Hosea was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel. Following King Solomon's rule, the twelve tribes that comprised the people of Israel divide into two: the southern kingdom of Judah (made up of Judah and Benjamin) and the northern kingdom of Israel (the remaining ten tribes).
On the whole, both kingdoms fail to keep God’s greatest commandment: they do not love the LORD their God with all their heart, all their soul and all their might (Deuteronomy 6:5). There are accounts of vile injustice, gross immorality, and brazen idolatry in both kingdoms (ses 1-2 Kings and 2 Chronicles).
However, Judah, in the south, does show sparks of attempted faithfulness to God--consider the reign of King Joash under the guidance of Jehoiada the priest (2 Kings 11-12) and King Josiah's reforms (Kings 22-23). Sadly, no such attempts are made in the north. The Israelites in the northern kingdom are determined in their apostasy, guided by their wicked kings and lawless priests (I kings 13:33).
Yet where sin abounds, grace abounds much more (Romans 5:20). In His grace, God raises up prophets to warn the nations of His coming judgement and His promised renewal. The Old Testament is filled with the passionate, indignant yet often tender words of God’s prophets. Hosea, the son of Beeri is one such prophet.
His book is divided into two sections. Section one, the first three chapters, describes his family life as symbolic parallelism of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Section two, the remaining eleven chapters, details the faithlessness. With the exception of chapter 1 and chapter 3, the entire book is offered as Hebrew poetry with vivid imagery to capture the essence of Israel’s idolatry.
Hosea--who ministers for 28 years from the tail end of King Jeroboam II (son of Joash) to just before the fall of Samaria (2 Kings 14:23-2 Kings 17:41)--tells a story of syncretistic idolatry. Syncretism, referenced in our study of Rachel, is the attempted merging of two religious. The northern kingdom is drenched in syncretism from its very inception.
Jeroboam I, the first king of the north, fearing the people’s return to Judah and to the house of David, dissuades temple worship at Jerusalem. He molds two golden calves, appoints priests who were not descendants of Levi and says this to the people: “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:25-33). The abominable golden calves of Exodus 32 return as a focal point of Israel's worship and their reemergence opens the door for Canaanite worship practices to settle in the north.
The LORD testifies against His people in Hosea concerning these sins. Hosea 8:4-5 reads: “They made kings, but not through me...With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction. I have spurned your calf O Samaria. My anger burns against them.” In their idolatry and hazy syncretism, the Israelites unite their understanding of Yahweh and Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility and rain; and they invoke the name of Baal as though calling on the name of the LORD (Hosea 2:16). They incorporate cult prostitution and other forms of sexual immorality into their worship. Hosea writes: “I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes” (Hosea 4:14).
As Israel uncovers herself to whore with Baal for the price children and rain, the God of heaven and earth looks and declares: “no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them (Hosea 9:11-12)! Yet His burning anger in Hosea is graciously weaved with the hope of His salvation. And so He beckons: “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12). Like a loving Husband longing for the contrition of His adulterous wife, God, through Hosea, calls His people to return (Hosea 14:1-4).
And here we meet Gomer, the wife of Hosea. Having seen the extent of Israel’s spiritual adultery, we now circle up to section one of the book: Hosea’s family life as symbolic parallelism of Israel. And the woman chosen to represent that wayward nation is none other than Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Hosea 1:2-3 reads this way: “When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD’. So he went to took Gomer.”
Now if you’re asking yourself why God would issue such a command, please note that there are moments in the Bible--few in the New Testament (Acts 21:10-11), much more in the Old Testament (see 1 Kings 11:30; 2 Kings 13:17; Isaiah 20:2-4; Jeremiah 13:1-14 and 19:1-10)--where God directs symbolic illustrations as object lessons in the delivery of a prophetic message. The prophet Ezekiel’s 430 day symbolic siege of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 4:1-17 is particularly gripping. In the same way a picture today can be said to “tell a thousand words,” Old Testament prophetic symbolic illustrations were actions meant to capture attention and awaken the consciences of God’s people. And the story of Hosea and Gomer is meant to do just that.
Gomer, the wife of Hosea, was a woman who wore whoring on her face and carried adultery between her breasts (Hosea 2:2). Whether a prostitute before her marriage to Hosea or after, the woman sprints from her marriage bed to chase after her lovers (Hosea 2:5). She bears three children who are named by the LORD. Any other time, this would have been an honor (2 Samuel 12:25; Matthew 1:21) but, together, these children are called “the children of whoredom” (Hosea 2:4). Israel’s sin had given birth to God’s judgment and so Gomer’s children are named: Jezreel (a valley of judgement in Israel), Lo-ruhama (no mercy), and Lo-ammi (not my people) (Hosea 1:3-11).
At some point in the marriage, Gomer becomes estranged and is sold into prostitution. And for a second time, God commands the prophet concerning his wife: “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’” (Hosea 3:1). Hosea obeys. He finds his wife on sale and redeems her for fifteen shekels of silver and some bushels of barley. And he says 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” (Hosea 3:2-3).
And here we see God’s wisdom. This symbolic parallelism, originally intended for Isrealites living in 750-722 B.C., has stretched to us today as a foreshadowing symbol of our own Redeemer. For we too were slaves to sin, sold on an auction block to any passing temptation (Romans 6:17-18). But predestined from the beginning to be His alone, Christ came to set us free with the price of His own blood (Acts 20:28). He has betrothed us to Himself forever through the deposit of His Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13-14). And we will live with Him eternally at His coming, a faithful Bride without any spot, wrinkle, or blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27). Praises to the God who redeems an adulteress. He extends mercy to No Mercy and has made Not my People His own (Hosea 2:23).
*Thanks for reading! This post is part of my Mothers in the Bible Series; we are looking for glimpses of the gospel in the lives of biblical women--from Eve to Mary, the mother of Christ. Click here to see other writings. And please let me know your thoughts!