Hosea was among the first writing prophets and the book bearing his name is the first of the twelve minor prophets canonized in the Bible. The Talmud claims that he was the greatest prophet of his generation (the eighth century BCE), an era which also included Isaiah (Pesachim 87A). Though he addressed Judah, Hosea was primarily concerned with the condition of the northern kingdom of Israel (whom he calls “Ephraim” 26 times) and the threat of a disaster that silently approached. (The Assyrians would eradicate the northern kingdom in 722 BCE). Though the book primarily denounces Israel for apostasy and warns of pending judgment, it also contains a promise of restoration (Hosea 3:4-5; 14:4-7). The book, however, is best known for the story of Hosea’s unstable marriage to the harlot, Gomer (Hosea 1-3).
Uncharacteristically, when the word of the Lord first came to Hosea, it was not to give him a message to relay but a personal instruction to marry a harlot (zanah). (I am betting this took him by surprise.) The command reads, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD (Hosea 1:2 NASB).” As such, Hosea’s first act as prophet was to marry a prostitute. (Pretty Woman stole its plot line from God.) God did not specify which harlot he was to marry but Hosea did as he was commanded and married Gomer, daughter of Diblaim (Hosea 1:3). (I wonder how Hosea expressed why he was interested in her...) The marriage produced three children all adorned with names that served as status updates regarding God’s relationship with Israel: Jezreel - “God sows” (Hosea 1:4-5), Lo-ruhamah - “No compassion” (Hosea 1:6-7) and Lo-ammi - “Not my people” (1:8-9). It has been suggested that the paternity of the two youngest children was questionable (Hosea 2:4). Despite God being so involved in his love story, Hosea is not mentioned once in Eric Ludy (b. 1970) and Leslie Ludy (b. 1975)’s When God Writes Your Love Story: The Ultimate Guide to Guy/Girl Relationships...
Have any other notable people married prostitutes? Why did God ask Hosea to do this? How do we explain God’s commanding his prophet to marry someone with whom he is “unequally yoked” (II Corinthians 6:14)? Have you or anyone you know ever felt called to marry a specific person or someone from a particular profession? When have you felt led by God to do something you did not want to?
Hosea used his own marital experience as a symbolic representation of God and Israel. In doing so, Hosea is believed to be the first prophet to use marriage as a metaphor for the covenant between God and Israel. The theme would recur in the work of later prophets (Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 3:8). Like Hosea, Jeremiah’s own marriage was scripted by God, but in his case the command was to not marry (Jeremiah 16:2).
Hosea’s first three chapters are devoted to the prophet’s marriage to the prostitute, alternating between his personal narrative and how those events paralleled God’s relationship to the nation with God portraying the dutiful husband and Israel the unfaithful wife. Hosea’s home life reflected the adulterous relationship which Israel had built with polytheistic gods and Hosea could truly empathize with the deity for whom he spoke. Through his marriage, Hosea could feels God’s pain.
Like Hosea’s selection of Gomer, God had contracted with an unreliable partner when he selected Abraham and his descendants. Even though Gomer ran away from Hosea and partnered with another man, he continued to seek her redemption (Hosea 3:1). Likewise, God had also refused to break covenant with Israel in spite of the nation worshiping other gods (Hosea 2:23, 3:1). Hosea manifested God’s love and patience for as the prophet searched for his wayward wife, found her and restored her, God would also not abandon Israel (Hosea 3:1-5). As such, the prophecy of Hosea is foremost concerned with God’s unending love towards a sinful people.
In what ways is marriage like one’s relationship to God? In what ways can you relate to Hosea? What does the fact that God would instruct Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman (and presumably make him miserable) say about the intent of marriage?
“The real purpose of marriage may not be happiness as much as it is holiness. Not that God has anything against happiness, or that happiness and holiness are by nature mutually exclusive, but looking at marriage through the lens of holiness began to put it into an entirely new perspective for me.” - Gary L. Thomas (b. 1961), Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy, pp. 22-23