Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Act of Adultery (Hosea 1-14)


The prophet Hosea has one of the most outrageous callings in all of scripture: marrying a whore. The Lord instructs him to take Gomer as his wife, and to let her adultery be an incarnation of the idolatry of Israel.

What follows is some of the most passionate and anguished oracles in all of scripture.

The book of Hosea is a veritable whirlwind. The Lord doubles over with rage at their continual prostitution with other gods. Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned:
Now I will uncover her lewdness
in the sight of her lovers,
and no one shall rescue her out of my hand.

I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs;
I will tear open their breast,
and there I will devour them like a lion,
as a wild beast would rip them open.

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from Death?
O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your sting?
Compassion is hidden from my eyes.
Such murderous fury features throughout the oracles. Yet for each violent rant there is a pensive memory where the Lord recalls his love for Israel. Like a parent of an impossible teenager pausing to remember the sweet moments of childhood, God finds his wrath slowly melting away:
In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
and in his manhood he strove with God.
He strove with the angel and prevailed;
he wept and sought his favor.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?

My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
The Lord fumes back and forth – one moment declaring that he will destroy them altogether, and the next moment revealing that all this suffering was only an effort to call them back to himself. I really don’t know if there is a god in all of the religions and myths of man that comes even close to the intensity of love that the Lord has for Israel. He aches for mankind so strongly that nothing short of the furious anger and desperate longing of a faithful husband seeing his wife pursue another man will suffice as a prophetic symbol.

This all reminds me of the incident in the book of John where the Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. Echoing his own sermon on the mount, where he declared “you have heard it said, but I say,” they ask him:
In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?
Jesus tells them that the one without sin may throw the first stone. It’s a classic exposure of hypocrisy, but I can’t help but think of Hosea and Gomer. For Israel has the Law of Moses, and, far from giving them cause for pride, it only exposes their shame. Their idolatrous and unrighteous hearts should have taught them to identify with the whore, not look down on her. In telling the woman to go and sin no more, Jesus proves himself to be the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. His love for Israel is the love of their God – the love that calls the wayward adulterous home again.

Hosea captures this beautifully:
Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Follow your king, oh Israel. The path lies through the wrath of God and out the other side.

Comments:
Beautiful description of this book. Your description of God here echoes something I suggested once which perhaps goes a little farther than you would like to. Keep in mind that I am a fairly recent Christian and attend a liberal Anglican church so my theological underpinnings are, shall we say, not in sharp focus. So when I read scripture I don't think I have any particular framework, any systemic theology that I am reading it through. I calls it as I sees it. And what I see here is a God that seems to need us as much as we need Him. As you point out the picture is of a desperate and hurt lover who pursues his faithless beloved in spite of the way she has dishonored him. Or we see a picture of a furious but grief-stricken parent. The picture of God is not of a omniscient, omnipotent distant God who is nothing if not sovereign, but of a parent or husband, in raging helplessness. If there ever was a picture of how much God may regret giving us free will, this is it. As a parent this picture strikes such a strong chord - how we wish our children would just listen to us, how we long to protect them from their stupidity and recklessness, how their disrespect and irresponsible behavior drives us into a fury. We wonder if we should just toss them out and say "Be it on your own heads!" And yet how can we turn our backs on what we have created and loved so unreasonably? How can we forget our dreams and hopes for them? So we hope against reason that they will turn themselves around.

This book and your presentation of it illustrate an important point for me, which you may not agree with. The God presented here is highly anthropomorphized. I don't think God is really like He is portrayed here - loving yes, but also desperate, almost needy, vacillating, the powerful one brought low by love. To me this is an example of God allowing humans to tell a story about their relationship with God in terms that are comprehensible to them. For me, because I am a parent and have had some parental sorrows, the image of God as a loving, hopeful but grieving parent resonates very strongly with my own experience and feelings. And yet that is only a dim glimpse of a piece of God.
 

Hi Mariam,

I wrote about some of these issues in my post The Condemnation of Philosophy. I think you might find some of it interesting.

As far as anthropomorphism goes, I have very VERY mixed feelings. On the one hand there must be a level where you are surely right. The universe doesn't begin to melt away just because God happens to be in a pissy mood today. The insults Elijah throws at the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel are particularly poignant in that regard - it's sheer idiocy to talk as if God might be on the phone, or on a trip, or using the restroom.

But there is also a deeper sense in which it is profoundly ironic for a Christan to complain about our picture of God being too anthropomorphic. That is kind of the entire point of the imago dei and the incarnation. The closer we get to God, the more human we become, not less. God created us for himself, and sees the human as a sufficient medium to reveal his fullness. Therefore we dare not dismiss "anthropomorphisms" as mere perceptions or metaphor, though we should rightly reject a naive and absurd literalism.

To put it another way, there is something deep about God that we can understand best by looking at him in the way Hosea describes, that we would miss with the philosophical omnimax picture. And this "something" I believe to be more than an abstract concept. It is the mysterious truth that the human person interacts with God not primarily as a clay pitcher to a potter, nor as an ant or slug to a person, but as a son to a father.
 

Wonders,

I think this:
"Their idolatrous and unrighteous hearts should have taught them to identify with the whore"

takes it several steps too far. They should be merciful and seek repentance but they shouldn't identify. That's the wrong way of looking at the scene. It also leads what I see as a, "soft fuzzy bunny," image of God.

Jesus' following words in verse 11 are just as instructive. She has now seen how close to death she has come. She has been forgiven in the only true way possible, and now, she can reverse the course. Remember, the law was not wrong, Jesus makes that clear, it was the application that failed.

Otherwise interesting tie in to the earlier prophecies. Very interesting.
 

I want follow ups and forgot to click the check-box. Sorry, but I don't think there's a way to trick it into doing it without leaving another message.
 

They should be merciful and seek repentance but they shouldn't identify. That's the wrong way of looking at the scene. It also leads what I see as a, "soft fuzzy bunny," image of God.

Take a look at Jesus' scathing words in Matthew:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Fuzzy bunny or not, this is the very same complaint that Jesus has. They distance themselves from the sins of their fathers, rather then owning up to them and repenting of them. Yes, they absolutely should identify with the whore - for them to act as if they are the pure spotless virgin is to completely miss the message of Hosea. Israel has not proven worthy of the gift of the law - Israel is a restored and forgiven adulteress.

Their great king, many years ago, knew what it meant to be forgiven:

Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.


The Pharisees in this case are acting as the unforgiving servant in yet another of Jesus' parables.
 

But doesn't the quote in Matthew point to something else entirely? The Jews wanted to identify, incorrectly, with the past but did so in a very selective manner. Jesus then points out the hypocrisy.

There's a dangerous line between understanding that you are a sinner and need help and identifying with a group of sinners. Because of the negative effects that such group identification has had in the church, I'm wary of its use.
 

But doesn't the quote in Matthew point to something else entirely? The Jews wanted to identify, incorrectly, with the past but did so in a very selective manner. Jesus then points out the hypocrisy.

It strikes me as far more severe than that. God acting so that "on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar"? This isn't just average run-of-the-mill hypocrisy here - the hypocrisy if anything is the symptom (or a mask) of the disease.

There's a dangerous line between understanding that you are a sinner and need help and identifying with a group of sinners. Because of the negative effects that such group identification has had in the church, I'm wary of its use.

Then again, there was one who identified himself with a group of sinners, with some rather positive effects. ;-)
 

Judge not, lest Ye be judged, O dear One.

No positive effects from the innocent blood of Abe being spilt then?..
;-)
 

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