Then the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman loved by husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”
Man, those raisin cakes will get you every time.
I did a small amount of looking around, trying to figure out what raisin cakes had to do with anything. A few things popped and made some degree of sense. Regardless of how raisin cakes are understood, the substance of this verse is both touching and painful.
God tells his prophet — Hosea, in this case — to go and love an adulterous woman. Since I maintain that God’s character and commands are consistent and since Gomer, Hosea’s wife, was a prostitute (as God had commanded at the beginning of the book), it follows that God is telling Hosea to love Gomer. Loving one’s spouse should be a given, but I can only imagine the challenge that loving an unfaithful spouse would present. Worse, Hosea had been told to marry a prostitute, so her entire lifestyle preceding their marriage was one of selling her body to get by. And habits are tough to break. Even terrible and self-destructive ones.
God draws a parallel between Hosea loving his unfaithful wife and God loving His faithless children — Israel, in this case. Both occurrences are betrayals; breaches of trust. More, each represents a rejection of something amazing. Hosea had gone against nearly every social more of his time; had done something that shamed him by marrying a prostitute. Gomer had not appreciated the magnitude of what Hosea did and she went back to her old ways. What is truly painful to recognize is how closely this parallels the lives of many believers. We come to Christ. He cleanses us, takes our shame on Himself and gives us His own Name. In a very real way, He marries us to Himself. Far too often, we wander from Him back to our old ways; to the things that got us by before we came to Him. We fall back on our coping mechanisms and our processes and our schemes and plans. We try to provide for ourselves when Christ is ready, willing, and able to provide everything we need and more.
God tells Hosea to love that faithless wife as an example of how God loves us. Have I been faithless? Yes. Does God still love me? Far more than I deserve. And that is what God calls Hosea to live out in front of the Israelites. God calls Hosea to live out God’s love in front of everyone. God calls His children to the same thing today — to live out His love in front of everyone by loving those thought unlovable.
What about those raisin cakes? Some commentators think that the raisin cakes were used in pagan worship services, which is entirely possible. Others think that it would be better translated as wine or pressed grapes — i.e. grape juice, which would have been made into wine in order to be able to store it for a while — which might be a reference to Israel’s drunkenness, a thing which God has much to say about elsewhere. I think that — regardless of whether or not it is used in pagan worship or is a reference to wine — it is representative of desirable things; of hedonism and excess. Sweet cakes, regardless of where used, are desirable and can easily lead to excess — reference any party with dessert trays and people with little self-control … I am often one of those people. Wine is something commonly drunk to excess. It is not that people always mean to, but, as a friend once put it, that wine is a sneaky kind of alcohol — you drink it and nothing seems to happen until all the alcohol hits in one surprise attack. People who can handle themselves with other forms of alcohol often have trouble with wine. It is, in my opinion, a symbol of the things that lead to excess without us noticing. A little TV is no big deal, but a life consumed by TV is a travesty. Going to a party now and again may not be an issue, but a party lifestyle often leads to bad things. God wants me to focus on the things that are good for me and not go after things that are not.
Additionally, neither wine nor sweets are necessary for life. Plenty of cultures have gotten by with neither. This, to me, is a reminder that things may be desirable, but unnecessary and possibly deleterious. A sweet is not going to cause problems. Too many leads to poor health and potential serious health issues. A glass of wine is not going to hurt me. Many glasses will cause all manner of trouble.
This verse is, after a fashion, reiterated later when Paul writes that though we are faithless, God remains faithful. It would not surprise me to learn that Paul had this passage in mind when he penned those words. Though I am faithless and prone to hedonism and going after not only things which are no gods at all, God is faithful. Though God deals with a faithless me, I only ever deal with faithful He. He continues to love me, despite my unworthiness. I am still learning from Him how to love at all. Faithless me, an all too common theme. Faithful He, the comfort that allows me to rise again after my failures.