Gomer

In SS today the topic was Hosea. I would like to offer two comments on the early discussion in the class (I didn’t have an opportunity to make these points in real time during the class, so I want to make them here.)

First is the name Gomer. People couldn’t believe a parent would ever give a daughter such an ugly name. Someone then said it should actually be pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, so go’MEHR, and that seemed to satisfy folks and the discussion moved on.

But that comment was not correct. The name is what is called a segholate noun in Hebrew and is clearly to be stressed on the first syllable, not the second. The name should be pronounced GOmer, in just the way people perceived as so unattractive. To me, the name is not inherently unappealing, we just perceive it that way for cultural reasons. At least two people mentioned Gomer Pyle, and it’s just a fluke of our culture that that is the primary referent we have for that name. In Hebrew the name is not specific to men or women, but could be (and was) used for either. The name derives from a tribe called the Cimerii (Latin transcription of Greek Kimmerioi).[1]

Second, the initial comment on the story was from a sister who thought it was very unfair of God to require his prophet to marry a prostitute. The teacher didn’t seem to know what to do with that and quickly changed the subject.

My thought was that, hey, this is the Old Testament, get used to it. It’s not unusual for the Lord to require his prophet to do crazy stuff as a dramatic living point. We don’t like to talk about it, but the Prophet Isaiah went naked for three freakin’ years as a sign that Assyria would defeat Egypt. Yes, that doesn’t fit with out notions of what a prophet is and should do, but this was a different world and a different culture, and lived enactment by the LORD’s prophet was a way of driving a point home forcefully with the people.

[1] If the name rings a bell for you, perhaps you are a fan of Conan the Barbarian. Cimmeria is a fictional land of barbarians in the Hyborian Age, and the homeland of Conan the Barbarian in the works of Robert E. Howard. Howard originally described Cimmeria in a poem by that name and went on later to expand the idea into book form. Although the rest is Howard’s creation, the original name and description of Cimmeria are from The Odyssey, Book 11, lines 12-18.

Comments

  1. David Robinson says:

    I enjoyed teaching this lesson last week. As I mentioned on Twitter, I opened the lesson with a refresher on simile and metaphor, writing fun uses of the form by Tom Wolfe and Douglas Adams. (@singrdave)
    It was interesting to me that God did ask Hosea to find an adulterous woman who had illegitimate children, then pay off her lover(s) to beat feet, in order to teach Israel a lesson about being unfaithful to the Abrahamic Covenant.

  2. Where does it say that Isaiah was naked for 3 years in the Bible? (Just asking for the reference)

  3. The last time I read Hosea (4 years ago), I understood the parallel between Hosea and his unfaithful wife with God and unfaithful Israel. But I remember that I couldn’t quite reconcile the idea that Hosea was commanded to marry a promiscuous woman and then to stay with her and love her (as God does with Israel). It seemed incongruous and hard to explain. We so easily transfer our values of happy family life as the only possible scenario God would allow his prophet to have — and we are accustomed to our prophets praising the wonderful virtues of their own wives.

    This time, I realized that God’s commandment to Hosea was to allow him, as Israel’s prophet, to experience at a human level what God experienced in his relationship with Israel. Hosea felt the pain, the love, the loyalty, and the forgiveness that God experienced with his beloved people. Hosea’s own experience would allow him to communicate to his people, convincingly and honestly, God’s love for them and the pain He felt at their faithlessness, and the loyalty and steadfastness that he maintained toward them. Hosea’s life was a mortal case study that they could witness — and that may have been humiliating for him on top of everything else.

    Hosea made a Christ-like sacrifice of his own happiness in order to understand God and to teach his people about God’s love and faithfulness. I hope God comforted him.

    Gomer’s unfaithfulness to Hosea and to his God also impressed me with the power that Canaanite culture had on Israel, and that realization led to lots of other thinking about horrific OT scenarios. This all led me to think about what it was that God wanted — that is too weak — what God knew to be Israel’s ultimate, essential, irreplaceable need, which was for His people to gain the divine nature that they could only have by being completely committed to the divine — to Him.

    The metaphors in Hosea of food, clothing, oil, wine, etc. took on new significance to me as the real comforts and pleasures that we have in life, and that God allows and wants us to have, but not in place of Him. This all led me to think of how sweet life can be for us when we are faithful, loyal, true to the commandments and to our loved ones — and yet, it’s just a mortal metaphor for the divine destiny that God wants for us. I will be thinking about this for a long time. I was teaching a youth SS class today, so I have no idea how it went in our ward — but my own study this week more than repaid me.

  4. Is it the King James English that makes getting meaning out of the Old Testament so difficult that the most that a class of people can do is decide that the name Gomer isn’t appropriate for a girl, or is it something else?
    Is it possible that the prostitute wasn’t Hosea’s first or only wife?

  5. I taught this last week. I thought the whole story was a metaphor. I read Pres. Eyring’s talk “Covenants and Sacrifices” from Aug 15, 1995 he says “At that early point in the story, in just two chapters, even my youngest students knew that the husband was a metaphor for Jehovah, Jesus Christ. And they knew that the wife represented His covenant people, Israel, who had gone after strange gods. They understood that the Lord was teaching them, through this metaphor, an important principle.” Chapter one, verse 2 has God telling Hosea to take a “wife of whoredoms,” but by verse 4 he is speaking of Israel, not Gomer. He talks about Israel so much I just didn’t put much credence into the story of Gomer even being real. We just talked about Israel getting it all wrong, as usual. Neither question came up in my class but I can’t wait to read about Isaiah going naked for 3 years.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Excellent thoughts, Jennifer.

    Jader3rd, I.m sure part of the problem is that no one had actually read the material, which is par for the course.

  7. The New International Version, and others, defend the idea of Hosea’s story being real as well as metaphorical. It is tempting, and most comfortable, to read it as strictly metaphorical — and I don’t know how anyone would ever be able to prove the matter one way or another. I guess the question is, what do we learn from either or both readings? The metaphorical reading is clear, and repeated throughout the prophets, but the possibility that there is a reason for Hosea being commanded to be in this particular marriage is a whole new dimension about the sacrifice that he may have been called upon to make.

  8. Let me just point out the irony of mormons not being able to comprehend God commanding his prophet to marry and love a woman with a history of sexual transgression, while at the same time believing that God commanded the wife of his other prophet to give her husband additional wives as part of an abrahamic test.

  9. I have thought about this story quite a bit. I’ve found a set of assumptions that makes it work for me–although they certainly could be wrong.

    It seems very unlikely that Gomer was Hosea’s first wife, and there was a large age gap between them, possibly several decades.

    From what I know of the marriage customs of the Old Testament, marriage was a rite of passage into adulthood which parents were obligated to oversee, even if the final selection was made for the individuals. Jacob thought he got to pick which of Laban’s daughters he wanted to marry, (didn’t work out so well), but his parents sent him to Laban’s house to find a wife. Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac. So it is very likely that Hosea’s parents helped him find a wife when he was a young man–definitely at a much younger age than he would have been considered a prophet (Samuel and Joseph Smith notwithstanding.) I think it likely that by the time Hosea received this command, his wife had died, and there were no impressionable children left in the house.

    Hosea is enjoying a quiet second bachelorhood when God commands him to take a wife of whoredoms. (He suddenly wished he had volunteered for that day at the welfare farm instead.) So he goes to the local house of ill-repute, looks over the occupants, and selects one of the youngest, ie least tainted, and asks if she will be his wife. (I’m seeing him as 45, and her as about 14). She figures dealing with one old geezer will be a lot easier than dealing with an endless stream of old geezers, so she agrees, and he buys her from the brothel.

    He takes her home, gives her a comfortable home, and then tries to avoid her as much as possible, because he feels so awkward around her. Poor Gomer wasn’t in the brothel by choice. It’s not generally a profession girls choose. She was sold there. Since arriving at the brothel, she has known only the lowest, most disgusting sort of men. She can’t figure Hosea out. When she treats him the way she treated former ‘customers,’ he acts disgusted, but he’s never told her what he wants from a wife. She is terrified that he’ll have buyers remorse and sell her to some place worse than where she was before.

    Hosea probably didn’t know what he wanted from a wife either. His first wife knew her duty. She ran the house and raised the children. If she got mad at her husbnad, she might go visit her mother or a neighbor, but she never considered running away. She knew her place in the social structure. Hosea never had to make a particular effort to befriend her in order to keep her with him. But Gomer is terrified of this stern, distant old man, and when she thinks she sees a better situation, she goes. God commands Hosea to bring her back, so he does.

    But until Hosea learns to shower Gomer with love and kindness, not simply with corn, oil, flax, and wool, she is reluctant to stay. Hosea was being taught to act like God, at the same time Gomer was acting out the sins of Israel.

    Maybe I’m making too many wild assumptions. But in this version of the story, Hosea learns a lesson in familial kindness and love, while Gomer is saved from the brothel, and goes on to cherish Hosea in his old age. That’s my interpretation.

  10. LauraN — very interesting and plausible. Sounds like a novel on the order of The Red Tent — which means someone should write it!

  11. I’ve considered it, but since I usually write for a much younger age group, I’m not sure if I could do it.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    LauraN, I enjoyed your speculative reconstruction.