She will pursue her lovers but not catch them; she will seek them but not find them. Then she will think, “I will go back to my former husband, for then it was better for me than now.” She does not recognize that it is I who gave her the grain, the new wine, and the oil. I lavished silver and gold on her, which they used for Baal.
Three launchpads for meditation. The first launchpad digs into the metaphor of Israel as an unfaithful wife. Chapters 1-3 tell the story of Hosea’s adulterous wife Gomer. Although they had three children together, Gomer commits adultery. However, despite Gomer’s unfaithfulness, God tells Hosea to find her, pay off her debts, and love her once again.
The shattered but then rebuilt marriage serves as a symbol of the relationship between God and the Israelites. Like a marriage, they entered into a covenant agreement with God. Although God was faithful, Israel was not. They served other gods just like Gomer served other lovers.
But the story of Hosea and Gomer does not end with a broken relationship, and neither does the story between God and Israel. The message of Hosea is that although Israel will experience exile because of their disloyalty, God will bring Israel back to Him. God will rescue Israel and renew the covenant just like Hosea rescues Gomer and restores the marriage.
Of course, the metaphor not only applies to ancient Israel, but to present-day, imperfect followers of Jesus. Although we may be devoted to Jesus like Gomer was initially devoted to Hosea and the Israelites to Yahweh, we are often adulterous. We give our loyalty and love to the false gods of money, pride, comfort, success, family, friends, or anything else that we prioritize over King Jesus. But the beauty of the metaphor is that although we may be disloyal, God remains loyal. No matter how unfaithful we have been, God remains faithful.
The second launchpad for meditation focuses on verses 7-8, the specifics of Israel’s unfaithfulness, and how God will draw Israel back to himself. Israel, as characterized by Gomer, is pursuing, or literally, hunting down other lovers. It is an intentional and intense pursuit of false lovers or false gods. So distorted is Israel’s relationship with their God, that they misattribute God’s blessings as blessings bestowed by Baal.
Israel turns to Baal, who they see as a fertility and weather god. As an agrarian society living in a desert region with rainfall only concentrated in the winter and early spring months, life was fragile for the Israelites. No rain meant no crops, and no crops meant no life. Drawn back to their Canaanite context, Israel worships Baal. They credit Baal with providing “the grain, the new wine, and the oil”, which is being used as a synecdoche for overall agricultural blessings.
Additionally, Israel credits their “gold and silver”, that is, their overall economic prosperity, to Baal. Indeed, they use the abundance that they actually received from God, not to worship God, but to worship Baal. Israel has dishonored God by honoring Baal. Because they misattribute God’s blessings to Baal, Israel is actively pursuing Baal.
So, to draw Israel back to Himself, God will cut off the blessings. Israel will no longer experience health and wealth in the land. They will be taken over by other nations and sent into exile. While there will be punishment, it is not meant as ultimate destruction, but instead as the means to bring Israel true life, a right relationship with their God.
Although today we are unlikely to worship ancient Canaanite gods, we may fail to recognize God’s provisions in our lives. Indeed, we may use what God has blessed us with to dishonor Him. So, I do not want to be like Gomer, but instead I want to lean into the words of James 1:17 and recognize that every good and perfect gift comes down to us from God our Father.
The third launchpad for meditation places these verses within the cultural context of the patron-client relationship. Thus, a quick overview of the patronage system. The book Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures, provides a clear and concise definition: “Patronage refers to a reciprocal relationship between two unequal parties. The superior patron provides material goods to a client, and the client repays with nonmaterial goods such as loyalty, obedience or gratitude.”
For example, a relatively poor person in the community who is hosting a party, may seek out a wealthy patron to provide a goat for the feast. The poor host (the client) reciprocates by praising the wealthy patron in front of the guests. The poor host (the client) receives the goat while the wealthy person (the patron) receives the praise.
Within the Ancient Near East, patron-client relationships were common. Thus, it should not be surprising that throughout the Bible God is portrayed as a patron and humans the clients. For example, in the Genesis creation accounts, God provides humans with a wonderful world to live in. As clients, humans should be compelled to return to our patron God, loyalty, obedience, and gratitude. However, as humans we rebelled and did not honor God.
But God reinstates the patron-client relationship with the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12:2-3, where God says, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God will bless Israel, and Israel is to respond with praise and loyalty for their divine patron. Indeed, in the Feast of the Harvest, as described in Deuteronomy 26:11, the Israelites were to “rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household”.
But Hosea 2:7-8 describes Israel shaming their true patron (the one true God) by honoring Baal as an alternative patron. Rather than giving to God their loyalty, obedience, and gratitude, Israel takes Baal as another patron.
Once again, today we are unlikely to worship ancient Canaanite gods, but we may dishonor God by giving our ultimate loyalty, obedience, and gratitude to the false gods of money, comfort, and success. So, my prayer today is to see God as the source of true blessings and honor Him appropriately with all of my life.
Hosea: An Introduction and Commentary (Hubbard 2015)
Hosea, Joel: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (Garrett 1997):