Who Wants to Marry a Prostitute?
A young couple were on their way to get married when they had a tragic accident. The next thing they knew, they were standing arm-in-arm at the pearly gates. They told St. Peter what had happened and then said, "We really want to spend eternity as man and wife. Is there anyone here who can marry us before we go in?" Peter thought for a minute and said, "This is an unusual request, but if you’ll take a seat, I’ll see what I can work out." The couple waited for three months before St. Peter finally came back with a minister to perform the ceremony. The man said to Peter, "We’ve had some time to think about this. We know that marriage is difficult even under the limited term of ’till death us do part.’ Since there is no death in heaven, I just want to make sure that if this marriage doesn’t work out, can we get a divorce?" Peter said, "Are you kidding? It took me three months just to find a preacher. What do you think your chances are of finding a lawyer?"
This is a funny story that highlights a difficult truth: marriage is hard. How many marriages are you personally aware of that have ended in divorce? Divorce is rampant in our society. It is so common that there is even a magazine dedicated to it called appropriately “Divorce Magazine”. Some statistical reports show the divorce rate near 50% in the U.S. Some argue that it is even higher!
Yet in spite of these statistics people are getting married. And summertime is the most popular time for weddings. This year I will officiate many weddings. Weddings are exciting and fun celebrations.
(Some of the following is adapted/quoted from a sermon by Rev. Edward Markquart http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_c_the_prophet_and_the_prostitute.htm) \\
Think back to the last wedding you attended. You get ready, on a hot summer day dressing up to celebrate this event with the couple and their families. You have known the groom since he was a boy but have no idea who the bride is. You were somewhat surprised when you received the wedding invitation. Yet you are excited for this fine young man. He has just finished seminary. He has accepted the call to a wonderful small town church in a neighboring state. Apparently he is marrying a young woman he met while in grad school.
You arrive 15 minutes before the service is to begin at 3:00pm. Standing in line to sign the guest book, you make small talk about the weather. There are comments about how young the couple is. Everyone is happy for them and hope it works out.
Then you find your seat. You sit down and in a few moments the mothers and perhaps the grandmothers are seated as the piano plays. Then the candles are lit and then the minister leads the groom out.
The groom is the picture of youth and strength. “He looks spectacular. His hair is neatly trimmed, jet black, and slicked back. His shoes shine like they have never shined before. He is wearing a ruffled shirt and he has never worn a ruffled shirt since early childhood and he is wearing so much sweet smelling cologne that the people in the first three pews are nearly asphyxiated. He doesn’t look or smell like the boy you saw growing up. …
And here comes the bride. The mother of the bride stands and all stand to watch the pure elegant young woman slowly glide down the center aisle with her father. From a distance, you can see that something is unusual. Her wedding dress is spattered with mud. Her veil is askew. She comes closer and you notice that she has a cigarette drooping from her lips. Her lips are painted red and she has too much rouge on her cheeks. As she walks by your aisle, you smell booze on her breath. She finally arrives at the front, and the broom is broadly smiling at her like a Cheshire cat. He lovingly looks into her eyes and the two of them stand before the altar to be married. Indeed, this is the strangest wedding that you have ever experienced.”
You sit in disbelief as this fine young man marries this, this woman.
Following the ceremony, you start to inquire about the bride. Who is she? What does this young man see in her? Rumors are circulating. One guest turns and whispers in your ear, “I heard she’s a drug addict.” Another “She’s an alcoholic.” “I heard she’s a prostitute!”
The words bounce off your mind as you’re unable to process them. A prostitute? What on earth? Doesn’t this young man know who he’s marrying? Why would a young man with a promising career in ministry marry someone like her?
Then more rumors circulate. “I heard that God told him to marry her!” What is going on here?
You greet the couple with inappropriate questions running wild in your mind. You hold your tongue and congratulate the couple, wishing them well. Then you take leave of the reception and head home.
You just witnessed the marriage of Hosea and Gomer. If Hosea’s life were to be made into a reality TV show, it would be called, “Who Wants to Marry a Prostitute”. This is indeed a very strange story in the Bible, too strange for some.
Obviously God telling someone to marry a person of questionable moral character is troubling. This is not the way we think of God or his will. We tend to think of God as having a wonderful plan for our lives. Marrying a prostitute would not fall within the bounds of a wonderful plan. Especially for a minister, for a prophet.
There are at least two possible interpretations for this marriage. Some scholars see it as allegorical. That this marriage never happened. That it is just a story. They point to the allegorical meanings of the names of the children as evidence that this is an allegory. Yet there is no allegorical significance in the names Gomer or Hosea. Nowhere in this passage of Scripture are we given any indication that Hosea should be read as an allegory.
The other way to interpret Hosea is to accept this as a literal situation, that Hosea really did marry Gomer and that she was as the Bible describes her, “an adulterous wife” who produced “children of unfaithfulness.” Hosea married her because God told him to.
If you want to white-wash the story, clean it up because it’s too messy, put it in a neat little box, then by all means allegorize. This I believe is why so many are tempted to allegorize. Because so many Christians have very little boxes that they want to keep God in.
But if you want to follow God, the God who C.S. Lewis in the chronicles of Narnia described as the lion Aslan who is not tame, not safe, but is good, then take the text at its word: God told Hosea to marry a prostitute and Hosea obeyed.
It is scary and uncomfortable to take the text literally. If we do, we open the possibility to God using our lives as object lessons for those around us. And quite frankly who of us want to be object lessons?
Yet this is not the first time. Look at Job. God was bragging about Job to Satan one day in heaven saying, “Look at my servant Job. Look at how righteous he is!” Satan challenged God saying, “He is only righteous and faithful to you because you have blessed him, because you have set up a hedge of protection around him. Let me get ahold of him and we’ll see if he remains faithful!” God takes the bet.
I don’t know about you, but I am not to excited with the prospect that my life is a chip in a high stakes supernatural wager! Yet this is Job’s life. This is Job’s experience.
Satan takes everything, his wealth, his land, his home, his children, his wife, his health. As his wife departs her advice to Job is to curse God and die. But Job doesn’t. He says “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” He doesn’t curse God! He remains faithful!
Here we find Hosea as the object lesson. He is preaching against the popular religious practices in Israel. Israel has turned their backs on God and to illustrate this rift Hosea is commanded to marry a prostitute. Israel has sinned. Israel is in bed with another God.
Now why such vulgar language? Why call this prostitution, whoredom? It’s just sin. What’s the big deal?
This is a wake up call to Israel and to us to take sin seriously. Too often we see sin as a little mistake, something that we can do and God will forgive us not matter what. But sin is powerful and it powerfully damages our relationship with God.
In fact, the language of prostitution emphasizes relationship. That’s why sin is so bad. We are married to God. We are the bride of Christ!
Catholic theology regarding the priesthood emphasizes this. As I understand it, Catholic priests understand themselves as being married to Christ. In fact, my wife and I attended a catholic marriage retreat and as we went around the room sharing our names and how long we had been married we came to the priest. I thought we’d just skip over him after we got his name. But he went on and introduced himself and said he had been married 25 years. 25 years? What is he talking about? I thought priests couldn’t marry?
Then I realized he was speaking of his ordination vows. He had been “married” to Christ, serving in ordained ministry for 25 years.
Protestantism has lost this notion. Many have come to see our relationship with God as something we do on Sunday morning for an hour or two. Instead of a vibrant growing relationship, we are estranged from God, far from God.
Those of you who are married know what I am talking about. Many times in our marriages we experience estrangement and distance from our spouse. We share the same house, the same bed but our hearts can be cold and far from one another.
This happens in our relationship with God. And God sees our sin, our turning away from him as adultery, as prostitution. For God, sin is very serious because it damages our relationship with him.
Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is to demonstrate this, to live this out for Israel. Painfully Hosea is able to empathize with God. Hosea knows the deep betrayal God feels when his bride turns away, sins against him.
Hosea continues in his radical obedience by naming his children strange, sad names. First he names his first born son Jezreel. This is like one of us naming our child “Sand Creek Massacre” for Jezreel is the place where a terrible massacre took place. God is communicating that a massacre awaits Israel and her leaders because of their sin.
Then Gomer bears a precious little girl who was most likely not Hosea’s child. God tells Hosea to name her Lo-Ruhamah. This must have tested the prophets resolve to follow God. Here he named his precious girl the tragic name, “she is not loved.” Again God uses Hosea and his family as an object lesson for Israel. Israel is not loved by her lover because of her adultery, because of sin.
Gomer then conceives by another man most likely and bears a little boy who receives the name Lo-Ammi, which means “not my people.” Again God has a message for Israel: You are not my people. The covenant is breach. Our special relationship is gone because of your prostitution.
For the church today, many assume too much. We assume we are God’s people when perhaps because of sin, because of syncretism, because of cultural accommodation we are no longer God’s people. Many think that they can perform their religious duty on Sunday and the rest of the week live for themselves. But this is religion not relationship. And God doesn’t care about religion, just ask Israel. God desires a deep, passionate, loving relationship. The question for you and me is, are we passionately in love with God? Are we developing a relationship with God or are we tending to religious duty?
Finally in verse 10 there is a dramatic change in the tone of the passage. Here we learn that the situation will be reversed. God will again call Israel his people. God will again love Israel. Why does this happen? How does it happen? Does Israel do something that merits this change?
No. The change occurs because of God’s mercy and grace. Fortunately, God’s grace wins the day! He reinstates the relationship with Israel. He remains faithful while we are faithless.
This is a dangerous way to conclude this message. It is dangerous because we might all walk out of here this morning having heard only about the wonderful grace of God and we may not heed the stern warning regarding sin. Don’t make this mistake. Yes God is gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. But sin damages our relationship with him. Don’t prostitute yourself. Follow God. Love God. Serve God. And only God. Passionately pursue a relationship with God don’t tend to a religious duty!