Sunday, October 2, 2011

Scripture Sunday: The Book of Hosea

Hosea is a very painful book. Most of the Old Testament prophets have sad stories, or at the very least they endure some serious hardships because prophesying is never a fun job, but Hosea's story is even more heartbreaking than average, in my view. Hosea has to live through the pain of infidelity firsthand, and his suffering becomes a picture of the Lord's feelings over the unfaithfulness of Israel.

God tells Hosea to do a really unusual thing in this book. It's true that "unusual" really is the norm for God, both in the Bible and in life today, but still this is very, very out of the ordinary--God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute. Normally, I would think this would be a great idea, because I can't imagine that many women in ancient Israel were in the sex trade because they thought it was a wise and profitable career choice. I would guess that most of them were forced into it at an early age and had no other options, and that they would really be getting a much better life by marrying an honest man. But when Hosea marries his wife Gomer, it's not like Pretty Woman or something; there's no happy ending right around the corner.

Because as it turns out, Gomer really enjoys prostitution. Hosea takes care of her and provides her with everything she needs, but she cheats on him with her old lovers. Gomer has three children after their marriage, but only the first child is explicitly said to be Hosea's, and Hosea actually has to buy her back again out of prostitution. It's implied that from then on, she is faithful to him because the whole setup of Hosea's life is a living example of how the Lord feels about Israel being unfaithful to him by worshipping other gods. But God holds out very clear hope for the future and says that although Israel has behaved in a disgusting manner and has sinned against him, he will take them back and even though they've gone astray, "Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days" (3:5).

There are a few problems that people sometimes have with the Hosea story. Some people might think that Gomer should have gotten to do whatever she wanted--after all, she didn't ask for Hosea's love and commitment, did she? Well, I can kind of see that point of view, but the truth is that her chosen lifestyle is totally destructive. If Hosea didn't take her back, that lifestyle would have killed her. Another question is why God would put Hosea through such a sickening ordeal, when God knew what was going to happen. I don't know why, but I do know that Hosea got the chance to fully exemplify God's love for humankind, and his mercy toward those who have turned their backs on him. That's one very valuable thing about the book of Hosea, the assurance that no matter how far you have run from God, he will always be ready to take you back.

It's been years since I've read it, but I seem to recall really loving Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, which is a historical Christian romance based on the story of Hosea and Gomer.

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