Bible Review 20:1, February 2004

How Hosea Transformed the Lord of the Realm into a Temperamental Spouse

By Katharine Doob Sakenfeld

The prophet Hosea introduced a radical change in the way people understood their relationship to God. Before Hosea, God was generally seen as an omnipotent king and Israel as God’s lowly subject. Hosea introduced a much more personal metaphor: He described the human-divine relationship as a marriage, and he used his own rocky relationship with his wife, Gomer, as an example of just what could go wrong—and how it could be made right again.

In this way Hosea helped his hearers to realize that the deity was indeed one with whom a close relationship of love and trust, and also betrayal and forgiveness, was possible. The husband and wife of Hosea’s metaphor are never equals, because Hosea based his portrait of God and Israel on Israel’s pervasive—and potentially damaging—understanding of marriage, in which husbands held power, wives were expected to obey, and wives generally were thought (by men, at least) to be the cause of marital troubles (see box).

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