The book of Hosea describes Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and its prophetic meaning for Israel. Verse one of Hosea provides us with the names of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah; kings of Judah, and the name of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. The span of which, is approximately thirty years leading up to Assyria’s destruction of Israel in 722 BC, and the time which Hosea was Prophesying leading up to the Assyrian invasion. As Hill and Walton note, “the purpose of the book of Hosea is to warn the people in the northern kingdom of Israel of the impending Assyrian exile…” (Hill & Walton 581). Thus, Hosea prophesies against the northern kingdom and not the southern kingdom of Judah. Hosea was a contemporary of Amos, and they were addressing the same corrupt and idolatrous northern kingdom during the last decades of its existence.
While Hosea may have been a contemporary of Amos, he was unique in one respect. God made him live the tragedy of Israel’s unfaithfulness by marrying a harlot. While most Christians would never dream of marrying a pimp or a prostitute, they may quickly allow themselves to fall for an attractive unbeliever. But in God’s eyes, everyone who forsakes the lord is a whore or a harlot. There are no religious singles in God’s eyes. Everyone is either faithfully married to God or is a prostitute. God made you (not only Israel) for himself. If you get your thrills from somewhere else, you commit great harlotry against God. And so, before God gives Israel his bride, a message of judgment and grace, he provides this illustration through His prophet Hosea of what it’s like to be married to an unfaithful wife (Isa. 62:5; 61:10; cf. Rev. 21:2).
God had established His covenant with Israel and in keeping with that covenant Israel was to worship Yahweh alone (Exod. 20:1-6, Deut. 4:15-31). According to Hill and Walton, “God’s controversy with Israel was rooted in the conflicting religious ideologies of Canaanite Baalism and Hebrew Yahwism” (Hos. 4:4) (Hill & Walton 589). Israel was to be wholly chaste and singularly committed to God in a monotheistic relationship. Yet, “inevitably Hebrew coexistence with the Canaanites led to intermarriage and eventually to the worship of the Canaanite gods” (Judg. 2:11-15; cf. Deut. 7:1-5). Further noted by Hill and Walton is the remarkable parallel existent between God’s command to Hosea to marry a harlot and the physical and spiritual harlotry and adultery of Israel. “The people of Canaan engaged in sacred sexual intercourse with the cult prostitutes as part of Baal worship… Hosea’s experience with the faithless prostitute Gomer directly parallel Yahweh’s relationship with a people who left their God to play the “harlot” with Baal” (4:10, 12, 15, 17, 5:3-4) (Hill & Walton 590-91). So there is the remarkable corollary of Israel’s physical and spiritual harlotry to that of Hosea’s wife which is illustrated through Hosea’s marriage.
Another purpose of the book of Hosea and the prophet’s message to the people is to testify of God’s steadfast love (Hill & Walton 581). In chapter 3 of Hosea, after Gomer has been unfaithful to her husband Hosea, we read “Go again, love her.” And not just to go and get her and love her, but to even be willing to pay this “other husband or companion” for her! Not only was that an emotional impossibility, but Hosea couldn’t afford it financially. If he could have, he probably would have paid cash. But he couldn’t. So he paid half in cash and half in barley. Truly, Hosea’s life is a portrayal of God’s own relationship with His bride, Israel, in that, God through Christ, gave all that He had to the point of death to purchase a bride for Himself. As Paul S. Fiddes comments in his article published in the Review and Expositor, “Hosea is being called to take the path of the cross in imitation of God’s own journey, in order to make God’s tragedy visible to Israel” (Fiddes/RevExp 90:2 p. 177). Hosea was commanded to do this not only through the pain of reconciliation (ch. 2) but in the earlier agony of taking an unfaithful wife. This being further parallel as God knowingly takes an unfaithful Israel as a bride as “God’s own suffering pre-dates the human tragedy” (RevExp 177).
The reason God justly commanded Hosea to enter into this painful marriage relationship with a harlot is that he has done the same with his wayward Israel, and he had shown this to Hosea in verses 2:14-23. John Piper notes that the story of Hosea “looks beyond the Assyrian captivity to a literal fulfillment for ethnic Israel. [And] this fulfillment, is not only for Israel, but it will also include the church today who are the children of Abraham by faith” (Romans 4:16; Gal. 3:7, 29) (Piper, par. 11). It is important for Christians today to realize that the promises contained in Hosea 2:14-23 to the nation of Israel are for them today, for this interpretation is confirmed in the New Testament by the fact that Paul, in Romans 9:24, and Peter, in 1 Peter 2:10, apply Hosea 2:23 to the church. So God’s steadfast love, as demonstrated through the life of the prophet Hosea, is a word of God for us today.
Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A SURVEY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI., 2009).
Paul S. Fiddes, The Cross of Hosea Revisited: The Meaning of Suffering in the Book of Hosea. Review and Expositor, Volume 90, 2 (Louisville, KY: Review and Expositor, 1993).
John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1980 – 1989) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).