Sunday, March 7, 2010

Women's Herstories: Why Gomer Married Hosea

Today's sermon was not easily transcribed. So instead I am posting a short story I wrote a while back.  This is the story of why Gomer bothered to marry Hosea, which I have often wondered about. In 2007, I took a class from Dr. Jacqueline Lapsley at Princeton Theological Seminary on Women in the Old Testament. At about the same time I read Dr. Lapsley's book, Whispering the Word: Hearing Women's Stories in the Old Testament. Both the class and her book urged us to listen for women's voices in the silences in scripture. In the places where women's voices are not recorded, we might discover new possibilities for how to understand scripture, long lost whispers from women silenced by violence, fear, and neglect.  Scripture does not record how Hosea felt about Gomer or what Gomer thought about being married to Hosea. For centuries, theologians and pastors have speculated about their states of mind and recorded their speculations as fact. Listening to Gomer as a woman who has also known sexual violence, this is the story Gomer whispered to me as I wrote my midterm for Dr. Lapsley's class.

Fair warning: The story of Gomer and Hosea is dominated by themes of sexual, physical and emotional violence. This short story is not particularly explicit, but it is haunting. If you are uncomfortable with these themes, please feel free to not read!

“So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim…”
(Or The Story of How Gomer Came to Agree to Be Hosea’s Wife)
Loosely based on the missing pieces in Hosea 1:2-4

     He watched her for days.  He watched her as she walked the streets with a light step, laughing most nights at the men who came to her.  He watched her afterwards at the end of the night, weary and worn, her step dragging now as she sought her bed finally alone.  He wondered if there was another way to fulfill the Lord’s command, for this woman filled him with distaste.  There were certain moments when she moved--shimmered really--and he could not remove his eyes.  And the Lord whispered in Hosea’s ear, “Yes, exactly this one.  That is the sense of it.  You cannot look away, can you?”  And Hosea trembled, for this was a thing without pity.  He hated that the Lord came to him as a woman’s voice.  It was improper, indecent, and he would tell no one that part.
     She watched him watch her for days.  He was one of many, but he was always there lately.  Some of them were like that—watching first, finding the courage to ask for what they wanted.  Gomer wasn’t sure she would agree to this one; he was too serious, too grim.  Still, if he offered bread…well, she was always hungry.
     The night was ending and her body ached.  Too many this night, too many.  Tears welled in her eyes as she wondered how many more she would take before she died.  There seemed no other future, and some day one of these men would kill her—maybe this man who watched her so intently. She dropped a coin as she walked near him and crouched low to retrieve it.
     As she squatted the voice came to her again, sweet and soft like it always did.  “This one, child, this is the one.”
     “This one what?” snapped Gomer.  She was not fond of the voice.  “And who are you, anyway?  It worries me that I can hear you.”
     The voice laughed, tinkling in the air. “I am who I am.  And you should be worried.  You will bear a child soon.” (1)     The voice was always right, and Gomer grieved.  A child—perhaps this is what would kill her.  “Then it will die,” she said flatly.  There was no pity left in her for a baby—she could barely feed herself.  Would it starve to death or would she kill it for mercy?
     “Hush, child.  You must take this man for your own.  He will father your children and keep you in bread.”  Gomer stood and laughed deeply, her head thrown back.  Her body and hair shimmered.  The man caught his breath.
     “Why?” she demanded.  “Why would this man take me as wife?  Why would any man take me as wife?”
     The voice did not answer right away.  “He will be your salvation.  He will deliver you.  And you will be his completion.” (2)
     “Well, I will certainly be the end of him!” Gomer was doubled over laughing now. 
     The voice grew impatient.  “He will take you because I told him to.”  The voice was stubborn, intractable.  Gomer stopped laughing and considered the proposition.  It would mean food and shelter—the baby might not die.
     “Who is he?” Gomer asked.
     “Always with the questions, child!  He is Hosea, my prophet to Israel.  He needs to learn of love, so I send you to him.”
     Gomer laughed again.  “I shall be your prophet to Hosea, then!”  The voice did not reply, and Gomer turned toward the man.  Suddenly weary of the game they played, Gomer put her hands out toward him and half closed her eyes.  She called out to him:
I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.
As a lily among brambles,
so is my love among maidens.
The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice. (3)

     Hosea stepped back in horror.  Such beautiful words fell from the lips of this woman, making a mockery of all that he knew to be right.  Still, the Lord had said it was this one.
     “Come with me and I will give you a home,” he said.  “And your children too.  But they shall not be mine.”  Hosea’s jaw clenched at the thought.
     Gomer smiled broadly.  “Then we shall call this one Jezreel , for God will sow the seed.” (4) The laughter bubbled in her throat and she twirled in the street. 
     Hosea held his body stiffly, but he offered his hand.  “Come, the night is done and it is time for us to sleep.” 
     Despite her amusement Gomer hesitated.  Might she not rather die than live with this man?  But the voice prodded her, “Take this hand offered to you, child.  Take this hand and live.”  So she fit her hand into his and looked him in the eye to say sweetly, “Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!  For your love is better than wine.” (5)
     He shuddered and dropped her hand.  He walked some distance ahead of her, but waited for her to follow.

A note about the notes: Blogger doesn't support Hebrew script as best I can tell. 
(1) NRSV translation of the Hebrew tetragram YHWH: "I AM WHO I AM" Exodus 3:14
(2) Hosea is from the Hebrew root "yasheh" meaning “to deliver” and Gomer is from the Hebrew root "gamer" meaning “end, come to an end, complete”
(3) Song of Solomon 2:1-2, 8-9
(4) Jezreel is from the Hebrew root "zareh" meaning “to sow or scatter seed.”
(5) Song of Solomon 1:2

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