PROPERS: PROPER 12, YEAR C
TEXT: HOSEA 1:2-10
PREACHED AT ST. JOHN’S, MONROEVILLE, ON SUNDAY, JULY 28, 2019.
ONE SENTENCE: While the lesson itself may seem harsh, the tenderness and mercy of God are emphasized in later verses.
The inclusion of the first lesson – from the prophet Hosea – may seem curious, just as did the inclusion of Psalm 52 last week.
But, there is a reason, though it may not seem obvious with the verses we heard today. There is, as Paul Harvey said, “the rest of the story.”
The language and imagery of the lesson can seem shocking. The Lord, speaking to Hosea, commands him to “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom.” Basically, he is being commanded to take a common woman, a prostitute, as his wife.
His wife, Gomer, bears three children – though we are left to wonder whether they are really his, or the offspring of some illicit relationship. For the purposes of the narrative, we are to assume they are not his; they are born from Gomer’s unfaithfulness.
Let me say three things about this lesson:
First, we must understand that the Israel of this period was a very patriarchal culture. Men were considered superior, dominant and powerful. Women were subjugated to the men and were considered to be the morally-inferior gender. It is from that understanding that this lesson comes – a morally superior man is to marry a common, immoral woman.
That’s the first point I would emphasize about this lesson. Men had fewer moral demands placed on them.
The second is the setting. You must understand that after the time of David and Solomon as Kings, there was no more a united kingdom. The nations were divided between Israel, to the north, and Judah, to the south. Hosea was prophesying to the northern kingdom, Israel. The time in which this lesson was set, it was the 7thcentury B.C., and Israel’s existence was much more perilous than Judah’s. Judah’s time in the barrelwould come 200 years later.
That’s the second point for understanding this lesson. Israel is the northern nation, and Judah is the southern.
The third point is the most important. This passage, this story, is a metaphor. That is, it points toward another, deeper truth. It is the lesson that the prophet Hosea is trying to convey to the people of the northern kingdom, Israel.
The wife, the prostitute, Gomer, represents the nation of Israel. The people of Israel, Hosea is saying, have prostituted themselves by worshipping other Gods, such as the fertility God of Samaria, Ba’al.
As a result of their spiritual prostitution, they are receiving God’s harsh judgement. The three children which are born to Gomer are the fruits of that judgement: The first child represents the breaking of the house of Israel; the second represents the fact that God will no longer have pity on Israel; and the third child represented the formal rejection by God of the people of Israel.
The practical impact of all this, from Hosea’s view, is the fall of Samaria and Israel to the Assyrians in 732 B. C. The northern portion of what had been considered the Promised Landhad come under the rule of pagan forces. The prophecy of Hosea pointed toward that reality, that breach in the relationship between Israel and their previous God, YHWH.
From Hosea’s perspective, that tragic separation came as the direct result of the unfaithfulness of the people – the spiritual prostitution to other gods.
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The historical record verifies that Assyria conquered Israel. The historical record also bears out the fact that Israel had fallen into chaos in the days before the conquest. Four successive kings were assassinated. The nation was off the tracks.
Hosea gives us the theological reasoning behind that chaos, collapse, and conquest. He tells us the why.
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Likewise, many – if not all – of us can look in the rearview mirror of our lives and see where our lives have gone off the track. We can see the ruin or breakage in relationships and circumstances which have resulted – largely, we see, because we have veered from the path we have been called to travel.
Sometimes that has meant we have been guilty of placing ourselves firstin an unhealthy way. Other times we may have given into a temptation that has lured us like a siren’s song. Yet, at other times, we have been like the nation of Hosea’s Israel – becoming idolatrous of power, wealth, position, influence, superiority over other people, or other false gods.
It would be awful if we had to live in the permanent judgement that Hosea proclaimed to the unfaithful people of Israel. We would remain broken, alienated from God, and would likely not be here today.
But, we do not hear the rest of the story in the passage from Hosea today. Judgement is not the final word in the remainder of Hosea’s prophecy.
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Hosea’s words of God’s wrath are not his final word. I suspect those of us who have experienced the fall from grace can identify, too, with his later words.
Hosea conveys the tenderness of God:
“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 she came out of Egypt.
On that day, says the Lord, you will call me, ‘My husband,” and no longer call me my Baal… and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.” (Hosea 2:14-16, 18b-20)
The upshot of all this is that alienation from God – at least from God’s perspective – is never permanent. A key attribute of God, we are told again and again, is the Hebrew word hesed, which means steadfast love. We hear it in that passage.
God is always saying, like the old hymn, “Come home, come home… ye who are weary come home.” As Jesus tells us,“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I suspect that in your long dark night of the soul – when you have felt separated from God – you have had such a moment of healing – of reconciliation with God. If not, I urge you to come to this altar. And when you receive the bread and wine that is the symbolic Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, that your lay those burdens on the altar and be reconciled to the God of steadfast love.