Of all teachers, experience provides the most unforgettable lessons. What we learn through experience is long remembered. Mistakes that are painful or cost us a great deal seldom are repeated. Experiences equip us to be more sympathetic to those going through similar problems; we have felt what others now feel. Perhaps this was why God commanded Hosea to endure firsthand what He was experiencing with Israel.
“Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD” (Hos. 1:2).
By this command, Hosea’s marriage to Gomer would mimic God’s marriage to Israel. Both husbands, Hosea and God, would go through the agony of having an unfaithful wife. Hosea through his experiences would come to know firsthand how God felt about His unfaithful wife (Hos. 4 -13). It would help him deliver God’s message with increased empathy.
God figuratively married to Israel
Of all life’s alliances, marriage is the closest. God planned that all life’s joys and sorrows would be shared by husband and wife (Gen. 2:18). When one’s partner goes his own way and shares what he should not with another, the betrayed partner is often emotionally devastated. God had long endured Israel’s unfaithfulness and soon Hosea, through his sad experiences with Gomer, would better understand God’s distress.
Was Gomer chaste when Hosea first took her in marriage? If she was, the parallel of Hosea and Gomer with God and Israel would be more apt (Hos. 2:15). Yet even if she was not promiscuous at first, Gomer soon became unfaithful to Hosea. While Hosea was to experience firsthand the physical unfaithfulness of Gomer, God suffered both the physical and spiritual unfaithfulness of Israel (Hos. 9:10; 10:1).
In better times, God had said: “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:2,3). Instead of pleasing ourselves (by choosing other gods) we must put God in His rightful place and recognize His authority over us.
God forsaken for idols
The gods we make for ourselves are usually very human in their characteristics. They demand little of us beyond what we are inclined to do naturally. Serving them may at times seem pleasurable and give us immediate gratification. Worshipping the Baals provided this opportunity for self indulgence to Israel.
Today false worship tends to be more sophisticated. Yet by worshipping “gods” other than our Maker, we are trapped in the same self-centeredness of human desire. As John warns in the last words of his first epistle: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (I John 5:21).
Hosea and other scriptures amply show us God was a patient and faithful husband to Israel. In time, Israel’s growing fondness for pagan idols began to break up her marriage to Yahweh. Surrounding nations rationalized their false worship by saying that the Baals provided for their needs. Israel should have known better than the nations (Hos. 2:8). They had been warned countless times by God’s prophets. Their failure to oust the Canaanites from their land was ever a snare to them. Gradually by association they, too, allowed themselves to be convinced that these lifeless idols were actually taking care of them. Sometimes we make a similar mistake by supposing that through our own wit and labor we are providing for ourselves; worshipping the created not the creator (13:9,10).
Jehu’s dynasty to end
The time frame for Hosea’s prophecy is during the reign of Jeroboam II near the end of the northern kingdom (750 BC). Hosea continued as the prophetic voice of God to Israel through the brief reigns of six remaining kings (1:1; 10:7; 13:11). When he first prophesied, Israel was prosperous partly because Jeroboam II had expanded its borders (II Kgs. 14:25). Yet the name of Hosea’s first child announces the prosperity would come to an end.“Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel” (1:4).
Why would God destroy the house of Jehu? Had not Jehu slain the remainder of Ahab’s house in Jezreel and Samaria and even destroyed Baal out of Israel (II Kgs. 10:11-28)? In spite of these victories, “Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin” (II Kgs. 10:31). His house was not worth saving and neither was his kingdom for the northern kingdom was about to end. “And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (Hos. 1:5).
As chapters four to thirteen demonstrate, God’s commandments were no longer being kept in Ephraim (which name often stands for the northern kingdom, as Ephraim was the dominant tribe). Judah, too, is mentioned, but the prophet’s message is centered on the northern kingdom. The gross sins of the rulers and citizens were breaking down the society. Yahweh’s mercy with Israel had reached its limits (II Kgs. 18:9-12), therefore God purposed to bring the Assyrians against her.
More children speak of more despair
Gomer then bore two more children but Hosea’s role in their conception is not even mentioned (compare verses 6 and 8 with 3). Were these the “children of whoredoms” God had warned Hosea about (1:2; 2:4)? Like Jezreel their names directed a spiritual message at Israel, declaring to all God’s growing displeasure with their wicked behavior.
Gomer’s second child was a daughter named Loruhamah, which in Hebrew means “not obtained mercy.” Treating Israel tenderly no longer was helpful to them, mercy was not bringing about the changes that God desired. His patience with Israel was almost exhausted and to save a few faithful, He must “utterly take them (the northern kingdom) away” (Hos. 1:6).
Gomer’s third child was a son, Loammi, meaning “not my people.” By their actions, Israel had rejected God; was not God justified in disowning them? Their wickedness was so great He no longer wished to be their father. He declares: “For ye are not my people, and I will not be your God” (1:9).
Each child’s name disclosed God’s increasing despair with the behavior of Israel. In fact, reading the first nine verses of chapter one might suggest that God had cancelled His promises to Abraham. The next few verses, however, show this was far from His mind.
“Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel. Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah” (Hos. 1:10,11; 2:1).
Gomer rescued from slavery
What God experienced with Israel, Hosea experienced with Gomer. She, too, was separated from her husband but Hosea sought her out and purchased her from slavery (Hos. 3:1-3). A period of probation was involved, but if the parallel with Israel holds true, then perhaps the two were eventually truly reunited.
The book of Hosea ends on this happy note: “Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found. Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein” (14:8,9).
Just like God, Hosea’s love and concern for his wife would be an important factor in Gomer’s eventual recovery.