By Shelley Neese

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We can divide Hosea into two primary sections: his Marriage and his Message. The first three chapters of the book are prose, focused on Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, while the other 11 chapters are poetry.

To begin each prophetic book in Bible Fiber, we need a little background on the author: the date of the composition, the prophet’s relation to the other prophets, and his intended audience. Hosea gives plenty of details about his timing and even his personal life, so he is one of the easiest to introduce.

The book of Hosea begins with a historical superscription: “The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri, in the days of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel” (1:1, NRSVUE).[1]


Scholars believe Hosea’s prophetic career lasted about 40 years. King Jeroboam II’s reign ended around 746 BCE, and Hosea’s ministry started before Jeroboam’s death. Hosea was still prophesying at the time of Hezekiah, and we know Hezekiah’s reign began in 716 BCE. Judging from Hosea’s own historical timestamp, the prophet’s work took place between 746 and 716 BCE.

One thing stands out in the historical superscription, and maybe only biblical chronologists get excited about this oddity. Notice that Hosea lists four kings of Judah, but he only names one king for Israel, Jeroboam II. The Judean kings had combined reigns of at least 60 years. Jeroboam II reigned four decades, but he was not Israel’s only king during that time frame. A quick succession of six kings inherited Israel’s throne after Jeroboam II. Perhaps Hosea does not list them because their reigns were short, usually ending by assassination at the hands of their successors. Alternatively, Hosea may have seen all the Israelite kings in this period of anarchy as illegitimate claimants to the throne, so he may have thought they were not worth mentioning.

We know much about this period of Israel and Judah’s history, especially from the histories presented in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. When the United Monarchy that David and Solomon had made famous split into two kingdoms under Solomon’s son Rehoboam, the 10 northern tribes defected and formed their own Kingdom of Israel, with Shechem (and later, Samaria) as its capital. The two southern tribes made up the Kingdom of Judah and kept Jerusalem as their capital. Judah’s kings proceeded from the House of David. The Northern Kingdom did not have the same clear-cut line of succession.

The prophets referred to these two split kingdoms as Israel and Judah. A common mistake in the minds of Bible readers is not to differentiate the terms Israel and Judah during this period, or to comprehend their vastly different paths and histories. Israel’s kings displeased the Lord by doing evil. The kings of Judah sometimes were righteous and sometimes were not.

A wife and children of prostitution

The Lord speaks to Hosea at the outset of the prophetic book, commanding him, “Go, take for yourself a wife of prostitution and have children of prostitution, for the land commits great prostitution by forsaking the Lord” (1:2). Hosea obeyed and married Gomer. Some biblical scholars believe Gomer was a harlot before marrying Hosea and others interpret the text that Gomer fell into adultery after the marriage. Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was a visual aid, a real-life performative art piece to demonstrate how the Israelites broke their covenant with Yahweh.

Gomer gave birth to three children. Whether the children belonged to Hosea or whether they resulted from Gomer’s infidelity is unclear. There may have been two groups of children: Gomer’s children before she wedded Hosea, whom he adopted, and the ones born to Gomer after her marriage to the holy man. They gave three of the children names that symbolized Yahweh’s dissatisfaction with Israel.

God commanded Hosea to name his firstborn son Jezreel. Out of these three children, Jezreel is the only one the text clarifies was Hosea’s biological child. The name Jezreel means “God sows” or “God scatters.” Naming a child after the Jezreel Valley may appear to have been harmless, but this name had multiple layers of significance to Hosea’s Israelite neighbors. In Israel’s history, Jezreel was associated with bloodshed. For example, Queen Jezebel had Naboth killed in Jezreel when he refused to hand over his vineyard to King Ahab (1 Kings 21). Later, General Jehu defeated Jezebel’s and Ahab’s son, King Joram, at Jezreel. Jehu slew everyone associated with the house of Ahab, placing himself on the throne as Israel’s tenth king (2 Kings 10). A divine blessing was conferred upon Jehu for a period. He was, at least, better than the evil tyrants Ahab and Jezebel.

However, Jehu soon abandoned the worship of Yahweh. Hosea’s message of doom condemned the house of Jehu, particularly Jeroboam II. God told Hosea, “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” (1:4). Hosea highlights the irony that Jehu, through bloodshed and violence, began his reign at Jezreel, and his dynasty ended at Jezreel.

The Jezreel Valley is also known as Armageddon in Christian tradition, where the ultimate battle between good and evil takes place, in the book of Revelation. Perhaps it would be more striking to Christian ears if Hosea named his sign-child Armageddon.

God’s choice of names for Hosea’s latter two children became progressively more ominous, perhaps a sign that they were the product of Gomer’s infidelity. The second child, a daughter, was called Lo-Ruhamah, which means “no pity,” because God had withdrawn his mercy from Israel. Hosea named the third child Lo-Ammi, meaning, “you are not my people.” God’s language mirrored the original wording in his promise to the Israelites when he was preparing to free them from their bondage in Egypt. In Exodus, God promised, “I will take you as my people, and I will be your God” (Ex. 6:7). Here, in Hosea’s naming of his child, God retracted his declaration, saying, “for you are not my people, and I will not be your God” (1:9).

In Hosea 2, in a dramatic act that represents the salvation plot which echoes throughout the Bible, God changes the meanings of the names of Hosea’s sign-children. They are switched from curses to blessings, demonstrating that the judgment of Israel was going to be certain, but not permanent. God says, “I will sow him for myself in the land. And I will have pity on Lo-ruhamah, and I will say to Lo-ammi, ‘You are my people,’ and he shall say, ‘You are my God’” (2:23).

God reverses the name-curse that meant the Israelites would not receive his compassion, Lo-Ruhamah, and he reclaims them, canceling the curse of Lo-Ammi that signified they were not his people. Hosea also reverses the implications of the name Jezreel: “In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God’” (1:10). Despite harsh judgment, God promises their exalted return.

We should read these biographical chapters in Hosea with our empathy antennas up. How could God have shamed and humiliated a holy man like Hosea by commanding him to marry an adulterous woman? The idea of it offends our modern religious sensibilities. How could God further humiliate his prophet by asking him to give shameful names to his children? Hosea’s marriage and family were symbolic of God’s relationship with Israel and his unconditional love.

Hosea declares, “she is not my wife, and I am not her husband” (2:2). This phraseology mirrors the language that was used in Akkadian bills of divorce, which usually only required a simple declarative statement. Through Hosea, God was announcing his divorce from Israel. The day of Israel’s redemption had not yet come.

Gomer pursued lovers who gave her food, water, oil, wool, and linen, just as Israel turned towards the false agricultural deities of her neighbors, praying to them for provision. Rather than giving Yahweh credit for the rains, harvests, ripening vines, and general prosperity, the Israelites defected to Baal, a fertility god worshiped by the people of Canaan, who subsisted on agriculture in a climate that sometimes gave, and sometimes withheld, the rains. Baal was thought to be lord over the clouds and wombs, so the Israelites worshiped him as such. They relegated Yahweh to the role of military protector since he had delivered them out of the hands of the Egyptians and facilitated their victories in Canaan. Yet in times of peace, they took Yahweh’s protection for granted. The rituals associated with pagan gods catered to their immediate desires; these false gods were represented by idols that they could see and touch, and which they could set up in their fields and in their homes. The invisible Yahweh made moral demands, a nuisance that idols did not require.

God scoffed at the empty pursuit of paganism. Hosea writes, “She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them” (2:7). Because of Israel’s misplaced gratitude, Yahweh threatened to destroy the trees, fields, and vineyards of the Northern Kingdom. And within one century, he used the Assyrians as an instrument to enact that punishment.

The text portrays Yahweh and Hosea as patient yet jealous husbands. The unfaithfulness of Hosea’s betrothed tormented him. We read, “she offered incense and decked herself with her rings and jewelry and went after her lovers and forgot me” (2:13).

Door of hope

God assured Hosea that the coming punishment was to be temporary. One day, he would court Israel again, to “allure her” and “speak tenderly to her” (2:14). Yahweh would restore her vineyards and “make the Valley of Achor a door of hope” (2:15). The reference to the Valley of Achor, like the name Jezreel, is a multilayered symbol that exhibits Hosea’s mastery of Israel’s long history. Hosea hid these literary and historical Easter eggs throughout his prophetic texts, his way of giving the reader a knowing wink.

Hosea’s mention of the Valley of Achor is ironic, in that he refers to it as Israel’s “door of hope.” In Israel’s history, the Valley of Achor was associated with death and punishment, not hope. Achor means “trouble.” After the Hebrew army had handily defeated Jericho, a man named Achan had defied God’s proscription to restrain from plundering the city (Josh. 7). When the Hebrew army suffered an unexpected defeat in their ensuing campaign, God informed Joshua that his people were being collectively punished for one man’s sin. Through a process of divination, Achan was identified as the perpetrator, so Joshua summoned Achan’s family and livestock to the Valley of Achor and stoned them to death.

The prophet Hosea wrote 700 years after Achan’s stoning, yet in a beautifully poetic twist, he wrote that Israel’s coming hope and redemption would arise from the Valley of Achor. He prophesied, “There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt” (2:15). Redemption from an unlikely place is also part of Isaiah’s prophetic message. He prophesied that in the time of salvation, God would make “the Valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down, for my people who have sought me” (Isa. 65:10).

It takes a careful reading of Hosea, but ultimately this prophetic book offers a theology of hope. God did not spare Israel from exile; he allowed her to live out the consequence of her spiritual depravity. He offered her redemption, and in the intimate language of romance unique to Hosea, Yahweh declared: “I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord” (2:19-20).

Hosea 3 is the closing biographical text on the love story of Hosea and Gomer. The passage leaves us with many unanswered questions. Apparently, Gomer left Hosea again for another lover and somehow found herself in servitude. However, instead of allowing Hosea to divorce Gomer and try to heal from this wreck of a marriage, God commanded Hosea to return to his wife. Hosea redeemed Gomer for 15 shekels of silver and barley, a price fitting for a common slave in the eighth century BCE.

Gomer’s period of slavery is the metaphorical equivalent of Israel’s exile. Hosea urged her to change her ways and embrace a faithful life. He instructed her, “You must remain as mine for many days; you shall not prostitute yourself; you shall not have intercourse with a man, nor I with you” (3:3). We may infer that, just as Gomer was not to become involved sexually with another man, so Hosea was not going to be sexually involved with Gomer. He had committed himself to redeem and remarry her, but not to have intimacy with her.

The metaphor of the platonic marriage of Hosea and Gomer reflects what Israel would experience when she returned from exile. While she would continue to be part of the covenanted nation of God, she would lose her footing as a nation. Hosea foretold the day when Israel would no longer have a king, a priesthood, or a temple for sacrificial worship. Just as Gomer and Hosea practiced celibacy in their marriage, Israel would have no familiar way of approaching Yahweh.

The text is laden with the heavy sorrows of Hosea’s life, the brokenness of Gomer, and the intensity of God’s longing. Gomer preferred the empty embrace of others over the fullness of love offered by Hosea. The same is true for Israel’s spiritual adultery through idolatry. The book of Hosea evokes frustration while it provokes believing readers to see and experience the rejected love of Yahweh. Like the ancients, we need the overt visual aid of a cheating Gomer to know what God experiences when we, his followers, turn our hearts from him.

For Christians, the blessings and curses of Hosea may look distant from the salvation plan that we hold dear in Christ, but in Romans 9, the apostle Paul interprets Hosea’s oracles in line with our story as New Testament believers. Paul quotes Hosea to explain how Gentiles can be grafted into the Jewish covenant:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction, and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As he also says in Hosea:

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’
And in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they shall be called children of the living God” (Rom. 9:22-26).

Paul uses the names of Hosea’s sign-children to show how God reversed the status of Gentiles through faith in Jesus and absorbed them into the covenant. As you confront an uncertain future, remember above all else, if you are a believer, you are a child of the living God!

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (NRSVUE). Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Though I appreciate other English translations, in my opinion the NRSVUE is the most faithful in reflecting the word repetitions and emphases of the Hebrew prophets.