Summary: It’s very graphic - the book of Hosea - and full of passion. For what is at stake, Hosea believes, is not simply a nation that is breaking a few commandments, but rather an ...

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"Plead with your mother, plead - for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband - that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst.” (Hosea 2:2-3)

No, we’re not at Sexpo, but you could be forgiven for wondering what place words such as these should have in the church, or, moreover, in the Bible! Ah, but we are in the book of Hosea, which has to be one of the most bizarre books in the Bible, and certainly contains one of the most bizarre stories.

Last week we looked at Amos - my favourite prophet. This week I get to introduce you to his bizarre mate, Hosea - another character who prophesied a message of judgement to Northern Israel, in the 8th century B.C.

These men may actually have been mates! Certainly they were preaching in the same place to roughly the same group of people at the same point in Israel‘s history. Many scholars think that Hosea might have started his work just as Amos finished his. Even so, there may well have been some overlap.

Certainly they were speaking to the same generation of people in the same place, and both were delivering equally grim messages of doom, though, despite all these similarities, there is no mistaking one prophet for the other!

Amos, you will remember, was a farmer from the South, who felt called to go and preach to the people of the North, after which he presumably returned to his farm. Hosea seems to have been a northerner to begin with, and we don’t know what his vocational background was, but he certainly seemed to have had a strong connection to the sex industry!

Hosea indeed married to a sex worker. That is clear. What is not so clear is whether, after divorcing his first wife, he then went on to marry a second sex worker, or whether, as most scholars who have tried to reconstruct his story suggest, he went back to his first wife and married her again - plucking her directly from the brothel, it seems, to take her back home!

However we piece together the details, two things about Hosea are uncontestable:

* That he had a highly dysfunctional family life.

* That his life, and most especially his tragic marriage, was his message!

Christian couples who give a priority to ministry have always recognised that there is no shielding your family from the work, and I don’t only mean persons in the ordained ministry. Any family that gives priority to ministry and mission recognises that giving yourself to God and to other people cannot be constrained within a nine-to-five framework. All your family will be effected.

Every couple in mission drags their children with them. It is inevitable! But no one in the history of the missionary work of the people of God, so far as I know, has ever pushed the envelope further in this regard than did Hosea!

Hosea did not just drag his family with him into battle (so to speak) while doing his best to shield them. Rather, he more or less threw his family out in front of him and stood behind them! He did this not only to his wife - his living sermon illustration of unfaithfulness. He did it equally to his three children, each of whom received a horrible symbolic name!

I admit, I did at one stage feel tempted to call our baby son, ‘Doom’, but that was because I really loved the game (the world’s first 3D shooter).

Hosea named his son, ‘Jezreel’, which doesn’t sound too bad until you realise that Jezreel was the place where Jehu, after killing King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, butchered their entire household - children, family, friends, associates, and really anybody who had even been rumoured to have had a friendly conversation with the deposed royal family. Each had his or her head thrown into a basket at Jezreel.

Calling your son Jezreel was like calling him, ‘9/11’ or even ‘Auschwitz’ - a name that evoked memories of violence and judgement. And the two girls didn’t fare much better. The first was named, “not pitied”, and the second, “not my people”. Admittedly, their names don’t sound too bad in Hebrew - Lo’-ruhamah and Lo’-ammi - but I’m still guessing that they had a hard time at school. Indeed, I can’t imagine their teacher keeping a straight face during roll-call:

* Jessica (here sir)

* Jacob (here sir)

* Not my people ...

It is Hosea’s wife, Gomer, though who was the real focus of the prophet’s message, for in her waywardness, Hosea believed, she illustrated the essential problem in the relationship between Israel and her God.

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