February 16, 2003
His head was spinning. His heart felt like it was going to beat out of his chest. His worst nightmare had become a reality. His wife, the love of his life, had bolted. He tried the best he could to comfort the kids and to answer their poignant and powerful questions like, “When is Mommy coming back?” But he didn’t know what to say. Yes, he had heard the rumors. He had heard that she had been seen around town with other men, but he didn’t believe it.
That evening, he tried his best to cook. He tried his best to help his kids with their homework and to put them to bed. Finally, as they went to sleep, he walked into his room and he noticed the empty closet. He could still smell the faint scent of his wife’s perfume. He asked, “Why me, God? Why me? What have I done to deserve this?”
So goes the story—the love story—of a man named Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Gomer. This account is nestled over in the Old Testament and it’s a unique story because as we delve into this story, we see a double drama. As we pull back the curtains, there are two things happening. The first thing is the story of love—irrational and unconditional love between a man and a woman. Not this Valentine’s, superficial, and shallow stuff. Not the cards and candy stuff. I’m talking about real love. But the second part of the drama is what the love story represents. It represents God’s love and God’s dealing with his people. During the time of the writing, it represented God’s love for the Israelites. Today, it represents God’s love for his people, those of us who know him personally.
I’m going to tell you something: after we conclude our session today, I believe that we will know what true love is all about. We are in this series called “Character Tour.” We have been touring great characters in the Bible who exemplify great character. As we look up close and personal at Hosea’s life, we are going to see someone who understood what it meant to truly love someone.
Put yourself in Hosea’s sandals. Hosea was married to one of the most beautiful people in the land. The girl had to be gorgeous. With a name like Gomer, she had to be hot. Suddenly, and without warning, Gomer spins on her heels and she leaves. She bolts.
We are going to find out something through this story. Whenever you run away from God, whenever you cruise away from God, you end up running right into God. We have all run from God in different areas and different ways in our lives. We have all been unfaithful to him. We have all committed spiritual adultery. Hosea did. And in our lives, we do as well. But when we run from God, we run right into God. We think we are being so independent, so autonomous, and so post-modern; yet, we face God head on.
The Bible describes what is going on in Gomer’s life right before she left. Hosea 2:5, “For she said (this is Gomer talking), ‘I will go after my lovers who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’”
When we run from God, we run right into God. God is a God of pursuit. He woos us. He loves us. That is how crazy God is about you.
One of my good friends is the point man for the Houston S.W.A.T. team. Several years ago, he invited me to ride with him in his unmarked car throughout the streets of Houston for 24 hours. I had to sign my life away before this trip, but I did it and it was amazing. We went on drug busts, served warrants, and we were (well, he was) going after some serious criminals. I’m talking about drug lords, assassins, and people like that. We were driving through this seedy part of town, and suddenly my friend saw someone that looked a little bit suspicious. He began to follow him and the chase was on. This drug dealer had this sweet car. My friend—this animal, this special weapons and tactics guy—knew how to drive a car. He was on this guy’s tail. The guy could not shake my friend, Jim. We found ourselves power sliding across the 610 loop at 2:00 am on Friday night going 120 miles per hour. This guy would go left and Jim would go left. He would go right and Jim would go right. We crossed railroad tracks, bumps, and potholes and it didn’t matter. Finally, the guy just surrendered. He jumped out of his car and said, “Okay, you got me. You got me.” Jim was in high-speed pursuit. You can’t shake Jim. He knows how to follow you.
Our God is the same way. You think you are running from God. You think you can shake him. You think you can fake him, give him a head fake, and give him a spin move or whatever. You think if you cross this track or that pothole that you can get away from God, but you can’t. God loves you that much. God loves me that much. When we run away from God, we run right into him. God is a God of pursuit. God wants us to turn to him when we start running from him. But when we start running and we feel God pursuing us, we should turn and say, “God, I want to go your way. I have gone the wrong way. I’ve sinned. I’ve messed up. I’ve rebelled. I want to respond, God, to your love, and to your pursuit.” Some of us do, and some of us don’t.
Hosea pursued Gomer. Gomer didn’t turn. She kept going. She kept running. What does God do? When God pursues people who run from him, what does he do? Does God give up? Does God say, “Well, boys will be boys and girls will be girls. Just go on ahead.” No. God does not say that. God does not do that. Here is what God does—maybe you are running from him right now—God does several things when someone runs from him. First of all, God barricades us with briars. God barricades people who matter to him with briars. We run. If we don’t respond to God, then he suddenly puts up this big honking wall of briars.
A couple of weeks ago, my family and I went up to Lake Grapevine. I parked my truck on this steep embankment and we made our way down the woods down this path. We were hanging out on Lake Grapevine, skipping rocks and the whole deal. We even had our dogs with us and our dogs are the size of cattle. It was a fun time. As the sun set, we realized that we had to get back to the truck. Being a guy, I said, “I’ll show you the way.” Well, I am directionally challenged. I thought I could find the path, but I didn’t find the path. I led my family into a briar patch. I’m talking about thorns that were scratching the kids, the dogs, and me. I still have scars from them. The dogs were howling. We were in trouble. It’s not fun to be stuck by these thorns and all this underbrush. It’s a bad thing. Well, we had to turn around and go the opposite way. Finally, we found the path and we made it back to the truck.
When we run from God and fail to respond to him, he puts us in the barricade of briars. We feel the scratch of sin. We feel the consequences of our actions. Because of his love, God wants us to turn to him. That’s how much God loves us.
As we go back to Hosea, and we think again about Gomer running, look at Hosea 2:6-8: “Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns. I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths.” I’ll say it once again: God loves us enough to make it tough when we run from him. Every time we run from God, we end up running right into God. Look at Verse 7, “She will pursue her lovers, but she will not overtake them. She will seek them, but will not find them.”
Some time has melted off the clock. This high-priced call girl, Gomer, has got some miles on her now. Now, she has some age on her. At first, she was probably tooling around the area in an H2. Now, she is downsized to a beat up Honda Accord, or something like that. Now, her young natural looks are fading. She is getting Botox treatment every other day. The girl is in trouble. The calls are not coming in. The money is not flowing. She’s beginning to get maxed out with her credit cards. She is in serious turmoil. I ask you, where is Gomer? Where is Hosea?
Check this out. The plot clots here. God tells Hosea to do something strange. God says, “Hosea, I want you to find Gomer and I want you to give her lover a bunch of bank and a bunch of groceries. I know she is kind of destitute right now, and I want you to do that. It will show her that you love her unconditionally and irrationally.” So Hosea, being a prophet of God, said, “I’ll do it.”
He tracks Gomer down. He gives all this stuff to her lover. I can just see him standing at a distance watching this take place. Her lover, in turn, gives Gomer all this stuff. Now Gomer thinks her lover is giving it to her. Her lover is thinking, “This Hosea guy, what an igmo. You think I am going to tell Gomer that he gave it to me? No, no!”
We are blessed. We receive things. We get promotions. Things happen to us. Too often, we give credit to everybody and everything else except God. God, like Hosea, stands at a distance. We credit luck, we credit networking, we credit our education, or we credit our athletic ability. Yet, God is shaking his head like Hosea did and saying, “You’re forgetting the source. You are forgetting who is the man who is making it happen for you.” That’s where Hosea was and that’s where Gomer was.
God is a God of pursuit. He pursues us and he loves us enough to build these walls of briars around us. Sometimes, though, people just crash through the briars. Do you think Gomer did that? She did. She bolted right through them. Look at Verse 8, “For she does not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the oil, and lavished on her silver and gold.” When something great happens to you, who do you give credit to? What is your knee jerk reaction? Who do you give credit to—yourself or God? Great question.
As I said a second ago, my wife and I have some massive dogs that are the size of cattle. Because they are so big, powerful, and protective, we have an underground fence around our yard. The underground electrical fence keeps them in our yard—for the most part. They have these huge collars around their necks and these collars have sensors. The sensors warn the dogs if they get too close to the fence. It sounds kind of like this [imitates beeping sound]. When it gets too close and too loud, it will shock the dog. No letters or emails, please. The dogs are so massive that it does not hurt them at all. It does keep them in the yard—in most circumstances and situations.
Apollo, one of the biggest and most powerful dogs we have, just leaped through the fence the other day. He just jumped the fence. Apollo is one of the dogs I told you about several years ago who ate the headlights our of my friend’s car. People say, “Ed, are the stories you tell at Fellowship Church true?” Do you think I would lie? Yes, they are true. The dog ate the headlights out of my friend’s car.
So, I’m driving home from work, and there is Apollo standing in the middle of the street. I thought to myself, “Great, he’s gotten out.” I looked at him and he looked okay. I brought him back into the yard, and as I examined him closer, I noticed that he had a gaping wound on his hind leg. I thought, “Oh, no, the dog is hurt. This is horrible!” You can’t pick this dog up, so I had to push him into my truck. So I pushed him into the truck and took him to the vet. Because of this little incident, this massive dog had a massive vet bill. It cost me a lot of coin because he got hurt.
God has placed around your life and mine these fences, these guidelines and these guardrails. He has given us the Spirit of God that warns us when we are getting too close to breaking his directives, when we get too close to jumping the fence. But every time we disregard the beeps, the warning signs of the Holy Spirit, and every time we jump the fence, what happens to us? We pay the price. We get hurt. We get wounded and it costs us something. “Well, Ed, man, I’ve jumped the fence and I don’t feel any cost. I don’t feel any wounds.” Just wait. There are consequences to rebelling against God. But again, God has such an irrational and supernatural love for us that he builds these walls of briars around us. Even when we disregard the briars and bolt through them like Gomer did, God doesn’t stop.
God does a second thing. After God builds these briars, he does something else. He ruthlessly removes our resources. God ruthlessly knocks the props out of our lives to get our attention. Gomer was in serious trouble. She was in serious debt. She had all these miles on her. She was unfaithful and unrepentant. God began to take away her stuff. Hosea 2:9, “Therefore I will take back my grain at harvest time and my new wine in its season. I will also take away my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness.”
During the fence stage, the briar stage, she had her essentials met. But during this stage, during the resource removal stage, her necessities were nil. They were gone. The Bible says she was suffering, broke, busted and disgusted. That is the life of Gomer.
When I think about Gomer, I think about Jonah. Jonah was God’s quintessential running man, and the same thing happened to Jonah. God said, “Hey, Jonah, I want you to go to Nineveh and preach my message to this wicked city.” Jonah was such a racist, he was so legalistic, he was so rebellious, that he spun on his heels and he went the opposite way. He went in rebellion against God. He discovered that running from God will run you right into God. Every time we run from God, there is always a convenient means of transportation available to bring us back.
The Bible says that there was a ship leaving for Tarshish. It just happened to be leaving at a perfect time—the time when Jonah was rebelling against God. He jumped aboard this cruise ship and God built a barricade of briars: a storm hit. He kind of disregarded that. Jonah blew through the barricade. Then God began to remove Jonah’s resources—they tossed Jonah overboard. Then the giant fish swallowed him. Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days. The Bible says that this man of God finally began to pray. Wow, what a spiritual giant. He began to pray and seek God’s face in the belly of the fish. When the digestive juices began to eat away his epidermis he said, “God, I want to follow you. God, I want to be your man.” God ruthlessly removed resources. Then the big fish upchucked him on land. Jonah went to Nineveh and preached. The entire city turned their lives around and followed the Lord.
Think about the prodigal son that Jesus talked about. He did the same thing. The prodigal son should have stayed in the house. The house was the blessed place. The house was the place where he had everything. This guy had some serious bank. He had all these blessings and stuff like that. The Bible says the prodigal son said, “You know what, Dad? I want my stuff now. I want all my inheritance now.” So, the Scripture says he left the blessed place, the house, and he spent his inheritance on riotous living. The Bible says that God build this hedge of thorns to warn him, and he just bolted through the thorns. Then you talk about removing his resources! The prodigal son, this trust fund baby, was fighting pigs for food. Finally, he came to his senses and turned around. The father welcomed him home, restored him, and forgave him.
We see this theme throughout Scripture. God barricades us with briars and then he ruthlessly removes our resources.
I talked to a young man recently who was at the pinnacle of his life. This young man is highly intelligent and has been blessed in many ways. This man went on a search for freedom. He went on a search for autonomy and independence. Here is what happens to us. When we go on a search for freedom, autonomy and independence, we think it’s a no holds barred thing. But, here is what happens. In our search for freedom, as we break God’s principles and precepts, we end up segueing from being free to being slaves. Our freedom, we think, is free. But in reality, we become a slave to sin, a slave to desires, and a slave to stuff.
This young man told me, “Ed, I cannot wake up, I cannot go to bed, I cannot go out on a date, I can’t even go to a Mavericks game without being controlled by a little substance. This substance owns me.” This guy, in his search for freedom, is not free. He is a slave. He is incarcerated. He is chained. Yet, when we give our lives to Christ, Christ gives us freedom. Christ gives us true liberation. So many times in our search for freedom we become slaves to anger, slaves to lust, slaves to greed, slaves to gluttony, slaves to slothfulness. We have all been there.
That is where our girlfriend, Gomer, found herself. We have all “gone Gomer.” Gomer had it so bad; do you know what she did? She sold herself into slavery. Gomer, this Biblical babe, this beautiful wife of Hosea, this high-priced call girl, became just a slave. There is an avalanche of material about what a slave auction was all about. It was a horrible thing. You had to strip naked and stand there in front of all the crowd, show off your strength, and people would bid for you.
So you might be thinking, “Okay, Ed, you were talking about several things God does when we run from him. You said that God builds these walls of briars. You said that God removes the resources. I know what God is going to do now, Ed. He’s going to take this big old heavenly baseball bat and just whack Gomer upside the head. He is going to rain fire and brimstone down from heaven. I know that is what God will do, because I have heard sermons like this before.”
No, God is not going to do that. You know what God is going to do next? Here is the third thing that God does. God then ambushes us, he grips us, with his amazing and irrational grace—just like he gripped Gomer. That’s what God does. God gives and grants Gomer his grace. Hosea 3:1, “Then the Lord said to me, (This is the Lord talking to Hosea) ‘Go and get your wife again.’” Hosea says, “Wait a minute. This is strange. This girl doesn’t even want to come back to me. This girl has not repented. She still loves adultery.” God then tells Hosea, “Bring her back to you and love her.” Even though she loves adultery. I’m sure Hosea is going, “God, this is asking way too much. Here my wife has been with every man under the sun. She is standing naked before the community and you are telling me, a man of God, to buy her back.” But Hosea obeyed.
Maybe Hosea stood at the back of the crowd when the auctioneer started the bidding. The auctioneer, I can just hear him saying, “What’s the bid for this lady, Gomer?” Maybe someone said, “Five.” Hosea said, “Seven.” Someone else said, “Eight.” Hosea said, “Ten.” Somebody else said, “Twelve.” It was silent for a while and then Hosea said, “Fourteen.” Then the gavel fell and the auctioneer said, “Sold to the man in the back.” I’m sure Gomer was thinking, “Oh no.” Because she knew that she was now just a piece of property. She could be killed or tortured—you name it. Then what do you think she thought when she saw Hosea walking toward her? He was a little bit older and probably a little bit grayer. What do you think she thought when she felt Hosea cover her nakedness? What do you think she thought when Hosea welcomed her back as his wife? She thought about God’s grace. She thought about irrational and supernatural love.
We have all “gone Gomer.” We have all been on the auction block. We have all sold ourselves into slavery, haven’t we? These voices have bid for us: the voice of greed, the voice of sexual addiction, the voice of rebellion—all these voices have bid. But there is a nail-pierced hand that goes up in the back that says, “I paid for you. I did the work for that one. I spilled my blood on the cross.” The auctioneer’s gavel falls and says, “Sold to the man in the back.” Then we have our Savior walking forward.
We don’t deserve it. We have been unfaithful. We have committed spiritual adultery. We don’t deserve it. After our best day, we don’t deserve it. Yet, Jesus, with his irrational and supernatural love, clothes us in forgiveness and righteousness. If we turn to him, he fills us up with his love and his grace. That is what true love is all about. It comes from the inside out. It’s a God thing.
My question to you is very simple. Have you responded to that love? I’m serious. Just between me and you, have you responded to that irrational, supernatural, and one-of-a-kind love? As our heads are bowed and our eyes are closed, I am going to say something right now that I said years ago. But it’s something that I would challenge you to say if you want to mean business with the Lord. If you want to know him personally, just say these words to yourself. Just say, “God, I admit to you that I am a slave to my desires—to my sin—and that I have ‘gone Gomer.’ I have gone my own way. I have bolted on you and your way. I thank you, God, for those thorns. I thank you for knocking the props out. Now, God, I turn to you. I believe that you sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for my sins and to pay the price to free me from my slavery. Right now, I turn from sins and ask you, Christ, to infiltrate my life. I respond to your irrational one of a kind love. Take control of me. I give you everything I am and everything I ever will be.”
If you prayed that prayer with me, or something like it, that is the best thing you will ever do in your life. That is the most profound and awesome decision that you will ever make.
Lord, we thank you for this time of commitment and what you are doing here. We thank you for your love, because God, I could think of thousands of reasons why you should have never done that for me. But you did because of your grace. We worship you for it. In Jesus name, Amen.