Marriage is a topic that far-too-often surrounded by controversy in our society. It seems lately that everyone is talking about who can get married, who can get out of marriages, and why cohabitation, adultery, homosexual marriage, and anything else should be acceptable. Of all the junk surrounding marriage today, the rise in marriage counseling is not just the least controversial, it is perhaps the most beneficial. While some marriage counseling happens within the confines of a healthy, stable relationship, the reality is that many couples go because of infidelity.
In an obscure corner of Scripture, The prophet Hosea ended up serving as a marriage counselor between God and His unfaithful spouse, the Israelites. He was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II.¹ To understand the need for this marital counseling, we must look at the relationship God had with His people and how it all broke down.
If we go back to the beginning, we see that marriage between one man and one woman was God’s final creation in the Garden of Eden. Creating a helper ‘fit for Adam’ was not done with impetus or half-hearted afterthought. Eve was created to complement Adam and provide what he needed. Since that day, God has blessed marriage between one man and one woman. Because of God’s great respect for marriage, we shouldn’t consider it a coincidence He used the example of marriage to highlight His ideal relationship with the Jewish people of the Old Testament.
In ancient Jewish culture, a man and woman were betrothed for a time before their wedding. They were bound contractually to each other before a public ceremony ever took place. A Jewish man would work to pay for the right to marry the woman with whom he was betrothed. Consider the story of Jacob working for Laban on behalf of Rachel in Genesis 29 as an ancient precedent for this practice. For the Jewish men, this was a serious commitment, one that bears a striking resemblance to God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 when He made His intention to unite in a covenant with the Jewish people clear. He said to Abram at that moment:
Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you, and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
At that point, God became betrothed to the Jewish nation. For all intents and purposes, He was contractually obligated to fulfill His commitment. Since God can’t lie (see Titus 1:2), His word was as good as gold. The culmination of that betrothal took place on Mt. Sinai with a public ceremony tying these two participants together. It was there that God fulfilled His betrothal and established His covenant with the Israelite people. God’s marriage vow in Exodus 34:10 says:
Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation, and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
In the context of that relationship, we can read Hosea’s words properly. He spoke to Israelites who abandoned the “God of their forefathers.” They were people who practiced blatant adultery in their spiritual relationship. Like many marriages that encounter adultery, the people of Israel and God needed counseling. God had tried over and over again to provide for them and earn their respect, however; they constantly cheated on Him with idols and indifference. Hosea served as a marriage counselor, speaking on behalf of the offended husband (God) to a bride (Israel) who no longer listened or cared.
In a twist of fate that makes too much sense, Hosea didn’t intervene just because God asked. He intervened because he understood the pain God was facing. Notice Hosea 1:2 which says:
When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.”
As a living lesson, God commanded Hosea to marry a woman who was unfaithful. He went on to have children with her and face the embarrassment and betrayal of her unfaithful behavior.² By the providence of God, this circumstance turned out to be a teaching tool by which the prophet would urge unfaithful Israel (fornicating with paganism) to return to Jehovah.³
As we study Hosea 2, we see the prophet make three inspired observations that occur because of the spiritual adultery of Israel. First off, he told them adultery will cause separation. In 2:2-3, it says:
Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; for she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and expose her, as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst.
Speaking on God’s behalf to the people of Israel, Hosea effectively said “there will be a point where I can take no more of this. There will be a time when the damage is done and the consequences unavoidable. There will be a time when the relationship is broken beyond repair.” We know, with the advantage of hindsight that the northern tribes were taken off into captivity by the Assyrians and never returned. Their idolatry and indifference permanently drove a wedge in their spiritual marriage with God. The idea of exposing her misdeeds to the world by “stripping her naked” in 2:3 was meant to bring the highest form of shame and the strongest possible rebuke from those who were there to observe the actions.4 Hosea taught that adultery would cause pain for the innocent. In 2:4-5, it says:
I will not have mercy on her children, for they are the children of harlotry. For their mother has played the harlot; she who conceived them has behaved shamefully.
For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.
Here Hosea clearly says “there will come a time when those you care for will be hurt because of your actions. There will be a time when the collateral damage of your failure to remain faithful will hurt those you care about. Perhaps even those who are innocent.” Marriages that end in divorce often see terrible ramifications in the lives of the children remaining. Given the timeline of events, many of the people Hosea taught would not live to see the captivity, but their children and grandchildren did. They paid the price for the error of their fathers. These children were not protected when God’s judgment came squarely upon the land of their faithless fathers because collateral damage is an all-too-familiar reality of sin in this world.
Hosea also taught that adultery would eventually cause regret. In 2:6-8, it says:
Therefore, behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns, and wall her in, so that she cannot find her paths. She will chase her lovers, but not overtake them; yes, she will seek them, but not find them. Then she will say, “I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now.” For she did not know that I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold – which they prepared for Baal.
Hosea said in this instance, “there will be a time when you look back at your choices and realize they were wrong. You’ll realize they were short-sighted and ignorant. There will be a time when you realize who really took care of you and provided for you. It wasn’t the idols or your kings, it was God.” After God “hedges them up,” Israel would turn back to God, reasoning that they were better off when they worshipped Him instead of idols. Notice how similar this “repentance” is to the actions of the prodigal son.5
Second Kings 14:26-27 clearly points out that God, not the king was the reason for their peace and prosperity during the time of Hosea. It says there,
The Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter and whether bond or free, there was no helper for Israel. And the Lord did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven; but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.
At some point, generations later, Israel remembered their blessings and finally realized where they came from. It wasn’t the Baal or the Asheroth, it was from the God of their fathers who made a covenant with Abraham, who publicly declared it on Mt. Sinai, who remained faithful, but was forgotten. Their fathers didn’t listen to Hosea, the empathetic counselor who delivered God’s message. They didn’t give up their idols. They didn’t turn back or remain faithful, and their children paid the price for it with their lives. Years later, Jeroboam’s kingdom was taken into captivity by the Assyrians and never heard from again. I can’t help but believe that outcome is traced back entirely to Israel’s spiritual adultery.
In the end, I hope we see that Hosea was the perfect person to serve as prophet (and marriage counselor) to these people. His life (and his cheating wife Gomer) was a testament to the hurt adultery brings. Surely he empathized with God as He addressed Israel. He knew the pain of an adulterous wife and children of harlotry. I have no doubt the pain of his wife’s physical adultery was great, but I can’t help believe the pain of Israel’s spiritual adultery was unbearable for God. Jeremiah 3:20 is worth noting as we close, it says, “surely, as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel,’ says the Lord.” May we learn from them the value of being faithful to God. Our relationship with Him must be our first, best, and most valuable relationship. We must love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
¹ Under Jeroboam II Israel enjoyed one of its most happy periods of political and economic security. Jeroboam II was a most able ruler. During his forty years as king over Israel, he recovered every piece of land that had ever been lost by his predecessors. He subdued the king of Moab and captured parts of Syria proper, including Damascus, the capital. At first Jeroboam likewise maintained the stern control over his neighbor, the king of Judah, which his father had exerted; he also held members of the royal family of Judah as hostages. Later, however, he realized that friendship and mutual assistance between the two related kingdoms were much better insurance for their existence in troubled times than force and enmity. He not only helped repair some of the damage his father had done to Judah, but he also gave part of the land he had taken from Syria to the king of Judah.
Hand in hand with the happy political situation under Jeroboam II went an economic prosperity which found expression in an extremely wealthy and luxurious life of the population. Friendly relations with the Phoenicians, who were the greatest merchants and seafaring people of those days, brought rare things of beauty and luxury into Israel. This unusual prosperity, however, was accompanied by an unprecedented collapse of moral standards. It was an age of corruption in which wealth and power ruled the day. During this age there appeared in Israel great prophets who deplored the wickedness of the people and appealed for a return to the laws of justice and morality of the Torah. However, the people went their own way. Idolatry spread all over the country. The people built many altars on mountains, to serve Baal and Ashtarte, and they even sacrificed their children to the abominable cult of Moloch. They viewed with contempt the teachings of the Torah and the holy commandments. (Summary is taken from http://www.chabad.org online article. Follow this link to learn more)
² Coy D. Roper, Minor Prophets, Truth for Today Commentary, (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2012). He makes these statements on page 23 while discussing 1:2, “Is the prophet saying that God told him to marry a woman whom God knew would someday commit adultery or become a harlot? Or, is God simply telling Hosea to marry a woman who was typical of the Israelite population a the time? It seems best to accept the plain meaning of the text. The nation was guilty of spiritual harlotry; and in light of this, Hosea was commanded to marry a woman of harlotry. NO general prohibition is found in the Law against marrying a prostitute even though the idea of a prophet marrying a prostitute sounds grotesque, even sinful. While the Law forbade a priest to marry a harlot (see Leviticus 21:7,13,14), Hosea was not a priest.”
³ Wayne Jackson, “Hosea 3:5 – David’s Reign in the Latter Days,” Online Article from Christian Courier. Follow this link to read the entire article.
4 Roper, Minor Prophets, 35.
5 Roper, Minor Prophets, 38.
All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.