Hosea 06 – Mercy, not Sacrifice

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
    let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
    he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
    like the spring rains that water the earth.”

“What can I do with you, Ephraim?
    What can I do with you, Judah?
Your love is like the morning mist,
    like the early dew that disappears.
Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets,
    I killed you with the words of my mouth—
    then my judgments go forth like the sun.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
As at Adam, they have broken the covenant;
    they were unfaithful to me there.
Gilead is a city of evildoers,
    stained with footprints of blood.
As marauders lie in ambush for a victim,
    so do bands of priests;
they murder on the road to Shechem,
    carrying out their wicked schemes.
10 I have seen a horrible thing in Israel:
    There Ephraim is given to prostitution,
    Israel is defiled.

11 “Also for you, Judah,
    a harvest is appointed.

“Whenever I would restore the fortunes of my people,

 

Yes, that is where this chapter leaves off.  There are some funny breaks between chapters in Hosea. Kind of a cliff-hanger, right?  We’ll get to the rest of Hosea’s woe-filled charges next post.

Jesus quotes v. 6 of today’s reading twice, in Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7.  That got me to wondering, what parts of the Old Testament does Jesus quote? I found a list that looked pretty comprehensive, and according to this, Jesus quotes the OT 45 times.  Of those quotes, almost a third of them – thirteen, by my count – deal with mercy, love, and correcting the excesses of legalism (which would lead a person to follow the letter of the law but not the spirit of it, meaning they have a deficit of mercy and love in their hearts).

“An acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” is what God desires in the second half of verse six.  And really, most of this chapter is God lamenting how the people come to him with empty words, how their love is fleeting “like the morning mist,” even though God’s love is as reliable “as the sun rises.”  Isn’t this something we are all guilty of?  Perhaps we go to church, sing the hymns, maybe put some money in the offering plate, and feel like we’ve done our duty.  But being Christian needs to mean so much more than that.  We need to live God’s values day in and day out.

Yes, a large portion of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and even more especially these prophets, details humanity’s sins against God in great length.  But God always forgives us, we are always reconciled with God.  If God can forgive us time and again, if God loves us “as surely as the sun rises,” then, to again quote Jesus, who are we to cast the first stone against someone else, for any reason?  God does not call us, anywhere that I have seen so far, to judge anyone for their deeds or misdeeds.  We are to leave that to God.  So political beliefs, sexual orientation, station in life, race or ethnicity simply should not matter when it comes to caring for anyone.  We are to show mercy.  Mercy and love.

Just to be clear, you do not need to be a doormat.  If you have been abused, you can forgive your abuser from afar.  If you are in any way being taken advantage of, you do not need to put up with that shit for the sake of God.  Remove yourself from that situation, please, because you are also a child of God and deserve better.

But beyond those extreme situations, we can do better.  We can abolish the death penalty.  We can change the justice system into one that rehabilitates instead of one that penalizes.  We can extend medical care to everyone.  We can make sure that everyone has enough to eat, a safe place to sleep.  These are simple acts of human decency that shouldn’t be that revolutionary, if we are honest about what our Christian values call us to do.

And really, what better way to lead people to Jesus?  Let us demonstrate his kindness in action.  Let us heal, as Jesus did.  Jesus brought a message of hope and redemption, and we grossly pervert it when we turn Jesus into a tool of oppression and condemnation.  No one wants to follow such a mean-spirited god.  I worry that by loudly demonstrating our faith instead of truly focusing on helping others, we are metaphorically guilty of giving God the empty burnt offerings instead of the true acknowledgement Xe really desires.  We can leave the proselytizing behind, and let our actions speak for themselves.  We do not need to shove Jesus down people’s throats.  Let people find their own way to Jesus: we can pave that path for them through heart-felt care, love, and mercy.

Hosea 05 – Biblical Context: Canaan

Tension between Caanite aversion and Canaanite influence.

“Hear this, you priests!
    Pay attention, you Israelites!
Listen, royal house!
    This judgment is against you:
You have been a snare at Mizpah,
    a net spread out on Tabor.
The rebels are knee-deep in slaughter.
    I will discipline all of them.
I know all about Ephraim;
    Israel is not hidden from me.
Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution;
    Israel is corrupt.

“Their deeds do not permit them
    to return to their God.
A spirit of prostitution is in their heart;
    they do not acknowledge the Lord.
Israel’s arrogance testifies against them;
    the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin;
    Judah also stumbles with them.
When they go with their flocks and herds
    to seek the Lord,
they will not find him;
    he has withdrawn himself from them.
They are unfaithful to the Lord;
    they give birth to illegitimate children.
When they celebrate their New Moon feasts,
    he will devour their fields.

“Sound the trumpet in Gibeah,
    the horn in Ramah.
Raise the battle cry in Beth Aven;
    lead on, Benjamin.
Ephraim will be laid waste
    on the day of reckoning.
Among the tribes of Israel
    I proclaim what is certain.
10 Judah’s leaders are like those
    who move boundary stones.
I will pour out my wrath on them
    like a flood of water.
11 Ephraim is oppressed,
    trampled in judgment,
    intent on pursuing idols.
12 I am like a moth to Ephraim,
    like rot to the people of Judah.

13 “When Ephraim saw his sickness,
    and Judah his sores,
then Ephraim turned to Assyria,
    and sent to the great king for help.
But he is not able to cure you,
    not able to heal your sores.
14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
    like a great lion to Judah.
I will tear them to pieces and go away;
    I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them.
15 Then I will return to my lair
    until they have borne their guilt
    and seek my face—
in their misery
    they will earnestly seek me.”

 

I’m going to pause on Hosea here to talk a little about Canaan and Baal.  Neither of which are explicitly mentioned today, but there are allusions to both, depending which scholars you ask, in this chapter; and both Canaan as a place and people, as well as the deity Baal (or Ba’al) are entities we encounter often in Hosea and throughout the Bible at large.  Early Judaism, and, later, Christianity stood staunchly against Caananite religious practices while at the same time being influenced by them.  So it seems that if we want a fuller understanding of the Bible and Christianity, we should spend at least a little time learning about something mentioned well over 100 times in the case of Canaan/Canaanite, and about ninety in the case of Baal.

The Canaanites were an ancient people that lived near the Israelites.  In fact, they were the ones living in the promised land to which God led Moses.  They were, through-out much of history, seen as a people much separate and distinct from the Israelites.  Then, in 1929, the Ugaritic texts were discovered.  These texts, named for where they were found on the Mediterranean Coast of Syria, are a collection of writings, mainly epic poems, written in a cuneiform that is more similar to early Hebrew than the more common contemporary language, Akkadian.

The Ugaritic texts are some of the only first-hand documents from the Canaanites, everything else we know about them comes from second-hand sources, such as the Bible or Herodotus, a 5th century Greek scholar dubbed “the Father of History.”  These latter sources are important, to be sure, but we must remember that they were written with agendas:  The authors of the Bible saw Canaan as “separate” at best and an enemy at worst, and sought to highlight that distinction.  Herodotus sought to establish the primacy of Greek culture and therefore often exaggerated or vilified the cultural practices of non-Greek peoples.  But these Canaanites may not have been as different from early Israelites as we originally believed, and there are strong parallels in some of their religious stories and practices.

Canaanite religion was not Judaism, or even proto-Judaism (if that’s a term).  I like to think that both religions are tapping into some greater truths, kind of like the proliferation of flood stories I talked about when discussing Noah’s ark, and that’s what we see reflected in the two religions’ parallels.  So just what are these parallels?  I’ll share a few that I found.  First, the Canaanites were polytheistic, but there was one supreme ruler of all the gods, and his name was El, or Elohim.  That is also a name for God in Genesis.  The Ugaritic texts and the Old Testament also use the same word that means something like death or the grave, a word that doesn’t have an exact translation in my NIV Bible and hence is written without translation: Sheol.  It is used in the same way in both texts.  Also, there are strong similarities between Baal and Jesus:  Baal is basically “second in command” after El.  He is also a resurrected diety, as Jesus is.  Finally, the simple geographical proximity of the two peoples, plus the similarity of the two written languages, suggest that there must have been some overlapping cultural practices, including religious ones.

And there-in lies the problem.  If your religion is so similar to someone else’s religion, how are you to keep your followers from switching between the two at will?  One way is to vilify that other religion by playing up appalling and lurid practices, such as cultic prostitution and child sacrifice, whether they actually happened or not.  Baal was a fertility god, and there may have been some cultic prostitution connected to his worship, but solid historical evidence is scarce.  Child sacrifice is more often associated with the other rival deity Moloch – which some scholars say is another title for either Baal or El. Again, scholars seem to agree that it wasn’t as common a practice as the Biblical authors make it out to be. Either way, writers in the Bible make it clear that even if there is a suspicion of such practices, you are putting your relationship with God in serious danger should you go hang out with those degenerate Canaanites.

This bit of knowledge makes reading the Bible even that much more interesting.  This chapter is a great example of the tension between Canaanite aversion and Canaanite influence. “When they celebrate their new moon feasts, he will devour their fields,” Hosea says of God in verse seven.  Baal is a fertility god, and celebrating the new moon a common fertility rite. It’s extra-ironic that God will destroy the fertility of the fields while people are celebrating a fertility god, and that point would not be lost on Hosea’s listeners.  But then, at the end of the poem, God tears Judah and Ephraim to pieces, and leaves them with no hope of rescue while Xe “returns to [his] lair.”  Their only possibility for redemption is to wait for God’s return.  This could be true of any deity, I suppose, but again closely follows a story of Baal leaving his people in disgust, hiding in a cave, and only when he is good and ready does he come back to save his people.

I do not suggest that El is interchangeable with the Christian God, or that we can all pray to Baal just as well as God or Jesus.  Nor do I claim that Christianity has a singular hold on the Truth.  To do so would be arrogant in the extreme, and, in my opinion, offensive to God.  If you want to know more about why, even believing this, I am still a follower of Christ, I explain it here.  The whole reason I point out these similarities between Canaanite and Judeo-Christian beliefs is because I want to deepen my understanding of the Bible and God’s message.  Understanding the context in which the Bible was written is one way to do this.  And again, I want to stress, it is one way.  I also think you can pick up a Psalm and enjoy it’s beauty without knowing anything about its original context.  Or be moved by Jesus’ teachings without knowing anything about his life.  But why limit ourselves?  I want to learn everything I possibly can about God, about Jesus, and about how I can be better in their eyes.  A full understanding of the Bible: its context, its controversies, different translations, what was left out of it as well as what was included, can all help us understand God’s message more.

Hosea 04 – Caring in Leadership

An invitation to examine how we promote love from our own leadership positions.

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
    because the Lord has a charge to bring
    against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
    no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
    stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
    and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Because of this the land dries up,
    and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
    and the fish in the sea are swept away.

“But let no one bring a charge,
    let no one accuse another,
for your people are like those
    who bring charges against a priest.
You stumble day and night,
    and the prophets stumble with you.
So I will destroy your mother—
    my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.

“Because you have rejected knowledge,
    I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
    I also will ignore your children.
The more priests there were,
    the more they sinned against me;
    they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful.
They feed on the sins of my people
    and relish their wickedness.
And it will be: Like people, like priests.
    I will punish both of them for their ways
    and repay them for their deeds.

10 “They will eat but not have enough;
    they will engage in prostitution but not flourish,
because they have deserted the Lord
    to give themselves 11 to prostitution;
old wine and new wine
    take away their understanding.
12 My people consult a wooden idol,
    and a diviner’s rod speaks to them.
A spirit of prostitution leads them astray;
    they are unfaithful to their God.
13 They sacrifice on the mountaintops
    and burn offerings on the hills,
under oak, poplar and terebinth,
    where the shade is pleasant.
Therefore your daughters turn to prostitution
    and your daughters-in-law to adultery.

14 “I will not punish your daughters
    when they turn to prostitution,
nor your daughters-in-law
    when they commit adultery,
because the men themselves consort with harlots
    and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes—
    a people without understanding will come to ruin!

15 “Though you, Israel, commit adultery,
    do not let Judah become guilty.

“Do not go to Gilgal;
    do not go up to Beth Aven.
    And do not swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives!’
16 The Israelites are stubborn,
    like a stubborn heifer.
How then can the Lord pasture them
    like lambs in a meadow?
17 Ephraim is joined to idols;
    leave him alone!
18 Even when their drinks are gone,
    they continue their prostitution;
    their rulers dearly love shameful ways.
19 A whirlwind will sweep them away,
    and their sacrifices will bring them shame.

Let this chapter be a warning to those in leadership positions, for their responsibility is great and God holds them accountable.  Yes, here God charges all of Israel with wrongdoing and everyone has to pay.  Verse nine makes that clear: “And it will be: Like people, like priests.  I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.”  But Hosea goes out of his way to tell the priests not to bring charges against their people because they are the ones who have caused the people in their care to stumble (vv. 4-9); and also says he will not punish the (supposedly cultic) prostitution of unfaithful women because the male heads of household are whoring themselves out to foreign idols (vv. 12-14). The priests, husbands, and fathers of ancient Israel were the leaders of society.  God was especially angry with them for the religious corruption Hosea saw at the time.

There are two things I want to point out in this chapter, important in the fact that they indicate a level of care from God that is tenderly personal and individual: First, that the leading charges against the people of Israel are not only sins against God, but sins against each other: cursing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery.  “Bloodshed follows bloodshed.  And because of this the land mourns.” God may be angry that Xyr people are hurting others, but as the ones hurt Xe mourns for those same people.  Second, God is angry that knowledge is being withheld from the people at large.  “My people are destroyed from a lack of knowledge.” Priest have not taught their followers the proper ways of worship, and fathers have not taught their daughters to love the Lord.  God wants us to know Xyr, to know Xyr ways, and when that knowledge is not transmitted by those who have it, God gets angry.

It has made me consider my own leadership positions and just how many I have, formal or informal. I’m a mother, that’s the big one.  I’m a small-business owner, in charge of interns and employees and answerable to my business partner (also my husband) and customers.  That’s another big one.  I’m an oldest child, which may not matter as much now that we’re all adults, but I think it still matters a little.  I occasionally get paid to give talks related to the farm, which I guess technically makes me a thought-leader, in a small way.  I bet if you thought about it for a minute you’d come up with some leadership roles of your own, even if you don’t feel like you’re much of a leader at all most of the time.  Do you have the longest tenure of your work peers? Are you the most outspoken in your class?  Were you the first to do something in your friend group (i.e., get married, have kids, whatever)?  None of these are formal leadership roles but they do give you a certain seniority.  So like I said, you probably have more leadership responsibility than you even realize.

So how am I doing in these leadership positions?  Am I promoting good values, passing on sound knowledge?  Am I doing God’s work?  I’m not giving long religious lectures to my family and friends, and definitely not to my employees.  That would be entirely inappropriate, and just a lot of empty words.  What is more important is live those values, to lead by example.  I get a lot wrong. I’ve missed opportunities to help neighbors or impart needed knowledge.  I yell at my kids (especially with this current biting phase we’re going through). I can’t pay my apprentices what I think they truly deserve (yet! We’re working on it, and we let them know what they’re getting into before they start), even though I think farming is some of the most important work we can be doing.

But I’m happy to say I’m doing well in a lot of areas.  My regenerative farm is growing.  We’re making more food that is healthier for both consumers and the planet.  I am so proud to be doing this work because I truly believe I am being a good Christian steward of God’s beautiful Earth.  I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year now.  If I can add my voice, small though it may be, to a rising tide of Christian love to fight the hate that is still so rampant in this world, I count that as a win, too.  It helps keep me accountable, that’s for sure.  I never recommend making a donation or calling a Senator without doing so myself, because I don’t want to be an armchair general, so to speak.  Now that my busy season is over and the girls are ever a little older, I’m making an effort to reach out to friends and family more, because sometimes just knowing that someone cares is the most important thing.

Today I invite you to examine what your leadership roles might be, and to think about what sort of values you think God would want you to promote from that role.  I’ll give you a hint: above all else, it is love.  Of course some relationships are going to be more transactional (I think the best way a sales clerk can show me their love is to get me through that line as quick as possible, and the best way I can show love to accounts payable is to pay them on time).  There’s probably not a lot of room for expressing God’s love there. But there are plenty of other ways, large and small, that we can help further the message of divine love.  Let this chapter be our invitation to great responsibility in leadership positions, and may God hold us accountable.