Hosea 1:2, 3
The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to Hosea, Go…
When this text is announced, possibly some may say, "What a shocking subject to preach about! Well it is shocking, indeed. God intends it to be so. But to our feelings spiritual adultery should be even more revolting than the literal whoredom which the Holy Spirit presents here as its prophetic symbol. And we must not forget that this painful passage records "the beginning of the word of the Lord by Hosea."
I. HOSEA'S CONJUGAL DISHONOR. How are we to explain the narrative portions (Hosea 1. and 3.) of this book? The most interesting problem of Hosea's life, and the "vexed question" in the exposition of his prophecy, lies in the meaning of this story of his domestic experiences. There have been three principal interpretations. At the one extreme is the severely literal view; viz. that Hosea, in obedience to a Divine command, united himself in marriage with a woman notorious for her impurity (Augustine, Pusey, Dean Stanley, etc.). At the other extreme is the purely allegorical view; viz. that the narrative is to be regarded merely as a parable; or, at most, that the marriage took place in prophetic vision only (Jerome, Calvin, Hengstenberg, etc.). The exegesis which the writer of this homily prefers lies between these two; viz. that Hosea's marriage was real, but that Gomer did not become profligate until after she had borne the prophet's three children (Ewald, Professor A.B. Davidson, Dr. Robertson Smith, etc.). No view which it is possible to take is free from difficulties; but this last one is not exposed to the insurmountable objections which, in the writer's judgment, adhere to the two extreme interpretations. It also furnishes an appropriate parallel in Hosea's experience to the love of God for his people Israel. The prophet, accordingly, contracted a marriage which turned out to be unhappy. Gomer did not love God. Her heart became contaminated with the moral miasma which was poisoning the social life of the whole nation. Hosea's quiet home, his simple occupations, and his devout sabbath-keeping, grew distasteful to her. She felt her life intolerably slow. After the birth of her third child she was directly tempted, and wandered and fell. Gomer joined the throng of the priestesses of Ashtoreth, took part in the abominable rites of the Phoenician idolatry, and left her poor husband to "cry to vacant chairs and widowed walls" that she had made his home desolate. Hosea's love for his spouse had been very deep and tender, and he felt that he loved her still, despite the fierce conflict which his affection had now to wage against his outraged honor. It would almost seem too, from the ominous names given to the children, that they also, as they grew up, followed for a time in their mother's evil ways. So Hosea begins his book by showing that it was the blighting of his fireside joys and the breaking of his household gods that first made him "a man of sorrows."
"Now I sit
All lonely, homeless, weary of my life,
Thick darkness round me, and the stars all dumb,
That erst had sung their wondrous tale of joy.
And thou hast done it all, O faithless one!
O Gomer! whom I loved as never wife
Was loved in Israel, all the wrong is thine!
Thy hand hath spoiled all my tender vines,
Thy foot hath trampled all my pleasant fruits,
Thy sin hath laid my honor in the dust."
II. GOD'S PROVIDENCE IN THIS DISHONOR. The shipwreck of his home-happiness taught Hosea very solemn spiritual lessons. He heard in it the voice of Jehovah pointing out to him his life-work. Looking around, he perceived that his experience was not an isolated one. Rather, his home was a picture of the moral state of the entire northern kingdom. The land was reeking with sensuality. And with that sin the sin of idolatry was closely intertwined. So Hosea became very deeply convinced that all the crime and vice of the age sprang from one spiritual root: "The land had committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord." He reflected that his own bitter experience was but a parable of God's experience. What Gomer was to him, the Israelitish nation had been to Jehovah. She had been betrothed to God "in the days of her youth, when she came up out of the land of Egypt;" and the nuptials had been celebrated at Mount Sinai. But, alas I she had fallen now into foul and shameless idolatry. Hosea, from his own sad experience, could have sympathy with God. Himself a victim - and not an eye-witness merely - of the wickedness of his age, he realized more fully than he could otherwise have done the odiousness of Israel's apostasy. When he thought of Gomer, he could understand the words of the second commandment, "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God." And thus his conjugal dishonor was his birth as a prophet. It was "the beginning of the word of the Lord in Hosea." The Book of Hosea is a poem; and while, of course, "the poet is born, not reader events in his own life are oftentimes needed to strike from him the poetic fire. Although the poet is "dowered with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, the love of love," it is also true that
"Most wretched men
Are cradled into poetry by wrong:
They learn in suffering what they teach in song."
(Shelley.) It was notably so with Hoses. Affliction was his one prophetical school. So, when he now sits down to begin his book, he recounts at the outset his domestic wrongs, in the light of his ripe experience of their Divine meaning. God had "girded" him, though at first he had "not known" it. The Lord had said, in his own Divine plan of Hosea's life, "Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms, and children of whoredoms." The event had taught him that his desolate home was a type of Israel's ruin; and his pity for Gomer - which longed to restore her from her wasted life - a faint shadow of the yearning love of God for his apostate people.
III. LESSONS FOR OURSELVES.
1. God himself is the supreme end of our life. He is so:
(1) To the individual. "Man's chief end is to glorify God." The life which does not do this is a failure.
(2) To the family. This sad story reminds us of the blessedness of household piety, and of a pure family life. Holy Scripture everywhere magnifies the family, and enjoins that the fear of God be enthroned in its very heart. "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it."
(3) To the nation. National religion, on the part of a self-governing people, depends upon the spiritual state of the persons and households which compose the nation. "Departure from the Lord," whether in the case of the individual, or the family, or the commonwealth, is idolatry and adultery; and it leads inevitably to ruin (Psalm 73:27).
2. All of us require to repent of Gomer's sin. Our evil hearts have gone a-whoring from our God; our wrong words and actions are the children born of our adultery. Each of us may say -
"Thou, my soul, wast loved,
As bride by bridegroom, by the eternal Lord;
And thou, too, hast been false."
3. A course of affliction affords a valuable prophetic curriculum. There is a sense in which "all the Lord's people" should be "prophets." But, before we can be fully qualified and accomplished to teach the truth as it is in Jesus, we must be washed, not only in his blood, but in our own hearts' blood also. - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD.