There are three main interpretative approaches to Hosea chapters 1-3. The first is the symbolic view which treats the marriage as a symbol or a vision utilized by God to teach Israel lessons about His marriage to them. This view is held by a lot of the older commentators. For instance, John Calvin says, “There is no doubt but that God describes here the favor He promises to the Israelites in a type or a vision: for they are too gross in their notions, who think that the prophet married a woman who had been a harlot.” The commentators who take this position indicate that if Hosea had in fact married a harlot, his ministry would have been undermined.
The second position may be called the proleptic view. The idea here is that Gomer was chaste when Hosea married her and then she engaged in unfaithfulness. This doesn’t really solve the potential problem; it still sets forth a situation where God commands Hosea to marry a woman that He knew would be a harlot.
The third position is the literal view. I believe this is the correct interpretation for several reasons. First, the narrative reads as straightforward history. The LORD commanded Hosea, “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry” (1:2a). The prophet then went and married Gomer the daughter of Diblaim and she bore him a son (v. 3). She conceived again and bore him a daughter (1:6) and “when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son” (1:8). Secondly, the “children of harlotry” spoken of in 1:2a were more than likely the children born to Gomer prior to her marriage with Hosea. The three children referenced in 1:3-9 are best understood as children born to Hosea and Gomer, and thus they would not have been children of harlotry. Verse 3 makes clear that Jezreel was a son born to Hosea. We have no reason from the text to suppose otherwise concerning Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi. Thirdly, the woman Hosea marries according to 1:2 is “a wife of harlotry” and the same woman he is called to recover in 3:1 is guilty of adultery. Hosea married Gomer who had been guilty of harlotry. He had three children with her, each of which carried a particular message through their God-determined names to the northern kingdom, and subsequent to this, Gomer engaged in adultery and thus the prophet was commanded to recover her again (3:1-5). Fourthly, the priests of Israel were prohibited from marrying harlots (Lev 21:7, 13-14), but prophets were not subject to the same prohibition according to God’s law. Therefore, it is best to understand that this was in fact a literal marriage between the prophet and Gomer and it was contracted according to the command of God to serve as an acted parable of the LORD’s relationship with Israel.
Why is this literal view significant? In the first place, the reason given by God for Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is stated 1:2b, “For the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD.” McComiskey comments,
The clause ‘because the land has committed great fornication [which has led them] away from the LORD’ (1:2) states the reason for Hosea’s marriage – it was because the people were guilty of spiritual fornication. They might have pointed the finger at Gomer and gossiped about the prophet who married her, but they were no better than she. The marriage of Hosea and Gomer was an eloquent depiction of Yahweh’s marriage to His errant people.
Secondly, though the LORD condemned the conduct of the people of Israel and used the preaching of the prophet to call them to repentance, He also communicated a message of hope concerning the restoration of Israel. In 1:3-9, the names of Hosea’s three children indicate that the northern kingdom would come to an end (1:4), the people would be judged without pity (1:6), and they would be considered not God’s people (1:9). As if anticipating the possible objection, “what about the LORD’s promise to Abraham?” the prophet looks forward to the days of the New Covenant in 1:10-11. The latter half of chapter 2 (vv. 14-23) also looks forward to the New Covenant when the names of the three children would be reversed and the blessing of God would come upon the church.
Finally, the marriage of Hosea and Gomer is probably intended to shock us a bit. The literal view of the marriage may cause a degree of discomfort among New Covenant Christians. We are, after all, supposed to be equally yoked and a godly man should never marry a harlot. While I am certainly not condoning marrying harlots, we should appreciate that this was a unique command given by God in a specific redemptive historical situation. With this necessary qualification given, what is more shocking – Hosea’s marriage to Gomer or God’s marriage to Israel? As faithful as Hosea was, he was still a sinner. For God the LORD to take such a bride demonstrates His grace, mercy, and lovingkindness. The fact that He saves such people IS shocking. The first century Jews were scandalized by God’s redemptive plan (1 Co 1:23); no doubt 8th century B.C. Jews were shocked as are modern readers of this ancient love story. As McComiskey notes,
The prophecy of Hosea is a tapestry of grace. As the prophet loves a woman whose crudeness and brazenness must have hurt him deeply, so God’s grace comes to His people in their unloveliness. Our spiritual condition is never so low that God cannot woo and receive us back to Himself as Hosea received Gomer.
So to answer the question posed in the title of this post, yes, Hosea did marry a harlot. The important thing to remember concerning this incident recorded in Hosea 1-3 is not that Hosea married a harlot, but that God did.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XIII (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, re. 1996), 123.
 Some posit that there were two different women the prophet was commanded to love. I do not believe this is the case.
 Thomas Edward McComiskey, “Hosea,” An Exegetical and Expository Commentary on the Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, re. 2006), 1:16.
 See Paul’s use of this passage in Ro 9:25-26. Cf. 1 Pe 2:10 also.
Thomas Edward McComiskey, “Hosea,” An Exegetical and Expository Commentary on the Minor Prophets, ed. Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, re. 2006), 1:17.