Hosea 1:1-9 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.
2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” 3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
4 And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”
6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”
8 When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. 9 And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”
There are a number of questions that Hosea forces us to ask ourselves. To name just a few:
- Do you want to know God as he truly is or just as you’ve made him?
- Do you mean to submit yourself to God’s rule in all things or just the ones that you’re comfortable with?
- Does your understanding of sin fit with Hosea’s message?
- Is your understanding of love compatible with God’s actions in Hosea?
We’ll begin to encounter these types of questions this morning as we consider Hosea’s ministry and family. It is my prayer that the questions, answers, and implications would be clear and God’s glory would be our all.
HOSEA’S MINISTRY (1:1)
As I mentioned last week, the book of Hosea contains the prophecies of Hosea to the Northern Kingdom-variously referred to as Israel, Samaria (the capital), and Ephraim (the most prominent tribe).
A prophet, as the first verse of our passage makes clear, was one who spoke God’s words on God’s behalf. Hosea was not declaring his own thoughts or wisdom or morality to the Israelites. He wasn’t even merely declaring things God had said in the past (which is what I’m doing right now). He was declaring the very words of God, given to him directly by God for his hearers, “The word of the LORD that came to Hosea…”.
Grace, let me pause here for just a moment. One of the things that continually stands out to me about our current culture (outside the Church and, sadly, often within) is how often people simply declare things to be true. “Marriage is this…”, “Life is that…”, “This is right and that is wrong…”, “This is good and that is bad…”. We all act as if we are little sovereigns with the power to declare things to be whatever we want.
In a similar way, when making decisions we often act as if we are free to decide on whatever course of action sounds best or seems right or would be the most fun or least uncomfortable. Again, we act like little sovereigns.
The opening line of this book, however, reminds us that there is One Sovereign with the right to reign, One Voice with the power to declare, and One Guide with the wisdom to direct. That knowledge permeates all of Hosea and ought to permeate all of us. When it does we will tremble at our insolence and flippancy, we will recoil at our casual, selective obedience, and then we will truly be free to feel the amazingness of grace.
Acknowledging the reality of the God of the bible (as opposed to the god of our own imagination), and the fact that he has definitively spoken, changes everything. To truly believe those things leaves no area of our lives untouched.
Indeed, all of that is embedded into the simple words, “The word of the LORD that came to Hosea…,” and it is my prayer, as we work through this book, that they will be increasingly embedded into our very beings.
Again, then, the word of God came to Hosea. And God’s main message to Hosea-or the main point of the word of the LORD that had come to him-was that God had a fiercely jealous love for his people. This came in the form of a call to repentance, a declaration of the consequences for failing to do so, and promises of a future mercy to come.
The rest of v.1 gives us the little background we have on Hosea and sets the time period of his prophecies. What do we know about Hosea’s past? Nothing except that he was the “son of Beeri”. That’s it.
In the way of dating Hosea, given the kings named (along with the events described within the book) we can fairly confidently conclude that Hosea prophesied from approximately the 750s to the 720s BC.
Now this is a sermon, not a lecture on Hosea. The reason I bring up the background and date, then, is not to fill you with historical facts-you can get those for yourself easily enough in a basic study bible-but to remind you, once again, that this is a real story about real people in real time. Hosea, Beeri, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Jeroboam all really lived and did the things described in Hosea and the rest of the OT. We’ll get into that a bit more when we consider Hosea’s marriage and family, but for now please understand that these are not fairy tales or mythical stories or parables or allegories intended to teach some spiritual lesson. Instead, they are a record of God’s marvelous works among his people, ordained for his glory and our good.
How many countless circumstances in your life have you never thought twice about? How many countless encounters have you had that you counted as entirely insignificant? Verse 1 of Hosea serves as a reminder that there are no wasted moments, relationships, people, civilizations, events, or anything else. God is lord of them all and he uses every one of them to serve his greater purposes. Find humility, rest, and strength, Grace, in this knowledge. Whatever you’re going through, know that God has a good purpose for it-and every tiny piece within it-for all who love him.
With that, let’s look at Hosea’s marriage and family in verses 2-9.
HOSEA’S FAMILY (1:2-9)
We can see from the beginning of v.2 that Hosea’s marriage marked the beginning of his prophetic career. And what a beginning it was.
” When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom…So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim…”.
What exactly does this mean and why would God command such a thing?
Well, it probably1 means what you think it means. God actually commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute and to have children with her. As we will see in coming chapters, Israel was filled with Baal worship. Baal was a fertility God. Therefore, there were many, many cult prostitutes as part of Baalism. It is likely that Gomer was one of them. Again, this was how God commanded Hosea to begin his prophetic ministry.
Just think about that for a second. Imagine this in real life. We’re looking to hire a second pastor at Grace. Imagine we find a guy who seems like a good fit, hire him, and the first thing he does is marry the unbelieving town drunk (claiming, of course, that God had told him to do so). Having done so, imagine our new pastor proceeding to issue dire, divine warnings to us concerning our church’s drinking problem. Do you think his marriage would help or hurt his credibility? Do you think we’d take him more seriously or seriously doubt our hire? Do you think we’d believe he and his marriage were from God or would we be more prone to believe they were from sin?
Well, again, that’s how God set Hosea up for his new vocation. And this, of course, leaves us with the question of why God would command such a thing? The middle of God’s command tells us the main reason, “…for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD…”. In other words, God commanded Hosea to marry the prostitute, Gomer, in order to provide a physical, visible representation of Israel’s spiritual idolatry. Hosea represented God in his jealous, faithful love and Gomer represented Israel in her selfish, adulterous sin.
This certainly seems strange at first, but the fact is, God did that regularly. For instance, he commanded Ezekiel to publically lay on his side for 430 days as a sign of the coming judgment upon Israel and Judah.
Ezekiel 4:1-6 “And you, son of man… 4 …lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment. 5 For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. 6 And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year.
We find another bizarre example in Isaiah 20.
Isaiah 20:2-5 the LORD spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot. 3 Then the LORD said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, 4 so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. 5 Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast.
Likewise, Jeremiah is told to “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck” (Jeremiah 27:2) and then preach to Nebuchadnezzar concerning God’s breaking of his yolk.
Again, then, the main, stated reason for God calling Hosea to marry Gomer was to provide a visible depiction of Israel’s own unfaithfulness, and the seriousness of Israel’s sin required an enacted prophecy of this magnitude.
But I think there’s another, implied reason as well. That is, I think it was the pain and difficulty and embarrassment and doubt that would have followed Hosea everywhere he went, that allowed him to speak with the passion and urgency and sadness and disgust that were required to proclaim the message he was proclaiming. No other prophet was forced to endure what Hosea was forced to endure and no other prophet spoke so continuously with the kind of holy, elevated emotions that Hosea did.
God caused Hosea to suffer as a visible picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness (the first reason I gave you) and as a tool to make Hosea better suited to proclaim the specific message God had for him-and both as expressions of God’s jealous love for his people.
But here’s the real take away for us, “We are Gomer! We are adulterous, guilty of unfaithfulness. In response to God’s love, kindness, and patience, we have prostituted ourselves to other things. We have sold ourselves to other gods and got nothing in return but misery and threat” (Chester, 36). If you are trying to see yourself in Hosea instead of Gomer you are missing the point entirely.
Grace, this book is filled with powerful words to God’s people in the 700s BC. But they heard Hosea’s words and were stirred into rage at his accusations. They did not hear them and repent and so God destroyed them. That is what you and I deserve as well. None of us have heard and rightly responded to God’s word to us, to his commands and warnings. We too have been unfaithful to God and we too deserve this ultimate punishment. And we too will receive it if we do not turn from our sins.
But the good news of Christianity is that God placed the punishment we deserve on Another. For all who will receive it, the consequences of our whorings have been paid for in full by Jesus. The only One who was faithful was destroyed for our adultery. But then, on the third day, he was raised from the dead and is even now waiting at God’s right hand for God to make for him a faithful bride-you and I and all who are being made holy by God through faith in Jesus.
What a story! But there’s more. We have much to learn (about God, the Israelites, and ourselves) not only from Hosea and Gomer’s marriage, but also from their children.
In 3b-9 we see that, at God’s command and hand, Hosea and Gomer had three children. Each of the children, as indicated by their names, were meant as an expressions of God’s progressive judgment on Israel.
The first child was a boy. “And the LORD said to [Hosea], ‘Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”
Concerning the background of this strange name, Tim Chester writes, “Jehu took power [over Israel] through great bloodshed. At their palace in Jezreel, Jehu slaughtered the leading figures in [his opposition’s] family and then had the severed heads of all seventy of his [opposition’s] grandsons brought to Jezreel. So Jezreel became synonymous with bloodshed (2 Kings 9-10).” It would be like us calling one of our children “Holocaust” or “Hiroshima” or “Columbine”. It was a remarkably shocking and convicting name to give a child.
Jehu was succeded by his son, Jehoahas, his grandson, Jehoash, and his great-grandson, Jeroboam II (mentioned as the king of Israel in 1:1). Each led Israel into progressively worse idolatry (reaching its peak under Jeroboam II’s resurgence of Baal worship).
For that reason, as we see in 4b-5, God had determined to entirely wipe out Israel-to break her bow. To “break the bow of Israel” means that God will remove any defense she has against her enemies. He will remove her armies and weapons of war and, more importantly, God will no longer be her protection. For that reason, not many years after these words were spoken by Hosea, the Assyrians from the north were able to come in and execute God’s judgment.
Again, Grace, we need to see ourselves in this. What are you hoping in? What are you trusting in for provision and protection? If your answer is anything other than God-if it is your parents or spouse or job or savings or strength or talents-you will meet the same fate as Israel. God will eventually break your bow. The Israelites were condemned by God precisely because they had determined to place their hope in their prosperity and military and most treacherously, their false gods. Find the things that you’re trusting in, in place of God and repent. Confess it as sin, look to the cross and its promises for forgiveness and strength.
Gomer’s second child was a girl. Her origin is a bit more ambiguous and her name a bit less subtle still. Concerning the second child’s lineage, the change in Hosea’s language may be important. In 1:3, concerning the first child, Jezreel, we read, “So [Gomer] went and took Gomer…and she conceived and bore him a son.” But in 1:6 (and similarly, with the third child, in 1:8) we read, “[Gomer] conceived and bore a son.” There is no mention of Hosea going to her and it does not say that Gomer bore “him” a son. There is a good chance this means that these were actually children of whoredom.
And concerning her name, “the LORD said to [Hosea], ‘Call her name Lo-Ruhama [which is translated ‘No Mercy].'” The name Jezreel would have likely required very little explanation to the Israelites. “No Mercy” would have required none at all. And yet, God provides a bit, “for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.” Again, the point is plain: Israel’s time is up. She is a nation of bloodshed and idol worship and therefore, God will have no mercy on her.
The third child of Gomer was the final expression of God’s judgment on Israel. In Hosea 1:8-9 we read, “When [Gomer] had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. 9 And the LORD said, ‘Call his name Lo-Ammi [which is translated, “Not My People”], for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” How devastating of a proclamation is this? The greatest words that Abraham’s decedents ever heard were, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God…” (Exodus 6:7). This child’s name was a declaration that God’s people had broken the terms of the covenant with God and were therefore, no longer eligible for its rewards. In fact, they were soon to experience the peril of their unfaithfulness, it exact reversal.
Again, Hosea and Gomer were real people, as were their three children. Their children would have gone out into public and every time they were summoned by their parents they, along with all the Israelites, would have been ashamed to hear, “Bloodshed, No Mercy, Not My People, come home.” Or, “It’s time to eat.” And that was the point.
Interestingly, we learn of God’s main charge against Israel (spiritual adultery) through his marriage and of the resulting judgments (bloodshed, the removal of mercy, and utter forsakenness) through his children. Let us hear those words, Grace, and not remain faithless as Hosea’s first audience did, in order that we might not share in their fate. Let us look to Christ and turn from our whorings, in order that we might receive the reward of the Almighty God.
As harsh as this section might seem (and it’ll get worse before it gets better), it truly is an expression of God’s jealous love. If not for God’s love he would have abandoned Israel and had nothing more to do with her. It is because he loved her that he was willing to call his prophet to such a severe life and to declare a message of such severe consequences. It may be difficult to understand, and more difficult still to appreciate, and yet such is the severity of the jealous love of God.
At the end of his commentary on 1:2 Calvin offers the following prayer. Let it be ours as well.
“Grant, Almighty God, that as we were from our beginning lost, when thou wert pleased to extend to us thy hand, and to restore us to salvation for the sake of thy Son; and that as we continue even daily to run headlong to our own ruin, – O grant that we may not, by sinning so often, so provoke at length thy displeasure as to cause thee to take away from us the mercy which thou hast hitherto exercised towards us, and through which thou hast adopted us: but by thy Spirit destroy the wickedness of our heart, and restore us to a sound mind, that we may ever cleave to thee with a true and sincere heart, that being fortified by thy defense, we may continue safe even amidst all kinds of danger, until at length thou gatherest us into that blessed rest, which has been prepared for us in heaven by our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
1 I say “probably” because there are some scholars who believe for instance, that taking a wife of whoredom only meant that Israel itself was playing the whore and so every woman in Israel would be considered a prostitute. In other words, some have argued that the command was only to get married to an Israelite woman (and that the woman of chapter 3 is not Gomer). Other scholars suggest that Gomer did not become a prostitute until after she and Hosea were married. I don’t find either of those arguments convincing-most likely, I believe, Gomer was a prostitute when she married Hosea-but whichever interpretation is correct, the main point of the story is clear: Israel was wickedly unfaithful to God and Hosea’s marriage to Gomer pictures that.