A Wife No Man Would Want: Lessons from the Hardest Marriage


If there was a wedding, it had to be one of the most awkward ones in history.

Plenty of marriages begin blissfully and then crash into misery years in (maybe even months), but this was different. This marriage wasn’t destined for disaster; it was a tragedy before the dress touched the aisle. The whole town knew what kind of girl she was. Many of the men knew firsthand. As the groom said his vows, “I take you for better or worse . . .” the idea of worse, even at the altar, seemed like some dreadful understatement. And the idea of better, like some naive fantasy.

As he stood there, he knew exactly what he was getting into. He knew tears were waiting to be shed. He knew how many long nights he might sleep alone, wondering where she could be, whether she was safe, what man might be holding her in his arms. He knew the excruciating conversations he might have to have with their children. He knew — and yet he married her anyway. He took her to be his. Why?

The Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. (Hosea 1:2–3)

Bitter Paradox

We don’t know whether Hosea and Gomer had a typical Hebrew ceremony, but their marriage would have received lots of attention. It was meant to. As the two became one, God was seizing the wandering eyes of his unfaithful people.

When God told Hosea to take this loose woman as his lawfully wedded wife, he was making a statement — a loud and offensive statement. “Why her, Lord?” Hosea might have rightly asked. “Because the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” Their love toward me has grown cold and complacent, they take my grain and wine and protection for granted, and they’ve crawled into bed, again and again, with the gods of this world. Not just whoredom, but great whoredom. They worship passionately at the altars of carnal pleasure, of plenty, of comfort, of pride, and then dare to come home and offer me whatever little they have left.

And God had warned them. But they would not listen, so he painted them a picture instead — a dark, shameful, and painful picture. He planned a wedding no one would want to attend. He held up a mirror and made them want to look away. He sent Hosea to love and cherish Gomer, “a wife of whoredom.” A bride who could not be trusted. A bitter paradox.

The Kind of Whore He Loved

What made Gomer such a whore? We’re not told much, but we meet her through the adultery of God’s people.

Wayward Israel shows us that Gomer was the kind of woman who says, “I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink” (Hosea 2:5). In other words, I’m not getting what I want at home, so I’ll look for a man who will give me what I want. She was the kind of woman who took what her husband provided and used it to attract and please other men (Hosea 2:8; see James 4:3). She was the kind of woman who gave other men credit for all her husband had done for her (Hosea 2:12). She was the kind of woman unworthy of a good man.

And yet he loved her. Hosea chose her, sought her, bought her, and loved her. “So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, ‘You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you’” (Hosea 3:2–3). Can you hear the sermon God had prepared? Israel, let me show you who you really are — and let me show you who I really am. If it were not for the devotion of Hosea, their marriage, like so many marriages, would have only preached worldliness, selfishness, and alienation. It may have painted sinful Israel well, but it would have been graffiti across the love of God.

The relentless love of a faithful husband, though, made the whore into an emblem of mercy, and their marriage into a miracle of grace.

Heaven’s Wedding Homily

Their wedding would have been jarring not mainly because of Gomer’s bruised and tattered history, but because of the strange and unexpected brightness in his eyes, eyes that were shadows of the loving eyes of heaven. Feel the sudden contrast halfway through these verses:

I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals
     when she burned offerings to them
and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry,
     and went after her lovers
     and forgot me, declares the Lord.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
     and bring her into the wilderness,
     and speak tenderly to her. (Hosea 2:13–14)

She dressed up for another man. She slid off the ring I bought for her. When she left, she walked right past our kids. And even when the other man would not have her, she chased him. She spent it all to have him. And she forgot me. Therefore . . . what? How would you finish that sentence in the wake of such betrayal?

“God wants the wife no man would want. He woos the woman most men would have deserted.”

Therefore, I will allure her. That’s the climax of this sermon called marriage: God wants the wife no man would want. After all she’s done to make him leave, his love burns warm. He woos the woman most men would have deserted. And he will have her, even though it will cost him in the worst way possible. One day soon, his Son would come and bear the name No Mercy (Hosea 1:6), so that we, the wife of whoredom, might be called beloved.

Scandal of Betrothal

As God watches the bride he saved out of slavery plunge herself into adultery, he knows full well he will one day bring her home. He promises to find her, rescue her, and woo her.

I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord. (Hosea 2:19–20)

He repeats himself three times because he knows how inconceivable, even scandalous this love would be: “I will betroth you. . . . I will betroth you. . . . I will betroth you. . . .” The repetition drives a stake of hope into all our fears that God might not forgive us. “I can forgive. . . . I will forgive. . . . I will love you as if you had never left.”

Notice he says, “I will betroth you,” not just, “I will take you back.” Ray Ortlund presses on the wonder of this love:

The mystery of grace revealed here is a promise of covenant renewal — although even the word renewal is weak, for this oracle promises not merely the reinvigoration of the old marriage but the creation of a new one. . . . The ugly past will be forgotten and they will start over again, as if nothing had ever gone wrong. (God’s Unfaithful Wife, 70)

The wife of whoredom was received like the epitome of purity — like the most desirable bride. The night of forgiveness and reconciliation was as a wedding night. No matter what she saw in the mirror, his eyes now told her she was new and irresistible, his “lily among brambles” (Song of Solomon 2:2). When Hosea went to the altar and resolved to delight in his adulterous wife, he preached a text that had not yet been written:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25–27)

Premarital Counseling of a Prophet

What might Hosea’s love for Gomer mean for marriages today? While we are not prophets commissioned to marry prostitutes, our marriages are prophetic in their own way.

Like Hosea’s countercultural love, every faithful Christian marriage resists and confronts a world in love with sin. Every loyal spouse is a foil for the ugliness and destructiveness of our mutiny against God — and a lighthouse alluring more sinners into his mercy. Every vow that holds, despite all the reasons to leave, tells someone that real Love exists, that forgiveness is possible, that there’s more to life than Satan can offer.

“Who might see your marriage and be shaken free from worldly and empty ways of living?”

We don’t know how many in Israel saw Hosea, realized the pitiful thinness of their earthly lives, and went deep with God again. Who might see your marriage and be shaken free from worldly and empty ways of living? Who might finally meet God because you stayed, loved, forgave, and pursued your spouse?

If Hosea and Gomer teach us anything about marriage, though, it’s that the love of God shines brightest through us when marriage is hardest. Can you bear to believe that? Happy, flourishing marriages may sing the gospel in big, bright major chords, but the minor chords of difficult and devoted marriages are often all the more arresting. Their beauty is haunting for being so much harder to explain.

The uniquely challenging aspects of our marriages really can become the greatest stages for true love — for displaying what it means to be chosen, forgiven, and treasured by God through Christ. This is the glory of the marriage covenant, and its beams are strongest when they shine through our marital weaknesses and struggles.

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