Andrew Watson: From a place of trouble comes joy and hope
Even when things seem at their most bleak, God can still bring hope, says the Rev Andrew Watson
HE was gutted.
She had cheated on him.
The sweetheart he had married with such joy had proved unfaithful, despite his showering her with generous love.
Everything now seemed destined to be trouble and sorrow.
In a series of anguished addresses Old Testament preacher Hosea draws parallels between his own bitter disappointment and heartbreak and the national situation of Israel forsaking their God to run adulterously after idolatrous alternatives.
The immediate future looked sombre. Sin always brings painful consequences.
Yet it wasn't entirely bleak.
While God's people could expect a period of desert exile as discipline, there is also here the promise of restoration in Hosea 2:15: "I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.
"There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
"There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt."
The Valley of Achor is near Jericho where the Israelites under Joshua had entered this 'Promised Land' some 600 years earlier.
But 'Achor' also means 'trouble', because there the disobedience of one individual had caused a serious setback to the whole community.
Their growing faith required a painful lesson involving penitence and costly sacrifice, as you can read in Joshua 7.
God's holiness and love meet perfectly at the cross of Christ, where God the Son suffers to redeem those who grieved Him so deeply with our stubborn self-centredness
Ironically at this place of 'trouble' they re-found their centre and direction in God and were able to move on.
Hosea is eventually reconciled to his wife and prays that Israel might discover fresh hope and opportunity in their wilderness of sorrow through the faithfulness of their God.
The prophecy of Isaiah (65:10) also has a reference to Achor, promising that for a number of His people who seek the Lord, the place of testing will become a place of rest, refreshment and new blessing.
The Lord is righteously indignant when those who should know better flagrantly break His laws to indulge the idols of our own making. We invite judgement.
Yet for those who turn from their wickedness there is grace, for this book of Hosea also contains passages of sublime tenderness about the God who refuses to "give us up", whose "compassion is aroused" to save and show mercy, who promises to bring His lost children home.
God's holiness and love meet perfectly at the cross of Christ, where God the Son suffers to redeem, to 'buy back', those who grieved Him so deeply with our stubborn self-centredness.
We are by nature adulterers and rightly condemned, but we trust in a God whose faithfulness is great and whose love endures forever.
And so we have hope - rejoice and sing.
- Rev Andrew Watson is minister of the Presbyterian congregations in Dunfanaghy and Carrigart in Co Donegal. He blogs at www.wordsurfers.com