A Woman Nobody Wants: Lessons from the Toughest Marriage
If there was a wedding, it had to be one of the most awkward in history.
Many marriages start out happy and then descend into misery for years (maybe even months), but this was different. This marriage was not doomed to disaster; it was a tragedy before the dress hit the aisle. The whole town knew what kind of girl she was. Many men knew this first hand. As the groom pronounced his vows, “I take you for better or for worse. . .” the idea of worse, even at the altar, sounded like a terrible understatement. And the idea of betterlike a naive fantasy.
As he stood there, he knew exactly what he was getting into. He knew tears were waiting to be shed. He knew how many long nights he could sleep alone, wondering where she could be, if she was safe, what man could hold her. He knew the awful conversations he could have with their children. He knew – and yet he married her anyway. He took her for his own. Why?
The Lord said to Hosea: “Go, take for yourself a wife of prostitution and have children of prostitution, for the land is committing great prostitution by forsaking the Lord. So he went and took Gomer, Diblaim’s daughter. (Hosea 1:2-3)
We don’t know if Hosea and Gomer had a typical Hebrew ceremony, but their wedding would have received a lot of attention. It was supposed to. As the two became one, God caught the wandering eyes of his unfaithful people.
When God told Hosea to take this cowardly woman as a legally married wife, he was making a statement – a loud and offensive statement. “Why her, Lord? Hosea could have rightly asked. “Because the country is committing great whoredom in forsaking the Lord.” Their love for me has become cold and complacent, they take my grain, my wine and my protection for granted, and they lie, again and again, with the gods of this world. Not just prostitution, but great prostitution. They passionately worship the altars of carnal pleasure, abundance, comfort, pride, and then dare to come home and offer me what little they have left.
And God had warned them. But they wouldn’t listen, so he painted a picture for them instead – a dark, shameful, painful picture. He planned a wedding that no one would want to attend. He held up a mirror and made them want to look away. He sent Hosea to love and cherish Gomer, “a woman of whoredom.” A bride who could not be trusted. A bitter paradox.
The kind of bitch he liked
What made Gomer such a whore? We are not told much, but we encounter it through the adultery of God’s people.
Wayward Israel shows us that Gomer was the kind of woman who says, “I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink” (Hosea 2:5 ). In other words, I don’t get what I want at home, so I will look for a man who will give me what I want. She was the kind of woman who took what her husband provided and used it to attract and please other men (Hosea 2:8; see James 4:3). She was the kind of woman who acknowledged to other men all that her husband had done for her (Hosea 2:12). She was the kind of woman unworthy of a good man.
And yet he loved her. Hosea chose it, searched for it, bought it, and like his. “So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, ‘You must remain as mine for many days. belong to another man, so shall I also be to you” (Hosea 3:2-3) Can you hear the sermon that God had prepared? Israel, let me show you who you really are – and let me show you who I really am. Without Hosea’s devotion, their marriage, like so many other marriages, would have preached nothing but worldliness, selfishness, and alienation. It might have painted sinful Israel, but it would have been graffiti on the love of God.
The unrelenting love of a faithful husband, however, made the prostitute an emblem of mercy and their marriage a miracle of grace.
Homily of the Marriage of Heaven
Their marriage would have been shocking not primarily because of Gomer’s battered and tattered history, but because of the strange and unexpected brightness of her eyes, eyes that were shadows of the loving eyes of heaven. Feel the sudden contrast midway through these lines:
I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals
when she burned offerings to them
and adorned herself with her ring and jewels,
and went after her lovers
and forgot me, declares the Lord.
Therefore, behold, I will seduce her,
and lead her into the desert,
and talk to him tenderly. (Hosea 2:13-14)
She dressed for another man. She slipped off the ring I had bought her. When she left, she walked past our children. And even when the other man didn’t want her, she chased him away. She spent everything to have it. And she forgot me. Therefore . . . what? How would you finish this sentence after such a betrayal?
“God wants the woman no man wants. He woos the woman most men would have abandoned.
Therefore, I will seduce her. This is the culmination of this sermon called marriage: God wants the woman that no man would want. After all she’s done to make him leave, her love is burning. He woos the woman most men would have abandoned. And he will have it, even if it will cost him the worst possible price. Some day soon his Son would come and be called No Mercy (Hosea 1:6), so that we, the woman of prostitution, might be called beloved.
As God watches the bride he rescued from slavery plunge into adultery, he knows full well that he will one day bring her home. He promises to find her, save her and woo her.
I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in goodness and mercy. I will betroth you to me in fidelity. And you will know the Lord. (Hosea 2:19-20)
He repeats himself three times because he knows how inconceivable, even scandalous this love would be: “I will betroth you. . . . I will betroth you. . . . I will betroth you. . . .” Repetition drives a stake of hope into all our fears that God will not forgive us. “I can forgive. . . . I will forgive. . . . I will love you as if you were never gone.
Notice that he says, “I’ll betroth you,” not just, “I’ll take you back.” Ray Ortlund insists on the wonder of this love:
The mystery of grace revealed here is a promise of covenant renewal – though even the word renewal is weak, for this oracle not only promises the revitalization of the old marriage but the creation of a new one. . . . The ugly past will be forgotten and they will start over, as if nothing had happened. (God’s Unfaithful Bride70)
The wife of prostitution was received as the embodiment of purity – as the most desirable wife. The night of forgiveness and reconciliation was like a wedding night. No matter what she saw in the mirror, her eyes now told her that she was new and irresistible, her “lily among the brambles” (Song of Solomon 2:2). When Hosea went to the altar and resolved to revel in his adulterous wife, he preached a text that had not yet been written:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having purified her by washing with water with the word, that he might present himself Church in its splendour, spotless. or wrinkle or something like that, so that it may be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Premarital counseling from a prophet
What could Hosea’s love for Gomer mean for weddings today? Although we are not prophets charged with marrying prostitutes, our marriages are prophetic in their own way.
Like Hosea’s countercultural love, every faithful Christian marriage resists and confronts a sin-loving world. Each faithful spouse is a foil for the ugliness and destructiveness of our mutiny against God – and a beacon drawing more sinners into His mercy. Every wish that holds, despite all the reasons to leave, tells someone that true love exists, that forgiveness is possible, that there is more to life than Satan can offer.
“Who could see your wedding and be freed from worldly and empty lifestyles?”
We don’t know how many in Israel saw Hosea, realized the pitiful meagerness of their earthly lives, and went deep with God again. Who could see your marriage and be freed from worldly and empty lifestyles? Who could finally meet God because you stayed, loved, forgave and pursued your spouse?
If Hosea and Gomer teach us anything about marriage, it’s that God’s love shines through us the most when marriage is most difficult. Can you bear to believe that? Happy, flourishing marriages can sing the gospel in big, brilliant major chords, but the minor chords of difficult, devoted marriages are often all the more striking. Their beauty is haunting to be so much harder to explain.
The particularly difficult aspects of our marriages can truly become the greatest milestones of true love – to show what it means to be chosen, forgiven and cherished by God through Christ. It’s the glory of marriage commitmentand its rays are strongest when they shine through our weaknesses and marital struggles.