Faithfulness, or “fidelity,” is our fruit for today. When I think of this fruit, the book of Hosea and the man Hosea come to mind. If you’re not familiar with the story of Hosea, he was one of the later prophets in the Old Testament. His prophecies were given during the time leading up to the scattering of the northern kingdom of Israel.
But what I find most interesting about Hosea is not specifically the prophecies themselves, but how those prophecies relate to Hosea’s own personal life, and how his personal life illustrates the prophecies he gives.
This is how the book of Hosea begins:
A startling beginning to a book of prophecy: a wedding. The circumstances of this marriage are odd; the woman he marries, named Gomer, is described as a prostitute or an adulteress, and he marries her at God’s command. God explains this strange command to Hosea by saying, in essence, “You are going to marry an unfaithful woman, because the kingdom of Israel has been unfaithful to me.”
In other words, the prophet’s life is to be a painful metaphor for God’s love for a faithless people. When I read these verses, I have great sympathy for Hosea – his whole life is upended because of his service to God. If he were not God’s prophet, would he have married this particular woman, and undergone the griefs he experienced?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know this: every one of us who loves, loves someone who is simultaneously not only broken and sinful, but also beautifully made in the image of God. Hosea was no different in this regard, and whether he loved his unfaithful wife when he first married her, later (in Hosea 3:1) we discover that he does indeed love her.
You can be sure that the circumstances of Hosea’s marriage were well known to all who listened to his words. I can imagine that whenever he spoke, people who listened to him had in the back of their minds, “This is the man that married that woman.”
Hosea’s love for Gomer leads him through a great trial: after she bears him children, she returns to her old ways, and is unfaithful to him with other men, and abandons him and the children.
Perhaps those who knew of Hosea’s circumstances thought, “Good riddance,” or maybe, “Poor man, he’s got to raise those children without his wife, but he’s still better off without her.”
Those who thought that way were about to be very surprised at what happened next. Listen to what God says in chapter 3:
Here God sends Hosea off on what seems like a fool’s errand: “You love your wife, so go get her back from her adulterous relationships!”
Hosea reports his actions in the next verses:
He goes out in search of his wife who abandoned him, and when he finds Gomer, she is not in the best of circumstances. There are a couple theories about her situation: many believe that when Hosea found her she was with a new lover who would not let her leave him unless Hosea paid a price for her.
Others suggest that she went back into prostitution, was arrested, and put in the slave market where the standard price would be 30 shekels of silver.
Either way, Hosea finds that he cannot take his wife home with him unless he pays for her. He has already, presumably, paid a dowry price for her when he first married her, and now, if he wants her back again, he must pay a second price.
Can you imagine the neighbors, and what they would say to him? “She’s not worth it, Hosea. It’s just throwing good money after bad. Not to mention the shame of having to pay for your own wife to come back and live with you!”
If you can imagine these neighbors and their reactions, it should be easy to also imagine their reactions when Hosea turns around and explains to them, “Just as a I have loved this woman who cheated on me, and who you deem worthless, so God has loved you even though you have committed spiritual adultery by chasing after false gods and ignoring your covenant with Him. Just as I have willingly paid a price for her, and bought her back, so God will willingly pay the price for you. Just as I have remained faithful to her in the midst of her unfaithfulness, so God will remain faithful to you, even as you have been unfaithful to Him.”
Hosea’s sad and painful story would have given his neighbors a powerful illustration to help them understand God’s love for them. And not just for his neighbors; even today we read the story of Hosea and we appreciate anew God’s great faithfulness to us. Just as Hosea paid the price to recover his bride, so Christ paid the price – in blood – for His broken and sinful creation to be recovered.
My favorite section of the book of Hosea comes in chapter six. In this chapter, Hosea calls to his neighbors in the northern kingdom and pleads with them.
“We have betrayed God, just as my wife betrayed me,” Hosea is saying, “and we have suffered for our betrayal, but God still loves us, and He will heal our wounds and repair what is broken in us.”
Then comes verses 3 and 4:
In these verses, Hosea contrasts God’s faithfulness with the nation’s (and really, all of humanity’s) unfaithfulness. He says that we are like a cloud that comes in the morning, but leaves no rain – just a little bit of dew on the grass that accomplishes nothing and quickly evaporates. We are a fickle cloud that promises rain but gives nothing.
That reminds me of a verse in the book of Proverbs:
Imagine a farmer watching his crops dry out in the drought, and then he feels the wind stirring and sees a cloud forming. He begins to get his hopes up that the rain will come and water his crops. But alas, his hopes are in vain, for the cloud and wind pass by without a drop of rain. If you can imagine the disappointment and frustration of that poor farmer, you have a glimpse of the disappointment and frustration you cause when you are unfaithful to those around you, or to God Himself.
But God is not like us. He is not a fickle, rainless cloud. Hosea 6:3 tells us first that God is as faithful as the dawn; we can count on Him as surely as we can count on the sun rising. True, the sun is sometimes hidden from our view, but we never doubt that it is there.
He’s also compared to the spring rains. To understand this, we need to understand that the growing season in Israel was opposite from ours: planting was done in the fall and harvest was in the springtime. The farmers would eagerly await the spring rains to give the crops that one last burst of growth before harvest. So when Hosea says of God, “He will come to us…as the spring rains that water the earth,” what he is saying to us is, “Just when we need Him most, God comes to us.”
What faithfulness! What beauty of character. And we see that same character exhibited in our Savior, when, with unwavering determination, He set His path toward Jerusalem and the cross. Though the end of His journey would bring Him to great pain and sacrifice, for our sakes He never wavered. Just when we needed Him most, in the fulness of time, He came and paid the price for us.
The passage I read at the beginning of last week’s message reiterates God’s faithfulness to us. Lamentations 3:22-23 says,
Make no mistake about this: there’s a reason that the words “mercy” and “faithfulness” are back-to-back here. Just as Hosea’s wife failed him, so too it is guaranteed that we will fail God. Again, and again. But again, and again, He will extend mercy to us in our sin and weakness. As we return over and over to dip from the well of His forgiveness, we understand His faithfulness, for the well never runs dry.
So we begin to appreciate this great faithfulness of God, and we understand more fully what He calls us to when He tells us, through Paul, “The fruit of the spirit is faithfulness.” We are to live lives of fidelity. Faithful to our spouses, faithful to our children, faithful to one another and to Almighty God. When we say we will do something, we follow through. When others need us most, that is when we are there for them. No matter how faithless another might be, we never abandon faithfulness.
This idea of never abandoning can be seen in the book of James, where the apostle also makes mention of the spring rains. Listen to these words from James 5:7:
How easy it would be for the farmer to give up as he sees months of work drying up in the hot sun. Yet he patiently sticks with it, waiting for the rains that will make his crops bloom and grow.
As you consider these things, I hope you will see more and more how so many of these fruits are interconnected; God’s faithfulness is a result of His goodness, His love, and His patience. The same will be true of us as the fruit of the Spirit grow in our lives.
The life of faithfulness is not an easy one; people will disappoint you, fail you, hurt you, and at times you will want to throw in the towel. In those times, love, goodness, and patience will come together, laying a strong foundation and strength for your faithfulness.
Lord, help us to follow your example of faithfulness. Where our own self-love, our inner heart issues, and our impatience tempt us toward faithlessness, we confess to you our brokenness and sinfulness. Forgive us these failings and re-form our hearts in the image of your own faithfulness. Amen