Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.
Hosea is a different kind of prophet, isn’t he? Living out God’s message in metaphor with his own bodily actions and life choices to illustrate God’s relationship to Israel and Israel’s relationship to God. It’s a book in the Bible that is uncomfortable to read. It shakes us up and says, “Hey! Pay Attention! God’s doing a new thing!” Even if we don’t like to read about it.
God instructs Hosea to marry Gomer; resulting in the ultimate uncomfortable metaphor of prostitution, adultery, and infidelity; a life-style image God wants Israel, Ephraim, and Judah to understand as indicative of how God’s own people have treated God, and how God feels about it. How do we interpret this uncomfortable prophet? Since he writes in living metaphor, what he lives out and illustrates is God’s emotional life: reflecting sorrow, anger, and longing for God’s People to return to God.
We might reflect on that for a moment, and contemplate whether we, too, need to reckon such a metaphor as indicative of our own treatment of God – or at least, Christianity. Have we strayed from God in our modern times? William Willimon has some uncomfortable thoughts about that. He writes, “There was a time when one heard people say, “Although I am not an active member of any church, I still consider myself to be very religious.”
He goes on to say, “At some point even generic “religious” became too specific for comfort. Now one hears people say, “Even though I am not really a religious person, I do consider myself very spiritual.” Does that sound familiar to you? “This is the great faith of our time—faith as a vague feeling of something or other, out there, or within, something that gives us a sort of warm feeling about some indescribable, indefinable, something. Call it spirituality lite.” Whether or not we agree with him, Willimon thinks it
“is the result of a project begun at the birth of modernity. In order to get the modern world going, [he writes,] we found it necessary to render God into Aristotle’s unmoved mover. We could not stand an interventionist, engaged, and involved God who intruded into our closed, law-abiding natural world. So we made God into an abstraction, a concept, a detached cosmic bureaucrat, just following the rules.”
With each successive child born to Gomer and Hosea, God illustrates via the significance of the children’s names how deeply God’s people have turned away, and what God’s own feelings toward them are because of their actions.
A firstborn son, usually a sign of favor and status, honor and security for the future of the parents is named, on God’s orders, Jezreel. Which means “God sows” or “God plants.” However, this child becomes identified with the location of two regicides, twenty beheadings, and one massacre recorded in 2 Kings chapters 9-10. No longer a good thing, this “planting” is looking ahead: God is symbolizing the fall of the house of Jehu, who at one time chastised and replaced King Ahab and Queen Jezebel for instituting Baal worship along with God’s. Despite Jehu’s revolution and return to the true religion, Jehu’s descendants have reverted to the worship of Baal, as in the days of Ahab and Jezebel! I don’t know about you, but I can see how God might not like that.
Next, their daughter, Lo-ruhamah is a statement meaning something close to “no-pity” or “no-compassion,” perhaps even “not-loved” and serves as another warning to Israel and its southern neighbor, the kingdom of Judah; at one time warring siblings of the same family.
Their third child God says to name Lo-ammi, or “not my people,” symbolizing abandonment. The text is pretty clear; God, through Hosea, is accusing Israel – not just the Northern kingdom, but the whole people Israel, of both wanton prostitution (when they turn to Baal worship for material gain) and adultery (when they just plain forsake God).
Just as there are three children in the metaphor, there are three states of distress God is trying to communicate, despite the fact that God still loves them deeply. From God’s perspective, the metaphor is telling them their actions are like a broken relationship. On three levels, even: a broken soverign/servant relationship, a broken husband/wife relationship, and a broken parent/child relationship – all tied up together in one. Thomas Mann cuts to the chase when he writes, “God is an offended ruler, a cuckold, and a wounded parent. Fundamentally, all involve unrequited love.” He goes on to explain,
“While this may be obvious in the familial models, it is also true for the political, where the central commandment is “to love the LORD your God with all your heart” (Deut. 6:5). Here the primary meaning of love is allegiance, fidelity, and faithfulness.
Israel’s “lovers” are other gods, especially the Canaanite Baal, but also foreign powers, like Assyria or Egypt. Israel has prostituted herself with Baal, and the “pay” (2:12) is fertility—“they give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink” (2:5)…Israel seeks security by flirting with international powers [to support them, as we find out later in] (8:9).”
This is not part of the original design. God was to provide all Israel needed, since Dueteronomy, and God was to be the only security Israel needed, since its inception as a nation-state. If we can keep this in mind, it makes it a little easier to understand some points of Hosea’s narrative, when God’s emotional reaction is to want to simply reject all of them and start over. “Not my people” is the surety for that. But, this is a metaphorical message…and God enjoins them with a new hope-filled vision for the future. John White looks at the last verse for today’s pericope and sees potential for restoration:
“Even though it is quite apparent that God has grown weary of a people who have turned their backs[…], word comes that they will not be forgotten after all. “Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered” (v. 10). Even though the people have previously been told otherwise, an everlastingly faithful God relents of the anger shown in verse 6 by saying that Israel is no longer “not my people.” Instead, now you shall again be called, “Children of the living God” (v. 10). What a sign of hope in the face of utter despair!”
I hope that is the final message we can take from today’s challenging Hebrew scripture: that no matter what the challenge or despair we may feel we face, God is still pursuing us with all of God’s love – indeed, God pursued even the Israelites by sending Jesus, born a Jew, to redeem them and bring them home – and by proxy, redeem us and bring us home to the bosom of God. And that is good news indeed. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection
- It is difficult in our day to consider the analogy of Hosea and Gomer. The figure of Gomer as adulterous prostitute offends our feminist sensibilities, and Hosea evokes pity more than admiration. Yet, as William Willimon points out, this scandalous story directs our attention to the God who went so far as to be crucified for us. “Only a passionate, unseemly God who is willing to risk scandal could possibly save a bunch of adulterers like us.” What does it mean to place ourselves in the role of Gomer? What does the person Hosea say about the character of God?
- This week’s lectionary texts say that the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were arrogance, excess food and leisure, injustice and inhospitality, and not helping the poor and oppressed. Why do you think rich and powerful church leaders in the Middle Ages and in modern times went against the Bible and taught that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was “homosexuality” (a word not invented until the late nineteenth century)?
 William H. Willimon, “Pastoral Perspective, Hosea 1:2-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Thomas W. Mann, “Exegetical Perspective, Hosea 1:2-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 John E. White, “Homiletical Perspective, Hosea 1:2-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 William H. Willimon, “Pastoral Perspective, Hosea 1:2-10” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 3, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 272.