In 931 BC after the glorious reigns of David and Solomon, the nation of Israel split into two Kingdoms. The larger Northern Kingdom led by Jeroboam was known as Israel and the Southern Kingdom led by Rehoboam which included Jerusalem was called Judah. In the ninth century BC God sent the prophets Elijah and Elisha to call the Northern Kingdom away from idol-worship. A century later the prophet Hosea delivered God’s messages to the Northern Kingdom of Israel between 760 BC and 722 BC, at about the same time as the shepherd prophet Amos.
Although if I had been Hosea, I am sure I would not have accepted God’s call to be a prophet when we hear the first thing God said to him.
2 When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him,
‘Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her,’ (NIV2011)
The 2011 NIV translation doesn’t really convey how shocking that command from God actually was. Nor does the 1984 NIV.
“Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness.”
The New Living Translation says “Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution.”
Even the New King James Version is very blunt.
NKJV “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry And children of harlotry,”
Absolutely not the first words anybody would want to hear when God called them to be his prophet. The very first thing we should recognise in the Book of Hosea is the inspiring example of the prophet’s obedience to God. Hosea was not just called to deliver some messages from God. He was called to marry a promiscuous wife and to give his children weird names. Obeying God flows over from saying the right things to doing the right things, whatever the cost. If only we were always as obedient to God’s commands as Hosea was.
To understand Hosea 1 we need to think a bit about “prophetic symbolism”. Sometimes God’s prophets were called to take specific actions which would have a symbolic meaning. One obvious example is Samuel’s message to Saul.
1 Samuel 15 26 But Samuel said to (Saul) “…. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!”
27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”
The tearing of the robe was a prophetic symbol indicating God’s rejection of Saul as King.
In Ezekiel 4 God commanded the prophet to make a model of Jerusalem and lay siege to the model, as a symbol of the siege which was going to fall on Jerusalem under the Babylonians. “This will be a sign to the house of Israel.” God said.
In the New Testament, Mary anointing Jesus with oil and wiping his feet with her hair was prophetic symbolism pointing forward to his death and burial.
Jesus putting mud on the eyes of the man born blind as part of his healing symbolised the words Jesus had just said. John 9 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ Jesus cursing the fig tree, and turning over the tables and driving the merchants and the money-changers out of the Temple, both symbolised Gods judgment on Israel in his day.
So Hosea marrying this unfaithful wife would be an act of prophetic symbolism.
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.’
NASB95 “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD.”
“Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the LORD and worshiping other gods.”
So Hosea marrying Gomer, knowing that she would be unfaithful to him, was an act of prophetic symbolism representing the unfaithfulness of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to her God and saviour, the LORD, Yahweh. The prophet’s message was expressed in a dramatic and even scandalous action. We will look in weeks to come at the different ways in which Israel were being unfaithful to God. Writing at the same time to the same audience, Amos is concerned about the absence of righteousness and justice. On the other hand, Hosea is speaking out particularly against the worship of idols and false Gods. Gomer the unfaithful wife is a symbol of the spiritual unfaithfulness of the Israelites.
3 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
Gomer then has three children, children of unfaithfulness, children of promiscuity, children of harlotry. The first was Hosea’s son. We don’t know who the fathers of the others were. And God instructs Hosea to give each of the children names which have a prophetic significance and meaning.
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.’
You might remember how King Ahab and his wife Jezabel had led Israel into worshipping the Baals and the Asherah, the false gods of the Canaanites, in the time of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. We read in 2 Kings After Ahab died his successor Jehu initially clamped down on Baal worship, but then Jehu overstepped the mark and brutally massacred all the descendants and the allies of Ahab in the valley of Jezreel. This had made God very angry, especially because Jehu continued to encourage the people to worship other false gods, golden calves at Bethel and at Dan. The name of Hosea’s son Jezreel would be a constant warning that God’s judgment was going to fall on the Kingdom Israel and on Jehu’s household.
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.’
Not a very cheerful name, “not-loved”. But a solemn prophetic warning that God was already withdrawing his love and protection and forgiveness from the Northern Kingdom of Israel. On the other hand, God’s love would continue towards the Southern Kingdom of Judah, indeed he would continue to intervene to protect Judah. The Northern Kingdom would end when the Assyrians captured Samaria in 722 BC but Judah would continue under God’s blessing until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC.
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.
This final name reveals the extent of God’s judgment. As we were thinking this morning, Israel were the chosen people of the LORD, his treasured possession. He had brought them out of slavery in Egypt through the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. He had made his covenant with them on Mount Sinai.
Exodus 19 3 Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’
A kingdom of priests and a holy nation, the LORD Yahweh was their God and Israel were his chosen people. He kept them safe through the wilderness and brought them victorious into the Promised Land. Jerusalem was God’s holy city and the Temple on Mount Zion was the place on earth where God was most present to his people. But no more.
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.
Prophetic symbolism – marrying a promiscuous wife and children given names with a prophetic significance. God’s judgment is coming for Jehu’s massacre in Jezreel. Israel are now “not-loved” and “not my people.” Not an easy message for Hosea to deliver, and even harder because the words were reinforced by dramatic prophetic symbolism.
But praise be to God – that will not be the end of the story! Because like many of the prophets, Hosea’s message is not only one of judgment but also one of hope. We will see week by week how God is going to punish Israel for her sins, but at the same time that God has not given up on Israel.
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.
2 ‘Say of your brothers, “My people”, and of your sisters, “My loved one”.
God had promised to give Abraham descendants as many as sand on the seashore. And that promise is renewed here. Although for a while God was going to remove his love from Israel, one day that love will be restored. Although for a time they will be treated as “not my people” one day they will again be called “children of the living God.” What is more, at that time the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah had been divided for nearly two hundred years. But here God is promising that one day the whole nation will be reunited under one leader – and that leader of course will be the Messiah.
2 ‘Say of your brothers, “My people”, and of your sisters, “My loved one”.
There is hope for Israel looking ahead to the day when God will show his love for them once again. They will be God’s chosen people once again, beloved by God once again. And that reassures us that nobody is beyond hope. Anybody can be restored to God’s love. We will see how that can happen in the weeks to come. Even in the midst of warnings of terrible judgment, we also have the promises of God’s love which never lets us go.