Summary: God’s love is a powerful love. It’s a love that reaches out to us even while we’re being unfaithful. It’s a love that willingly pays the cost to win us back. But in the end it’s a love that must be taken up by those to whom it’s offered.
I’ve known a number of men over the years whose wives have left them. I remember one man who came home from work one day to discover his wife had had the removalists in and they’d taken everything apart from his personal belongings. I remember one man whose wife left him and his children for another woman. I remember another man whose wife had simply said she didn’t love him any more and so had moved out.
Each of these cases was different, but they all had one thing in common. In every case the man was left feeling powerless, impotent, at a loss as to what to do about it. As much as they may have wanted to get their wife back there was nothing they could do. It was too late. All they could do was grieve.
In this prophecy of Hosea we find a similar scenario. Hosea is told to marry a woman who has a lover, an adulteress. He’s told to do this to illustrate how God has experienced his relationship with the nation of Israel. But the great difference in God’s case is this: God isn’t powerless. He isn’t at a loss as to what to do about it. As he sees their unfaithfulness working itself out, he moves to the next stage in his plan for the salvation of the world. As we read in the previous section of Hosea 2, he first removes from her the blessings that she’s enjoyed as his special people, blessings, remember, that she’s attributed to the false gods of Canaan. He says he’ll block her in so she can’t get to her lovers. He’ll take away the plenty of the land. The land will become a wilderness as the people are removed from the place where God’s blessing is found and are taken into exile.
But having done that, God will then begin to act to win them back. He says "I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her." God is going to win her back by his charm, by his winsome character. He’s going to take her back to the place where their love was first discovered, to the wilderness. The idea is that he’s going to take her back to the place where they enjoyed a brief honeymoon, a short period of youthful enthusiasm for their new found love. To the desert where their relationship was cemented. And again he’ll offer her a promised land if only she’ll commit herself to him once more.
The Valley of Achor, which means ’Trouble’, was the place where Achan’s disobedience, in taking some of the silver and gold from Jericho (Josh 7:26), had been discovered. But that doorway to the promised land that had been such a shameful reminder to the Israelites was to be renamed. It was to become a door of hope. God’s forgiveness, you see, is such that he can transform our failings into a reminder of his grace, of his power to forgive, of his power to rebuild relationships.
You might never have thought about your failings like that. We tend to avoid thinking about our failings because we’re too ashamed of them or embarrassed by them. But when we live in the light of the grace of God, our failings, once we’ve repented of them, actually serve to remind us of the hope of the gospel, of the certain hope that no sin is too great for God to forgive. And so it would be for the people of Israel. The Valley of Trouble would become a Gateway to Hope.
But then we come to the crux of the matter. The problem with their worship of God was that it was too much tied up with the vineyards and the victories, it was too focussed on the land flowing with milk and honey. They’d missed the reality of what God was offering them. God didn’t just want their worship because of what they got from him. That’s the nature of most pagan worship; of the cargo cult. No, what he wanted was a personal relationship with his people.
So he says to them: "On that day, ... you will call me, "My husband," and no longer will you call me, "My Baal." Baal was used for an owner or a husband. But it was actually the word for ’lord.’ So when the Israelites first came to the land you can see there was some confusion among them when the locals worshipped Baal and they worshipped the LORD. That may explain to some degree their turning away from the worship of Yahweh to the worship of Baal and Asheroth. It’s reminiscent of what we hear so often today: people who say, "Surely we’re all praying to the same God. After all that’s who we all address our prayers to isn’t it?" Never mind that one is the God of Christians, the Living God and one is called Allah and the third is one of the Hindu pantheon of gods. The danger is that we go the way of the Israelites here. They ended up worshipping Baal the same way the Canaanites did, as the source of the fertility of the land and of their prosperity. What’s worse they followed the pagan practices of their neighbours while claiming that they were really worshipping the God of Israel. And so God says he’ll put an end to these superstitious beliefs. And he’ll win them back so that they no longer serve a remote provider of prosperity, but will have an ardent love for and fidelity to a God they know, a God they’ve learned to love with all their heart.