Hosea 03 – Women in the Bible: Gomer

How she functions in additional religious metaphors.

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”

For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.

I wanted to talk a little more about Gomer, because this is the last time she is mentioned in the Book of Hosea.  The metaphor of Hosea’s personal marriage is abandoned for direct charges against Israel and Ephraim after this chapter.

There is no way to know whether Gomer was real or not.  Some scholars argue that Hosea’s whole relationship to Gomer was simply a religious vision, an allegory either dreamed up or divinely inspired (or both) to make a point. Whether she was real or not, Gomer does serve as a metaphor for many things.  The most apparent and universally accepted metaphor is that Gomer, and her infidelity, are the embodiment of an unfaithful Israel.

There are two other metaphors we can see in Gomer to which I want to draw your attention.  First is a theme we unfortunately see throughout the Bible:  (male) authors trying to establish male dominance over female sexuality and fertility.  It is an idea not my own, but I first introduced it on this blog when writing about Sarai and Hagar. Again, the overarching theme of Hosea is God’s relationship with Israel, but it is not only God speaking of Israel but also Hosea speaking of Gomer in 2:3 when he says “I will make her like desert, I will turn her into a parched land,” and in 2:12 when he says “I will ruin her vines and her fig trees.” Deserts are a symbol of infertility, vines and fig trees a symbol of fertility.  I’m not exactly sure how Hosea would make Gomer infertile (as God could make Israel infertile), but the imagery is very clear:  the female character, whether it is Gomer or Israel, is not the one in control of her own fertility, her own sexuality.

Conversely, only when the male character (again, God – as God was considered masculine at the time – or Hosea) decides to reconcile with the female character, is any sexual expression allowed.  As mentioned in my first post about Hosea, the “door of hope” in chapter two is a euphemism for vagina, and “sing as in the days of her youth” means orgasm.  These sexual references are only allowed under the full control of the male character.  Indeed, Gomer is mute and nameless in the short chapter of today’s blogpost.  She is bought, as a slave, and told how to conduct herself sexually.  I’m a big fan of monogamous relationships, and again, it’s important to remember that this whole marriage is an allegory. But even given those constraints, it is telling that Hosea, a man, is the one who decides when Gomer will be monogamous or not.  She doesn’t even get to answer, even in meek agreement, in this chapter.  Hosea’s domination of her sexuality is complete.

Secondly, I see Gomer as a necessary metaphorical stop on our journey to a redemptive God.  I read a handful of articles on Gomer in preparation for this post, and the one that most informed this idea was this article by Pulitzer prize winning author and religious scholar Jack Miles.  To paraphrase, Miles says that there is a journey in the Old Testament from “God as Master” to “God as Father.” That transition to “God as Father” is even more fully completed in the New Testament.  In a nutshell, I think it was a theologically murky time when these prophets were writing – not much different than today, in that respect.  They were trying to figure out their relationship, indeed, humankind’s relationship, with God.  And the journey to that understanding almost always goes from a punitive God to a redemptive God – or from that of a master to a father.

We can find metaphorical aspects of a loving God in any loving and intimate relationship.  I think we see an early, and therefore a little wonky, attempt at creating a metaphor for a loving relationship between God and humanity in Hosea’s marriage to Gomer.  Hosea was burdened by the biases of his time, which again, at their base aren’t all that different than many biases we may encounter today: sexism, xenophobia, probably a rigid belief that his truth was the only truth in God.  As such, his marriage to Gomer, real or visionary, comes across to the modern reader as unequal, controlling, and quite frankly unenviable, especially if you’re on the Gomer side of it.  But there is strong possibility here, and that is why I think Hosea chose the metaphor of marriage as a metaphor for Israel’s, and our, relationship with God.  You don’t have to dig very deep to say that, while imperfect, Hosea and Gomer’s marriage is also a relationship with aspects of forgiveness, acceptance, and mutual enjoyment.  I know I just used this as a metaphor for sexual control, but Hosea does give Gomer that metaphorical orgasm in the desert, people.  Not all husbands – then or now – are that in tune to female pleasure.  That verse could have just as easily read something about only Hosea’s own sexual fulfillment.  He also redeems her from slavery and gives her the protection of his house, two things that may not be as necessary and valuable to the female population at large in modern, first-world countries, but back then was a big deal.

I think Hosea and Gomer illustrate something really beautiful about the Bible and it’s authors:  our fallibility.  Yes, I think the Bible is divinely inspired, but it was recorded (and re-recorded, and re-recorded, untold number of times), by imperfect people.  It is easy for past generations to cast judgment on Gomer the prostitute.  It is easy for more recent generations to cast judgement on Hosea the male chauvinist.  But who are we to do so?  Who are we to cast the first stone? I certainly hope that I have benefited from some collective spiritual growth in the past twenty-some centuries since Hosea was prophesying, but I’m not perfect. What is important is that we also see God’s working in the Bible, indeed, in all things.  It wasn’t God who made the marriage between Hosea and Gomer an unequal one.  That, again, was how society functioned at the time.  What God did do was open the door to all those positive aspects: forgiveness, acceptance, mutual enjoyment.  What we can do is continue to act in and promote the qualities we so desire in our own relationship with God.  And that, above all, is love.  Will we get it wrong from time to time? Of course.  Scholars of future centuries will probably look back at our own religious leaders, even the forward-thinking ones, with raised eyebrows.  But if we keep God, and love, in our hearts, we are already on the right path.  We may have far to go, just like Hosea and Gomer, but we’re getting there, one step at a time.

Hosea 02 – Does God Need Us?

Is this why God never turns Xyr back on us?

“Say of your brothers, ‘My people,’ and of your sisters, ‘My loved one.’

“Rebuke your mother, rebuke her,
    for she is not my wife,
    and I am not her husband.
Let her remove the adulterous look from her face
    and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.
Otherwise I will strip her naked
    and make her as bare as on the day she was born;
I will make her like a desert,
    turn her into a parched land,
    and slay her with thirst.
I will not show my love to her children,
    because they are the children of adultery.
Their mother has been unfaithful
    and has conceived them in disgrace.
She said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
    who give me my food and my water,
    my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.’
Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes;
    I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.
She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
    she will look for them but not find them.
Then she will say,
    ‘I will go back to my husband as at first,
    for then I was better off than now.’
She has not acknowledged that I was the one
    who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,
who lavished on her the silver and gold—
    which they used for Baal.

“Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens,
    and my new wine when it is ready.
I will take back my wool and my linen,
    intended to cover her naked body.
10 So now I will expose her lewdness
    before the eyes of her lovers;
    no one will take her out of my hands.
11 I will stop all her celebrations:
    her yearly festivals, her New Moons,
    her Sabbath days—all her appointed festivals.
12 I will ruin her vines and her fig trees,
    which she said were her pay from her lovers;
I will make them a thicket,
    and wild animals will devour them.
13 I will punish her for the days
    she burned incense to the Baals;
she decked herself with rings and jewelry,
    and went after her lovers,
    but me she forgot,”
declares the Lord.

14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

16 “In that day,” declares the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’;
    you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
    no longer will their names be invoked.
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
    with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
    and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
    I will abolish from the land,
    so that all may lie down in safety.
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
    I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
    in love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
    and you will acknowledge the Lord.

21 “In that day I will respond,”
    declares the Lord
“I will respond to the skies,
    and they will respond to the earth;
22 and the earth will respond to the grain,
    the new wine and the olive oil,
    and they will respond to Jezreel.
23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
    I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

 

Does God need us?  As in, need us for Xyr very existence?  It certainly seems so at times, and not in a very healthy way.  God has very specific requirements about how Xe should be worshipped, especially in the Old Testament, gets pissed to the point of execution (remember Nadab and Abihu a few weeks ago?) when we don’t follow those directions, but then requires more worship.  In this chapter, God is once again complaining of Israel’s infidelity, and going into lascivious detail about her punishment.  And punish Israel God most certainly shall, but let Israel go? Definitely not.  Israel is boxed in by thornbushes – God literally blocks her path away.  One might even argue God is like an abusive or controlling husband: using Israel’s children (I will not show love to her children, v. 4) and controlling her social life (I will stop her celebrations, v. 11) to make her stay.

Why not just let us leave if we’re so bad?  Why does God not just turn Xyr back on Israel, on humanity? Doesn’t this inability to break ties indicate an unhealthy co-dependency? It sometimes seems like God is waiting on us to grow up a bit so we can be more equal partners.  This chapter holds a perfect example in v. 16, talking about Israel’s reconciliation with God: ““In that day,” declares the Lord,“you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’”  Clearly Israel is being raised up here – if she can change her ways.  In that same post about Nadab and Abihu I mentioned above I talked about how it seems God is waiting on some more spiritual maturity on our part, and how that might change our future relationship with God.  Maybe even into one that is more equal.

I have not painted God in a very favorable light here, and I’m sure I’ve already turned off some readers in just two paragraphs. Even if you are hanging in there – it’s a bit of scary thought, isn’t it? To think that God might need us, even if it isn’t to the point of toxic relationship like it seems here.  If God needs us, that means that God has a need, and is not all-powerful in and of Xyrself.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not ready to come to the conclusion that the rock of my faith is that unstable – and I hope I never am!  Like before, some may see it as rationalization, but I’ll share my conclusions with you as to how God may or may not need us:

Do I need my children in order to survive?  I can eat, breathe, find work and shelter and tend to my daily needs without their help, find joy in things that do not involve them, and have relationships and hobbies outside of my role as mom.  Do I want to live in a world without my children?  I have trouble even imagining what that world would look like, and shudder at the thought.  Time and time again in the Bible God is called our Holy Father (the masculine language reflecting the culture at the time).  I have to imagine that God’s feelings towards us are, in some way, like my feelings towards my own children. Xe may not need us existentially, but even when angry at us, there is still a divine love.

Also, it’s kind of silly to think of us existing so separately from God that we’re even an external force to be needed.  If you view God as the ultimate creator, then everything is from God.  We are a part of God already.  I think God is just waiting on us to fully realize that, and act accordingly.  Perhaps that is what is going on when I talk about God waiting for us to grow up a little bit, and assume more of an equal role in our divine relationship. If we are already of God, we have the ability to act more Godly.  No, not miracles and moving mountains (though according to Jesus that is possible, too, through faith), but to love better.  To be more sensitive, inclusive, and caring.  It’s a long road, and a topic for another blog post, which I promise I’ll get to, probably more than once.

But for today, let’s rejoice in the fact that this chapter does not end at v. 13, with God punishing us.  Let’s rejoice in the fact that God is not like an abusive or controlling husband, and that this is simply the metaphor through which Hosea could best express his divine message from God.  The God that prevails in this chapter, indeed, the whole Bible is the one that abolishes bow and sword and battle, so that all may lay down in safety (v. 18), the one that looks to have the whole earth celebrate with us (vv. 21-22), the one that chooses – does not need to, but chooses anyway – to be with us.  We are better than needed, we are adored.  That’s some pretty heady shit. We are adored by God.  Every single one of us – every color, creed, ability, and station in life – we are adored by God.

Forget God needing us – you are already part of God, there is nothing to be needed.  You are loved.  I have not been my best self the past few days, and my family has borne the brunt of it.  I’m going to try hard to remember that I am dealing with someone adored by God any time I come up against someone difficult (like my kids, who are in a biting each other phase).  It’s easy to focus on the bad in life, in religion, in the Bible.  Just look at how this chapter starts out.  But I truly believe if we keep pushing through with kindness, we’ll get to the good part.  Recognizing that God loves us when we’re imperfect and others when they’re imperfect will help us get there.  Wish me luck with that, guys, I’m not joking about this biting phase testing the limits of my parenting.. And good luck to you, too!

Hosea 01 – Hosea is Cuckolded and Likes It

Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was not a sterile prophetic calling.

The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel:

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.”

Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, the Lord their God, will save them.”

After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God.

10 “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ 11 The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.

I like to spend Advent reading the prophets – it seems like a fitting thing to do while preparing your heart for the return of Christ.  Advent is still a few weeks off, but I thought we’d get a head-start on Hosea, and get the whole book finished by Christmas.  I’m going to tell you right now, though, that this isn’t going to be some warm-and-fuzzy pre-Christmas reading.  Hosea is kinda kinky in some places, and downright dark in others.

We’ll get to the dark in some future chapters (oh, boy, will we get to some dark!), but let’s start with that kink.  Actually, let’s back up a step.  I think it’s important to say now: Whether you believe Hosea and his wife, Gomer, were both real people, or whether you believe Hosea’s marriage was simply a vision and not “real,” or even if you believe that Hosea himself was not “real” but this whole story is just an allegory, the point remains that Gomer’s faithlessness to Hosea is a very direct allegory to Israel’s faithlessness to God. I’m not even going to attempt to count the number of times the word “adultery” or some form thereof is used in this book.  Not to mention words like “promiscuous” or “unfaithful.”  The theme is pretty clear.

Okay, now with the kink.  If you skim through the book of Hosea, you get the impression that this guy digs being cuckolded.  He enjoys talking about adultery and infidelity, which becomes more and more apparent in the later poetry of the book.  Intrigue and relishing in the misdeeds of others from afar is, unfortunately, just a natural part of human nature. Perhaps Hosea’s excitement over all this could be chalked up to exactly that, or it may be chalked up to true religious fervor for his divinely appointed message.  But the thing I find interesting is how desirable Hosea finds his unfaithful wife, Gomer, even after all of her infidelities.  Now, we all love a juicy story, but not usually when we’re a part of it.  Gomer’s adultery is more than just some good gossip, it’s Hosea’s own wife.  Even when casting her out, he seems attracted to her.  And they did have three kids together.  But there’s two quotes from later in the book that I want to skip ahead to in order to make my point.

This first racy quote is technically God speaking about Israel, but again, Hosea’s whole marriage to Gomer is an allegory for God’s relationship with Israel.  “I am now going to allure her,” God says through Hosea, “I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her, I will give her back her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.  There she will sing as in the days of her youth.”  (2:14-15)  That bit is about sex, people.  Wild, crazy sex.  First, he’s straight up “alluring her.”  Not only that, he’s alluring her into the desert, a place of untamed wildness, away from prying eyes and inhibitions; a place where even Jesus himself was tempted in his own ways.  Then, he will “make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”  First off, “Valley of Achor” means “Valley of Trouble,” which can certainly be a reference to the space between a woman’s thighs.  A door is definitely a vagina reference.  This adulterous woman, with her valley of trouble, is going to finally succumb to his wooing, open her door and give her vagina – oh, I mean, her heart – to him.  Then she’s going to sing as in the days of her youth?  Sounds like an orgasm to me!  I honestly think Hosea is looking forward to being able to satiate a woman who has been with so many other men. By alluring her into the desert and getting her all hot and bothered to the point of orgasm, he essentially claims sexual primacy over all of her other lovers.

Then, in chapter three, Hosea is commanded by God to “show your love to your wife again.” (3:1)  And Hosea does.  He brings Gomer fifteen shekels of silver, a bunch of barley, and kind words.  It’s very possible he buys her out of slavery for that much and she isn’t being gifted that silver and barley, but the kind words remain, as does the protection of his house.  Hosea let this woman under his protection fall into prostitution – perhaps even pushed her into it (more about that in chapter 2), and then welcomes her back with open arms.  Not only with forgiveness, but, it sounds like from the verses in chapter two, with an eager sexual anticipation.

So in the grand scheme of things, what does this matter?  Does it prove some more patriarchal bullshit going on in the Old Testament? Maybe.  Is Hosea’s marriage any less of a metaphor if he was a willing cuckold as well as a prophet of God?  Not necessarily. One might even say his whole-hearted dedication to his role of cuckold shows his full dedication to God’s message.  Should we take Hosea’s prophetic career less seriously because he had some unusual sexual preferences – or, much more damning – some very poor taste in kid’s names and parenting tactics?  I don’t think so – lots of prophets had some serious lapses in judgement, so Hosea is no different.  But this unorthodox relationship Hosea has with Gomer was the first thing I noticed, and I didn’t want to let it go unremarked.  The Bible is full of not-so-Sunday-school themes, and we do it, and ourselves, a disservice to gloss over or ignore such themes.

Long story short, Hosea’s sexual preferences and personality quirks probably don’t matter – but it does make for interesting reading.  Second to the hypocrisy with which Christianity can be accused of throughout the ages, I think it’s second-biggest sin is being boring.  You know how many more young women would pay attention if we celebrated the bravery and brilliance of some of the lesser-known women in the Bible, like the Caleb’s daughter Achsah? How many more young boys would pay attention if you led into a sermon talking about the gory end of some king, like Zedekiah’s eyes being put out?  How many more teenagers would pay attention if you talked about King David very possibly having gonorrhea? We probably don’t want to stick only to the realm of STD’s and violence (female intelligence is good, though), but these interesting stories get people, well…interested!

In the end it is important to remember we are looking for big-picture truths here.  And, spoiler alert, the big-picture truth of the whole book of Hosea is God’s unending love for us.  The first three-quarters of this chapter detail Hosea’s (supposedly) unhappy and definitely ignominious marriage, with warnings through his kid’s names that get increasingly worse: Israel’s defeat in Jezreel, the loss of God’s love in Lo-Ruhamah, the loss of God Xyrself in Lo-Ammi.  God couldn’t be angrier with Israel, accusing them up one side and down the other of their unfaithfulness, threatening to turn Xyr face and favor away from them.  But yet, the chapter ends this way: “The Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ ”  God may be angry with Israel, but in the end, they are still Xyr children.  God’s love returns. And returns. And returns.   Through all the scary, weird, depressing and sexist stuff we’re going to read in the next few chapters, remember that.  God’s love will always return.