Does Hosea 3 describe Gomer or a second woman?

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Eric Tully’s Advanced Hebrew Exegesis of Hosea course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Please note: I use the Hebrew Bible’s chapter and verse references below, which can at times be different than what one will find in our English translations.

Foundational to anyone’s interpretation of the book of Hosea at large is his or her understanding of the relationship between Gomer in ch. 1 and the unnamed woman in ch. 3. Namely, are these women the same women; or are they distinct? Interrelated with this question is an additional question of whether or not chs. 1 and 3 are sequential or parallel accounts of the same event. In the case of the latter, the women are necessarily identical. If sequential, chs. 1-3 may depict either two distinct women or two events surrounding the same woman, Gomer. Wading through these issues is of particular importance in that they set the stage for the rest of the book’s message.

We will handle this exegetical issue in three stages. (1) Questions of literary unity. Based on his view that chs. 1-3 are not an original literary unit, Wolff (59) argues that this entire debate is “foreign to the text.” He supposes that ch. 3 was written prior to the composition of ch. 1, and, therefore, should not be compared with ch. 1 in an effort towards a historical reconstruction of Hosea’s life. Rather than being compared to ch. 1, ch. 3 should be interpreted as thematically related to ch. 2 with which ch. 3 is in continuation and for which it serves as a conclusion. Ch. 3 “functions as the prophet’s personal seal upon the foregoing series of threats and promises” [in ch. 2] (59). Against this stance, Garrett notes that no manuscript evidence supports such compositional skepticism (46). Either way, the text should be treated in its current form. And even if one concedes to Wolff’s proposal, questions about the historical relationship between these events and women—historical realities foundational to the book’s interpretation—still remain.

(2) The relationship between the events of ch. 1 and 3—sequential or parallel? Various reasons exist to support the conclusion that ch. 3 depicts an event distant from and sequential to ch. 1. For example, Mays notes, in ch. 1 “the prophet was told to go take a wife, but here he is ordered to go love a wife, as though to imply that what was required was his personal commitment within a relationship already established” (56). Similarly, Freedman: “The discipline enforced in 3:3 is not the training of a bride, but the subjection and purgation of a fallen wife” (293). Conclusive is ch. 3’s calling this woman an adulteress. Presumably, Hosea would not marry another man’s wife! Therefore, this must be a “remarriage” to Hosea’s wife, an event unknown to and therefore distinct from ch. 1 (Garrett, 99). עוֹד (again), despite what verb it modifies, likely indicates that the events of ch. 3 follow those of ch. 1. And, finally, understanding ch. 3 as subsequent and referring to the same woman of ch. 1 fits well with the message of Hosea. Gomer would mirror Hosea’s message of sin, punishment, and restoration.

(3) The relationship between the two women. Stuart presents a skeptical and indecisive stance towards these biographical questions of Hosea’s life. He rightly concludes that such questions are beyond the text’s intent, which relates to the communication of theological truths (11-12). Nonetheless, he argues that the two women are distinct based on his view of Gomer’s promiscuity—spiritual adultery—versus the woman’s in ch. 3—actual adultery (64). Against this, one could argue that the context of ch. 1-3 implies that Gomer is meant in both accounts. The mention of adultery implies that this woman is Hosea’s immoral wife; and Gomer meets both of these qualifications: she is the only (1) immoral woman and (2) wife of Hosea mentioned in the book. As Garret says, “Hosea probably felt no need to give his audience the name of this woman precisely because the reader already knows who she is” (98). Additionally, no matter what verb עוֹד modifies, it suggests continuity, presumably with the events and woman of chapter 1 (Freedman, 293). However, if עוֹד modifies אֱֽהַב, then Gomer is almost necessarily in view. Finally, if the woman in ch. 3 is Gomer, Hosea’s actions would more exactly depict God’s message of restoration.

Therefore, for the reasons argued above, this author concludes that chs. 1-3 depict sequential events regarding Hosea’s marriage and “remarriage” to the same woman, Gomer. This interpretation is most significant in terms of its relationship to the message of Hosea. Hosea’s dealings with Gomer vividly and movingly mirror God’s redemptive relationship with Israel.