“When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord’” (Hosea 1:2 NRSV).
It was more than the LORD calling for him to speak a Word from God…the demand was for him to live the message from God. The other day my wife and I were discussing the seemingly strange command gave to the prophet Hosea. This upright man of God was told to find a whore and marry her. There were many odd things that prophets were told to do, giving object lessons on what God had to say, trying to get people’s attention and bring them back to Him and His ways, but this one appears to border on some moral and ethical issues, and gives the impression that God was playing with a man’s emotions. Thinking it over, I’m not sure Hosea was an unwilling participant. Hosea’s love for unfaithful Gomer looks like a reflection of the divine passion for Israel. The prophet’s passion was a legitimate depiction of God’s love for his straying people.
Gomer had three children with Hosea, though it looks like there were doubts about the paternity of one or two, especially Lo-ammi ("not mine”). Married and the mother of children, foolish Gomer chased after other lovers. Hosea lets her get herself in deep. He provides for her, but she betrays him. She wearies herself with infidelity, and faithful Hosea bides his time. He formulates a plan for when she hits rock bottom.
“Therefore, I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. From there I will give her her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt” (Hosea 2:14-15 NRSV).
The “Valley of Achor” was the “valley of troubles” (Joshua 7), and Gomer had brought great trouble on herself. Even so, Hosea, the diehard lover, came after her and spoke kindly to the well-used woman. His words were dramatic.
“And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy” (Hosea 2:19 NRSV).
Anyone would say Hosea would have been justified in turning his back on Gomer. He could have forgotten her and found a faithful wife. Surely another woman could be found to care for his children and be a proper lifemate to him.
“The Lord said to me again, ‘Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer of barley and a measure of wine” (Hosea 3:1-2 NRSV).
Hosea embodied the deepest desires and affections of God for Israel. With his marriage and his very life he showed God’s intentions for the wayward but beloved people of Israel. God would not abandon His purposes for them. As near as I can tell, it looks like Gomer got herself sold into slavery, and Hosea bought her back. Again, anyone else may well have left her in the mess she was in. She certainly did not deserve Hosea’s compassion…but she got it anyway.
Although a remnant of Judah and some of the northern kingdom of Israel found their way back out of the captivity and into the land, I don’t believe the exile really ended there. Oppression by foreign powers continued, and the people of God kept looking for an anointed king to come and rescue them. Several candidates came and went, often violently, but salvation did not come. Then John the Baptist declared that he was the voice calling in the wilderness. The King was coming!
Jesus of Nazareth, embodying the will and message of God for Israel, came to His people in the humblest way with healing and a message of restoration. In parable after parable, lesson after lesson, Jesus made it known that He was anointed prophet and king. As such he cleared the temple and spoke as one having authority. He cast out demons and healed the sick. Israel’s Messiah had come! Yet he also lamented the spiritual state of His nation and predicted the judgment of God against Jerusalem. He longed to spare them this fate, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings to save them from a raging fire, but they were not willing.
Crucified outside the city gates, Israel’s true King was rejected by His people and executed by foreign powers. But this was not the end: In His death Jesus claimed victory over the rulers and authorities and defeated the power of death and removed its fear from those that believe. All this He did for an ungrateful people and an undeserving world.
God’s love, radically portrayed in the loving passion of the prophet Hosea and even more dramatically in the suffering and death of the Messiah, runs contrary to all of our human concepts of love. We love because we approve of someone, what they are doing or what we think they may become. Our fickle love can be broken by disobedience, adultery or any of a number of personal insults and sins. In extreme cases, people can be brought to despise their own children, but God is not so. Without approving of our sin, God calls us to repentance and does everything to bring this world back to Him.
The love of God bases itself not on what we are or have done, but on who He is and is demonstrated in what He has done for us. This is love, and it’s amazing.