful wife.
God had formed a covenant with Israel that took the form of a marriage. The vows were exchanged at Mount Sinai in Exodus 24, and then renewed when Israel entered the Promised Land (Joshua 8:30-35), and again after Israel had settled into the land (Joshua 24:1-28).
Although the kingdom had prospered materially, it declined spiritually as it adopted Canaanite practices. God’s love was like that of a cherishing husband – deep, intimate, tender, provident, and protective. Israel’s behavior, on the other hand, became like that of a harlot.
Gomer was a perfect picture of the northern nation of Israel at that time. The kingdom was surely the most idolatrous, murderous and chaotic that it would ever be. Behind the scenes, of course, God’s hand was moving Israel and little Judah. And in His longsuffering toward His people, He left room for the opportunity to turn from idolatry and wickedness back to covenant life. But the people would not relent. So when the troubled nation’s final king rebelled against Assyria, the superpower from the east lowered the curtain, removing Israel from her land and taking the people into captivity.
Where Adultery Begins!
After King Solomon’s death, the nation of Israel split into a northern kingdom (Israel) and a southern kingdom (Judah). Hosea – the only prophet from the northern kingdom – was called to prophesy to the 10 northern tribes of Israel just before the Assyrian captivity in 722 BC. He knew her sins well. The people blatantly broke every commandment. Lying, thievery, bloodshed, oppression, perverted justice, and prostitution were rampant. Excessive luxury existed side-by-side with abject poverty. Adultery was even incorporated into the nations religion. And it was this spiritual adultery that prompted Hosea’s prophetic calling.
The chief idol worshiped by the pagan nations surrounding Israel was Baal, the god of fertility. The worship of Baal involved sexual immorality between worshipers as an act of sacrifice to their god. And Israel was participating in these idolatrous, adulterous rituals right along with her pagan neighbors. (In Jerusalem, male cultic prostitutes were actually housed in the Jewish temple along with women who wove fabrics for the idols).
Of course, physical adultery does not originate in a vacuum – it begins with spiritual adultery in the heart. So in order to underscore Israel’s sins, God commanded His prophet, Hosea, to take a wife who would violate her marriage commitment – and to love her in spite of her sins – as a picture of God’s perfect, unconditional love and grace toward His chosen people.
Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him, God would remain faithful to her. And just as Hosea would lovingly redeem Gomer out of the marketplace of sin to become his wife once again, God would one day redeem His chosen people out of the marketplace of the world to become His chaste partner in covenant love.
Beware Of Drifting From God
Spiritual adultery for Israel began with a drift of her affections …when she found herself attracted, intrigued, and diverted by gods other than the one true God. Much earlier in Israel’s history, before they had even entered the Promised Land, Moses had warned them to “hold fast” to the Lord (Deuteronomy 4:1-4). In other words, hang onto Him with everything in you.
When they released that grip – little by little – they drifted…into disaster. It is the same in our lives today. Jesus told us to “take heed, watch and pray” (Mark 13:33). We drift from our love and allegiance to Christ when we allow other interests, preoccupations, and pursuits to gradually replace Him in our focus and affections. When we do not “hold fast” to Him, we lose our grip on the very purpose for our lives.
“Spiritual adultery” sounds like a strong term for simply replacing God in our affections, but that is exactly what it is. Jesus Himself offered the cure with His words to the adulterous church in Revelation 2:5: “Remember…repent.” Only then would they return.