Hosea and Gomer (Hosea 1:1-3)

Derek Kidner begins his comments on the first chapter of Hosea by saying:

“It is the people you love who can hurt you most.  One can almost trace the degree of potential pain along a scale—from the rebuff you hardly notice from a stranger, to the rather upsetting clash you may have with a friend, right on to the stinging hurt of a jilting, the ache of a parent-child estrangement, or, most wounding of all, the betrayal of a marriage.”

And that is exactly what we see here in the opening words of the book of Hosea—a tragic betrayal in the life of Hosea, which mirrors the treacherous betrayal by Israel to their God.

This morning we want to talk about Hosea and Gomer and God’s initial command to Hosea, found in vv. 1-3 of Hosea 1:

1 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. 2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”  3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

We talked last week about the time frame of Hosea’s ministry, that it occurred in the decades immediately preceding the fall of Samaria and Assyria dispersing the people of Israel into foreign countries.  It was a time that initially experienced great prosperity and political stability, but in the 20 years leading up to the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. it was a time filled with political intrigue and instability, moral decay and idolatry.

One might notice that Hosea mentioned only one king of Israel, Jeroboam II, while mentioning four kings of Judah, the southern kingdom.  Why did he skip over Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekah, Pekahiah and Hoshea?

Kings of Israel during the Ministry of Hosea, 760 to 720 B.C.

Dynasty of Jehu
Jeroboam II 793-752 B.C. Gave throne to his son
Zechariah 753-752 B.C. Assassinated
Dynasty of Shallum
Shallum 752 B.C. (one month) Assassinated
Dynasty of Menahem
Menahem 752-742 B.C. Gave throne to his son
Pekahiah 724-740 B.C. Overthrown in coup d’état
Dynasty of Pekah
Pekah 752-732 B.C. Assassinated
Dynasty of Hoshea
Hoshea 732-722 B.C. Died in exile

Well, it is probably because he regarded Jeroboam II as the last legitimate king of Israel.  Those who followed him were a batch of assassins and ambitious political climbers who had no right to the title “king.”  Also, it may be that Hosea hoped for better things from Judah.  Although he sometimes criticizes them, he prays that they would not follow Israel’s lead (4:15).

By the way, we know nothing of Beeri, Hosea’s father, but the inclusion of his name here keeps us from mistaking him and the last king of Israel, Hoshea.  These are variations of the same name, which also includes Joshua and Jesus.  The meaning of Hosea’s name is “Yahweh has saved.”

While Hoshea’s policies would lead to Israel’s collapse, listening to Hosea’s prophecies could be their salvation.  But would they listen?

In the midst of this period in Israel’s history, the “word of the Lord came to Hosea.”  This forms the beginning of Hosea’s ministry.  He was likely a young man at the time, possibly in his late teens to early 20’s.

It was not unusual for God to require his prophets to do some strange things as practical object lessons for stirring up the imagination or heart of His people.  God asked Isaiah to walk about naked and barefoot for three years as a sign of the coming exile of Egypt and Cush (Isaiah 20:3-5).  Ezekiel lay on his side for over a year near a small model of Jerusalem under siege (Ezekiel 4-5).  He was also forbidden to mourn when his wife died (24:15-18).

A prophet’s call could be agonizing.  Almost anything could be asked of him.  It would be difficult to find a more shattering demand than the one given to Hosea.

Here God says to Hosea

“Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”

The NIV says…

“Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.”

What both of these versions miss is the plurals, “wife of whoredoms” and “children of whoredoms.”  Like “men of bloods” (Psalm 5:6) and “man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3) the plural indicates the frequency (even constancy) of the act, which shows that she was characterized as a whore already.

Obviously this seems very strange, even immoral, for God to ask Hosea to marry an adulterous woman.

Did God actually ask Hosea to marry a sexually promiscuous woman and why did he command Hosea to do this?  Also, is there just one woman presented here, or two women between chapter 1 and chapter 3?

Scholars throughout the centuries have tried to deal with this sticky moral issue.

Some say that Hosea’s words here are a mere parable or allegory with no basis in history.  But that seems unlikely, since he says she was the daughter of Diblaim in verse 3.  She is a real person with a real name and a real father.

Others say Hosea’s real-life wife was faithful, but chapter 1 is a metaphor and chapter 3 is a prophetic symbol of God’s compassion.  But it is difficult to imagine that Hosea’s preaching would have much impact if people knew that none of it was true, just a story to prove a point.  To have made up this story about her would have been cruel.

Others say chapters 1 and 3 are historical but two different women.  Hosea married two different prostitutes.  But the context helps us understand that Gomer is also the woman of chapter 3.  Notice that Hosea is told to “again” go and love her.

Some say that Hosea married Gomer, who was already an immoral woman.  She was faithful in the birth of the first child, but returned to harlotry and the two additional children are of doubtful paternity.  Or, she was possibly faithful in the births of all three, but then returned to harlotry.

That God would call Hosea to marry a sexually immoral woman does not violate the prohibition in Leviticus 21:14, for that applies only to those in the priesthood.

I believe that the language of verse 2 indicates that she was already a “promiscuous woman,” one given to sexual immorality.  After marrying her, she remained faithful for awhile—through the birth of the first child, or possibly all three.

She then abandoned Hosea for other lovers.  She became a prostitute, receiving fees for her favors (2:5b) and wearing the ornaments of a prostitute (2:2b).  In the process, she fell into destitution, went from lover to lover, and ultimately ended up as a slave.

Certainly Hosea’s action of marrying a woman known to be sexually immoral and then remarrying her pushes the envelope.  It is the very offense of Hosea’s action that strongly confirms that this is the correct interpretation.

“God has divorced Israel just as Hosea has divorced Gomer, but in both cases grace triumphs over righteous jealousy and the demands of the law.  Like the cross itself, Hosea’s action is a stumbling block.  A man does not normally take back a woman who has behaved the way Gomer did.” (Duane Garrett, p. 49).

Hosea’s tragic marriage doesn’t disqualify him from ministry, but serves as his credentials for speaking for Yahweh.  The fact that God’s word came to Hosea and told him to do this is the foundation of his ministry and his qualification for speaking for God.

The NIV translates the reason for Hosea’s marriage as “for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.”  So Hosea was to be bound to this woman as his wife in covenant union.  For better or for worse, the path of his life would be linked to hers.

Hosea would be like Yahweh, who also bound himself to a willful and wayward people (Deut 9:6).

Whereas the ESV has “children of whoredom,” the NIV more helpfully translates simply “have children with her.”  Now, it is possible that one or more of the children were the result of illicit love affairs by Gomer, and not really Hosea’s children.

Another possibly is that Hosea also took in children from Gomer’s previous sexual alliances.  In other words, he adopted her illegitimate children.

But it is more likely that God is talking about Hosea’s own progeny, but that they, being born of a promiscuous woman, would bear the disgrace of their mother’s behavior.  Of course, these children also represent Israel, and they would follow in the footsteps of their mother and be idolatrous as well.  In this sense Gomer may stand for the nation and her children the individual Isrealites.

“The reason for God’s astonishing command to Hosea is that ‘the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.’  In other words, God specifically tells Hosea to enter into the same kind of marriage that Yahweh himself is in.  Hosea is to experience the sorrows of God and thus speak in God’s place to the nation.  The Hebrew also implies that Israel’s acts of adultery against God have taken the people progressively further away from him.  Every act of apostasy and immorality has driven a wedge deeply between them and their God.” (Duane Garrett, p. 54)

For centuries Israel’s relationship with God had been cast in the form of treaties.  Hosea introduces the idea that Israel is married to God in a covenant relationship, the very closest relationships we experience.

Just as it is shocking that Gomer pursues other lovers against the backdrop of Hosea’s undying love, so it is to shock Israel that they were betraying Yahweh’s undying love by playing the harlot with the Baals.

In our culture, where prostitution as a profession has achieved respect in many circles, and where promiscuity is widely celebrated as a legitimate life style, it is difficult to hear the depth of the offense that would have been generated in Hosea’s time by this divine command. Perhaps the closest we can come is to consider a command to “marry a sexual addict.”

In Hosea, Gomer’s irrepressible unfaithfulness mirrors the headlong rush of Israel “looking for love in all the wrong places,” thus endangering its very existence as God’s people.

God says that “this land is guilty.”  This is likely a reference to the nation itself, but it serves to recall the promises that God had made to Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17), as well as the exodus and conquest under Moses, Joshua and the Judges.  “It pricks the consciences of Israel with the reminder that their land was a gift from God, to be used in celebration of his covenant, and to be retained only by total loyalty to him.” (David Alan Hubbard, p. 67)

Yet, that land and its people were involved in “great harlotry”—engrossed in spiritual adultery.

These three short verses help us to see two things which stand out.  First, Hosea is obedient to this command.  Verse 3 says “so he went and took Gomer,” normal Old Testament language for getting married.

Whether Hosea knew the depth of pain he would come to feel from Gomer’s infidelities and rejection, he certainly knew that he was in for a significant amount of pain.  She was, after all, a woman given to sexual immorality.

Sometimes being obedient to God results in more pain, not a happy life.  Hosea enters into the worst sort of marriage, something none of us would wish on our own worst enemies.

Hosea’s intimate insight into the heart of God led precisely to his involvement with the anguish of God, that is, that anguish in which love is itself in the center of the pain, crushed and yet still alive.  Hosea’s willingness to bear the pain becomes the possibility of divine revelation, as he takes it on both in the passion of his preaching and in the very fabric of his daily life. (Elizabeth Achtemeier, Minor Prophets, p. 5).

Like Gomer, Israel had become unfaithful to God soon after their “wedding” at Mt. Sinai.  God did, in fact, predict that Israel would prostitute themselves with Canaanite gods (Deuteronomy 31:16).

The most direct example of Israel’s spiritual harlotry in the wilderness is Aaron’s initiative to construct and worship the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-35).  Interestingly, this event took place at Mount Sinai immediately before God entered into covenant with Israel as a people…The people asked Aaron to shape an idol for them to worship because they lost faith in God in the absence of Moses’ presence. This loss of faith is not exceptional in the Exodus narrative; it is symptomatic of Israel’s relationship with God during the first few months following their departure from Egypt (Exodus 16:1-8, 17:1-7).

Jeremiah, however, does say this:

“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord,

“I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown.

There is a similar expression in Hosea 2:14-15.

The Lord recalled how His people used to love (Heb. hesed) Him devotedly when they were following Him through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. Those were the days of Israel’s betrothal as a youth, before she settled down with the Lord in the land (cf. Hos. 1—3). Even though the Israelites were not completely faithful to the Lord in the wilderness, their commitment to Him then was much stronger than it was in the days of the prophets.

Why then, did God choose to redeem Israel if not because they were a people faithful to Him?  Ezekiel repeatedly claims that God stuck by Israel because the reputation of His word was at stake (Ezekiel 20:5-6, 20:9, 20:14, 20:22).  These texts explicitly state that God brought Israel out of Egypt because of His promise to their forefathers (Exodus 2:23-24).

In Deuteronomy 7 God explains to Israel why they are receiving the land then possessed by the  Canaanites:

6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

This is not to say that there were no Israelites who remained faithful to YHWH, merely that the reasons the Bible gives for God’s deliverance of Israel are the covenant promises God made to Abraham (Genesis 15:12-21), Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5), and Jacob (Genesis 35:9-15), not the righteousness or greatness of the people (Exodus 7:7-8).  Ezekiel later writes that God stayed faithful to Israel because of His reputation, despite their rejection of Him.  The prophet is pointing out that being faithful to His promises is a fundamental part of God’s nature; the Bible is riddled with expressions that verify this (Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2, James 1:17), the most explicit being Hebrews 6:18 which states that “it is impossible for God to lie.”

And aren’t we glad that this is true?  God chose us and chose to love us not because we were good or obedient or faithful to Him.  Precisely the opposite.  God loved us and Christ died for us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8).  God justifies “the ungodly” (Romans 4:5).

Throughout the Bible, especially in the prophets, God is depicted as being torn between his hatred of sin, and his love for sinners.  The prophets Hosea and Jeremiah demonstrate God’s love for His people, and his reluctance to give up hope that they will return to Him.  In His love for humanity, the Creator humbles Himself before the universe as He takes on the role of a lover spurned, a lover who refuses to give in even when the object of His love turns around and spits Him in the face through public prostitution.

“The prophecy of Hosea is a tapestry of grace.  As the prophet loved a woman whose crudeness and brazenness must have hurt him deeply, so God’s grace comes to his people in their unloveliness.  Our spiritual condition is never so low that God cannot woo and receive us back to himself as Hosea received Gomer.” (McComiskey, The Minor Prophets, p. 17)

Let me close with words from John H. Johansen:

So Hosea became the first prophet of repentance, anticipating the Prodigal Son in his appeal to the Prodigal Nation.  This is the greatest thing about his message—the persistence of God’s love.  Unfaithful as Israel had been, and certain as was her down, this fact did not obscure the divine love.  God’s love is constant; it is not canceled by human sin.  No wonder Hosea stands as the greatest Old Testament exponent of the redeeming love of God. (John H. Johansen, “The Prophet Hosea: His Marriage and Message, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, p. 179)

It speaks of the love of election and Calvary.  Thus, A. W. Pink wrote

Christ died not in order to make God love us, but because He did love His people. Calvary is the supreme demonstration of Divine love.  Whenever you are tempted to doubt the love of God, Christian reader, go back to Calvary. (Attributes of God, p. 81).

You can listen to Grace Still Amazes on KENA at 7:45 a.m. on Sundays and Saturday at 7 a.m., Sunday at 8 a.m., and starting Sunday January 6, 2018 will also air at 11:45am on Sundays on KAWX.  Often this posting will be longer and include more material than the radio broadcast, which is 15 minutes.

Duane Garrett’s commentary in the New American Commentary series, has the best discussion of the issue of whether Hosea actually married a sexually promiscuous woman (Hosea, Joel, pp. 43-49).  Also, click on the metaphor marriage of hosea, leif fredheim (journal of interdisciplanary undergraduate research)

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Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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