Hosea, love and slippery hearts: the priest God forced into two bad marriages
The Old Testament prophets were a diverse lot, with different personalities and varied missions. Many, like Ezekiel, Jonah, and Hosea were called upon to do unpleasant things for God. One of the oddest request God ever made of a prophet was that Hosea, a priest, should marry two women of ill repute.
Before we meet these two women, we need to understand the political and spiritual problems the nation of Israel was facing. When Hosea began his ministry, Godís people had been divided into two nations: Israel and Judah. These two nations had"adulterated" the religion God gave them, mixing their religion with the religions of the neighboring nations. They also attached themselves to worldly powers, neighboring kingdoms that promised them great power and glory.
Yet both nations were caught up in comparisons. Each thought itself better than the other. (I Kings 12, II Kings, chapter 17, II Kings 9, 10.)
Hosea begins his book by telling his readers that although he was a priest, God called him to marry a harlot named Gomer and to raise her children. In addition, God told Hosea to have other children with Gomer. Surprisingly, Hosea doesn't argue with God about this. He might have argued, like Ezekiel, about his adherence to the Law and to external cleanliness. Hosea might have reminded God that the Law expressly forbade priests to have anything to do with prostitutes. But he does not. Hosea immediately goes out and marries Gomer and takes in her "children of whoredom."
We don't know much about Gomer except that she is Diblaim's daughter. Hosea mentions removing the name of Baal from her lips so we can assume Gomer was involved the practice of temple prostitution, as was practiced in the religion of the neighboring Canaanite countries. God tells Hosea to marry Gomer, adopt Gomerís illegitimate children and to have other children with her. In the end, Gomer is a symbol of Judah. She and Hosea have three children and each are given symbolic names that represent God's plans for Israel and Judah.
If that isnít trouble enough enough, God asks Hosea to marry another un-named woman, this one an adulteress. This woman now becomes Hoseaís concubine, a second-status wife and symbolizes Israel. Hosea is told not to behave as a husband towards this woman, nor to have children with her although she is under his care and is his property, because a husband-king will be long in coming for these Samaritans, whom this second woman represents, the confused mingled tribes known as Israel. This odd family with its collection of children and step-children symbolizes Godís love for Judah and Israel. As Hosea pleads to Gomer, the former temple prostitute and the adulterous second wife, to accept his love and behave properly, he represents Godís love towards his people.
Both women, like Israel and Judah, are not perfect women. But Judah, the former prostitute, and Israel, the adulteress are constantly making comparisons among themselves. These comparisons are laughable in God's eyes because neither woman understands spiritual faithfulness. Ephraim and Samaria, the capital of Israel, is described as a silly dove. She may not have the status of the first wife but, like the Samaritans, she is still related to her husband in some way. The land of Judah might be a less flighty than Israel but that's not saying much. Judah/Gomer is attracted to the life around her and her heart is not fully turned to God, her husband. As we read Hosea, we notice that God does not call His people back because He owns them. He calls them back because He loves them. Ezekiel also compares Israel and Judah to two prostitutes, but poor Hosea was the only one called to actually sumbolize God's relationship to these countries by marrying the wrong women.
I have a favorite verses in Hosea. The first verse is: 8:12: "If I were to write my laws for the city of Ephraim, the laws would be accounted laws of foreigners." Both nations have altars and rituals galore, but they know nothing about God's law. Their priests have taught them nothing. The people sin at every turn yet they are unaware of their own evil. This is very much like many modern western Christians. For instance, if someone were to tell the average church-going North American that the Bible expressly forbids going to psychics or playing with astrology, one might not be believed.
But what about these two women? Why canít they feel or see the glory of Godís love? After all, God has healed them, spread blessings and harvests. And yet, the eyes and hearts of these women seem to be blind to Hoseaís love. Like the newly released slaves being led by Moses into the wilderness, they look back to their days of slavery with longing. Like Lotís wife, their unredeemed hearts are so enthralled to the old life that they look back.Godís depiction of the cords of love that connect him to his peoples is powerful indeed. The book of Hosea is full of longing and love.
The first thing we might be tempted to do is to do as these women did: compare ourselves to others in Godís family who are not behaving properly. Christ is our dear bridegroom, we might say, but we are his faithful spouse, unlike our other sister in Christ whose spouse we also share. We often forget that Jesus is the brother, husband and father of all. But faithfulness is a tough thing. Jesus recognizes this in his parable of the seeds. The enemy is always ready to destroy the seed before it takes root in our heart. Our hearts are already at enmity with God and already addicted to the fashion of this world which passes away. The things that turn our eyes from God are a hard life, or a good life, a dry life, or a well-prospered life, a life among enemies or a life among friends, are ingrained in us when we get saved. God therefore has a hard time freeing us from the lust of the eyes, the pride of life and the ways of the devil. Poor Hosea is a humble priest with a good heart, not the type to sway women whose eyes are blinded by the flashy wealth and spirituality of neighboring countries.
The basic problem with Hoseaís wives is that they have lived with counterfeits for so long they have no patience with the genuine. Gomer has been used by men in a travesty of religion and love. The other woman was an adulteress before Hosea married her. Women such as these are not going to understand Hoseaís generosity, purity and acceptance. In fact, Hoseaís holiness and kindness make him appear peculiar in their eyes. Throughout the Bible people are always encountering Godís grace. From Lamech through Gomer through Simon Magus, we meet people who have a problem with grace. As Lamech took Godís graciousness towards Cain and usurped it for himself and as Simon Magus thought Godís gift was something to be bought with earthly lucre, so Gomer has gotten so used the flashier fleshier religion definitions and actions of love. And the adulteress just hasnít got it into her to be faithful to anyone. But are they is she any worse than the average person?
The average human being doesnít understand Godís love veyr well. God is always trying to show us what real love actually is. Some of us turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. Some of us are presumptuous, sinning because we know God will love us no matter what. Some of us feel we must earn our dear bridgegroomís love. As we continue to walk with Christ, we discover the many ways we misunderstand Godís love and we begin to see the kingdom of Godís love more clearly. We stop comparing ourselves to other Christians. We realize that all have fallen short of Godís love. And we aim to please God for himself alone. We also stop taking advantage of Him who died for us, by constantly sinning presumptuously. And even though we know he will accept and love us unconditionally, we begin desiring to become his perfect bride without spot or blemish.
Passages to study: Hosea and Ezekiel chapter 23
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Carole, Your insight to our old buddy Hosea was a pleasure to read, thanks! _ Jay Cookingham