Most people know me as a New Testament scholar. To keep my reading of Scripture balanced, however, I do most of my devotions from the Old Testament. Indeed, I have encountered God especially deeply in prophetic books such as Hosea and Jeremiah, where God laments over his people who have wandered far from him. God intended for his people to have an intimate relationship with him, a covenant relationship that the Bible compares with marriage.
In Hosea, we hear God’s broken heart, his longing for his covenant people, who were so often unfaithful to him. And they actually turned against him, the very one who helped them (Hos. 13:9). God later lamented through the prophet Jeremiah, “My people have committed two wrongs: They abandoned me, the spring of flowing waters, and have dug out for themselves water pits—broken water pits that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:13).
Yet God, even in his anger, remained faithful to Israel. In his jealous love, God declared that he would strip them of what they valued, the gifts they wrongly attributed to false gods, so they could learn to depend solely on him (Hos. 2:8–13).
Gripped by God’s love, I preached one of my first sermons—as a college student—on Hosea 11:8. Here, in the midst of pronouncing judgment on his people, God’s voice breaks with his love for them: “How can I do to you like I did to Admah and Zeboiim?” Admah and Zeboyim were, like Sodom and Gomorrah, cities that God had overturned in his anger and burned (Deut. 29:23). Not wanting to treat Israel like he had treated these cities, God cries, “My heart is overturned within me; all my compassion grows warm!” God chooses to endure the overturning and burning within himself and eventually promises to lead his people out of exile (Hos. 11:8–11).
God’s love for his unfaithful people is demonstrated concretely in Hosea’s marriage to an unfaithful woman (1:2). Hosea eventually divorces her for her unfaithfulness, signifying God’s judgment on Israel (2:1–3). Though scholars debate whether Hosea took back his unfaithful wife in chapter 3, I believe he did, in order to portend Israel’s restoration.
After finishing college, I performed a one-person play based on the story of Hosea, which I did time and again in subsequent years when teaching on the book. What I never expected, however, was that part of Hosea’s story would eventually become my own.
Rejected by My Lover
In my last semester of seminary, my wife began to talk of turning away from God, and her entire behavior quickly changed. In prayer, I sensed God telling me that she was being unfaithful. I took that to mean she was being unfaithful to him. But when she and her best friend’s husband both disappeared one weekend, I realized the awful truth. Upon returning a few days later, she announced that she was going to leave me and marry her best friend’s husband.
The two things that mattered most to me were my marriage and my ministry. Now it seemed that both were shattered beyond hope. At the time, my denomination offered little hope of ministry for those whose marriages had ended. (Thankfully, they have since changed their policy.)
I was devastated. I no longer felt God’s presence. I couldn’t pray, except only to utter Jesus’s name repeatedly. For years I had secretly feared that if my faith and sense of God’s presence were shattered, I would lapse back into my youthful atheism. Now I was too broken and numb to feel anything. I needed to be around other people to feed off their will to live. Yet somehow I could doubt neither God nor his presence.