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:
2 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.” 3 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
4 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. 5 In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.”
6 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. 7 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.”
8 After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. 9 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.