I would bet that you know a little about the story of Hosea, that during a time in Israel’s history when they had abandoned God, he asked the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute. In loving her faithfully, Hosea would allegorically demonstrate God’s relentless love to Israel despite her whoring (yes, the Bible even consistently uses that word) after other things besides the Lord God.
But then Hosea starts to have children, and just as his marriage prophesied to the people of Israel, so did the names of his children – names like No Mercy and Not My People.
God tells Hosea to name one of the children Jezreel, saying “I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel” and “I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
I wondered about this, so I flipped back to 2 Kings 9-10, where we learn that Jezebel, one of the most wicked women in the Bible, as well as king Joram and king Ahaziah were murdered in revenge by Jehu in Jezreel. It’s one of those stories that make you wince and want to turn the page quick, yet you are forced to ask the question of why these accounts made it in the Bible.
Well apparently God remembered the horror that happened in Jezreel, and he was not pleased by the blood that was spilled and the revenge that was executed. I can’t help but wonder about Jezreel. What was it like, like before it became known as such a foul place? Was it a quiet town, a bustling city? Did a brook babble through it, a place where children play or shepherds bring their flocks for a drink? I’m sure God never designed it to be a place of such disgust and destruction, but sin had ruled and ruined the place called Jezreel. And Hosea got to name his child Jezreel to remind everyone of it.
As the book of Hosea unfolds, he confronts the nation of Israel with their rejection of God and his commands, calling them to turn back to the Lord and seek him again. And amidst all the prophesy of Hosea that recounts Israel’s evil deeds, he also reminds them of God’s promise to them:
“I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14)
Israel’s response to God was rejection and adultery, but his response to them was unfailing love and relentless pursuit. Even after all her forgetfulness and rebellion and even hatred towards him, he wanted to woo her back to him. He says “I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.” (Hosea 2:20)
And then, wrapped in romantic imagery of the Lord betrothing Israel to himself, the name Jezreel reappears…
“In that day I will answer, declares the Lord…and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel.”
Wait, Jezreel? The same Jezreel where blood was shed? And there, in a little footnote, we see the real meaning of the word, Jezreel: God will sow.
Jezreel doesn’t mean “city of sin and rebellion” like one might think, like I originally thought. Jezreel means God will sow.
Beautiful, isn’t it? That means that even in the place where Jezebel sinned and Jehu sought revenge, God was sowing. It means that even when a son was born to a prostitute, his name meant God will sow. It means that even when Israel abandoned the Lord and went after other gods, The Lord God sows. And when the people of Israel turn back to God and fall into his faithful love and forgiveness, they will look back on every awful thing they did towards God in the past, and their response will be, “The Lord sows.” Even the grain and oil and the whole earth will cry out, Jezreel, God will sow.
The Lord still sows. But sowing involves the breaking up of hard soil, the tearing up of a field, the breaking down of old things to make room for new things to grow. Sowing requires dying. The seed must be dead and buried to produce new life. And after the sowing, there is a time of waiting and watering and wondering if anything good will ever spring up.
When you wonder if anything good will ever spring up, remember the promise. Jezreel. The Lord will sow.
Even in your rebellious places, in the places where blood was spilled or where all was lost, in the moments of desperation or darkness, or when God demands something hard of your family or children like Hosea, remember the promise. When you are in that place, just call it Jezreel, the Lord will sow.
And when you turn and look towards God, you will see that he was alluring you all along. He was loving you faithfully, and he always will. And perhaps that’s the seed that he sows everywhere he goes, and that’s the seed that will spring up and produce fruit in Jezreel.
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