6.24 Hosea -- Israel's Adultery
As Hosea represented God, so his wife Gomer stood for Israel. Gomer must have been a well-known woman, a woman with a reputation, and not a good one. Nothing hidden or discreet about her liaisons. Tongues wagged when she passed by. That is why God picked her to portray Israel in this living drama.
The picture of the Lord’s covenant with Israel as a marriage deserves reflection because it presents the relationship in a rather special way. From the Pentateuch, one might conclude that God chose Israel first, establishing a relationship that would later become a model for similar relationships with other nations, perhaps all nations. Israel was first, but later there could be others. But a marriage relationship implies that it was the only such relationship, that God had “forsaken all others.” In other words, the Book of Hosea bolsters the exclusivity of God's choice of Israel. Other nations figure mostly as potential “lovers” for adulterous Israel:
[Israel] 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....
She will chase after her lovers but not catch them" (Hos 2:5-7).
Israel is swallowed up;
now she is among the nations
like something no one wants.
For they have gone up to Assyria
like a wild donkey wandering alone.
Ephraim has sold herself to lovers (Hos 8:8-9).
If the marriage analogy enhances the supremacy of Israel over the Gentiles, it also heightens the sin of Israel in betraying the covenant. Her sin is not just a matter of disobedience, of failure to observe Sabbaths and make proper offerings, of eating unclean food -- it is a betrayal of the unity of the marriage covenant. God chose Israel exclusively to bestow the revelation of Himself and His favor, but Israel still courted other lovers. She wore His ring, but slept around. God's experience of rejection drives the passion of this book.
In particular, we must not picture Hosea play-acting through his marriage: "OK, I have married an unfaithful woman, as God told me, and she's out on the town tonight. So I have to look after the kids and change Lo-Rumahah's diapers. Well, that's life, what else could I have expected?" And he sulks like Jonah under his shade vine and wishes he could die.
We misunderstand the prophetic mission if that is our view. God intended for Hosea to feel His own frustration with Israel. So Hosea must have actually loved Gomer, given her his best gifts, been patient with her failings, built a common life and destiny with her -- only to have her throw it back at him and go off with some town drunk. Even then, he is commanded to seek her out and bring her back:
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" (Hos 3:1).
And this is the mark of the prophet: the message of the prophet, whether in word or deed, breaks him down. It is conceived within him, birthed from his own life experience, and it becomes a revelation to him (and through him to others) of spiritual reality, of what is going on within God Himself. So that Hosea says, after five years of going round and round with Gomer, "O God, now I understand something of what you have put up with for the last 1000 years in dealing with my people Israel. There are times when I want to strangle her, times when I want to kick her out and never let her back in the house, times when I want to wash my hands of her and run away myself, and others when I want to hold her tenderly and heal her of her broken past and the lies she continues to believe. She is the one woman of all who can always hurt me, and she often does, but I cannot just let her go and forget her."
And this is when God says to him, "Now you are my prophet to Israel."