Lessons From a Bad Husband: Hosea 2-3

We already knew that Gomer was a bad wife. Hosea told us. A lot.  The words he lobbed at her in the first three chapters of the book bearing his name included things like: promiscuous, adulteress, harlot, unfaithful. He let her know how, and how often, she failed at their marriage. But was Hosea a good husband? Was he the faultless party stuck in a faulty relationship? We are accustomed to thinking of the prophets as the good guys of the Bible. They are, of course, but they were also human. If Hosea wasn’t bad, out right, he definitely was a hard guy to be married to.

Ancient Israel was a patriarchal society. Women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as the men of that culture. One of the main problems with patriarchy is that it emphasizes that men bear God’s image, while forgetting that women, are also mutual image bearers (Gen. 1:27). Did Hosea ever see the Divine flicker in Gomer’s eyes? Perhaps; however, his prophetic poems compared his love for her to God’s love for Israel. Gomer, fickle and unfaithful was merely the mirror of Israel—a people who abandoned the LORD by chasing lesser gods. Hosea casts himself as an Analogy of Divine Being, and his wife,  as a stunted and fallen people.  How would you like to be married to that?

Did Hosea forgive Gomer for her past? Did he shame her throughout their marriage? Was he paranoid whenever she left the house? Was he jealous whenever she spoke to another man?  Hosea’s love for Gomer did reflect God’s love, but only through a glass darkly. Anytime God is created in man’s image (i.e. anthropomorphism), the analogy  breaks down somewhere. Hosea’s love for Gomer was only a shadow of  strong covenant love of Yahweh, not a detailed exposition of it.

An altogether, human Hosea was bound together with Gomer and their children within a family system. Therapist Lynn Hoffman defined a system as “any entity the parts of which co-vary interdependently with one another, and which maintain equilibrium in an error-activated way” (cited in The Family Crucible by Augustus Napier &  Carl Whitaker, Quill, 1978, p 47). In other words, the prophet and his wife, as co-participants in their family system, each bore some responsibility for their broken marriage. Gomer cheated on Hosea, but an emotional distance and lack of intimacy between them preceded any act of infidelity. There were ways in which Hosea’s love was not divine. He failed her too.  If their relationship could be restored, Hosea, and not just Gomer, would need to do the heart work.

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Hosea was a jilted lover. He was angry and hurt by Gomer’s behavior. His reactions are understandable.  Hosea 2 relays the dissolution of his marriage, his  anger and heartbreak. This was a wounded man:

Say to your brother, Ammi, and to your sister, Ruhamah.

Plead with your mother, plead—
    for she is not my wife,
    and I am not her husband—
that she put away her whoring from her face,
    and her adultery from between her breasts,
or I will strip her naked
    and expose her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness,
    and turn her into a parched land,
    and kill her with thirst. (Hosea 2:1-3)

These verses, and the next several, tell how Gomer betrayed him, and how he would make her pay.  Hosea spoke these words to their children. Triangulation occurs when “two parents are emotionally estranged from another, and they overinvolve their children in their emotional distress (84, The Family Crucible). Hosea draws his kids into a triangle (another bad dad moment?), then in his next breath he says, “I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery. Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace” (Hos. 2:4-5a). Hurt prophets hurt.

Hosea was a wounded animal lashing out. He was bitter and vindictive as he recounted how he would thwart Gomer and make her pay for her unfaithfulness. A bad wife was cast out by the just indignation of this (also bad?)husband.

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The first prophetic word the Lord said to Hosea was, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea 2 expresses a double entendre containing God’s judgement on Israel for their sins. Hosea’s relationship to Gomer embodied a nation’s spiritual condition. What began as a diatribe against his wife became the word of the Lord against Israel:

I will punish her for the festival days of the Baals,
    when she offered incense to them
and decked herself with her ring and jewelry,
    and went after her lovers,
    and forgot me, says the Lord. (Hos. 2:13)

Yet if judgment and rejection were the final word, the book of Hosea would be depressing. Anger and sorrow are swallowed up by hope as Hosea describes Israel’s future—a restored relationship with God:

“In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked. In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.

“In that day I will respond,” declares the Lord— “I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, and they will respond to Jezreel. I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ ”(Hosea 2:16-23).

Hosea 3 describes how God calls Hosea to reconcile with his wife. Recalling His first word to Hosea, the Lord said, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”(Hos 3:1, NIV). Hosea pays six ounces of silver and a butt-load of barley to get her back. He calls her to faithfulness, and pledges to her his own. Gomer must remain chaste for a season, the way Israel herself will be chastened by war and exile, but in the end,  God’s goodness awaits (Hosea 3:4-5).

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Prophets make vivid God’s heart. If Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was a mere sham act for effect, then it really didn’t image God’s love. Hosea was far from perfect, but he came to love well. Abraham Heschel writes:

It seems absurd to assume that the prophet’s marriage was performed for effect, as a mere demonstration, as an action intended for public information. We must not reduce the fullness of an act to its operational meaning. We cannot adequately understand a person by the impressions he produces in other people.  A person is not a puppet, and martyrdom is not a masquerade. One thing is clear: the primarily given and immediate spiritual datum in the story of the marriage is the prophet’s experience. The event stirred and shocked the life of Hosea regardless of its effect upon public opinion. It concerned him personally at the deepest level and had a meaning of highest significance for his own life.

As time went by, Hosea became aware of the fact that his personal fate was a mirror for divine pathos, that his sorrow echoed the sorrow of God. In this fellow suffering as an act of sympathy with the divine pathos, the prophet probably saw the meaning of the marriage which he had contracted at the divine behest (The Prophets: An Introduction, Vol. 1, 55-56).

Hosea 3 doesn’t  actually name Gomer and the prophet doesn’t mention her adultery again in the rest of the book, though he continued to speak about Israel’s adulterous heart. Maybe they lived happily ever after? Perhaps the point had been made, and Hosea (and the Lord?) saw no further need to subject his family system to further shame. In reflecting on Heschel’s words, I wonder if Hosea’s increasing circumspection about expressing family matters in public is that as he came to understand more fully the love and sorrow of God, he grew more loving towards Gomer. So instead of public shame, he protected her honor. Maybe, just maybe, this bad husband began in earnest to image the love of God to her.