The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Some Notes On The Marriage Of Hosea The Prophet

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 13, 2009

Preliminaries on the Marriage of Hosea and Gomer.

Bernhard Anderson writes: “The key to the interpretation of Hosea’s message is the story of his marriage to Gomer.  This story, however, which is found in the first three chapters of the book of Hosea, presents one of the most difficult problems in Old Testament studies.” (Understanding The Old Testament, pg 284).  Father Wilfred Harrington, O.P., writes along the same lines, noting that the foundational chapters of 1-3 provide “just enough data to establish one of the thorniest problems in the Old Testament” (Record Of Promise, pg. 183).  Father John McKenzie, in his Dictionary Of The Bible writes: “1-3, which contain the account of the marriage of Hosea and Gomer, raises a number of celebrated exegetical questions, and opinions are almost as numerous as the scholars who have discussed them” (art. “Hosea”).

Needless to say, we cannot here even begin to scratch the surface of the problems.  I would suggest reading the introduction to the Book of Hosea found in The New Catholic Commentary On Holy Scripture, which gives a good, succinct summary of some of the major views.  Also, Mckenzie’s Article on Hosea in his previously mentioned Dictionary.  One can also profitably consult pages 8-10 of this PDF document written by Duane A. Garrett of the Canadian Baptist Seminary.

Concerning III. A Garrett writes: “God commanded Hosea to marry an immoral woman.  He did so, and she gave him one son but soon returned to her old ways and bore him two children of doubtful paternity (1:2-9).  Hosea then apparently separated from her or was abandoned by her (2:2a).  She fell into poverty and disgrace, and eventually into slavery.  Hosea bought her out of slavery and restored he to the family (3:1-3).” (Please note that chapter and verse numberings for Hosea differ in various translations)

Concerning III. B Garrett writes: “Essentially the same as III. A., (of which it is) a variant interpretation (which) seeks to avoid the scandal of God commanding Hosea to marry a flagrantly immoral woman by asserting that the reference to Gomer’s immorality in 1:2 is proleptic, or that when he married her she had tendencies to immorality but had not yet actually engaged in extramarital sex, or that Hosea did not deliberately marry a wanton woman but only retrospectively realized that his unhappy marriage was actually, in the providence of God, a portrayal of God’s relationship to Israel.”

What’s my position?  I would point out that Hosea’s marriage is a prophetic mirror of God’s relation to Israel, something which very few commentators today (if there are any at all) would deny.  I would point out that the people whom God would “marry” were originally involved in idolatry in Egypt, and God freed them from this by leading them into the desert and “marrying” them, i.e., enter into a covenant with them.  I would note that in 2:16-17 Israel is portrayed as a wife who had originally been faithful in the desert.  I would also point out that God could not have been ignorant of the fact that his wife Israel would fall into harlotry.  When God set before His people the blessings and the curses of the covenant (Deut 11:26-32; 28:1-45), He knew full well that both would befall Israel: “WHEN ALL THESE THINGS which I have set before you, the blessings AND THE CURSES, ARE FULFILLED IN YOU…” (Deut 30:1).  From this I would conclude the following (I should note I’m relying on others for all of this):

1. Hosea is being asked to undergo in a marriage the experience God knowingly underwent in His covenant relations with His people.  Any discussion of the status of Gomer must (so it seems to me) take into account the history of the covenant, which necessarily begins with the people living in idolatry in Egypt.

2.  God knowingly took a harlot (idolatrous) people into a marriage (covenant), and Hosea is being asked to knowingly take a sexually promiscuous woman as a wife (1:2).

3.  The harlot “wife” of God responded with fidelity, at least for a time, as did the harlot wife of Hosea (note that the prophet is clearly identified as the father of Gomer’s first child 1:3).

4. Just as God’s “wife” fell into idolatry (often compared in the Bible to sexual infidelity), so too would the prophets wife (note the paternity of the second and third child of Gomer is not mentioned.  This ambiguity implies what becomes explicit in their names: “Not Pitied” and “Not My People” [1:6, 8]).

5. As a result of her covenant infidelity there is a rupture in the “marriage” between God and His “wife”; just as there is a rupture in Hosea’s marriage.  See chapter 2:1-8 where the actions of Gomer and the symbolic names of the last two children are applied to God’s relation with His “wife” (the nation of Israel which has un-covenanted itself), and her children, the product of her harlotry (covenant infidelity).

6. This rupture (divorce?) is intended as medicinal.  God/Hosea (the symbol and reality are becoming merged) no longer supports the wife and she will come to find that her lovers are now of little use to her, and so she will return to her husband (2:9-25)

7. For this reason God commands Hosea to take back his wife and submit her to a period of testing, as he will do with Israel (chapter 3).

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