The Marriage of Hosea
Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and the birth of their children become the texts of God’s message to Israel. Israel’s unfaithfulness is portrayed in Gomer’s infidelity, and the removal of God’s covenant relationship with the nation is typified in the symbolic names given to Hosea’s children.
God’s opening command to Hosea, “take unto thee a wife of harlotry” (v. 2), leads one to believe that Gomer was already a prostitute before she married. This is doubtful. Gomer was probably chaste at the time of her marriage, but possessed a propensity for sexual promiscuity and was destined to become a prostitute over time. This command to Hosea can be interpreted as stated, in anticipation of her future harlotry.
Hosea’s heartache provides a visual analogy of God’s own heartache over Israel. Like Gomer, who broke her marriage covenant with Hosea, Israel broke her covenant relationship with God by pursuing a life of spiritual adultery.
Gomer bore three children who were labeled “children of harlotry” (v. 2). This does not imply that they were the result of Gomer’s extramarital affairs. It simply means that they would bare the stigma of Gomer’s character and lifestyle as a prostitute. At the birth of each child, God instructed Hosea to provide names that symbolized the withdrawal of His love and mercy from Israel.
Prophecy of Retribution
Gomer bore a son to Hosea whom he named Jezreel (vv. 3–4). Jezreel means “God scattered” or “God sows.” It is the name given to a fruitful valley that separates Galilee from Samaria, also called the Valley of Esdraelon.
Using the occasion of Jezreel’s birth, God pronounced judgment upon the house of King Jehu. He said, “I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel” (v. 4). Many years earlier, Elijah had prophesied that God would cut off the house of King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, in the Valley of Jezreel because of their wickedness in killing Naboth and stealing his vineyard. Upon hearing Elijah’s prophecy, Ahab humbled himself before God, and the Lord postponed the destruction of Ahab’s dynasty until after the king’s death (1 Ki. 21:17–29). Years later, under God’s direction, Elisha anointed Jehu king over Israel and chose him to destroy the house of Ahab. It was in the Valley of Jezreel that Jehu carried out God’s decree, slaying Joram and Jezreel and cutting off Ahab’s dynasty (2 Ki. 9–10). For political reasons, Jehu went far beyond God’s original decree and executed King Ahaziah of Judah, the princes of Judah, Ahab’s officials, and the worshippers of Baal (2 Ki. 9:24, 27–28; 10:11–14, 18–28), a deed for which God would bring judgment upon Jehu’s house (Hos. 1:4).
Jezreel’s birth was not only a sign of judgment to the house of Jehu, it was a sign of judgment upon all of Israel. God announced that He would “break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (v. 5). This prophecy was fulfilled during the Assyrian conquest of Israel between 734 and 722 BC.
Gomer’s second child was a daughter. God instructed Hosea to name her Lo-ruhamah. Some commentators believe that Lo-ruhamah was an illegitimate daughter of Gomer. This is doubtful for it is the father’s responsibility to name his child. The phrase “children of harlotry” (v. 2) was given to Hosea’s son as well as his daughter, indicating that the daughter also belonged to the prophet.
Lo-ruhamah means “not loved,” or “no pity.” God used the child’s name to announce that He would “no more have mercy upon the house of Israel” (v. 6). He had suffered long with Israel in her sinful condition and had shown the nation His mercy and protective grace, but now that mercy would be utterly taken away (v. 6).
Such was not the case with Judah. God said, “But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them… not save them by bow… sword… battle… horses, nor by horsemen” (v. 7). This prophecy was fulfilled when God miraculously delivered Jerusalem from Sennacherib the Assyrian in 701 BC. Sennacherib surrounded Jerusalem and demanded the unconditional surrender of King Hezekiah. Hezekiah refused to surrender. He asked for time to consider the offer and took the matter to God in prayer. God answered the king’s prayer when the Angel of the Lord delivered Judah by slaying 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (Isa. 37:21–36).
Israel was to learn a number of lessons from this prophecy concerning God’s protection of Judah. First, deliverance did not depend upon national prosperity or military prowess and strength. Second, hope of deliverance rested solely on “the Lord, their God” (Hos. 1:7). Third, Judah would be shown mercy in time of looming disaster because she had put her hope and trust in God for deliverance.
Gomer’s third child was a son whom Hosea named Lo-ammi (v. 9), meaning “not my people.” The meaning of Lo-ammi struck at the very heart of God’s covenant union with Israel and revealed a total change in His relationship with the nation. The language of verse 9 negated a commitment the Lord had made to Israel during her captivity in Egypt: (1) God revoked His promise of Exodus 6:7, “I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God,” and (2) God vowed to remove from the northern kingdom His providential care as expressed in the name by which He first revealed Himself to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM [Heb. ehyeh]” (Ex. 3:14). In Exodus, God emphasized His personal identification to Moses and announced that He had come to fulfill His covenant and keep His promise to deliver the afflicted posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Hosea, God told the people directly, “I will not be the I AM (ehyeh) to you [Hebrew text]” (v. 9). Such strong words should have struck terror in the heart of every Israelite. God had cut off the northern kingdom of Israel from any hope of deliverance.
Promise of Renewal
Had God severed His covenant relationship with Israel forever? No! Hosea assured Israel that one day God will reverse His declaration of abandonment and restore His covenant relationship with the nation. In the midst of Israel’s rejection, God gave the nation a word of hope framed in the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant.
First, God will replenish the world with Jewish people. “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered” (v. 10)—a fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham (Gen. 22:17; 32:12). This is quite remarkable, since the tribes of Israel are not identifiable today, but they will have an identity in the future (Ez. 48:1–7).
Second, God will restore His covenant relationship with Israel and turn judgment into mercy; “there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God” (v.10). Sonship restoration indicates that Israel will be spiritually regenerated (Ez. 36:21–27).
Third, in that day there will be a reuniting of the 12 tribes. “Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together” (v. 11). During the Kingdom age Israel and Judah will be reunited into one nation (Ez. 37:19, 22).
Fourth, Israel will “appoint themselves one head” (v. 11) or a national ruler. Scholars are divided on whether this is King David or Jesus the Messiah (cp. Hosea 3:5; Ez. 37:24). Scripture is clear: Jesus will receive David’s throne and reign over the house of Jacob forever (Lk. 1:32–33).
Fifth, Israel will return to her land, “and they shall come up out of the land; for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (v. 11). This pictures Israel being replanted in her land (cp. Dt. 30:1–10). According to Hosea 2:23, the Lord has promised to sow the nation (Jezreel) in the land as one sows seed in the ground. The words come up (Hos. 1:11) are translated “spring up” in other texts. As a plant breaks forth from the earth in all its glorious beauty, Israel sowed in her land will sprout forth gloriously in the Kingdom age. The verse closes with the words “for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (v. 11). It will be a great day for the nation when her judgment is ended and Israel is completely restored.
Hosea’s message was to be rehearsed in the ear of other Israelites: “Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah” (2:1). God will again embrace Israel, calling her Ammi (My people) and Ruhamah (having obtained pity [2:1]). These beautiful words express God’s covenant relationship with Israel and will come to fruition at Christ’s Second Coming.