Chapters 1 and 2 of Hosea tell us about his marriage relationship, which is, to say the least, pathological. God tells Hosea, “Go and marry a woman of promiscuity, and have children of promiscuity” (Hos 1.2).
Now, right away we have an interpretational problem. Did God tell Hosea to marry a prostitute? The difficulty we have with that prospect has led to a host of suggested interpretations—
- Some have suggested that the command was not literal. John Calvin and Carl Friedrich Keil, both noted commentators, hold this view. Perhaps she was an idol worshiper; God frequently calls idol worship spiritual adultery. But this still seems objectionable; why would a prophet of God marry an idol worshiper?
- Perhaps she wasn’t promiscuous before they married but became promiscuous later. The New Bible Commentary makes this suggestion, as do others.
- But maybe the text means what it says; she was promiscuous, even a prostitute, before her marriage. This is the view of the New American Commentary and many others. It certainly illustrated Israel’s history accurately; she was sinful when God executed His covenant with her. And there was no lack of such women in Israel (Hos 4.14). Perhaps she was a Baal cult prostitute, a pagan practice designed to encourage the gods to grant the land fertility. It was against the Mosaic Law for priests to marry any woman who was not a virgin, but there’s no indication that Hosea was a priest.
I would suggest that attempts to soften the situation miss the point. As will become clear, Gomer’s sin represents Israel’s sin and by extension our own, which is heinous, brutal, and sociopathic. We were sinners when God found us, and that’s the whole point!
In the normal course of events, this marriage yields children, beginning in the very next verse.
The first child is a boy. God instructs Hosea to name him Jezreel, for the valley where Jehu had judged Ahab’s idolatrous line in the past (2K 10.1-11) and where God will carry out judgment (Hos 1.3-5).
The second child is a girl, whom God instructs Hosea to name Lo-Ruhamah, or “no mercy.” This is a clear prophecy of the coming judgment; God is no longer extending mercy to his unfaithful wife. In his paraphrase of the passage, Eugene Peterson renders God’s statement as “I’m fed up with Israel.”
This is astonishing. God is longsuffering, patient. Can the patience of an infinite God be exhausted? Has he broken his covenant promises to Abraham? to David?
No, he hasn’t. In the next sentence (Hos 1.7) he contrasts his judgment on Israel, the Northern Kingdom, with his mercy toward Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Judah is where the sons of David rule—and while they’re a mixed bunch in terms of their obedience to God, his mercy continues there. For now.
Hosea’s wife has one more child, a son. Again God himself names the boy: Lo-Ammi, or “Not my people.” I don’t know, maybe Hosea wasn’t confident of the boy’s paternity?
And with this name, God makes explicit what was only implied by the daughter’s name: Israel is no longer God’s people; the covenant is reversed.
Now it’s horrific.
But again, in the very next sentence God assures these idolaters that the reversal, the judgment, is only temporary:
10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel (Hos 1.10-11).
Verse 10 in particular should sound familiar to us, as it undoubtedly did to Israel. This is the wording of the Abrahamic Covenant itself (Ge 22.17)—which was unconditional. God’s patience is not in fact exhausted.
In the end, God is faithful, even when his people are not.
In the next chapter Hosea is going to make explicit the spiritual lessons of his troubled marriage.
More on that next time.
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