His Marriage Was the Message

By Neil Earle


God’s engagement-day telegram to his servant Hosea (were he to send one) would have been a jolt. Hosea, a man of God who lived during the exceedingly corrupting and prosperous reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (roughly 793-753 BCE), must have been stunned at God’s command: “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord” (Hosea 1:2).

Thus begins this fascinating book we know as Hosea. It was God’s plan that the prophet’s painful marriage problems would be an acted parable, a living audio-visual demonstration for the wanton, faithless nation of Israel. Thanks to a too close alliance with the decadent but prosperous nations of the Phoenicians – people  fatally addicted to the Ba’al Cult and its sacred prostitution (“To help Nature reproduce, sleep with one of our Temple prostitutes”) – Israel had succumbed to rampant materialism, with overtones of child sacrifice and mechanical religion (Hosea 4:11; 7:4).

Hosea’s personal family distresses would be a wake-up call from Yahweh, God of Israel. “Turn back to God, O faithless nation!” His marriage would be the message.

The Times and the Man

The reign of Jeroboam II was Israel’s last gasp of wealth and splendor before the Assyrian thunder rolled across the land exterminating Israel in 721-718 BCE. Hosea refers to the earlier Assyrian throttling of Syria, their mortal enemies, in 841 BCE (Hosea 10:14). When Assyria in turn was pinned down by northern enemies in the reign of Jeroboam II, Israel was free to function as the breadbasket for Tyre and Sidon, the resource-hungry, expansive Phoenicians to the northwest. Israelite wheat and corn and olive oil poured abroad into Egypt, and even Assyria but especially Tyre and Sidon, the earlier home of the evil Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31). This political marriage had helped solidify a prosperous alliance a century before with her disastrous marriage to Ahab, King of Israel.

Disastrous for the nation, but a boon for the economy (Hosea 2:8-13)!

Jeze-Ba’al – her religion was embedded in her very name. Ritual prostitution and an arrogant prosperity spread through the land. God was mocked and marriage was no longer held in high repute (Hosea 9:10-17).

The result?

God proposed to allow Israel to be taken into captivity by those very Assyrians who would flex their muscles more mightily than ever after Jeroboam’s death (Hosea 11:5-6). Israel would see six kings toppled in thirty years – a recipe for instability and foreign invasion (Hubbard, Hosea, pages 24-25).

In Hosea 4:1-3 God is taking Israel to court for a dark catalogue of sins – especially swearing, lying, killing and committing adultery. Hosea’s own growing family becomes a picture of what is happening and will happen later.

Grace Amid Judgment

Commentators are divided over whether the young man’s wife, Gomer or G’Mer, was a loose woman before their marriage but the indications are that she was (Hosea 2:2-7). Perhaps, Hosea reasoned, he could make a difference. Like many an idealistic young groom or bride he could have reasoned, “Maybe I can change her. Maybe the worst won’t happen.” It did. His first son was “a child of harlotry” (Hosea 2:7). This set up a grim pattern:

“The three children symbolize aspects of God’s dealing with his people,” says Lasor’s Old Testament Survey, page 261. “The name God gave to the firstborn, Jezreel, was a prophecy of judgment upon the house of Jehu whose vicious purges began with the murders of Joram and Jezebel at Jezreel” (2 Kings 9:16-37). “Jezreel” could mean something like Nagasaki or Little Big Horn or Omaha Beach to us today. That was the first boy (Hosea 1:4-5). The first daughter God commanded to be named “Lo-Ruhamah” – “I will not have mercy.” The peak of this devastating acted-parable came with the second daughter’s name – “Lo—Ammi” – “Not My People.” Israelites had prided themselves on being the Chosen people – now they receive a rude shock through Hosea’s three children.

Yet as sobering as this living, jarring demonstration of the nation’s drift from God, Yahweh still inspired Hosea to hold out hope. In the words of David Allan Hubbard, Hosea’s message was “heavy with tragedy, buoyant with hope.” Even the name “Jezreel” could be capable of two meanings: “I will scatter” or “I will sow.” God will send Israel into exile but eventually a remnant will return to carry out God’s purposes of bringing a Deliverer into the world (Hosea 1:10-11). Thus very early on, certain prophecies relating to Jesus Christ begin to enter the narrative but there would be much tough sledding before that happened.

God’s Character the Key

Catch the scene. In spite of much pain and travail, Hosea carries out God’s command to take G’mer back. Picture a busy market day in ancient Samaria, Israel’s proud capital. On the slave docket stands a faded, tainted G’Mer awaiting her fate. There is a sir in the gawking, leering crowd. Hose appears. Would the prophet take his wife back? The hawkers and flesh merchants might have speculated that his name (actually “Hoshea” or “Joshua” in Hebrew) meant “deliverer” or “savior.” What would this man of Yahweh do? Damaged or wounded slaves in Israel went for thirty pieces of silver (Exodus 21:32). That should make New Testament readers think. There is more going on between G’mer and Hosea than meets the eye. G’mer, perhaps trying to cover her wasted, nearly naked body on the slave block, will sell for 15 pieces of sliver – half the going price of a gored slave (Hosea 3:1-2).

Hosea pays the price. He becomes her deliverer. Though there is much work to do, the Christ-like prophet takes his wife back to his house. His marriage is the message. God’s love for Israel is vast and deep as is his love for all people. Hosea had already explained that to the Israelites in a magnificent passage Hosea 2:19-20, which is full of the language of loving and romantic enticement, a throwback to what most newly-weds experience in early marriage (Hosea 2:14). It is one of the pivotal passages in the book for its shows us the loving character of God Himself.

“You see what I’ve done,” Hosea could have said to the gawking crowds. “I took my wife back though she had ruined herself with harlotry. Well that is nothing compared to what God is prepared to do for you, O Israel. Listen!”

Hosea writes a brief two-verse description that pivots around the kind of wedding gifts God would love to give Israel. “I will bethroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy, I will bethroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord” (2:19-20). Here he describes the very character attributes of Yahweh, God of Israel.

Putting Bad Things Right

Old Testament commentator Derek Kinder wrote about these verses: “In the Bible righteousness (Heb. Sedeq) is a warmer and more positive thing than we might have dared to hope. Far from being a cold rectitude preoccupied with keeping its hands clean, true righteousness is active and generous…Its meaning has to be found in the nature of God…God’s righteousness is creative, stepping in to put the worst things right. It is so often paired with ‘salvation’ that some modern versions tend to call it ‘deliverance’ or ’vindication’ (e.g. Isaiah 51:5-8; Psalm 98:2). (See Kidner’s The Message of Hosea, page 35).

This is so well put, as is Kidner’s explanation of “justice,” which essentially means “just dealings” with one another. Amos 5:24 says “to let justice roll down like waters” – a verse Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of quoting. Next comes God’s loving-kindness which means love with loyalty, a standard of mutual kindness and concern. “Mercy” is the tenderest word of all, being linked with “rahum” or “the womb.” Motherly love is proverbial and rightly so. This is close to Hosea’s meaning. Faithfulness is a good description of Hosea’s character under almost endless provocation. Now we see God Himself is the ultimate Source of that re-engagement gift he longs to lavish upon Israel.

The one constant in God’s righteousness of course is that free unselfish act of merciful pardon flowing from His inner being. “In every sense, righteousness is a gift from God,” writes Kidner, “and never more so than when it means His bestowing of acceptance and acquittal on us; or in Paul’s expression, ‘justification.’ Paul found this ‘free gift of righteousness’ already discernible in the Old Testament (Romans 4) and now plainly ours to receive by faith in Christ (Romans 5:17).”

Jesus in the Old Testament

Hosea endured because he looked to Yahweh as his Mentor and Guide. As a result he was allowed to write prophecies relating to Jesus, the coming Deliverer. The first we have already mentioned. Hosea 11:1 is cited rather straight-forwardly in Matthew 2:15 but few would have thought of applying it to Joseph, Mary and Jesus – it is one of the “dark sayings” among the prophecies. Another is the oblique back-to-front shallow repentance of the people affirming self-righteously that God would raise them up on the third day (Hosea 6:1-2). “Many a true word is spoken in haste.” Paul alludes to this as a cardinal prophecy of Jesus and his resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:4.

The next is the exultant Hosea 13:14 “O Death where are your plagues?” which is put as a powerful affirmation in the Resurrection Chapter (1 Corinthians 15:54).

What are we to say about all this? Hosea himself seems a bit dazed by all that happened to him in his life (Hosea 14:9). Yet only a persevering servant of God could have had the steadfast love to endure in such a marriage and only Hosea’s God will have the love and vision to preserve the nation for her purpose in history – to give birth to the Deliverer. Hosea speaks today as an honored figure among the writing prophets because, truly, his marriage was the message.