Did God Command Hosea to Marry a Harlot?

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“The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land [Israel] hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD.” (Hosea 1:2)

These words seem to contradict 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”

Did God really command Hosea to marry an immoral woman?

Let’s examine this issue, considering both context and the consistency of divine revelation.

The Man

Scripture provides no other information about Hosea than what is contained in the fourteen short chapters of his prophecy.

One thing is certain: Hosea’s understanding of the Mosaic Law, especially the Book of Deuteronomy, was outstanding.

The Marriage

The account of Hosea’s marriage opens with God’s command to marry a “woman of whoredoms” (1:2). It closes in chapter three with another command: “Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend [her illicit lover], yet an adulterous, according to the love of the LORD toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine” (3:1).

Thus, God is illustrating His own marriage problems with Israel by Hosea’s marriage problems with Gomer. God’s commands to Hosea have perplexed scholars for centuries.

Two basic interpretative approaches have been taken.

  1. First are those commentators who view the command and the marriage as an allegory and therefore not literal, and,
  2. Second, those who regard the command and marriage as literal.

The Allegorical View

The allegorical view denies the historical reality of God’s command, viewing this as a symbolic or allegorical portrayal of God’s relationship to Israel. This arose, as Augustine explains, out of the desire to harmonize Scripture.

He suggested that when one encounters a passage that seems to malign the holy character of God, he should interpret it allegorically rather than literally.

Church fathers such as Basil, Augustine, Jerome, and Theodoret, as well as the Reformers John Calvin and Martin Luther, have taken this position; and more recent scholars such as Hengstenberg, Keil, and E.J. Young, have agreed.

The main objection against the allegorical view is that nothing in the text suggests symbolic or allegorical language. It is historical narrative that contains all the earmarks of a literal marriage.

For this reason most of the recent commentators have rejected the allegorical view.

The Literal View

This view maintains that Hosea actually married a woman named Gomer (1:3), who gave birth to three children: Jezreel (1:3-4), Lo Ruhamah (1:6), and Lo Ammi (1:8-9). However, there are several versions of the literal view. Literalists have interpreted the difficult phrase “woman of whoredoms” (1:3) in three ways:

  1. Gomer was sexually impure when married,
  2. Gomer worshiped false gods and was an idolatress when married, or
  3. Gomer was pure when she married Hosea but later became a “woman of whoredoms.”

Let’s examine each of these views.

Literal View 1: Gomer was sexually impure when married. This view recognizes the moral and ethical difficulties involved but suggests that for the sake of communicating the message of God’s love for His wife, wayward Israel, He made an exception to His previously-stated moral standards.

Thus, God did command Hosea to marry a woman who was impure.

“Whoredom” is understood as a reference to Gomer’s children born either

  1. before her marriage to Hosea as a result of her prostitution,
  2. after her marriage, all fathered by Hosea, or
  3. after her marriage, the first by Hosea and the latter two as the result of adultery.

Literal View 2: Gomer worshiped false gods and was an idolatress when married. This view suggests that the expression “woman of whoredoms” can indicate that Gomer was an idol worshipper when Hosea married her. The word “whoredoms” would then refer to spiritual rather than sexual unfaithfulness. But there are many reasons to reject both of these views.

They both attribute to God a command that is contrary to His revealed standards both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Sexually immoral Israelites were to be executed, not married.

Further, the primary guardians and teachers of the Law, the priests, were forbidden to marry a whore (Leviticus 21:7, 14). Would God command Hosea, a prophet who served as an enforcer of God’s Law, to disobey blatantly that Law?

God also forbade His people to marry anyone involved in idolatry. Deuteronomy chapters 6 and 7 insist that Israeli parents are to teach their children to love God and to obey his statutes (Deut. 6:1-15). They were not to allow their children to marry the idolatrous people who lived around them (Deut. 7:1-6; Exodus 34:12-16).

This was such a serious issue that Ezra required the Jewish men, who had returned to the land of Israel from the Babylonian exile, to divorce any wife who was idolatrous (Ezra 9:1-10:19). In the New Testament, God commands His people: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Further He commands that His people marry only those who are “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). To interpret Hosea 1:2 either as a command for Hosea to marry a sexually impure or an idolatrous woman is to open God to the charge of promoting deliberate disobedience to His own revealed standard, the written Word.

One could argue that if God can make an exception to His moral standards for Hosea, then He can make exceptions for others. All one need do is to assert, as did Hosea, “God told me to.”

A second objection to literal views 1 and 2 is the contradiction they pose in illustrating God’s marriage relationship with Israel. According to Jeremiah 2:2-3, Israel’s relationship with God, from the Exodus from Egypt until they came to Mt. Sinai and were married, was characterized as a time of purity and chastity. It was the time of Israel’s “youth.” “Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto the LORD, and the firstfruits of his increase…” (Jeremiah 2:1-3).

According to Jeremiah, at this time in her history Israel was holy in God’s eyes, and He entered into marriage with a pure and holy bride (Israel). God tells Hosea to remind Israel of her former purity and to prophesy of a future day when Israel shall once again respond to His overtures.

To charge Gomer with either impurity or idolatry before her marriage, therefore, destroys the parallels between the relationship of Gomer to Hosea and that of Israel to Yahweh.

In order to maintain the relationship of the analogy, Gomer’s status at marriage must be that of purity, both sexually and spiritually.

Literal View 3: Gomer was pure when she married Hosea but later broke her covenant vows and became a “woman of whoredoms.” This view has two possible variations.

The first is frequently called “the proleptic (or summation) view.” Prolepsis is the use of a descriptive word in anticipation of a later occurrence that will make the term appropriate.

An example would be the statement made by someone facing execution, “I am a dead man.” Accordingly, the proleptic view claims the phrase, “woman of whoredoms” is used in anticipation of what she would become.

Proponents of the proleptic view usually argue that Hosea wrote this prophecy long after the events had transpired and that he used language reflecting what he later discovered. When Gomer proved later to be unfaithful, Hosea could say that God told him to marry a “woman of whoredoms.”

An alternative explanation is what may be called the “latent inner wantonness view.” This suggests that the word “whoredoms” (zenunim) is not the normal word that designates an immoral woman in general (zanah) or even a cultic prostitute (kedeshah).

As Michael Barrett explains, the word translated “whoredoms” “is an abstract plural that would more likely describe an inner characteristic than an outward behavior. It most likely refers to Gomer’s latent bent toward immorality that surfaced not long after the marriage.”

In many ways, Gomer was a child of her times. Baal worship had become widespread, along with its sexual promiscuity. Baal was a fertility god: immorality and prostitution played an important part in the cultic rituals…. Everywhere Gomer would look there were the evidences of sexual license…. There was something in her that answered to what she saw…and ultimately [she] gave way… to immorality. She became what she thought about. That the word translated “adulteress” is a piel participle suggests that she was completely enslaved to the licentious behavior. Because she was outwardly pure at the beginning of the marriage, she would not have been a hindrance to Hosea’s acceptance as a prophet. That Hosea knew from the LORD’s instruction that she had the potential for hurting him highlighted the unselfish nature of his love. (“The Message of the Marriage,” Biblical Viewpoint, Focus on Hosea, November, 1999, pg 6).

The Message

Hosea illustrates the truth that seeking and finding the will of God for one’s marriage partner does not guarantee marital happiness unless both husband and wife maintain a close obedient walk with God. Hosea was betrayed by his wife and experienced deep personal sorrow and public shame.

Experiences that would drive most men to despair, resentment, and bitterness of soul drove Hosea closer to God. In his sorrow he began to understand the sorrow and anguish of heart that God felt over the sins and waywardness of Israel, God’s wife.

He was sensitive to sin and frequently thundered out warnings of coming judgment.

But he was also quick to proclaim that Israel’s gracious and loving God for His backslidden people was so boundless that He would go to any extreme to bring her to a place of repentance and restored fellowship.

 


 

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.