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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Why did God order Hosea to marry a prostitute?
The marriage of Hosea is problematic for some who find it difficult to accept that God would order Hosea to marry a prostitute. Whether that was the case or not remains to be seen, but the truth is that his experience as a prophet was rather unusual. We need to place Hosea within his time and context in order to gain a better understanding of his ministry.
1. Historical Background: Hosea ministered primarily to the northern kingdom toward the end of the divided monarchy. The superscription of the book provides the time for his ministry: during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (785-745 B.C.). Hosea was active until shortly before the destruction of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C. In order to preserve the political unity of the northern kingdom, two sanctuaries were built, one in Bethel and another in Dan. At the center of worship were two golden images in the form of calves, perhaps as substitutes for the cherubs on the ark of the covenant located in the temple of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. Such action contributed to the spiritual deterioration of the people of Israel.
By the time of Hosea Israel was going through a difficult political and religious period. Political intrigue was intense. During the last 24 years of the kingdom six different kings had taken the throne by force. Worship of the Lord was corrupted and the people worshipped Him using the worship of Baal as their model. Baal became the god of Israel, the god of fertility, worshipped on high places and in forests in an attempt to manipulate him and ensure the fertility of the land, the animals, and the family. Social, political, and religious degradation prevailed throughout the land (4:2, 13).
2. Marriage and Experience of Hosea: The Lord said to the prophet, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife” (1:2).* The most natural reading of the story indicates we are dealing with a real, not symbolic, event in the life of the prophet. The phrase “adulterous wife/woman” could refer either to what she would later become or to a description of her ancestry. A literal translation of the phrase is “wife of promiscuity,” that is to say a woman with lax moral values (the Hebrew noun zonah, could refer to adultery, fornication, or prostitution).
Hosea married Gomer, and had three children with her (two of which may not have been his; 2:4, 5). The children’s names illustrated God’s plans for His people (1:4-8). At some point in the marriage, Gomer committed adultery and abandoned her family. The prophet’s anguish is vividly portrayed in chapter 2. He threatened her with divorce, went through feelings of rejection projected on his children, and finally reconciled himself with the rejection. Then the Lord ordered him to go and show his love to his wife and bring her home (3:1). He did.
3. Experience of the Lord: The deep pain in God’s heart due to the spiritual adultery of His people, as well as to the moral depravation of their new syncretistic religion, was incarnated in the experience of the prophet. God was in pain and He wanted His people to know it! After ordering Hosea to bring back his adulterous wife, He added, “Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods” (3:1). The love triangle present in the life of the prophet is also a reality in the experience of God with Israel.
God portrays Himself as a loving, rejected husband in deep emotional pain. Since He wants His wife back, the Lord will cut off her way to the idols (2:6), and take her back to the desert (2:14). There, God will enamor her again (2:14): “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely” (14:4). The inner divine struggle is beautifully expressed in chapter 11:8, 9. God was ready to divorce His people, but then He exclaims: “How can I give you up?” The conversion awaited from Israel (11:7a) now takes place in Yahweh. The judgment against His wife is overthrown in the divine heart. There is a future for His people. This is divine love, illustrated in the experience of the prophet.
*Bible texts in this article are taken from the New International Version (NIV).