Hidden in the midst of obscure, difficult, and often times harsh prophecies from Hosea is one of, if not the most, glorious chapters in all of Scripture. In fact, a chapter so majestic, James Montgomery Boice referred to it as “The Greatest Chapter in the Bible.” If that’s even close to being true, then it deserves our attention. Hosea chapter 3 is cited below. May our hearts be inclined to read God’s Word in such a way that our affections are stirred more for Him with every word that passes under our eyes.
“And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. 3 And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” 4 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” Hosea 3:1-5
On a surface reading it may be difficult to see this chapter living up to the hype that Dr. Boice has placed on it. In fact, it may be difficult to see anything at all beyond some archaic references and analogies to Hosea and his wife Gomer. Unpacking this passage verse by verse will reveal not only that there is more here than meets the eye, but the glory of the Gospel, indeed the gloriousness of Christ Himself.
The context for Hosea 3 is supplied rather obviously from Chapters 1-2 where the Lord has threatened and prophesied judgment against the Northern Kingdom of Israel. By way of analogy from His own relationship with Israel, God has commanded His prophet Hosea to take for himself a wife of whoredom and to have children of whoredom with her. Throughout this prophecy we find an interweaving of this analogy of Hosea/Gomer with Yahweh/Israel, as God declares that He will strip Israel bare of her adulteries (prostituting herself with other nations and developing a syncretistic religion with Baal). The threatening’s bring to mind the Exodus and Wilderness Generation where God chastened, sustained, and prepared Israel for entrance into the Promised Land leaving the audience of Hosea in anticipation of a Second Exodus. The latter half of chapter 2 offers the hope of a New Covenant to reverse the curses that God would levy on the nation, land, and even animals. It is upon this foundation that chapter 3 begins with an optimistic note of redemption.
“And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”
On this occasion, the Lord is speaking directly to Hosea which echoes the beginning of the book in Hosea 1:2. His directive for Hosea to “love a woman” generically suggests that Gomer has not warranted either mention of her name or mention of her title as a wife. In fact, all that she was has been forfeited. The analogy is carried through to the LORD’s love for the “children of Israel”. It is curious that up to this point in Hosea a distinction has been made between Israel and her children, though the point need not be pressed home to feel the weight of this passage.
The translation of the ESV causes the meaning of “loved by another man” to be somewhat obscured, especially when combining the phrase, “even as the LORD loves the children of Israel”. In keeping with the analogy and applying the phrase “even as the LORD loves”, this would imply that the love directed toward the woman was from Hosea himself, not a third party, as will be made clear. The NASB translation supports this and is preferred, “Then the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”
It’s necessary to note that the love was not reciprocated. In fact, God’s love was extended to Israel despite her idolatry and worship of other gods. This is our first point of association with the Gospel. As we read in 1 John, we love because He loved us first. 1 Jn 4:19 Similarly the driving force beyond God’s sending of His own Son was His love. Jn 3:16 The picture being painted through the brush strokes of Hosea 3:1 is that God has an unconditional love for His people. The basis for all that comes afterward is the love of God. The motivation for taking an unfaithful bride to Himself is His own love for her.
2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.
In verse 2, we see further action on the part of Hosea in completing the command of retrieval given to him by God, specifically through the act of redemption. While the details are left out, the implication seems to be that Gomer had found her way into slavery and was now on the auction block. Whether this was due to outstanding debt or whether she was part of temple slavery prostitution we are not told. The picture, however, remains the same. She is being purchased by her bridegroom. Some commentators have posited that when a slave was sold on the auction block, they were stripped naked and left ashamed in front of their bidders. While we may not know this detail for sure, it would seem to correspond nicely with the threats given in chapter 2, “lest I strip her naked”, “make her as in the day she was born”, “make her like a wilderness”, “make her like a parched land”.
Additionally, the Mosaic amount charged for redemption from slavery was 30 pieces of silver (Ex. 21:32; Lev. 27:4). Here we see Hosea offering 15 pieces of silver and some low quality food. The settlement on 15 shekels gives an indication of the low-worth or the perceived value into which she had now descended. The word “bought” used here indicates a haggling or bargaining on Hosea’s part, or what we might call negotiating the price that he would pay. As the purchase process goes, the homer and a lethech of barley may have been intended for use to support Gomer. In other words, already stripped naked of her clothing, jewels, and makeup with which she had once adorned herself to attract her lovers and now stripped of any delicacies in which she indulged from her income, she is now left with nothing but “black bread” and a paltry amount of money to sustain her. Calvin comments, “the parsimonious gift, a sum of money which was but half the price of a female slave, and a pittance of black barley bread, typified the hard fare which the Israelites were to expect at the hand of God in their state of exile.” The scene is reminiscent of the aforementioned Wilderness Generation that was led through the desert, stripped bare of the rich foods from Egypt which had become the expectation of their palates, and were left to rely on the providential hand of God for lowly manna and water.
Here we have Gomer on the auction block as it were, stripped naked and bare, ashamed before all those men with whom she had previous relations who now do not want to pay for her, but instead revile her. She is simply reaping the wages of her sin. Sins resultant destitution is not limited to Gomer or Israel, but is universal in its spoiling of all mankind. The wages of sin is death; it’s what it requires and what it pays. It cannot pony up 15 pieces of silver or even worthless bread. Sin always promises what it is powerless to deliver. Only one man is left to redeem her, Hosea, her original husband.
Dear Christian if this isn’t a beautiful picture of God’s redeeming love and the price that He paid, much more than 15 pieces of silver, rather the infinite worth of His Son’s shed blood, then there is nothing more that may move our hearts to worship. The Lord Jesus redeemed His bride with His own precious blood. There was no merit in her, nor did any of her adulterers show up with a competing bid. Far from being a trivial amount, it was of infinite worth so that she might realize her own value is not found in herself, but in Him alone to the extent that she might say with all affection of a heart overjoyed with gratitude, My Beloved.
3 And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.”
Sweeping color now across the canvas of our Gospel portrait we arrive at verse 3 and read of Hosea’s stipulations to his humbled bride. First, we may note the possessive language by which he addresses her and then the time period of “many days” given. By way of analogy, this applies well to God’s faithless bride Israel. During this extended period, Hosea instructs her that she will definitively no longer participate in whoredom or have intimate relations with any man, including himself. This deprivation of her most distorted desires are for her purification. This is the hedging-in period toward which God had alluded in Hosea 2:6. She has been publically purchased, will come into possession of Hosea, and will no longer participate in her wanton behaviors. Not only would their marital bed be undefiled, but their marital bed would remain abandoned for an extended time.
Christ redeemed His bride at the cross through the shedding of His blood in the marital (New) Covenant that He now mediates. She has been betrothed to Him, yet she is undergoing the time of her purification until He returns for His bride and consummates their relationship with the celebration of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Of the New Covenant promises, one is purification through the “sprinkling of water” (Ezek. 36:25) a picture that recalls the ceremonial cleansing of Levitical law (Lev. 17:15-16; 22:6; Num. 19;19-21). The symbolic act of Hosea withholding marital relations from Gomer for the purpose of purification would seem to correspond with this anticipated action by God toward His own bride.
4 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods.
As this chapter develops even further we find a transition out of the analogy with Hosea and Gomer towards a clearer picture of God’s relationship with Israel. This verse begins with the second address concerning the “children of Israel” which again appears in contradistinction with “Israel”. Nevertheless, the promise is that the children will be absent king or prince, sacrifice or pillar, ephod or household gods. These accoutrements seem to have a national flavor lending itself to the idea that very gifts that God had bestowed to the nation Israel originally, established under the dynasty of David and now abused and drowned in syncretism by the rogue Northern Kingdom, would be entirely stripped from her. The indication of “household gods” punctuates the negative connotation that this list carries.
The natural, sinful condition of man’s heart always inclines him to distort the good desires and gifts that God has bestowed upon him or her through His grace. It was no different in Israel’s day through the rampant wickedness that ruled on the throne to the idolatries that the priests led the people into, to the unholy sacrifices offered on the altars. From the public worship to the private closet, the idolatries of the heart were Israel’s undoing and theirs is a picture not too unfamiliar from our own. Thanks be to God that He has not only sprinkled His bride with clean water, but that through our purification He has removed all our idols. The prophet Ezekiel makes this connection through his own unfolding of the gospel covenant, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” Ezek. 36:25 Hosea 3:4 is nothing less than this promise by God to remove the idols from the heart of His own bride. It would not be sufficient to be washed clean if the tub of mud remained within her reach.
5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.”
Our third mention of the children of Israel in this passage comports well with Hosea’s development of a recurring series of three’s throughout the opening chapters of his prophecy (see VERSES 3:4) and introduces the first indications of positive actions that they will accomplish through the sovereign grace of God. First we see a return to the Lord. A return, or turning, involves a change in disposition or what we call repentance. It is forsaking the path that one was on and essentially turning in the opposite direction.
Secondly, we see the children of Israel will seek the Lord. Seeking carries with it the idea of acting on one’s desire. Scripture is replete with verses that indicate God will be found when He is sought with the whole heart. Like the merchant in search of fine pearls who gives himself over completely for the Pearl of Great Price, so too will the children of Israel seek the Lord their God and David their King. This necessarily implies a change of heart from one that was seeking idols under every green tree and every public square to one that now seeks the Lord God. Given the removal of idols and subsequent desires for them, those desires are supplanted with fresh desires to seek after God. Notice now the reciprocal possession, this time of the bride for the bridegroom, “their God” indicating a complete reversal of Baalism that was rampant in Israel.
Thirdly, they “shall come in fear of the Lord and his goodness”. This is a striking statement and few commenters offer thoughts on this phrase, so I shall tread lightly. We may ask, why would they return in fear of the Lord AND His goodness? It’s possible that what is being conveyed here is the transition from fearing God as Holy Judge towards fearing God has Holy Father, or to keep the metaphor alive, as a Holy Husband. The difference is significant. The former fears the wrath of God hovering over them with pending judgment. The latter stands in awe and reverence of God who with compassion and tenderness has redeemed for Himself a people. What is described here is nothing short of an increased knowledge of God at an intimate level not previously known or experienced.
In this verse, placed in terms that are easily understood, is the fruit of a regenerate heart that repents, seeks, and fears the Lord God and it is the direct product of the chastisement that they have undergone. Dear Christians, what a profound and beautiful picture of the Gospel. That the Lord God should be so inclined through His love and mercy to redeem a people for Himself, giving them hearts to seek after Him. How can it be that He would condescend to save those who rebelled against Him? How can it be that He would give His Son for an idolatrous and sinful people? Surely He would have been just to destroy mankind once and for all. Yet for His own glory He has saved some, as in the day of Noah.
Two phrases remain to be addressed, namely the presence of “David their king” and the time period given, “in the latter days”. Each phrase has historically carried with it some interpretive difficulties. The mention of a king here is a reversal of verse 4, “children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince” and brings to completion the chastisement that they were to undergo. This implies either 1) A resurrection of King David along with the anticipation of a return to former glory or 2) The expectation of a Greater David and the hope of a greater glory.
The fulfillment of this promise seems more likely with the latter option in the person of Jesus Christ who is in Himself the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. Simply stated, Hosea 3:5 is a prophecy concerning the Messianic arrival, coronation, and ascension of King Jesus at which time He will draw all His people to Himself. Held together with the phrase “latter days” we arrive at the prophetic perspective common among Old Testament prophets who so often express the unfolding plan of God as though it were a single event. Thus the expectation of 1st Century Palestine for a Messianic King that would restore the Kingdom of Israel, not a Suffering Servant dying at the hands of sinful men for the purpose of redeeming a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. While the Prophet does not give a clear indication of when these events may occur, the progressive revelation of God inclines one to see the inauguration of this at Christ’s First Advent and the expected consummation at Christ’s Second Advent. It is this interadvental period that the King-Preist, Jesus Christ, is both ruling and reigning drawing a people to Himself.
Summarizing the Gospel According to Hosea:
- The Love of God for His people (vs. 1)
- The Redemption by God for His people (vs. 2)
- The Purification by God for His people (vs. 3)
- The Refinement by God for His people (vs. 4)
- The Consummation of God with His people in the person of Jesus Christ, the King-Priest (vs. 5)
Seemingly, Dr. Boice was not far off when he declared this to be the greatest chapter in Scripture and it’s not found in the Gospels, the Epistles, or even the New Testament. But it’s found in an oft-overlooked, dusty, neglected book of the Old Testament. Surely, our Lord was right when He declared to His apostles that all things written in the Law, Prophets, and Psalms were testifying of Him (Luke 24).
We were bought with a price. Worthless, yet purchased with the precious blood of Christ. We were purified and made ready for our Bridegroom and we now wait with baited breath for His return.
May our hearts be more inclined toward Christ after meditating on this passage and may our biblical reading and understanding be broadened to include not only the New Testament, but the Old as well such that our minds would be opened to see the gloriousness of the Gospel in the latter and the majesty of God in the fulfillment of all that He promised through His Son in the former.
Soli Deo Gloria!