In our series in Hosea thus far, God has told Hosea to act out a prophetic sign against unfaithful Israel (the northern kingdom). In chapter one he was told to take a promiscuous woman as his wife, and to give his children names that symbolised the coming judgement on Israel, and the revoking of God’s covenant with (soon-to-be-not) his people. Yet there was also a message of hope that one day he would reunite his people under one leader, and again be their God.
In chapter two we see the same two-scene structure: judgement (verses 2-13, which we’ll look at today), followed by restoration (verses 14-23, tomorrow).
The chapter starts off with Hosea no longer speaking to his wife, but passing messages through the children (the ones with the judgemental names from chapter one):Hos 2:2a “Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.”
This would probably have been understood as a declaration of divorce. (The same as “you are not my people, and I am not your God” in chapter one was a declaration of the end of God’s covenant with Israel.)Hos 2:2b”Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.”
That seems a little harsh. Maybe she just had Resting Adulterous Face. (What is an adulterous look, anyway?) Commentators speculate that this verse refers to the demeanour (adulterous look) and ornaments (pendants around the neck) of a prostitute.Hos 2:3 Otherwise I will strip her naked and make her as bare as on the day she was born; I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst.
The first part of the verse is part of the Hosea-Gomer marriage metaphor, where the consequences of her adultery is that her husband removes the clothes he has provided for her, humiliating her. The second part of the verse seems to have moved to the God-Israel relationship, in which the consequences of Israel’s idolatry are that God will remove his blessing from the land, and it will become drought-stricken. (The nature of the punishment is significant, as we’ll see soon.)Hos 2:4 I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery.
Now the kids have been rejected, too. They also seem to represent Israel – perhaps the current generation who will experience God’s judgement on the cumulative sins of Israel.Hos 2:5 Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.’
In the metaphor, Gomer’s “lovers” ply her with gifts for her services. In the reality it describes, Israel’s “lovers” are the fertility gods and goddesses (idols of Ba’al and Asherah) who, she is convinced, provide for her.
Why would Israel believe that her prosperity came from the Canaanite gods? Part of the answer lies in the way gods were viewed in the ancient world. They had particular “super powers” in which they specialised. Much like you’d pick Superman if you needed to see through walls, Batman if you needed backup in a poorly-choreographed fist-fight, and Aquaman if you… um… wanted to summon a lot of sea-creatures in a hurry. In the ancient world, you’d have a god for war, a god for justice, a god and goddess of fertility (it takes two to tango), etc..
Now Israel’s God had proven himself quite reliable as a war-God (one of his titles, Lord of Hosts, reflects this), and definitely first on your speed-dial if you ever wanted to cross some water in a hurry. But agriculture? He had a track record of providing fast-food in the desert, but not the long-term task of growing crops and breeding herds. Better trust the gods and goddesses of the local Cannaanite people, who’ve been farming here for generations. Or at least, that’s what they tell us! (You know, those people we were supposed to drive out under Joshua, but didn’t, and so were left behind to test us…)
So the fact that the land is fertile tells Israel that the Ba’als are doing their job. So she keeps going after them. Right, says God, let’s do something about that:2:6-7 Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.’
This is why drought and famine are the punishments God prescribed (in Deuteronomy especially) for idolatry. Not because he looked down his list of potential acts of divine retribution and said “hey: drought, that looks good!” But because the punishment fit the crime. You think that Ba’al and Asherah are providing for all your needs? How about I take away the rain, how about I take away my providential care, and see how things go! Then you might just figure out it was me who was providing for you all along:2:8 She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold — which they used for Baal.
Even the stuff they make the idols out of – precious metals – God is the one who created them! He’s the one who made the land fertile.2:9-10 Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens, and my new wine when it is ready. I will take back my wool and my linen, intended to cover her naked body. So now I will expose her lewdness before the eyes of her lovers; no one will take her out of my hands.
So now he’s going to take it all away, leaving her naked – without provision, and ashamed in front of all the other nations who are standing around laughing and pointing their fingers at her.2:11 I will stop all her celebrations: her yearly festivals, her New Moons, her Sabbath days—all her appointed festivals.
With no produce from the land, the cycle of agricultural festivals will no longer occur.2:12 I will ruin her vines and her fig trees, which she said were her pay from her lovers; I will make them a thicket, and wild animals will devour them.
Notice that Israel’s relationship with her “lovers” isn’t expressed in terms of marriage and covenant, but “pay” for services rendered. Although it’s part of the adultery/prostitution metaphor, it also paints a strong contrast between the way Israel’s God has provided for her (out of an unconditional love and commitment) and the way pagan gods operate (bring your offerings or you’ll get no blessings).2:13 I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals; she decked herself with rings and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but me she forgot,” declares the LORD.
Israel will suffer the consequences of her choice to chase after other gods.
But like it was in chapter one, that’s not the end of the story. More tomorrow.
To think about
How are we tempted into this kind of “idultery”?
Because we, too, can fall into behaviour and attitudes which are in contempt of all that God has given us. Like Israel we can “sleep around” by looking for our security and importance elsewhere – maybe not in golden idols. But in other people. In our family or spouse. In our career and status. Our Ba’als can be our possessions, or the pursuit of pleasure, or the ideal of a comfortable life. Our idol can be ourselves. (And all the while we’re blind to the fact that all of these things – relationships, wealth, and work – actually come from the hand of God!)
Hosea reminds us of the seriousness of this sin: in God’s eyes this unfaithfulness is spiritual adultery. It’s not something conducive to an intimate relationship, but a barrier to it. If your spouse was being unfaithful – perhaps not even sexually, but was finding their security and sense of self-worth in another relationship, while ignoring you – it would be difficult to maintain intimacy. Yet sometimes we expect this of God. Hosea calls us to realise we were “better off” with God than these inferior lovers we’ve entertained.
But he also tells us how God’s not going to simply wait and hope that we’ll come back to our senses. God’s going to do all he can to win us back. (That’s where we’ll pick up – pun intended – tomorrow.)