This past week, I’ve been reading through Hosea. The language God uses to speak of Israel is quite striking. “For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore” (Hosea 4:12). The Lord, over and over in this book, describes His relationship with Israel as that of being married to a whore. And not just a one time affair or adulterous short-term fling. It is serial adultery He speaks of, a pursuit after whoredom. That is strong language to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness.
In letting this passage of Scripture read our own hearts, if we are honest with God and ourselves, we are the unfaithful one’s as well. We are the serial adulterers. We are … the “whores.” Ouch. And this isn’t just an overstatement. It is the reality. We are unfaithful to our great Husband and it breaks His heart in a way I don’t think we can comprehend. We get hints of how much it breaks His heart in seeing or experiencing the break up of a marriage due to adultery. But this is just an analogy to our relationship to God that has an eternal weight to it. And yet in spite of this He still pursues us.
Throughout Scripture, God’s relationship to His people, in both the Old and New Testaments, is constantly described in terms of the relationship of a husband to a wife. It is for this very reason God has given us marriage, to reflect this very picture. Marriage itself is an analogy of God’s relationship to His people, and more fully revealed in the New Testament, it is an analogy of Christ’s relationship to the church.
If the language in Hosea is any indication of what it means for us to be unfaithful to God (that is when we sin and turn away from Him), then it shows just how black our hearts are, completely dirty and filthy, full of sin, and quick to run after everything that captivates us, everything that is except the Lord Himself. He is the only One who can satisfy us at the deepest levels. And yet in arrogance we turn to lesser gods and pursue them with all of our energy. These things we pursue can be good in themselves. And yet, in exalting them to the level of God in our hearts, they cause us to stumble into the worst kind of “whoredom” in relation to the Lord.
In the news recently, we’ve all seen Tiger Woods fall like a star from the sky toward Earth. He’s lost endorsements, lost his wife, is losing money at light speed, and has lost honor and respect on a scale that I can’t relate to. This has happened all because he set himself up on a pedestal of discipline and then behind the scenes threw it all away to pursue multiple women outside of his marriage. Many look and sneer and condemn him for these acts. And yes, they are wrong, no doubt.
But in light of Hosea, and again, letting it read our own hearts, we are Tiger Woods in relation to God. And even worse if we’re really honest! He had, what, maybe 11 or 12 mistresses that we know of? How many “mistresses” or “lovers” do I have in relation to God, even one’s I’m completely blind to? I am the serial adulterer. I am “playing the whore” as it relates to the Lord, just like Israel, when I find things more satisfying or more interesting or more worthy of glory than Him and pursue them more intensely than the things having to do with His kingdom. How evil and corrupt is my own heart! How often and quickly do I find a thousand other things to distract me from God’s goodness, holiness, glory, and the resultant satisfaction He grants? I can’t even count.
In light of such a revelation, who can stand His judgment for our sinning and serial spiritual adultery? No one. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Our sinning is always explained in relation to His glory, not just breaking this or that rule. It’s about the heart; a heart that either pursues His glory as a faithful bride chasing after our great Husband, Jesus Christ, or our own glory and pride in selfish arrogance, just as an adulterer who breaks vows. And the only way we can rightly pursue His glory is by a correction of His grace alone. We are dead in sin and unresponsive to Him unless by His Spirit we are healed from within to pursue Him aright.
The wonder of the message of Hosea is that the Lord continues to pursue His people in tender, caring faithfulness and endurance, despite all of His constant warnings and calling out Israel (myself) for her sin. Despite our wanderings, in going out to our “lovers” and coming back to Him, it is a wonder that He still haves us at all. Does this not demonstrate the immensity of His grace? It is unfathomable. He should justly and rightly be done with us and leave us in our misery, in pursuit of our lovers, that is, the things that we idolize in our hearts and make much of.
There is a serious warning though in this passage to those who never seek to return to Him and presume upon His grace, that He will somehow just let it pass while you continue on in your sin. The hard message here is that despite God’s patience and grace that is available today for those who appreciate what is being said here, it may be that He does leave you in our sin and let it consume you, with its just penalty being His wrath for eternity. Romans 1 lays out the possibility of this for those who don’t turn to the Lord in honest repentance and mourning for their wickedness against the Lord. It may be that He gives you over to those sins to the point where you have no later chance to repent. This happened to Esau. The hardening of the heart is a frightening possibility, constantly being warned against in Scripture. May we heed the warning. The writer of Hebrews puts it well of His grace that is available Today:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
The history of Israel is not one to be emulated, as many teachers would teach in countless sermons and Sunday school lessons. There are many great examples and exceptions of people worthy of emulating. But even the best of them, such as David, fell long and hard into adultery and murder. The story of Israel is not about their faithfulness but rather their unfaithfulness and God’s patient faithfulness and pursuit of them despite their unfaithfulness. This is the Gospel, that God alone saves sinners, not that God makes sinners able to save themselves. All of this was brought about finally in the life, death and resurrection of Christ who took on our whoredom in relation to God, in order that we could be brought back to Him. He came and took on our sorrows in His life, bore our iniquities and resultant punishment in our place on the cross, and rose from the grave in power, all in order that we might be reconciled to our great Husband, the Lord God Himself.
The whole point of Israel’s history is to display and highlight the glory of God’s grace intervening where there was no hope of them turning from their sin. Our only hope of eternal life is that God would work in us to bring about faith and repentance in the promises He’s set forth in the Gospel, made known in the Person and Work of Christ.
Hosea is about the worst marriage in history, God’s marriage to and pursuit of His own adulterous people whom He has chosen to be holy and pure, cleansed by His power, through the death and resurrection of Christ. Despite our unfaithfulness, the Lord stays in this covenant union to us in Christ because of His unfathomable love for creatures so marred by sin. May prophetic books like Hosea bring us to the humble point of admitting our condition as being this bad, in order that we may be lifted up by His almighty, omnipotent, merciful hand. May we not even try with our own weak hand to lift ourselves up, as we can accomplish nothing as regards salvation, from justification to sanctification to glorification. It is all God’s work in us to conform us to the image of Christ, that He may get all the glory.