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Monday, 23 October 2017

Love - real love!

I suspect that most of us have had times in our lives when we have been really "down". It isn't a pleasant place to be - but we usually manage to rise out of those dumps again.

Remember Gomer? We thought about her a couple of posts ago. She was the wife of the Old Testament prophet, Hosea who, after bearing him a child was unfaithful to him and bore two more children - to other men! Each of these children was given, by Hosea, a prophetic name as they, like his marriage, were to be an object lesson to the Children of Israel. The threat contained in their names was of divine judgement on a nation that had been as unfaithful to YHWH, the Covenant God of their forefathers, as Gomer had been to Hosea. Her infidelity symbolised Israel's spiritual impurity and corruption; and the names of the children reflected God's revulsion at the moral and spiritual condition of the ten northern tribes.

We are not given any specific information on what happened to Gomer after the birth of her third child, but the language of chapter 2 of the prophetic book indicates that she left Hosea completely - presumably seeking out her old lovers (remember that she had been a prostitute before her marriage) and dropping back into her blatantly promiscuous lifestyle. Hosea, however, resisted any desire he might have had, to bring her back - because, of course, he was 'under orders' from God to await the right time. As Hosea waited, he came to understand that his own situation, painful and distressing 'though it was, was as nothing compared to the hurt in the very heart of YHWH.

God allowed Gomer to hit rock bottom before He impressed upon His servant the need to find her and bring her home. When Hosea tuned in to God one morning, he received the message "Go, and get your wife again and bring her back to you and love her." (3:1). Hosea sets out to find Gomer - and discovers her in a slave market - a piece of human flesh for sale! The purchase price was "... fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley." (3:2). Now that may not mean much to you and to me - but it was a very low price: she was nothing more than a knockdown lot, fit only for the bargain counter; or the bin in a bookseller's that is labelled "remainders" (books that are marked down to less than £1 because no-one is buying them at their marked price). We may only speculate why this was the case for Gomer. Had her profligate lifestyle taken its toll on even her physical body and looks? 

We may also speculate on the sight of Hosea walking into the market-place to buy back his bride! Doubtless the gossip-mongers would have carried the story far beyond the immediate locality! Can you imagine some of the things that they would have said? "How could Hosea - this man who claimed to be a prophet of God - lower himself to do such a thing? She simply wasn't worth it!" However, even as they would have talked among themselves, YHWH was quietly using the situation to bring home to there own hearts the message of His own faithfulness, and undying love.

When Hosea arrives home with his wife, he explains that there will be no physical relationship between them. To Gomer, 'love' appears to have been nothing more than a matter of sexual activity. This was what she had lived for in the past. Now, she must learn what love, and marriage, are really all about! God's bride needed to learn a similar message: Israel will be a long time without a king or a prince, and without an altar, temple, priests - or even idols! (v.4). Like Gomer, Israel - the Northern Kingdom - was taken up with the physical side of her relationship with YHWH: leaders, sacrifices, rituals, and ceremonies. She used religion as a substitute for relationship, as Gomer had used sex as a substitute for true love. 

So what has all of that to do with you and me in the early years of the 21st century AD? If we claim to be disciples of Jesus, it is surely a call to examine ourselves! Not other people, but ourselves. How easy it is to allow familiarity to breed - if not contempt, certainly a dangerous complacency! How easy it is to convince ourselves that "going through the motions" is sufficient. How easy it is to think that if we are saved, then that is all that matters! We forget, so easily, that we are enjoined, in the words of Paul, to "... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Phil.2:12-13). The apostle also remind us that, while it is true that it is "... by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast." it is also the case that "... we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph.2:8-10; emphasis added). The problem arises when we depend on our works rather than His grace; when we 'put the cart before the horse'!

God has illustrated the depth of His love to us at Calvary. Let us seek, by the help of the indwelling Spirit, to return that love in all that we say, and do. It will be to His glory - and for our own good!

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