Monday, January 12, 2009

Hosea: The Whore's Husband

Is there anything that God doesn't have the right to do? Would anything that he expects from us impugn his character? While philosophers and theologians will argue back and forth, trying to wrap their finite and fallible minds around God's parameters, the Bible seems to offer no substantial relief. Consider one of the most perplexing books in the Bible: Hosea. I'll divide this post into two parts for the sake of length and readability.

"When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, 'Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord'" (Hosea 1:2).

Um, excuse me? What was the first thing God said to Hosea? Go marry a whore. And take care of the children she accumulates because of her lifestyle. That doesn't seem like something God would command. In fact, it seems so unlike something God would command that many fine interpreters try to get God off the hook for it.

John Calvin tries, unconvincingly, to convince us that Hosea is just telling us what God would do if he actually would do such a thing. In other words, Hosea "assumed a character, when going forth before the public, and in this character he said to the people, that God had bidden him to take a harlot for his wife, and to beget adulterous children by her." (John Calvin, Commentary on Hosea)

So in Calvin's mind, the book goes something like this: When Hosea was out in the crowd, he was pretending to be married to a whore for effect. He would say something like, "God told me in a vision that I should marry a whore and raise her kids for her. Not that he would really want me to do such a ludicrous thing, but that's how you people should see me. And I hope it makes you ashamed of yourselves. Look at the depths your sin has forced me to. I have to degrade myself by pretending to have married a whore."

But in reality, he was just good ol' Hosea, prophet of propriety and piety, who would never be stained by such embarrassment, such defilement. So when someone would come up to him and ask him when he was going to settle down and have a family, he would whisper, "SSHHHH! I'm married to a whore, remember? I already have all kinds of imaginary rugrats running around. What are you trying to do, make everyone remember I'm a character actor?" And when people passed him by on the street, they'd say things like: "There's Hosea. Did you hear about his pretend whore wife? Boy the stories I could tell you about her. . . if she were real." And someone would reply, "Oh, I know! It's bad enough that someone would marry a whore in a vision, but then to raise other men's children in a vision is over the top. . . if they were real." And Calvin thinks we'd get the same effect whether God's command was given in reality or in a vision. I strongly disagree.

"So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son" (Hosea 1:3).

Wow. God gave Hosea a vision of marrying a specific imaginary whore named Gomer, daughter of a specific imaginary guy, Diblaim. OR God told Hosea to do something so outlandish, so radically counter-intuitive, so publicly offensive and laughable, that people had to notice. Hosea didn't say, "Let me tell you all about this crazy dream I had." He went out and found a whore, and not just a promiscuous naughty girl. He found a bottom of the barrel, down and out prostitute, married her, and had a child with her. God told Hosea what to name the child. "Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel" (Hosea 1:4).

We'll stop here, but with this thought: God is center stage in the book of Hosea. He's orchestrating the whole thing to say something very important. When the marriage that he called for brought forth children (from both Hosea and other men), God is the one who named the children. There is no need to get God off the hook for being God. We aren't nearly as prudish and undefiled as we pretend. We play the part of the innocent with virgin ears, when all the while God is giving us the most atrocious living illustrations of our many rampant idolatry. I have no doubt that God is well within his character to use one of his clay pots to show the depth of our depravity and the immensity of his condescending love in sticking with our adulterous souls.

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