Note: this is the transcript (with additions) for my radio broadcasts on the weekend of March 30-31. You can listen on KENA and KAWX.
Throughout chapter 2, Yahweh has been trying to get Israel to repent and return to Him. Because of her stubborn pursuit of other lovers—both false gods and national allies—Yahweh would bring judgment upon Israel—exiling them from their land and turning it into a wilderness.
We noticed how many times Yahweh says “I will” in chapter 2. Ultimately, there is nothing in Israel, just as there is nothing in us, which moves us to God, but it is His own initiative and love which makes it possible for us to turn to Him.
At the end of chapter 2 we see Yahweh wooing, then betrothing, then entering into the marriage covenant with Israel again. This will occur “in that day,” Yahweh says, a future time when Israel will again be God’s bride.
But for now, in Hosea 3, we return to the present reality. Israel was still an adulterous nation; Gomer was still an adulterous wife. To illustrate God’s intention to love Israel back into a marriage relationship with Him, He calls Hosea to “go again” to love and redeem his wife. Let me read Hosea 3. It’s just five verses long.
1 And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. 3 And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” 4 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days.
This chapter is a fitting conclusion to the pains Yahweh takes in chapter 2 to restore Israel and is a fitting prelude to the impassioned chapters which follow, where Yahweh is still reaching out to Israel.
Here Yahweh makes known His plan to redeem wayward Israel through the reunited marriage of Hosea and Gomer. Although this chapter is short, its prophecies survey Israel’s past (in v. 1), her present (vv. 2-4) and her future (in v. 5).
Hosea could have legitimately divorced his wife and forgotten all about her. Deuteronomy 24:1 and Matthew 19:7-8 permit divorce when adultery breaks the marriage union, but it by no means commands it.
Just as the prophet Hosea had been commissioned to share, with God, the pain of betrayal by a faithless bride, so he is now commissioned to participate with God in the experience of bringing redemption to that faithless bride.
Derek Kidner points out…
“It would have been impressive enough had Hosea found that in spite of everything he still loved his truant wife, and had then perceived that God’s love must be like that too. But in fact it was the other way around. It was God’s love that rekindled Hosea’s when the Lord said, ‘Go again, love her,’ and gave him the pattern to reproduce” (Hosea, p. 40).
An appropriate emphasis on the phrase, “even as the Lord loves the people of Israel” (v. 1) suggests that Hosea’s redemptive action originates from God’s exemplary love. Not only do we love Him because He first loved us; we also love others as we do because he first loved us. God’s love begets love in us.
The love of God is not “natural,”; nor is human love. It is unreasonable.
It is obvious that, although unnamed, this is Gomer, the woman Hosea had been called to marry back in chapter 1. The fact that she is unnamed leads to this conclusion, as does the word “again” and the fact that she is called “an adulteress.” The only reason Hosea would be called to “show love” to an adulteress would be is she had been his wife.
So why does she go unnamed? Perhaps to suggest that, like Hosea, she had lost her identity. Just as Israel was no longer “my people,” so Gomer had lost her identity. By analogy, adultery never enhances a person’s identity, but destroys it.
While there is discussion over whether the adverb “again” should go with “said” or “love” or possibly both, it is clear that love had been there in the beginning and it was being rekindled here. As Fleming James says, “There is always an ‘again’ with love.”
There is no glossing over the unpleasant truth. The “again” in God’s command faced the fact that old wounds would have to be reopened and that what had happened in the past might happen yet again. Her adultery was still in progress, just as God demonstrated His love for us in that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we are in the very act of sinning, God acts in love.
The love asked of Hosea would be heroic, but still only a small glimpse of the magnitude of God’s love.
Gomer and Israel had both forfeited love because of their adulteries, but Hosea is called to love Gomer again, just as Yahweh intended to love Israel again.
Few passages tell us more about the love of God than this. It is constant in all circumstances, present even while people (probably both Israel and Judah are intended; cf. 1:6-7, 11) are enmeshed in their idolatries (4:12, 19; 5:3-4 for the expressions of the degree to which Israel’s perversion held her captive); (2) it contrasts utterly with the triviality of human affections, especially when these affections are diverted to unworthy objects—while Yahweh is loving the Israelites, what are they loving? Raisin cakes! (3) it can be illustrated through human love when that human love has grasped something of the power and pathos of the divine—the command to Hosea assumes a corresponded between the divine and the human; what Hosea has learned about the forgiving, restoring love of Yahweh…he is to teach others by his love for an adulteress; (4) it is a commitment and action (v. 2), commanded with a divine imperative; and (5) it is strong as well as tender and has the courage and integrity to exercise discipline when that is necessary (vv. 3-4).
Four times in verse 1 the word “love” is used. Here we see the range of meaning that it occupies in our English language¨(1) it can mean “to gain pleasure from”—as did Gomer’s paramour from her company (3:1) and Israel from her “raisin cakes” (3:1); (2) it can describe a misguided relationship like Israel’s with the Baals (2:7, 12, 15; 9:10) or with Assyria to whom she paid tribute as a lover’s hire (8:9); (3) it can connote loyal and costly love like that of Hosea’s which God commanded for Gomer, despite her infidelity (3:1) and (4) it can illuminate the many facets of Yahweh’s commitment to Israel from the exodus call to his people (11:1), through guidance, training and care he offered in their youth (11:4), and the forbearance he showed in the midst of her infidelity (3:1) to the forgiveness that turns aside divine anger and heals their inconstancy (14:4). The divine imperative that commands true love is a lesson never lost on those who truly know their God (1 John 4:8).
So we can see in this chapter a love that controls (v. 1), a love that redeems (v. 2), a love that disciplines (v. 3) and a love that triumphs (vv. 4-5).
David Garland points out that it is noteworthy that Hosea is commanded to “love.” It goes against the modern notion that love is a feeling which cannot be commanded at will. However, the Scriptures speak of a kind of love that is an act of the will, a decision that is made to act a certain way towards another. Yahweh didn’t tell Hosea to “fall in love” with Gomer, but to “love” her, to do what is best for her, no matter how unworthy, even at great personal cost.
It would have been very difficult for Hosea to “fall in love” with Gomer again. But he could decide to love her and follow through with loving kindness.
This, by the way, is why “I’m not in love anymore” is no excuse for getting a divorce. The fact is, we can choose to love and choose to commit ourselves to loving actions. We can act our way into feeling.
It is clear that Gomer (and Israel) was an adulteress, one who had broken the marriage covenant by engaging sexually with another man.
That there was no change in her behavior, and nothing in her to love, is brought out in the fact that she still “turn[s] to other gods and love[s] cakes of raisins” (3:1c). What are these raisin cakes? It seems almost comical to mention them. Indeed, they seem such trivial things to love. But then, don’t we love things that are really quite trivial, so unimportant in the grand scheme of things?
It likely has nothing to do with their choice in desserts, but in their choice of gods. They were likely used in the pagan worship rituals of Hosea’s day (Jer. 7:18; 44:19).
Screwtape, as we may suppose, would have hailed this as an unusually satisfying victory, even if he had had to throw in the whole world as bait (cf. Mark 8:36). He told Wormwood, “an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return—that is what really gladdens our Father’s heart.” (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, IX)
What trivialities pull us back from full on commitment to God?
Hosea’s response in v. 2 illustrates both how costly love can be and how degraded Gomer’s condition had become.
Genuine love leads to action, and so Hosea “bought” Gomer. Apparently she had been sold into slavery or sold herself into slavery, or possibly just into prostitution. That was quite a fall from being a wife with family.
Genuine love is also a costly action.
Hosea bought her for 15 shekels of silver, which was about half the price for a dead slave (Exodus 21:32)! Selling the barley probably made up the other half. Poor Gomer, she was now not worth as much as a dead slave!
The fact that he had to sell his barley, estimated at around 300 liters, suggests that 15 shekels was not enough. We don’t know for sure, but if Hosea had come into town to buy and sell, it is possible that he gave everything away to purchase Gomer back.
Vernon McGee reminds us, “Gomer wasn’t worth it, and we are not worth the redemption price which was paid for us. . . . (1 Pet. 1:18-19)
18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
In paying the redemption price for Gomer, Hosea demonstrated the redeeming, reconciling nature of godly love.
Hosea was ready and willing to do whatever was necessary—to pay any price, to overcome any obstacle—to reestablish the former relationship.
The ultimate reestablishment of the former relationship, however, was not to be immediate, as may first appear to be the case. The hurt had been too deep, the offense too serious. Though in love with Gomer—perhaps all the while—he probably wanted sufficient time to elapse to encourage the true return of her affection and loyalty to him.
Therefore, he shut her away from all who might tempt her (3:3), while he himself refused to rush the resumption of their relationship. Time would be allowed for the dissipation of old infatuations and the rekindling of dissipated or dormant love. In due time normal relations would be resumed, but with caution and after assurance.
With Gomer isolated from all temptations to revert to a life of harlotry, Hosea was permitted to devote all his efforts to wooing back his bride (2:14). The results of his efforts are not stated, but one can confidently speculate that at the end of that period of isolation Gomer responded to her husband’s love.
Israel can also be assured that during this time Yahweh will enter into no covenantal relationship with any other nation other than Israel.
I don’t think it is pressing the situation too far to identify this time period prophetically as the church age, when God is wooing Israel by making her jealous of Gentiles enjoying a relationship with God, as we read in Romans 11.
The final two verses of Hosea 3 point to the future restoration of Israel, to Yahweh and to one another.
4 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days.
Those “many days” would be throughout the present church age and the tribulation period, to the time when Christ returns and establishes His kingdom, sitting upon the throne of David in Jersualem.
“What is striking about this prophecy is first that it threatens the very pillars of life as Israel knew it, and then that it interprets the withdrawal of these cherished things–good, bad and indifferent alike–as ultimate gain.”
Let that sink in for a moment. God can take things away from us. He gives and takes away. But how often do we interpret Him taking something away as “ultimate gain.”
Listen to the words of Martha Snell Nickerson’s poem Treasures:
One by one He took them from me,
All the things I valued most,
Until I was empty-handed;
Every glittering toy was lost.
And I walked earth’s highways, grieving.
In my rags and poverty.
Till I heard His voice inviting,
“Lift your empty hands to Me!”
So I held my hands toward heaven,
And He filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches,
Till they could contain no more.
And at last I comprehended
With my stupid mind and dull,
That God COULD not pour His riches
Into hands already full!
Until the glory days here predicted, Israel would be without king or prince. This effectively shows that they will not be a nation, since they have no political or military leaders.
Israel will also be without sacrifice or pillar. The destruction of the temple, in both 586 B.C. and 70 A.D. caused Israel’s religious infrastructure to fall apart.
And Israel will be without ephod or household gods (lit. teraphim). In other words, there would be no guidance from God.
Any of the above “gifts” can be either good or bad., but more especially the “pillar” and “household gods” (lit. teraphim) are almost always bad, leading Israel astray.
Again, it shows that Israel, like Gomer, will be shut off from those things which aided them in the worship of false gods. When her probation ends, idolatry will never return, but a purified monarchy and true worship will return (Ezekiel 37:24; Malachi 3:3).
But at the end of that time, Israel “shall return and seek the LORD their God.” Like the prodigal, she will return in fear, but be received in love. Yahweh’s purpose in redeeming Israel was not to exact revenge, but to restore to a place of love and honor.
How will this return occur? Is it found in the hearts of the people, or does it come because God gives them new hearts (Ezekiel 36:24-31)? More likely the latter.
The prophecy that they would seek “David their king” is clearly Messianic. The phrase does not mean that current Israel would again submit to the Davidic monarchy and so undo Jeroboam’s rebellion. Had that been the point, one would expect the text to say that they would return “to the house of David.”
Instead, we see “David the King” set alongside Yahweh as the one to whom Israel will return in godly fear. It is not literally David, but the Messianic king, Jesus Christ, who will establish His kingdom in Jerusalem for the good of Israel.
So Robert Chisholm explains:
“The reference to ‘David their king’ should not be understood in an overly literalistic manner. The prophets view the ideal Davidic ruler of the future as the second coming of David (see Isa. 11:1-10; Mic. 5:2) and even call him ‘David’ on occasion (see Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-25). This ‘David’ carries out royal functions that cannot be distinguished from those assigned to the messianic king.
Other texts make it clear that this ‘David’ is actually a descendant of David (see Jer. 23:5-6; 33:15-16) who comes in his ancestor’s spirit and power, much like John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah and thus fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi 4:5 (see Matt. 11:10-14; 17:11-12; Mark 1:2-4; Luke 1:17, 76; 7:27).”
The mention of David their king conveys a number of thoughts in the context of Hosea: (1) the reunion of the two kingdoms under one head (cf. 1:11); (2) the reversal of Israel’s pattern of dynastic instability (7:3-7; 8:4; 10:3); (3) the rejection of foreign alliances which served as a buffer against their own political weakness (7:8-9, 11, 16); and (4) the covenantal continuity promised to David by Yahweh and violated by Jeroboam I and all his successors (cf. on 8:4). Like Amos (9:11) and the great prophets who followed him (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 11:1-5; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Ezekiel 37:24-28; Zechariah 12:7), Hosea connected Yahweh’s future victory to the renascence of Davidic rule. For Hosea, the return to Yahweh carried with it the reveal of all that Jeroboam’s splitting of the kingdom had wrought. The spiritual return and the national reunion were of a piece–a reminder that the Old Testament sees Israel as a flesh and blood entity whose loaylty to Yahweh is lived not in an otherworldly realm but in the real economics, politics and geography of history. (David Hubbard, Hosea, p. 103).
The many centuries of suffering experienced by the people of Israel throughout the world will be culminated in the Great Tribulation, the event that will bring the Lord out of heaven to save His people Israel (see Zechariah 14; Revelation 6-19). Israel’s return to God in the last days will truly be a return to His goodness, that special place of blessing, where they will join in all the privileges of Christ’s millennial reign (see Isaiah 52:7; Jeremiah 33:9; Zechariah 9:17).
Warren Wiersbe summarizes chapters 1-3
“God is gracious, and no matter what ‘name’ our birth has given to us, He can change it and give us a new beginning. Even the ‘valley of trouble’ can become a ‘door of hope.’
“God is holy and He must deal with sin. The essence of idolatry is enjoying the gifts but not honoring the Giver. To live for the world is to break God’s heart and commit ‘spiritual adultery.’
“God is love and promises to forgive and restore all who repent and return to Him. He promises to bless all who trust him [sic Him].”
This remains the continuing hope of man and the abiding message of the Hosea-Gomer experience: love, conceived in the heart of God and expressed through redemption, triumphs over judgment.
If you want to read a moving story related to Hosea and Gomer, this is a book Becky and I read about 20 years ago.