Hosea was a prophet during the reigns of five kings, Uzziah through Jeroboam, and his book appears in the Bible as the first of the twelve Minor Prophets. Themes of infidelity and punishment appear throughout the book, including the opening chapter in which Hosea’s marriage and children represent the unfaithfulness of Israel and God’s response. At the beginning of this section, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (Hos 1:2). God wanted Hosea to create a living, breathing example of the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel. In a sense, the Lord was nominating Hosea and his family for a Darwin Award — a dubious distinction given to people who self-destruct in the most remarkable manner.
Not as glamorous as an Oscar or an Emmy, the award is named in honor of Charles Darwin, who developed the theory of natural selection. The awards commemorate those people who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it, usually doing so in an extraordinarily stupid manner. For example, a man was crushed to death on a stairway at the Sammis Real Estate and Insurance Office in Huntington, New York, while he was stealing the office’s 600-pound safe. He apparently violated the cardinal rule of hauling massive objects: Never stand on a step lower than the one the safe is on. Adding insult to injury: The safe was empty at the time of the incident. Any death of a human being is tragic, of course, but this one falls under the category of gallows humor. Winners of Darwin Awards are cautionary tales that remind us that life is fragile and our actions have consequences.
So why would Hosea and his family qualify for such an award? Hosea “went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, ‘Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel …. She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. … When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God” (Hos 1:3-9). Like other Darwin Award recipients, Hosea’s tale is a story of self-destruction. Obedient to God’s call to take “a wife of whoredom” (Hos 1:2), Hosea marries the prostitute Gomer and she bears three children. Since she is “an adulterous wife” (Hos 1:2, NIV), there is no guarantee that the children are part of Hosea’s gene pool, which sets up the prophet and his family for mocking and abuse.
On top of this, the names of his kids are descriptive and depressing: Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi. The daughter’s name, Lo-ruhamah, means “Not pitied,” since the child was to be a living reminder that the Lord no longer had pity on the house of Israel because of its sin. The second son’s name, Lo-ammi, means “Not my people,” and the boy was to be a stark sign of the breaking of the covenant relationship between the Lord and Israel (Hos 1:4-9). This remarkable behavior is initiated by God, who may be venting some anger and frustration over the fact that the people of Israel had been loving other gods. “Hosea’s profound insight into God’s covenant with Israel arises from his own bitter experience of his wife’s infidelity,” writes Old Testament Professor Gale Yee. “God is perceived metaphorically as the aggrieved husband, and Israel is the selfish, unfaithful wife.”
Of course, we — like Israel and like Hosea’s wife Gomer — do any number of stupid and self-destructive things in our relationship with God. We find ourselves unable to resist the lure of objects, habits, and behaviors that are harmful to ourselves and others. We make selfish choices that rupture the relationships we have with God and the people closest to us. We discover that we all need grace. And fortunately, God provides it. This passage ends with Hosea saying, “Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea … and 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.’” (Hos 1:10). Restoration comes not through our words and actions, but through the grace of God. Even in our times of unfaithfulness, God remains faithful to us.
The prophet’s personal life begins with outwardly self-destructive behavior, but it ends with a vivid illustration of God’s redeeming love. Hosea predicts that Israel will suffer public shame like a harlot, because it has committed adultery with the gods of Canaan. But God will lure Israel back and renew God’s relationship with her, taking Israel as his wife “in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy” (Hos 2:19). This isn’t Darwinian — it’s divine. This passage from Hosea is one of the Bible’s greatest hits because it reminds us that remaining faithful to God is the best path to avoiding destruction, as well as finding safety, growth, peace and ultimate happiness.
1. Where are the consequences of unfaithfulness seen most clearly around you?
2. What kind of behavior is most destructive to relationships?
3. How does grace and love heal ruptures in relationships, human and divine?
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