Also in this chapter Israel’s history is portrayed. Hosea once again has to accept his adulterous wife as his wife, but without having a real marriage relationship with her. He will make her a lonely woman. God will do the same with Israel. He will make the people lonely for a time, without a king and so on. That is the situation of Israel at the moment. But in the future they will repent and come to the LORD and His salvation.
1 Hosea Must Take His Wife Back
1 Then the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman [who] is loved by [her] husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”
We can imagine that things have gone from bad to worse with Gomer. If there is a continual falling back into certain forms of evil, the situation can never improve, but only get worse. Improvement only occurs when there is a radical break with the past.
Gomer has probably returned to Hosea again and again after her various ‘outings’. In spite of all the pain and sorrow he felt because of her adulterous behavior, he has taken care of her again and again. Each time he must have hoped that she would really break with sin. Every time he was disappointed in his love, faithfulness and care for her, because every time she was unfaithful to him. Until she leaves and stays away. It is possible that Hosea, after the birth of the third child, had to send her away, just as God sent His people away in the scattering. It is also possible that she herself has run away.
What will the people have been talking about that. He must have heard well-intentioned pity. He will also have experienced insensitivity with his situation. It may have been said: ‘That’s quite something, that she let you down with the children. You didn’t deserve that from her.’ But on the other hand: ‘Man, be happy about it. This wasn’t a life after all. Now you get peace in your house again.’ Numerous variations on this are conceivable. But situations like Hosea’s are unique. In the discussion of Hosea 1 a number of things have already been said about this. The heart that cries from the pain someone feels in such circumstances cannot be comforted with well-intentioned words and the pain does not diminish.
Just as Hosea acted with Gomer, so did God with Israel. Again and again He has shown her His love. If the word of the LORD comes to Hosea that he should take Gomer back to be his wife, it is because God will do the same with Israel. He has also not sent away His people forever. God will not command to love another woman than His own lawful wife. There would be no message for Israel in that.
This is about Gomer. Her name is not mentioned because it goes without saying that it is about her. It is also more about the circumstances in which she ended up than about her person. The fact that she is not called ‘your’ wife here, but ‘a’ woman, may indicate the alienation that has arisen between Hosea and her through her behavior. That must have made carrying out God’s command.
In the discussion of Hosea 1:3 we have already discussed this command to love. The command Hosea receives here, gives reason to point this out again because of the false motives to get away from this command. Hosea has to take her back, despite the fact that he may no longer ‘feel’ anything for her. ‘Feeling’ has the upper hand today and even becomes the norm. Hosea is given the assignment: “Go … love”. ‘Love’ is a command.
It is an outright excuse, even worse, it is self-deception, when a couple breaks up with the excuse: ‘We don’t feel anything for each other anymore, so we just break up.’ But the fact that you are ‘no longer in love’ is not a valid reason to break up. It is self-deception to give validity to such an excuse. It is also disobedience to God and therefore sin. The question is not whether I feel something for my wife, but whether I want to obey God’s command. The command in the New Testament reads: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).
To love is not just a feeling, it is above all an act. The man must love his wife. That is possible if the love of God dwells in him, because God is love. Only love to the Lord makes us fit to fulfill His command. The Lord does not ask Peter whether he loves the lambs and sheep, but whether he loves Him. If that is the starting point for each service, then love for the lambs and the sheep will come.
Hosea must go to Gomer and love her as God loves His people. It is not enough to know that God is love, we have to act accordingly. Hosea loves Gomer before she becomes unfaithful to him. He also has to love her after her unfaithfulness by rescuing her from that situation.
As in Hosea 1, God gives His reason for this heavy task. That reason is that in taking back Gomer, Hosea illustrates God’s love for His people. Israel, just like Gomer, has forfeited all right to restoration. But grace is searching for her. Not in the first place to restore her, but more to free her from the situation in which she ended up through her own fault. Then she will be restored (Isa 54:6-8).
Israel, like Gomer, has made life a feast, a feast without God. By making illicit connections, the people think they can get more out of life. They forget that by their actions they do not get more out of life, but that life is taken out of them. Real life is only possible in connection with the living God. The idols are dead, dead material.
The “raisin cakes”, made from the fruit of the vine, symbolize joy, for God is with His people and He strengthens them (cf. 2Sam 6:19; 1Chr 16:3; Song 2:5). But these cakes are used as offerings in the idolatrous cult. They are eaten in connection with the idols, showing in which the people seek their joy and strength. It is yet another proof of how God has disappeared from their minds, how they have forgotten Him (Hos 2:13).
2 So I bought her for myself for fifteen [shekels] of silver and a homer and a half of barley.
Hosea has to ransom his wife. That’s how it works if someone is going to serve sin. That person has to be ransomed. Gomer has become someone else’s slave. What has smiled on her as freedom has led her into slavery. She thought she was free, but has become a slave. That is always the case when serving sin. “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (Jn 8:34). The devil tries to tell us that we are free outside of God, but just like Gomer, you notice that you become a slave. But just like Hosea, God also goes after people and wants to give them His salvation.
How humiliating it must have been for Hosea to have to go to the man where his wife is now. She probably sunk so low that she became a slave. It seems that he finds her at a slave market, where she is offered for sale because her lover may have had enough of her. He has to negotiate with the man to get his own wife back. They agree on the price. Hosea has to pay for her even less than the price of a slave and some in kind. Fifteen pieces of silver is half the price for a slave (Exo 21:32). The low price indicates her owner’s low appreciation for her.
The one and a half homer barley is a reminder of poverty. Barley is the food of the poor. It seems that Hosea gives all his money and complements it with something in kind. He simply has to ransom her. God has done the same with His people (Isa 43:3-4). Only true love sees something in an object that – due to so much unfaithfulness – is only worth being rejected.
3 Back, But Kept at a Distance
3 Then I said to her, “You shall stay with me for many days. You shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man; so I will also be toward you.”
Hosea takes Gomer home and places her under house arrest. Again that is a picture of what God will do to Israel. Israel has been deported and has lived isolated among the peoples for centuries. But there will come a time when they will return and seek the LORD. Gomer, too, is isolated; she sits like a slave in her own house. But Hosea with her either.
This disciplinary measure, a withdrawn life in solitude and excluded from all intercourse with a man, serves to make her come to her senses. She will no longer have the opportunity to commit adultery and commit fornication with other men. Nor will she have a normal relationship with her husband.
We can also apply this situation to personal life. It could be that someone is in solitary confinement with his life. He is tired of sin. He doesn’t do evil anymore, but there is also no doing good. There is no real life. If someone starts to realize that, then God can give real life.
This situation can also be applied to a Christian community. They have removed evil. Then, out of fear of evil, they have isolated themselves in such a way that there is nothing at all seen from them. When they start to realize this, the time will come for God to give real life. However, if one continues to stay in that ‘isolation cell’, there is a good chance that the misery will become greater than it once was (Mt 12:43-45).
“Many days” indicates an indefinite period of time. Gomer does belong to Hosea that whole period – he bought her, after all –, but there is no question of a normal relationship. She has to sit like a widow until he comes to her. As said, this is the situation of Israel after God has brought the people back from exile. When much later the Lord Jesus came to His people, they did not want Him. “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (Jn 1:11). Not only did they not receive Him, but they also even rejected Him! What the result of this is, is said in the following verse.
4 Israel Is Without …
4 For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or [sacred] pillar and without ephod or household idols.
In this verse some particulars are brought to the fore that have not been discussed in the two previous chapters. Hosea 1 gives the general position in which the people find themselves and in which they are placed by God’s judgment. In Hosea 2 several details are filled in in more detail. Hosea 3 gives clarity about the humiliation and the isolated position of Israel. And not for a moment, but for an indefinite period of time, with at the end of that period her introduction in the abundant blessing.
In this one verse the whole situation in which Israel has found itself for many centuries comes to the fore. No Jew can deny that this verse aptly represents the actual situation. The period of “many days” is the time after the cross. All that time the people have been “without king or prince”, i.e. without a recognized government with an official head of state. This applies especially to the ten tribes, which are scattered.
They are also “without sacrifice”. They have no worship in which they approach God on the basis of sacrifice. But they are also without “[sacred] pillar”. These pillars are the pillars consecrated to the idols that Israel has had to destroy (Exo 23:24), but that have gained a foothold in Israel (2Kgs 3:2; 10:26-28; 17:10). The sacred pillar represents the idolatrous worship that Israel has taken over from the surrounding peoples. Thus, the people will be without true, but also without false means of worship.
Finally, they will be “without ephod”, which is the high priestly garment. There is no priestly mediation to consult the LORD. But the “household idols” are also lacking. These are the teraphim, the idols for the worship of ancestors. Instead of priestly consultation, there is also no consultation of the idols through the images designed for that purpose.
It may be called a wonder that, despite the lack of what seems necessary to exist as a people, Israel has continued to exist for centuries. It is yet another proof of the truth and reliability of the Bible, which attributes unconditional promises of God to Israel. That God is using this time of Israel’s ‘isolation’ to gather the church is a truth that is unfolded not in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament.
5 Israel Returns to the LORD
5 Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days.
The word “afterward“ with which this verse begins is still in the future and refers to the time of Christ’s return to earth and His blessed reign. “David their king” is the Lord Jesus, the true David. David means “the beloved”. “Their king” is an indication for the Messiah. At His first coming there was hardly any search for Him. Yes, a few magi from the east, who have seen His star, come to worship Him. And also Herod is looking for Him, but only to kill Him. Furthermore, there are still a few people who recognize Him. But the people as such? They have rejected Him. In the future it will be different (Eze 37:23-24).
God has not finished with His people forever. Israel is also not incorporated into the church as a people. The individual Jew who repents is incorporated into the church, but then ceases to be a Jew (Col 3:11). “In the last days”, the Israelites will be attracted by “His goodness”, even overwhelmed by it. The expression “trembling” indicates reverence, which is accompanied by shame at the fact that they have left Him.
The final restoration of Israel under the blessed government of the Messiah, in which the people will enjoy all the promised blessings, begins when the people repent. Repentance is the first necessary step to get in touch with God. This happens when a man, or a people, realizes that he has lived with his back to God. When a person repents from that path, he turns around and can, thus, look to God.
Whoever looks God in ‘the face’, cannot help but acknowledge that He is holy. Man himself can only acknowledge that he is unholy and sinful and that God must judge him for that. But now he has turned, towards God, because he is attracted to God’s goodness. God must punish man who persists in his sins. But man who confesses his sins finds compassion with Him.
With Israel, the moment of repentance has come when through the action of God’s Spirit the people confess their sin – their rejection of the Lord Jesus, their Messiah – and repent (Zec 12:10). The sadness that comes from the acknowledgment of their sin is a sadness in agreement with God. Such sadness over committed sins “produces a repentance without regret [leading] to salvation” (2Cor 7:10). Whether it concerns a people or a few, all true restoration begins with this.