Connections 07.28.2019: God Offers Hope

Hosea 1:2-10

Yesterday, my husband and I saw a local community theatre production of the haunting musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Based on the animated Disney movie, it features the same songs and several new ones. The storyline is similar but darker, pitting dogmatic, cruel piety against those who need God’s love and care the most. There is no truly happy ending where all is resolved and everyone is safe and sound. At the end, the characters sum up the story like this: “The world is cruel / The world is ugly / But there are times / And there are people / When the world is not / And at its cruelest / It’s still the only world we’ve got / Light and dark / Foul and fair.”

Hosea 1:2-9 is not easy reading. God asks the prophet Hosea to marry a “woman of whoredom” named Gomer, and some Bible translations (like the KJV and NRSV) use the words “take” and “took” in verses 2 and 3, giving the sense that Gomer went into this union against her will. God wants to teach the people of Israel a hard lesson: they are like this “woman of whoredom” and have forsaken God. The imagery conveys that the people of God have been acting like a whore, cheating on God with others. If you think about it, the whole story is appalling.

Hosea and Gomer have children, and the names God gives them are also lessons for the people. According to the New Revised Standard Version footnotes, Jezreel means “God sows”—God will put an end to Israel. Lo-ruhamah means “not pitied”—God has no more pity for Israel. And Lo-ammi means “not my people”—God says Israel is “not my people,” and worse, “I am not your God.”

The world is indeed cruel and ugly. People face difficult choices. We are human, and often the choices we make go against what God wants for us. People use other people. Corporations cheat their employees and consumers. Courts are biased and sometimes racist. We can witness the greatest evil in the hearts and actions of human beings.

Why would God use our own evil to teach us a lesson? Is it the only way we will listen? The world is what we know. It’s our frame of reference. As the Hunchback lyrics say, “Even at its cruelest, it’s the only world we’ve got.” How else would God speak to us in a way that we understand?

I felt hopeless after reading these first few verses of our passage. But the lesson, after all, is titled “God Offers Hope.” Where’s the hope? We can find it in verse 10. In spite of the people’s betrayal, rejection, and cheating—in spite of the consequences they had to suffer—God makes them a new promise that the people of Israel will rebuild and grow as numerous “as the sand of the sea.” Even better, “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.’”

There’s a little hope at the end of Hunchback too: “Someday / Life will be kinder / Love will be blinder / Some new afternoon… / Hope lives on.”

May we listen and learn as God teaches us, even when the lesson is painful. And may we find the message of hope whenever it is given.

Alan Menken, “Finale/Finale Ultimo,” The Hunchback of Notre Dame cast recording, GHOSTLIGHT, 2016.


• God asked a prophet to marry a “woman of whoredom” in order to show the people how they had treated God. What does this real-life metaphor mean to you?

• Can you think of other times in the Bible when God taught people using familiar things from the world they knew? Why do you think this method of teaching might have been effective?

• Are there ways in which it might not have been effective? If so, how?

• We don’t like thinking of God as a bringer of consequences, but that is how the Old Testament stories often picture God. There is, however, usually a path to reconciliation with the Lord. How have you found the balance of consequences and mercy to be true in your own life?

• Why is hope so important, and what can we do to strengthen our hope in the Lord and our faithfulness as followers of Christ?

Reference Shelf

Hosea’s Marriage and Children; Judgment and Promise (Hos 1:2–2:1)

The initial section of indictment/judgment (1:2-9) revolves around four symbolic actions by Hosea, each commanded by God: his marriage to Gomer (1:2-3) and the naming of their three children (1:4-9; cf. Isaiah’s children, Isa 7:3; 8:3). Part of the genius of these materials relates to their “shock value.”

One might speak of the author’s rhetorical strategy: to find a way to get through to the audience, perhaps self-satisfied with their approach to religion and life, and to catch them up in critical reflection and conversation about God. What kind of God do we have, and what is the nature of our relationship to God?

Symbolic actions. Such actions are common in the prophets (e.g., Jer 13:1-11; 19:1-15; Isa 8:1-4; 20:1-6); they are called “symbolic” because they illustrate a particular prophetic point in a graphic way.…

Such symbolic acts are often thought to have an efficacy in their happening; that is, they set in motion the very future that they portray. But such acts are not understood in a magical sense (they may be rooted in such practices), nor are they regarded as inevitably shaping a certain future. They constitute a vivid image for reflection, not the predetermination of an associated event. Hence, the text does not even report the actual naming of the children (unlike the report of Hosea’s marriage, 1:3). Even if it is assumed that Hosea so named the children, that the text does not report it means that the naming in and of itself was not considered crucial for making the point or setting a certain future in place.

The marriage. God’s command to Hosea to marry a woman as described in 1:2-3 raises many questions. How did Hosea know whom to look for, or that Gomer was the sort of woman who would fulfill the divine command? Did she have to be publicly promiscuous? Did God make clear to Hosea the identity of the woman, while readers have not been told? Why this command from God in the first place? Why would Hosea obey such a command without a word? What was the nature of the couple’s marriage? When did Gomer become unfaithful? It seems likely that the text purposely raises these kinds of questions, drawing readers in more deeply….

Given the idolatry = adultery imagery in these chapters, it is…likely that Hosea was called to marry someone who was a known adherent of Baal worship. Hence, the promiscuity has to do with the worship of other gods and not with actual sexual misconduct; it is religious adultery (though association with Baal religion could link her to related sexual rites, 4:13-14). Hosea would then have any number of women from whom to choose! Gomer (whose name has no known significance), while having such a religious identity in her own right, would also be a representative of an adulterous people who worshiped gods other than Yahweh. This could become sexual adultery as well (see ch. 3). Her children would likely follow in her religious footsteps (along with most everyone else!), and they also would be appropriately described as religiously promiscuous. The children’s names could thus relate to the deteriorating effects of idolatry on the health of the nation over time.

[This] interpretation is supported by God’s only stated reason for Hosea’s marriage to such a woman: “for” Israel (“this land”) has “forsaken the Lord” by engaging in religious promiscuity (the worship of other gods) and in treason (the appeal to other nations for help in time of trouble rather than Yahweh).

Hosea’s marriage to a woman from such a people would then be correspondent with God’s marriage to a religiously adulterous people. The Hosea-Gomer marriage is a living metaphor of the God-Israel marital relationship; it is not simply verbal but is lived out before the people. By observing the nature of the Hosea-Gomer relationship, people could hear a word about God, about the kind of marital, indeed familial, experience God must have with Israel, and how God might be responding to it. The Hosea-Gomer marriage as such from its beginning was intended to be a point of public proclamation, not simply what the marriage might become in time.

In his marriage, the prophet becomes an embodied word of God; the prophet’s very life is a message about God’s marriage with Israel. As such a metaphor, the marital/parental imagery has both a “yes” and a “no” in its reference, and readers are invited to think in terms of how the Hosea-Gomer marriage/children is like or unlike the relationship between God and Israel. What might we say about the “yes” and the “no” of the metaphor?

The “no”: marriage then was a different reality from what it is today at its best; it was a marriage arranged by the father or other male member of the family. Common practices today, such as genuine mutuality in the relationship and the sharing of decision-making, would have been unusual in that culture. But the metaphor’s main “no” has to do with the image of Israel as a female who is the unfaithful one in the relationship.

The “yes”: the centrality of love and faithfulness in the relationship and the recognition of brokenness within all such relationships, often prompted by unfaithfulness. We could also claim a “yes” to the use of the marriage metaphor today that would not have been true of that ancient context (e.g., a genuine mutuality). God’s words to God’s own people, words of sharp judgment, are difficult to speak regarding one who has been faithful to the relationship.

The children of Gomer and Hosea. Hosea is also commanded to have “promiscuous children.” These are not children from extra-marital activity (1:3 is clear about this with respect to the first child; it is less clear regarding the other two children, but if religious adultery is in mind, the issue is irrelevant). Rather, as we have suggested, these are children who would be born into a family where the mother was religiously promiscuous; it is likely understood that the children would take on the character and life patterns of their mother. The implication is that, like the nation Israel, Hosea’s entire family is caught up in religious unfaithfulness.

Hosea and Gomer have at least three children, a daughter and two sons. God commanded that each child be given a name symbolic of a specific word of God. The three names refer to the consequences of Israel’s unfaithfulness on the nation of Israel. To sum up: no king(dom), no compassion, no God. The names are likely progressive, both in terms of temporality and severity, as the relationship with Yahweh deteriorates in a downward spiral. They move from judgment “in a little while” to divine compassion “no longer” to godforsakenness, immediately announced. Interestingly, the parent-child metaphor is also used to depict an increasingly anarchic religious/political/military situation. At the same time, in the case of each child, the divine judgment is not simply negative; it anticipates a positive future (1:5, 7, 10-11). But that future is possible only by passing through judgment….

Jezreel (1:4-5, 11; 2:22-23). Jezreel (“God plants”) is a fertile valley in the northern kingdom between Samaria and Galilee. Condemned are violent actions of king Jehu (845–818 BCE) at Jezreel, nearly a century earlier. In 2 Kings 9–10, Jehu’s violence is given a mixed review. God does initiate the coup of Jehu against the house of Ahab/Omri to reform Israel’s idolatrous worship, and God does approve the results in a general way (2 Kgs 10:30). Though God does not necessarily sanction the violent means by which Jehu works it out, 2 Kings 10:17 reports much God-sanctioned violence.

Hosea, on the other hand, is unambiguous: the bloody deeds of the house of Jehu must be judged; indeed, they will contribute to the end of Israel. The “blood of Jezreel” is emblematic of the violence of the kings of this dynasty (Jeroboam II the supreme example). More generally, Jezreel was known as a bloody place where key battles had occurred over the years (e.g., Judg 6–7). The city of Megiddo lies in this valley and is used for future battles (Armageddon). What happened at Jezreel is typical of Israel; Israel is personified violence in all its ways. Jezreel is what Israel as a whole has become. What is so bad about naming your son Jezreel? To use the language of Bruce Birch (p. 21): What would we think of “children named Wounded Knee, or Auschwitz, or Hiroshima, or My Lai?”

God will “visit” (not “punish”) the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu. God does not impose a penalty specified in the law, but sees that sins have effects. Ironically, God, in announcing “an end to the kingdom of Israel,” will use at least as much violence in and through the Assyrians to accomplish this judgment (see Fretheim 1999, 172–75).

Poetic justice is voiced in v. 5: Israel’s power will be broken in the very valley where Jehu executed his purge. But even more, God engages in violence in order to “break the bow,” so that Israel will no more participate in violence, demonstrating that God’s purpose is the end of violence. Indeed, the end of war is the shape of the future (anticipating 2:18; see Ps 46:9). In sum, God uses violence against Israel to undercut its violence and work toward a future free of violence.

Loruhamah (1:6-8; see 2:1, 23). Its meaning, “no mercy, not pitied” (by God), makes a strong statement about the welfare of a daughter no longer cared for by her parent (cf. Isa 49:14-15). And no reasons are given. Israel’s negative future is close at hand. A contrast is offered regarding Judah’s future in v. 7, but, again, no reasons are given. Following the effect of God’s action in v. 5, violent means are rejected in v. 7 (note the violent means used against Assyria in 2 Kgs 19:32-37).

Key questions arise. What does it mean for God to have no mercy on God’s own people (see 5:14)? We hear from other texts that God had shown compassion to Israel in earlier years (e.g., 2 Kgs 13:4-5; 14:25-27). Indeed, the covenant with Abraham is cited as a factor (2 Kgs 13:23), as it is in this context (see v. 10)! Some suggest that such a question was already troubling to the editors (JPS puts v. 7 in parentheses); references to Judah were inserted (fifteen instances in Hosea) to make the continuity in God’s people clear. Yet an editor would have understood that “the house of Israel” (v. 6) and “my people” (v. 9) would have been less than the entirety of God’s people.

How is the distinction between Israel and Judah to be explained, especially when no reasons are given? The assumption seems to be that Judah’s sins have not (yet) had the cumulative effect that Israel’s have had (see Jer 3:6-11, where Judah is judged for neglecting the lessons of the north). Strong theological language is used for Judah in v. 7—compassion and salvation (also used for Israel in 2 Kgs 13–14). At the same time, 1:11 assumes that, at some point, Judah will be exiled and suffer a fate similar to Israel’s. But that will not mean the end of the covenant relationship.

Loammi (1:8-9; see 2:1, 23). God declares that Israel is “not my people” (v. 9). The language is striking given the covenant formula, “You shall be my people and I shall be your God” (e.g., Jer 30:22). Would “not my people” mean the breaking of God’s promise? Is “the covenant undone…null and void because of Israel’s sin” (so Birch, 22)? Did Israel forfeit its status as a covenant people? Yet God did not make a covenant with Israel separately from Judah; there is only one covenant and one people. Judah is still alive and well as God’s people (vv. 7, 11). Is the covenant undone for Israel within the people of God? Yet “not my people” is soon reversed: once again, Israel is “my people” (2:1, 23). No claims are made regarding a nullification of the divine promise. Another approach is necessary, recognizing that many people from Israel were still alive after the fall of the north and could call God’s promises their own.

Israel is named “not my people” because Israel has decided to remove itself from the sphere of promise by its unfaithfulness, and God honors this move. But God’s promise will not fail (Deut 4:31; Judg 2:1; 1 Sam 12:22; 2 Sam 7:16); it will never be made null and void as far as God is concerned. The promise is always there for the believing to cling to, and they can be confident that God is open to welcoming the prodigal child home. If vv. 10-11 are the work of a later editor (as commonly thought), it is clear that 1:9 was not understood in absolute or final terms. God’s promises, given long before Israel’s apostasy, still stand—for both Israel and Judah. The language of “not my people” must be seen as an exile, a time away (cf. 2:14-15; 3:3-4), not as God’s cancellation of a promise.

Promise. Both Israel and Judah are given promises regarding their future, and their future together. As with the rhythms of 1:4-5 and 1:6-7, there is hope beyond the judgment of 1:9. The name “not my people” becomes “children of the living God,” rather than children of another god (supporting our marriage interpretation above). Verse 10 does not start up a new covenant; rather, Israel has been reintegrated into a covenant that has persisted through this time (recognized with Judah in v. 7). The divine promises in Genesis are repeated (“sand of the sea,” 22:17; 32:12), and the Abrahamic covenant is thereby recognized as continuing to be applicable to Israel.

The text once again speaks of Jezreel (1:11), but this time it will be a great day. Indeed, in 2:1, “not my people” is called “my people” and “not pitied” is “pitied.” All three names are reinterpreted in 2:22-23. God as the subject of the word “sow” entails a fulfillment of the future anticipated in 1:5 (Jezreel means “God sows”) and in 1:11, where the battle of Jezreel will signal the day of the Lord for Israel’s salvation. This does not take away the language of judgment (see Israel’s experience at the hands of the Assyrians) but rather indicates that, through the judgment as a refining fire, the people of Israel will experience salvation. God’s love will persist through thick and thin.

On what grounds can the prophet claim a future beyond disaster? The language of 1:10 suggests the promise to Abraham: his descendants will be as numerous as the sand on the seashore (Gen 22:17; 32:12), the dust of the earth, and the stars of the heavens (Gen 13:16; 15:5; 26:24; 28:14). The separated people (Israel and Judah) will be reunited (1:11), will take possession of the land (or put down roots in the land or flourish in the land), and will be gathered together under one leader (1:11). “The day of Jezreel” speaks of being sown into the land again or replanted (see 2:22-23). The people will appoint for themselves a head/leader; the use of the word “leader” rather than “king” suggests a move away from the kind of kingship under which the people have often suffered (3:5 refers to a Davidic king, with Judah in view; on “head” as king, see Ps 18:43; Job 29:25)….

Judgment and salvation are themes that go together, and they are both taken seriously. Judgment takes accountability seriously; there will be consequences to sin. At the same time, God’s love is everlasting and God’s promises dependable, moving through times of judgment and enabling a new future.

Terence E. Fretheim, Reading Hosea–Micah, Reading the Old Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2013), excerpts from commentary on Hos 1:2–2:1.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (14) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.


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  1. Catherine Lee says

    Very well written and thoughtful. Giving words of wisdom and deep consideration.

    • Kelley Land says

      Thank you, Catherine. It’s always nice to know that other people are with us on this journey through a difficult world and also recognize the importance of hope.