Hosea was instructed to name his son, born to Gomer, Jezreel. That was to be his name because it would declare the coming judgment of God upon an adulterous nation. Hosea 1:4-5 says, “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.’” Gomer conceived again, but it appears this child was not from Hosea but from one of her many adulteries. God directs Hosea to give it a name with a specific meaning as well. Hosea 1:6 says, “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.’”  Many commentators think that the ESV’s (English Standard Version) translation of the child’s name as “No Mercy” might not be as accurate as it should be. In Hebrew, it is Lo-Ruhamah. Some English translations like the King James, New King James, and many others just put the Hebrew word in English letters without defining it. The Good News Translation says, “The Lord said to Hosea, ‘Name her Unloved because I will no longer show love to the people of Israel or forgive them.’” Garrett says, “The name Lo-Ruhamah means ‘not loved.’ It is a dreadful name to give to a little girl. It communicates rejection by her father and says that he has abandoned her to all the troubles of the world. For a culture as child-centered as Israel was, it is difficult to imagine a name more scandalous and offensive. Whenever her name was spoken, it commanded the attention of the people around and invited the question, Why would anyone call his daughter that?”[1]

The commentators are also divided on the issue of whether this little girl is Hosea’s daughter or one of his many consorts. But the name itself seems to imply to me that this daughter, who is unloved by her father, is the offspring of another man. Garrett goes on to observe, “The people heard that terrible name, and no doubt whispered to one another, ‘Hosea’s wife is unfaithful; he must doubt that this child is his. He has rejected the poor thing!’” The most important translation confusion, however, rests with the phrase “to forgive them at all.” Garrett and other Hebrew scholars argue that it’s a total mistranslation. He translates this verse as “Call her name ‘Not Loved.’ Thus I shall no longer let it happen, that I should love the house of Israel. But I shall completely forgive them.” This seems to be the message of the whole book and fits the context much better. Hosea is about a husband who continues to love and forgive an unfaithful wife. It was a picture of how God continues to forgive his unfaithful people.

As I think about this, it’s truly humbling. We might want to point our fingers at Israel, which I think I do often and say what an ungrateful, unthankful, and rebellious people they were. They deserve everything they get. But then I remember the indignation that David showed to the parable Nathan told him about the wealthy man slaughtering the only beloved pet of his poor neighbor while he kept his own herd safe. When David got indignant and said, “that man should die.” Nathan said to him, “you are that man.” It’s always tempting for us to identify with the righteous people in the Bible stories, but if the truth be told, I am the one that has proven unfaithful. I am the illegitimate child of God that has been named “unloved.” Although we were all foreigners, not natural children, God bestows upon us in Christ the blessing of adoption. As Paul tells the Romans, we are now legitimate children of God who cry, “Abba! Father.” Although we were once aliens and unloved by God, He demonstrated his love for us in Christ. While we were still sinners, Christ took the shame of our sins on himself and paid the penalty for us.

[1] Garrett, Duane A. 1997. Hosea, Joel. Vol. 19A. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.