God’s Charge against Israel’s Infidelity, part 1 (Hosea 2:2-5)
We are in chapter 2 this morning, where we have a second series of judgment and redemption, just like we saw in Hosea 1:3-2:1.
This relationship was established at Mt. Sinai with the giving of the Law of the Old Covenant. In a passage describing the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:32, the LORD refers to this marriage covenant (which Israel had broken). The New Covenant, He declares, will not be:
according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.
In this chapter Yahweh charges Israel with infidelity. They have broken the covenant by worshiping other gods, in particular the Baals. Therefore God is going to take some severe measures with them, but all for the purpose of reconciliation. God will keep His promises to Abraham, no matter how fickle and faithless Israel might be.
Keep in mind, that throughout the book, Israel is being distinguished from Judah. The southern kingdom still had about 150 years before they would be judged for their sins. But for Israel, time had run out.
Having just excited Israel with the glory days that will come “in that day” of the future, Hosea now confronts them with their present reality, and the dark clouds of coming judgment.
As Derek Kidner says…
“The delightful ending of chapter 1 was totally unexpected, the surprise of it highlighting the sheer grace of God which it reveals. Now in chapter 2 we move to the same climax, with an ending that is richly happy; but we see the divine Lover taking his time and using every art to win a response that will make the reconciliation genuine” (Hosea, p. 26).
Hosea 2:2-5 says…
2 “Plead with your mother, plead– for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband– that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; 3 lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst. 4 Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom. 5 For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’
We will call these verses “God’s charge against Israel’s infidelity.”
Ronald Vandermey notes that these four verses, Hosea 2:2-5, correspond in theme with Hosea 4-7, which deal with indictments against Israel for their sins.
The setting is like an informal courtroom. The word “plead” (repeated twice for emphasis) in verse 2 can have the idea of accusing or charging someone with a crime. But this doesn’t seem to be a formal, legal setting, but a personal one, like a family in crisis marriage counseling. The NIV translates this word “rebuke,” which is a stronger concept. Another possibility is “find fault with” or “denounce.”
A wrong has been done and a penalty incurred, but this is not a formal judicial setting. According to the law, an adulterous woman could be put to death. But Yahweh doesn’t do that, neither does Hosea. Instead the broken covenant could be mended because Yahweh’s love is stronger than his wrath. It is this theological reality which transforms the message of doom in 2:4-15 into the message of salvation in 2:16-25.
Notice that the children are being asked to take up the “case” with their mother. This could be because God Himself did not deal directly with Israel, but through His prophets. Or, it could signal that the parents are separated. Hosea 2:7 along with 2:15 indicates that the wife (Gomer/Israel) had left the husband. And, in purely human terms, the violent language used in v. 5 indicates a state of mind in which a personal meeting between husband and wife would be unendurable.
Also, it reminds us that although the nation will be judged for their idolatry, a righteous remnant may escape judgment. Seven hundred years later, the apostle Paul will offer the same promise as he “contended” with the Israelites of his day (Romans 11:1-5).
The motivation to contend with their mother is that she is unlikely to give up her adulteries.
“She is not my wife, and I am not her husband” does not mean that God and Israel were formally divorced, but that they had not acted like, or enjoyed the privileges of the husband-wife relationship for some time. For Hosea and Gomer that could be a few months or years, for God it had been decades. Covenant breaking on the part of Israel involves severe punishment, but that punishment maintains the covenant, it doesn’t negate it.
Duane Garrett explains the dynamics here:
The Israelites believed that they were God’s people solely because they were Israelites. God was in covenant with this nation, and their identity as Israelites assured them of their special place before God. Now God declares that the bond between himself and their “mother” is void. Israelites can become God’s people only by renouncing Israel! The identity in which they had trusted had become the greatest impediment between them and God. This is as great a blow to their religious underpinnings as is John the Baptist’s claim that God could raise up children of Abraham from the stones (Matt. 3:9). (Garrett, Hosea-Joel, p. 76).
It is similar to what the author of Hebrews is saying to us new covenant believers in Hebrews 12, where he uses the image of the father and son, but the principle is the same:
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
So the discipline which Yahweh brings upon Israel (vv. 6-15) is designed to be corrective and establishes His claim upon Israel. He takes no initiative to dissolve the relationship.
It may seem like the relationship was severed to the wife, but it was not in the husband’s perspective. Likewise, we might feel at times like we have sinned our salvation away. But that is not our Father’s perspective, or our Bridegroom’s perspective. Instead, they hold tightly to us.
I like what Francis Anderson and David Noel Freedman say:
“It is not possible to fit the clean break of a divorce in with the other things that are happening in this discourse. The expectation of a new courtship, engagement, and marriage outlined in 2:16-22 certainly suggests that Hosea (Yahweh) will begin all over again. But neither the mending of a broken relationship within marriage nor remarriage after divorce could ever be spoken of in such terms. Hosea 2:16-22 requires miraculous transformation into a first marriage ‘ as in the time of her youth’ (v. 17).” (Hosea, p. 222).
Throughout this passage, and in the rest of Hosea, we see the very “human” ambivalence of Yahweh expressed in his feelings towards Israel. On the one hand, anger and revulsion move against her depravity with the severest penalties; on the other hand, there is compassion and undiminished desire to have and to love.
So what we have here is more a separation, with conditions placed on the woman. It was not a lawsuit in which divorce was sought, but reconciliation through punishment.
The reason the children are asked to plead with their mother is that she has “gone whoring” and committed “adultery.” That was literally in the case of Gomer—she had sought out paramours and been sexually involved. Israel had sought out other gods, worshiping and sacrificing to them.
Israel committed harlotries and adulteries (vv. 2, 5 and 13). She did this by pursuing Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility. The religion of Baal was both superstitious and sexual. Worshipers believed that Baal was the one who caused their lands and wives to be fertile. Therefore in an attempt to appease this god and cause him to bless their land, they engaged in immoral acts. The Israelites had somehow bought into this religion and forsaken the true God, Yahweh. Thomas McComiskey comments on how this could have begun among the Israelites:
It began, perhaps, with something innocuous as the placing of an image of Baal in a farmer’s field. This is what their Canaanite neighbors did to increase production. It is what people did in this land, and it appeared to work. Gradually the invisible Yahweh lost ground to the baals whom the people could see and handle, whose religion was concerned with the necessities of life more than rigid moral demands. It was the baals, many Israelites came to believe, who fostered their crops and blessed them with children (The Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, vol. 1, p. 34).
At its core it was pragmatism, pure and simple. The Israelites pursued what they thought would produce results. Therefore they combined elements of pagan ritual together with divine ordained elements of worship of the true God.
This is not unlike the modern church growth movement, whose question is not whether it is biblical or pleases God, but “Does it work?” Like Baalism, we can fall for a religion of pragmatism, doing “what works,” what seems to give us what we need.
“The children are not brought into the picture to arouse their mother’s better feelings; there is no appeal to motherly instincts. They symbolize the fact that relationships have broken down, but they are not merely agents to deliver the message. They are involved.” (Anderson and Freedman, Hosea, p. 219)
What she has done in criminal and worthy of death, which was required by the Mosaic law. That she is not put to death is an act of mercy and compassion on the part of Hosea (and Yahweh).
The marriage bond, never relinquished by Hosea (the covenant bond never relaxed by Yahweh) provides the basis for the next step toward rebuilding the marriage. It is in fact, the invitation, the command, to repent.
The words “whoring” and “adultery” in v. 3 are plural, which could indicate the intensity and frequency of her actions, but more likely refer to the multiple accoutrements she wore in her pursuit of lovers.
The “whoring from her face” and “adultery between her breasts” likely referred to a veil, jewelry and possibly perfume that was used in sexual trysts.
Some biblical clues as to the specific form of ornamentation or markings may be found in Jeremiah 4:30, which apparently pictures a prostitute’s lurid use of dress, jewelry and facial cosmetics; in the Song of Solomon 1:13, where the woman compares her lover’s embrace to a “bag of myrrh, that lies between my breasts”; and in Genesis 38:15, where Judah judged Tamar to be a harlot, “for she had covered her face.”
The removal of these items—badges of her adultery—could be a dramatic and vivid way to abandon her conduct. These items, which would signal her availability, once removed would signal her rejection of such a status.
So she is called to make a clean break with her life of adultery. But like so many of us, she is more likely to say “sorry” than to actually abandon her sins.
Instead of being put to death (stoned, according to the Mosaic Law, Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22), Gomer/Israel would be stripped to exhibit her shame. Gomer had exposed herself to her lovers (v. 2), and now her husband would expose her for all to see.
Ezekiel 16:37 says…
37 therefore, behold, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated. I will gather them against you from every side and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness.
Ezekiel expresses similar words to Judah in Ezekiel 16:1-5. The parallel references to shameful nakedness in vv. 11b and 12a indicate that this is more than just indecent exposure. Verse 3 goes on to say…
3 lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst.
These verses indicate that what Yahweh intends to do with Israel is bring her former lovers (Assyria, Egypt, Babylon for Judah) and make Israel weak, helpless and ashamed in a day when they needed to show strength.
The day of the nation’s birth was the day of coming out of Egypt (Hosea 2:17). In Ezekiel 16, the story begins on the natal day of the girl whom Yahweh found helpless in the desert and made his wife. The idea presented here by the clause “as in the day she was born” connotes not only nakedness but also helplessness.
John Calvin says..
“He says that the Israelites were then born, when God delivered them from the tyranny of Egypt. This then was the nativity of the people. And yet it was a miserable sight, when they fled away with fear and trembling, when they were exposed to their enemies: and after they entered the wilderness, being without bread and water, their condition was very wretched.” (Hosea)
Again, Calvin says…
“With regard to what the Prophet had in view, it was necessary to remind the Israelites here of what they were at their beginning. For whence was their contempt of God, whence was their obstinate pride, but that they were inebriated with their pleasures? For when there flowed an abundance of all good things, they thought of themselves, that they had come as it were from the clouds; for men commonly forget what they formerly were, when the Lord has made them rich.” (Hosea)
Some commentators see this “stripping” as the retrieval of everything a husband had provided for his bride (Ex. 21:10–11; cf. Hos. 2:9).
The phrases “make her like a wilderness” and “like a parched land” do not mean desolation of the land, but of discipline. In the present context to be put back into the desert (or revert to the desert phase of national history) is to be expelled from the promised land. It could also have the idea of becoming sterile and incapable of being able to bear other children. Even though she craved more children, she would bear no more.
Israel will eventually lose everything—the land will be emptied and become a wasteland, the people will go into exile. And often in the ancient world captives were taken away naked.
It is unlikely that Hosea cast Gomer out naked from the house, or made her strip down in the presence of former clients. Verse 3 is more about God and Israel than Hosea and Gomer.
However, God would do that with Israel. Because Israel willingly strips naked before the Baals and foreign nations to commit adultery with them, God forcibly expose them by the same powers in conquest.
The severity of this punishment is expressed in the last clause, “and kill her with thirst.”
The experience of thirst in the desert wanderings left a deep mark on Israel’s memories. Some of the most severe times of testing and rebellious murmurings against Yahweh were associated with this dire lack of water. There are two stories of Yahweh’s miraculous provision (Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:2-13) and they are often referred back to in the Psalms as proofs of Yahweh’s capacity for responsive love.
On the first of these occasions Israel accused Yahweh of bringing them up from Egypt “to kill me and my children and my animals with thirst,” exactly the words used here. Compared to this, the measures threatened against the wife in the ensuring verses are less severe, dealing only with her possessions and circumstances.
Again, the grace of God is always there in the background.