The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”
2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”
4 For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.
I wanted to talk a little more about Gomer, because this is the last time she is mentioned in the Book of Hosea. The metaphor of Hosea’s personal marriage is abandoned for direct charges against Israel and Ephraim after this chapter.
There is no way to know whether Gomer was real or not. Some scholars argue that Hosea’s whole relationship to Gomer was simply a religious vision, an allegory either dreamed up or divinely inspired (or both) to make a point. Whether she was real or not, Gomer does serve as a metaphor for many things. The most apparent and universally accepted metaphor is that Gomer, and her infidelity, are the embodiment of an unfaithful Israel.
There are two other metaphors we can see in Gomer to which I want to draw your attention. First is a theme we unfortunately see throughout the Bible: (male) authors trying to establish male dominance over female sexuality and fertility. It is an idea not my own, but I first introduced it on this blog when writing about Sarai and Hagar. Again, the overarching theme of Hosea is God’s relationship with Israel, but it is not only God speaking of Israel but also Hosea speaking of Gomer in 2:3 when he says “I will make her like desert, I will turn her into a parched land,” and in 2:12 when he says “I will ruin her vines and her fig trees.” Deserts are a symbol of infertility, vines and fig trees a symbol of fertility. I’m not exactly sure how Hosea would make Gomer infertile (as God could make Israel infertile), but the imagery is very clear: the female character, whether it is Gomer or Israel, is not the one in control of her own fertility, her own sexuality.
Conversely, only when the male character (again, God – as God was considered masculine at the time – or Hosea) decides to reconcile with the female character, is any sexual expression allowed. As mentioned in my first post about Hosea, the “door of hope” in chapter two is a euphemism for vagina, and “sing as in the days of her youth” means orgasm. These sexual references are only allowed under the full control of the male character. Indeed, Gomer is mute and nameless in the short chapter of today’s blogpost. She is bought, as a slave, and told how to conduct herself sexually. I’m a big fan of monogamous relationships, and again, it’s important to remember that this whole marriage is an allegory. But even given those constraints, it is telling that Hosea, a man, is the one who decides when Gomer will be monogamous or not. She doesn’t even get to answer, even in meek agreement, in this chapter. Hosea’s domination of her sexuality is complete.
Secondly, I see Gomer as a necessary metaphorical stop on our journey to a redemptive God. I read a handful of articles on Gomer in preparation for this post, and the one that most informed this idea was this article by Pulitzer prize winning author and religious scholar Jack Miles. To paraphrase, Miles says that there is a journey in the Old Testament from “God as Master” to “God as Father.” That transition to “God as Father” is even more fully completed in the New Testament. In a nutshell, I think it was a theologically murky time when these prophets were writing – not much different than today, in that respect. They were trying to figure out their relationship, indeed, humankind’s relationship, with God. And the journey to that understanding almost always goes from a punitive God to a redemptive God – or from that of a master to a father.
We can find metaphorical aspects of a loving God in any loving and intimate relationship. I think we see an early, and therefore a little wonky, attempt at creating a metaphor for a loving relationship between God and humanity in Hosea’s marriage to Gomer. Hosea was burdened by the biases of his time, which again, at their base aren’t all that different than many biases we may encounter today: sexism, xenophobia, probably a rigid belief that his truth was the only truth in God. As such, his marriage to Gomer, real or visionary, comes across to the modern reader as unequal, controlling, and quite frankly unenviable, especially if you’re on the Gomer side of it. But there is strong possibility here, and that is why I think Hosea chose the metaphor of marriage as a metaphor for Israel’s, and our, relationship with God. You don’t have to dig very deep to say that, while imperfect, Hosea and Gomer’s marriage is also a relationship with aspects of forgiveness, acceptance, and mutual enjoyment. I know I just used this as a metaphor for sexual control, but Hosea does give Gomer that metaphorical orgasm in the desert, people. Not all husbands – then or now – are that in tune to female pleasure. That verse could have just as easily read something about only Hosea’s own sexual fulfillment. He also redeems her from slavery and gives her the protection of his house, two things that may not be as necessary and valuable to the female population at large in modern, first-world countries, but back then was a big deal.
I think Hosea and Gomer illustrate something really beautiful about the Bible and it’s authors: our fallibility. Yes, I think the Bible is divinely inspired, but it was recorded (and re-recorded, and re-recorded, untold number of times), by imperfect people. It is easy for past generations to cast judgment on Gomer the prostitute. It is easy for more recent generations to cast judgement on Hosea the male chauvinist. But who are we to do so? Who are we to cast the first stone? I certainly hope that I have benefited from some collective spiritual growth in the past twenty-some centuries since Hosea was prophesying, but I’m not perfect. What is important is that we also see God’s working in the Bible, indeed, in all things. It wasn’t God who made the marriage between Hosea and Gomer an unequal one. That, again, was how society functioned at the time. What God did do was open the door to all those positive aspects: forgiveness, acceptance, mutual enjoyment. What we can do is continue to act in and promote the qualities we so desire in our own relationship with God. And that, above all, is love. Will we get it wrong from time to time? Of course. Scholars of future centuries will probably look back at our own religious leaders, even the forward-thinking ones, with raised eyebrows. But if we keep God, and love, in our hearts, we are already on the right path. We may have far to go, just like Hosea and Gomer, but we’re getting there, one step at a time.