This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on July 24, 2016.
Alright, Pastor. The lectionary has called upon you to preach a passage that many congregants will have some familiarity with. In fact, this passage may be all they know of the entire book from which the verses come. And, given current cultural sensibilities, what your parishioners may know of Hosea is likely viewed as patriarchal, misogynistic and akin to child abuse. The tasks for this Sunday will require a great deal of work to get to the fruitful core of the message of Hosea 1:2-10. But, it can be done.
Some thoughts on how to do this:
Be upfront and honest about what the text does not voice, while acknowledging what your parishioners are likely thinking as they hear this passage read. Hosea, Gomer and the brood are presented as actors on the stage dramatizing the relationship between God and Israel. The text is unconcerned with any of these actors aside from their relative parts. Within this passage, God is the only voice heard. We may wonder how Hosea felt about taking on an unfaithful woman as his wife. We may wonder why Gomer was unfaithful and how motherhood did or did not change this. We may wonder how the children lived with such painful monikers despite their relative innocence–notwithstanding their relative’s guilt. The scripture does not wonder about these things. It directs hearers and readers right past these concerns. A faithful Biblicist will acknowledge our natural inclination toward these questions while directing us to dive deeper into this incarnational metaphor as the text clearly wants. Ask your parishioners to suspend their concerns about gender, parenting and praxis and just listen to the text. The recognition that Hosea the prophet does not even speak within these first 10 verses may assist them. This passage is to be visualized as Hosea lives out this metaphor. This passage is to be heard as God speaks from heartfelt sorrow and pain.
Within this drama we hear of a spurned God mourning the loss of His beloved Israel. There is obvious tension set within the opening verses but the indictments, judgments and redemption come through the three successive births.
Concerning the first son: Jezreel is Hebrew for God plants. Jezreel was a verdant and vibrant plain in the northern hill country, between the mountains of Samaria and Galilee. However, by Hosea’s time, the name had taken on connotations of atrocities committed on that land. 1 Kings 21 records Jehu’s massacre of the house of Omri in Jezreel, which is referenced within Hosea 1. 2 Kings 9-10 also details the slaying of the just Naboth to supply Jezebel with her vineyard in Jezreel. This son’s name reminds the people of their reliance upon force and violence toward one another. It reminds them of bloodshed and death. Though Israel may appear lush and fruitful, it is steeped in blood and offense.
Verse 5 serves as both a warning and measure of redemption. Israel’s political leadership, feckless and faithless, will end. In a place of great bloodshed, God will break the weapons of war and violence. Israel will not have an option toward arms in the future but will have to rely upon its God for protection.
Concerning the daughter: within the Hebrew bible, Ruhamah is a term frequently used to describe God. It means compassion and mercy. It appears from this context that God’s forgiveness of the people has come to an end. However, in verse 7, the southern kingdom of Judah receives assurance of its salvation. This salvation will not come through might or political posturing but solely from “the Lord their God.”
Concerning the third child and second son: this name appears to void the foundational Mosaic covenant from Exodus 6:7 and Leviticus 26:12. Without God, Israel awaits annihilation as a weak conglomeration of rival tribes. And yet, in verse 10, the eternal nature of the covenant remains in force, even though only one party has remained faithful to this bond. Because of God’s love, Israel moves closer still to the divine, going from an adopted group to family and heirs.
Within these three births, God details the losses of Israel’s king, divine mercy and a viable future for Israel. We may view these as punishments. However, within the context of the marriage metaphor where God is the husband and Israel is the adulterous wife, we come to understand that Israel has abandoned God, not the other way around. God’s love and faithfulness are without question. The followers of God are by contrast fickle and easily seduced.
The message here is not the constant adultery of God’s followers. The point of these verses centers upon the overriding, constantly abiding love that God has for His sinful bride. Here there is hope that transcends contemporary thoughts on marriage and equality. Here there is good news that exceeds the dilemma of one family in Israel. Here there is redemption for a wayward people yoked to a steadfast God who continues to love us despite everything about us.
Beyond timely sensibilities of matrimony and egalitarianism, hearers have a timeless message of love, hope and a faithful God who desperately loves each of us.
James H. Coston
Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, Texas
Tags: marriage, faithfulness, adultery, hope