Study Guide

The Twelve Minor Prophets Women, Sex and Gender

Women, Sex and Gender

When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. (NRSV Hosea 1:2-3)

The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD. So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim; which conceived, and bare him a son. (KJV Hosea 1:2-3)

Now that’s an example of being committed to your prophetic art. Experiential learning, you might call it. What Gomer thought of the whole escapade, however, is never made clear. She was a passive recipient of whatever this plan was supposed to prove.

Plead with your mother, plead—for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband—that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts, or I will strip her naked and expose her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and turn her into a parched land, and kill her with thirst. Upon her children also I will have no pity, because they are children of whoredom. (NRSV Hosea 2:2-4)

Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts; Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst. And I will not have mercy upon her children; for they be the children of whoredoms. (KJV Hosea 2:2-4)

Even the children will be punished for the sins of their errant mothers. This is a popular theme among the prophets, although some of the major prophets later decided that God meant everyone to be responsible for their own sins and not those of their ancestors.

Therefore, I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. From there I will give her her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. On that day, says the LORD, you will call me, “My husband,” and no longer will you call me, “My Baal.” (NRSV Hosea 2:14-16)

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali. (KJV Hosea 2:14-16)

Once again, the woman is passive. She returns to her husband after a few nice words and some wine. The Bible in the headlines: Hosea predicts Rihanna and Chris Brown.

The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son; for at the proper time he does not present himself at the mouth of the womb […] Although he may flourish among rushes, the east wind shall come, a blast from the LORD, rising from the wilderness; and his fountain shall dry up, his spring shall be parched. It shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword, their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open. (NRSV Hosea 13:13, 15-16)

The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come upon him: he is an unwise son; for he should not stay long in the place of the breaking forth of children […] Though he be fruitful among his brethren, an east wind shall come, the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up: he shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels. Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up. (KJV Hosea 13:13, 15-16)

This is the Minor Prophets’ gender perfect storm. In verse 13 Israel is no longer an adulterous woman in the sex trade. She’s a man, but in a pointed insult to his manliness God likens him not only to a woman giving birth, but a child who suffers mental development issues due to a problem with the delivery. Then the passage whipsaws back to being a man whose, uh, flowing waters have gone dry. In other words, he’s impotent. The curse sequence ends with Israel transitioning into a pregnant woman who gets brutally murdered by Assyrian invaders while God pretends to look the other way. The depiction of women and gender in this prophecy is understandably controversial, but some scholars contend that in context it’s still not as bad as Knocked Up.

All her images shall be beaten to pieces, all her wages shall be burned with fire, and all her idols I will lay waste; for as the wages of a prostitute she gathered them, and as the wages of a prostitute they shall again be used. (NRSV Micah 1:6-7)

And all the graven images thereof shall be beaten to pieces, and all the hires thereof shall be burned with the fire, and all the idols thereof will I lay desolate: for she gathered it of the hire of an harlot, and they shall return to the hire of an harlot. (KJV Micah 1:6-7)

The wealth that Israel acquires through foreign trade is essentially the same as money received for prostitution. If the prophet Micah were alive today, he’d be on the writing staff of Mad Men.

The women of my people you drive out from their pleasant houses; from their young children you take away my glory forever. (NRSV Micah 2:9)

The women of my people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses; from their children have ye taken away my glory for ever. (KJV Micah 2:9)

Men are supposed to provide for women and children, not cast them out on the street. Once again, women are portrayed as passive victims of their husbands’ behavior.

Because of the countless debaucheries of the prostitute, gracefully alluring, mistress of sorcery, who enslaves nations through her debaucheries, and peoples through her sorcery, I am against you, says the LORD of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will let nations look on your nakedness and kingdoms on your shame. (NRSV Nahum 3:4-5)

Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the well-favoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts. Behold, I am against thee, saith the LORD of hosts; and I will discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will shew the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame. (KJV Nahum 3:4-5)

This is a common image throughout the major and minor prophets. Is the implication here that it’s easier to shame a woman than a man?

Look at your troops: they are women in your midst. The gates of your land are wide open to your foes; fire has devoured the bars of your gates. (NRSV Nahum 3:13)

Behold, thy people in the midst of thee are women: the gates of thy land shall be set wide open unto thine enemies: the fire shall devour thy bars. (KJV Nahum 3:13)

Is God saying that Nineveh’s soldiers fight like girls? Probably not, though that kind of gender-bending would indeed be considered an insult. This is more likely an insult directed at the men, who skipped town and left the women to fend for themselves.

For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped; half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. (NRSV Zechariah 14:2)

For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the
residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. (KJV Zechariah 14:2)

This is another divine insult, this time directed at the men of Judah. Treaties back in the day of the Lord were, shall we say, a tad more colorful than treaties today. The penalties imposed on a ruler who breaks a treaty include such emasculating experiences as watching his country’s women get raped and his citizens carried off as slaves. Forget about the women and children--pity the poor ruler for being humiliated like this.

You ask, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did not one God make her? [9] Both flesh and spirit are his. [10] And what does the one God [11] desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. (NRSV Malachi 2:14-15)

Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. (KJV Malachi 2:14-15)

Now here’s a switch. In ancient Israel, adultery is what happens when a married woman sleeps around—a married man with a wandering eye could say, “Whatever, I do want I want.” Now, however, God describes Israel as an unfaithful husband who has betrayed his wife and put the future of his heritage in jeopardy. Malachi tosses traditional values into the trash and makes equality the new normal.

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