Throughout this study we’ve not only been learning about the minor prophets and about Israel and Judah during the era of the Divided Kingdom, but we’ve also been learning about how to read the prophets. We’ve explored the nature of prophecy, the way that it is used in many of these books, and we’ve also been doing this in chronological order of events. As you’ve probably picked up on, because most of us are not only non-Jews, but we’re also people who maybe don’t have a robust grasp on Jewish history, it can be very difficult to just drop in on a prophetic book and expect to understand what’s going on. That is why we’ve been going in chronological order of events, rather than in the order of the Bible, because it helps us to understand where we are in the scheme of history. It helps us understand that these are not just characters, but are real men who inhabited real places at real points in history. In order to understand the prophets, you need to have a basic understanding of their world and cultural situation, and you cannot divorce them from their worlds. You cannot just arbitrarily pull out their words and try to apply them to your life because that doesn’t really work.
The prophet Jeremiah, for example, at one point wrote a letter to the exiled people of Judah who had been carried away from their home in Jerusalem to Babylon, and in this letter the Lord says famously, “for I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Now, if we’re reading the Bible contextually, we recognize that those words weren’t originally written to or about modern day us. They were written to Hebrew exiles. So, you can’t just pull that out of its time and place and stick it on your bathroom mirror and act like it’s about you first. Now, is there a sense in which a statement like that is true in Christ? Yes, but does that mean that you won’t experience harm or suffering in this life? No…just ask the apostles. And, just ask the prophets.
And, as we enter into the book of Hosea today, we enter into a strange world, a world where God not only wants to use a prophet to declare his word, but he also wants the suffering of the prophet’s life to declare the word of the Lord. And, the bold, crass, out-front word that he wants Hosea and Hosea’s life to declare is, “Israel, you are a whore. But, I love you despite what you are and what you have done.”
The word of the Lord that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in 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 whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by 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, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”
6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”
8 When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. 9 And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”
10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.
Wow…ok. What do we do with this? Well, let’s start with some background, and then we’ll turn to the text itself.
Hosea is a contemporary of Amos; whose book we just finished. Hosea is probably writing something ten to twenty years after Amos, but he is speaking into the exact same cultural situation. It is Israel during the Divided Kingdom, when the people are split between Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Just like Amos, Hosea is declaring the word of the Lord during the time of Jeroboam II, King of Israel. And, as we have said, this was a period of great wealth, prosperity and military might for Israel. But, it was also a time in which they had abandoned God. They had abandoned his law; they had abandoned the exclusive worship of him. With Amos, God sent a man from the southern kingdom of Judah to declare his word. With Hosea, God sends one of their own, someone from the north.
Now, clearly, the most noticeable thing for us when we read this first chapter is the account of Hosea’s marriage and his family. In fact, what we get here is something that we don’t get much of in the minor prophets and that is like a biological sketch. Remember Amos; who was he? We know he was from Judah and that he was probably a shepherd. Other than that, we know nothing about him. Was he married? Did he have kids? We don’t know. With Hosea, though, we get more of that…but it comes with a purpose. And, the purpose is that God wants Hosea’s life and marriage to serve as a metaphor for Israel’s relationship to God.
2 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.”
There are so many questions here that we simply don’t have the answers to. The first question most people have is: is this real? Is this something God actually asked Hosea to do or is this just some sort of story? Did he actually ask one of his prophets to marry a promiscuous and unfaithful woman? Most scholars land on the side of this being an actual thing. One of the biggest reasons why is verse 3: So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. The fact that not just the name of his wife is mentioned, but also the name of her father, points to this being an actual person.
So, if the first question is “is this real?” The follow up question would be, “why would God do something like this?” Incumbent in that question is probably an assumption that this relationship was a burden to Hosea or that it brought him suffering; which I think it did. Why would God do this to one of his faithful servants? And, yet, the reality is that most of the prophets had incredibly hard lives because of what God called them to, and some of them were asked to do unbelievable things. Many of the prophets had hard lives simply because of the nature of being a bearer of bad news. When you’re a prophet, no one wants you around, and yet, you’ve dedicated your life to declaring something that no one wants to hear. But, then also God does things through the lives of the prophets that are designed to provide a living example of the nation’s sin. For example: Jeremiah was told by God not to marry, and was, instead, commanded to walk around carrying chains and yokes of wood. Ezekiel was told not to mourn for his wife who died and, at one point, was commanded to cook his food over human waste. Most famously, the prophet Isaiah was commanded to walk around naked for three years.
So, with some of the prophets, especially Hosea, God’s intention is not simply that their words would speak to the nation’s sin, but he also wants their very lives to serve as a metaphor for this. And, he tells us that from the beginning here: go take this person as your wife because the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord. But, still there are questions. Was Gomer promiscuous simply before the marriage or during the marriage? Were the children she bore actually Hosea’s children? That’s not entirely clear. But, we do see that either way, Hosea assumes the role of fatherhood including the task of naming the children. Let’s map out this family tree.