« Prev Chapter XIV. The Story of the Prodigal Wife Next »

232

CHAPTER XIV

THE STORY OF THE PRODIGAL WIFE

Hosea i.-iii.

It has often been remarked that, unlike the first Doomster of Israel, Israel's first Evangelist was one of themselves, a native and citizen, perhaps even a priest, of the land to which he was sent. This appears even in his treatment of the stage and soil of his ministry. Contrast him in this respect with Amos.

In the Book of Amos we have few glimpses of the scenery of Israel, and these always by flashes of the lightnings of judgment: the towns in drought or earthquake or siege; the vineyards and orchards under locusts or mildew; Carmel itself desolate, or as a hiding-place from God's wrath.

But Hosea's love steals across his whole land like the dew, provoking every separate scent and colour, till all Galilee lies before us, lustrous and fragrant as nowhere else outside the parables of Jesus. The Book of Amos, when it would praise God's works, looks to the stars. But the poetry of Hosea clings about his native soil like its trailing vines. If he appeals to the heavens, it is only that they may speak to the earth, and the earth to the corn and the wine, and the corn and the wine to Jezreel.450450   ii. 23, Heb. Even the wild beasts—and Hosea233 tells us of their cruelty almost as much as Amos—he cannot shut out of the hope of his love: I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground.451451   ii. 20, Heb. God's love-gifts to His people are corn and wool, flax and oil; while spiritual blessings are figured in the joys of them who sow and reap. With Hosea we feel all the seasons of the Syrian year: early rain and latter rain, the first flush of the young corn, the scent of the vine blossom, the first ripe fig of the fig-tree in her first season, the bursting of the lily; the wild vine trailing on the hedge, the field of tares, the beauty of the full olive in sunshine and breeze; the mists and heavy dews of a summer morning in Ephraim, the night winds laden with the air of the mountains, the scent of Lebanon.452452   vi. 3, 4; vii. 8; ix. 10; xiv. 6, 7, 8. Or it is the dearer human sights in valley and field: the smoke from the chimney, the chaff from the threshing-floor, the doves startled to their towers, the fowler and his net; the breaking up of the fallow ground, the harrowing of the clods, the reapers, the heifer that treadeth out the corn; the team of draught oxen surmounting the steep road, and at the top the kindly driver setting in food to their jaws.453453   vii. 11, 12; x. 11; xi. 4, etc.

Where, I say, do we find anything like this save in the parables of Jesus? For the love of Hosea was as the love of that greater Galilean: however high, however lonely it soared, it was yet rooted in the common life below, and fed with the unfailing grace of a thousand homely sources.

But just as the Love which first showed itself in the234 sunny Parables of Galilee passed onward to Gethsemane and the Cross, so the love of Hosea, that had wakened with the spring lilies and dewy summer mornings of the North, had also, ere his youth was spent, to meet its agony and shame. These came upon the prophet in his home, and in her in whom so loyal and tender a heart had hoped to find his chiefest sanctuary next to God. There are, it is true, some of the ugliest facts of human life about this prophet's experience; but the message is one very suited to our own hearts and times. Let us read this story of the Prodigal Wife as we do that other Galilean tale of the Prodigal Son. There as well as here are harlots; but here as well as there is the clear mirror of the Divine Love. For the Bible never shuns realism when it would expose the exceeding hatefulness of sin or magnify the power of God's love to redeem. To an age which is always treating conjugal infidelity either as a matter of comedy or as a problem of despair, the tale of Hosea and his wife may still become, what it proved to his own generation, a gospel full of love and hope.

The story, and how it led Hosea to understand God's relations to sinful men, is told in the first three chapters of his book. It opens with the very startling sentence: The beginning of the word of Jehovah to Hosea:—And Jehovah said to Hosea, Go, take thee a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry: for the Land hath committed great harlotry in departing from Jehovah.454454   Pregnant construction, hath committed great harlotry from after Jehovah.

The command was obeyed. And he went and took Gomer, daughter of Diblaim;455455   These personal names do not elsewhere occur. גֹּמֶר; Γομερ. דִּבְלַיִם; Δεβηλαιμ B; Δεβηλαειμ, AQ. They have, of course, been interpreted allegorically in the interests of the theory discussed below. גמר has been taken to mean "completion," and interpreted as various derivatives of that root: Jerome, "the perfect one"; Raschi, "that fulfilled all evil"; Kimchi, "fulfilment of punishment"; Calvin, "consumptio," and so on. דבלים has been traced to דִּבלה, Pl. דִּבְלִים, cakes of pressed figs, as if a name had been sought to connect the woman at once with the idol-worship and a rich sweetness; or to an Arabic root, דבל, to press, as if it referred either to the plumpness of the body (cf. Ezek. xvi. 7; so Hitzig) or to the woman's habits. But all these are far-fetched and vain. There is no reason to suppose that either of the two names is symbolic. The alternative (allowed by the language) naturally suggests itself that דבלים is the name of Gomer's birthplace. But there is nothing to prove this. No such place-name occurs elsewhere: one cannot adduce the Diblathaim in Moab (Num. xxxiii. 46 ff.; Jer. xlviii. 2). and she conceived, and bare235 to him a son. And Jehovah said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little and I shall visit the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will bring to an end the kingdom of the house of Israel; and it shall be on that day that I shall break the bow of Israel in the Vale of Jezreel—the classic battle-field of Israel.456456   Hist. Geog., Chap. XVIII. And she conceived again, and bare a daughter; and He said to him, Call her name Un-Loved, or That-never-knew-a-Father's-Pity;457457   לֹא רֻחָמָה, probably 3rd pers. sing. fem. Pual (in Pause cf. Prov. xxviii. 13); literally, She is not loved or pitied. The word means love as pity: "such pity as a father hath unto his children dear" (Psalm ciii.), or God to a penitent man (Psalm xxviii. 13). The Greek versions alternate between love and pity. LXX. οὐκ ἠλεημένη διότι οὐ μὴ προσθήσω ἔτι ἠλεῆσαι, for which the Complutensian has ἀγαπῆσαι, the reading followed by Paul (Rom. ix, 25: cf. 1 Peter ii. 10). for I will not again have pity—such pity as a Father hath—on the house of Israel, that I should fully forgive them.458458   Here ver. 7 is to be omitted, as explained above, p. 213. And she weaned Un-Pitied, and conceived, and bare a son. And He said, Call his name236 Not-My-People; for ye are not My people, and I—I am not yours.459459   Do not belong to you; but the I am, אהיה, recalls the I am that I am of Exodus.

It is not surprising that divers interpretations have been put upon this troubled tale. The words which introduce it are so startling that very many have held it to be an allegory, or parable, invented by the prophet to illustrate, by familiar human figures, what was at that period the still difficult conception of the Love of God for sinful men. But to this well-intended argument there are insuperable objections. It implies that Hosea had first awakened to the relations of Jehovah and Israel—He faithful and full of affection, she unfaithful and thankless—and that then, in order to illustrate the relations, he had invented the story. To that we have an adequate reply. In the first place, though it were possible, it is extremely improbable, that such a man should have invented such a tale about his wife, or, if he was unmarried, about himself. But, in the second place, he says expressly that his domestic experience was the beginning of Jehovah's word to him. That is, he passed through it first, and only afterwards, with the sympathy and insight thus acquired, he came to appreciate Jehovah's relation to Israel. Finally, the style betrays narrative rather than parable. The simple facts are told; there is an absence of elaboration; there is no effort to make every detail symbolic; the names Gomer and Diblaim are apparently those of real persons; every attempt to attach a symbolic value to them has failed.

She was, therefore, no dream, this woman, but flesh and blood: the sorrow, the despair, the sphinx of the237 prophet's life; yet a sphinx who in the end yielded her riddle to love.

Accordingly a large number of other interpreters have taken the story throughout as the literal account of actual facts. This is the theory of many of the Latin and Greek Fathers,460460   Augustine, Ambrose, Theodoret, Cyril Alex. and Theodore of Mopsuestia. of many of the Puritans and of Dr. Pusey—by one of those agreements into which, from such opposite schools, all these commentators are not infrequently drawn by their common captivity to the letter of Scripture.461461   It is interesting to read in parallel the interpretations of Matthew Henry and Dr. Pusey. They are very alike, but the latter has the more delicate taste of his age. When you ask them, How then do you justify that first strange word of God to Hosea,462462   i. 2. if you take it literally and believe that Hosea was charged to marry a woman of public shame? they answer either that such an evil may be justified by the bare word of God, or that it was well worth the end, the salvation of a lost soul.463463   The former is Matthew Henry's; the latter seems to be implied by Pusey. And indeed this tragedy would be invested with an even greater pathos if it were true that the human hero had passed through a self-sacrifice so unusual, had incurred such a shame for such an end. The interpretation, however, seems forbidden by the essence of the story. Had not Hosea's wife been pure when he married her she could not have served as a type of the Israel whose earliest relations to Jehovah he describes as innocent. And this is confirmed by other features of the book: by the high ideal which Hosea has of marriage, and by that sense of early goodness238 and early beauty passing away like morning mist, which is so often and so pathetically expressed that we cannot but catch in it the echo of his own experience. As one has said to whom we owe, more than to any other, the exposition of the gospel in Hosea,464464   Robertson Smith, Prophets of Israel. "The struggle of Hosea's shame and grief when he found his wife unfaithful is altogether inconceivable unless his first love had been pure and full of trust in the purity of its object."

How then are we to reconcile with this the statement of that command to take a wife of the character so frankly described? In this way—and we owe the interpretation to the same lamented scholar.465465   Apparently it was W. R. Smith's interpretation which caused Kuenen to give up the allegorical theory. When, some years after his marriage, Hosea at last began to be aware of the character of her whom he had taken to his home, and while he still brooded upon it, God revealed to him why He who knoweth all things from the beginning had suffered His servant to marry such a woman; and Hosea, by a very natural anticipation, in which he is imitated by other prophets,466466   Two instances are usually quoted. The one is Isaiah vi., where most are agreed that what Isaiah has stated there as his inaugural vision is not only what happened in the earliest moments of his prophetic life, but this spelt out and emphasised by his experience since. See Isaiah I.-XXXIX. (Exp. Bible), pp. 57 f. The other instance is Jeremiah xxxii. 8, where the prophet tells us that he became convinced that the Lord spoke to him on a certain occasion only after a subsequent event proved this to be the case. pushed back his own knowledge of God's purpose to the date when that purpose began actually to be fulfilled, the day of his betrothal. This, though he was all unconscious of its fatal future, had been to239 Hosea the beginning of the word of the Lord. On that uncertain voyage he had sailed with sealed orders.

Now this is true to nature, and may be matched from our own experience. "The beginning of God's word" to any of us—where does it lie? Does it lie in the first time the meaning of our life became articulate, and we were able to utter it to others? Ah no; it always lies far behind that, in facts and in relationships, of the Divine meaning of which we are at the time unconscious, though now we know. How familiar this is in respect to the sorrows and adversities of life: dumb, deadening things that fall on us at the time with no more voice than clods falling on coffins of dead men, we have been able to read them afterwards as the clear call of God to our souls. But what we thus so readily admit about the sorrows of life may be equally true of any of those relations which we enter with light and unawed hearts, conscious only of the novelty and the joy of them. It is most true of the love which meets a man as it met Hosea in his opening manhood.

How long Hosea took to discover his shame he indicates by a few hints which he suffers to break from the delicate reserve of his story. He calls the first child his own; and the boy's name, though ominous of the nation's fate, has no trace of shame upon it. Hosea's Jezreel was as Isaiah's Shear-Jashub or Maher-shalal-hash-baz. But Hosea does not claim the second child; and in the name of this little lass, Lo-Ruhamah, she-that-never-knew-a-father's-love, orphan not by death but by her mother's sin, we find proof of the prophet's awakening to the tragedy of his home. Nor does he own the third child, named Not-my-people, that could240 also mean No-kin-of-mine. The three births must have taken at least six years;467467   An Eastern woman seldom weans her child before the end of its second year. and once at least, but probably oftener, Hosea had forgiven the woman, and till the sixth year she stayed in his house. Then either he put her from him, or she went her own way. She sold herself for money, and finally drifted, like all of her class, into slavery.468468   iii. 2.

Such were the facts of Hosea's grief, and we have now to attempt to understand how that grief became his gospel. We may regard the stages of the process as two: first, when he was led to feel that his sorrow was the sorrow of the whole nation; and, second, when he comprehended that it was of similar kind to the sorrow of God Himself.

While Hosea brooded upon his pain one of the first things he would remember would be the fact, which he so frequently illustrates, that the case of his home was not singular, but common and characteristic of his day. Take the evidence of his book, and there must have been in Israel many such wives as his own. He describes their sin as the besetting sin of the nation, and the plague of Israel's life. But to lose your own sorrow in the vaster sense of national trouble—that is the first consciousness of a duty and a mission. In the analogous vice of intemperance among ourselves we have seen the same experience operate again and again. How many a man has joined the public warfare against that sin, because he was aroused to its national consequences by the ruin it had brought to his own home! And one remembers from recent years a more illustrious instance, where a domestic grief—it241 is true of a very different kind—became not dissimilarly the opening of a great career of service to the people:—

"I was in Leamington, and Mr. Cobden called on me. I was then in the depths of grief—I may almost say of despair, for the light and sunshine of my house had been extinguished. All that was left on earth of my young wife, except the memory of a sainted life and a too brief happiness, was lying still and cold in the chamber above us. Mr. Cobden called on me as his friend, and addressed me, as you may suppose, with words of condolence. After a time he looked up and said: 'There are thousands and thousands of homes in England at this moment where wives and mothers and children are dying of hunger. Now, when the first paroxysm of your grief is passed, I would advise you to come with me, and we will never rest until the Corn Laws are repealed.'"469469   From a speech by John Bright.

Not dissimilarly was Hosea's pain overwhelmed by the pain of his people. He remembered that there were in Israel thousands of homes like his own. Anguish gave way to sympathy. The mystery became the stimulus to a mission.

But, again, Hosea traces this sin of his day to the worship of strange gods. He tells the fathers of Israel, for instance, that they need not be surprised at the corruption of their wives and daughters when they themselves bring home from the heathen rites the infection of light views of love.470470   iv. 13, 14. That is to say, the many sins against human love in Israel, the wrong done to his own heart in his own home, Hosea connects with the wrong done to the Love of God, by His people's desertion of Him for foreign and impure rites. Hosea's own sorrow thus became a key to the sorrow of God. Had he loved this woman, cherished and242 honoured her, borne with and forgiven her, only to find at the last his love spurned and hers turned to sinful men: so also had the Love of God been treated by His chosen people, and they had fallen to the loose worship of idols.

Hosea was the more naturally led to compare his relations to his wife with Jehovah's to Israel, by certain religious beliefs current among the Semitic peoples. It was common to nearly all Semitic religions to express the union of a god with his land or with his people by the figure of marriage. The title which Hosea so often applies to the heathen deities, Ba'al, meant originally not "lord" of his worshippers, but "possessor" and endower of his land, its husband and fertiliser. A fertile land was "a land of Ba'al," or "Be'ulah," that is, "possessed" or "blessed by a Ba'al."471471   Cf. the spiritual use of the term, Isa. lxii. 4. Under the fertility was counted not only the increase of field and flock, but the human increase as well; and thus a nation could speak of themselves as the children of the Land, their mother, and of her Ba'al, their father.472472   For proof and exposition of all this see Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, 92 ff. When Hosea, then, called Jehovah the husband of Israel, it was not an entirely new symbol which he invented. Up to his time, however, the marriage of Heaven and Earth, of a god and his people, seems to have been conceived in a physical form which ever tended to become more gross; and was expressed, as Hosea points out, by rites of a sensual and debasing nature, with the most disastrous effects on the domestic morals of the people. By an inspiration, whose ethical character is very conspicuous, Hosea breaks the physical connection altogether. Jehovah's Bride is not the243 Land, but the People, and His marriage with her is conceived wholly as a moral relation. Not that He has no connection with the physical fruits of the land: corn, wine, oil, wool and flax. But these are represented only as the signs and ornaments of the marriage, love-gifts from the husband to the wife.473473   ii. 8. The marriage itself is purely moral: I will betroth her to Me in righteousness and justice, in leal love and tender mercies.474474   So best is rendered חסד, ḥesedh, which means always not merely an affection, "lovingkindness," as our version puts it, but a relation loyally observed. From her in return are demanded faithfulness and growing knowledge of her Lord.

It is the re-creation of an Idea. Slain and made carrion by the heathen religions, the figure is restored to life by Hosea. And this is a life everlasting. Prophet and apostle, the Israel of Jehovah, the Church of Christ, have alike found in Hosea's figure an unfailing significance and charm. Here we cannot trace the history of the figure; but at least we ought to emphasise the creative power which its recovery to life proves to have been inherent in prophecy. This is one of those triumphs of which the God of Israel said: Behold, I make all things new.475475   An expansion of this will be found in the present writer's Isaiah XL.-LXVI. (Expositor's Bible Series), pp. 398 ff.

Having dug his figure from the mire and set it upon the rock, Hosea sends it on its way with all boldness. If Jehovah be thus the husband of Israel, her first husband, the husband of her youth, then all her pursuit of the Ba'alim is unfaithfulness to her marriage vows. But she is worse than an adulteress; she is a harlot. She has fallen for gifts. Here the historical facts wonderfully244 assisted the prophet's metaphor. It was a fact that Israel and Jehovah were first wedded in the wilderness upon conditions, which by the very circumstances of desert life could have little or no reference to the fertility of the earth, but were purely personal and moral. And it was also a fact that Israel's declension from Jehovah came after her settlement in Canaan, and was due to her discovery of other deities, in possession of the soil, and adored by the natives as the dispensers of its fertility. Israel fell under these superstitions, and, although she still formally acknowledged her bond to Jehovah, yet in order to get her fields blessed and her flocks made fertile, her orchards protected from blight and her fleeces from scab, she went after the local Ba'alim.476476   ii. 13. With bitter scorn Hosea points out that there was no true love in this: it was the mercenariness of a harlot, selling herself for gifts.477477   ii. 5, 13. And it had the usual results. The children whom Israel bore were not her husband's.478478   ii. 5. The new generation in Israel grew up in ignorance of Jehovah, with characters and lives strange to His Spirit. They were Lo-Ruhamah: He could not feel towards them such pity as a father hath.479479   See above, p. 235. They were Lo-Ammi: not at all His people. All was in exact parallel to Hosea's own experience with his wife; and only the real pain of that experience could have made the man brave enough to use it as a figure of his God's treatment by Israel.

Following out the human analogy, the next step should have been for Jehovah to divorce His erring spouse. But Jehovah reveals to the prophet that this is not His way. For He is God and not man, the Holy245 One in the midst of thee. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I surrender thee, O Israel? My heart is turned within Me, My compassions are kindled together!

Jehovah will seek, find and bring back the wanderer. Yet the process shall not be easy. The gospel which Hosea here preaches is matched in its great tenderness by its full recognition of the ethical requirements of the case. Israel may not be restored without repentance, and cannot repent without disillusion and chastisement. God will therefore show her that her lovers, the Ba'alim, are unable to assure to her the gifts for which she followed them. These are His corn, His wine, His wool and His flax, and He will take them away for a time. Nay more, as if mere drought and blight might still be regarded as some Ba'al's work, He who has always manifested Himself by great historic deeds will do so again. He will remove herself from the land, and leave it a waste and a desolation. The whole passage runs as follows, introduced by the initial Therefore of judgment:—

Therefore, behold, I am going to hedge480480   The participle Qal, used by God of Himself in His proclamations of grace or of punishment, has in this passage (cf. ver. 16) and elsewhere (especially in Deuteronomy) the force of an immediate future. up her481481   So LXX.; Mass. Text, thy. way with thorns, and build her482482   The reading גְּדֵרָהּ is more probable than גְּדֵרָה. a wall, so that she find not her paths. And she shall pursue her paramours and shall not come upon them, seek them and shall not find them; and she shall say, Let me go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now. She knew not, then, that it was I who gave her the corn and the wine and the oil; yea, silver I heaped upon her and246 gold—they worked it up for the Ba'al!483483   Or they made it into a Ba'al image. So Ew., Hitz., Nowack. But Wellhausen omits the clause. Israel had deserted the religion that was historical and moral for the religion that was physical. But the historical religion was the physical one. Jehovah who had brought Israel to the land was also the God of the Land. He would prove this by taking away its blessings. Therefore I will turn and take away My corn in its time and My wine in its season, and I will withdraw My wool and My flax that should have covered her nakedness. And now—the other initial of judgment—I will lay bare her shame to the eyes of her lovers, and no man shall rescue her from My hand. And I will make an end of all her joyaunce, her pilgrimages, her New-Moons and her Sabbaths, with every festival; and I will destroy her vines and her figs of which she said, "They are a gift, mine own, which my lovers gave me," and I will turn them to jungle and the wild beast shall devour them. So shall I visit upon her the days of the Ba'alim, when she used to offer incense to them, and decked herself with her rings and her jewels and went after her paramours, but Me she forgat—'tis the oracle of Jehovah. All this implies something more than such natural disasters as those in which Amos saw the first chastisements of the Lord. Each of the verses suggests, not only a devastation of the land by war,484484   Wellhausen thinks that up to ver. 14 only physical calamities are meant, but the הצלתו of ver. 11, as well as others of the terms used, imply not the blighting of crops before their season, but the carrying of them away in their season, when they had fully ripened, by invaders. The cessation of all worship points to the removal of the people from their land, which is also implied, of course, by the promise that they shall be sown again in ver. 23. but the removal of the people into captivity. Evidently, therefore, Hosea, writing about247 745, had in view a speedy invasion by Assyria, an invasion which was always followed up by the exile of the people subdued.

This is next described, with all plainness, under the figure of Israel's early wanderings in the wilderness, but is emphasised as happening only for the end of the people's penitence and restoration. The new hope is so melodious that it carries the language into metre.

Therefore, lo! I am to woo her, and I will bring her to the wilderness,

And I will speak home to her heart.

And from there I will give to her her vineyards,

And the Valley of Achor for a doorway of hope.

And there she shall answer Me as in the days of her youth,

And as the day when she came up from the land of Miṣraim.

To us the terms of this passage may seem formal and theological. But to every Israelite some of these terms must have brought back the days of his own wooing. I will speak home to her heart is a forcible expression, like the German "an das Herz" or the sweet Scottish "it cam' up roond my heart," and was used in Israel as from man to woman when he won her.485485   Cf. Isa. xl. 1: which to the same exiled Israel is the fulfilment of the promise made by Hosea. See Isaiah XL.-LXVI. (Expositor's Bible), pp. 75 ff. But the other terms have an equal charm. The prophet, of course, does not mean that Israel shall be literally taken back to the desert. But he describes her coming Exile under that ancient figure, in order to surround her penitence with the associations of her innocency and her youth. By the grace of God,248 everything shall begin again as at first. The old terms wilderness, the giving of vineyards, Valley of Achor, are, as it were, the wedding ring restored.

As a result of all this (whether the words be by Hosea or another),486486   Wellhausen calls ver. 18 a gloss to ver. 19.

It shall be in that day—'tis Jehovah's oracle—that thou shalt call Me, My husband,

And thou shalt not again call Me, My Ba'al:

For I will take away the names of the Ba'alim from her mouth,

And they shall no more be remembered by their names.

There follows a picture of the ideal future, in which—how unlike the vision that now closes the Book of Amos!—moral and spiritual beauty, the peace of the land and the redemption of the people, are wonderfully mingled together, in a style so characteristic of Hosea's heart. It is hard to tell where the rhythmical prose passes into actual metre.

And I will make for them a covenant in that day with the wild beasts, and with the birds of the heavens, and with the creeping things of the ground; and the bow and the sword and battle will I break from the land, and I will make you to dwell in safety. And I will betroth thee to Me for ever, and I will betroth thee to Me in righteousness and in justice, in leal love and in tender mercies; and I will betroth thee to Me in faithfulness, and thou shalt know Jehovah.

And it shall be on that day I will speak—'tis the oracle of Jehovah—I will speak to the heavens, and they shall speak to the earth; and the earth shall speak to the corn and the wine and the oil, and they shall speak to Jezreel, the scattered like seed across many lands; but I will sow249 him487487   Massoretic Text, her. for Myself in the land: and I will have a father's pity upon Un-Pitied; and to Not-My-People I will say. My people thou art! and he shall say, My God!488488   It is at this point, if at any, that i. 10, 11, ii. 1 (Eng., but ii. 1-3 Heb.) ought to come in. It will be observed, however, that even here they are superfluous: And the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor counted; and it shall be in the place where it was said to them, No People of Mine are ye! it shall be said to them, Sons of the Living God! And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint themselves one head, and shall go up from the land: for great is the day of Jezreel. Say unto your brothers, My People, and to your sisters (LXX. sister), She-is-Pitied. On the whole passage see above, p. 213.

The circle is thus completed on the terms from which we started. The three names which Hosea gave to the children, evil omens of Israel's fate, are reversed, and the people restored to the favour and love of their God.

We might expect this glory to form the culmination of the prophecy. What fuller prospect could be imagined than that we see in the close of the second chapter? With a wonderful grace, however, the prophecy turns back from this sure vision of the restoration of the people as a whole, to pick up again the individual from whom it had started, and whose unclean rag of a life had fluttered out of sight before the national fortunes sweeping in upon the scene. This was needed to crown the story—this return to the individual.

And Jehovah said unto me, Once more go, love a wife that is loved of a paramour and is an adulteress,489489   Or that is loved of her husband though an adulteress. as Jehovah loveth the children of Israel, the while they are turning to other gods, and love raisin-cakes—probably250 some element in the feasts of the gods of the land, the givers of the grape. Then I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer of barley and a lethech of wine.490490   So LXX. The homer was eight bushels. The lethech is a measure not elsewhere mentioned. And I said to her, For many days shall thou abide for me alone; thou shall not play the harlot, thou shall not be for any husband; and I for my part also shall be so towards thee. For the days are many that the children of Israel shall abide without a king and without a prince, without sacrifice and without maççebah, and without ephod and teraphim.491491   On these see above, Introduction, Chap. III., p. 38. Afterwards the children of Israel shall turn and seek Jehovah their God and David their king, and shall be in awe of Jehovah and towards His goodness in the end of the days.492492   On the text see above, p. 214.

Do not let us miss the fact that the story of the wife's restoration follows that of Israel's, although the story of the wife's unfaithfulness had come before that of Israel's apostasy. For this order means that, while the prophet's private pain preceded his sympathy with God's pain, it was not he who set God, but God who set him, the example of forgiveness. The man learned the God's sorrow out of his own sorrow; but conversely he was taught to forgive and redeem his wife only by seeing God forgive and redeem the people. In other words, the Divine was suggested by the human pain; yet the Divine Grace was not started by any previous human grace, but, on the contrary, was itself the precedent and origin of the latter. This is in harmony with all Hosea's teaching. God forgives because He is God and not man.493493   xi. 9. Our pain with those we love helps251 us to understand God's pain; but it is not our love that leads us to believe in His love. On the contrary, all human grace is but the reflex of the Divine. So St. Paul: Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. So St. John: We love Him, and one another, because He first loved us.

But this return from the nation to the individual has another interest. Gomer's redemption is not the mere formal completion of the parallel between her and her people. It is, as the story says, an impulse of the Divine Love, recognised even then in Israel as seeking the individual. He who followed Hagar into the wilderness, who met Jacob at Bethel and forgat not the slave Joseph in prison,494494   As the stories all written down before this had made familiar to Israel. remembers also Hosea's wife. His love is not satisfied with His Nation-Bride: He remembers this single outcast. It is the Shepherd leaving the ninety-and-nine in the fold to seek the one lost sheep.


For Hosea himself his home could never be the same as it was at the first. And I said to her, For many days shalt thou abide, as far as I am concerned, alone. Thou shalt not play the harlot. Thou shalt not be for a husband: and I on my side also shall be so towards thee. Discipline was needed there; and abroad the nation's troubles called the prophet to an anguish and a toil which left no room for the sweet love or hope of his youth. He steps at once to his hard warfare for his people; and through the rest of his book we never again hear him speak of home, or of children, or of252 wife. So Arthur passed from Guinevere to his last battle for his land:—

"Lo! I forgive thee, as Eternal God

Forgives: do thou for thine own soul the rest.

But how to take last leave of all I loved?


I cannot touch thy lips, they are not mine;...

I cannot take thy hand; that too is flesh,

And in the flesh thou hast sinned; and mine own flesh,

Here looking down on thine polluted, cries

'I loathe thee'; yet not less, O Guinevere,

For I was ever virgin save for thee,

My love thro' flesh hath wrought into my life

So far, that my doom is, I love thee still.

Let no man dream but that I love thee still.

Perchance, and so thou purify thy soul,

And so thou lean on our fair father Christ,

Hereafter in that world where all are pure

We two may meet before high God, and thou

Wilt spring to me, and claim me thine, and know

I am thine husband, not a smaller soul....

Leave me that,

I charge thee, my last hope. Now must I hence,

Thro' the thick night I hear the trumpet blow."


« Prev Chapter XIV. The Story of the Prodigal Wife Next »



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |