Hosea 01 – Hosea is Cuckolded and Likes It

Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was not a sterile prophetic calling.

The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel:

When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.”

Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them. Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, the Lord their God, will save them.”

After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God.

10 “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ 11 The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.

I like to spend Advent reading the prophets – it seems like a fitting thing to do while preparing your heart for the return of Christ.  Advent is still a few weeks off, but I thought we’d get a head-start on Hosea, and get the whole book finished by Christmas.  I’m going to tell you right now, though, that this isn’t going to be some warm-and-fuzzy pre-Christmas reading.  Hosea is kinda kinky in some places, and downright dark in others.

We’ll get to the dark in some future chapters (oh, boy, will we get to some dark!), but let’s start with that kink.  Actually, let’s back up a step.  I think it’s important to say now: Whether you believe Hosea and his wife, Gomer, were both real people, or whether you believe Hosea’s marriage was simply a vision and not “real,” or even if you believe that Hosea himself was not “real” but this whole story is just an allegory, the point remains that Gomer’s faithlessness to Hosea is a very direct allegory to Israel’s faithlessness to God. I’m not even going to attempt to count the number of times the word “adultery” or some form thereof is used in this book.  Not to mention words like “promiscuous” or “unfaithful.”  The theme is pretty clear.

Okay, now with the kink.  If you skim through the book of Hosea, you get the impression that this guy digs being cuckolded.  He enjoys talking about adultery and infidelity, which becomes more and more apparent in the later poetry of the book.  Intrigue and relishing in the misdeeds of others from afar is, unfortunately, just a natural part of human nature. Perhaps Hosea’s excitement over all this could be chalked up to exactly that, or it may be chalked up to true religious fervor for his divinely appointed message.  But the thing I find interesting is how desirable Hosea finds his unfaithful wife, Gomer, even after all of her infidelities.  Now, we all love a juicy story, but not usually when we’re a part of it.  Gomer’s adultery is more than just some good gossip, it’s Hosea’s own wife.  Even when casting her out, he seems attracted to her.  And they did have three kids together.  But there’s two quotes from later in the book that I want to skip ahead to in order to make my point.

This first racy quote is technically God speaking about Israel, but again, Hosea’s whole marriage to Gomer is an allegory for God’s relationship with Israel.  “I am now going to allure her,” God says through Hosea, “I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her, I will give her back her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.  There she will sing as in the days of her youth.”  (2:14-15)  That bit is about sex, people.  Wild, crazy sex.  First, he’s straight up “alluring her.”  Not only that, he’s alluring her into the desert, a place of untamed wildness, away from prying eyes and inhibitions; a place where even Jesus himself was tempted in his own ways.  Then, he will “make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”  First off, “Valley of Achor” means “Valley of Trouble,” which can certainly be a reference to the space between a woman’s thighs.  A door is definitely a vagina reference.  This adulterous woman, with her valley of trouble, is going to finally succumb to his wooing, open her door and give her vagina – oh, I mean, her heart – to him.  Then she’s going to sing as in the days of her youth?  Sounds like an orgasm to me!  I honestly think Hosea is looking forward to being able to satiate a woman who has been with so many other men. By alluring her into the desert and getting her all hot and bothered to the point of orgasm, he essentially claims sexual primacy over all of her other lovers.

Then, in chapter three, Hosea is commanded by God to “show your love to your wife again.” (3:1)  And Hosea does.  He brings Gomer fifteen shekels of silver, a bunch of barley, and kind words.  It’s very possible he buys her out of slavery for that much and she isn’t being gifted that silver and barley, but the kind words remain, as does the protection of his house.  Hosea let this woman under his protection fall into prostitution – perhaps even pushed her into it (more about that in chapter 2), and then welcomes her back with open arms.  Not only with forgiveness, but, it sounds like from the verses in chapter two, with an eager sexual anticipation.

So in the grand scheme of things, what does this matter?  Does it prove some more patriarchal bullshit going on in the Old Testament? Maybe.  Is Hosea’s marriage any less of a metaphor if he was a willing cuckold as well as a prophet of God?  Not necessarily. One might even say his whole-hearted dedication to his role of cuckold shows his full dedication to God’s message.  Should we take Hosea’s prophetic career less seriously because he had some unusual sexual preferences – or, much more damning – some very poor taste in kid’s names and parenting tactics?  I don’t think so – lots of prophets had some serious lapses in judgement, so Hosea is no different.  But this unorthodox relationship Hosea has with Gomer was the first thing I noticed, and I didn’t want to let it go unremarked.  The Bible is full of not-so-Sunday-school themes, and we do it, and ourselves, a disservice to gloss over or ignore such themes.

Long story short, Hosea’s sexual preferences and personality quirks probably don’t matter – but it does make for interesting reading.  Second to the hypocrisy with which Christianity can be accused of throughout the ages, I think it’s second-biggest sin is being boring.  You know how many more young women would pay attention if we celebrated the bravery and brilliance of some of the lesser-known women in the Bible, like the Caleb’s daughter Achsah? How many more young boys would pay attention if you led into a sermon talking about the gory end of some king, like Zedekiah’s eyes being put out?  How many more teenagers would pay attention if you talked about King David very possibly having gonorrhea? We probably don’t want to stick only to the realm of STD’s and violence (female intelligence is good, though), but these interesting stories get people, well…interested!

In the end it is important to remember we are looking for big-picture truths here.  And, spoiler alert, the big-picture truth of the whole book of Hosea is God’s unending love for us.  The first three-quarters of this chapter detail Hosea’s (supposedly) unhappy and definitely ignominious marriage, with warnings through his kid’s names that get increasingly worse: Israel’s defeat in Jezreel, the loss of God’s love in Lo-Ruhamah, the loss of God Xyrself in Lo-Ammi.  God couldn’t be angrier with Israel, accusing them up one side and down the other of their unfaithfulness, threatening to turn Xyr face and favor away from them.  But yet, the chapter ends this way: “The Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ ”  God may be angry with Israel, but in the end, they are still Xyr children.  God’s love returns. And returns. And returns.   Through all the scary, weird, depressing and sexist stuff we’re going to read in the next few chapters, remember that.  God’s love will always return.

Isaiah 25 – An All Saints Day Primer

What we do (or don’t do) to celebrate known and unknown saints.

Lord, you are my God;
    I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
    you have done wonderful things,
    things planned long ago.
You have made the city a heap of rubble,
    the fortified town a ruin,
the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more;
    it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will honor you;
    cities of ruthless nations will revere you.
You have been a refuge for the poor,
    a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
    and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
    is like a storm driving against a wall
    and like the heat of the desert.
You silence the uproar of foreigners;
    as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
    so the song of the ruthless is stilled.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

10 The hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain;
    but Moab will be trampled in their land
    as straw is trampled down in the manure.
11 They will stretch out their hands in it,
    as swimmers stretch out their hands to swim.
God will bring down their pride
    despite the cleverness[a] of their hands.
12 He will bring down your high fortified walls
    and lay them low;
he will bring them down to the ground,
    to the very dust.

 

I’m probably not ready to start posting two entries (and definitely not three!) every week – I still have several more chicken processing days on the farm to go. But I didn’t want to let All Saint’s Day pass without recognition.

For those who don’t celebrate it – and that includes a lot of Protestant traditions – All Saints Day celebrates (you guessed it!) all the Saints, known or unknown, who are in heaven.  This includes more common household names, like Saint Francis of Assisi (the patron saint of animals whose statue you may have seen in gardens), and anyone else who has brought people to Jesus.  All Souls Day is November 2, and celebrates all who are in heaven, sainted or not.  Some places also celebrate the Day of the Innocents, which recognizes children who have passed. So, depending where you are and what church you go to, some, all, or none of these themes may be touched upon in a church service sometime between this Friday and Sunday.

All Saints Day has been well overshadowed by it’s secular neighbor, Halloween, but it is still observed.  It’s an interesting holiday because it is somewhere between solemn and festive.  In New Orleans, for example, there are often family picnics in cemeteries, where the living visit their departed loved ones, sometimes cleaning up the tombstones or crypts, sometimes pouring out a libation in the deceased’s honor.  The closely related Dia de los Muertos (an ongoing mash-up of Catholic and pre-Hispanic customs and beliefs), includes parades and special food and drink, with public and private celebrations galore.

Also, I think it is important to note that (almost no) Episcopalians pray to saints, and neither do Methodists or really any Protestant traditions that I can think of.  Instead, they see the saints as examples to be looked up to when we seek inspiration in our own religious lives.  Catholics and many Eastern traditions do pray to the saints for intercession, which essentially means asking the saint to speak to God on the behalf of the one doing the praying.

So, to get to the actual Bible verses above, why is this particular passage one that is read on All Saints Day?  The specific reading is actually just vv. 6-9, which describes a Holy Feast prepared by God and the destruction of death.  This feast marks a time when suffering is no more, and God’s Kingdom returns to earth – in other words, a time when all the faithful will be saints.

Taken in the context of All Saints Day, the rest of the chapter frames the day’s reading nicely. (Unlike my reading from Isaiah 09 last Advent, which starts out all warm and fuzzy and full of Christmas spirit and took a hard left into crazy cannibalism.)  “Strong peoples will honor you,” verse three says.  Reading that, the first person I think of is another saint, Joan of Arc.  Talk about a strong person.  “You have been a refuge for the poor,” follows in verse four.  I think of all the work Mother Theresa, another female saint (beatified in 2003, if you weren’t up on your recent saints), did on behalf of the poor.  These verses illustrate that God is for everyone, for all nations. Sure, verse ten talks about Moab being trampled into the ground, no stronger than straw in manure (there’s a visual I can relate to!), but that should be seen symbolically more than anything.  Moab is one of the prophet’s favorite “bad guys,” is you will, and came to represent everything that was un-Godly.  The destruction of Moab is a metaphor for the destruction of anything that might stand in our way of a full relationship with God.  And let me be clear, I do not think Moab is a metaphor for another country.  Turkey, China, Russia or any other country we may have current tensions with is not Moab.  What stands in the way of our full relationship with God is more abstract – greed, fear, anger, hate.  That, while harder to villianize, is what we need to combat in ourselves and in the world in order to join in the procession of All Saints.

I love holidays because they invite us to pause and reflect.  We have so few opportunities to do so in our ever-busy lives.  Maybe All Saints Day isn’t a church-going day for you, or one you’ve ever really recognized except as a day for candy-hangovers.  But I hope this year, this All Saints Day, you are able to take even just a moment to pause and reflect.  Thank God, if that feels right for you, or give thanks for someone saintly in your life, living or deceased.  Taking a moment out of your day to connect to something spiritual, to give thanks for something or someone good, helps us all re-center on what is important, and we could all use a little more of that.  Happy All Saints Day.

Ezekiel 37 – God’s Redemptive Love

He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it, ‘Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him.’ Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, ‘Belonging to Joseph (that is, to Ephraim) and all the Israelites associated with him.’ 17 Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand.

18 “When your people ask you, ‘Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?’ 19 say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.’ 20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

24 “‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’”

If this isn’t the perfect Bible story for the Sunday before Halloween I don’t know what is. A spooky valley full of dead bones gets turned into zombies – okay, maybe not brain-eating zombies but basically, for a minute there, these bone are un-dead: living but not breathing flesh.  Then a supernatural force comes through the winds and turns these zombies into a living army.  Yikes.

But that’s just the surface of the story, and it ignores the whole second half of this chapter.  Really, this is one of the most hopeful, redemptive chapters I’ve read in a while.  In it, God restores the dead, joins the scattered and squabbling tribes of Israel, and establishes a holy, everlasting covenant of peace.

Is this chapter to be taken literally, though?  Will God literally open our graves and raise up our bones?  Will God literally rejoin the houses of Ephraim and Judah?  Will David come back from the dead, too, to rule over this new kingdom and will God literally dwell there?

I see God as capable of all things, so yes, certainly it is possible to take this chapter literally.  But if we’re just sitting around waiting for that day, I think we kind of miss the point.  Let’s start from a historical perspective.  This passage was most likely written after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.  So a lot of Ezekiel’s prophecy was looking towards the rebuilding of the temple in a more immediate sense, not an eschatological sense.  The temple was rebuilt around 516 BC., seventy years after it was destroyed.  Followers of Ezekiel could point to this as the fulfillment of his prophecy, and the promise of this chapter has been fulfilled and is not just another illustration of God’s good work, but nothing we’re waiting upon.  Now, let’s look at this chapter from a religious perspective. It can be argued that much of this-and the rest of Ezekiel’s prophecy-was fulfilled through the arrival of Jesus.  Jesus, a descendant of David, came to take on our sins, redeem us from the grave, and will return to rule over us in an eternal covenant of peace, as foretold by Ezekiel. So again, perhaps it has already been fulfilled and we’re waiting upon nothing.

While all of this fulfilled prophecy-whether it is a rebuilt temple or the coming of Christ- is awe-inspiring, I think it misses the larger point, which is the redemptive power of God’s love.  God can redeem us even from beyond the grave.  God can heal not only our own souls, but the souls of nations.  God wants to restore our hope, restore our peace.  It is not something that’s only going to happen at the end of the world.  This is something we are offered not only on a monumental scale, on a daily basis.

I was listening to The Liturgists Podcast the other day, and they were interviewing Father Richard Rohr, who published his latest book, Universal Christ, earlier this year.  (I haven’t read the book yet, but I’m eager to do so, and have it on hold from my library.)  During the interview, he talked about the difference between retributive justice and redemptive justice – I believe those were his two terms.  Rohr says Jesus offers redemptive justice: a justice that heals instead of punishes.  Many of the prophets, Rohr pointed out, start with preaching a retributive justice: the justice based on God’s wrath, hellfire-and-brimstone, death-and-destruction sort of justice.  But almost all of them arrive at a place of redemptive justice.  We can see that difference happening between the chapter we studied last week, which basically promised destruction for all people, and this week, which promises peace for all people.

What is it about God that makes these prophets arrive at a place of redemptive justice?  Love.  God’s holy love is undeniable in the long run.  It is my firm belief that the longer you sit with God, the more that becomes apparent.  I know, there are lots of religious people with hate in their hearts that could be used to disprove my point, but I don’t think they are truly sitting with God.  What they are doing is scouring the Bible for passages they can bend to their own wishes, or following the biases of a small-minded leader, anything to prop up their own world-view.

But even that narrow mindset cannot withstand God’s love.  There are plenty of stories of people who recognized how God’s message was being warped, and left whatever toxic religious climate was preaching it.  Exvangelical is a podcast, hashtag, and movement that deconstructs the more harmful elements of Evangelical societies.  I’m sad to say that many exvangelicals fully leave Christianity, but many also examine their beliefs and find a God that is loving and kind.  Thought leaders like Richard Rohr, Pete Enns, and the late Rachel Held Evans, among others, are helping shape the idea of a loving and inclusive God for those who may have doubts about Christianity at large.  Yes, there are many so-called Christians that still cling to their hate like a security blanket, but God’s love is wearing them down.

The most beautiful thing about God’s redemptive love is that we can be agents of it.  We have the power to forgive, to heal, to teach.  We can be living, breathing examples of God’s love, reborn just as Ezekiel’s army was.  How you, personally, might manifest this may be different than how I or someone else manifests it, but it remains true. We can be agents of God’s redemptive love through speaking out against the injustices of the world, by helping our neighbors and community, by teaching our kids what it means to be kind and inclusive.  If you’re not sure where to start, may I suggest just sitting with God.  Offer up a simple prayer, such as “God, how can I be an agent of change in this world?”  And then just be open to it.  The answer might be immediate or it might be revealed over time.  But it will come, and you will be doing your part to spread God’s love.