We begin Hosea’s story with a time stamp in verse 1. If you were wondering where I got the dates that I used in the Introduction, this is it. It’s also interesting to notice the language used at the very beginning: “The word of the Lord that came to Hosea”. The Hebrew string here is the same wording that would be used to describe “possession” as in demon possession. Thus, we can see that there is a great difference between being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, as we are in Christ, and having the Spirit come upon a prophet of old. From that, we move quickly into the narrative.
When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. (1:2-3)
The word that the NIV translates as “promiscuous” means “adultery, fornication, prostitute.” The old translations, certainly the KJV, takes this woman to be a prostitute (harlot), but to be fair to all concerned in the story, this was to be a “loose” woman who may or may not have actually been in business. Most likely, when she married Hosea, Gomer hadn’t yet been any of those things.
Whatever the exact case may have been, this is where we run into the controversy about the marriage: Is it literal or allegory? Earlier I said that I don’t think it matters all that much, unless the reader is a very strict literalist; here’s why. If Hosea literally married someone of dubious character named Gomer, and they had kids and so on, their story is clearly a metaphor for God and His relationship with the Northern Kingdom, Israel− this is almost impossible to deny. However, if you not only take the story as being of real people, but also insist that it cannot have a metaphorical element because metaphor isn’t, strictly speaking, literal, then it is only a side note to the rest of the book. For me, that’s simply silly.
Anyway, I’m more than pleased to let others argue that one; I’ll be discussing the metaphorical elements of the story as we continue.
Gomer has three children, the first, is a son:
Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.” (1:4-5)
(Jezreel means “to sow.) Jehu came to power with the rise of Baal worship in Israel, essentially, the people of Israel had committed adultery in turning away from God to the idolatry of the Baalites; God was something less than amused by this infidelity.
Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, the Lord their God, will save them.” (1:6-7)
They had a daughter who was named “not loved” because God would not love Israel for what they had sown when they decided to turn away from Him. Yet God would continue to love Judah, the Southern kingdom, for they, although having problems of their own, had not been adulterous in their dealings with God.
Do you see how this is working? The characters in the story are the prophecy concerning the fate of the Northern kingdom. If these are all literal humans, God isn’t taking out His righteous indignation on them personally; they would live as anyone else. Yet their names actually are prophetic for the Nation. Got it?
Another son comes along:
After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God. (1:8-9)
The rebellion of Israel has become so outrageous that God is terminating His Covenant with them. I say this realizing that some who read it will find it difficult to swallow: “God can’t do that− He is always faithful and keeps His promises!” See, that’s the thing, He always keeps His promises… The Law of Moses has 613 laws (commands). Each carries blessings and curses that we call “promises”. If they keep His commands, God will bless the people in various ways, but if they break His commands, God will judge them in various ways. The Israelites by this time had completely turned their backs on God, and He is bound by the Law to turn His back on them, for they have gone way beyond simply slipping into sin for a time; they have abrogated their covenant with Him. Thus, in what He is about to do, God is being faithful to His promises to them.
Yeah I know; they don’t really teach this in Sunday School do they?
However, not all the news is bad for the people…
“Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel. (1:10-11)
The people of Israel had earned God’s coming judgment; they were going to pay a steep price for what they had done. Yet another day would dawn, a day of Salvation and redemption for the people. Yes indeed, this is a messianic element, for the day would come when all of God’s people would be joined together in the Kingdom of God when His Son would bring grace for all peoples.
This is a common matrix in the Old Testament prophetic writings: God sends His prophets to warn the people that they need to make urgent changes: They don’t. God warns them again and they don’t listen. God sends another prophet who pronounces His judgment (like Hosea, who was by no means Israel’s first warning). God’s prophet tells the people who are soon to face God’s judgment that a better day is coming for everybody in Christ.