One of the hardest roles that God ever calls one of His servants to play is that of real-live-walking-talking object lesson. Since you’ve probably never heard a sermon on this subject, I’ll use a prime example from the Bible to illustrate what I’m talking about. The example’s name is Hosea.
Hosea was a God-ordained prophet who prophesied during the era when the nation of Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms: Judah in the south and Israel in the north. Over the course of his long ministry, Hosea primarily prophesied to the northern kingdom, Israel. Like any prophet, his prophesying involved words spoken and written. However, his ministry differed in the fact that God also called him to “prophesy” by way of his marriage. You see, God wanted Hosea’s marriage to serve as an object lesson that depicted the covenant relationship between faithful God and idolatrous Israel. In the object lesson, God was represented by the steadfast Hosea, while Israel was represented by Gomer, Hosea’s unfaithful wife (Hosea 1:3).
At the very onset of Hosea’s ministry, God’s opening words to him were, “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry. For the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord” (Hosea 1:2). This blunt command has prompted differing interpretations from commentators. Some point out that under the Mosaic law women who were sexually immoral before marriage were to be stoned to death, not married (Deuteronomy 22:13-24). These commentators thus conclude that Gomer must not have become a harlot until sometime after her marriage to Hosea. To further bolster this interpretation, they also teach that Israel as a nation didn’t go “a whoring” (Judges 8:33, K.J.V.) after false gods until they were in the land of Canaan, which was after they had entered into covenant marriage with God. This interpretation of Gomer’s sexual immorality is why some modern translations of Hosea 1:2 forego words such as “whoredoms” (K.J.V., N.R.S.V.), “harlotry” (N.K.J.V., N.A.S.B., the Amplified Bible), and “prostitute” (N.L.T) in favor of more watered-down words such as “adulterous” (N.I.V.) and “promiscuous” (H.C.S.B.).
In the other corner, though, we have the commentators who take God’s command in its simplest and most literal way and contend that Gomer was nothing short of an actual prostitute when Hosea married her. And there are two very strong pieces of evidence that support this interpretation. First, Hosea 1:2 uses the Hebrew word zanah, the Old Testament’s classic, often-used term for a harlot. Second, since God didn’t specify the name of the woman whom Hosea was to marry, Gomer must have been Hosea’s own choice. Why is this important? It’s important because if Gomer wasn’t sexually promiscuous before Hosea married her, how could he have thought of a marriage to her as fulfilling God’s command to take a wife of harlotry? It’s not like Hosea peered into the future, saw the chaste Gomer becoming sexually impure sometime after their marriage, and said, “This girl will do, Lord. She’s not a harlot now but I know she will be one day.” That makes no sense.
Someone says, “But what about the fact that Israel as a nation didn’t go ‘a whoring’ after other gods until after they were in Canaan, which was after they had entered into a covenant marriage with God?” The answer is that the question is based upon a wrong assumption. The truth is that God chose Israel as His bride even when she was already in the midst of idolatry. He did that when He called an idol-worshiper named Abram, who lived in the idol-worshiping city of Ur, to be the father of the Jewish race (Genesis 12:1-3, Joshua 24:1-3, Acts 7:1-3).
Since Old Testament times were marked by idolatrous religions whose “worship” services featured bizarre sex acts done in the names of false gods, it’s possible that Gomer was a temple prostitute who worked for the priests of the false gods Baal and Ashtoreth. The northern kingdom was certainly marked by the worship of these gods. On the other hand, perhaps Gomer was simply a common harlot who sold herself to any man who was willing. Either way, God commanding Hosea to marry such a woman almost defies belief. In his commentary Be Amazed, Warren Wiersbe entitles his first chapter on Hosea “You Married a What?” Likewise, John Phillips, in his commentary Exploring the Minor Prophets, describes God’s command as follows:
“He (Hosea) could hardly believe his ears. Hosea was a young, God-fearing, idealistic, pure-minded, clean-living man, and the voice told him to marry a whore? Is this God speaking? he must have asked himself. Or is it a demon?”
And so how did the marriage between Hosea and Gomer work out? Well, it started out good as Gomer bore Hosea a son. They named the boy Jezreel (Hosea 1:3-4). Then she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. They named her Lo-Ruhamah (Hosea 1:6). Then she conceived a third time and gave birth to another son, which they named Lo-Ammi (Hosea 1:8-9). Each of these names had a prophetic meaning for the nation of Israel, but I won’t go into all that because it’s not my subject for today.
So, now Hosea has a wife, three children, and a prophetic ministry. Things are working out just fine, right? Wrong. After the birth of that third child, the next time we read anything about Gomer she is living with another man and is committing adultery against Hosea (Hosea 3:1). Actually, there are some who believe that Hosea was not even the father of those last two children. This idea stems from the fact that the Bible specifically says of Jezreel, the firstborn, “and she conceived and bore him (Hosea) a son,” but concerning those last two children it simply says “she conceived” and makes no mention of Hosea (Hosea 1:6, 8). Also, the third child’s name, Lo-Ammi, means “Not My People.” Symbolically speaking, God was no doubt saying something to Israel via this name, but it’s also possible that the name applied literally to Hosea for not being Lo-Ammi’s father. At any rate, regardless of whether or not all this circumstantial evidence proves those last two children weren’t Hosea’s, it is undeniable that by Hosea 3:1 Gomer has left Hosea (and presumably her children) and is playing the role of the adulteress by living with another man.
Okay Hosea, now the ball is in your court. What are you going to do about Gomer’s infidelity? Surely it’s high time you formally divorced this loose woman and let the other guy have her. Good riddance. But wait a minute, since your marriage to her is a public object lesson that depicts God’s covenant marriage to Israel, that would mean that God is divorcing Himself from Israel and will have nothing else to do with her. And God isn’t doing that. Well, Hosea, you’ve got a real dilemma on your hands.
It is at this critical juncture that God again speaks to Hosea and gives him a command. God tells him, “Go and get your wife again. Bring her back to you and love her, even though she loves adultery. For the Lord still loves Israel even though the people have turned to other gods, offering them choice gifts” (Hosea 3:1, N.L.T.). And would you believe that Hosea obeys this command by actually buying Hosea back for a price of fifteen shekels of silver and one-and-a-half homers of barley (Hosea 3:2)? This was not an exorbitant price, just a little more than half the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32). Gomer had cheapened herself that much.
And that’s where the story of Hosea and Gomer pretty much ends. Once Hosea has purchased her back to himself, he tells her, “You must live in my house for many days and stop your prostitution. During this time, you will not have sexual intercourse with anyone, not even with me” (Hosea 3:3, N.L.T). This time of total celibacy on Gomer’s part would prophetically illustrate that there was coming a time in Israel when the nation would spend many days without a king, a prince, a place of sacrifice, or priests (Hosea 3:4). This time period began when the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple in 70 A.D. and it continues on today. But there is coming a time when God will restore Israel to Himself (Hosea 3:5). This will be fulfilled in Christ’s thousand-year reign upon the earth which will begin at the end of the Tribulation period.
Unfortunately for our inquiring minds that want to know, the Bible doesn’t offer any follow-up details as to how the remainder of Hosea and Gomer’s marriage went. Since God and Israel are going to end up living “happily ever after,” perhaps Hosea and Gomer did as well. But it’s not their marriage that I’m emphasizing with this post. My emphasis is the God-ordained object lesson that Hosea’s life became. Trust me, living that kind of life and performing that kind of service to the Lord isn’t easy. You have to die to your wants, your wishes, your desires, and your dreams. You don’t get to go where you want to go and do what you want to do. Some people mock you. Others pity you. All of them under appreciate you. It’s not a life for the faint of heart. But is it one to which God still calls some of his choicest servants today? I believe it is. It’s just a shame that so few of us nowadays have the spiritual discernment to spot such a life being lived before us. Then again, most of those people in Israel probably didn’t have a clue what they were seeing in Hosea’s marriage to Gomer either.