Hosea 1:2–11; 3:1–5
Love’s Discipline (1:2–9)
Some have called the book of Hosea “The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.” God makes the prophet Hosea a living allegory to show His people that God loves the unlovable. Even though they were prostituting themselves by worshiping Baal, God still loved them. Temple prostitution was a common practice in the ancient Near East where people would engage in sexual practice in honor of their gods and goddesses, and there would be financial gain as a result of their practices. Eventually, this became a problem for the children of Israel also. Gomer becomes the living representation of Israel’s faithlessness to Yahweh. The names of the children that result from Hosea’s unparalleled marriage were determined by God. The first child was a boy named Jezreel whose name means “God sows” and it represents the geographical site known as Jezreel where Naboth was murdered by Jezebel, Ahab’s wife (1 Kings 21:8–14). It was also the site of the Jehu’s massacre described in 2 Kings 10:11. Thus, the Valley of Jezreel became synonymous with bloodshed. The second child was a girl named Lo-Ruhamah, whose name means “No mercy.” The third child was a boy and God named him Lo-Ammi, “Not my people.” When God made a covenant with His people at Sinai, He said: “And I will be your God, and you will be my people.”
Love’s Promise (1:10–11)
God in His love punishes His children, but the language of indictment is accompanied by the language of hope. This will entail physical growth. “The number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea which cannot be measured or numbered.” God’s future for His people also involves a special relationship, where His people will be called “the sons of the living God.” John affirms this when he exclaims, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” God’s blessing will also involve their gathering back from the exile. This promise was fulfilled when in 538 b.c. Cyrus the Great gave the edict that the children of Israel could return to their land and rebuild their temple. God’s blessings will also involve the provision of leadership. In every generation God is faithful in raising up godly leaders to lead His people.
Love’s Redemption (3:1–5)
The greatness of this story is not told in the first chapter but in the third. After Gomer cheated on him, Hosea is asked by God to go and take her back. Hosea becomes God’s living allegory because just as Hosea will take Gomer back, so God takes back Israel and Judah despite their idolatry and faithlessness to the covenant. The second greatest story ever told is beautifully narrated by the genius and creativity of the late E.K. Bailey. “Years have passed and I have not seen or heard from Gomer. I raised the children by myself. One day … one of my neighbors stopped by and told me, ‘Your wife is on the auction block in the marketplace.’ Finally I reached the marketplace, and when I turned the corner I saw my beloved wife standing on the auction block. They have stripped her dignity. And as I got closer to the crowd I heard the voice of the auctioneer, ‘We have a woman here; her name is Gomer. Anybody here willing to pay the price?’ As I got closer I had to suffer the indignity of hearing other men bid for my wife. One man said, ‘Five shekels,’ another said ‘Seven.’ I got in the bidding war and said, ‘Nine,’ another said, ‘Ten.’ Another said, ‘Eleven’ and ‘Twelve.’ I looked to see whatever I had and said, ‘Fifteen shekels, a homer and 10 bushels of barley.’ The auctioneer said, ‘Sold to the highest bidder.’ As we left the marketplace she fell prostrate on her face and she cried out, ‘Hosea, thank you for buying me back. Thank you for paying the price for me.’”
Gomer’s story is our story. Although we have sinned over and over again, God paid the ultimate price for our sin when Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross. Thus, we are saved not because of what we do, but because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. And that is the greatest story ever told and lived.
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Tiberius Rata is professor of Old Testament Studies and chair of the Department of Biblical Studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Ind. This article first appeared in The Alabama Baptist and is used with permission.)