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Hosea 1:29; 3:15comment (0)

February 3, 2011

By Scott McGinnis

Related Scripture: Hosea 1:29; 3:15

Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University

God Loves the Unlovely
Hosea 1:2–9; 3:1–5

The prophet Hosea lived in the northern kingdom of Israel in the eighth century B.C. Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah had been politically divided for nearly two centuries. The background for the Book of Hosea is the waning days of Israel, when kings in both the north and south were tempted to stray from God, pursue security through political alliances and worship other gods. Hosea’s ministry dates from about 750 to 722, the fall of Israel to Assyria. The book notably contains some of the frankest expression of God’s emotions in Scripture. Here God is pictured as a husband torn between anger and compassion as he considers his faithless spouse. Here, too, God, as the long-suffering parent of a runaway child, wavers between punishment and forgiveness (Chapter 11). Hosea considered God’s emotional life through the lens of these most fundamental familial relationships. In so doing, the book invites readers to model their relationships on the pattern of God’s unrelenting and redeeming love.

God Longs for Restoration (1:2–9)
Hosea’s message invokes a fundamental analogy: The covenant between God and Israel is best understood not as a sterile contract but as a marriage. The book begins with God’s remarkable instruction to the prophet to marry “a wife of whoredom,” that is, a promiscuous woman, and have children with her. In the crucible of a broken family, Hosea came to see something of the brokenness of God, who longed for the restoration of relationship with Israel. Hosea’s children were given names that predicted the destruction that would come upon Israel. The first, Jezreel, refers to the site of a bloody massacre by which the ninth-century king Jehu established his rule in Israel (1 Kings 21; 2 Kings 9–10) and represents a condemnation of the cutthroat politics that dominated Israel’s political life. The second child’s name, Lo-ruhamah, means “not pitied” and signifies God’s refusal of forgiveness to Israel. The third child’s name, Lo-ammi, or “not my people,” reverses the fundamental covenant established between Israel and God when He delivered them from Egypt (Ex. 6:7). However, the finality of God’s judgment as implied in the names of Hosea’s children is called into question by the final two verses of Chapter 1, which anticipate the restoration of Israel and reversal of the predicted destruction. The complexity of emotions in Hosea’s family is further indicated by a slight shift in the text describing the birth of his children. In the case of Jezreel, Hosea’s wife, Gomer, “conceived and bore him a son,” while the births of the two younger children are simply reported as Gomer “conceived again and bore a daughter/son.” The lack of reference to Hosea implies, or at least allows, that the children were the offspring of Gomer’s illicit unions. In a patriarchal culture in which capital punishment was prescribed for both adulterers (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22) but often implemented for the woman only (Gen. 38:24; John 7:53ff), Hosea’s willingness to stand by his wife and claim her illegitimate children was an act of heroic forgiveness and abiding love.

God Intervenes to Redeem (3:1–5)
Chapter 3 continues the story of Hosea’s marriage but shifts the voice from the third person to the first person, a change that lends even more immediacy to the story. Some commentators suggest that the third chapter is simply a retelling of Chapter 1, but the book’s narrative flow suggests otherwise. With remarkable, and sometimes troubling, frankness, Chapter 2 explores the emotions of God as an aggrieved husband: His patience exhausted, he threatened to strip his wife naked, turn her into the wilderness to kill her with thirst and abandon her children (2:3–5). However, the divine anger eventually gave way to a desire for restoration, and the wilderness became a place of renewal rather than punishment (2:14). Given this interlude, the instruction to Hosea in Chapter 3 to “again, go love a woman” and redeem her from the consequences of her infidelity is all the more poignant. Just as Hosea’s love for Gomer would not allow him to leave her to her own devices, so, too, God intervened to redeem Israel from its waywardness. God’s last word was love.

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