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The Discipline of Love

Hosea 2:2-23

This morning we return to the story of Hosea and Gomer, chapter two to be specific. As I mentioned last Sunday, the story of Hosea and Gomer is shockingly provocative. God commands Hosea, a faithful prophet of the Lord, to marry Gomer, a prostituting woman who promotes the idolatrous worship of Baal. This marriage is not without purpose, however. Through it, God illustrates how, like Gomer, his people had gone astray and how He, like Hosea, experienced betrayal, but also how he will demonstrate his steadfast love.

Introduction:

There are good lists and there are bad lists. I don’t know about you, but I have not met many people who intentionally want to be on a bad list. But, there are exceptions. For example, everyone who signed up to join Ashley Madison had to willingly submit their name. If you don’t know by now, Ashley Madison is an exclusive online dating site for those desiring to secretly cheat on their spouse. Two weeks ago, hackers chose to publish the personal information of some 30 million people who had registered with the site. 

You may not have heard, but San Antonio was ranked #18 among all cities with the most Ashley Madison accounts. There are almost 100,000 accounts just from San Antonio. In terms of our per capita population, it’s gets worse; San Antonio came in at #2, just behind Washington D.C

(http://www.sacurrent.com/Blogs/archives/2015/08/19/nearly-100000-ashley-madison-accounts-linked-to-san-antonio)

Isn’t it strange how a “good” list can become a “bad” list so fast, with the flick of the “light switch?” Maybe it was a “bad” list from the start. But, of course, therein lays the deceitfulness of sin. How can calculating the practice of adultery ever be “good?” It can’t, but our sin is so powerful that it can convince us that it’s not deadly. In fact, it’s more than that. Sin convinces us that it is positively the best option. We should choose it. Dare I say? We come to believe that we deserve the “rewards” of our sin. It’s not bad; it’s good.

I wonder, are any of you on the list?

Not being on that list, however, doesn’t mean that we are immune to the power of temptation. All of us are named on sin’s list. All of us are familiar with the deceitfulness of the human heart which seeks to convince us that what’s bad is really good. At the core of this deceit is an idolatry of the self. You may feel that you have not gotten what you deserve, your fair share or your slice of adventure. Mark it down; at the root of every sinful desire and practice is a heart thinking that God has not taken care of us. So, we have to take care of ourselves—on our terms and in our preferred way.

Nevertheless, sin is a one way street. If not repented of and redeemed by God’s grace, it will destroy us.

In our passage this morning we return again to the story of Hosea and Gomer. In chapter two, Gomer’s adultery is at “full speed.” So much so, Hosea declares, “she is not my wife, and I am not her husband. He pleads with Gomer’s children to tell their mother to “put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts.” The tragic situation is meant to spark the question: how should Hosea respond? What’s the right thing to do?

What is more, we can’t lose sight of the deeper meaning attached to Gomer’s adultery. Not only is she an adulterer, but her behavior vividly illustrates the adulterating people of the nation of Israel. As Gomer had been unfaithful to Hosea, so Israel had become unfaithful to God. So, this isn’t just about Hosea’s response to adulterous Gomer. Rather, in a painfully personal metaphor, God is inviting us to consider his own response to his adulterous people. How should God respond to us?

Of course, God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Is. 55:8). Nevertheless, this chapter gives specific permission to identify with God’s point of view. What would you do if you were in God’s position? What should be God’s response to His people who have forsaken him and turned, each to his own way?

Again, switching to the other side of the metaphor, what would you do if learned that spouse had been unfaithful? Do you stay, ignore, avenge, leave—or love?

In our passage this morning, God reveals that on account of our sinfulness He knows and experiences the same sense of betrayal that we do when a spouse has been unfaithful. Yet, unlike us—who are either unwilling to remain in the relationship or unable to change our wayward spouse—God is both willing and able to woo his betraying people back to himself through his steadfast love and grace. 

Indeed, in this revelation we find the focus of this morning’s sermon.

Key Concept: Through the discipline of his love, God acts to rescue his strayingpeople. God’s disciplining love has both a pathway and a goal. The pathway is pain and the goal is our restoration.

1) Pathway of pain (5-13)

First of all, there is a pathway his loving discipline takes—the pathway of pain. As the writer of Hebrews notes,

6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."  7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons….11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:6-7, 11  

As good as this is, however, I love how Dan Allender and Tremper Longman put it in their book, The Cry of the Soul

God is a beast who rips away the skin of arrogance and the heart of pride.  Like a responsible oncologist, He will do whatever it takes to strip us of the disease that will destroy us (233).

It is no exaggeration to describe God’s disciplining love revealed in chapter two through the relationship of Hosea and Gomer as that of a beast. There is nothing safe about what God does in order to bring us back to himself. Nevertheless, nothing else but his loving grace can explain it.

So what, specifically, is the painful pathway that God’s disciplining love takes?

Frustration (5-7)

Let’s begin by focusing on verses 5-7.

5 For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, 'I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.'  6 Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths.  7 She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, 'I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.' (2:5-7)

We simply don’t have enough time to fully explore how Gomer’s sexual exploits are part and parcel to the people’s worship idolatrous worship of Baal. Suffice it to say that Baal was the Canaanite god of fertility and worship practices included acts of sexual immorality. Gomer appears to be a participant in those shameful acts. Through exploits with a prostitute the people sought the blessings of a full and potent life. In this way, Gomer also was able to provide for herself—bread, water, wool and oil.

Yet, God says he will frustrate this relationship. He will “hedge up her way” and prevent her practice of immorality. She will try, but be unable to reach her goals. God will frustrate her attempts at idolatry.

These frustrating efforts by God bring the first twinge of pain to Gomer and are first evidence of his disciplining love. God loves us so much that he is willing to let us get painfully close to what we think will satisfy us, but then keep it just beyond our reach so that we will eventually return to him.

  • Are you rich, but not rich enough?
  • Are you healthy, but not healthy enough?
  • Are you attractive, but not attractive enough?
  • Are you smart, but not smart enough?
  • Are you successful, but not successful enough?

As strange as it may sound, God wants us to see his handprints in those frustrations. By thwarting or “hedging” our strategies to seek life without God, God forces us back to relationship with him.

Removal (8-9)

In verses 8-13, the pain level increase due to the removal of certain blessings. Gomer was not aware that the provisions that came to her, even in her sin, were due to God’s steadfast grace.

8 And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal (2:8)

Consequently, God will remove those blessings, “Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax” (2:9). By means of deprivation, God intends to stir his people’s return.

Exposure (8-13)

But it’s not just the removal of blessings, God intends to lay Israel waste and expose her desperate situation.

10 I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her out of my hand.  11 And I will put an end to all her mirth, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts.  12 And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, of which she said, 'These are my wages, which my lovers have given me.' (2:10-12)

We might call the discipline of God’s love acts of extreme measures. God will use whatever it takes to get our attention, especially the frustration of our desires, removal of blessings and exposure to suffering.

Of course, we cannot explain all suffering through the lens of God’s disciplining love, but there are times when God sends famine, tornado, hurricane and disease in order to shine his light on the cancer of sin that we refuse to address. God loves us too much too go easy on our sin. So, his pathway is pain.

2) Promise is restoration (14-23)

While the pathway is pain, the goal of God’s disciplining love is always the promise of restoration. Let’s not forget the reason why God doesn’t go easy on our sin. It’s because of his great, steadfast love. No matter how painful is God’s discipline the goal of that discipline is always to restore us back to him. 

Indeed, God wants us to enjoy the intimacy of fellowship with the one who has made us, redeemed us and loves us. This promise lies beneath the poetry of verses 14-23. I want us to especially look at the two images Hosea paints for us in verses 14-17 that capture the character of the restoration God is bringing.

Door of hope (14-15)

The Valley of Achor would have been a familiar place to most Israelites. It was here that during the time of Joshua’s conquest of the land, Achan had held back part of the spoils. His sin led to the defeat of the entire Israelite army (Josh. 7). For that reason, that place was called the Valley of Achor or the Valley of trouble. 

Yet, by the discipline of God’s love, the troubling valley shall become a door of hope—a new beginning for the relationship. By God’s grace, the trouble will give way to hope!

Day of betrothal (16-20)

Given the Hebrew language, the word Baal is a little misleading. “In itself it simply meant ‘lord’, ‘owner’ or ‘husband.’” (Kidner, 33). However, in the Canaanite religion Baal stood for the most important god in the pantheon, the divine husband, who granted life to everything. 

In a stroke of genius, Hosea reveals that Gomer’s problem was not in seeking someone to love. Rather, it is that she had sought the wrong lover—Baal over Yahweh. Through God’s discipline, however, God will deliver Gomer from the worship of Baal and re-covenant with his people. On that day, they will call him “my husband.” 

This day of betrothal envisions a relationship that cannot be compromised because it will be secured by the Lord himself. Look at verses 19-20, 

19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.  20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.

We must ask, of course, “How can God do this?” How does the day of trouble become the door of hope? How does the day of idolatry become the day of betrothal? Reading ahead to the New Testament, we see that the day of trouble becomes the door of hope in and through Jesus Christ. In taking God’s judgment, Jesus becomes the gate of life. Indeed, he said, “I am the door” (Jn. 10:9). And literally, Jesus has become our husband. According to the apostle Paul, Christ is the bridegroom to his people who he has redeemed (Eph. 5:21-33)

Therefore, our passage reveals that God is not only willing to remain with us, by his sovereign grace, he is able to change us and win us back. When it comes to God’s discipline, restoration is no empty promise. God will keep this at the very cost of his own life.

Conclusion:

You know, as crazy as it may sound, those folks who frequent online sites like Ashley Madison, pornography or even take that dangerous step into adultery, they are seeking something bigger and better than sexual fulfillment. It’s not about the sex. If it were, then the hole would be filled. But it never is. We have to keep going back for more and more and more.

G. K. Chesterton put his finger on the problem when he noted that “even the man knocking at the door of the brothel is looking for God.” Ultimately, we want what only God can give. Yet, we look for it in all of the wrong places.

Philip Yancey once said, “I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.” It’s true, there’s only one place where we’re going to find the grace we truly need—in God and among his people in the church. Let’s stop running away and heed his disciplining providences and return to the only One who satisfy us.

Speaker: Tom Gibbs
Date: August 30, 2015