Hosea 07 – Children are STILL in Cages at the Border

Christmas is a time for families to be together, not put in separate cages.

whenever I would heal Israel,
the sins of Ephraim are exposed
    and the crimes of Samaria revealed.
They practice deceit,
    thieves break into houses,
    bandits rob in the streets;
but they do not realize
    that I remember all their evil deeds.
Their sins engulf them;
    they are always before me.

“They delight the king with their wickedness,
    the princes with their lies.
They are all adulterers,
    burning like an oven
whose fire the baker need not stir
    from the kneading of the dough till it rises.
On the day of the festival of our king
    the princes become inflamed with wine,
    and he joins hands with the mockers.
Their hearts are like an oven;
    they approach him with intrigue.
Their passion smolders all night;
    in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven;
    they devour their rulers.
All their kings fall,
    and none of them calls on me.

“Ephraim mixes with the nations;
    Ephraim is a flat loaf not turned over.
Foreigners sap his strength,
    but he does not realize it.
His hair is sprinkled with gray,
    but he does not notice.
10 Israel’s arrogance testifies against him,
    but despite all this
he does not return to the Lord his God
    or search for him.

11 “Ephraim is like a dove,
    easily deceived and senseless—
now calling to Egypt,
    now turning to Assyria.
12 When they go, I will throw my net over them;
    I will pull them down like the birds in the sky.
When I hear them flocking together,
    I will catch them.
13 Woe to them,
    because they have strayed from me!
Destruction to them,
    because they have rebelled against me!
I long to redeem them
    but they speak about me falsely.
14 They do not cry out to me from their hearts
    but wail on their beds.
They slash themselves, appealing to their gods
    for grain and new wine,
    but they turn away from me.
15 I trained them and strengthened their arms,
    but they plot evil against me.
16 They do not turn to the Most High;
    they are like a faulty bow.
Their leaders will fall by the sword
    because of their insolent words.
For this they will be ridiculed
    in the land of Egypt.

I missed recognizing the start of Advent and the first anniversary of this blog.  As often happens, life got in the way: we didn’t finish with poultry processing until the first week of December (several weeks longer than usual), and I had a (not so) merry-go-round of illness run through the kiddos.

I forgave myself a while ago for times I cannot post as regularly as I’d like to. What I cannot forgive myself for though is the fact that children are still in cages at our border.  I know it is not personally my fault, but my very first blog post, now a little over a year ago, was on welcoming refugees.  I made a small donation, called my representatives once, but I must admit I have done nothing significant since.  And a year of silence while so many suffer is truly unconscionable.

God has put the fate of these refugee children before me several times in recent days.   Let’s start with today’s scripture:  “Ephraim mixes with the nations,” reads v. eight, “Foreigners sap his strength,” reads v. nine.  I worry that all of vv. 8-13 could be taken as Biblical reasoning for cruelty towards immigrants.  On top of that, the pictures of the Guatemalan boy who lay dead on the floor for hours in ICE custody before being found earlier this year have been circulating in my newsfeed lately.  Finally, the nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in California, which shows baby Jesus and his parents as refugees in separate cages, went viral a few days ago.

If we celebrate Christmas but forget our Christian duty of mercy, then we are no better than those who Hosea accuses of gathering together for grain and new wine while turning away from God.  Christmas is a season for celebration, and I don’t want to take away your joy: go to your Christmas parties, exchange gifts with your family and friends, but don’t forget the reason we are celebrating, either.  Jesus was made man to save us from our sins, to bring us a message of love for all.  And what have we done with that message of late?  Our kings and princes (aka, our president and congress) are delighted with wickedness and lies.  They – and we, with them – turn a blind eye (at best) or willfully forget those less fortunate, including the families and children in detention for No. Damn. Reason.

It is also a busy time of year, but once again, I encourage you to take a little time to call your representatives and ask them to change border policies and close the detention centers down.  I ask you to consider giving to organizations like the IRC, ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, KIND, RAICES, or Save the Children, among others who are actively fighting for the children detained.  Additionally, it is important to record and report any interaction you may have with immigration officials, so the agency can be held accountable.  Attend marches and protests in your area, and simply don’t stop talking about it.  There’s a more comprehensive list of twenty ways to help refugees at the border here.  And yes, I donated (to the RAICES Texas Bond Fund) and called my representatives (Wittman, Warner, and Kaine) yesterday afternoon.  I will continue to let you know what actions I have taken – not to brag, but to hold myself accountable.  I hope you will consider doing the same.  Christmas is a time for families to be together, not separated in cages.  Please, join in the fight to help make it so.

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.