God Loves the Unlovely

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about how God loves and pursues people, both inside and outside the church, who are unfaithful to Him.

God’s Outrageous Command:  Hosea 1:2-3.

[2]  When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, "Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD." [3]  So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.  [ESV]

The marriage, the birth, and the naming of the three children are all aspects of the single symbolic story of unfaithfulness and rejection that verses 2-9 tells. Hosea is not the primary audience for the lesson taught. Rather, the marriage and its children’s names are a way for Yahweh to use Hosea’s circumstances so that through them the terrible truth of Israel’s corruption and coming destruction is revealed to all. The introduction states simply that the marriage and the naming of the children were the first public prophetic acts God asked of Hosea. The Hebrew word translated as whoredom refers more to a trait than a profession. It does not mean that Gomer was a prostitute by profession. Rather it ties her behavior to that of the land that commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord. The reference is to the nation of Israel and how the people, with all sorts of syncretistic and heterodox doctrines and practices, are metaphorically depicted as analogous to the promiscuity of a common prostitute. Israel’s waywardness and infidelity constitute a national prostitution; Gomer, as a citizen of that thoroughly wayward nation is described, just as any Israelite woman could be, as a whore precisely because she is a typical Israelite, and this is an indictment in itself. God has commanded Hosea to marry a woman who by reason of being involved in the widespread Israelite national unfaithfulness is prostituting. To marry any Israelite woman was to marry a prostituting woman, so rife was the religious promiscuity of Hosea’s day. Hosea’s children of whoredom was so called because, like their mother, they would be part of the corrupt, faithless nation. Precisely because the whole land has gone thoroughly into great whoredom away from Yahweh, they are here linked with this whoredom. Whoredom or prostitution is Hosea’s most common metaphor for the covenant infidelity that provoked Yahweh’s wrath against Israel, and the term is used in that sense throughout the book. In using whoredom as metaphorically indicative of the nation’s covenant disloyalty, Hosea, like other prophets (most notably Ezekiel), follows a long established literary pattern. This pattern is seen in the early covenantal metaphorical language of Exodus 34:15-16 and Deut. 31:16, where to whore after other gods means to break the first of the Ten Commandments and thus to violate the national covenant with Yahweh.

God’s Severe Indictment:  Hosea 1:4-9.

[4]  And the LORD said to him, "Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. [5]  And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel." [6]  She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, "Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. [7]  But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen." [8]  When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. [9]  And the LORD said, "Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God."  [ESV]

[4-5]  Hosea marries Gomer and she bears him a son. The new child was linked by his name with the prophetic message from Yahweh. The command is exactly the same as the naming of the other two children. This particular name, Jezreel, served as a constant reminder of Yahweh’s message through Hosea, since routine questions from friends and acquaintances about the meaning of the child’s ambiguous name would eventually lead to a hearing of the message of judgment it implied. Hosea was told from the beginning exactly what the message of the name was about. It was the town of Jezreel that provided the relevant historical focus, harking back to Jehu’s bloody massacre [see 2 Kings 9-10]. Just as Jehu’s actions at Jezreel eliminated the Omri dynasty, so now Yahweh will eliminate the Jehu dynasty. Such a punishment announcement reflects the covenant curses of war, the captivity of the king, and death and destruction. The phrase in just a little while sets an approximate time frame for the execution of the judgment sentence. The judgment sentence is here pronounced, but its execution will take place only according to Yahweh’s timing. The Jehu dynasty collapsed with the death of Zechariah in 752 BC. Thus the literal fulfillment of the judgment regarding the Jehu dynasty kings was swift. Less than forty years would be needed for the Northern Kingdom itself to come to an end. After the death of Jeroboam II in 753, only one of his six successors died a natural death, such was the level of intrigue and instability preceding the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722. In that sense the time was indeed soon. In the same way that Jehu in 842 had annihilated a dynasty famed for its long history of oppression and apostasy, so Yahweh Himself will now put an end to the Jehu dynasty because it, in turn, has grown hopelessly corrupt. Kingdom of the house of Israel means that the destruction will go beyond just the Jehu dynasty and will extend to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. In 733 BC Tiglath-Pileser’s armies captured Jezreel in the Assyrian campaign launched to quell rebellion in Syria-Palestine. Tiglath-Pileser incorporated much of the North into Assyrian administrative districts. To break the bow is symbolic language for total military defeat.

[6-7]  The repetition in form of the naming of the second child and the explanation for the name leave no doubt that the focus of interest is the symbolic message-name and its meaning. God has decided to withdraw His mercy from Israel. The name of the daughter, No Mercy, is a message name different in format from Jezreel. It is very unusual to give a child a negative name like this. Those who must have asked Hosea about the name and heard the explanation he gave could readily recognize allusion to the traditional covenant curses of divine rejection and wrath. The announcement of the name signifies a change of status for Israel. God’s compassion had been extended repeatedly to a wayward people. They had benefited in spite of their disloyalty, but this would now cease. Disloyalty must earn its true reward, rejection. The phrase house of Israel, used a total of five times by Hosea, obviously contrasts with house of Jehu in verse 4, further reinforcing the shift of emphasis from the dynasty to the whole nation. In verse 7 God made explicit promises regarding Judah. They would ultimately escape the Assyrian onslaught, because He would have mercy on them and because He would save or deliver them. The last five word-groups of the verse centers on the third element, by war. The first two elements refers to the common weaponry carried by foot soldiers. The fourth and fifth elements refers to mounted soldiers. By this literary device, Yahweh assures the deliverance of Judah without troops either on foot or mounted; that is, without any warfare. Judah is to be spared for the time being for reasons unspecified in the oracle, though possibly related to its relatively greater orthodoxy.

[8-9]  Verse 8 follows the established concise pattern of reporting the barest facts. From the verb she had weaned we have some idea of the time that elapsed between the birth of the first and third children since children were probably nursed until about age three in ancient times. Perhaps five or six years is a reasonable guess for the actual interval from the birth of Jezreel to the birth of No Mercy. Several years after the revelation that Yahweh has withdrawn His mercy from Israel, another revelation comes to say that Yahweh has now actually divorced Himself from being His people’s God. Things have not solved themselves or gotten better in the three or four year interim; if anything they are much worse. Time has not healed this wound but enlarged it. The vocabulary of verse 9 is that of the Mosaic covenant, formulated in terms of “my people … your God” [Ex. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; Deut. 27:9], and reflected often in the prophets. Hosea is reminded in these familial terms of the fact that, for Israel, dissolution of their personal relationship with God is the necessary result of rebellion. Obedience led to kinship; disobedience must lead to being disowned/divorced. Thus this message name, Not My People, and the divine explanation in the rest of the verse, are unmistakable in their assertion that the covenant is now broken. Since Israel’s very identity was that of a covenant people, they are now formally cut adrift. This does not mean that Yahweh has permanently abandoned His people. In 2:1-3 the fact that the abandonment will eventually be reversed is made clear, in conformity with the schema laid out in Deut. 4:25-31. The message of the verse is dramatic. Yahweh’s union with His people is dissolved. Yahweh was withdrawing the very covenant He so dramatically initiated via the revelation of His name and is using the same form of the name He used to Moses in Exodus 3:14.Thus the passage contains four symbolic names in all: the names of Hosea’s three children and Yahweh’s new name not your God, indicating His rejection of Israel. To this point in their history, Israel’s identity had been understood in terms of a special relationship, that of a people, and a God. Both elements are now negated.

God’s Miraculous Grace:  Hosea 3:1-5.

[1]  And the LORD said to me, "Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins." [2]  So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. [3]  And I said to her, "You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you." [4]  For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. [5]  Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days. [ESV]

[1-3]  The verb love occurs four times in verse 1, dominating its vocabulary. The Hebrew word has a wider range of meaning than does the English verb “to love.” It includes the English senses of “love romantically,” “prefer / like” but also “do acts of love for,” “be loyal / compassionate towards” and even “be allied with.” It includes divine love, parental love, general human social love, and romantic love. Hosea is to show love for a new wife in the sense of caring for her and protecting her. The adulteress, by contrast, loves evil, in the sense of “take delight in / prefer / like.” Yahweh loves Israel in that He is loyal to her as a nation. This love is a technical, covenantal term for a relationship of loyalty. But Israel “takes delight in / prefers / likes” raisin cakes. Yahweh’s love for Israel is noble, unselfish, generous, protective. Israel’s love for its raisin cakes and the adulteress’s love for evil are selfish, indulgent, pleasure-oriented. Hosea’s new wife does not deserve his love, but she will receive it. Israel does not deserve Yahweh’s love, but He has been showing it to her all along – and will continue to do so both during and by means of the long season of disruption He will impose on her. The woman Hosea marries is an actual adulteress. His command to her concerning playing the whore [3] suggests that she was indeed a professional prostitute. Hosea is no longer using the word for whore metaphorically as was the case in chapter 1. The actions of Israelites directly parallel those of the adulteress. She commits adultery; they turn to other gods (spiritual adultery). She loves evil; they love raisin cakes. Raisin cakes, sweets made from pressed and dried grapes, were prized as a delicacy. By Hosea’s time they were probably routinely associated with worship, the fitting metaphorical food of the religious who seeks spiritual and material gratification from other gods than Yahweh. Verse 2 has parallels with 2:21-23. Hosea paid a bride price for his second wife, in parallel to the figurative bride price Yahweh had paid for his new wife [2:21-23]. Hosea gave four instructions to his new wife, each more restrictive than the preceding one. First, she must live or remain with him for a long time. This otherwise reasonable restriction must have seemed to a professional prostitute unexpected. A prostitute might expect to be resold eventually, or shared with other men, or soon abandoned. But Hosea tells her she will stay with him at length. The second instruction precludes her practicing prostitution. She has been bought; her sinful life is now over. The third instruction makes clear that she will not have relations with anybody else. Hosea has bought her and she had no choice in the matter. The fourth instruction may well have been a complete surprise. She is told that even her husband has no intention of having sex with her. She has been brought from adultery and prostitution to chastity in a sexless marriage, taken from one extreme and made to conform to another. The reader is already beginning to see what is in store for Israel. A different kind of life is ahead. We must keep in mind that these restrictions fulfill the command in verse 1 for Hosea to love a woman. The restrictions are not so much intended to harm, as to protect. As Yahweh is a jealous God, and as He wishes to prohibit Israel from sinning further for her own good, so Hosea acts restrictively toward the new wife. He has bought her not for his own pleasure, but in order to reform her.

[4-5]  In parallel to Hosea’s command that his wife will remain with him for a long time, he now states that the children of Israel shall dwell many days. Hosea is no longer speaking to his wife. He is now addressing the people with the hard word of Yahweh for Israel. A series of five negations leaves no doubt that Israel’s basic institutions will be taken away, implying that her national sovereignty and social infrastructure will be eliminated. Israel will have no king. Since kingship was integral to the nation’s identity, its end would mean a different kind of existence. Instead of allowing for a lesser form of government, this warns of the final end of Israel’s self-rule. In Hosea’s time the implication was quite clear: another nation would rule Israel. Sacrifice and pillar, prominent signs of the official Northern kingdom worship, will also be taken away. The mention of pillar is significant. The pillar was a large stone erected at a shrine, and probably symbolic of deity, especially in idolatrous worship. Such pillars were outlawed in Israel [Deut. 16:22] under the Mosaic covenant now ignored in the north. The ephod was a garment worn by a priest in the practice of divination (the mechanistic discernment of the divine will). It contained a pocket in which the Urim and Thummim (alternately light and dark-sided dice thrown for combinations that would reveal “yes” and “no” answers) were kept [Exodus 28:30]. The sacrificial system and the ephod were orthodox. The pillar and the household gods were abominably pagan. Israel, in its syncretism, had mixed the holy with the forbidden – had adulterated its religion. So, orthodox and heterodox features alike would now be taken away. Neither leadership, nor worship, nor divination would any longer be available to Israel’s citizens. The ultimate outcome will be positive, deprivation, not harm. Verse 5 predicts that Israel will seek Yahweh, i.e., come to God to know Him and to do His will. Then Yahweh will be their God once again, in the language of the first of the covenant restoration promises [Lev. 26:44-45]. And David will be their king. The prophets looked forward to a day when Israel, north and south, would be reunited under one leader. The mention of David is another way of speaking of the one leader predicted in 1:11. This is but a hint of the sort of messianic eschatology that will be more strongly manifest in later prophets. In describing the return to Yahweh as a turning in fear, the verse makes clear that the Israelites will have learned a lesson prior to their return. But their God will not be cruel or vindictive. When they approach Him they will find His goodness.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Why does God use the language of prostitution to describe His relationship with Israel?

2.         What meaning does God intend the names of Hosea’s three children to have for the people of Israel?

3.         What are the different ways the word “love” is used in 3:1? What four instructions did Hosea give to his new wife? How do these instructions symbolize God’s instructions to the nation of Israel?

4.         What do these verses teach us about the nature of God’s love for His people? Many people today understand God’s love as that which accepts people as they are, with all of their weaknesses and blemishes (modern people do not like to use the word “sin”). But we see in Hosea that God’s love is never separated from His holiness. God’s love for His people includes discipline and punishment. But when His people turn from their sins and seek Him as their Lord [3:5], His love is always ready to receive them with forgiveness. We must never forget that the only reason God, in His holiness, can receive sinful people back into His covenant relationship is due to the work of Christ on the Cross where God’s wrath against sin was satisfied. Thus we cannot truly understand the nature of God’s love apart from the Cross.


Hosea, Douglas Stuart, Thomas Nelson.

The Book of Hosea, J. Andrew Dearman, Eerdmans.

Hosea, Thomas McComiskey, Baker.

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