What does Hosea 1:6-7 mean? How does the “no mercy” meaning of Hosea’s daughter Lo-ruhamah’s name relate to God’s covenants previously given to Israel?
Hosea was a prophet like Amos who lived and prophesied in the northern tribes around the time of Hezekiah, Judah’s king, and was contemporary with Isaiah. His life was meant to demonstrate God’s relationship with Israel. At God’s command, Hosea married a prostitute, Gomer, who was to be a picture of the northern ten tribe nation of Israel and their idolatry (Hosea 1:2). In the next few verses, Gomer and Hosea have several children, each name’s prophetic meaning explained in the text.
The second child, Lo-ruhamah, a daughter, means “she has not received mercy.” (v.6) Because Israel had forsaken God so often and so completely, she was to be taken away into captivity without mercy (Amos 2:6–7 and Isaiah 10). Judah, who was slightly more faithful and who at the time had a Godly king, would not be taken over by the Assyrians (compare Isaiah 37 with 2 Kings 17). Judah would be judged similarly at a later time (2 Ki. 23:26–27), when they would be taken away by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army (2 Kings 24 and 25).
Hosea 2:23 shows that God will again have mercy on Israel and bring them back. They will be reunited with Judah and the covenant renewed in a coming day when Christ returns as King and draws the Jewish people back to Himself (Jeremiah 24:7, Romans 11:25–32, Hebrews 8:10).
In Hosea’s time, God’s promises to the Patriarchs and David were kept through the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Later they would also be carried away captive due to their sins and be brought back after the 70 year “Sabbath” (Leviticus 26:33–35, 2 Chronicles 36:20–21 with Jeremiah 25:12, 29:10).
Prophetic purpose of these names?
The purpose of God in punishing Israel and Judah was to set them aside for a period of time so he can show mercy to the Gentiles. Paul quotes Hosea 2:23 and applies it to the Gentiles (Romans 9:22–23). The Lord will keep his covenants with His people, and will make new ones with them as well (Jeremiah 32:31 and Hebrews 8:8).
Hosea’s life was a public message representing the LORD’s relationship to Israel. Gomer returns to prostitution (implied in Hosea 3:1–2) and is redeemed from the slave market where she ended up (v.3–4), again a picture of Israel and God purchasing or redeeming the Jewish people at the cost of Christ’s death (Zechariah 13:6–7). He will bring them back to the Promised Land where they will enjoy a close relationship with Himself.
Sometimes we try to sanitize Scripture and misunderstand why God would command a prophet to marry a prostitute. In doing so, we miss the point of the picture Hosea is representing. Hosea’s prophecy was given to the northern 10 tribes, Israel, which had split from Judah following the death of Solomon. Jeroboam, Israel’s first king, started a new schismatic religion and altar (1 Kings 12:26–33). So we see the northern kingdom of Israel was started on the path of disobedience and idolatry and would keep falling back into it throughout their history. One day God will reunite them with Judah, give them a new heart and a new covenant, and rebuild His relationship with them (Jeremiah 24:7, Ezekiel 16:62).
Lessons for us?
There are also lessons here for us as Christians. When we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8–10). We were God’s enemies, alienated from Him (Ephesians 2:1–3) when He reached out to us in rich mercy and love to save us (Ephesians 2:4–10). As Christians we still sin, and often go astray, yet we have a Savior who forgives us when we confess our sins and return to Him (1 John 1:9). May each of us be encouraged by Hosea’s example of love and restoration, reminding us of what God has done for us (Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11–12).