Summary: God is a jilted spouse with a persistent love for an unfaithful partner--us.
She was a floozy, the kind of girl your mother warned you about and your dad might take a sneak peek at. She wore purple eye shadow, thick mascara and lipstick so red that hummingbirds buzzed around her. Her dresses were always a size or two smaller than they should have been, and her walk was more of a swing, always accompanied by the clickety-clack of shiny high heels.
She was the woman with the ugly name, but she was pretty enough for men to give her offers. And she took them. Every one.
Gomer was her name. And she was the preacher’s wife.
It’s a story of betrayal, a tale of shameless two-timing. A story so tawdry you’d expect to find it in a tabloid newspaper or the Jerry Springer show. But this story is in the Bible. The Book of Hosea, to be exact.
Hosea was a prophet living some 700 years before Christ. He was a citizen of the Northern Kingdom, a contemporary of Isaiah who lived “down south” in Jerusalem. Hosea lived in turbulent times. During part of his prophetic career, Israel had six kings in just over 20 years, and four of them assassinated their predecessors. On top of that, a brutal pagan nation, Assyria, invaded Israel in 722 B.C., deporting many of its citizens.
But the most serious problem wasn’t political – it was spiritual. Israel was running around on God. Committing adultery with idols, ogling foreign gods, flirting at strange altars. This was serious business. The Covenant People had shattered the covenant. Broken their promises. Flaunted their marital vows with the Lord. They had not only broken God’s law—they were breaking God’s heart.
Hosea 2:13: “(Israel) decked herself with rings and jewelry, and went after other lovers, but me she forgot, declares the Lord.”
Can you hear the anguish in these words? God is hurt. Betrayed. He is not a passive deity sitting on a distant throne; he is a jilted mate whose true love had turned into a brazen hussy. I remember, years ago, when I wrote a pastoral column about this subject in the town newspaper. One of my church matriarchs was slightly embarrassed by it all. “Did you have to compare God to a lover?” she asked, a slight blush on her face. I said, “The Bible does.” And like any ditched lover, God wanted to win his beloved back. How could he do it? How could God illustrate how much pain unfaithful Israel was causing him?
Preaching probably wouldn’t do it. Israel had heard a lot of preaching. Should I destroy them? A couple of divine Molotov cocktails ought to do the job. No, that’s not the answer. I can’t bear to think about wiping out my chosen people.
So what does God do? He uses an earthly marriage to communicate his divine anguish. It’s not the first time the Bible uses wedding imagery. Jeremiah, Isaiah and others defined the relationship between God and Israel as a marriage. This is an image that everyone can understand, even children. No other relationship holds so much promise and potential. The romantic ideal of a “marriage made in heaven” still grabs our hearts. Most single people want to get married, and most married people desire to have happy, fulfilling nuptials.
But we also know that marriage holds the seeds of disappointment, abuse and betrayal. I didn’t realize how much I could irritate one person until I got married. God told Hosea to "Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD."
Hosea’s unhappy marriage would be a mirror, a microcosm, a mini-drama of the broken relationship between God and Israel. The neighbors would start gossiping. The papers would pick up the sleazy story. The church board would call Hosea in. “What is going on between you and your wife?”
“Thus saith the Lord,” Hosea replied, “Israel has decked herself with rings and jewelry,
and went after her lovers, but me she forgot."
Ah, now the lesson was painfully clear—this was a heavenly object lesson. We are the adulterers. Israel is the unfaithful one. Every time Gomer would run off to a cheap motel, it was an uncomfortable reminder that an entire nation had been running around on God.
If God were a betrayed woman, we would call her spouse a louse. We would urge her to divorce him. A judge might even acquit her if she killed him in a fit of passion. If she stayed with her faithless husband, we might question her sanity. We’d blather behind her back: “Why in the world does she stay with that skunk?” Reading the Book of Hosea, we wonder the same thing: “Why does God stick it out?”