Hosea’s name means “deliverance” or “salvation” and is connected on a basic level with the names Joshua and Jesus. Hosea was a prophet at the time of King Jeroboam II, who died in 746 BC. His ministry may well have continued until the loss of the Northern Kingdom in 721 BC, spanning about 25 years.
His message was the power of God’s love for His people. God used Hosea’s marriage to Gomer as analogy of His never ending love for the House of Israel and His willingness to gather them back even after they had betrayed Him.
An outline of the content of the text is helpful:
1. Hosea’s experience in marriage and the Lord’s experience with the House of Israel (1:1-3:5)
2. The Lord’s denunciations of Israel (4:1-9:9)
3. The history of grace and apostasy (9:10-13:16)
4. The future hope of Israel (14:1-9)
Did Hosea really marry a prostitute?
Hosea was commanded to “take thee a wife of whoredoms… for the land hath committed a great whoredom, departing from the Lord” (Hosea 1:2). This all means that Israel’s waywardness and infidelity constitute a national prostitution.
The phrase “for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” means that the whole of Israel is engaged in idolatry. It is a national sin and their very way of life. Each person in that nation, male or female, married or single, young or old are engaged in a lifestyle that has nothing to do with God and His word, but everything to do with worshipping other gods, idolatry and the occult. So Gomer, as a citizen of that thoroughly wayward nation is described, just as any Israelite woman could be, as ‘a wife of whoredom’, 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 endemic 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. (Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 26-27)
I suggest that it is uncertain if Gomer was a prostitute prior to this marriage, or if she was a typical Israelite, one who followed after false gods of the day, hence one who “whored after false gods” (see Deuteronomy 31:16). The comparison between Gomer’s behavior and the Israelites seems to be what is at issue in this text.
Hosea married Gomer as commanded and she bore a son, named Jezreel (Hosea 1:4), which means, “God scatters.” This naming of the children is similar to what we read in Isaiah where Isaiah’s children have prophetic names. God is shortly going to scatter Israel, and therefore this naming of the child is a message to the House of Israel – to continue to whore after false gods will bring a scattering.
Gomer bore another child, a girl, whom the Lord commanded to be named Lo-ruhamah, meaning “not having obtained mercy.” Lo-ruhamah’s name was a prophetic statement of God’s displeasure with the house of Israel and a warning that He would destroy them but spare the House of Judah (Hosea 1:6-7).
Gomer then has another child which the Lord told Hosea should be named Lo-ammi, meaning “not my people.” For God told Israel that ” ye are not my people, and I will not be your God” (Hosea 1:9). Even though the House of Israel would be scattered, the Lord tells Hosea that in the very same place that He says “Ye are not my people” it shall be said unto them, “Ye are the sons of the living God.” (Hosea 1:10). This is a powerful message of redemption.
What we learn about Jesus Christ and his love for us
The story of Hosea and Gomer is one of the most tender illustrations in all of scripture. Not only is this story a commanding allegory of God’s infinite capacity to love and to forgive but it also teaches us significant lessons about the sort of love and forgiveness the Lord expects from each one of us.
A verse that has power in this text is Hosea 6:6. It reads, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” The word used in this verse for mercy is an interesting word. The word is hesed חֶסֶד. It means much more than mercy. Hesed is a deep, abiding, protecting and covenant based type of faithful love. It is a word that I find hard to describe in English. The best way I can describe hesed is by way of illustration.
Hesed is, to me, my wife when she would get up each night with a sick baby, singing softly to him as he cries all through the night. The next day she would not complain, was never harsh with the family, only compassionate. Hesed is an old man who has been married to the same woman for 75 years, taking care of her as she struggles with terminal illness. Each and every moment he tenderly, lovingly, cares for her needs. This kind of tender lovingkindness is what the Lord wants us to feel towards Him. This is how he feels towards us. As we come to know Him, we come to be like him.
Hesed is often linked together with the Hebrew word for “covenant”-berit. This occurs so often that hesed can be a synonym for covenant. Notice the connection between hesed and covenant in the following verse: “He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy (hesed) for a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy. 7:9, 12). Hesed “applies primarily to God’s particular love for His chosen and covenanted people. The entire history of Yahweh’s covenantal relationship with Israel can be summarized in terms of hesed… the association of hesed with “covenant” keeps it from being misunderstood as mere providence or love for all creatures; it applies primarily to God’s particular love for His chosen and covenanted people. ‘Covenant’ also stresses the reciprocity of the relationship; but since God’s hesed is ultimately beyond the covenant, it will not ultimately be abandoned, even when the human partner is unfaithful and must be disciplined (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996, p. 143).
If I only had the chance to read one verse in the book of Hosea, I would read Hosea 6:6. This epitomizes the entire text. Every illustration in this book comes down to the Lord’s desire that we know and love Him more deeply. As we do, our very natures change.
Students are interested in what happens after Gomer leaves Hosea and is unfaithful to him. She eventually becomes a slave and then desires to come back to Hosea. He purchases her for “fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley” (Hosea 3:2). The connection between this relationship and our relationship with Christ cannot be missed. He has purchased us. His love for us is powerful and it is rooted in covenants. As we make and keep covenants with Jesus Christ, we become closer to Him and want to become like Him. We come to “have His image in our countenance” (Alma 5:19)
I would suggest that when seminary students understand Hosea and its implications in their lives, that this book will have power to motivate them to do good. They will have an increased desire to love Jesus Christ as He loves them.