Author: Eileen Lee
Part 2: Precious
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43: 4)
Last week, we encountered a problem. And the problem was this: that Christ treated women with honor, and that He charges men to do the same.
Why is this a problem? It is a problem because many, including those that would identify themselves as Christian, have often utilized biblical text (also often out-of-context) to assign women to second-class citizenship instead of honoring them, in the name or defense of masculinity.
Those that are most offended by this statement are often also the ones that continue to cite the same few passages of scripture to justify their stances and actions. If only they actually read their Bibles in entirety. For throughout the gospels, the life of Jesus Christ and how he lived and counter-culturally uplifted women is more than sufficient as proof that Christ loved and uplifted women, and commands that others, especially those that claim to follow him, do the same.
But for those that need to read it in explicit words, and not just have it implied through actions (because apparently actions don’t speak louder than words), I think there can be no clearer command than the charge that the apostle Paul gives in his letter to the Ephesians:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-32)
There is no higher charge than to love as Christ loved the Church. A great example of this is found in the book of Hosea, where we find our second example of a biblical male figure, demonstrating how to treat women as God commands.
Last week, we went through the account of Boaz and Ruth. Hosea and Gomer too have a love story, except it’s so incredibly different. Yet, at the same time, it’s not.
Hosea was a prophet of Israel, and while a prophet’s status was give or take there, depending on how well received his prophecies were, Hosea was at the very least a man in a patriarchal society, like Boaz was. That would have given him at least security, and some reputation worthy of protecting.
Gomer, on the other hand, was very different from Ruth. While Ruth was well known for her honorable character and virtue, Gomer was known for a different reason. She was a prostitute, and to the people around her, that automatically devalued her character and person, along with any honor that she might have had, immediately. Because of the Judaic laws against adultery and the human inclination to prejudice and pride, Gomer was almost certainly looked down upon, if not rejected by the rest of Israeli society. She would have been an outcast— a pariah in her own hometown.
God, being God, thus decides to begin this story by giving Hosea an unusual command.
When the Lord first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.” So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim…(Hosea 1:2)
He commands Hosea not to condemn or reject Gomer as well, but to instead to marry Gomer. To give her a name, restore her status, raise her up socially, and to even love her, even perhaps at the expense of his own reputation and heart.
So Hosea obeys. The wedding bells ring, and Hosea and Gomer are married, and his stakes his good name and heart on her. But as foretold, it does not go particularly well. Hosea married her, knowing the cost it would have on himself, and it did cost him. They have three children, but it is implied that the children may or may not be Hosea’s. Eventually, Gomer actually even abandons Hosea and their children, leaving him, heartbroken and a laughingstock of a man, to be someone else.
According to the Lord, in this time, Israel, the people of God, are not so different. Though they might have not been prostitutes or cheaters in practice, they were in spirit. They had a whole book of history, proclaiming how the Lord had been with them and saved them time and time again. They had a covenant with him to love and follow him alone—but they abandoned all that to worship the gods of other lands, and to give themselves to other things. That rent the heart of God. In the chapter titled “Charges against an Unfaithful Wife,” he brings his grief against Israel, saying,
“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother— for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband…She doesn’t realize it was I who gave her everything she has— the grain, the new wine, the olive oil; I even gave her silver and gold. But she gave all my gifts to Baal…she burned incense to her images of Baal…she put on her earrings and jewels and went out to look for her lovers, but forgot all about me,” says the Lord. (Hosea 2:2-13)
All this was mirrored in Hosea and Gomer’s marriage. The unfaithfulness and the rejection on Gomer’s part, and the hurt and the heartbrokenness on Hosea’s.
What is amazing, though, is that that isn’t all that’s reflected.
After finishing his charges against Israel, the Lord then says,
“But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt. When that day comes,” says the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.’” (Hosea 2:14-16)
Despite how Israel rejected His love and mercy, in the face of their rebellion and undeservedness, God chooses to love his people again. Even when they do not uphold their vows in the covenant, God does not abandon his commitment to them, but instead, continues to love them and pursue them. In doing so, he shows them the worth they have to him. Though they have not earned it, they are utterly precious to him.
Likewise, he charges Hosea to do the same, saying
“Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.” (Hosea 3:1)
So, as God did for Israel, Hosea goes and finds his wife. Even though she had abandoned him, he redeems her back from the man she left him to be with. Despite the fact that she had already cost him his reputation and broken his heart, he pays the man holding her to get her back safely. In doing so, he shows her the worth she has to him. That to him, she was still worth loving, still worth the pursuit. Though she had not earned it, she as still utterly precious to him.
This is completely counter-cultural to our still-present culture of slutshaming girls. Even today, girls are still shamed for anything from not sleeping or sleeping with someone, to even what they decide to wear, based solely on the whims of men who recognize their own ego and pledge allegiance to the sanctity of their masculinity first, before the worth and humanity of the women they commodify for their self-centered ambitions.
That is not what the God of the Bible did. Neither is it what he commands his people to do. Rather, he does the complete opposite of what most people think ought to happen. Instead of holding ego or his reputation as something to be grasped, he instead embraces the people he loves, despite how they have hurt him. He continues to uplift them, and proclaims their worth and value to be inalienable, regardless of what they have or haven’t done for him.
God counted his Church, his Bride, as precious—even more precious than his own pride and self. If he calls his people to love the same way that he does, this, ultimately, is how he also calls women to be loved.
Everyone else just needs to get on board with it.
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