A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author


4. Humility And Preaching

4-1 Humility And Preaching || 4-2 Bent Knees, Wet Eyes, Broken Hearts: Emotion In Preaching || 4-3 The More Real, The More Credible || 4-4 Preaching In The Workplace: Sample Dialogues || 4-5 Guilt And Grace || 4-5-1The Extent Of Grace || 4-5-2 Grace And Guilt || 4-5-3 True And False Guilt || 4-5-4 Barriers Against Grace


4-5 Guilt And Grace

4-5-1The Extent Of Grace

I want to talk about grace and the absolute nature of our salvation by grace. But I sense within us all there is a fear that somehow, we can cheapen our salvation, make it too simple. There is no such thing as cheap grace- the sheer cost of the blood of Jesus means that this phrase is a contradiction in terms. But we can cheapen our understanding of grace by failing to see that it has another side, another aspect which must be appreciated in order to throw it into such stark relief. Until we perceive that our sins do indeed stand ‘against us’, we can’t appreciate the wonder of how powerful is our advocate and how extraordinary our judge.The extent of grace is reflected in the Lord’s teaching about being born again in Jn. 3:3-5. A person neither begets nor bears himself; but the Lord says that this must happen. The born again person has to receive a new origin- evidently something we can’t give ourselves. The new birth is therefore only possible through an acceptance of grace. Thus in Jn. 1:12,13 a parallel is drawn between “all who receive him” and those “who were born… of God”. Going even further, 1 Jn. 5:1 and 1 Jn. 4:8 [noting the tenses and context] suggest that faith and love are the evidence of this new birth rather than the cause of it. It is in the end the Father who draws men and women to Him (Jn. 6:44)- He draws them, not passively beckons or advises them. The extent of grace explains countless apparent contradictions and paradoxes throughout God's relationships with men- e.g. God repeatedly said that He would leave David with “one tribe” (1 Kings 11:13). But actually by grace He gave David and Judah two and a half tribes.

There are times when I've woken in the morning and been moved to pray about something- e.g. a specific person. Later in the day, that person has horrendous problems, and I have found it so odd that I prayed for them that very morning. What made me pray for them? Surely God's direction. In this we see grace- that God even moves us to pray, so that He can answer the prayers. We're wrong to think that God passionlessly waits for us to repent or pray to Him, and then He will forgive or act for us. He loves us, simply so; and with all love's manipulation of circumstances, seeks to pour out His love upon us. Thus repentance itself is a gift which God gives and is not totally upon human initiative (Dt. 4:29-31; 30:1-10; 1 Kings 8:58). The book of Judges reflects this grace of God- showing, incidentally, that grace isn't only a New Testament theme. We are so wrong if we imagine that Judges is all about a cycle of sin, judgment, repentance, raising up a judge-saviour, salvation and restoration to God. For one thing, the cycles are never the same- for God is in passionate relationship with His people, and passionate love doesn't work to the 'same ole same ole' plan every time. Time and again we find that Israel sin, do not repent (Jud. 2:19)- and yet all the same God sends them a Saviour. They are saved without repentance, simply because God pities them (Jud. 2:15,16). They do the very things which God predicted in Deuteronomy would result in Him breaking the covenant with them- and yet He does not break His side of the covenant (Jud. 3:1). In all this we see an altogether profound grace, arising out of God's passionate love for His people. We simply don't 'get' how passionate is God's love for us! At times the realization may begin to break through to us... but the clouds soon return. Yet prolonged, sensitive reflection upon God's history with Israel brings us back to the same wonderful reality. Biblical history isn't history in that sense- it's the story of God's almost obsessive love for His people, which can make Him appear to others as therefore relatively ignorant of them. The miserable critics ponder why the Biblical narratives are so selective, ignoring, e.g., any mention of the huge battle of Qarqar in 853 BC between Israel and Assyria, even though this is well attested in other history (1). The answer is surely that God's love for His people is in a sense obsessive, so great, that He appears to ignore anything not directly relevant to that love affair.

The Response To Grace

Such grace can't be passively read about, heard about, reflected upon. It demands not only action but an abiding sense of responsibility. "Grace reigns...", Paul said. It is as a King, a master, that requires our response. When David sinned with Bathsheba, God didn't read him the act about adultery, lust, murder. He reminded David instead how He had delivered David by grace from his enemies, and how He had by grace given him many wives- when this was hardly God's ideal standard. God made concessions to David's weakness- and even gave him the wives of Saul. Seeing David was married to Saul's daughter, this was actually contrary to the spirit of God's own law. But God had showed David great grace in this. And it was exactly this which God reminded David of- it was this amazing grace against which David had sinned (2 Sam. 12:7,8). And perhaps David appreciated this when he commented: "I have sinned against the Lord", rather than saying 'Yes, I've broken commandments'. This is the awfulness of sin- any sin. That we who have known such grace could so ignore it and act like we never knew. The response to grace is seen throughout the Old Testament. Israel stood at Sinai and were told that if they were obedient, then they would be God's people. But then they were told that actually, God accepted them anyway as His people. And only then was the Law given to Moses- with the message that it was to be kept out of gratitude for what God had already done by grace in saving them just "simply so", because he loved them and had chosen their ancestors by grace (Dt. 4:34-40). Likewise it was because God sanctified Israel that they were to keep the Sabbath (Ex. 31:13,14; Dt. 5:15). It wasn't that any human obedience made them holy- the laws were simply an opportunity to respond to the grace shown them. For God's salvation of them from Egypt, like ours from this world, was nothing but grace. Pharaoh was condemned and Egypt overthrown because of his hard heart- but the very word is used to describe the hardness of Israel's heart at the time (Ex. 32:9; 33:3-5; 34:9). Israel were really no better than Egypt- just as Egypt was plagued "so that they could not drink the water" (Ex. 7:24), so we find Israel in the same situation right after leaving Egypt (Ex. 15:23). As the Egyptians were stripped of their jewellery, so Israel stripped themselves of it before the golden calf (Ex. 12:36; 33:6). Indeed, a case can be made that the majority of Israel didn't bother keeping the Passover even; it was by Moses' faith rather than their obedience that they were saved, according to Hebrews 11 (see http://www.aletheiacollege.net/mm/4-10-2Did_Israel_Eat_The_Passover.htm ). Because God saved them from Egypt by grace [cp. baptism- 1 Cor. 10:1,2], with they themselves so spiritually weak at the time, still taking idols of Egypt through the Red Sea with them- therefore they were to keep the law (Dt. 11:7,8). Because God gave them the land of Canaan, a land for which they did not labour, didn't do any 'work' to receive, but were given because "You did a favour unto them" (Ps. 44:3)- therefore they were to keep the law (Dt. 26:15,16; 29:8,9; Josh. 23:5,6). David said that he loved keeping the law because God's testimony to him was so miraculous (Ps. 119:129 Heb.). There is an awesomeness to God's grace in all this. Hence the paradox of Ex. 20:20: "Fear not... that the fear of God may be before your faces". We are not to fear Him, for such perfect love casts out fear... yet it is exactly because of the wonder of all this that we live life in some fear / awe of misusing and abusing that grace.

Romans 7 and 8

Romans 7 and 8 are so opposed to each on surface level reading. At the end of Romans 7, Paul is lamenting ‘Oh wretched man that I am!’. At the end of Romans 8, he is rejoicing in the utter certainty of salvation, apparently lost for words [even under inspiration] to gasp out the wonder of it all. So huge is the difference of spirit that expositor after expositor has concluded that this must all be read biographically- as if in Romans 7 Paul is speaking of his life before conversion, and goes on in Romans 8 to describe his life afterwards. But Greek tenses [unlike Hebrew ones] are precise. The tenses in Romans 7 make that a very strained reading. Paul is saying that he right now feels utterly frustrated by his constant doing that which he doesn’t want to do, his apparent inability to do good, and his wretchedness.

I submit that the two chapters dovetail together. It was only though the appreciation of personal sin which we meet in Romans 7 that Paul could reason through to the paen of praise and confidence which he reaches by the end of Romans 8.

There are so many breathtaking insights into the extent of grace in Romans 8.

Nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ, as revealed in the cross (Rom. 8:39). The idea of the love of Christ nearly always refers to the cross(2).

And yet the same word occurs in Heb. 7:26, to remind us that the Son of God is “separate from sinners”. Here again is the paradox. We are sinners. And yet we cannot be separated from He who is personally separate from sinners. Again, the conviction of guilt is required so that we can know His saving grace. But it’s possible to understand this contradiction as just that- a contradiction. The Lord Jesus is separate from sinners; but nothing shall separate us from Him, although we are sinners. This can be seen as yet another of the many irreconcilable paradoxes which express the purity of God’s grace. We have elsewhere commented upon the way that God angrily speaks of permanently rejecting His people, and yet says in the same breath almost that He has not and will never reject them, because of His tender love for them.

God ‘spared not’ His own son (Rom. 8:32). The Greek phrase is elsewhere used about God not sparing people when He assigns them to condemnation (Rom. 11:21; 2 Cor. 13:2; 2 Pet. 2:4,5). The Lord Jesus knows how not only sinners feel but how the rejected will feel- for He ‘bore condemnation’ in this sense. We should be condemned. But He as our representative was condemned, although not personally guilty. He so empathized with us through the experience of the cross that He came to feel like a sinner, although He was not one. And thus He has freed us from condemnation. When Paul asks in Rom. 8:33,34 ‘Who can accuse us? Where are those people? Who can condemn us, if God justifies us?’, he is alluding to the woman taken in adultery. For the Lord asked the very same rhetorical questions on that occasion. Paul’s point is that we each one are that woman. We are under accusations which we can’t refute. The Lord never denied her guilt; but He took it away. The Lord comforted her that no man has nor can condemned her, and He who alone could do so, instead pronounces her free from condemnation.

We are right now more than conquerors through Christ (Rom. 8:37); and yet to he who overcomes [s.w. conquers] the Kingdom shall be given (Rev. 3:21). This doesn’t mean we can sit back and do nothing. And so Paul goes on to exhort us not to be overcome [s.w. conquered] of evil, but to overcome evil with good (Rom. 13:21).

The wonderful certainty of salvation and freedom from condemnation is brought out by the wonderful figure of the courtroom. God is the prosecutor- yet He is the one who shall search for Israel's sin, and admit that it cannot be found (Jer. 50:20). God is both judge, advocate for the defence, and prosecutor- and this is God is for us, the guilty! Rom. 8:33,34 develops the figure at length. The person bringing the complaint of sin against us is God alone- for there is no personal devil to do so. And the judge who can alone condemn us is the Lord Jesus alone. And yet we find the one ‘brings the charge’ instead being the very one who justifies us, or as the Greek means, renders us guiltless. The one who brings the charge becomes this strange judge who is so eager to declare us guiltless. And the judge who can alone condemn, or render guilty, is the very one who makes intercession to the judge for us- and moreover, the One who died for us, so passionate is His love. The logic is breathtaking, literally so. The figures are taken from an earthly courtroom, but the roles are mixed. Truly “if God be for us [another courtroom analogy], who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31). This advocate / intercessor is matchless. With Him on our side, ‘for us’, we cannot possibly be condemned. Whatever is ‘against us’- our sins- cannot now be against us, in the face of this mighty advocate. Let’s face it, the thing we fear more than death is our sin which is ‘against us’. But the assurance is clear, for those who will believe it. With an attorney for the defence such as we have, who is also our passionate judge so desperate to justify us- even they cannot stand ‘against us’. Rom. 8:38,39 says that neither death nor life can separate us from the love of God. In what sense could life separate us from God's love? Surely only in the sense of sins committed in human life. Yet even these cannot separate us from the love of God which is so ready and eager to forgive us. This is the extent of grace; that not even sin, which on one hand separate from God, can actually separate us from the love of God in Christ. We are often plagued by a desire to separate out the things for which we are justly suffering, and things in which we are innocent victims. We struggle over whether our cancer or her depression is our fault, or whether we only got into unhealthy behaviours as a result of others' stressing us... etc. This struggle to understand the balance between personal guilt and being a victim of circumstance or other people makes it hard for some people to free themselves from guilt. Seeking to understand is especially acute when we face death, suffering, tragedy, or experience broken relationships. How much was I to blame? In how much was I merely a victim? My determined conclusion is that it is impossible, at least by any intellectual process, to separate out that suffering for which we are personally guilty, and that suffering which we are merely victims of. The cross of Jesus was not only to remove personal guilt through forgiveness; all our human sufferings and sicknesses were laid upon Him there. Our burdens, both of our own guilt and those which are laid upon us by life or other people, are and were carried by Him who is our total saviour.


(1) Terrence Fretheim, Deuteronomic History (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989) p. 28.

(2) “When Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (Jn. 13:1)

“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” ( 2 Cor. 5:14,15)

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?..... Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Rom. 8:32,34,35)

“And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Eph. 5:2)

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph 5:25)

“the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20)

“Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Rev. 1:5)

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” ( 1 Jn. 4:10)


Appendix: The Tragedy Of Hosea: The Extent of grace

The extent of God’s grace is powerfully reflected through the life of Hosea. Hosea was asked to manifest the love of God towards Israel, with all the emotional pain that this involved. The unfaithfulness of Gomer to Hosea represented Israel's idolatry and unfaithfulness to God. The ten commandments taught that adultery was to be paralleled with idolatry. The two tablets each contained five commandments, and each of them were related to the other- thus the second commandment "You shall have no other gods" corresponds to the seventh, "You shall not commit adultery".

The first time the word of the Lord came to Hosea, he was told to marry “a wife of whoredoms”. Note that this was “the beginning of the word of the Lord” to him (Hos. 1:2). He’d have been tempted to just ignore it, to think he’d been dreaming something, to run away from it. But to his credit, he obeyed. According to the Mosaic Law, a whore should be burnt. She shouldn’t be married. Hosea was told to break the letter of the Law, and marry a prostitute. And he was told to be a father to her “children of whoredoms”. And so he began what was to be quite a theme in both his life and his prophecy- that in the face of sin, God shows His grace. We’ve likely all seen this in our own lives- at our very weakest moments, the kindness and care of God for us is revealed. Humanly, when someone does something wrong to us, we respond in anger and dissociation from them. The grace of God is quite the other way. In the very depths of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God reminds them through the prophets of His love for them, and His plan to ultimately save them. But God’s grace can’t be abused endlessly. Hosea has to name the subsequent children Jezreel, speaking of God’s plan to avenge Himself and “to cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel”, Lo-ruhamah (“for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel”) and Lo-ammi (“for ye are not my people”) (Hos. 1:4,6,9). Hosea isn’t the only example of a person being taught by personal experience how God Himself feels. The whole parenting experience is another example. Or take Amos’ message to Amaziah: “Your wife shall be a harlot in the city [Bethel- the house of God], and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land [i.e. Amaziah’s personal family plot] shall be parcelled out by line” (Am. 7:17 RSV). It was God’s wife who acted as a harlot in the house of God, it was God’s children who fell by the sword, it was God’s land which was divided to others. But He wanted Amaziah to know how it feels, to some extent, to be God. And in our lives there are multiple examples [if we perceive them] of Him doing likewise, in seeking to explain to us how He, our Father, really feels. 

Children Of Adultery

The usual Biblical rubric for describing conception and birth is to say that a man goes in to a woman, she conceives, and bears a child. Hos. 1:3 says that Gomer conceives and bears a son to Hosea; there is no mention that he ‘went in’ to her, and in Hos. 1:6,8 we are told simply that Gomer conceived. The way the final child is called Lo-ammi was because “ye are not my people” (Hos. 1:9). This suggests that although Hosea did presumably have sexual relations with Gomer, these children were not actually conceived from him- i.e. she was continuing her relations with other men. This suggestion is confirmed by the way that Hosea asks the children when they are older to plead with their mother to stop her adultery (Hos. 2:2). Hosea explains further: “Their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully: for she said, I will go after my lovers…” (Hos. 2:5). Notice how her conception of the children is said to have been “shameful”. And in addressing the children, Hosea never calls them ‘his’ children. In Hos. 2:4, Hosea appears to have been speaking about the children on his own account, whilst also thereby manifesting the spirit, feelings and words of Yahweh about His people Israel: “I will not have mercy upon her children; for they be the children of whoredoms”. Hosea had initially been told to marry Gomer and also take on her “children of whoredoms” into his family (1:2), so it would seem unlikely that his rejection of Gomer’s children because “they be the children of whoredoms” refers to them. Surely he refers to what appeared to be ‘his’ children, whom she had borne after her marriage to him. Note how he calls them “her children”. The children are described by Hosea as “her children” rather than “my children” (Hos. 2:6,7)- as if they were not his, although she bore them whilst newly married to him. Indeed, Gomer appears to reason in Hos. 2:14 that the children were her lovers’ payment to her for her sexual services. And in the parallel relationship between God and Israel, Israel were unfaithful to Yahweh and “engendered foreign children” (Hos. 5:7). We can learn much about the nature of Gomer’s behaviour with Hosea by seeing how Israel are described subsequently in Hosea’s prophecy. So often they are spoken of in terms of an unfaithful woman, and we are surely intended to understand that they were epitomized by the woman Gomer. So we can ‘read back’ from what is said about Israel in the prophecy to Gomer personally. God made the accusation that “[Israel] have dealt treacherously against the Lord: for they have begotten strange children”, whilst at the same time claiming to keep the sacrifices and Sabbaths of the Law (Hos. 5:6,7; 2:11). This would confirm that Gomer acted as Hosea’s wife, assuring him of her faithfulness, in the same way as the sacrifices and Sabbaths were intended to reflect Israel’s exclusive faithfulness to Yahweh.  

But when Lo-ammi was born and named “ye are not my people”, immediately the prophet is inspired to make a tender prophecy of Israel’s final glory: “Ye are not my people, and I will not be your God. Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea…it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God” (Hos. 1:9,10; another example is in 12:8,9; 13:8,9). The word to circle in our Bibles is “yet”. In the face of all Israel’s sin, in the face of the inevitable judgment which this attracted, in the very moment when it is declared, God goes on to speak of His loving salvation. This is so hard for humans to take on board, called as we are to manifest this same grace of God. In the heat of the moment of others’ sin against us, we rarely find it in us to think let alone speak of their ultimate hope of salvation by grace. But this is the challenge of Hosea.  

In an attempt to bring about Gomer’s repentance, Hosea once addresses his children as “Ammi” and “Ruhamah” (2:1), i.e. ‘my people’ and ‘I will have mercy’- purposefully changing the names God had given them. On this basis he appealed for Gomer’s repentance: “Let her therefore put away her whoredoms” (Hos. 2:2). As Paul was to later say in so many words, the mercy and grace of God is intended to lead us to repentance. Rather than that grace leading to a laissez-faire indifference and continuance in sin, the very reality of His grace to us in our weak moments should of itself inspire our repentance. But there is of course a limit, if we continually refuse: “Lest I strip her naked…and slay her” (2:3). This was the punishment for a prostitute, a punishment which she should’ve had right back at the start. But instead of this punishment, Hosea had married her. We are perhaps nervous to equate our sinfulness, our rebellion, our unfaithfulness, with Gomer’s prostitution. But this, surely, is what we are intended to do, and to thereby perceive the extent of God’s patient love toward us, to the end that that grace and goodness might lead us to repentance. Because Hosea had loved this woman, he had feelings of anger- he desired to strip her naked and slay her, to “discover her lewdness in the sight of all her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of my hand” (2:10). These feelings were quite natural. Hosea was the wounded lover, the betrayed man. And these are exactly the feelings of God over the unfaithfulness of His people. "She is not my wife and I am not her husband" (Hos. 2:4) is a verbatim quotation from various Babylonian divorce formulas, and was later incorporated into the Talmud as a divorce formula (1). Likewise the threat to strip her naked (Hos. 2:3) was what was done in the case of divorce for adultery; Hosea's threat to withdraw her clothing, her "wool and flax [linen]" in Hos. 2:9 likely refers to the same thing. Yet Hosea keeps wanting Gomer to return to him; he wishes to divorce her, and yet in his heart keeps coming back to her. This was an exact reflection of God's feelings for His people.  

A Wounded Lover

Hosea did everything for this worthless woman. He gave her “corn, wine, oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they [her lovers] prepared for Baal” (2:8). He was presumably a wealthy man, and yet gave it all to his wife, who in turn blew it all with her boyfriends on Baal worship. It’s like the millionaire marrying a worthless woman who manipulates him into giving her his money, which she blows down at the casino day by day, and sleeps with the guys she hangs out with down there. But “she did not know that I gave her…” all these things (2:8)- i.e. she didn’t appreciate it one bit. And so Hosea decides that he will withdraw this generosity from her, and then, he surmises, “she shall say, I will go and return to my first husband” (2:7). This was Hosea’s hope, and in his own mind, he put these words in her mouth. The hopefulness of Hosea was a reflection of the love he had for her. And all this speaks eloquently of the hopefulness of the Almighty Father who thought “surely they will reverence my Son” when He sends Him. And the purposeful anti-climax of the parable is that no, they don’t and won’t reverence His Son, and even worse, they kill Him. In the same way as Hosea had this plan to get Gomer to “return” to him, so God likewise planned that “afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God” (3:5). Both God and Hosea thought that “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence… in their affliction they will seek me early” (5:15). But it didn’t work out like this. Both God with Israel and Hosea with Gomer ended up pleading with her to return (14:1); “and they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek him for all this” (7:10). It was and is a tragedy. In our preaching to Israel, indeed to mankind generally, we are pleading with them to accept this most unusual love. The pain of God, the way He is left as it were standing there as a tragic figure, like Hosea was, of itself inspires us to plead with people all the more passionately. Notice in all this that ‘return’ is probably an idiom; neither Hosea nor Gomer appear to have physically split up, but both of them had ‘left’ the other one, as in so many marriages today.  

Gomer received vines, fig trees and forests from her lovers (2:12). She even became “rich” because of this (12:8). All of this was done whilst married to Hosea. His patience and love for her must have been amazing. And even that was and is a poor reflection of the depth of God’s love and grace for Israel, and for us too. It’s more than sobering, to be in a relationship where we are loved so much more deeply than we love back. It’s worrying and challenging, to the point that every fibre in our being should be crying out to love this wonderful God far, far more than we do. Gomer must have lied to Hosea so much. And Israel are criticized throughout his prophecy for just the same. “Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit… they have spoken lies” (11:12; 7:13). In fact, the untruthfulness became compulsive and obsessive: “He daily increaseth lies” (12:1). Gomer would’ve lied about where she was going, about how she spent Hosea’s money, about whose the children were… And the key proof of our spiritual sincerity is whether we are in the core of our beings truthful , both with our God and with ourselves.  

Gomer: An Observant Jewess

Hosea was prophesying in the context of the reforms of Jeroboam II, which had appeared on the surface to root out Baal worship- but in reality, the people remained deeply committed to it. All this was reflected in the surface level commitment of Gomer to him whilst committing adultery with multiple partners. God through Hosea said that He despised Gomer and Israel’s keeping of the Sabbaths, sacrifices and solemn feasts (2:11). Gomer and Israel offered sacrifices with flocks and herds (5:6). Gomer was an observant Jewess- all part of her deceptive life with Hosea. Gomer called Yahweh ‘Baal’ (2:16)- in other words, she thought that by worshipping Baal she was in fact worshipping Yahweh. This was how Israel justified their Baal worship, reasoning that actually they had never left Yahweh, they still kept His feasts and sacrifices, but they worshipped Him through their Baal worship. But in reality, Israel and Gomer had “forgotten the law  of thy God… my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge… for I desired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (6:6). Yet they cried out that “My God, we [do] know thee” (8:2). Israel’s attitude to the Law can so easily be our attitude to the first principles of the Gospel, the New Covenant, in which we stand. We can ‘know’ it all, and externally keep it… but in reality not know it at all, focusing on the external sacrifices whilst knowing nothing of the God we supposedly worship. All this was exemplified by Gomer being an observant Jewess, whilst worshipping Baal and living a shameful life. She broke the marriage covenant as Israel like Adam “transgressed the covenant” (6:7 RV; 8:1). Israel / Gomer knew the Law on one level, but “the great things of my law… were counted as a strange thing” (8:12). They called upon the Most High, but refused to exalt Him in their hearts (11:7). The very experience and fact of ‘knowing’ God’s law on a surface level can mask the fact that to ‘know’ Him in practice is quite a different thing. The simple possession of the right knowledge can of itself deceive us. This ought to provoke constant self-examination. 

Through it all, Hosea was hopeful. He looked and hoped for a day when he could say to Gomer’s children: “I will say to them which were not my people [a reference to Lo-Ammi], Thou art my people” (2:23). If Gomer came back to him truly, then he longed to call those children of adultery his very own children. Note that 4:6-14 imply that those children also grew up to live highly immoral lives. Bearing in mind that the punishment for such whoredom was death, we see how God’s grace in Hosea’s lovely character actually contradicts the letter of the law, and certainly contradicts all natural human desire for judgment and expiation against those who have wronged us. Here was grace, pure and wonderful. God then tells Hosea: “Go yet [i.e. still, carry on…], love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the Lord toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods” (3:1). I take this to mean that God was telling Hosea to as it were re-marry Gomer, to try to start the marital relationship over again, just as some couples desire to have a ‘re-marriage’ after a period of difficulty between them. Notice how Hosea was commanded to “love” her. We may think that love is something spontaneous, that can’t be ‘commanded’. But the essence of love, even the love that binds a marriage together, is the love that is an act of the will rather than pure emotion. Hosea’s offer to Gomer to start over and as it were re-marry was made when she was “yet an adulteress”. He didn’t say ‘If you stop whoring around, then we can maybe have some sort of re-marriage’. His very offer of the re-marriage was made whilst she was still doing it, such was his love and hope for her, according to the principle that the grace of God leads to repentance. And God does the very same with us, day by day, if only we will perceive it. He reveals His amazing love and grace when we are furthest from Him, in order to bring us back to Him. And this must set the pattern for the way in which we deal with those who sin against us, in things great or small, in family life, in church life, in the workplace… Often in Hosea, God appeals to Israel to let Him be their ‘king’ (13:10). But there is a Hebraism whereby a husband is called the ‘king’ of his wife. God’s appeal was reflected in Hosea’s desire for Gomer to as it were re-marry him, to let him truly be her king / husband. And yet she felt like Israel: “What then should a king do [for] us?” (10:3). She was so selfish that she didn’t see anything in it for her… when so much love was being offered to her.  

Sexual Addiction

The reality was that Gomer was sexually addicted. She was a prostitute before her marriage, after her marriage she was an adulteress. Consider the language used about her / Israel: “committed whoredom continually” (4:18), “the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them” (5:4), “adulterers as an oven… hot as an oven” (7:4,7), a woman even paying lovers to sleep with her, using Hosea’s money (8:9 cp. 2:8), although she had other lovers who gave her gifts to sleep with them (2:12), “they sin more and more” (13:2). This is the language of addiction. Gomer was a sex addict. Like Israel, she didn’t consider in her heart that Hosea / God remembered / felt all her wickedness (7:2). She thought, as addicts do, that others are as insensitive as they are. Like addicts, she came to hate Hosea, the very one who enabled her as a person, who alone had loved her truly (9:7,8). And yet Hosea loved her to the end. All this is of course a simple warning against sexual addiction, which is one of the most untabulated and significant addictions in our society. But for a man to love a woman like this is a marvellous picture of God’s love for His Israel, both then and now. Indeed, 9:10 seems to imply that in the same way as God fell in love with Israel in the wilderness, even though they were worshipping idols even then, so Hosea did actually find Gomer attractive initially.  God’s lament through Hosea, “but me she forgot” (Hos. 2:15) is an insight into His broken heart. And how many hours of our days slip by with no conscious thought of Him… does He feel the same?

And it was because of this love for her, that Hosea came to feel the passionate anger with her which he did at times: “I hated them… I will love them no more” (9:15). But this has to be balanced against his later profession that “I will love them freely” (14:4). In the end, because he loved her, as God loved Israel, finally giving up this terrible woman proved impossible: “How shall I give thee up?... mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger…” (11:8,9). And this God is our God, this God who was represented by Hosea, the man who kept loving that woman to the end, who dreamed of re-establishing the relationship with her. According to 9:12-15, Gomer’s children were killed during one of the invasions, and she became infertile, with “a miscarrying woman and dry breasts”. In Jewish terms of those days, to marry such a woman was pointless and absurd. But still, Hosea dreamt of the way when she would return to him in her heart and they could re-establish their relationship. She had nothing at all to offer him. Just like us with God. But such is His senseless love… “O Israel thou hast destroyed thyself: but in me is thine help” (13:9). Gomer's sexual addiction was a reflection of the way she was crying out for love. The crying tragedy was that the love of Hosea, reflective as it was of God's love, was just surpassing. And yet she didn't perceive it, didn't want it... and so her mad search for love led her to the chronic sexual addiction which destroyed her.

Gomer’s sexual addiction is testified to by the way Hosea orders that even after their re-marriage, she would “wait” for him, and “not belong to a man” (Hos. 3:3), i.e. they would not have intercourse. Hos. 4:18 speaks of how “they have made love continually… her lustful spirit”. The judgment of removing the signs of adultery from Gomer’s face and from between her breasts (Hos. 2:4) also give a window into the level of her sexual addiction. Song 1:13 speaks of myrrh between the breasts being used as an aphrodisiac; and prostitutes paint their faces in Jer. 4:30 and Ez. 23:40. She wore a nose ring and pendant in order to ‘go after’ her lovers (Hos. 2:15). And yet these things would’ve been understood as wedding gifts, akin to a woman today wearing a wedding ring. The awful thing is that she used the very things Hosea had given her as an expression of his unique commitment to her- as a means for adultery. Likewise the silver and gold of her dowry, she used in Baal worship (Hos. 2:10). She wasn’t doing it for money or because she was in need; the implication is that she was using the aphrodisiac to excite and sexually stimulate herself rather than her lovers, and was therefore going in search of them. We have to ask what wilful stimulations to sin, to unfaithfulness to our Master, we allow into our lives.

Hosea’s Fantasy

"I shall speak to her heart" (Hos. 2:16) is an idiom elsewhere used about seeking to win the heart of a woman by persuasive words (Gen. 34:3; Ruth 2:13; Jud. 19:3); Hosea dreamt of winning Gomer back to him by his words. This has a direct equivalent in the restoration context- for the same term is used in Is. 40:2, where God through the prophets seeks to speak to the heart of Zion and persuade her to return from Babylon to Him in Jerusalem and enjoy the married life of His Kingdom. And yet like Gomer, they either didn't want to hear, or responded on a merely surface level.

Hosea’s prophecy ends with God protesting His eternal love for Israel, and a description of them in the Kingdom, when they will have ‘returned’ to Him: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely… His beauty shall be as the olive tree… they… shall return… Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?” (14:4-7). Remember that the God / Israel relationship was a reflection of the Hosea / Gomer situation. I take this final, majestic section to be a reflection of Hosea’s fantasy, his day dream, that one day Gomer would return to him and blossom as a person. For fantasies are all a part of true love. “From me is thy fruit found [Heb. ‘acquired’]” (14:8) is perhaps his fantasy that somehow, this worn out woman with dry breasts and a miscarrying womb (9:14) would somehow one day still bear him children of their own, and that in him “the fatherless [a reference to Gomer’s illegitimate children] findeth mercy” (14:3). This fantasy of Hosea’s, rooted in his amazing love for Gomer, love that was partly in pure and amazing obedience to God’s command that he love her (3:1), is a reflection of God’s dream for Israel. Hosea died with his dream unfulfilled. We are left with the question as to whether this similar loving intention of God for Israel will in fact be fulfilled, or whether it was what was potentially possible for Israel; or whether His fantasy for them will be fulfilled through a new Israel. If the latter, and we are that new Israel, then we can imagine what passionate joy the Father finds in our bumbling attempts to respond to Him and be His loyal and faithful wife. Whatever, the simple fact is that it all reflects an amazing grace, an ineffable love… and this God is our God, and Hosea who reflected all this is truly a pattern for ourselves in daily life. The very existence of such passionate love for us, love beyond reason, carries with it an inevitable warning as to our responsibilities: “Who is wise, that he may understand these things? prudent, that he may know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them; but transgressors shall fall therein” (Hos. 14:9). Faced as we are by a love like this, we simply can’t be passive to it.


(1) Umberto Cassuto, Biblical And Oriental Studies (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1973) Vol. 1 p. 122.