“Hosea, I have instructions for you. I want you to go into the city to find a prostitute, whom you are to marry. She will conceive your offspring, and they shall be children of whoredom…”
Hosea meanders into the local brothel, where he meets a woman named Gomer to take as his wife. It is unsurprising that the ensuing marriage proves challenging for Hosea. Roaming the dark alleyways at night, he shouts the name of his beloved, entertaining the possibility that he can catch but one glimpse of Gomer as she immerses herself in the lustfulness of the night.
His spirits, already discouraged by the embarrassment of searching for his errant spouse, is only further dampened by the questions he receives from the townspeople. “Hosea, you are a prophet, a man of God. Would you explain why you associate yourself with this adulteress? What keeps you from abandoning an unfaithful wife like Gomer?”
As Hosea struggles to respond, he remembers the moment when God pledged to relinquish his burning wrath so that it would not consume the disobedient Israelites, saying “Those who were not my people, I will call children of the living God.”1 What did God’s bold act of mercy imply for the anger he and the townspeople felt towards Gomer, a harlot deserving of every dishonor for causing so many years of pain?
With this, Hosea’s bitterness was no longer. He replies, “It is the same love that keeps God from abandoning an unfaithful people like us.”2
Although the biography of Hosea offers readers an opportunity to indulge in the characteristics of an ever-benevolent divine, it would be a mistake to ignore passages in the book that clearly portray God as furious and violent towards the Israelites. Why is God angry, and is this facet of him consistent with the character that Christians believe? What does God hope to achieve with his anger? Lastly, what precedent does God set for the way Christians approach the issue of anger?
These questions are of paramount importance because the concept of an angry God is unpalatable and confusing for both the Christian and non-Christian. One does not need a particular religious identification to experience discomfort at the sight of a picket sign describing what kinds of people God hates or cringe at the sound of a street evangelist shouting that God sends all sinners to hell. While seemingly mired in bigotry, it is important to ask why those statements make people uncomfortable – are they true and simply presented in an unloving way, or does the notion itself of a vengeful God contradict the frequently preached portrayal of a loving father? For the Christian, the book of Hosea needs to address the persistent issue of an angry God, a fact that is unfortunately misunderstood or ignored; for the non-Christian, Hosea asserts that God’s nature is cohesive instead of contradictory.
First, according to the text, the Israelites have blatantly committed sinful acts instead of obeying the laws they have been given. Through Hosea, God lays out his charges against the people:
“And 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.”3
Presently, God is noting that they worshiped other gods in direct violation to the first of his Ten Commandments (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”).4 Historians write that many of the Israelites were engaged in sexual intimacy with cult prostitutes at pagan shrines, hoping that Baal would reward them with fertile bodies and crops. Furthermore, in Chapter 6, God alleges that Israel’s spiritual leaders were guilty of inflicting tremendous harm; like robbers, the priests banded together to murder and exploit the people.5 To understand that the Israelites had blatantly rejected God in a multitude of ways is the first half of understanding the wrath of God.
The other half rests upon a theological premise that, by definition, God is holy and without sin; in other words, the giver of the moral law must possess moral perfection because the standards set are his own. With these premises in place, one can draw the conclusion that God is angry because his character has been violated and contradicted by the Israelites’ decisions. A holy God must, by definition, remain pure and perfect by refusing to tolerate sin. In fact, any tolerance for sin (i.e. permitting the Israelites’ behavior instead of rebuking it) would actually be the true inconsistency.
Richard Dawkins, a renowned critic of Christianity, declares in his book The God Delusion that “the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser…”6 This statement seems to have merit upon a cursory reading of a book such as Hosea. In Chapter 9, God says
“Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house.
I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.”7
In Chapter 13, God also portrays himself as a lion that will tear apart Israel with no hope for rescue.8 Indeed, “bloodthirsty” seems to be an apt description.9 However, in light of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Almighty, Dawkins’ argument no longer retains its plausibility. An informed understanding of the context actually portrays God as the diametric opposite of “jealous,” “petty,” “unjust,” “unforgiving,” among others.
In C.S. Lewis’ tale The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a lion named Aslan serves to illustrate the characteristics of a savior. One of the protagonists, Lucy, asks about Aslan: “Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” Mr. Beaver responds, “Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”10
God is much the same. While loving to and relational with the Israelites, he is at once dangerous, omnipotent, and, above all, consistently holy.
Hosea further explicates what God intends to achieve by expressing anger instead of, for instance, suppressing his displeasure. God’s anger is intended to lead sinners to repentance and restore relationships that have gone astray. Directly following the rejection in Chapter 5, God says that he will depart until they “acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.”11 In Chapter 10,
“Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt.
The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.”12
God is not aimlessly furious. He believes that redemption with the Israelites is only possible if the altars they made for idols are broken. If his chosen people are unwilling to remove those obstacles, it is God’s prerogative to take action that warns them of punishment as the inevitable consequence of disobedience, deters them from further wickedness, and ultimately restores them to the perfect relationship promised to Abraham and Moses. It is this previously established agreement that defines the highest standard of holiness (Hebrew: qodesh, meaning “set apart” in relation to the rest of the world) God sought from the Israelites.13 In return for being their divine provider and protector, God expected full commitment to his law and their relationship.
Often, the aim of restoration to holiness differentiates God’s anger from human anger. J.I. Packer, a contemporary theologian, states that “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.”14 God does not demonstrate anger stemming from uncontrolled, “heat of the moment” emotions. Rather, the wrath manifested in the Old Testament is a deliberate and consistent response to sin; this is in stark contrast to the anger that people feel, often engendered by poor planning, pride that has been hurt, or a lack of caffeine. Seldom can one confidently declare that he has never been subject to capricious mental states, while, on the other hand, God affirms that “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”15 Thus, especially while analyzing accounts such as Hosea in the Bible, one must be careful to not confound God’s anger with human connotations or experiences of this emotion.
While Hosea focuses on God’s perfect anger, the book still offers wisdom to Christians seeking a Biblical viewpoint on the role of anger in their daily lives. Three precedents are established through God’s actions and commands.
First, Christians are instructed to demonstrate anger that is slow, or in other words, deliberate and nonvolatile. One should ask, “Is my anger moving me to take sinful instead of loving action? Is the magnitude of my anger appropriate for this situation?” Such questions are important because humans are prone to demonstrating what St. Augustine calls “disordered love” – that is, objects of affection become objects of worship (i.e. idols), thus leading one to demonstrate unjustifiably strong anger during a situation that does not warrant such a reaction.16 Slow anger is therefore essential, as it helps prevent the occurrence of disordered anger by allowing one to reconsider whether he has just cause.
Second, God demonstrates that one ought to express anger if a proper object of affection is threatened. Parents, for example, should exhibit anger if their children are harmed because this anger motivates them to take protective action; members of a community should likewise be angry instead of apathetic towards the injustices experienced by other members. Anger is not inherently sinful; in fact, for many, indifference may actually be the greater issue.
The final imperative is to embrace vulnerability in the same way God did before the Israelites. In Chapter 11, God offers an opportunity to reunite despite his every right to punish:
“My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.”17
Vulnerability opens the door to forgiveness, the ultimate resolution to man’s perpetual struggle with anger. In the final chapter, God reiterates that having turned his anger from them, he is able to love them freely and reconcile their estrangement.18
On behalf of those experiencing racial discrimination during America’s Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. had this to declare: “But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”19 Forgiveness is the core of the Christian ethic, made available for each believer to freely give and receive because God first offered it to mankind. Forgiveness destroys the sin while rebuilding the sinner. Did not the same paradigm manifested decades ago in the struggle for desegregation also hold millennia ago when a hurt God appealed to the Israelites for their acknowledgement?
Nowhere is this forgiveness better exemplified than what becomes of Hosea’s marriage. God instructs the prophet to continue loving Gomer, a directive he obeys without complaint. It is with humility that he repurchases her from another man for fifteen shekels of silver in addition to the same value in barley. As Hosea walks with her, the object of affection for which he had paid every piece of silver he owned, he says: “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.”20
God has also paid the price necessary to offer forgiveness. May this grace be greatly cherished by anyone willing to receive it.
1. Hosea 1:10, ESV.
2. Italicized introduction incorporates author's interpretation of the Hosea text.
3. Hosea 2:13, ESV.
4. Exodus 20:3, ESV.
5. Hosea 6:9, ESV.
6. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
7. Hosea 9:15, ESV.
8. Hosea 13:8, ESV.
9. Hosea 5:14, ESV.
10. Lewis, C.S. The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. New York: Penguin, 1950.
11. Hosea 5:15, ESV.
12. Hosea 10:2, ESV.
13. Genesis 12:2-3, Exodus 19:5-6, ESV.
14. Packer, J.I. Knowing God, 151. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1975.
15. Malachi 3:6, ESV.
16. Augustine, Saint, R. S. Pine-Coffin, Marcus Dods, and J.J. Shaw. The Confessions ; The City of God ; On Christian Doctrine. 2nd ed. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1990.
17. Hosea 11:8-9, ESV.
18. Hosea 14:4, ESV.
19. Martin Luther King Jr., A Christmas Sermon for Peace on December 24, 1967.
20. Hosea 3:3, ESV.
Michael studies statistics and health care management. His favorite genres of music are Southern hip hop, EDM, and country.