Divine Love

Reading: Hosea 11.1-11

You may have heard the story about the farmer who had a stall outside the town. Someone stopped to buy produce. In the course of the conversation, the visitor said, "I'm new to these parts. We're coming here to live. What are the people like in this town?"

The farmer asked, "What were folks like where you have come from?"

"They were warm, open and generous - good people to know."

"Then," said the farmer, "that's just the way you will find the people in this town."

Some time later, another newcomer came by, asking the same question.

Again the farmer asked, "What were folks like where you have come from?"

"Where I came from they were mean and nasty gossips, interested only in themselves."

"I'm afraid," said the farmer, "you'll find folks that way in this town too."

I recall an elderly couple in our first parish, Mary and Henry.

Mary, with mental faculties impaired, was distressed by the meanness of their neighbours, laying blame against them for every item that was missing. One day she was telling me, "They're so mean. They 'shaked' a new set of glasses I bought. I bought some new underpants for Henry and they 'shaked' them off the clothes line. They've even been 'shaking' water out of our tank."

Mary had a stroke and died. A week after the funeral, Henry told me, "I don't understand it. The neighbours have been so very kind to me, yet they were so mean when Mary was alive." Mary's perception of the neighbours was part of her declining health.

Divine Love

Our theme today follows on from what we have been saying about the problem "up stream" in our lives - how we perceive God and relate to him.

The prophet Hosea lived in the eighth century BC and was a contemporary of Amos, Isaiah and Micah. He began his ministry near the end of a period when both the northern and southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah, had achieved military success and prosperity. Hosea's marriage to Gomer, who proved herself to be an unfaithful wife, became a powerful symbol of the unfaithfulness of the northern kingdom, Israel, to the Lord. The children of the marriage were given names that also reflected the consequences of this unfaithfulness.

The first son was named Jezreel, "because it will not be long before I punish the king of Israel for the murders that his ancestor Jehu committed at Jezreel" (Hos. 1.4). Jezreel was the site of Jehu's ruthless massacre of the house of Ahab (2 Kings 9-10). In the future it would be the scene of Israel's military defeat. Then they had a daughter who was named Lo-ruhamah (translated "Unloved" in GNB) "because I will no longer show love to the people of Israel or forgive them" (1.6). The third child, another son, was named Lo-ammi - "Not-my-people" - "because the people of Israel are not my people, and I am not their God" (1.9).

Yet before going on to the tragedy of Gomer's unfaithfulness, the prophecy records a wonderful promise of God's love and grace - "The people of Israel will become like the sand of the sea, more than can be counted or measured. Now God says to them, 'You are not my people,' but the day is coming when he will say to them, 'You are the children of the living God!' The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited. They will choose for themselves a single leader, and once again they will grow and prosper in their land. Yes, the day of Jezreel will be a great day! So call your fellow-Israelites 'God's People' and 'Loved-by-the-Lord' " (1.10-2.1).

Peter is alluding to this when he writes to his Gentile readers, "But you are the chosen race, the King's priests, the holy nation, God's own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvellous light. At one time you were not God's people, but now you are his people; at one time you did not know God's mercy, but now you have received his mercy" (1 Pet 2.9-10).

Back to Hosea 11. At the heart of Hosea as a whole and of this chapter in particular is God's love for his people - just as Hosea continued to love his wife, Gomer, even in her unfaithfulness. Hear what the Lord says, "When Israel was a child, I loved him and called him out of Egypt as my son" (v.1); "I was the one who taught Israel to walk. I took my people up in my arms" (v. 3); "I drew them to me with affection and love. I picked them up and held them to my cheek; I bent down to them and fed them" (v. 4).

What a graphic picture of the passionate, caring, fatherly love of God!


The tragedy is that they rejected the Lord's love for them. Listen again: "But the more I called to him [my son], the more he turned away from me. My people sacrificed to Baal; they burnt incense to idols" (v. 2); "I took my people up in my arms, but they did not acknowledge that I took care of them" (v. 3); "They refuse to return to me" (v. 5); "they do what they themselves think best. They insist on turning away from me" (vv. 6-7).

This had been a problem since their early days in the Promised Land. Moses had led the Hebrew slaves to freedom. Because of the refusal of many to trust the Lord to be with them, many of them died in the wilderness. Those who entered the Land under Joshua were the new generation. What would it mean to live in their own land? What would it mean to be the Lord's people in this new land?

The story of the conquest of the land under Joshua can seem very harsh to us. Lutheran scholar, W.F. Arndt, has written, "The nations which inhabited Palestine just prior to its occupation by Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, were extremely wicked. Several times God, in proclaiming his statutes and forbidding abominations and vices, says that it is on account of the gross sins of the natives of Canaan that he is casting them out before Israel. Cp. Lev. 18.24-30. If ever nations by addiction to horrible forms of wrongdoing challenged the wrath of the Almighty to destroy them, these nations did. The crimes were such that human reason cried out against them."

In practice the Israelites didn't completely drive the Canaanites out of the land. This became a source of moral corruption and Baal-worship. The nature of our belief and worship does shape our character.

Today we would consider ourselves above all that. Someone has written, "I enjoy the diversity that is part of our cultures, religions and peoples. I respect others' beliefs and religions as we all have our own spiritual and emotional needs to be met, and who is to say that one religion is less apt to bring about fulfilment of those needs than another? There are different means to the same end."

We certainly need to have tolerance and respect for others, yet there is something extremely sad about the view just quoted. We need to ask ourselves whether we too are pressured into a compromise with the ideas and attitudes around us.

God has revealed himself. There is some exclusive good news that must be shared with others. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me" (Jn 14.6). He spoke of his followers as being "in" but not "belonging to" the world (see Jn 17.9-19). They were, he said, to be "like salt for the whole human race" and "like light for the whole world" (Mt 5.13-14).

The lives of the Israelites were to show the character of God to the nations. Too often it had not been so. Ezekiel wrote, "When I demonstrate to the nations the holiness of my great name - the name you disgraced among them - then they will know that I am the Lord. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken. I will use you to show the nations that I am holy" (Ezek. 36.23).


Sin has consequences, and it incurs the judgment of God. As Hosea says in chapter 9, "People of Israel, stop celebrating your festivals like pagans. You have turned away from your God and have been unfaithful to him. All over the land you have sold yourselves like prostitutes to the god Baal and have loved the corn you thought he paid you with!" (Hos. 9.1)

The Lord is righteous and must judge sin, but he has a heart of love and longs to restore the sinner. "How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you? Could I ever destroy you as I did Admah, or treat you as I did Zeboiim? My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong. I will not punish you in my anger; I will not destroy Israel again. For I am God and not a human being. I, the Holy One, am with you. I will not come to you in anger" (11.8-9).

What powerful words! "I am God and not a human being". And when "the Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us" (Jn 1.14), he came with divine redemptive love. He "came to seek and to save the lost" (Lk. 19.9); he "did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people" (Mk 1.45).

We began with the question of how we perceive God and relate to him. Do we picture him as a fearsome man of infinite authority and power, justice and judgment? or do we see him as the God who has all authority and power, but who at his heart is Love, desiring to know us, wanting to forgive us, longing to welcome us back into his family? For that is who God is. Receive his forgiveness. Receive him - he is waiting to welcome us. From this secure foundation, live our life with faith and confidence day by day.

(c) Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 2 August 1998
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, (c) American Bible Society, 1992.
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