By Joe was a young preacher in eastern Kentucky. One night, he was driving home from a revival meeting in the rain. Through the swipe of the wipers and glare of the headlights, he saw a figure hunched against the wind, walking alongside the guardrail. He thought it was a woman, but he couldn’t tell. Being the sort he was, Joe didn’t have to think about it. He slowed down, rolled down the passenger side window and hollered, “Hey! Want a ride?” She jerked as though shot. It was a woman all right. Evidently, the last thing she expected was for someone to stop.
“I say,” he started, before she stepped through the puddles, threw open the door and got in the seat beside Joe. She was sopping wet, her short black hair plastered to her head. Her imitation sheepskin jacket sodden, hanging on a body a size or two smaller than it was. Was it just the weird colors reflected off the oily road, or did she have a black eye? Joe couldn’t help staring at her, his mouth full of questions he couldn’t ask.
She looked out the windshield and said, “P-put the heater on.” Her teeth were starting to chatter.
Joe pushed a button, pulled a lever, and warm air started to blow. “Where are you going on such a night?”
“They’s a truck stop up ahead. They got beds in back. You c’n take me up air.” She still hadn’t looked at him.
He wasn’t sure what to do. He hated the thought of dropping her at a truck stop; but he got back on the road, taking it slow, trying to figure out what to say next. “Got any money?”
She finally looked at him. “Yer suppos’t have the money, Honey.” She shook her head and laughed.
Suddenly it dawned on him what, if not who, this woman was. Joe said, “How ‘bout I just buy you a meal?”
She looked at the big black Bible on the dashboard. “Suit y’self. Long’s I’m out o’ the rain.”
That was Joe’s introduction to Norma. He took her to Riley’s a mile or so ahead. It was a hole-in-the-wall with smoke so thick you could eat a slice with supper. The hamburgers were greasy, but hot and good. She reminded him there were beds in the back. He said, “I’ll buy you one for the night. Just you.” She laughed when he said that. She was skinny. She was probably younger than she looked. She had a black eye…but that laugh—my goodness, that laugh.
He wound up taking her home with him, told her he was taking her to the doctor the next day. She didn’t protest. She shrugged and said, “Yer muh best bet tonight, I reckon.” He fixed his bed up for her. He slept on the couch.
Joe and Norma were married about three months later. It was a small ceremony performed by an old Bible college buddy in an empty, little church. He didn’t tell his folks. She didn’t have folks to tell. If you’d asked him why he did this, he would’ve said quite honestly, “I don’t know.” If you’d asked her, she would’ve just laughed.
In short order, they had three kids: Jesse, Lois and Tom. Jesse and Lois favored Joe. Tom didn’t look anything like Joe. When Joe had time, he’d look at the other two and wonder, not that he had a lot of time to wonder. Norma didn’t have much patience with the children. Joe changed a lot more diapers than he thought he’d have to, fixed a lot more meals than he thought he’d have to. One time, Joe had to take Jesse to the emergency room. Norma said he’d fallen off the changing table, but Joe wondered if that was true. When he was home, things were OK. When he was gone, he heard things about her…strange men at his door. She denied it. He started turning down preaching trips.
One night, returning from a sudden-death situation in the home of a church member, he pulled into the driveway. He had a funny feeling. He got out of the car. He could hear the children crying. She was gone. She hadn’t taken many clothes, but that imitation sheepskin jacket she’d had on when they’d first met—that shabby old thing, that dad-blamed jacket he’d told her to get rid of, was gone; and the babies cried and cried…
What does it do to someone when someone else takes everything they’ve got to give—all the faith, all the hope, all the love—and crumples it like an empty carton and throws it away? What does it do to someone when the right person turns out to be the wrong person?
That’s how country music was invented. “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.” Sometimes it’s hard to be a man, too. “I’ve never seen a night so long when time goes crawlin’ by. The moon just went behind a cloud to hide its face and cry.”
First, you wonder. Then you worry. Then you get handed your heart on a platter. Then you get mad. Real mad…
It wasn’t easy on anybody during those days. Joe had a hard time preaching his sermons. A couple of times he just stood there in the pulpit, a man who didn’t seem to know where he was. He forgot to make an important call or two. The church ladies offered to help, and he relied on them some. Mostly he just stayed home and fed Jesse, bathed Lois and held Tom so tight he cried.
He couldn’t keep from talking about Norma to anybody who’d listen. He’d take her back. No, he wouldn’t. He hoped she got what she deserved! He wished she’d been there to see Jesse climb on the trike all by himself. He loved her. He hated her.
One Sunday afternoon while the kids were napping, he sat on the couch in the rare quiet and glanced at a book beside him. He hadn’t picked up the Bible just to read it in a long time. He opened it at random and read:
“Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts. Otherwise I will strip her naked and make her as bare as on the day she was born; I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst. I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery” (Hosea 2:2-4).
Joe couldn’t see any more words. Blind with tears, he threw the Bible across the room.
What does it do to a person when the one he loves betrays him? Maybe he talks to God about it; but that’s a funny thing to do, isn’t it? God’s not a person, is He? How would He know what it’s like?
Many people think of God as an impersonal force, similar to the law of gravity. In the Bible, God’s much more like a mother, who when confronted with a child who’s painted his baby sister blue, stole money from the store, got drunk and wrecked the car, says, “What do you think you are doing?” She’s not asking for information.
In the Bible, God says things such as, “Burn your babies in the fire? I never told you to do that!” He seems amazed, appalled by what the people He created did. Some of the most poignant stuff in the Bible is not the human condition but the God-condition:
“The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6).
In the Bible, God sometimes talks as would a wounded lover, a man whose newlywed bride, who’d promised to love and honor Him till death, flirts with the best man at the wedding reception. His beloved Israel has thrown herself at any god in pants. That’s the God who spoke through and lived through Hosea. Hosea had Gomer. God had Israel. Neither was lucky in love.
Ever listen to a fight between a husband and wife? Not pleasant, is it? Get between them? You’d sooner stick your hand in a hornet’s nest! That’s how Hosea sounds:
The accusations: “Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink” (Hosea 2:5).
The threats: “Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them” (Hosea 2:6).
The hope: “the stubborn, unreasonable hope that things can change. Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now” (v. 2:6b).
Then it starts all over again—the shouts, the door-slamming, the pain. It’s all there in Hosea. It’s all there in God because God loves His people and just wants them to love Him in return. That’s all. In fact, when they leave Him, He is only too ready to take them back.
“The LORD said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.’ For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days” (Hosea 3).
Joe thought he was over her. So, when the invitation to preach at a meeting a couple hours away came, he accepted it. He left the kids with his mom. As it happened, he wasn’t far from another church of his acquaintance, one he’d preached at about four years earlier. On his way home, in the distance he could see the lights of a certain truck stop.
If you’d asked him why he stopped, he would’ve said quite honestly, “I don’t know.”
He walked in. Nothing had changed. The floor was still dirty; the room still shrouded in smoke; the juke box still played Hank Williams. He bought a hamburger for old time’s sake. He ate with his back to the door. When a hand touched his shoulder, he knew who it was.
She didn’t know him until he turned in his seat. They were both shocked. She’d lost a couple teeth. There were scars on her arms. The black hair was streaked with gray—Norma, the mother of his children.
He sat looking up at her. She stood there, looking down at him. A day seemed to pass. Then he got up so fast he knocked his chair over, spilling his Coke on the table. He threw his arms around her and through his tears said, “You finally got rid of that durned old jacket.”
I won’t say they lived happily ever after because, well, you know how life is. You know how love is, but she did stay with him. He was, after all, her best bet…
The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. I’ll go you one further. Dying on a cross is really rather reasonable, isn’t it? At least that’s what we think. Who in his right mind would take a dirty, diseased whore for a wife, let her rip out his heart and wave it in his face, watch her run off—and then take her back! That’s crazy. However, after I’ve calmed down and thought about it, all I know to say is I’m sure glad He’s crazy about us!
It’s no coincidence Jesus and Hosea share the same name. You see, the Bible has more than one picture of the love of God, more than one picture of the cross of Christ.
We don’t understand how great His love is until we’ve run away, letting the world use and abuse us, until we’ve found that having our way isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, that the love of God in Jesus Christ is our best bet.
“O Love that wilt not let me go,
“I rest my weary soul in thee;
“I give thee back the life I owe,
“That in thine ocean depths its flow
“May richer, fuller be.”
Gary blogs at GaryDRobinson.com.