The book of Hosea is a grand parable of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. Its primary purpose is to illustrate how far-reaching is that Atonement and to entice us back into the arms of our Savior’s love.
One key to understanding this book is in the name of the prophet who wrote it: Hosea means “the Salvation.” In other words, the prophet stands in similitude of the Savior Jesus, whose name in Hebrew is “Yeshua,” or “the Salvation of Jehovah.” The two names are very close in meaning.
To begin with, the Lord commands Hosea to take to wife a harlot named “Gomer the daughter of Diblaim” (1:3). Again, names are important keys to understanding. “Gomer” means something like “to be completed or perfected.” As a woman with an unfaithful heart, she needed the love of Hosea and of Hosea’s God to perfect her life. Her father’s name, “Diblaim,” refers to the unholy offerings made to idols. Gomer, therefore, stands for the house of Israel in its sinful rejection of sacred covenants and in its turning to the worship of false gods. Hosea stands for the Lord Jesus Christ, ever watchful, concerned, yearning, and enticing his beloved to return to him.
Our Savior loves Israel, even in the depth of sinfulness. His devotion to Israel is like that of a long-suffering husband to a self-destructive wife. The book of Hosea shows us how the Lord pays for our sins, and “allures” us back to Himself. We need to see this book as about God’s love for us, and how he reaches out to us no matter how imperfect we are.
The Two Sins of Israel
Hosea takes Gomer to wife and by him she bears three children with emblematic names. The first child is Jezreel, so named to remind us of the bloody wars Israel had fought and would fight in the plain of Jezreel, which is Armageddon. War is the consequence of man’s evil. The second, Lo-Ruhamah (“no mercy”), is to remind us that mercy cannot rob justice (Alma 42:25). The third, Lo-Ammi (“not my people”), is to remind us that those who break their covenants cannot expect to belong to the family of the Lord.
Even after these clear reminders, Gomer abandons her husband and children—just as Israel abandoned the covenants made at Sinai and forgot the consequences of doing so. Gomer turns back to her adulteries because of the two governing sins she refuses to forsake: lust for riches and sexual immorality.
In chapter 10, the prophet likens Israel to a beast of burden enslaved to the plow, unable to escape from two furrows in the field. “It is in my desire that I should chastise them,” the Lord says, “when they shall bind themselves in their two furrows” (10:10). The Hebrew words translated here as “two furrows” (lishte onotam) can also be translated as “two sins.” (i)
The “two furrows” represent the Israelite addiction to money and lust, Satan’s chief enticements. Hosea can see that Israel has plowed deeply for a long time in those two furrows, and they have become second nature. These two evils have grown grooves into the heart of Israel. “O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah,” the Lord reminds them (10:9), calling up once again that horrifying episode of robbery, rape, and murder recounted in Judges 19:16-27. Since that time, Israel’s has again and again relapsed into the pattern of Gibeah, the Lord says, and this pattern of self-destruction is what makes Israel “a harlot.”
I Will Go After My Lovers
“She hath played the harlot,” Hosea mourns, “for she said I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink” (2:5). She wants “corn and wine and oil,” she wants “earrings and jewels” (2:13). Israel’s covetousness for the things of the world has enticed her away from her marriage covenant with God.
Like the Prodigal Son, Gomer is enticed away by the glitter of this world and falls for the fraudulent promises of materialism. We learn that Israel’s treacherous and corrupt business dealings have condemned her. “He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress. And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin” (12:7). In other words, they are cheating businessmen who use dishonest scales.
We are told that they “remove the bound” (5:10), which means they surreptitiously move boundary markers so they can claim land that isn’t theirs.
But they feel perfectly self-justified in defrauding others: “Nobody can accuse me of doing anything that’s actually illegal,” say the ethically challenged merchants of Hosea’s time—and of our own time.
In case we may think that Latter-day Saints are above this sort of thing, it’s shamefully true that Utah—the most Mormon state in the USA—has a “lingering reputation as the fraud capital of the country.” (ii)
Sexual immorality and substance abuse are closely tied to this destructive materialism. “Whoredom and wine take away the heart” (4:11). “Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually: her rulers with shame do love” (4:18). A better translation of this verse is found in the New English Bible: “They consume their alcohol, then engage in cult prostitution; they dearly love their shameful behavior.”
They Shall Reap the Whirlwind
For Israel, the consequences of breaking their covenants are both temporal and eternal. “I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath said, These are my rewards that my lovers have given me” (2:12). Israel’s ill-gotten prosperity will dry up in the wind, and the entire nation will be exiled into slavery. To Gomer, the Lord says, “I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths.” Israel will wander in a physical and spiritual wilderness, unable to find her way in this world. “They shall not dwell in the Lord’s land; but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean things in Assyria. . . . Egypt shall gather them up, Memphis [the Egyptian capital] shall bury them” (9:3, 6).
These prophecies literally came true not long after Hosea’s death. In 722 BCE, the Assyro-Babylonian king defeated Israel and deported the Ten Tribes to Assyria. In the 6th Century BCE, the Judahites were deported to Babylon, while many escaped to Egypt. (iii) As Hosea prophesied, “They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. . . . Israel is swallowed up” among the nations (8:7-8) Since that time, Israel is scattered, “mixed among the people . . . and they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek him for all this” (7:8, 10).
Further, we are reminded that the consequences of violating our covenants can be everlasting. Those who reject the covenants of the Lord will not enjoy exaltation. “Their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception” (9:14). In other words, the glory which is in the promise of eternal increase will be denied to them (see D&C 132:19, 21). They will not bear children. “Their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit” (Hosea 9:16).
I Will Betroth Thee unto Me Forever
“O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself,” the Lord mourns. “But in me is thine help” (13:9). Despite this bleak picture, throughout the book of Hosea, the Lord continually holds out the promise of the gathering of Israel, the assurances of the Atonement, and the possibilities of salvation for the repentant.
Out of the captivity of Egypt (the lone and dreary wilderness of this world), comes the One who will save Israel from self-destruction. Hosea records this great pronouncement of our Heavenly Father: “I called my son out of Egypt” (11:1) We learn in Matthew that the infant Jesus was carried to Egypt for safekeeping “and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Matt. 2:15). In the last days, all Israel will be gathered to the Son of God, as Hosea prophesies: “Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head,” the Lord Jesus Christ (1:11).
In similitude of his own seeking out after scattered Israel, the Lord commands Hosea to seek out once again his unfaithful wife and take her back (3:1). “Behold,” the Lord says, “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably to her” (2:14). The Lord is continually “alluring” us, whispering to us, enticing us back into His arms. We are reminded that it is through yielding to the “enticings of the Holy Spirit” that we can put off the natural man and become saints. (iv) Of these allurements, Elder Kenneth Johnson has said: “These intimations, sometimes referred to as conscience but more accurately defined as the Light of Christ, not only help us in deciding what is right and what is wrong, they will, if followed, lead us to the source of that light which emanates from the presence of the Father and the Son.
When Hosea’s daughter “No Mercy” is born, the Lord promises “I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by the bow, nor by sword, nor by battle” (1:7). From this, Israel should understand that deliverance from their enemies will not come through warfare but through the power of God. President Spencer W. Kimball has pointed out that we today are very much like ancient Israel:
“We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teachings.” (vi)
At the birth of the prophet’s son “Not My People,” the Lord held out this promise: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sands of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there is shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God” (1:10). To those who repent, the Lord guarantees mercy and the exalting blessings of Abraham “which cannot be measured or numbered.”
The repentant become part of the family of Jesus Christ, as Hosea teaches with an appropriate similitude: “At that day, saith the Lord, thou shalt call me Ishi [my husband]; and shalt call me no more Baali [my master]” (2:16). Genuine repentance changes entirely our relationship with the Savior. We are no longer slaves to the merciless mastery of Justice; we are married to the mercies of God, members of His covenant family, under His protection. We belong to Him.
Hosea teaches that the assurance of the Atonement is victory over death both temporal and spiritual. “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction” (13:14).
And to the repentant and obedient come the greatest of all blessings. “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord,” which is the very definition of eternal life (2:19-20).
In the end, Gomer, the unfaithful one who returns to the covenant, finds far more love than she can imagine. Like Gomer, repentant Israel is forgiven and taken back into the loving arms of the Savior, an errant wife in the arms of a forgiving husband who is bound eternally to her.
To Latter-day Saints, Hosea’s image of the righteous and eternal betrothal is profoundly resonant of the promises of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. There is a beautiful similitude between knowing the Lord and the eternal marriage relationship. It is a relationship of righteousness, of loving kindness, of mercy, of unshakeable faithfulness; and it is forever. That kind of unity, that kind of “at-one-ness,” seems to be a precondition of knowing God, as the Doctrine and Covenants teaches:
“If a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law . . . and abide in my covenant . . . they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things. . . which glory shall be a fullness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. . . . This is eternal lives—the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.” (vii)
Hosea’s attitude to his wife Gomer was like the Savior’s attitude to the children of Israel. As President Henry B. Eyring says, “This was a love story. This was a story of a marriage covenant bound by love, by steadfast love. . . . The Lord, with whom I am blessed to have made covenants, loves me, and you, . . . with a steadfastness about which I continually marvel and which I want with all my heart to emulate.” (viii) Every husband and wife can learn how to nurture their relationship from the tender example of the Savior toward us, even in our imperfections.
And for all of us who truly repent and rely on the merits of Jesus Christ, the promise is sure: “Behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Ne. 1:15).
i. See the New English Bible, Hosea 10:10, note 28.
ii. Janice Peterson, “Investment Fraud Rampant in Utah County,” Provo Daily Herald, Feb. 28, 2010.
iii. See Jer. 42:17.
iv. Mosiah 3:19.
v. Kenneth Johnson, “Yielding to the Enticings of the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, Nov 2002, 89.
vi. Spencer W. Kimball, “The False Gods We Worship,” Ensign, Jun 1976, 3
vii. D&C 132:19,24.
viii. Henry B. Eyring, “Covenants and Sacrifice,” Church Educational System Symposium, Aug. 15, 1995, 2.