What would you say if a Christian friend claimed God had told him to marry an immoral woman? To say the least, you’d have reservations, right? You’d probably tell him what the Bible says about being “unequally yoked” and warn him of the dangers of missionary dating.
But what should we make of the fact that God seems to have told Hosea to do exactly that? The prophecy of Hosea is probably best known for the scandal of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer. So the question is straightforward: Why did God command his prophet to marry an immoral woman?
The reason lies in the fact that prophets like Hosea were called to declare God’s Word—not only in words, but often in deeds as well (cf. Isa. 20:2–4; Ezek. 24:15–27). They not only functioned as covenant prosecutors, calling their hearers back to covenant faithfulness, but they also embodied the message of Yahweh. Indeed, part of their communicative power lies in how they incarnate Yahweh’s pain, demonstrating how deeply Israel had wronged him and how severe his judgment would be.
Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is a vivid example.
Cheating on Yahweh
Hosea taps into an important theme from the Torah, in which Yahweh is seen as Israel’s husband and covenant infidelity is likened to marital unfaithfulness. Marriage thus becomes a metaphor for Yahweh’s covenant relationship with Israel, and whoredom a metaphor for idolatry.
On the heels of the golden-calf episode, Exodus 34 warns against table fellowship with the people of the land because intermingling would lead to intermarrying with the result that Israel would “whore after their gods” (Ex. 34:15–16)—something they eventually do in Numbers 25. Moses later declares with certainty that this is what will happen after they enter the land (Deut. 31:16). They will cheat on their covenant husband and whore after other gods, provoking Yahweh to forsake them for their infidelity (Deut. 31:17).
Hosea’s marriage as a prophetic sign-act reveals the length to which God is willing to go to wake us up from our sinful stupor.
This is exactly what Hosea’s prophetic ministry embodies. It begins with Yahweh’s command for him to take an immoral woman as his wife, a command grounded in the fact that “the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (Hos. 1:2). It continues with the naming of his children. In naming his daughter No Mercy (Hos. 1:6) and his son Not My People (Hos. 1:9), key aspects of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel are reversed. Because they’ve cheated on him and broken the covenant, the exodus will be reversed and the survivors taken into exile.
And yet the story doesn’t end there.
God’s Unchanging Love
In Hosea 3:1, Yahweh commands his prophet, “Go again, and love a woman who is loved by another and is an adulteress” (the same woman, in my opinion). The center of gravity here is the unconditional love and mercy of Yahweh that Hosea is called to imitate as a prophetic sign-act.
No matter how faithless Israel becomes, God can’t bear to give her up. As he says later in Hosea 11:8–9,
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
. . . My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
Christians sometimes read Hosea 1–3 and say, “Yeah, but how can God command his prophet to marry a woman to whom he is not ‘equally yoked’? Perhaps missionary dating is okay after all!”
The scandal is the point, and we must let it have its full effect. God’s boundless love for sinners is shocking and awful all at once, especially when you consider the sinless savior—God Incarnate—hanging naked on a Roman cross.
But that is to fundamentally misread Hosea. The prophet is called by God to enter into a marriage that functions, most scandalously, as an enacted parable, graphically—even shockingly—illustrating Israel’s infidelity to her husband, Yahweh. The punch this passage packs is that Yahweh God, in redeeming lost sinners, became a cuckold straight away, taking to himself an unfaithful wife. Strikingly, provocatively, and scandalously, he calls his prophet to do the same in order to shock his hearers and arrest them in their rebellion, that they might consider more deeply the threat of the coming judgment.
Hosea’s marriage as a prophetic sign-act reveals the length to which God is willing to go to wake us from our sinful stupor. Our questions about this text (and any other) must be driven by actually seeking to understand the text and how it communicates the great love of the Father. We mustn’t seek to sanitize this text. The scandal is the point, and we must let it have its full effect. God’s boundless love for sinners is shocking and awful all at once, especially when you consider the sinless Savior—God incarnate—hanging naked on a Roman cross.
Both Hosea’s marriage and Calvary’s cross reveal the boundless love of God in Christ. They show the extent to which God will go to save rebels like us. The point isn’t missionary dating. The point is that you’re a whore, but God loves you despite your whoring.
The point isn’t missionary dating. The point is that you’re a whore, but God loves you despite your whoring.
Does being called a whore offend you? Well, our sin is actually that offensive to our holy God, who made us for himself. However, rather than being offended by God’s rebuke of our rebellion against him, let us be overwhelmed by his infinite love toward us. May we rejoice in his love that goes to the extent of dying for sinners, washing and cleansing us with the water of his Word, in order to present us “to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26–27; cf. Rev. 19:6–10).