Marriage: Hosea’s Heartgrief, Heart-love, and Heart-hope

“And it shall be, in that day,” says Jehovah, “that you will call Me ‘My Husband’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master’”  [Hosea 2:16]

In a 1987 (12/21) Newsweek article, a woman was being tried in a court of law for conspiring on three separate occasions to have her husband murdered.  Wanting the $200,000 insurance money, she had hired the first would-be killer to stage an accidental hunting death, but the assassin got lost in the woods.  So he planned a drunken driving accident, yet even though he used a shovel handle, he could not subdue the husband who had had a few drinks to put him into the car.  She tried another hit man but was refused.  Then she turned to her ex-husband, agreeing to forgive the $1,000 in child support arrears, as well as sweetening the pot with an additional $9,000.  The ex-husband turned her in to the police.  The article expressed wonder because her husband had remained loyal and caring and had even bailed his wife out of jail.

We may shake our heads in amazement at the loyalty of the husband and yet his reaction simply echoes what we find in the Old Testament.  As the “husband” of Israel, God had His love strongly challenged by how His People  treated Him, so Hosea was chosen to graphically portray what this relationship was like between Jehovah and this nation.

This prophet was told to marry a woman of the street, a prostitute, [1:1-3] to parallel how Israel was so busy chasing down other suitors – other gods – rather than remaining faithful to her one true Love.  Hosea chose Gomer, but likely his response was not merely a casual and cold compliance to the Lord’s command.  After all, if this was to reflect Jehovah’s relationship with Israel, then the story would be about God’s deep love for Israel, in spite of their rejection of Him.  Probably this was a woman for whom Hosea had truly fallen in love.

Although their marriage produced two sons and a daughter, somewhere Gomer felt the pull of her old life, fantasizing how her lovers were the ones who had provided her with the necessities for a good life.  In reality, it was Hosea who kept supplying Gomer’s needs, supporting her even in the midst of her unfaithfulness, just like what Jehovah was doing for Israel.  Yet she continued looking toward her clients, only to experience the frustrating dissatisfaction as they moved on – they had never really cared for her.  In due time, like when it happened with the prodigal son [Luke 15:1-20], she decided that life with her husband was far better than what she had now [2:5-7], although quite likely she was too ashamed to return to him.

Finally she was found on the slave-block, probably being sold for bad debts.  Hosea buys her at a price for even less than for a slave [3:2 – 15 pieces of silver and 1½  omers – 5 litres or a little over 1 gallon – of barley; in Exodus 21:32 – a slave’s value was 30 pieces of silver].  No longer was she simply his wife, now she was owned as a slave, now he had ultimate control over her,  now he could do literally anything he wanted with her and she would have no ability to protest.

Yet, despite all that she had done to abuse him, to reject him, and to cause him pain, Hosea was not interested in a power relationship – of such was not the love he still felt for her.  Instead he prescribed a period of mutual celibacy, a sort of sexual detoxification to break the cycle of her addiction [3:3-4].  The ultimate goal in the text read at the beginning was when “it shall be, in that day,… that you will call Me ‘My Husband’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master’” [2:16; 3:5].  Since Hosea’s relationship to Gomer paralleled Jehovah’s relationship with Israel, both the prophet and God’s intent was to patiently nurture the smoldering ember of love into its full fire.

In our selfish, sex-oriented society, perhaps it is startling to come upon a love that would withstand such abuse and yet would still genuinely seek the ultimate best for other person.  It surprises us to hear of the man, whom his wife attempted to murder three times, who would still reach out to her with love and care.  How easily we dismiss such a man as if he were stupid or crazy, or suspect that he has other reasons for having the appearance of generosity.

However, the description of Hosea pulls the reins in on us.  Suppose, just suppose that there really was a love like that.  Imagine what it would mean if we were that wife, where we would be finally compelled to acknowledge such a steadfast and unbreakable love toward us; that despite what we know we deserve, we are still deeply beloved.  Yes, there are some that would disdainfully cast such love aside, perhaps trying to figure out how to take more advantage of it.  Yet consider what this expression of deep genuine love must have meant to Gomer, because it is in stark contrast to the so-called loves she had previously experienced – those pathetic, selfish imitations of love.

The thing is, is that this is precisely the question with which we must grapple – after all, Hosea only reflects the greater love that Jehovah has for all His People, the People of which we are a part.  We also have abused and ridiculed the heart-felt Covenant relationship of love God has for us.  We also have chased after “others” – after horoscopes, psychics, re-incarnation, and what-not-else, thinking that they will help direct our lives.  And yet all the while, we never realize that, like Hosea, it has been Jehovah all along, Who as our faithful “Husband” has been really the One supplying all our needs, seeking not His own welfare, but ours.

This is the challenge behind Isaiah 8:19, “when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a People seek their God?  Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?”  Ultimately the lovers of Gomer, whom she thought were giving her strength and hope for daily life, were seen for the long-range emptiness that they actually brought [2:5-13], yet all the while, the true love of the one who really was supporting her was not even regarded.

True love” – that was what was pledged in the older versions of the wedding service, in the words that the man would recite, “thereto I plight thee my troth” or in more contemporary English, “therefore I pledge to you my truth or fidelity,” this was in response to his vow “to love, comfort, honor, and keep her,” “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance” [from the 1662 Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer].  This was more than merely words, this was rather that the man’s whole honor, dignity, character and trustworthiness were at stake in this commitment, during a time where these characteristics seemingly had a much higher value than they do in our modern society.
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Again this only reflected Jehovah’s greater commitment in Covenant to His People.  Most translations agree that the fitting translation for the Hebrew word in Hosea 2:19-20 is “troth” or “betroth”: “I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love [HESED] and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know Jehovah.”  This extreme kind of total commitment was there in Hosea, as well as in the Lord.

This was a commitment that never changed with God when the new Church came into existence, as St Paul described what the Bridegroom of the Church had done for His Bride, a People that he elsewhere described as formerly “ungodly, enemies of God, sinners” [Romans 5:6-11; Colossians 1:21] or as St John described as those who “have no standard,” or have “been a law unto themselves” [I, 3:4] – just like Gomer was to Hosea:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. [Ephesians 5:25-28]

Just like with Hosea, Jesus did the heavy work in bringing us into the relationship with Him that He has looked for.  It required His giving of Himself for His Bride, both from heaven and on earth, both on a Cross and in a Sacrament.

He endured hardship, rejection and disgrace.  To buy His Bride from slavery, He Himself was sold for the price of a slave [Matthew 26:15], and He purchased her by His own Blood, to “purify for Himself His own special People” [I Peter 1:18-19; Titus 2:14].  He washed her, not with mere water, but with the water from His side [John 19:34; I John 5:6,8] – the water connected to the Word.  He still gives of Himself, Body and Soul – Body and Blood – to His Bride.  It had not been easy for Hosea to have loved Gomer so deeply, it had not been easy for Jehovah of Covenant to love His Bride so deeply.  Yet for both Hosea and for Jehovah, it was what love was all about.

What a wonderful picture this has presented!  How delightful it is to bask in such love.  But marriage – Covenant – has always been the balance to two people committed to the relationship.  On the opposite side has been Gomer, Israel, as well as the Bride of Christ, in other words, you and me.  Remember that in the marriage ceremony, the bride also committed herself.  In the old service, again there was the “love, honor, and keep him,” “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance” – and then the wife  finished with “thereto I give thee my troth.”

However, there was also a “slight” difference between the two sets of vows:  the wife’s also contained the words to “obey him and serve him.”  This can bring strong reaction from many because human nature rejects the idea of serving anyone else.  This is the rebellion of sin surfacing.  It was the concept that Gomer had when she first viewed her marriage as an inconsequential, take-it-or-leave-it option to her plan for her life and happiness.  It was the attitude that made her eventually discover great emptiness from the relationships she had turned to.

However, when Jesus as the Bridegroom described His ministry as “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom” [Matthew 20:28]; and when as one of his last deeds before He died was to wash His disciples’ feet with the admonition: “If I then … have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” [John 13:14]; and when we see Hosea still supporting his wife in the midst of her adulteries, just as God was doing with Israel,  then we see that the idea of submitting to and serving each other has solid precedent.

The mutual service to each other is to be carried out differently between the husband and his wife. The man’s leadership has always had as its goal the opening text for today, “in that day,… you will call Me ‘My Husband’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master’” [2:16; 3:5].  Marriage has room for a leader, but it does not have the intent of “master and slave.”

And finally as well, Paul and Hosea place this relationship into a cosmic setting.  This is no casual and incidental combining of two persons.  This is something that is connected to the great eternal marriage of Jehovah and His People.  It is to participate in our lives in that indescribable union which Jesus has with His Bride.  This responsibility is awesome, but one could not ask for a better honor and blessing than to have our relationship be placed into this extraordinary flow of love.

What Hosea had given us is only a glimpse of the enormous depth of marriage as it has been defined by God in His relationship to His People.  Gomer has presented us with the challenge as to whether we will attempt to trivialize not only Jesus’ union with His Bride, but also the union we have with our spouse.  Like Gomer we have the opportunity to see the rich and deeply committed love that God has for us, a love that holds steady despite the abuse we give Him; and then like Gomer, once we have come to value that love, it becomes something that can be wonderfully shared with our spouse.  Can we? The promise that Hosea gives us is to:

Come, and let us return to Jehovah; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.  After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.  [6:1-2]

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