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Intro to Hosea

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Introduction

From massive armies, murder, scandal, poetry, worshipping false gods and idols, betrayal, alliances and hypocrisy, Hosea has it all yet is one of those “fly-over” books at the end of the Old Testament that many people simply ignore as they conclude the major prophets and skip ahead to the Gospel of Matthew. Hosea is a book that displays God’s love for His people and illustrates that love time and time again even when His people stray away and are unfaithful towards Him. One of the things that Hosea does throughout this book is refer back to the Pentateuch (first 5 books of Bible) - scholars note that he does this for a couple of interesting reasons. First, Hosea is a prophet to the northern nation (Israel or as he calls them, Ephraim). As we know from Bible study, the northern kingdom was wicked and fell away from the law quickly. Because of this, they were the first kingdom to fall into exile. Hosea’s audience was a wicked and evil one that was primarily against Yahweh, God. Even though the “Bible-belt” if you will was just a couple miles to the south, Israel was hostile towards Hosea and his message.
Many years had passed from the time of the Mosaic Covenant and Hosea’s day, because of this portions of the law were probably known by most of the Israelites however they lacked a lot of the specifics. As one commentator put it, the familiarity of the Mosaic Covenant and the Israelites during Hosea’s time is similar to the familiarity of the Sermon on the Mount and the average American. Most people can name a couple of phrases from Christ during His famous “Sermon on the Mount” sermon, however the average American cannot describe its contents accurately. This is the situation that Hosea is ministering in. He is calling these people to repent and come back to God, yet the people lack a good understanding of the law. How can Hosea do this? He does so by going to the common ground. By referring to the things that were generally known by the people. Hosea did not have to list all 613 Pentateuchal commandments to show the people that they had disobeyed the law, he could do so by simply focusing his time and message on the major violations - which is exactly what Hosea and many other prophets do.
Before diving into the text, I have to be honest here and say that this book is one of the most difficult for experts to understand. There are a high proportion of textual “problems” in this book if you will and no Old Testament book comes close to matching it with the exception of Job. The Hebrew in the book is extremely difficult to understand. We also see that Hosea uses several striking images that can be difficult for us to fully understand thousands of years removed from his context.
What we will look at tonight is the call by God to Hosea to remarry his unfaithful wife, Gomer. This is a very strange way to start out a book, but as we will see, Hosea is a strange but rich book full of theological truths.
Hosea 1:1–9 NASB95
1 The word of the Lord which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. 2 When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.” 3 So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 4 And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 “On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.” 6 Then she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them. 7 “But I will have compassion on the house of Judah and deliver them by the Lord their God, and will not deliver them by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen.” 8 When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and gave birth to a son. 9 And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.”
Hosea 1 NASB95
1 The word of the Lord which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. 2 When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.” 3 So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 4 And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 “On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.” 6 Then she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them. 7 “But I will have compassion on the house of Judah and deliver them by the Lord their God, and will not deliver them by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen.” 8 When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and gave birth to a son. 9 And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.” 10 Yet the number of the sons of Israel Will be like the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered; And in the place Where it is said to them, “You are not My people,” It will be said to them, You are the sons of the living God.” 11 And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together, And they will appoint for themselves one leader, And they will go up from the land, For great will be the day of Jezreel.

Command to Marry Gomer

Command to Marry Gomer

There are 8 major interpretations of that warrant discussion as we begin our unpacking this text in order to be on the same page:
The New American Commentary: Hosea, Joel 1. The Command to Marry Gomer (1:2–3a)

1. Chapters 1–3 are a parable or allegory with no historical basis. Or the whole story is a vision and has no relationship to Hosea’s actual marriage and family life. The latter, that it is a vision, was the view of Ibn Ezra and of Calvin. One could equally well claim that it was a parable that Hosea devised in order to illustrate his message, as though he had said, “Now suppose I had a wife—we’ll call her Gomer—who did this to me …” or the like. In this interpretation chaps. 1 and 3 are either variant versions of the same parable or two parts of one parable.

2. Gomer was Hosea’s real but faithful wife. Chapter 1 is only a metaphor of Israel’s sin. In chap. 3 Hosea shows kindness to a wretched prostitute (not his wife) as a prophetic symbol of God’s compassion on Israel, but this had nothing to do with his real married life. This view is obviously similar to the first except that it regards Gomer and the prostitute of chap. 3 as historical people. The story of Gomer’s infidelity, on the other hand, is regarded as a fabrication to make a point.

3. Chapters 1 and 3 are historical but refer to two different women. Hosea first married the prostitute Gomer, at the beginning of his prophetic ministry, to illustrate Israel’s sin against God. Later in his ministry he married a second woman, also a prostitute, to illustrate God’s compassion and the hope of salvation. This interpretation is similar to the second except that it asserts that Gomer actually committed adultery against Hosea.

4. God commanded Hosea to marry Gomer, who was already an immoral woman. He did so, and she gave him one son but soon returned to her old ways and bore two additional children, possibly of doubtful paternity (1:2–9). Hosea then separated from her or was abandoned by her (2:2a). She fell into poverty and disgrace and eventually into slavery. Hosea bought her out of slavery and restored her to the family (3:1–3). This interpretation is like the third except that it treats Gomer and the unnamed immoral woman of chap. 3 as one and the same. It also interprets chaps. 1 and 3 sequentially. That is, the events of chap. 3 took place some time after the events of chap. 1.

5. A variant interpretation of the fourth seeks to avoid the scandal of God commanding Hosea to marry a flagrantly immoral woman. It asserts that the reference to Gomer’s immorality in 1:2 is proleptic, or that when he married her she had “tendencies” to immorality but had not yet actually engaged in extramarital sex.13 Alternatively, one may argue that Hosea did not deliberately marry a wanton woman but only retrospectively realized that his unhappy marriage was actually, in the providence of God, a portrayal of God’s relationship to Israel. This interpretation agrees with the fourth, that Hosea did actually marry Gomer, that she was an adulteress, that Gomer was also the woman of chap. 3, and that chaps. 1 and 3 should be read sequentially.

6. Chapters 1 and 3 are historical and not parabolic, but they are variant accounts of the same event; no sequence is intended. One could argue that Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute (1:2), he purchased Gomer from a slave market (1:3; 3:1–3), and then had children by her before she returned to her immorality (1:3–9). This interpretation differs from 4 and 5 in that they see a sequence of events from chap. 1 through chap. 3, whereas this regards chaps. 1 and 3 as giving two versions of one story.

7. Chapter 3 is from a later hand—that is, it is an interpolation—and should not be taken into account when reconstructing Hosea’s life or interpreting chap. 1. On this view one could still explain chap. 1 as allegory or history.

8. Gomer was truly Hosea’s wife, but her sin was not literal adultery against Hosea but spiritual adultery against God. That is, she was an idol worshiper like the people to whom Hosea preached. Hence the account of her adultery was both allegorical, in that she was not a true adulteress, and historical, in that she was guilty of abandoning Yahweh.

There are major holes in many of these views that we can automatically discount without much discussion. View #7 is easily discounted because there is no evidence that was added from a later date (this view seems to try to dodge what we find in ). View #8 is an interesting idea, but also unlikely. Why would Gomer be faithfully involved in a cult (that went against Hosea’s God) while also being faithful to Hosea? View #3 is also interesting, but unlikely. View #6 is a view that falls short as well because Hosea sought to redeem Gomer, and we see a sequence of events transpiring rather than chapters 1 and 3 retelling the same story.
This leaves us with interpretation 4 and 5. The idea in #5 might sound promising in our day and age because it sounds very questionable and odd for God to command his prophet to marry a woman who would be a prostitute. This idea sounds interesting at the very least, but it does not hold weight because Hoesa 1:2-3 tells us that God commanded Hosea to marry an immoral woman - and he did. Not to marry a woman who *could* become immoral later.
This leaves us with interpretation #4 as how we will go about studying this story. This interpretation asserts that Hosea was commanded to marry an immoral woman and married Gomer. After some time, they had 3 children, then she abandoned him for other lovers. Then she fell into hard times and at God’s direction, Hosea went after her, found her and redeemed her while taking her home. As we will look at in the coming chapters, God has divorced Israel just as Hosea had divorced Gomer, but in both cases grace triumphs over righteous jealousy and the demands of the law (see, both Hosea and God are justified in divorcing their spouse). Like the cross itself, Hosea’s action is a stumbling block of sorts. A man does not normally take back a woman who has behaved the way Gomer did. But we must acknowledge this as a revelation of grace through suffering.
From the very get go, Hosea is commanded to marry Gomer. He was to be bound to this immoral woman in covenantal union. For better or for worse, their paths would join. He would be like Yahweh who also bound Himself in covenant with a willful and wayward people. It can be difficult for us to properly understand prophetic texts like this, and it can be difficult for us to understand why God would call Hosea to do this. Why on earth would a holy God call a prophet to marry an immoral, promiscuous woman? We must properly understand what Gomer was and what she was not. In the Hebrew text we see the word zenunim, not zona (as we see with Rahab in Joshua). Zenunim means promiscuity. Zona means prostitute. We automatically assume that Gomer was a prostitute, however the literal Hebrew word means that she was an immoral woman. Certainly, she did things that were immoral and sexual, however what we see Hosea convey is her behavior and character instead of her profession. This is significant because we can get caught up in what a prostitute is in modern terms, but we must see Gomer as an immoral woman who was dependent upon gifts from others. Her problem was deeper than simply an action or struggling with one thing - she was an immoral person!
Some scholars note that this could stem from the fact that she was a devoted follower of the Canaanite god, Ba’al. This was the case for the majority of the people in Israel at this point in time. Ba’al was the Canaanite storm and fertility god which means “lord.” We see many references to Ba’al, and we might wonder why this is a common problem for the people of Israel who have seen the power of Yahweh in the past. What we see is that this cult is the greatest threat to the development and worship of Yahweh in Israel. Because the people settled among the Canaanites, who worshiped Ba’al religiously, and in a region where they desperately need rain in order to survive, worshipping Ba’al was a natural thing because people needed storms to bring in rain for crop fertility and they prayed to Ba’al for family fertility as well. Worshipping Ba’al often involved inflicting harm on oneself, performing sexual acts and even offering up ones child in sacrifice to this god. We see in this book that prostitution is Hosea’s most common metaphor for the covenant infidelity that provoked Yahweh’s wrath against Israel, and the term is used in that sense throughout the book.

Naming of Children

We see that Hosea’s children are called children of promiscuity. They were not only his children but they bore the stigma of immorality. They are promiscuous children of a promiscuous woman. Their identity is so closely related to that of their mother.
The first child is named “Jezreel” - This name appears only one other time in the Bible (), it is pretty unique as a name, however Hosea’s audience would have known this name because it signified a town and valley located between Galilee and Samaria. This location was well known for violent events in the history of Israel (, , and throughout Judges). In the mind of an Israelite, Jezreel may have signified bloodshed in the same way Chernobyl signified nuclear disaster to a modern person! Jezreel’s naming has something to do with punishing Jehu (one of the bloodiest kings in the history of Israel). This punishment is not for slaughtering people, primarily, it is for not learning his lesson. Jehu, as we know, was an agent of God’s fury but he and the rest of his house went on to repeat the idolatry and apostasy of their predecessors as shows us. There is coming a time where Israel will be defeated by a foreign power. This place will be the exact same place where Israel turned their back on Yahweh and began worshipping Ba’al. It’s interesting to think about it, but Israel was worshipping Ba’al and God was going to use another nation to bring about the defeat of the Ba’al worshipping Israelites.
We know that people often have a story as to why they name a child whatever they choose to name him or her. Normally it has to do with a family name or a meaningful friend or a name from the Bible. In other instances the child’s name must follow suit in the family in that it must start with a certain letter or must be the the II or III person with said name. The 2nd and 3rd children of Hosea have very interesting names and are unlike anything we could possibly imagine in our world today!
We see in verses 6-7 that Gomer gave birth next to a daughter who was named Lo-Ruhamah by God, who told Hosea to do so. The reason behind this name was because He will no longer show love to the house of Israel, but He will show love to the house of Judah and save them by the LORD. What a name and story behind her name. This name means “not loved” and is an awful name to name a little girl, can we all agree? Why would anyone name their daughter this name? We must realize that this name did not communicate Hosea’s feelings towards his daughter but rather a sign to the people of Israel from God Himself. Another thing that we must keep in mind is that unlike verse 3 where we see that Gomer bore *him* a son, verse 6 is more ambiguous and states that she gave birth to a daughter. Many commentators at least acknowledge the possibility that this daughter might have not been Hosea’s - although the text does not come out and say it. This name, while startling, would have represented the estrangement between Yahweh and His people. As Garrett puts it:
“The people heard that terrible name and no doubt whispered to one another, “Hosea’s wife is unfaithful; he must doubt that this child is his. He has rejected the poor thing!” and Hosea could respond something like: “Do you trouble yourself over Lo-Ruhamah? I tell you, you are Lo-Ruhamah! Yahweh has turned his back on you!” He would be like Nathan with David: “You are the man!”
This is yet another negative name, and this was at a time in which people named their children very positive names! We noted this in Chronicles in the time of King Asa and his helpers as they were called names with the meaning of “God saves” or “the Lord delivers.” Yet here we have some very negative names - this shows us the overall message of this chapter: Israel’s apostasy had become so great that Yahweh could no longer put up with them. He had to abandon and divorce them. This name implies that God will no longer show Mercy to Israel but He will show it to Judah!
Before we talk about the final name, we’ve got to talk about this. God is divorcing the people of Israel. They have stopped following His covenant and law and they have forsaken Him. He is justified in divorcing them. There are still some who are doing what they should, there will always be a remnant, however the people in general have turned their back on Him and He is showing them through Hosea that judgment and wrath are coming their way. You can make a number of applicable points here, but I think the most appropriate is for us to simply meditate on our own lives and ask if we are genuinely following after Christ, or if we are simply coming to Him for the benefits (the victories in the past) and living a self-glorifying life or if we genuinely have a relationship with Him in our lives. God made a covenant to Israel on Mt. Sinai in Exodus, however, as the next name shows us, this too has become void.
The 3rd and final child - “Not my people” or Lo-Amni, is an interesting name. Some scholars question if this is a name that questions the father figure of this child. Hosea names the child this because he is saying that the child is not min. Again, we do not know this, it is possible but the text does not tell us. We do know that God declares the covenant void between Himself and Israel with this statement. “You are not my people and I am not your God.” Church, this ought to cause us to move forward with Godly fear and respect of who God is and who we are. The people have gone astray and God has reversed the covenant bond from - this is heavy stuff.

Conclusion

This introduction to Hosea shows us that this is a prophet that is going through a very difficult situation. From an unfaithful spouse to being in a nation of unfaithful people, Hosea is in quite the predicament. To add to this, his children are named all sorts of negative names that reflect the fact that the people are are no longer “God’s people.” Can you imagine what was going through his head in this moment? God is asking him to prophesy against an unfaithful people and God called him to marry an unfaithful woman. Would we be able to follow through in this type of situation? Would we have the faith to trust God in this season of life? Would we go with the flow and worship Ba’al with the rest of our nation, or would we be able to stand up for the God who has brought our ancestors out of Egypt? We’d like to think that we’d stand strong for Him, but often times we fall short of this today. We are quick to rebel and go our own way and the way of those around us!
What can we take away from this text? Draw near to God and do not “go with the flow.” Sometimes the only way that we can and will return to the Lord is to go through punishment. The people of Israel not only stopped worshipping God, but they aligned themselves to Ba’al. This was a betrayal to the one living God. This represents spiritual adultery committed by the people against Him. However the “endgame” of God is not simply punishing the people for their infidelity, but instead God desires for the people of Israel to leave their idolatry in the past and return to the God who loved them first and who has provided for them every step of the way. The call for us is the same. Stop running to empty cisterns that will never satisfy, remember your first love and run to Jesus Christ who always satisfies!
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