So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel. Hosea 1:3-11 ESV

Hosea has received a difficult assignment from God. He’s been instructed to marry a woman who has a reputation as a prostitute. In that day and age, this would have been an act of social suicide, rendering Hosea an outcast from polite society. Women were already viewed as second-class citizens, with few rights and little value other than that of bearing and raising children. So, an adulterous or promiscuous woman was considered particularly repugnant and worthy of the community’s scorn and rejection. No self-respecting, God-honoring Hebrew male would knowingly choose to marry a woman of “ill-repute.” But here we have Hosea being commanded by God to do just that. And to make matters worse, God let Hosea know that this was not going to be some kind of symbolic marriage or acted-out parable intended to teach a moral lesson. Hosea and his new bride were expected to begin a family. And with a prostitute for a wife, Hosea must have known that his children would face the constant whispers and rumors questioning the identity of their “real” father.

None of this was going to be easy for Hosea. Yet, at no point in the story do we see or hear of Hosea questioning the will of his heavenly Father. There are no signs of resistance or declarations of divine injustice. Hosea doesn’t argue or bargain with God. He doesn’t offer an alternative plan. He simply obeys. When the Lord said, “Go,” Hosea went.

So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. – Hosea 1:3 ESV

Verses 4-8 present what is obviously a highly compressed chronology of Hosea’s life. In just five verses, Hosea goes from being a single, unmarried prophet to a husband and the father of three children. But what makes this abbreviated timeline so interesting is that God was the one to name each of Hosea’s offspring. And each name had a specific meaning or connotation. With each child’s birth, they would quickly become the talk of the town. The gossips would have a field day. And when the names of each child became common knowledge, the people of Israel would realize that God was making a not-so-subtle statement about them.

God named Hosea’s firstborn son, Jezreel. Interestingly enough, this name was not particularly bad. It actually means, “God sows.” But God lets Hosea know that the boys name in linked to a particular geographic location, the Valley of Jezreel. Years earlier, in that very valley, King Jehu of Israel had fulfilled the pronouncement that God had made against the wicked king, Ahab, and his equally wicked wife, Jezebel.

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anoint you king over the Lord’s people, Israel. You are to destroy the family of Ahab, your master. In this way, I will avenge the murder of my prophets and all the Lord’s servants who were killed by Jezebel. The entire family of Ahab must be wiped out. I will destroy every one of his male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. – 2 Kings 9:6-8 NLT

Jehu had been anointed by the prophet of God to become the next king of Israel. But Joram was the reigning king at the time. It was in the Valley of Jezreel that Jehu killed King Joram, and declared himself the rightful king of Israel. Jehu went on to kill King Ahaziah of Judah as well, and ordered the slaughter of 42 of his relatives. This merciless and unnecessary action was not part of God’s plan. And it seems that God has chosen the name Jezreel as a way of commemorating Jehu’s egregious overreach. God tells Hosea that his son’s name will be Jezree as a constant reminder to the people of Israel that He will “punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel” (Hosea 1: 4 ESV). God swore to “put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel” (Hosea 1:4 ESV), just as He did to the dynasty of Jehu. Despite his initial obedience, Jehu had proved to be as godless as all the kings before him.

 But Jehu did not obey the Law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit. – 2 Kings 10:31 ESV

So, only four generations of Jehu’s descendants would rule over the kingdom of Israel. And God warned Hosea that the Valley of Jezreel would be the site of another slaughter and it would take place “on that day.” This was fulfilled in 733 B.C. when King Tiglath-Pilesar III  and the Assyrians defeated the armies of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.

Hosea’s second child, a girl, received the Hebrew name, Lo-ruhama, which means, “No mercy.”  And the meaning behind this name takes far less brain-power to figure out. God makes it perfectly clear.

“I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.” – Hosea 1:6 ESV

This poor little girl would be a constant reminder to Hosea that Yahweh was done extending mercy and grace to the rebellious and unrepentant nation of Israel. Every time Hosea called her name, he would have to recall the sobering words of God, and the disheartening news that, while Israel would receive no forgiveness from God, the southern kingdom of Judah would enjoy His undeserved mercy and grace.

“But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.” – Hosea 1:7 ESV

As will become painfully clear, the names of Hosea’s children only get worse with time. The third child, another boy, is saddled with the very awkward name, Lo-ammi, which means “not my people.” This poor kid would constantly bear the brunt of cruel jokes and hurtful comments questioning his birth legitimacy. As if being born to a mother with a reputation for being a prostitute, this boy’s name would be like a billboard declaring that Hosea was not his father.

But God had a much greater purpose behind the name. It was meant to be an indictment against the entire nation of Israel. The day was coming when they could find themselves living in exile in a foreign land. God would have them physically removed them from their homes and cities, and relocated to a distant where He would become little more than a fading memory.

But despite all the unattractive names and their equally unpleasant meanings, God left Hosea with good news for the people of Israel.

“Yet the time will come when Israel’s people will be like the sands of the seashore—too many to count! Then, at the place where they were told, ‘You are not my people,’ it will be said, ‘You are children of the living God.’” – Hosea 1:10 NLT

These names, while far from flattering, would not end up defining the children of Hosea and Gomer. While we know nothing about their childhood experiences or what happened to them after they grew up, we can assume that they went on to marry, have children, and live their lives just like any other Hebrew. And though the people of Israel would eventually suffer defeat and deportation at the hands of the Assyrians, God was not done with them. God speaks of a future day when He will restore and reunite His people.

Then the people of Judah and Israel will unite together. They will choose one leader for themselves, and they will return from exile together. What a day that will be—the day of Jezreel—when God will again plant his people in his land. – Hosea 1:11 NLT

At this point, Hosea is being given a glimpse into God’s preordained and preferred future for His disobedient children. Yes, there will be a time of judgment. The people of Israel will have to face the consequences for their rebellion and failure to repent. But, as God will reveal to Hosea, His judgment will be followed by mercy. His discipline will accompanied by His desire to bless those whom He has chosen as His own possession. Just as Hosea has married an unfaithful wife, God has covenanted with an unfaithful people. But He will remain unwavering in His love and totally committed to His covenant promises to them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson