One of the stranger stories in the Bible is the story of Hosea, the prophet who God commanded to go and marry a prostitute. It was, of course, a testimony to God's continued love for His unfaithful people. God even tells Hosea what to name his kids - things like "not loved" and "not my people."
But here's the thing: are they even Hosea's kids?
Hosea has married the prostitute, Gomer, just as the Lord commanded him. There are children in the house, yes. But if you read the first chapter of Hosea, there's this little phrase in there that these are children of promiscuity. And you might think, of course they are - Gomer is a prostitute, so any children she has will be children of promiscuity based solely on her reputation alone. But if Hosea is married to Gomer, then whatever children they have together would not be children of promiscuity; they would be covenant children of marriage. They would be legitimate children. So the children that Hosea is naming, the children of promiscuity, are illegitimate kids by definition; they are not his kids.
This changes the way that we read the prophecy. It has to. Because now, we're not reading about new generations of God's people coming of age; we're reading about children born outside of the love of God who are "not" loved by Him and "not" His people.
Which raises the difficulty of course of knowing that God actually does love them and desires for them to be His people. Let's not lose sight of that, for from God's perspective, they are most certainly loved and His people.
But from a human perspective, they've got nothing. They don't know the love of God because of the promiscuity from which they are born. The houses into which they come are running around, worshiping other gods, burning incense at other altars. They aren't telling the stories of who God is and what He's doing for His people. They aren't taking their kids to the Temple to dedicate them to the Lord. More often than not, they're taking them to the fire to burn them to Molech. It's akin to a child today growing up outside of the church, except in this case, the parents know full well the richness and glory of the church; they've just gone away from it.
That also means these kids are not God's people because, well, how could they be? How could they be the people of a God they don't even know? A God who is just one among many and who often isn't even first? A God who seems to have a lot more rules and is much more difficult to worship than the cultic idols they've settled on. (And a lot less "fun," let's just say it, because a lot of the cultic worship had sexual components to it and the God of Israel, well, has some pretty well-defined ideas on sex that were not as unlimited as the cultic worship. But that's another story for another day.)
So it's not, when we read Hosea, that God has turned His back on His kids, to call them unloved and not His people; it's that His kids have turned their backs on Him. The promiscuity into which they were born makes it impossible for them to know Him the way that Israel previously knew Him.
And that shifts the focus of this book onto the people, with this sweet, beautiful undercurrent of the constant, faithful love of God to carry us along.
I'm writing about this because I've heard so many struggle with this. I've struggled with this. I've read through Hosea as a younger Christian and wondered how it is that this prophet does what God tells him to do and marries a prostitute, then has to name his children these horrible names. I couldn't understand how God could do that to children born in a marriage that He Himself ordained.
But when we realize that the children that Gomer bore were not Hosea's children, were not children of the marriage but children of her continued promiscuity, then we understand better how to read this book. We understand better what it means. We understand that these are not God's covenant children who are not loved and who are not His people, but children born out of the broken covenant, dedicated at foreign altars (if dedicated at all), and raised to worship idols. And now...now, it starts to all make sense.
Now, we see with greater clarity the weight of our own fallenness...and the depths of His love.
(And, I should add, what we condemn our children to when we raise them outside of the covenant of faith.)