Hosea is the perfect opening book for the minor prophets because it clearly shows the relationship between the redeeming power of God and the radically depraved nature of man. If you read through this book in one sitting (you should, it is very brief), you come away wondering, “Why did God command Hosea to take Gomer to be his wife?” For goodness sake, Hosea is a prophet of God and Gomer is a prostitute. This is not the marriage Christian parents would encourage their children to mimic.
What if I told you that Hosea was actually doing this in order to show God’s people who He was and what He was like?
A Marriage Flawed from the Start.
Let’s check out how this strange marriage began in Hosea 1:1-9–
1 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. 2 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.” 3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 4 And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while 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. 5 And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.” 6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” 8 When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. 9 And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”
Unlike the other prophets, God does not give Hosea a verbal message to his people. Instead, God instructs Hosea to go and do something–specifically, take a prostitute to be his wife. Why did God use Hosea like this? In Hosea’s ministry, we realize that being a prophet is not just about declaring who God was through words. Prophets also demonstrated God’s message through certain actions. And what message is God proclaiming through Hosea’s bizarre marriage? Who He is and what He is like.
Initially, we see that God is a God who is in intimate relationship with His people like the marriage of Hosea and Gomer. The best picture of God’s relationship with his people was marriage. However, Hosea is not married to a woman of integrity; Gomer is a woman of the night. The implications of marrying a whore are pretty grim: As soon as you take her to be your wife, she will leave you, cheat on you, love other men more than you, find her satisfaction with others, lack appreciation for you, and make you the biggest punchline in the whole town.
Teaching through the Pain.
This last point really gets overlooked. Just think about it. You are a known prophet of God; you are respected and thought to be favored by God. And then you marry the town prostitute? How does this show us who God is and what He is like? Something about the horrible pain Gomer will cause Hosea in this marriage will show him what it’s like for God in his relationship with His people. Until Hosea feels the pain of being utterly humiliated by the one who is supposed to love him and care for him, he will not understand the heart of God.
God could have used Hosea to proclaim what this relationship was like, to proclaim the intimacy, pain and betrayal, but instead he makes Hosea experience it. Why? Tim Keller uses this illustration: Imagine that a child is born on a remote island where there is no sugar. Some of the people on the island tasted sugar a long time ago, and they remember it tasting sweet. So as this child grows up, he hears of this substance called sugar and has been taught that it is sweet. If someone were to ask this child, “Is sugar sweet?” he would answer,”Yes,” and he would be correct. Now what would happen if a plane dropped off food to this island, and it just so happened that in this pallet of food there was a bag of sugar, and this child was able to taste this sugar he had heard about. What would happen if someone again asked him, “Is sugar sweet?” Would his answer be any different? On the face of it, nothing changes. Sugar is still sweet. But there is a difference in knowing the answer personally. This child can say, “I know that sugar is sweet. I have tasted it, and I personally know what it is like.”
Here’s the thing: To truly know God, you must personally experience Him. How many times have you heard people talk about God’s love and forgiveness, our sin, Jesus, and the Gospel–and felt nothing? How often have you comprehended those phrases or words, but failed to personally know what they mean? The danger we constantly face is that we turn who God is into propositions and blockade any chance of having personal experience of the God who interacts with you. The Reformed tradition is wary of mentioning concepts like “experiencing God” because it fears elevating experience/emotion to (or above) the level of Scripture. This is a valid concern, but unless you have personal knowledge of who He is and what He has done, you are like a person who can say, “Yes, sugar is sweet…” but don’t know what sweet truly is.