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"Take Yourself a Wife of Harlotry" (Hosea 1-3) February 27

The prophet Hosea was contemporary with Amos, both having preached during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel (1:1; Amos 1:1). But Hosea tells us that his ministry also spanned the reigns of Judah's kings Jotham and Ahaz, ending in the reign of Hezekiah (Hosea 1:1). Though not mentioned, this means that he also witnessed the reigns of the last six of Israel's kings.

The New Living Translation's introduction to the book of Hosea calls it "a tragic love story with a happy ending." What Hosea went through serves as a powerful object lesson of what God has gone through with His covenant people. Another source states: "Hosea's marriage was extraordinary in that he was called to marry an unfaithful woman (Ho 1.2). Gomer's exact background is not known, but it could be that she had been unfaithful to a previous husband, or she might have been a prostitute. She might have been the particular kind of prostitute that was associated with some of the pagan religions that were being practiced then in Israel. Whatever Gomer's background, she was a powerful symbol of Israel's spiritual adultery against the Lord (2.2). The nation had departed almost entirely from worship as prescribed in the Law. Instead, the people had taken up the religions of the cultures around them such as the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, and the Moabites....

"Just as Israel abandoned God, Gomer left her husband and returned to a life of prostitution. She seems to have ended up in the slave market, where Hosea bought her back for fifteen pieces of silver and some grain (3.2). This was not much money, just the common price of a slave (compare Ex 21.32). But it was a great sacrifice of love on Hosea's part. The prophet was demonstrating the love of God for his unfaithful people, and providing a symbol of the reconciliation that would someday take place (Ho 3.4, 5)" (Word in Life Bible, "Prodigal Wife, Prodigal People," 1998, sidebar on 2:2).

In the meantime (2:1), God gave Israel another chance to repent. But if she refused, she would be dealt with harshly. Halley's Bible Handbook further explains: "Not only was Hosea's marriage an illustration of the thing he was preaching, but the names of his children proclaim the main messages of his life. Jezreel (1:4-5), his firstborn, was named after the city of Jehu's bloody brutality (2 Kings 10:1-14). The valley of Jezreel was the age-old battlefield on which the kingdom was about to collapse. By naming his child Jezreel, Hosea was saying to the king and to the nation, 'The hour of retribution and punishment has come'" (note on Hosea 1-3). Moreover, "in Hebrew 'Jezreel' means 'God scatters (seed).' Here the name is used as a threat (meaning the Lord will punish Israel by scattering its people)" (Word in Life, note on 1:4).

"Lo-ruhamah (1:6), the name of the second child, meant 'Not loved.' God's mercy had come to an end for Israel, though there would be a respite for Judah (v. 7). Lo-ammi (1:9), the name of the third child, meant 'Not my people.' Hosea then repeats the two names without the 'Lo' prefix—Ammi and Ruhammah—'My people' and 'My loved one' (2:1), looking forward to the time when Israel would again be God's people. And in a play on the words, he predicts the day when other nations will be called the people of God (1:10), a verse Paul quotes to support his message that the Gospel will also be extended to include Gentiles (Romans 9:25)" (Halley's, note on Hosea 1-3). Actually, the gentiles must become Israelites in order to be God's people—that is, spiritual Israelites (compare Galatians 3:26-29; 6:15-16; Romans 2:26-29; 9:8; 11:1, 11-24; Ephesians 2:11-13, 19-22).

God shows us through Hosea that He still loves Israel in spite of her infidelity. "Having separated Israel from her lovers, the Lord would seek to win her back by making romantic overtures and wooing her with tender words of love" (Nelson Study Bible, note Hosea 2:14). At that time, the Israelites are to call God Ishi ("My Husband") instead of Baali ("My Master" or "My Lord") in order to remove all remembrance of their former devotion to Baal. Actually, ancient Israel practiced syncretism, i.e., blended religion, often confusing the identities of Baal and the Eternal—in part because both were referred to as Lord. We should note two things in this regard. One is the fact that Baalism had again reared its ugly head in Israel at the time Hosea preached, despite Jehu's earlier purge. The other is the fact that Hosea's message was primarily to Israel of the end time. Interestingly, the nations of modern Israel supposedly worship the "Lord"—but this Lord is not really the true Lord of the Bible, as he is usually worshiped with many of the trappings of Baalism. To put it more directly, what the world at large understands to be Christianity is actually a blended religion, a mix of some of the same customs of the ancient pagans with concepts and language of the New Testament. Millions of people think they "accept Christ as their Savior," when in fact, they embrace a religion that Jesus will reject (Matthew 7:21-23).

Thankfully, after a long exile (Hosea 3:4), the Israelites will finally be reunited with the true God in the Land of Promise (verse 5). The time when all Israel returns to God will be a magnificent period of peace (2:18), when weapons of war will be gone (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3), and when there is rain in due season (Hosea 2:21; Leviticus 26:4) and agricultural abundance (Hosea 2:22). Then, the people of Israel will at last know their God (verse 23). In Hosea 1:11, the name Jezreel, again meaning "'God scatters (seed)'... is [this time] used as a promise (meaning the Lord will bless Israel by giving their nation many people, just as a big harvest comes when many seeds are scattered in a field)" (Word in Life, note on 1:4).

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