It seems like no matter where we go or what we do we’re always bombarded with love. Just turn on any radio station, flip to any tv channel, or open up any book and you’re likely to find that the main theme is love. With the way love is often portrayed, it’s no wonder that everyone is trying to find it! Most of us long to find that one person that will understand our quirks, remind of us why we’re special, support our dreams, commit to us and only us, stay when it gets hard, encourage us when life becomes impossible, and even more (if your list is like mine!). If God is love and is always working for the good of those who love him, isn’t that what He wants for us too?
In the book of Hosea, God gives us an up-close picture of what his love looks like by giving the Old Testament Prophet, Hosea, an extraordinarily strange command: Go and marry a prostitute.
Hosea 1:2 “When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness…’ “
What? Can that be what God said? Right when we think we’ve gotten to know the character of God, he throws a monkey-wrench in our neat and tidy Sunday-school theology. Oddly enough, God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute. But then he goes one step further, telling him that though she will be unfaithful to him and go back to her life of prostitution, He wants Hosea to keep pursuing her and buying her back. So, Hosea marries Gomer and they have children. Not long after, she returns to her old ways and even has a child with another man while still being married to Hosea. Yet Hosea, being obedient to God, finds her and buys her back from prostitution.
If you’re like me, your first response to this story is to shout, “God! This is so unfair!” How could God command Hosea, his own prophet, a man who probably sought God and loved Him more than the majority of Israelites at the time, to live this kind of life married to this kind of woman? How is this working for his good? How is this rewarding his servant for all the time he devoted to God? But my shouts for justice are only loud because without realizing it, I’m identifying myself with Hosea – the one who does right, the one who loves God, the one who is obedient to Him.
It might be hard to see at first, but in Hosea 3:1 we discover that through this impossible command, God is allowing Hosea to get a first-hand glimpse of what His love for him and the Israelites looks like.
“Go show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is adulterous. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…”
Immediately my shouts for justice start to quiet down when I realize that I shouldn’t be identifying myself with Hosea… I should be identifying with Gomer! I’m the unfaithful wife who was once enslaved to sin. God is the faithful lover who has a Hosea-love toward me and has bought me back with the blood of His Son and given me a rich inheritance. Even now when I try to live my life independently of Him, He continually pursues me because of His great love for me.
I’ve been thinking about this story a lot since this past Christmas when my parents gave me a book called “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers. It’s a fictional re-telling of the story of Hosea that gives a more in-depth look into what Hosea and Gomer’s perspectives might have been like. After reading it, there were four specific characteristics of Hosea’s love that stuck out to me:
1. This love is sacrificial.
2. This love is patient.
3. This love is forgiving.
4. This love pursues.
The love songs of our culture, Hollywood’s romantic dramas, and even the best love stories all center around us. Before we know it, we begin to ask questions like these in our friendships and romantic relationships: What can I get from this person? How can they best love me? What can they do to lift me up or make me feel better? What kind of partner or friend will best suit my needs? How can I get them to support my dreams?
But a Hosea-love centers around the other person. It says: What can I give to my friend or partner? How can I best love them? How can I continually lift them up and encourage them? How can I make sure I’m meeting their needs? In what ways can I support them and show them that their dreams are important to me?
The love God gave Hosea for Gomer was sacrificial – he sacrificed his desire for a faithful wife and normal family in order to be able to show Gomer God’s faithful love to her. His love for Gomer was patient and forgiving; he didn’t blow up in her face over her adultery nor did he cast her out. On the contrary, he forgave her and took her back. Lastly, Hosea didn’t run from Gomer’s mess. Instead, the love God gave him for her drove him to pursue Gomer and buy her back from prostitution and adulterousness. In all of this, we see God’s heart: God was more concerned that Hosea got a first-hand experience of his love so that he was able to show it to Gomer than He was of giving Hosea a faithful wife and a comfortable situation. Instead of giving him a partner’s love, God gave Hosea something far more valuable and eternal – a taste of His own love so that he would be able to share it.
Hosea’s love ultimately foreshadows the example of God’s perfect, unfiltered love we see through Jesus. Through His life of obedience and death on a cross, we are able to clearly see the ultimate sacrifice, forgiveness, and pursuit of us. The love Jesus had for us was unparalleled because God’s complete love was in him and that love drove him to the cross on our behalf. He didn’t just sacrifice a comfortable life for you and me, he sacrificed his very life. He gave us his life and took our death so that we could give up our death and have his life. This exchange is the ultimate sacrifice and the ultimate act of love.
When we experience this love it should change us and the way we love others. We’ll be so filled that we won’t need to look for love in anyone or anything else to fill the empty spaces in our hearts. As we are freed from needing others’ love, we’ll be simultaneously freed to love others with this kind of love. If God’s love is sacrificial, patient and forgiving, and pursues despite all obstacles then shouldn’t our love towards all of those around us be the same? It doesn’t take, it gives. It doesn’t look for what it can get, it looks for ways to bless.
Just like Hosea’s love for Gomer was a tangible representation of God’s love for her, is the way we love our family members, friends, spouses, and partners an accurate representation of God’s love for them? Let’s be imitators of Christ and love in such a way that people are brought to their knees because they see the beauty of our Father through us. This love is hard and other-person centered. It’s all about sacrifice. It’s far from the picture-perfect, fairytale kind of love our society teaches us to look for but so much more beautiful. This love acknowledges our deficiencies and restores us. It acknowledges our dead hearts and breathes life into them. It gets into the mess with us and despite the dirtiness and hopelessness, patiently loves us out of it. This is the kind of love that loves because it has seen and experienced the love of the Father. And those of us who have experienced it have the responsibility to show it to everyone we encounter just like Hosea showed it to Gomer and Jesus showed it to us.
Ephesians 5:1-2 “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
God help me to love like you. My flesh is constantly battling to be first, but I know you desire for me to live a life of sacrificial love towards others. Help me because that’s not naturally my first instinct. This is a God-like love that I can’t muster up on my own. I need you every day, every hour, every minute to love like this. Would people see more of your character because of the way I love and would you change my heart every day to look more like yours.
If you’d like to support Maggie as she serves with GEM in Mexico, you can do so HERE. You can also contact her directly to talk further about what it means to be on her support team and find out how you can be praying for her!