By Emily S. Davis
It’s not that I meant to wander. It’s not that I purposefully determined in my heart to stray from my first love. It was the sinking revelation that I had made the Lord familiar, commonplace. When had His name stopped being so very precious to me? When had things that once moved me suddenly fail to move me anymore? When had that passion for Him become an unrecognizable flicker?
Slowly, without purposed intention and devotion and priority to fuel the once passionate heart of mine, my soul slowly withered, and Jesus became a familiar aspect of my life, commonplace and taken for granted, when He is anything but common.
Tricked by life’s busyness and Satan’s cunning patience to slowly lead me away, I didn’t recognize myself as a wanderer until I reflected and realized I had strayed from my first love. This wanderer stood in her pit—with a name that no longer seemed precious, with a hardened heart that wasn’t so easily moved, and a passion in crisis.
The book of Hosea also describes the story of a nation’s wandering status. The people of Israel were God’s own people, and He had not just become familiar to them—they decided He wasn’t enough for them. There was blatant idol worship and sacrifice and total disregard for God and His supreme holiness.
And yet, that same God in His supreme holiness vows to “remove the names of Baals from her mouth” (Hosea 2:17 ESV). He further vows, “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD” (Hosea 2:19-20). To a wanderer, this is encouraging. The Lord’s “I wills” are reflective of the marital “I dos.” Despite His people’s blatant disregard for Him, He longs to bring them back to Himself.
In order to fully grasp how profound the Lord’s tenderness and “I wills” are, you must read Hosea’s sermon of warning to the Israelites. Israel was in the depths of playing and embracing evilness. She had forsaken her first love and invited the devil himself into her marriage bed with the Lord. The Lord’s sorrow at His people’s betrayal is evident in several places—we read, “Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away” (Hosea 6:4), “They do not cry to me from the heart” (Hosea 7:14), and “Their heart is false” (Hosea 10:2).
While Israel and modern-day wanderers can fool others and even themselves, God knows the exact state of their hearts: “I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from me” (Hosea 5:3). God warns His people away from their sin. He wants His people back. Hosea’s sermon may seem harsh at points, but God’s own people were committing atrocious acts against Him on behalf of their worship to their other gods. And yet, He interweaves His warning of punishment with such tender mercies because while He is justice and righteousness, He is also compassion and mercy, just as we see in the following verses:
Come, let us return to the LORD; for He has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.Hosea 6:1
I would redeem them.Hosea 7:13
I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.Hosea 11:4
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?…My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.Hosea 11:8
I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, I will not come in wrath.Hosea 11:9
I will love them freely.Hosea 14:4
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow.Hosea 14:7
It is I who answer and look after you.Hosea 14:8
Israel’s sinfulness and God’s justice and mercy highlight His extravagant grace.
His grace is not cheap.
It was worth His very life to draw His people back to Himself. He sacrificed Himself so the wanderers could be freed from their pits. To be freed and choose to live in the pit is cheapening His grace. He has set the wanderers free so that they aren’t wanderers anymore—they are His very heart.
When this wanderer repented and drew near to her first love again, amazing things happened. His name again became so sweet to her. The passion again burned brightly. He didn’t just lift the veil so she could have a glimpse of His presence—He reminded her He tore in two the very veil at Calvary that separated them in order that she could experience a relationship with Him and intimately know the Lord.
Maybe you are a fellow wanderer. Maybe God has become familiar to you. Maybe His name was never precious to you. Maybe you’ve wandered so far you don’t know if He’d want you back. No matter where you are, we are all prone to wander; we all have Israel’s tendencies to chase after other lovers. But the Lord is faithful. He wants His people’s hearts and undivided attention and affection.
So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.Hosea 12:6
Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.Hosea 6:3
As evidenced in the verses above, God invites the wanderers to cry out to Him—to return to their first love. Wanderer, return, and rest in His hope, grace, redemption, and restoration. “He will allure her…and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2:14) and welcome her home. “Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3).