Introduction: taking the lid off adultery
A newspaper article a few years ago had the headline,
Adultery is good for your marriage – if you don’t get caught, says infidelity website boss
That boss was Noel Biderman the founder of Ashley Madison – a website that will help you have an affair – he goes on in the article to claim that having an affair can actually help save your marriage.
It’s a surprisingly common theme - relational experts, psychologists, maybe we see it most in Hollywood films – they suggest an affair can bring you good. Reviving your marriage, leading you to true love, enabling you to be the real you. It will be good for you in some way.
And yet, I think of a couple I knew at a previous church some years ago – the husband had an affair. I think the wife would say it’s the worst thing that has ever happened to her - destroyed her and her family. And her husband thought – it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done - I would give anything to turn the clock back and not have done it.
If you get behind the website to real people – if you lift the lid on the film and move to real lives - it’s a very different story. A story of the pain of broken trust and the hurt of betrayal and anger at unfaithfulness.
Adultery might pretend to be acceptable – take the lid off and you find it is truly awful.
Take other things - like working hard in your job. Being kind to friends. Enjoying a new home. Things which look normal and completely acceptable parts of life.
What if we took the lid of those? What would we find underneath?
That is what Hosea does – he takes the lid off things we can think are normal - and opens our eyes to what is really going on. He shows us the true nature of our behaviour and the true nature of our God. That’s where we’re going to start in this session.
Layout of Hosea
Chapters 1-3: whole message portrayed in Hosea’s life (chapter 1&3), and a poem (chapter 2)
Chapters 4-14: the same message given detail and explanation.
Before we get into it let me say something about the layout of Hosea. In chapters 1-3 we get the whole message of Hosea stated – first of all acted out in Hosea’s own life, and then in chapter 2 in a poem. And that really tells us the whole story. Then rest of the book, chps 4-14, fills out that same message with some specifics – with detail and examples.
Because of that in each talk we’re going to take a part of Hosea’s message we find in chap 1-3 – a theme or topic - then explore how it is filled out in the rest of book. That means we’re going to dot around quite a lot – probably easier to just listen as I read various verses out. Sometimes I’ll say – let’s turn to this bit – because it’s worth seeing it.
The starting point of Hosea’s message – and the topic we’re going to explore in this talk is adultery. 1v2. READ.
It’s a terrible thing to say isn’t it - Hosea I want you to marry an adulterer. I want your wife to be someone who will sleep around and be unfaithful to you.
Can you image what Hosea would have felt when we heard that? But, God, I want a wife to love me and stay with me? Why do I have to do that, why put me though that?
Because v2 – READ. Hosea I want you to do it, because I want your marriage to act out my relationship with my people. My people have been adulterous – they have been unfaithful to me.
And I want you to bring that truth to them in the most vivid way. I want people to come and ask you, “Hosea why have you married her – why have you married a harlot, like that?” You will reply – because that is what you’ve been like with God. In your relationship with God you have committed adultery.
Well, it’s a pretty full on way to start a book and to start our weekend. It feels like we’ve walked in on a couple having an argument. And you think - whoa - what’s happening here? What is this adultery – who is Israel’s lover – what’s been going on? That’s what we’re going to explore.
Just before we get into that let me make a couple of comments about this adultery language because it raises some issues.
- If we’ve experience something of the pain of adultery
First of all – some of us may have experienced something of adultery – first or second hand. We might find talking in these terms hard – because it brings up strong feelings and hurts – and that could stop us hearing what God is saying.
Now if we’ve experienced something of the pain of adultery then that is an awful thing – and I’m not minimising that. However, it could be - in God’s grace he uses your experience for good. In his grace he could use that pain you rightly feel – to lead you to see something of the pain he feels at his people’s adultery. I know it’s a high price to pay – it was for Hosea – I know we’d prefer it to be otherwise, but you may be able to know God’s heart in a strangely special way.
- Remember adultery is only a picture – the real issue is spiritual unfaithfulness
Second comment – it would be easy to mishear what Hosea is saying and think that adultery is the big sin – and that’s what this is all about. But it’s not – physical adultery or human adultery is being used as a metaphor to talk about our relationship with God and how we behave towards him. So what he’s really talking about is what we could call spiritual adultery – being unfaithful to God. That is something true of all of us – so let’s not be distracted by physical adultery – that’s only the picture – the reality is how we’ve been unfaithful to God.
- Gomer gets no back story, nor particular condemnation
Last comment – I’m aware we are given no back story to Gomer, Hosea’s wife. We don’t know why or how she became adulterous – or a prostitute. Typically with prostitution there would be a story of abuse, of financial desperation, or sex trafficking. I just want to acknowledge we don’t get any personal narrative for her, she is simply presented as a symbol of the nation.
Now we might object to a woman, a fallen woman, being chosen to symbolise Israel. Why can’t it be a man? Is this sexist? Well I think it could have been a man. But throughout the Bible God is presented as bridegroom and God’s people as his bride so the roles are consistent with that. And I’d also comment that Gomer isn’t actually condemned for being adulterous. It’s just stated she’s adulterous – but there is no judgement given on her. It’s the nation – men and women – who are condemned. If we think this feels sexist or misogynistic - I hope that helps.
1) Spiritual adultery, 1v2
Having said that, let’s get back to what God is saying. Through Hosea marrying Gomer God is saying to his people – you’ve been spiritually adulterous. Now what does that mean? How has that happened?
Well it’s got two sides – first of all - on your sheet - it means spurning your true husband – God.
- Israel spurned her true husband, God. Exodus 20v1-3, Hosea 1v2
You can only commit adultery of course - if you are already married to someone.
And that was true for Israel and God. Hundreds of years before this God rescued Israel from Egypt, brought them to Mt. Sinai and entered a relationship with them – he basically married them.
God said to them - “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, you shall have no other gods besides me”. In other words – I’ve rescued you – so you now belong to me – in an exclusive relationship as my bride and I’m your husband.
But Hosea 1v2, Israel has departed from the Lord. She has spurned, she has left her husband, gone outside that exclusive relationship.
How has she done that? Well secondly on the sheet –
- By selling herself to other gods/idols
The second half of this book, chapters 4-14, describes how Israel has worshipped idols. So she’s been unfaithful to her God – by treating other things as god.
In fact Israel had two other lovers.
First of all there was Baal. Baal was one of the Canaanite gods – the god of nature, or fertility. Let me read some examples:
- Baal: 4v12-14; 13v1-2
4:12-14 READ. Wooden idols and sacrifices on the mountaintops is talking about worshipping Baal.
Or 13:1,2 READ.
They were meant to worship God - Yahweh – but they had a god on the side – Baal.
- Assyria & Egypt: 7v11; 12v1
However, it wasn’t just Baal in the area of nature and fertility. Israel had also been unfaithful in the world of politics. She’d got into bed with Assyria and Egypt.
Assyria was the superpower in the area, and Israel was scared of being invaded. So to protect herself Israel formed an alliance with Egypt – so Egypt would protect her. At the same time she paid tributes to Assyria so she wouldn’t invade.
For instance; 7:11 READ. 12:1 READ.
- This adultery is actually prostitution, 8v9; 9v1; 2v5
However there is more going on here than just adultery. Let me read 8:9 READ.
Now selling yourself to a lover – isn’t just adultery – that’s prostitution.
Even more explicit is 9:1 READ.
The threshing floor is where they sorted the harvest. And Israel thought she got paid there in some way.
Have a look at chapter 2:5 – this makes it clearer. READ.
I said Baal was a fertility God – he was an early version of the health and wealth gospel. Come to Baal and he’ll make you rich and prosperous – large family, good crops, glowing health. That’s what he promised. And so that’s why Israel worshipped him – she wanted prosperity – so went to Baal.
But God says that makes you like a prostitute. You’re selling your worship to Baal – because you think he pays you in grain and wine and oil.
Similarly give Egypt some gifts – sell yourself to her – and she’ll pay you in protection and security.
That is what made these lovers so attractive. It wasn’t that Baal was a really impressive god, or that Egypt was a great nation – and they couldn’t resist falling for them. They were attractive because they offered something – they offered to pay you. And Israel found what they offered irresistible.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the film “Indecent Proposal”. Pretty old – early 90s. It stars Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson. They are a young couple, rich in love but short of cash when recession hits. So they head for Las Vegas to gamble their last $5000.
There they meet Robert Redford – he’s enormously wealthy, throwing around his millions, but looking for love. And so he makes a proposal – one million dollars, for one night with Demi Moore.
Now they refuse of course. But as money gets shorter and shorter, they begin to think – it’s only one night. It won’t affect our marriage. It’s only my body, she says, he’ll never have my soul. And one million dollars – just think what we could do with that. And in the end they agree – and she leaves to spend the night with him.
As soon as she goes Woody knows it was a mistake, he runs after her but it’s too late, the helicopter has just taken off. She returns the next morning, but it’s not the same. They carry on together for a while but in the end his jealousy explodes – they argue – they split up.
It was an indecent proposal – obviously wrong – but in the end it was just too attractive – because of what he offered to pay.
Israel find Egypt and Baal just too tempting because of what they offer to pay. The promise of prosperity from Baal, and protection from Egypt - just too attractive to resist.
Just to complete the picture – how did Israel sell herself to these lovers? Demi Moore gave her body – what did Israel give to Baal, or Egypt?
What they actually did was to bow down in front of an idol, or to sign a treaty – but the point is they did that believing Baal or Egypt would give them what they wanted. In other words they put their trust in Baal – to provide for them. They put their confidence in Egypt – to protect them. That’s how they made love to them – that was the unfaithfulness – they sold them their faith.
The faith that belonged to God.
He had promised to provide for them and to protect them.
But instead of trusting him Israel thought, food, crops, international politics. They aren’t really God’s thing. You need a specialist god to help you with that. Look what Baal offers – look what Egypt could do for us.
So they sold their faith – they gave what belonged to their God to another – for what they thought they would be paid.
In that film ‘Indecent Proposal’, Demi Moore and Woody – they convince themselves this one night won’t really matter. It will be harmless. But then as soon as they’ve done it – it’s like their eyes have been opened – see the true nature of what they have done – see it wasn’t harmless or normal – but that it was prostitution. It was giving what belongs to your husband – to another – and it is horrific. It is painful, damaging betrayal.
Israel thought what she did – didn’t really matter. Worshipping Baal, going to Egypt – it was harmless. It was easy for them to think that – because all they were doing was copying the people around them, just did what everyone else was doing. It looked normal.
And so the start of Hosea’s message is to take the lid of their actions – to take the lid of their hearts – and open their eyes to what they are really doing. Show them that what looked so normal – was actually horrible unfaithfulness. They are spurning their true husband. Prostituting themselves – to another god.
Let’s finish by thinking about us today.
We could talk about all people today. The Bible talks about everyone being made for an exclusive relationship with God – where they worship him alone. And yet everyone treats other things as God. So you could say everyone is spiritually adulterous – unfaithful to the God who made them.
But this language of adultery is used particularly of Christians.
Christians can be adulterous, James 4v4-5
Because as Christians – we’ve come back into relationship with God through Jesus. And the Bible describes that as a marriage relationship. We’ll think about this more tomorrow – but that means as Christians, we can be adulterous.
So for instance James 4:4,5 READ.
By ‘the world’ he means all of life with God excluded. Could be money, career, possessions, relationships, popularity, pleasures. Things that aren’t wrong in themselves. But, if we exclude God, they are ‘the world’.
When he says friendship with the world he’s talking about putting our faith in those things for what they will pay.
The promotion – promises success. The relationship – promises fulfilment. Money promises security. The new home or possessions promises happiness.
We should trust God for those things. Yes we can enjoy things in the world that he gives us, he can use those gifts as the way he gives us pleasures and fulfilments. But ultimately he is the one who gives security and meaning and fulfilment.
James is talking about putting our trust in the world – things without God - putting our faith in them – instead of God. Because of what they seem to offer – what they will pay us.
It’s easy to do. It looks normal. Everyone around us does it. To get your meaning from your job. To seek identity in your relationships. To look for fulfilment in your comforts and holidays. Everyone does that – so it looks normal. But like with Israel God is taking the lid of our lives and showing what is really going on.
Trust those things in the world – instead of God – make them your god – and you are being unfaithful, adulterous to God.
That’s the big picture – but to give a bit more detail – we need to see the true nature of sin, and the true nature of God.
- True nature of sin
I think it’s easy to think that sin – doing something wrong – is a matter of breaking the rules. Or disobeying God’s law. But if you keep the rules – if you do things right – then you haven’t sinned. That misses the true nature of sin.
God is saying sin is profoundly personal. It’s about unfaithfulness to him.
Let’s say you do break a rule - you tell a lie – exaggerate the truth. You do it to look good. That isn’t just breaking a rule. That is worshipping the god of popularity. You’re giving that your trust to that god thinking it will pay you with stronger friends and a better reputation. And that will fulfil you. Rather than trusting God for fulfilment and the friendships he gives me. So it’s much more than breaking a rule – the heart of it is unfaithfulness to our God.
And even if you keep the rules you can still sin. Say you work hard at your job – doesn’t look like you’re doing anything wrong – not breaking any rules. Only you do it because you find your security and significance in your career. That is where you identity lies. So you give your faith to your job to provide you with meaning. The faith that should be in God.
Hosea is showing us the heart of sin is about faithfulness or unfaithfulness to God.
- True nature of God
Secondly we should see the true nature of God. It’s easy to think that God isn’t really affected by our sin. I do something wrong – God is so big, awesome – it’s easy to think he’s immune to what I do.
But God is showing us here how our sin affects him. We tell a lie to be more popular – that is worshipping another god - and that breaks his heart. He is showing here, our unfaithfulness makes him a wounded lover. He is great and awesome. But he’s also personal – and loves – and so is wounded by us.
That is what Hosea is brought to experience in his own marriage. As his wife betrays him, he is brought to feel how God feels for his people – the wounded, broken heart, of a spurned husband.
That is how God feels about what we do wrong. We’re in relationship with him, so sin is personal, it wounds him and breaks his heart.
Now we’re going to go on from this to see how God reacts to this – see what answers there are – so this is just the start. But we need to start by seeing true nature of sin and God.
What are the most common ‘rival lovers’ to God that are around today? What do they offer to pay for our worship? Which lovers do we find most tempting?
How does Hosea change how you think and feel about sin?
How does Hosea change your view of God and what he thinks of what we do wrong?
How is that a helpful way of thinking and feeling?