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“Then the LORD said, ‘Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.’” – Hosea 1:9
A Seriously Broken Home
Hosea the son of Beeri was a crazy man – or so people said. You might have thought so, too. Imagine that a young non-denominational preacher of our own day went down to an established brothel and picked out a prostitute to marry. Imagine that when his first child is born, he names him “Manhattan,” and drives around in an old bus with big signs painted on it saying “My son’s name is Manhattan: the church is about to fall like the Twin Towers on 9/11.”
Later, when his wife gives birth to a daughter, he names her “Ugly,” and changes his bus signs to say “My daughter’s name is Ugly – even God can’t love somebody like this.” When a second son is born, the irascible preacher calls him “Illegitimate” and changes his signs to say “This isn’t my son, and you are no longer God’s people.”
You would probably judge a man like that to be several fries short of a Happy Meal, and the original Hosea faced a similar reaction. His contemporaries, according to 9:7, called him a “fool” (’awîl, common in wisdom literature for an empty-headed person) and a “crazy man” (meshugga’, still used in Yiddish).
Would Hosea get a hearing today?
Hosea was probably active during the third quarter of the eighth century BCE. At the time, Israel was a large and fertile country, home to some of the best farmland and pasturage in all of Palestine. The land was so extensive that Jeroboam I, the first of the northern kings, established two sanctuaries as worship centers, hoping to keep his subjects from traveling south to the temple in Jerusalem.
In these sanctuaries, at Dan and Bethel, Jeroboam placed golden calves as symbols of Yahweh’s presence. As time passed, however, the Canaanite gods Baal and Asherah were also worshipped, and other sanctuaries, such as Beth-aven and Gilgal, became popular (4:15, 9:15, 12:11).
Hosea’s preaching reportedly began during the rule of another Jeroboam, whose long and stable tenure (786-746) was marked by relative peace and prosperity. Hosea accused the people of becoming so confident in themselves that they turned their backs on God (4:1-6), trusting in their own military might or political alliances (8:14, 10:13-14).
The people’s practice of religion had confused Yahweh with other gods: Hosea accused them of ignorantly consulting wooden idols, offering sacrifices, and participating in cultic prostitution in hilltop groves (4:11-5:7). Like Amos, he also charged them with ignoring covenant commands to care for others and exploiting the poor in unjust ways (12:7-8).
Hosea’s prophecy consistently reminded the people of how God had delivered Israel from Egypt and called them into a committed covenant relationship, which the people had not kept. Even so, Hosea held to a belief in the steadfast love of God that won’t let go. That central theme comes to the fore in the marriage metaphor that begins the book.
Hosea’s marriage(vv. 1:2-3)
According to the text, God instructed Hosea to take a “wife of harlotry.” Can you imagine that God would instruct Hosea to do such a thing?
Some commentators don’t think so, and assume that the first three chapters reflect more metaphor than history. Others accept the marriage as real, but debate whether Gomer was already a prostitute when Hosea married her, or whether she was initially chaste but later gave in to a promiscuous spirit. Those who believe she was a prostitute to begin with question whether she was a cultic prostitute or a common harlot.
The text contains few details. Hosea described his wife only as an ’ēshet zenûnîm, which means “woman of harlotry” or “adulterous woman.” Hosea knew the more specific word used for cultic prostitutes (qadeshōt: literally, “holy women”) and used it in 4:14, but did not apply it to his wife. Even so, it is possible that Gomer was among the women who served in Israel’s syncretistic worship.
However we choose to understand Gomer’s background, the symbolism of their marriage soon becomes clear: Hosea represents God who is loving and faithful, while Gomer and her children personify a people who are selfish and fickle.
Whether Hosea’s marriage was real or parabolic, it serves as a powerful metaphor for Israel’s relationship with God. Give this some thought. What are some possible meanings inherent in that marital metaphor?
In due time after their marriage, Gomer gave birth to a boy. Following God’s instruction, Hosea gave to him the prophetic name “Jezreel,” saying “for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel” (v. 4).
The fertile valley of Jezreel was the breadbasket of Israel. A city of the same name nestled at the foot of Mount Gilboa, about 20 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee. Jezreel’s significance for Hosea was two-fold.
First, the city was the site of a bloody slaughter during the northern king Jehu’s revolution and rise to power, according to 2 Kings 9-10. (See “The Hardest Question” online for more.) Secondly, the name “Jezreel” means “God sows.” Originally a reference to the region’s fertility, in Hosea’s prophecy it became a prediction that God would sow judgment. Hosea’s prophecy predicted the end of Jehu’s dynasty.
The text pointedly identifies Jezreel as the son of Hosea, saying that Gomer “conceived and bore him a son,” but the issue is more ambiguous for the next two children. When the second child was born, a daughter, Hosea named her “Lo-Ruhammah,” which means “not pitied,” or in this context, “not spared (from judgment).” Raham means “to have compassion” or “to show mercy,” while lō’ means “not.” In the face of Israel’s persistent sin, Lo-Ruhammah’s name suggested that there was a limit to divine compassion for Israel, though God had not yet given up on Judah (vv. 6-7).
After Lo-Ruhammah was weaned – a reminder that these events would have taken place over some time in a land where children were typically breast-fed for two or three years – Gomer gave birth to a second son.
Again claiming to follow God’s instruction, Hosea named the child “Lo-Ammi,” a name that plainly raised a question about patrimony, as it means “not my people” (vv. 8-9). The name not only suggested that Gomer had been unfaithful to Hosea, but also symbolized Israel’s abandonment of God. This effectively reversed the covenant terminology by which God had consistently referred to Israel as “my people” (Exod. 6:7, Jer. 7:23, Ezek. 36:28, and others). No more.
Sometime after this, Gomer and Hosea were separated. The text provides no details about Gomer’s departure, but Lo-Ammi’s name and what follows in chapter 2 leads one to assume that Gomer became unfaithful to Hosea and either left on her own, or was cast out for adultery.
Verse 10 brings a shift that may surprise and puzzle the reader, but is characteristic of Hosea. While the children’s names in 1:4-9 declare unadulterated judgment on Israel, 1:10-11 offers hope. Lo-Ammi’s name means “Not My People,” but v. 10 declares the Israelites would become like the sand of the sea, and could once again be called “Children of the Living God.” Although Jezreel’s name had provoked the bloody memory of a treacherous event that brought division between north and south, v. 11 predicts that the peoples of Judah and Israel would be reunited under one leader, “for great shall be the day of Jezreel.”
Some scholars believe 2:1 belongs with 1:10-11. In it, the latter two children’s names are reversed, as the negative prefix “Lo-” is dropped. “Say to your brother: “Ammi!” (that is, “My People!”). And say to your sister “Ruhammah!” (“Loved!”). The Hebrew text has the plural form for both “brother” and “sister,” perhaps indicating the plurality of Israelites who were represented by the symbolic siblings, or the inclusion of both Israel and Judah.
Because of the quick and unexpected shift in tone, many scholars believe the promise of 1:10-2:1 is the work of a later editor. Whether the words originated with Hosea or a later disciple, they attest to the inspired hope and belief that God had not given up on Israel. The people had broken their covenant with God, so that God was no longer bound to bless them. Still, Israel held to an abiding hope that God would find a way to redeem his faithless people.
What can modern believers make of a text like this? History reveals that people bearing the name “Christian” have been guilty of their own Jezreels: the Crusades, the Inquisition, and other bloody plays of power have been carried out in the name of Christ. We have also dallied with the gods of wealth, pleasure, and power. We have failed in multiple ways to live up to Jesus’ command that we love others and live by the values he taught.
We have not always been faithful, yet we can also believe that God has not given up on us. Mercy abounds and hope endures. We may trust that God isn’t finished with us yet, and be thankful. NFJ
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for July 24, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: Hosea 1:1-10
There are days that you want to post and boost your posts so that everyone in the world can see them. Then there are other days that you want to go in the corner and hide, knowing that the events of the day will bring ruin on your forever. Our children will do things that make us feel both ways and we are to love them on both of these days. What our children need to know is that we do love them on both of these days. Share your love with them on both days, but more so on the days that are hard. Just has God has not given up on us, don’t give up on your children. Continue to be there for them and provide hope for them.
Teaching Resources |Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Who We Really Are” from The Emperor’s Club
Read Scripture online: Hosea 1:1-10