The family situation of Hosea was meant to be a symbolic portrayal of God’s relationship with Israel as a whole, predicting utter destruction for the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) along with a temporal captivity for the Southern Kingdom of Israel (Judah) with the promise of a future restoration of that Southern Kingdom. It was a message of both merciless judgment for Samaria and merciful hope for Judah. God’s intervention into Hosea’s tragic home situation for his symbolic prophetic message to the people has been a difficulty for believers to fathom since it has often been incorrectly interpreted as God instructing Hosea to commit sexual immorality at least in some sense. Calvin found it so offensive that he could not take it literally (Bullock, 106). However, this blog will show that the passage is often misunderstood and that his wife Gomer is unintentionally slandered as unfaithful because of bad interpretations.
Hosea’s Marriage to Gomer
The phrase “spake at the first by Hosea” (Hosea 1:2 ASV) seems to suggest that this may have been Hosea’s calling to prophecy. God instructs him to go marry a prostitute and have children of whoredom in a symbolic action representing the relationship between God as the husband and Israel as the wife. The correlation is that Israel has acted like a prostitute by departing from Yahweh. The children of whoredom are to represent what is begotten from such. When dealing with analogy or symbolism, it is important to understand that every point of such does not need to be correlated the one with the other, for it is often only interested in some specific associated ideas. The associated ideas here are that God/Hosea are married to Gomer/Israel, who is a prostitute. Though Gomer is no longer a practicing prostitute and Israel symbolically still is, the point is still conveyed.
Hosea thus marries Gomer and she bears him a son (Hosea 1:3). Under the instruction of God, he is named Jezreel (“God sows”) because “for yet a little while, and I [Yahweh] will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause the kingdom of the house of Israel to cease. And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:4-5 ASV). I believe this is a reference to the coming destruction of the Northern kingdom of Israel. This is the firstborn son, and he is symbolic of that which will come into being because of what God sees as having been brought forth in their whoredom against him.
Gomer then bears Hosea a daughter, which he is instructed to name Lo-ruhamah (“no mercy”), for “I [Yahweh] will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel, that I should in any wise pardon them (Hosea 1:6). But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by [Yahweh] their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen” (Hosea 1:6 ASV). This is again a reference to the Northern kingdom and seals the finality of their fate without possibility of mercy or pardon. However, it hints of a mercy toward Judah by which they Israel will be saved, though not by warfare. In fact, it suggests a pardon for Judah in contrast to a lack of one for the Northern Kingdom.
After this Hosea bears another son, and he is instructed by Yahweh to call him Lo-ammi (“not my people”) (Hosea 1:9), again rejecting Israel entirely in a probable reference to the covenant of Moses where God called Israel his people. However, Yahweh also says, “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass that, in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint themselves one head, and shall go up from the land; for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:10-11 ASV). The rejection here of Israel in the personification of the Northern Kingdom does not annul the promises made to the fathers, for this will be fulfilled through Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel.
Hosea Hires a Prostitute
Chapter 2 of Hosea further elaborates the broken covenant between Yahweh and Israel, which seems to focus more on all of Israel as a whole. She is warned to repent. This chapter is more difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, destruction is predicted for all of Israel, but it may refer to the return from the Babylonian captivity with ” as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt” (Hosea 2:15 ASV). Yet, I also believe their is a dual fulfillment here in which it refers to the end of the age. Though they formerly did not know Yahweh, they will now know him (Hosea 2:22). I do not find any certain evidence in the text that Gomer ever left Hosea or even cheated on him despite the claim of such by some (see Bullock, 101).
I believe that the woman in Hosea 3:1 is probably not Gomer, but another woman who was an adulteress. It seems likely that this woman was no longer with her actual husband. Though some versions seem to suggest that she was loved by a “husband” or “spouse,” the Hebrew word is better understood as a “neighbor,” and probably is a reference to her relationship with another man besides her husband that made her an adulteress. The Greek Septuagint has removed the idea altogether and simply implies that she loved evil things with no mention of anyone else such as a husband, lover, neighbor, etc. The analogy here is God/Hosea who loves Israel/Adulteress. The word love here is not meant to be interpreted sexually, but as an affection of favor directed toward someone.
Unlike the relationship Hosea took on with Gomer, there is not anything in the text that says Hosea actually married her as some have suggested (Bullock, 105, 107). The biblical text explains that Hosea paid a costly sum for her time, but did not participate in any sexual activity with her. The emphasis is on a loyalty and faithfulness between them but with a separation of intimacy (Hosea 3:3). The sense here is best translated, “You must remain as mine for many days; you shall not play the whore, you shall not have intercourse with a man, nor I with you” (Hosea 3:3 NRSV). It stresses the coming Babylonian captivity in which the active relationship between God and his people on their land, and the freedom to figuratively play the harlot, will cease for a time (Hosea 3:4-5).
I believe that the living parable of Hosea’s relationships and children are often misunderstood, for as it can be seen from my thoughts above, I think there were two different events with two different women. I do not believe that Hosea did anything sinful for he married what appears to be a former prostitute and then hired what seems to be an adulteress without having any sexual relations with her.
These symbolic actions in Hosea were correlations with his message of judgment for Israel as a divided nation and the promise of a restoration that would come in the future with a united Israel. I feel that there are some major lessons in this passage for us today. These include the fact that God sees his people in an intimate way that is best conveyed in that of a marriage relationship, that prostituting ourselves by turning away from God results in the birth of awful consequences, that God always keeps his covenant promises, and that God will continue to show mercy to his people if they sincerely repent while judgment and doom awaits those who do not.
Bullock, C. Hassell. An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007.
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