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Harlotry with the Baals
In 2:2 Hosea speaks again of his wife, Gomer. But there are also words of God to his faithless wife, Israel: “Plead with your mother, plead—for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband—that she put away her harlotry from her face and her adultery from between her breasts, lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born.” Hosea is now back where he started in 1:2. He is not thinking of Israel as the violent child Jezreel or as bastards born of harlotry (as he did in 1:6–8). He is thinking now of Israel again as a wife of harlotry. And in 2:2–13 Hosea and God speak as one about the faithlessness of their wives and the judgment coming upon them.
Three verses sum up this unit: first, verse 5, “Their mother has played the harlot; she that conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.”‘ Then in verse 8 God says, “She did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished upon her silver and gold which she used for Baal.” Then verse 13, “I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals, when she burned incense to them and decked herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers, and forgot me, says the Lord.” In those three verses we see the tragedy of Israel: 1) God wants to be her husband, but she is a harlot loving other gods; 2) all she has she gets from her true husband, but thinks she is getting it from the Baals; 3) God will punish this harlotry. For when he is treated as less than a husband, he shows that he is vastly more than a husband.
Pursuing an Unfaithful Wife
Hosea 2:14–23 is one of the most tender and most beautiful love songs in the Bible. It is sung by God to his unfaithful wife, Israel. But before we look at it, skip over to chapter 3. Here we see Hosea and Gomer for the last time. She has run off and lives now with a paramour, a “significant other.” So Hosea is free, right? Now he can get a divorce. She has ended the marriage once and for all. She has another man. Hosea is free. Right? Wrong! God would not give up on Israel, and he aims for Hosea to symbolize his undying love to his wife of harlotry. Verse 1: “The Lord said to me, ‘Go again and love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress; even as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.” When you think a moment on what God asked Hosea to do here, you get a glimpse into what God’s love for us in our wretchedness is like.
She had been faithless all along, and finally she had gone off with another man. Hosea could have had her stoned by law, just like we stand condemned by law. But God commands him to love her. “Go again, love her.” And not just to go and get her and love her, but to even be willing to pay this “significant other” for her. If that was not almost an emotional impossibility, Hosea could not afford it. If he could have, he probably would have paid cash. But he couldn’t. So he paid half in cash and half in barley. And the total amounted to what Exodus 21:32 says a female slave costs. Gomer had evidently sunk to the lowest possible level. And God says to Hosea, “Get her back, whatever it costs, get her back.”
The reason God could expect that of Hosea is that he aims to do just that with his wayward Israel, and he had shown this to Hosea in 2:14–23. Recall from other messages the principle that guides me in my interpretation of passages like this. It looks beyond the Assyrian captivity to a literal fulfillment for ethnic Israel some day. But the fulfillment will also include us who are children of Abraham by faith (Romans 4:16; Galatians 3:7, 29). When Christians read Hosea 2:14–23, they should say, “Those are promises for me; that is God’s will for me.” This principle is confirmed here by the fact that Paul, in Romans 9:24, and Peter, in 1 Peter 2:10, apply Hosea 2:23 to the church. So this is a word of God for us today.
God’s Love Song
I see in Hosea 2:14–23 at least three things God does for us, his rebellious wife, to win us back; and I see one overriding thing that he wants from us. The first thing he does is woo us tenderly. Verse 14: “Behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” We are all guilty of harlotry. We have loved other lovers more than God. We have gotten our kicks elsewhere. He has been at times an annoying deity. We, like Gomer, were enslaved to a paramour, the world, pleasure, ambition. But God has not cast us off. He promises to take us into the wilderness. He wants to be alone with us. Why? So that he can speak tenderly to us. Literally, the Hebrew says, so that he can speak “to her heart.” And when he speaks, he will allure you. He will entice you and woo you. He will say what a lover says to his lady when they walk away from the party into the garden. God wants to talk that way with you. Go with him into the wilderness and listen with your heart. Do not think you are too ugly or too rotten. He knows that his wife is a harlot. That’s the meaning of mercy: God is wooing a wife of harlotry.
The second thing God does is promise her hope and safety. Verse 15: “And there I will give her vineyards and make the valley of Achor a door of hope.” The valley of Achor is where Israel was first unfaithful to the Lord in the promised land. Just after Israel entered the land, Achan kept the forbidden booty and caused the defeat at Ai. But now God promises that if his harlot will come home, Achor will no longer be a “valley of trouble” (Joshua 7:26), but a door of hope. She will come home to rich vineyards. Verse 18 spells out her hope in more detail: “I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground, and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety.” If only his estranged wife will come home, she will find a paradise with her husband: he will make a pact even with the animals, lest they do harm; and he will remove all violence and conflict. These are no doubt the words God speaks into the heart of his wife in the lonely place. “It will be so good, so good! Put away your harlotry and come home.”
The third thing God does is renew his wife’s betrothal and consummate the marriage again in purity. Verses 19, 20: “And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.” Three times: I will betroth you; I will betroth you; I will betroth you. “We will go back to the days of our engagement. We will start over. Harlots can start over! We will lay a fresh foundation: righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, faithfulness. Things will not only be good in the paradise around us. Things will also be right between us. These have always been my ways; but now they will be mutual.” Yes, even a wife of harlotry can experience a new relationship of righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness with her divine husband.
But the most daring statement of all is the last one in verse 20: “And you shall know the Lord.” To see what this means, recall the peculiar use of the word “know” in the Bible. For example, Genesis 4:1, “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.” And Matthew 1:25, “Joseph knew her [Mary] not until she had borne a son.” In the context of a broken marriage being renewed with the fresh vows of betrothal, must not the words, “and you shall know the Lord” (v. 20), mean, you shall enjoy an intimacy like that of the purest sexual intercourse. When the wife of harlotry returns to her husband, he will withhold nothing. He will not keep her at a distance. The fellowship and communion and profoundest union he will give to his prodigal wife when she comes home broken and empty.
This is the gospel story in the Old Testament. This is the meaning of Christmas interpreted seven centuries before Christ. God comes to woo us tenderly to himself; he promises us fullest hope and safety; he starts over with any who will come, and offers us the most intimate and pleasure-filled relationship possible.
And what must we do to qualify? What does he want from us? Verse 16: “In that day, says the Lord, you will call me, ‘My husband,’ and no longer will you call me, ‘My Baal.'” I think the word Baal here has a double meaning. As the next verse shows, it means one of the false gods of Israel’s idolatry. So verse 16 means: “You will no longer include me as one of many gods, or many lovers; you will talk to me as your only true God and husband.”
But there is another sense of the word Baal. Fifteen times in the Old Testament it simply means “husband,” but husband in the sense of owner and lord. The Baals were Israel’s hard masters as well as her lovers. In 7:14, for example, the people gashed themselves to try to get benefits from the Baals (just like the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18:28). When Israel chose a Baal for her “significant other,” she chose a cruel and merciless lord. So the other (and I think primary) meaning of Hosea 2:16 is: “Relate to me as a loving husband, not as a harsh master or owner. In that day, says the Lord, you will call me ‘My husband,’ and you will no longer call me ‘My Baal.'”
The good news at the end of 2020 is that God wants you to love him warmly as your husband, not just serve him dutifully as your Lord. When you think of your failures in 2021—how little you have read his Word, how burdensome prayer has felt, how many other things of this world have given you more kicks than God—God wants you to remember that his desire to have you back is not based on a naïve estimation of your character. The point of Hosea is that God exalts his mercy by not giving up on his wife of harlotry. The good news of Hosea—and of the parable of the prodigal son, and of Christmas—is that God knows we have sold ourselves for a song in 1982, yet he is wooing us into the chambers of his love.
But, please take special notice of this, especially you who tend to keep God at arm’s distance from your emotions. According to Hosea 2:16, God does not want you to return to him and say, “Yes, Sir,” and set about your duties. He wants you to come into the wilderness, to listen to him speak tenderly, and to respond to him, “My husband.” God wants your heart, not just your hands, because if he has your heart, he has everything.
Hosea 2 King James Version (KJV)
2 Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah.
2 Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts;
3 Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst.
4 And I will not have mercy upon her children; for they be the children of whoredoms.
5 For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully: for she said, I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink.
6 Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths.
7 And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now.
8 For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal.
9 Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness.
10 And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of mine hand.
11 I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.
12 And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath said, These are my rewards that my lovers have given me: and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them.
13 And I will visit upon her the days of Baalim, wherein she burned incense to them, and she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and she went after her lovers, and forgat me, saith the Lord.
14 Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.
15 And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.
16 And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali.
17 For I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name.
18 And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely.
19 And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.
20 I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.
21 And it shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth;
22 And the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel.
23 And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.