Samuel Butler, a famous nineteenth-century novelist, once said this about Christ and the church: “If he were to apply for a divorce on the grounds of cruelty, adultery and desertion, he would probably get one” (Samuel Butler’s Notebooks, p. 58). Butler’s quote illustrates a vital truth — the relationship between the Lord and His people is like a marriage (Jer. 2:1–2; Ezek. 16:1–58), and their unfaithfulness to Him is as bad as — even worse than — a spouse’s extramarital affair. This teaching is found throughout Scripture, but it is particularly clear in the book of Hosea.
Hosea was an eighth-century BC prophet who was sent to the northern kingdom of Israel to prosecute God’s covenant. This same northern kingdom was eventually sent into exile because the people were unrepentant in their worship of Baal and other false gods (2 Kings 17:7–23). Discontent to stay with the husband who loved her, Israel committed adultery again and again, never heeding the warnings of Hosea and thus suffering the consequences.
Hosea’s prophecy is the Word of God to us today, and we must learn from his message. This prophet is a fascinating figure, partly because the Lord sent him to preach not only in word but also in deed. We see how this is the case in today’s passage when, at the beginning of his ministry, Hosea was told to take an adulterous woman as his wife. The prophet represented Yahweh, the covenant Lord of Israel, and Gomer, his wife, represented the wayward nation of Israel. In observing Gomer’s unfaithfulness to Hosea, Israel would be reminded of her own spiritual adultery and faithlessness to Yahweh (Hos. 1:2–3).
What is remarkable about Hosea’s message is not that Israel was an adulterous wife but that God determined not to remove His love totally from her. Though He speaks so as to reject His people in 1:4–9, we later learn that this manner of speaking is hyperbole and that the covenant community will not be abandoned totally. More than a few will be rescued from adultery, and the community of Israel will once again be the beautiful bride of Yahweh (vv. 10–11). Today this is being fulfilled as Jesus takes the church as His bride by faith, adding Jew and Gentile alike to the Israel of God — His one redeemed people (Rom. 11; Rev. 19:6–9).