Hosea 1:1-2:3
The Mercy Of God

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  Starting today we [hope to] read The Book of Hosea over a number of sessions.  In the heading in verse one of chapter one it says, "The word of the Lord which came to Hosea son of Beeri, in the time of the kings of Judah [named] Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz [and] Hezekiah, and in the time of the king of Israel [one named] Jeroboam son of Joash."  The kings of Judah listed here are the same as the ones given at the beginning of The Book Of Isaiah.  He was active about the same time period as the prophet Isaiah.  While Isaiah was active in the southern kingdom of Judah, it was the northern kingdom of Israel that was the platform of Hosea's activity.

2.  In the kingdom of Israel there appeared a prophet by the name of Amos [who] had preceded Hosea.  It was mainly during the reign of Jeroboam II, who is in the list in verse one, that he had preached the word of God.  It was a time of peace and prosperity.  In confronting his times Amos indicted the people for their sins, preached hard on the judgment of God and announced the collapse of Israel.  And, indeed, after the death of Jeroboam, Israel followed along the path towards collapse as if tumbling down a mountainous road.  The conditions at that time are recorded in Second Kings chapters fifteen through seventeen.  It was only for six months that Zachariah son of Jeroboam was on the throne.  He was killed by the rebellion of Shallum son of Jabesh.  It was only for one month that Shallum was on the throne.  He was murdered by Menahem son of Gadi.  Pekahiah son of Menahem, who was enthroned after the death of Menahem, was killed off by Pekah son of Remaliah, who was his chamberlain.  After that Pekah was also killed but by Hoshea son of Elah after he had been enthroned for twenty years.  Then, in the ninth year of Hoshea's reign Samaria  1 surrendered at last to Assyria and the kingdom of Israel came to its downfall.  When the prophet Hosea was active it was really the kind of upheaval that lasted for a number of decades.  Amidst the condition of a nation heading for its fall, he clearly saw the judgment of God against unrepentant Israel [though] hearing the messages from Amos.

3.  But, even though he indicted Israel for its sins like Amos did and preached the judgment of God, the remarks in Hosea's prophecy are completely different from that of Amos.  The unmistakably main cause for the differences is the fact that at the basis for the preaching activity of Hosea is the very personal home life of Hosea.  In the first three chapters of this prophetic book we come to see inside the actual situation of his home and his marriage which was filled with suffering.  When we look at his situation, we see that Hosea's hearing and preaching of God's word was not a supernatural, mystical experience unrelated to his daily life.  The way it really was is that he heard the voice of God within his actual pain and suffering.

Hosea's Marriage

4.  With that then let's get into the details [of the book].  Please look at verse two.  When all we read is the phrase "[he let him] marry a harlot," it sounds like God made Hosea marry a woman already living a lewd life style.  Actually, there are not a few people who think this woman called Gomer was a street prostitute or some who think she was a temple prostitute connected to the festivals at a shrine.  But, we don't necessarily have to understand this in such a way.  Instead, it would seem more natural to think that Gomer's harlotry appeared after she had married Hosea.  [I] base this on the following three reasons.

5.  First, while the Bible says (in 1:2), "Accept the children that come from the act of harlotry," it doesn't say anything else  afterwards regarding those children of harlotry.  If there were already children born out of harlotry and Hosea had accepted them, it would be unnatural that references to those children would not even appear later at all.  Secondly, if it were a marriage where the fact that Gomer was a lewd woman was presupposed from the start, then we couldn't make sense of the words of indictment against her in chapter two and verses four on that are so filled with anger.  These are the words of a man who has clearly been betrayed in [his] trust [for someone].  Thirdly, the marriage relationship between Gomer and Hosea [could be] said to be a metaphor of the relationship between the people of Israel and God.  But in this prophetic book the text does not say that the relationship between the people of Israel and God had been bad from the start.  It doesn't say that the Israelites were like harlots since the beginning.  Instead, in regard to Israel's beginning, the text records (in 9:10) that, "Like finding grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel.  Like the first fruits when on the fig tree, I saw your forefathers."

6.  Thus, it would seem best to think that it was after her marriage to Hosea that Gomer had actually become a harlot.  Therefore, we cannot possibly understand the words of the Lord in verse two in the way it is at first.  I don't think we can understand why the female who became his very own wife is called a harlot or why it says things like "Accept the children of harlotry" unless they both happened later.  Even in the unhappiest of marriages in this world, at the very beginning no one thinks My marriage isn't special.  Similarly, even Hosea must have married his Gomer a daughter of Diblaim as a typical and proper marriage.

7.  Soon a child was born to Hosea and Gomer.  The first child was named "Jezreel." With the meaning "God sows the seed," it appears often as a place name in the scriptures.  It is also used as a personal name, (First Chronicles 4:3).  The name itself is not any kind of a special name.  The strange names are the ones of the two children that come after him.  Hosea names the girl born next as "Loruhamah."  It means "A person born without mercy on [him or her]."2  Then, the boy born next was named "Loammi."  This [has] the meaning of " Those who are not my people."2

8.  Why did Hosea give names like that to his children?  The Bible explains that it was because God commanded him to.  Of course, that's exactly right and why say more.  However, unless circumstances are really bad, people don't usually name their own offspring such unreasonable and confusing [or even stupid sounding] names.  So in the end we can't help but come to think were Loruhamah and Loammi Hosea's real children or not?  Where it says, "the children of harlotry" whom Hosea was supposed to accept, wasn't it them it was talking about?  In fact, in the original text where it says in verse three, "she conceived and gave birth to a boy," the word "he (Hosea)" is there but the word "he" is not when it comes to the second and third child.  And up in chapter two and verse six we find the following phraseology, "I will not have mercy on those children; for they are children from harlotry.  Their mother indulged herself in harlotry and she who became pregnant with them did something that ought to be shameful," (2:6-7).3

9.  When we read this, we see it is not so simple as God speaking to Hosea and his naming the children according to how the Lord commanded him.  It's not that he named them as if there was no problem at all and he had listened to the diviner, "Please name your children this" and he said "Okay, I will."  Hosea heard the message of God amidst the actual sufferings from his wife's unchastity and the collapse of his home and amidst his grief and anger.  That's the way their names were given.

Jezreel, Loruhamah, Loammi

10. Let's give a look once again to the names that were given to the children.  The first child was named Jezreel.  As I mentioned before, Jezreel is a place name that appears a lot in the Bible.  Nestled within the beautiful mountains king Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel used to have a summer resort there.  But, it was also a place of a bloodied revolution.  Jehu the general killed Joram son of Ahab and his mother Jezebel in that land, and then in Samaria he went on to have Ahab's relatives annihilated.  Thus was the dynasty of Jehu born, (Second Kings chapters nine and ten).

11.  The Bible records the annihilation of the royal family of Ahab as the judgment of God.  However, Hosea knows that even the royal family of Jehu born in such a manner is under the judgment of God. He is shown by God what will have to be destroyed in God's judgment.  And, the dynasty of Jehu really did end with the killing of Zachariah son of Jeroboam.4  The word of the Lord that came like this was not at all a surprising thing for Hosea.  Because even Hosea himself must have seen in the royal family of Jehu the state's responsibility that had unfortunately been separate from the Lord.  I suppose that he had probably given the name Jezreel to his own child all the while thinking that the judgment of God could in no way avoid its visitation first and foremost even upon the royal family of Israel.5

12.  But before long Hosea was not only looking at the problems of humakind's sins merely within the religious system centered on the state, society, and the sanctuary, but he came to know it through the problems at his own home sweet home.  He was betrayed by his wife Gomer.  He had surely suffered so much anger, grief, and pain.  Amid this life of hardship two more children were born.  As I said already, it is correct to think that these children are the "children of harlotry" spoken of in verse two.  Either which way,  when the children were born, he heard the word of the Lord, "Name that child Loruhamah; for, I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel and I will never forgive them," (1:6).  "Name that child Loammi; for you will not be my people and I will not be your God," (1:8).

13.  When betrayed by others a person can only think of the one who betrayed him or her and also of himself or herself as the betrayed.  When angry, a person thinks as if he or she has the right to be the only one angry in the world.  When a person is sad and sorrowful, he or she feels like he or she is the saddest person in the world.  Anger and sadness boxes a person into a little world.  People put themselves into such a confined and closed up world and keep on suffering.  I think it was that way even for Hosea.

14.  However, in his world so confined in by anger and grief he had heard the word of God resounding in from the outside.  It was neither merely a comforting message for him nor a word to encourage him.  He heard in it a message of the wrath of God.  It wasn't his own anger that he was made to face, but he was forced to look in his heart at the wrath of God.  In the same way that he was grieving over his wife's harlotry, he knew that the Lord himself was angry, grieving and suffering because of this people who had departed from the Lord and given themselves over to indulging in whoredom.  God is right there in the same place where he can't avoid but cry out "I will never have mercy on the house of Israel nor will [I] ever forgive them!"  Because he knew the Lord's anger and sorrow, Hosea gave shocking names to the children just the way the Lord showed him, saying, Loruhamah -- which means, "A person born without mercy on him or her," Loammi -- which means, "Those who are not my people."

15.  But still, when we go into chapter two, we get a surprise there in that [things] turn completely around as it says,

"The Israelites will increase in their number and will become as the sands of the seas and they will not be able to measure or count them.  Instead of it being said,  6 "You are Loammi (Those who are not my people), it will come to be said,  6 "Children of the living God."  The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be gathered as one and will establish one head and they will come up from the land.  The day of Jezreel will be filled with glory.  Go to your brothers and say, "Ammi (My people)."  Go to your sisters and say, "Ruhamah (A people upon whom there is mercy)," (2:1-3).7

16.  Here we have Israel's restoration prophesied.  Clearly then, a prophetic message of a later day, that the people's devastation had already come true, is inserted here.  Its link to chapter one is obviously not so good, and neither is it to chapter two and verses four and so forth.  But, that there is a prophetic message here shows us something important, which is that the outcry of God which we saw at the end of chapter one was not the final word by any means.  The declaration of judgment and condemnation was not the last word.  God would ultimately go so far as to call the ones he couldn't avoid but calling Loruhamah (A person born without mercy on him or her) and Loammi (Those who are not my people) as Ruhamah ( A person born with mercy on him or her) and Ammi (My people).  "Those who are not my people" will come to be called "Children of the living God."  God himself would accept the unacceptable and forgive the unforgivable.

17.  Before we even know it we barely give thought to the fact that God saved us, accepted us, and has shown us sinners mercy.  But, as we continue in chapter one of Hosea and read this passage, we are unable not to see the magnificence of the mercy of God.  If we forgive the unforgivable, we ourselves will have to pay in pain, suffering and sacrifice.  The actual situation in Hosea's marriage clearly shows us this fact.  The more we go on reading in Hosea, the more I hope that we know more deeply the gravity of the fact that God forgives sinners, and those whom could never possibly ever be called the people of God in their original state will be called the people of God and will be called the people who have been shown mercy all because of his forgiveness.

End Notes

1 Another name for the northern kingdom called Israel.

2 This could be plural as well as singular (people or person).

3 In my English Bible, this would be verses four and five.

4 It was predicted that the dynasty of Jehu would end after the fourth generation.

5 Israel has the katakana "I-su-ra-e-ru" and Jezreel has almost the same katakana "I-zu-re-e-ru," which ties these two words together more clearly in Japanese as it does in Hebrew.

6 These passives also have the feel as if God is doing the talking so that it could read: Instead of my saying "You are not my people," I will come to say "[You are] the children of the living God."

7 Again the Japanese follows different versification.

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