The minor prophets is a collection of books in the Old Testament which give insight into who God is, how He works, and the history of Israel and Judah; they are just as important to Scripture as the major prophets, but their texts are not as long.

One of these minor prophets to Israel, most likely near Samaria in the north, was Hosea, whose ministry was before the exile to Babylon. This book prophecies the results of the Israelites turning to other gods, the separation of their nation from the one true God, the subsequent disastrous results, and the eventual reconciliation. Moreover, God used Hosea’s own life as a symbol for this relationship through the prophet’s marriage to Gomer, who would be unfaithful to him. Why would God want Hosea to marry Gomer? What is the greater plan?

Hosea’s life and ministry serve not only as prophecy for Israel at that time, but as a reminder today about the consequences of choice, the power of forgiveness, and the importance of virtue.

What Happens in the Book of Hosea?

The Book of Hosea can be broken up into two thematic sections. There is the story of Hosea, Gomer, and their children, and there is the story of God and Israel. Both are stories of covenant relationships which get violated and then restored.

God made a covenant relationship with Israel, promising to bless and protect them if they follow Him, worshipping only the one, true God. Marriage was instituted to be a lifelong promise between a man and a woman to be faithful, and to help one another. Under the Lord’s guidance, Hosea married Gomer, a woman he knew would commit adultery. The marriage would serve as a symbol for the relationship between God and His people.

After King David’s death, his son Solomon married hundreds of women from cultures all over the region, who worshipped many false gods. Theologians generally pinpoint this event as the reason that polytheism became more widely practiced in Israel. Eventually, Judah and Israel separated, becoming two separate kingdoms, which had their own prophets. Hosea lived in the northern kingdom, and God chose Him to live a life which illustrated the relationship between Israel and Himself.

“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’” (Hosea 1:2). By setting this example, God wanted Israel to understand the extent of their sins.

Gomer gave birth to three children, whose names reflected the state of the nation. When they were born, their names were sad, symbolizing the turning away of the nation, and the tragedy that would befall the people. The first son’s name was Jezreel, because God said, “...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. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:4b-5).

Their daughter was named Lo-Ruhamah or No Mercy, because God would show no mercy.

The third child’s name means Not My People - Lo-Ammi. It was common among the families in the Bible for their children to bear names of significance. One of the most significant examples was before the Flood. Enoch named his son Methuselah, which theologians agree translates roughly to, “when he dies it shall come” or “upon his death it comes.” The “it” is the Great Flood. Likewise, Hosea’s children received their names in this tradition.

Hosea and Gomer: Separation and Reconciliation

Gomer does leave Hosea and commit adultery, but eventually her husband retrieves her, taking her back into his home and forgiving her. This reconciliation foretold the future return to God the nation of Israel would make, and His forgiveness.

The majority of the fourteen chapters deal with the specific prophecies about this separation from God and its eventual reconciliation, and beyond the sequence of events, little is known about Hosea’s life, wife and children. It does not discuss how he felt, only that he obeyed.

wife and husband, hosea and gomer

Photo credit: Unsplash/Travis Grossen

Hosea was not the only prophet whose life reflected the state of the relationship between God and His people. Ezekiel, a prophet in Judah, was called by God to act out his life in such a way that it foretold the siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC:

“Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment.  For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel.  And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year.  And you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem, with your arm bared, and you shall prophesy against the city.  And behold, I will place cords upon you, so that you cannot turn from one side to the other, till you have completed the days of your siege” (Ezekiel 4:4-8).

God sometimes called on his prophets to live symbolically and sacrificially in order to communicate to the people. Much like Christians today are called to live by faith, which sometimes includes taking risks that do not make sense. While few Christians are called to take a spouse or a live in the streets to symbolically communicate things today, both require trust and obedience.

Why Did God Let Bad Things Happen to a Hosea, a Good Man?

One of the biggest questions that arises from the life of Hosea is why God would orchestrate his obedient prophet’s life in such a manner that Hosea would suffer so much. He married Gomer knowing she would be an adulteress, suffered the humiliation of her having multiple affairs, and gave his children sad names because of this marriage. Hosea was a prophet, obedient to His Lord, but still he suffered. It is a picture of a good man who has many bad things happen to him.

Despite the hardship, through Hosea’s life, God works out the redemption of Gomer through her husband’s forgiveness. She is welcomed back into her husband’s home, much like how the Father of the Prodigal Son forgave the young man and brought him back in the home. The Lord used these hardships to teach Israel and all future generations about the long-suffering patience of God, who waits for the sinful to come to Him.

During the prophetic communications in this book, God says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols” (Hosea 11:1-2). Over and over, the Lord emphasizes His love for His people, everything He did for them, and the heartbreak of seeing them chose false idols over Him. Yet, He redeemed them anyway, after a period of chastisement and exile.

Correcting through chastisements and times of difficulty are some of the ways God shows His love. He does not want His children to behave badly, to wallow unchanging in spiritual immaturity and sin. Instead, He wants them to grow and become more righteous; “My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12).

Though the people of Israel and Hosea went through difficult times, God used the hardship.

Is This Book Still Relevant Today?

The events prophesied in the Book of Hosea happened centuries ago, but that does not mean there is nothing there for the contemporary Christian to take away. By living a life of suffering personal injury and embarrassment at the hands of someone close to him, Hosea obeyed the Lord knowing these hardships would come, and also found the strength to forgive his wife.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest acts for a sinful man. It is also a lesson of obedience to God, because sometimes believers are called to do hard tasks or make big sacrifices. Finally, there is a reminder of God’s love and forgiveness. Even in the Old Testament, God was merciful and patient with Israel, just as He is with people today.

Sources

Bartlett, Hosea: The Prophet of a Broken Heart. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016.

Bassett, Rev. F. Tilney. Book of the Prophet Hosea Literally Translated with Introduction and Notes Critical and Explanatory. London: W. Macintosh, 1869.

Craigie, Peter. Twelve Prophets Volume 1: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and Jonah. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1973.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Katarzyna Bialasiewicz 

Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.