Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
John 16:19-24; Revelation 4; Job 32; Hosea 1-2
Hosea was a prophet in the eighth century BC. He addressed the northern kingdom of Israel as it went from prosperity to decline and destruction. Political deception and chaos developed as one king after another seized the throne by intrigue and murder. As the neighbouring powers of Assyria and Egypt looked to conquer Israel, its kings sought treaties in what God called political prostitution (Hosea 5:3). On top of that, the rulers and people thanked the pagan gods of the land, the Baals, for the blessings God had given them (Hosea 2:8, 13).
The book of Hosea describes God’s emotional reactions to Israel’s unfaithfulness and rejection. We read of his anger, and his declaration that justice will prevail: crimes will be punished. But Hosea describes even more powerful emotions in God’s response: that of compassion and love. Hosea writes about a husband’s unfailing love in the face of his wife’s infidelity to capture the intensity of God’s love for Israel. Hosea not only describes these situations by analogy, but lives out the experience in his own marriage.
Many have questioned the morality of God telling Hosea to marry someone like Gomer. How could God order his prophet to marry an adulterous woman? Much of the controversy arises from translations that describe Gomer as a prostitute (Hosea 1:2). The Hebrew term here is not the general term for a prostitute, nor for a temple prostitute. Rather, it describes someone predisposed to adultery, someone with a promiscuous spirit. Gomer commits adultery when married, but the text does not state that she had been sexually active beforehand.
The marriage between Hosea and Gomer becomes an illustration of the relationship between God and Israel. A marriage is based on a binding commitment to love and faithfulness. Yet the temptation to wander from our commitments is always there for humans. God made a commitment to Israel, yet they quickly strayed from his love and were unfaithful (Hosea 11:1-2). Through Gomer’s adultery, Hosea experienced how God feels about Israel’s (and our) infidelity. He came to understand God’s feelings about Israel’s disloyalty. He felt the sorrow and anger that God feels as his betrothed runs off with another, Baal. As a result, Hosea is able to communicate something of God’s deeper feelings throughout the book.
In spite of his pain and anger, God’s love remains dominant. Hosea was legally entitled to divorce his wife, and God was entitled to reject his unfaithful people. But God goes beyond legal requirements and continues to care for and love his people. He reverses what was prophesied in the names of Hosea’s children (Hosea 1:6-9; 2:23). He continues to love those who do not love him and woos Israel as a lover would.
This passage is not about God commanding Hosea to marry a prostitute, or somehow endorsing adultery, but about God’s unwavering commitment to his people in spite of their infidelity. Gomer’s infidelity put Hosea in a position to develop a deep emotional connection with God. This allowed him to come to know God deeply which becomes central to Hosea’s message in the following chapters.