The Lord commanded Hosea to name his firstborn son Jezreel, a word that sums up the message of this great northern kingdom prophet (Hos. 1:4).
“Jezreel” in Hebrew is yizre’el, an ambivalent term that can mean both “God scatters” and “God sows.” Hosea’s message is that those who “backslide,” or turn from righteousness, will be scattered, while those who return to him will be “sown,” to thrive and grow into an eternal family: “I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (2:23).
Hosea thus teaches the simple lesson of two ways: We can turn from God and receive no mercy (lo–ruhama, the name of his second child) or turn back towards God and receive mercy (ruhama, the second child’s new name) (1:6; 2:1). We can desert Him and be no part of His family (lo-ammi, the name of the third child) or rejoin the family (ammi, “my people,” the third child’s new name).
Because of their backsliding ways, the family of Israel was scattered by the armies of Assyria and Babylon soon after the era of Hosea. In this way, the warning the Lord gave through Moses was fulfilled: “I will scatter you among the heathen [the nations], and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste” (Lev. 26:33).
The same warning applies to those who abandon their covenants in our time. In the words of Brother Ahmad S. Corbitt, “The adversary . . . robs them of their true mission [the gathering of Israel]. He effectively turns the gatherers into scatterers” (“How Activism Against the Church Can Blind, Mislead ‘Valiant’ Souls,” Church News, Nov. 1, 2022). An important question for us today: Are we gatherers or scatterers?
For Hosea, the apostasy of Israel was more than just the breaking of a contract: It was a rupture in a family relationship that had been sealed by covenant at Mt. Sinai. Hosea’s marriage to an adulteress symbolizes Israel’s infidelity to this covenant (1:2-3). “She hath played the harlot . . . she hath done shamefully: for she said, I will go after my lovers” (2:5). In this sense, if we turn from the covenant path after some other god—whether it’s wealth, self-indulgence, recreation, carnality, social status, or even some supposed ideal or principle—we show that we cannot be trusted until we return to the path.
The Spirit withdraws from us if we are unfaithful to our covenants. Hosea symbolizes this withdrawal by a loss of access to the ordinances of the gospel: “The meat offering and the drink offering is cut off from the house of the Lord; the priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn. The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth” (Joel 1:9-10). These tokens of the ordinances are similar to those of our time: The corn represents the bread and the wine the water of the sacrament, along with the anointing oil of the temple. But when we return wholeheartedly to the Lord, we regain access to the ordinances: “The earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil” (“hear” should probably be translated as “return” or “answer”) (Hos. 2:22).
In the rigid patriarchal culture of ancient Israel, the bride was expected to be unblemished by sin. Any ritual or moral failing in her could disqualify her from marriage or even lead to public punishment. If the groom discovered such a failing in the bride, he could renounce her publicly (“put her away privily,” as Joseph considered doing with Mary) or redeem her. The groom had the right to proclaim his bride’s purity even if she wasn’t pure, but only if he paid the price for her sin. The groom did this by paying a sum of money called the mohar.
The mohar can be seen as a token of the Atonement of Christ, in the spirit of Paul’s admonition, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:25-26). Like the merciful husband, the Savior has the right to proclaim repentant souls sinless because of his atoning sacrifice.
For his part, the Savior consecrated Himself completely, sacrificing everything—His glory on high, His blood, even His life—to make possible our eternal life. He is perfectly loyal to the marriage covenant: “I [the Lord] will betroth thee [the house of Israel] 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” (Hos. 2:19-20). The Father’s promise to the faithful “bride” is “eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent” (D&C 132:24).
In Joel’s time, people would show insincere piety by tearing their clothing. True repentance doesn’t require that kind of showing off: “Now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Joel 2:12-13).
Although some may slide off the path, if they get back on and try their best to keep their covenants, the Lord says, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree. . . . They that dwell under his shadow shall return” (Hos. 14:4-7).
In other words, they will enjoy eternal increase. Their families will grow like olive trees, they will be firmly rooted in the Savior, their branches will spread, and their posterity in the eternities will be beautiful.
The lesson in the name Jezreel is simple. On the one hand, “God scatters.” If you choose to abandon your Savior, your families will scatter to the winds like chaff. Precious children will grow up not knowing the Lord, and generations will be lost. “Tell ye your children of it,” says Joel, “and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten” (Joel 1:3-4).
On the other hand, Jezreel also means “God sows.” If you repent, He will “restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten” (Joel 2:25). “I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith” (Joel 2:19). He promises to restore blessings to the repentant soul, to provide access to his saving ordinances, and to give us the fulness of His glory.