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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Hosea's Marriage and its Meaning.

1.

One important question the book of Hosea raises is the problem of the prophet's marriage: how do chs. 1 and 3 relate to one another? Ch. 1 is a third-person narrative in which God commands Hosea to take a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom. He subsequently marries Gomer, who bears three children, their sign-names symbolizing judgement for Israel. Ch. 3 is a first-person narrative in which Hosea is told to ‘love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins’ (RSV). The woman is unnamed. We then read that the prophet bought her and put her under discipline for a while (prior to the full restoration of the relationship).

2.

An explanation common among the Church Fathers and medieval Jewish rabbis, but no longer followed, was that Hosea's marriage was not a literal event, but purely symbolic, either an allegory or a dream. However, it does not read like an allegory or a dream, and some details, such as the name Gomer, have no obvious symbolic significance.

3.

One minority view maintains that chs. 1 and 3 are parallel narratives, one concentrating on the children, the other on the wife. But against this (1) 3:1 seems to represent this chapter as the sequel to ch. 1 . Whether we read ‘The LORD said to me again, “Go, love a woman…”’ (NRSV) or ‘The LORD said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman…”’ (RSV), we seem to have a reference back to ch. 1 , suggesting that ch. 3 follows on from it. (2) The analogy between YHWH's love for Israel, though the people have been faithless to him, and Hosea's love for the woman in 3:1 , makes sense only if the woman had previously been his wife and subsequently been unfaithful to him. This implies that 3:1 is not describing the beginning of the marriage, which the view that it is parallel to ch. 1 requires. (3) In 3:3–4 the woman undergoes a period of discipline before the marriage is (re)consummated, which does not fit ch. 1 (cf. 1:2–3 , which reads as if sexual relations were established immediately).

4.

Another minority view holds that Hos 3 describes Hosea's relations with a woman other than Gomer (Rudolph 1966; Davies 1992 ). This seems unlikely, again in view of 3:1 . Hosea's loving the woman is parallel to YHWH's loving Israel, though they turn to other gods. Therefore, for the symbolism to work, the woman must have been Hosea's wife and previously unfaithful to him.

5.

The most commonly accepted and natural view is that ch. 3 is the sequel to ch. 1 (Rowley 1963; Mays 1969; Wolff 1974; Macintosh 1997 ). Hosea, we are to understand, married Gomer and had one or more children by her. At some stage she committed adultery, but eventually Hosea succeeded in wooing her back, though the marriage was not reconsummated until after a period of discipline. The theological significance of these events for Israel is spelled out in ch. 2 , which depicts Israel as YHWH's wife, who goes whoring after her lovers (the Baals), bearing children of whoredom, but eventually YHWH succeeds in wooing her back, whilst imposing a disciplinary period before the relationship is fully restored.

6.

Hosea has been much studied recently by feminist scholars (see Brenner 1995 ). The prophet's references to ‘whoring’ have been much criticized, but his use of this image is not anti-women, since it is applied to the nation as a whole (e.g. Hos 5:3, 6:10 ), and presumably had particular reference to the male political and religious leaders.

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