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HOW IS LOVE MEASURED: BY COMMITMENT
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
14 "Therefore I am now
going to allure her;
The point of this whole sermon is to understand one word - betroth. But the word will remain empty if you hear it out of context, so focus on the context we must.
This passage came to Israel, the northern kingdom, in its darkest hours. The kings of Northern Israel with very few exceptions had not ruled in justice, in fact they had led their people in corruption, they ruled with violence and revenge. They did evil in the sight of the Lord, the evil of Ahab and Jezebel. And the priests had chosen to save their own skin, they aligned themselves with the king, they chose keep the status quo. They no longer spoke for God, rather they spoke peace, peace when there was no peace. They allowed different theologies, different religious practices, they allowed the worship of Ba'al, after all the nations around them were doing that, and the people wanted it and the kings supported it. "As long as they did not deny the Lord their God " was the argument, "Let them practice these other things also." And so the people worshiped many gods alongside the one true God. Theirs was the sin of syncretism and polytheism, that is loving many gods. They felt all was well in their land. Syria was attacking Samaria, but that was hardly their concern. In the process, they forgot the law of God, the law that said "you shall have no other gods before me."
And so God choose to give the light of the truth to his people by sending them a prophet to live the message God wanted to give - a message of betrayal and wounded love.
He told Hosea to date and marry a prostitute who would be unfaithful - their marriage would be a picture of what Israel had done to God. Things seemed to go well at first. They were married, love flourished, Gomer became pregnant with Hosea's child. And the Lord gave to his prophet Hosea the name for the child; "Jezreel," a name that would remind Israel of the violence, the murder, the bloodshed done by king Ahab and King Jehu, the blood spilled and scattered there in the valley of Jezreel. To God, the name of this valley symbolized the character of the nation. Nothing attractive, nothing pleasing and holy. Just war and violence. And so God choose to break Israel's bow, take away her power, make her defenseless against the Syrians who were besieging Samaria. Their end, as a powerful kingdom, was at hand. Israel would be scattered too! Jezreel was this babies name, a strong warning from God to his people.
Gomer became pregnant again! The scriptures do not tell us that this was Hosea's daughter. Rather she was the daughter of adultery. The northern kingdom of Israel had repeatedly gone after other gods and the one true God experiencing the shame of betrayal. God seeing that his efforts of love upon his people and the blessings he poured out upon them were being turned into the worship and love of other false gods took the next step, he started withdrawing his love from his people. And so this daughter of adultery was called "Lo-Ruhamah" meaning "not loved." This was a special word for the Hebrews. The love talked about was the kind of love that a mother or father has for their child - the tenderness, the listening ear, the concerned heart, the quick action and dedicated devotion for the well being of their child - God said through this name that he was withdrawing that love. He would not waste his love for his people if it were just returned to another god. His anger burned toward Israel's unfaithfulness, just as Hosea's anger certainly burned toward Gomer's unfaithfulness.
Gomer became pregnant again, a son, not Hosea's son. This one God told Hosea to call "Lo-Ammi" because God had come to the end of his rope with his people. Though at one time he had promised himself to his people, even his love could not take this kind of betrayal. And so to the people to whom he had committed himself in love he gave threats of divorce. He revoked the covenant promise: "You are no longer my people and I am no longer your God."
In the writings of Hosea, we see the faithful love of God spurned, we see the violent swings of God's emotions as he deals with the pain and shame and betrayal, we see, reflected in Hosea marriage, the agony, the regret, the questioning of God about his relationship with his children.
To all of us here, for Hosea to leave Gomer, for God to leave his people, that would have been understandable. In these situations, the law permitted divorce as an acknowledgment that the bonds of marriage, the covenants of relationship, had already been repeatedly broken by Gomer's regrettable shameful adulteries.
But then we get to chapter 2 - and these incredible words of promise.
19 I will betroth you
to me forever;
These are marriage words - "I will betroth you!" They are words made powerful by context.
First they are powerful because they speak about the nature of a relationship with God. Israel had a master-servant understanding of their relationship with God. There is a master who makes demands and we are to do them. There is a master who maintains his leadership distance, we are to obey him. There is a master (Ba'al) who demands veneration, we will appease him. Their understanding of religion had to do with demands, expectations, mores, sacrifice in the expectation of a return. Their understanding of religion was no different from the nations around them. And in this kind of master-servant relationship, they had failed, betrayed, demonstrated that they themselves were shamefully unreliable in every way.
But then God comes with words of marriage, "I will betroth you." In one word God once again redefines how he loves his people - he betroths them. He commits himself to them. He pledges to them everything part of his being. He says to them, "Everything that I am is all for you." Every good part of me - its all yours. God says "I commit myself to you." He gives them his troth. What is troth?
As James Olthuis defines Troth in his book "I pledge you my troth", he says
"Troth is an Old English term for truth, faithfulness, loyalty and honesty. The single word troth captures the nuances of trust, reliability, stability, scrupulousness, ingenuousness, authenticity, integrity and fidelity. To be fickle, capricious, unreliable, shifty, whimsical, disloyal, rootless, perfidious is to be anything but trothful" Ibid p. 21.
God pledges his troth to Israel, and its because of God's commitment in this passage that God still regards his people Israel as the original vine. But this passage also has to do with us because we have been grafted into that vine and this passage tells us how God deals with us.
19 I will betroth you
to me forever;
God commits himself to us, his commitment is unchanging, it lasts forever. His commitment is righteous and just, it goes to the very core of his character, it is through and through and binding upon God in every way. It is a commitment that is characterized by steadfastness and loyalty, it is focused on us, sharing in our struggles to the point that he would become one of us. God commits himself to us with his flawless faithfulness, with him there is no turning. God is for us, who can be against us?!
To understand God's commitment to us, the standard of his love, let me use a couple of illustrations.
I will never forget Mr. and Mrs. Verdman. Immigrants from the Netherlands to Canada, together they raised four children. But then, it seemed all too early, Mrs. Verdman started becoming disoriented, and not long after that she had to enter a nursing home for dimenita which was later diagnosed as Alzheimer's disease. Mr. Verdman had pledged his troth to her. He visited her every day, even though she did not remember him, he held her hand, talked to her, cared for her, took care of her needs the way nurses couldn't. Even though, in the last years, she could not talk, could not respond in any meaningful way, he was there every day. He betrothed her, he gave her his troth, his truth, his word and he faithfully kept it. It was not long after she passed away that he passed away. That is commitment. That is faithfulness. That is how love is measured.
This has practical application that has spoken to me over the years, and I trust that this morning it will address your heart as well.
26 years ago, I experienced a brokenness in my life that I will never forget. I had been a young man strong in faith, serving the Lord with all my heart, with all my effort and with all my time. I felt that nothing could separate my heart from God. There was a lot of love and faith in there. And then I broke. And everything I had gained as a Christian seemed to disappear in a nightmare experience. God seemed gone. Joy was gone. The capacity to have faith disappeared. I lost my grip on God. I am not talking about a day or a week or a month, I'm talking about years. If he was a master and I a servant, it would have been very appropriate for him to get rid of me.
But I discovered something - even though I lost my grip on God, he did not, will not, will never, lose his grip on me. Because he has betrothed himself to me forever. The words of Timothy 2:13 are very special to me
"if we are faithless,
Few truths are more wonderful. When we experience our failure in faith or faithfulness, when our hearts become broken, or cold, or we betray our relationship with God. To those who belong to God, one of our most terrifying fears is that our faithlessness has separated us from God's love, we fear the names Jezreel (unattractive), Lo-Rammah (not loved), Lo- Ammi (not my people) describe us.
But then we must remember that our relationship with God depends on God's faithfulness. God commits himself to us, even though we fall, he will not. Even though we may become broken and faithless, he does not change, his love does not fail, his troth toward us will never be broken.
As I read from the familiar passage of I Corinthians 13, I invite you to close your eyes and picture this as the love of God for you...
4 Love is patient, love
God's love for you never fails!
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.