Hester Prynne, a young woman who had a child out of wedlock, is required to stand on a scaffold for three hours, exposed to public humiliation, and wear a scarlet “A” on her dress for the rest of her life. The “A” stood for adultery even though it never says this in the book called The Scarlet Letter. The town seemed to speak in a coordinated effort of her sin as she passed by. Looking in grand disgust they would twist their nose to display how disgraceful she had been.
Following prison, that was part of her punishment, Hester tries to live a quiet, somber life with her daughter, Pearl. However, the shunning of Hester extends to Pearl, who has no playmates or friends. As she grows older, Pearl becomes short fused and unruly. Her conduct starts more rumors, and church members move to have Pearl taken away from the sinner.
Hester and her Scarlet Letter reminds us of the pain that the condemning public eye can bring. This story may also cause Christians to recall a similar account of public humiliation found in the Bible. It is the account of the prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer.
Prophets are commanded to write or speak words our Lord has revealed to them. However, Hosea from the beginning was commanded to take a wife who would become a prostitute. Hosea and Gomer had three children but it was not long after that Gomer ran off with her lovers that promised lavish gifts for her. (Hos. 2:5). Hosea truly loved Gomer and tried to stop her (Hos. 2:6). More than once Hosea took her back in forgiveness but soon she would be off again with another new lover.
Now let’s speculate on the public reaction to Gomer.
It’s fair to conclude that Gomer, as did Hester Prynne, lived under the public microscope of shame. You can imagine her walking down the street seeing huddles of whisperers in places that moments before were loud laughter. And the eyes and heads that followed every step forced her to look down to avoid a condemning eye to eye encounter. From these street gossip groups, only keywords are spoken loud enough that Gomer would understand they were indeed talking about her. Still, others being bolder started name-calling; slut, whore, etc. Some may even spit on her or throw objects at her and young mothers seeing her approaching would pull their child away from her path lest the child catch sin as if sin radiates in the air from such sinners and thereby corrupt the child. Gomer felt the pain and outcast.
Think also of what Hosea went through. He loved Gomer deeply and of course, he grieved after her as if she was dead. This was the love of his life. Therefore when, he heard the same whispers and knew much of what was said was untrue, he wanted to correct the wrong stories. But in the end, he said nothing to them because he also knew the premise of the gossip was true. Day after day he could hear his love’s name trashed. His friends were probably saying,
“Good riddance to her, Hosea! Now you’ll be through with her adulterous ways once and for all.”
But Hosea did not feel that way. He wanted her to come home.
Moreover, Hosea was a “man of God”. A prophet no less. Some would naturally wonder;
“Wait, you mean to tell me that God told you to marry this whore? Are you sure? Are you sure you are a prophet of the true God? Maybe you need to revisit that idea Hosea!”
A lesser man than Hosea may have started to believe the public and question his calling from God and the love for his wife being bombarded with this talk daily. But Hosea silently endured and believed God.
Hosea later hears that Gomer was kicked to the streets and forced to sell herself into slavery to survive. Many thought Hosea would get over her now. But God spoke to Hosea saying:
“Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods” (Hos. 3:1)
After all this Hosea was able to address the people as God’s prophet.
In my words, he said to the people:
“Yes, I am a prophet of the most high God and yes He did have me marry Gomer and yes God knew she would leave me and become a prostitute. He did this to show you, his chosen people, your unfaithful heart.” Hosea added, “My message to you from God: You are Gomer!
You see, said Hosea, everything you hated and despised in Gomer is who you have become. When you pointed at her, you were pointing at yourself. Every name you called her, is the name that you wear around your neck.”
Hosea should give us all some good lessons.
1) We need God’s grace.
It is very easy for us to point the finger and look down on others in sin. True, we are to hate sin. But what of you own sins? Maybe you have not broken the marriage covenant as Gomer and Hester, but have you been unfaithful to God in other ways? In other words, have you allowed money, sports or hobbies to replace God as your top spot of mind domination? You go to church and read the bible a few times a week, but how much time do you spend on your other loves? Where you spend your time is where your true love remains. It is easy to see that the sinners you know need God’s grace. But we are all sinners.
2) We need forgiveness.
Hosea knew how to forgive. Do you? Do you harbor wrongs and let them eat at you, allowing a build-up of bitterness and resentment? Are you like me where sometimes I withhold forgiveness until I have time to stew on wrongs and fret over it, and even subconsciously punish the wrong-doer for the hurts I have suffered.
“If only I could have my way with them, I could show them a thing or two.”
To my shame, I have thought this many times. Well, that is wrong. Forgiveness means that we will refuse to retaliate in any way to make the guilty person pay. Read the words of Paul to the church:
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Eph 4:32)
With changes in our culture it is very possible that we will face public shame. Not from sin we have done, but because the public will shame us for being a Christian. Because of what you do as a Christian. Because of what you say as a Christian. Because of what you believe as a Christian. Do you have in place strongholds that will keep your faith alive? Can you be as Hosea and fear God over man?
Where are you in this story?
One way to look at the book of Hosea is to see it as a play. If viewed this way and you were given a part in the play based on your life, where would you be? Are you the public eye with a pointing finger, or are you Gomer that needs salvation and forgiveness? Or would you say that you are more like Hosea?
Hosea is a picture of Jesus Christ. Jesus uses forgiveness and love to melt hardened hearts and change calloused lives.
Does your life picture Christ as Hosea’s did?
The Gospel PostScript