Hosea and Gomer—Background of Hosea 3:1

Perhaps because they differ greatly from the rest of the book, the sections of Hosea which tell of his personal family life seem to be better known than the poetic passages. The relevant texts are Hosea 1 (particularly Hosea 1:2-3), and Hosea 3.

When we look at those texts, we’re immediately presented with the question of whether the two texts refer to the same woman. We are given a name in the first chapter, but not in the third, and it is easily conceivable the narratives tell of two different women. After all, it seems that God’s command to Hosea in 3:1 initiates a new action on the part of Hosea. The use of “again” (עןד) in 3:1 seems most naturally to modify  “The Lord spoke to me” (so NRSV), although it could conceivably modify “go” (ESV), or even “love” (NIV—this reading seems unlikely to me, and indeed the translation of the whole verse in the NIV seems to sidestep the legitimate ambiguity.) I read the first part of the verse as saying, “The Lord said to me again, ‘Go, love a woman who has a lover and commits adultery…'”

Although that reading may suggest that Hosea is being told to love a completely new woman, I think that on the whole the analogy depends on this being the same woman from chapter one. Just as the Lord is loving Israel despite her infidelity, I think Hosea is being told to love his wife even though she has been unfaithful to him.  the analogy doesn’t make sense if Hosea is starting a new relationship—that certainly isn’t what God is proclaiming he is going to do!  So we’re on perhaps difficult methodological ground here. Although the intent of the passage was to make clear the Lord’s action by way of Hosea’s action, for us we almost need to reverse engineer the metaphor and interpret the reality of Hosea’s action by what it is said to have represented in the Lord’s actions.  Thus, I felt comfortable letting my sermon on Hosea and Gomer grow out of this verse, because on the whole I think the data bests suggests that Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim mentioned in chapter 1, is the same person being referred to here in Chapter 3.

Names—A Sermon on Hosea 1

At the market, a man picks vegetables, tying to decide between the vegetables. He thumps a melon, scans the cucumbers, and inspects the onions. He notices a cute little girl playing with her brother near his basket and smiles at them. He turns to their parents who are standing nearby and, in the chatty way that people sometimes talk at the market, asks a normal question: “Your kids are beautiful. What are their names?”

The parents expression darkens—the mother turns away, finding something else to do. The father’s eyes narrow, and he steps closer. Pointing straight at the little girl, he says, “We call her ‘unloved’. Unloved.” Not knowing how to respond, the man shuffles his feet a bit, and finally says, “And the boy?”

“Not mine.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought…”

“No, that’s his name.  His name is ‘not-mine.’ ”

Hosea is a shocking story. It does not allow for passive bland reading, and I assure you it does not consist of passive, bland writing. It opens with the story of Hosea’s family—a family whose very existence could not but shock literally everyone who met them. The book of Hosea consists mostly prophetic poetry. Not the poetry which many of us have in mind—the dry tedious metered verses we labored to understand as school kids. This is the kind of poetry that Walter Brueggemann describes as “shattering, evocative speech that breaks fixed conclusions and presses us always toward new, dangerous, imaginative possibilities.” (Finally Comes the Poet, 6) Hosea is full of wrecking-ball language, the kind that comes to destroy the peace of the present for the sake of the future.

The book opens with a narrative, but the story is just as disturbing as the poetry that follows. In fact, we might think of the story as a setting for three brief, super dense poems—the names of the children. After all, even within the story, it’s the word—the word from the Lord—that really matters. Continue reading “Names—A Sermon on Hosea 1”