Divine command theory and Hosea’s actions

I had my students write short ‘essays’ in response to a prompt based on one of their recent homework assignments. They can choose the one with which they’re most comfortable. Here’s one of those prompts:

‘In Homework #18, you learned about the content and message of the Book of Hosea. If you choose this prompt, you’ll need to tell me the following information in a minimum of 6 sentences: (1) Do you think it was moral or immoral for Hosea to marry a sex-worker (prostitute) knowing what she would do to him and their family? (Explain why.) (2) Do you think it was moral or immoral for Hosea to give his children the names he gave them? (Explain why.) (3) Does the fact that these actions are presented as obedient responses to divine commands change how you interpret them? (In other words, if Hosea did these things without being commanded by God would that change their morality?)’

When they learned about Hosea, they learned how Yahweh God had told Hosea that his marriage and the birth of his children would be overshadowed by Gomer’s occupation, and Hosea was commanded to give his children some degrading names (e.g., Lo-ammi, ‘not my people’), yet Hosea’s often justified because ‘God said’ to do it (divine command theory).

Among the responses, there’s been a desire to say that this is an exception to a general rule, because/if God commanded it. But the ‘why?’ has been harder for them to articulate. One response (that needed to be unpacked more) was the ‘greater good’ defense. God commanded these seemingly problematic actions because Hosea’s sacrificial life contributed to the greater good for others.

While rare, there were those who pushed back against the question. One student wrote, ‘Speaking broadly, marrying a sex worker is perfectly moral.’ His problem was with Hosea marrying Gomer knowing the consequences of this decision. This student wrote, ‘…intentionally bringing his children into a broken home just to make examples of them was an immoral decision.’ But it was his final argument that I found fascinating: ‘if Hosea had done these things without God’s requesting of them, then I actually believe it would be more moral. After all, Hosea only knew for sure that his wife was going to leave him because an omniscient deity told him so. If he did not have Yahweh’s foresight on his side, then absolutely none of what he did would have been immoral — only unfortunate.’

Another student put ‘God in the dock’ if you will, writing, ‘Hosea’s actions were immoral because God’s actions were immoral.’ Now it wasn’t clarified if this means God’s command was immoral which pushed Hosea to do something immoral or if she meant that God’s actions toward Israel were immoral as modeled by Hosea’s actions toward Gomer.

It’s been interesting reading through these responses. Some students experience a real uneasiness with saying that God could be immoral or command something immoral while simultaneously struggling to articulate why an action that would otherwise be immoral (intentionally marrying someone who you know will blow up your family; giving your children derogatory names to make a point) is moral when God commands it.


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