Parable of the king who loved a lowly maiden
Suppose once upon a time there was a great king who surpassed all other kings in wisdom, in righteous noble character, in handsomeness, in power and wealth and fame. Rulers of other countries bowed before him and paid tribute to him. No one on earth dared breath a word against him or resist his will, for he had the power to exalt any to great heights any who pleased him and to crush any who opposed him. Every treasure and luxury, everything money could buy was available to him… a king great and marvelous in every way.
And suppose this great king was in love with a poor peasant class young lady that he knew growing up, but she was oblivious to it. She had no idea that the king even took notice of her. And the king wanted this young lady to be his wife, but only if she would truly love him in return, and not just pretend to love him because of the wealth and status and things would give her. The king knew that if he summoned her up to his palace to meet him or went and visited her in person and tried to date her like a normal couple, she would know that he’s the king and, like every woman in the land, she would not resist his will, she’d do anything he asked and pretend to love him, even if she didn’t really love him. And so the king thought about how he could win her heart and see that she loved him for him and not just for the things she could get from him.
So he decided to send her a package without his name containing some little gifts, nothing too big so she wouldn’t realize it comes from somebody very rich, just some perfume, some coffee, her favorite candy, and a note that said, “You have a secret admirer. I know much about you. I have cared about you for a long time. Would you be willing to get to know me to see if maybe we could have a future together? If so please write back and sent to this address.” And so she wrote back and thanked him for the gifts and said, “Please tell me about yourself.” And so a correspondence began. And every time he sent to her he sent a little gift. He informed her that he was her age, he’s never been married, and he’s keeping himself pure for marriage. He told her about his likes and dislikes, loves and hates, favorite foods and books and hobbies, things about his personality, what he likes about her. He tried to explain his morals, and how highly he values honesty, kindness, compassion, mercy, humility, faithfulness. In their correspondence she began to see for certain aspects of his character. In one letter to him she mentioned difficulties she was having at work with a co-worker who wronged and insulted her. He wrote back suggesting forgiveness and changing that co-worker’s heart toward her by doing something kind for that co-worker. In another letter she mentioned a neighbor of hers that she’s never really liked and now he’s sick and cannot afford to go to a doctor. And then with the next package he sent her some money with instructions to give the money to that neighbor that he might see a doctor. So she began to see his heart, the kind of man he is.
Eventually the king felt that she should know him well enough and he asked her in a letter if she would marry him. She wrote back, “How can I commit myself to someone that I have never seen? I need to meet you in person first.” He wrote back, “Please just trust me on this. You cannot see me until the wedding, but I promise that the sight of me and my home will not be disappointing.” Well, it angered her. She wrote back a scolding letter insulting him at the way that he was approaching this, and said that she’s not interested anymore and she cut off correspondence. She went and dated other men, and slept with other men.
A time came when she fell on hard times. She was injured and became unable to work and lost her job and was unable to pay her rent and feared that she will be homeless. She went to her landlord to beg for patience. But to her great surprise the landlord said, “Somebody paid your rent this month.” She asked, “Who?” He said, “I don’t know, but this note came with the money for your rent,” and he handed the note her. She read, “I’m still here. I still love you. And my proposal still stands.” She wrote back to thank him but said that she still could not commit to him if she couldn’t see him.
She looked for a new job. The jobs she found didn’t pay as well as she liked. She saw she could make good money if she would sell her body as a prostitute. She decided money that important to her. And of course in that kind of work she surrounded herself with people who influenced her into other evils. She was defiled and her face began show the effects of the drugs and shame. And yet on occasion she would still receive a little gift and a note from this kind-hearted mysterious one who incredibly still loved her.
Well, I know the parable is inadequate to fully illustrate how it is between God and us. The parallels break down in many ways. But it’s a bit of a sense I think of how it is between God and people and why God keeps Himself hidden from us.
It was the book of Hosea in our Bible reading this week that got me thinking of God loving people like a great king in love with a lowly and unworthy woman. And when people accept God’s proposal and say, “Yes, I’ll commit myself to you,” He loves them like a man his fiancée, or like a husband his new wife. If you’ve been married, do you remember how you felt about your fiancée? Do you remember how intensely you loved him or her when you were newlyweds? Can you believe that the Almighty Creator, the maker of Glacier National Park, the maker of the oceans, the one who hung the stars, the giver of all life, is in love with these specs on this 3rd rock from the sun, with us. He doesn’t just love us like you love your pets or like you love your buddies, but as intensely as a good husband his new wife. There’s a parable in the first few chapters of Hosea that suggests that God loves you and me like that. Paul prayed for Christians in the Ephesian letter that they might be able to know and comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, which, paradoxically he says, surpasses knowledge. In other words His love for us is really beyond what we can wrap our minds around. It’s incredible to me that He even takes notice of us, let alone loves us like that.
God wants us to marry Him. God wants us to be with Him and to share all that He has with Him forever, but only if we will love Him too, and not just pretend to love Him for the wealth and power and the things He’ll give us. Do you remember the great debate in heaven between God and Satan about the man Job on earth? Satan said, “Does Job serve God for nothing?” In other words “God, Job only serves You because it pays him, because of how you bless him. He doesn’t really love You.” And so Job was tested to prove Satan wrong. People like Job is what God is after, people who love Him too.
God can’t just invite us up to heaven to meet Him and propose to us, nor come visit us in person in all His glory and majesty and propose to us, because then everybody would see beyond the possibility of any doubt that He is and how rich and powerful and glorious He is and how great it would be for us to be married to Him and everybody would say, “Yes, of course, I’ll be yours forever,” even those who won’t ever really love Him. Scripture says that on the day when we all see Him every knee will bow. But God doesn’t want people to have to be coerced to bow. He wants them to want to, to want to serve Him, to be eager to please Him, to love Him. I think that has something to do with why God keeps Himself hidden from us. There’s probably more to it than that. But that’s part of it. Unlike the king in the parable though He does tell us how rich He is beyond what we can imagine and how great it will be for us to be married to Him, and makes it reasonable for us to believe it, but He leaves enough room for doubt so that those who don’t really want to serve Him, who don’t really want to walk in His ways in life, will choose not to believe it. They will choose to believe something else that allows them to be comfortable living the way that they want to live.
So God keeps His distance. But God sends to people gifts that say, “You have a secret admirer.” The beauty of this place we live, the variety of food and drink and sights and smells and music, all the things we enjoy, this all came from someone, had to have, someone who apparently cares about us. We can discern some of His nature and character in what has been made and the kind blessings He gives us, and in what our consciences that He’s given us tell us some about what is right and wrong. And He’s sent us notes through the ages that we have collected in the Bible about Him and His love for us.
God proposes to people. In this day and age He proposes through the gospel. In gospel God says, “I want to share My life with you. And yes, I know all about your prostitution and the things you’ve done, but still I want to share My life with you. I have paid the great price to make this marriage possible. Will you commit yourself to Me, will you give Me your highest affections and loyalty and keep yourself to Me and to Me only so long as you live? Will you be betrothed to Me until the day I call you from this world for the wedding?” And when we’re baptized into Christ it’s like we say “Yes I will” and we put the engagement ring on our finger.
So the church is pictured in the NT as the bride of Christ, betrothed to Christ, to God, to be wed one day. I Peter 1:8 describes Christians this way, “though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him [you trust Him], you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” Though we haven’t seen Him yet, we love and trust Him, and joyfully look forward to the day when we will be united with Him to be forever more.
In the OT the nation of Israel was pictured as God’s bride. Israel was a poor lowly prostitute sort of people in Egypt who had relations with all sorts of different gods. But God wooed her and won her and at Mt. Sinai, after He brought her out of Egypt, He proposed to her. He said, “Will you make a covenant with Me? Will you be My people and I will be your God? Will you have no other gods besides Me? Will you worship and serve Me only? And I will make you a holy nation and kingdom of priests and take care of you forever. Will you have this special relationship with Me?” And they said, “Yes we will,” and sort of accepted the ring on their finger by sacrificing bulls and pouring half the blood on the altar and slinging half the blood on the people, because the exchanging of blood like that was how they sealed covenants, sealed deals, back then.
But then once we commit ourselves to God and take the ring on our finger, what is it like between God and us? In the first few chapters of the book of Hosea there’s a parable about what it was like between God and His bride, Israel, in the 8th century B.C. And God did not tell this parable with just words, but He had his prophet Hosea act out this parable in his own life.
Parable of Hosea and Gomer
Hosea 1:2, is interpreted different ways, but the way I interpret it, Hosea was minding his own business one day and God said to him, “Hosea, I want you to go find a woman of harlotry, a loose woman, a promiscuous woman, a prostitute maybe, and marry her.” And I imagine Hosea said, “You want me to find who and do what? Seriously?” “Find a woman of harlotry and marry her, and have children with her, but realize that some of the children will not be yours, they will be children of harlotry. Marry a woman who will be unfaithful to you, Hosea.” “And why do you want me to do this?” “Because I’ve married Israel and she commits flagrant harlotry against Me.” God perhaps wanted His prophet to feel how He feels. But also He wanted the people to have this living vivid illustration how it is between Him and them and the awfulness of what they are doing. He wanted to Israel to see that when they go and worship other gods He feels as a husband does when the love of his life goes to be with other men.
Sometimes Christians don’t realize we do likewise to God. James 4:4 was written to some such Christians who sang songs of adoration to God on Sundays, but also were in love with money and possessions and with their position at work and with their hobbies and just vain worldly stuff, and they were at times more controlled by their love and desire for these other things than they were by the will of God. And James 4:4 was written to open their eyes to what they were doing to God. It says, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world [or loving world, when we put other things before God, when we give ourselves to those things against the will of God] is hostility toward God?” It’s adultery against Him. God wanted Israel to see it. And He wants us to see it. So, “Hosea, I want you to marry a woman who will do that kind of thing to you.”
Hosea feared God and so Hosea said, “Ok, I’ll do it.” He went into the red-light district of Israel, which was probably most of Israel at this time, because the worship of the Canaanite gods Baal and Asherah was prevalent and part of the worship of those gods was cultic prostitution. So women of harlotry were all over. He found a woman like this named Gomer. Wooed her, won her and married her. Soon they had a son together. The text makes it clear that this boy is Hosea’s biologically. It says “she bore him [Hosea] a son.” But when she became pregnant again and bore a daughter, the text just says “she gave birth to a daughter.” It doesn’t say it was Hosea’s. Then when she became pregnant again and bore another son, again it doesn’t say it was Hosea’s like the first child. It appears these second 2 children are the children of harlotry that God said Hosea would have. Gomer was repeatedly unfaithful to Hosea. The text doesn’t give us details about what it was like at home between Hosea and Gomer. If she started coming home late at night and he suspected. Or if Hosea came home when she wasn’t expecting and caught her with someone. Doesn’t tell us about the heartbreak or pleading with her or tears or struggles. It leaves us to just imagine. For some of you it’s easy to imagine because you’ve been there in Hosea’s shoes. Can you believe God feels like that about us? It seems that Hosea was an usually patient forgiving husband, because he gives her multiple chances. He sticks it out with her and tries to make it work with her through this whole time in which she bears 2 children by other men. It’s a picture of God. God gives second chances, third chances, fourth chances, fifth chances, sixth chances and so forth. In Hosea’s day God is still preaching to His people through Hosea and Isaiah and Micah and Amos calling them back to Him and promising forgiveness if they will return, despite how unworthy they are of that forgiveness.
But the names that God tells Hosea to give to his children are names that announce that the Israelites’ opportunity to be taken back by God is nearing an end. The time is soon coming when God will no longer give them a chance to repent. God tells Hosea to name his first born, “Jezreel,” which would be kind of like naming you kid today, “Pearl Harbor.” Jezreel was a place where some bloody atrocities had taken place in Israel’s history that God promised to avenge, and it was a place where God said that Israel was about to be punished, delivered into the hands of their enemies. For the second born, God said, “Name her Lo-ruhamah,” which mean not pitied, not loved, not obtained compassion. “Because I will no longer have compassion on Israel. I will not forgive them.” And for the third born God said, “Name him Lo-ammi,” which means not my people, “Because Israel is no longer My people and I am not their God.” Can you imagine Hosea opening the back door of his house and yelling “Pearl harbor! Not pitied! Not My People! Time to eat!” But in the speaking of their names, the message of Hosea the prophet, was reiterated. Time is running out for you Israel. God is about fed up and through with you. And you will have no mercy, though it breaks His heart. Can you imagine meeting one of these kids on the street, “What’s your name little girl?” “Not pitied.” “What?!” That would start a conversation. So the message would be reiterated through the names of these kids.
We get more of the story of Hosea and Gomer in ch3. Apparently during the time that elapsed between the events of ch1 and ch3, Gomer left Hosea to go be with other lovers. Presumably she left her kids too, so Hosea was a single dad with 3 kids. It’s little ambiguous in the text, but it seems that Gomer’s lovers grew tired of her and cast her aside like an old rag, and she became impoverished and had sell herself in slavery to survive. It’s like what God sometimes has to allow to happen to people. He has to allow them to go ruin themselves and make a total mess of their lives in sin before they will turn back to Him in repentance. Then the Lord told Hosea, “Go buy her back and love her again, just as I love the sons of Israel though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes,” I guess a food they’d eat in pagan worship festivities. According to Exodus 21:32 the typical price for a slave was 30 shekels of silver. I suspect the asking price for Gomer was 30 shekels of silver. But it seems that Hosea didn’t have 30 shekels of silver. And so what he did was he paid the 15 shekels of silver that he had and then paid the rest in barely. A homer and half of barely from what I understand would be worth about 15 shekels. So he clears out his cupboards to buy back his unfaithful ungrateful unworthy wife. And the tells her they’re not going to share a bed together for while. He’s going to give her a period of time to test whether or not she will be faithful to him. And God says, “Israel, this is like Me toward you. Yes, I’m not going to wait much longer. Yes, the time is approaching when it will be finally and irreversibly over between us. But you don’t have to let it get to that point. If you will but repent and love Me and be faithful to Me, I will gladly take you back.” He has this incredible undying love for people.
Can you believe how the God of heaven and earth loves you and me? And the big question of life is, will you love Him over all others, will you love Him more than the gifts that He gives to us, and will you put Him first until He calls us to see His face and all His glory and to be with Him forever?
– James Williams