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 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.

Hosea 03 – Women in the Bible: Gomer

How she functions in additional religious metaphors.

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”

For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.

I wanted to talk a little more about Gomer, because this is the last time she is mentioned in the Book of Hosea.  The metaphor of Hosea’s personal marriage is abandoned for direct charges against Israel and Ephraim after this chapter.

There is no way to know whether Gomer was real or not.  Some scholars argue that Hosea’s whole relationship to Gomer was simply a religious vision, an allegory either dreamed up or divinely inspired (or both) to make a point. Whether she was real or not, Gomer does serve as a metaphor for many things.  The most apparent and universally accepted metaphor is that Gomer, and her infidelity, are the embodiment of an unfaithful Israel.

There are two other metaphors we can see in Gomer to which I want to draw your attention.  First is a theme we unfortunately see throughout the Bible:  (male) authors trying to establish male dominance over female sexuality and fertility.  It is an idea not my own, but I first introduced it on this blog when writing about Sarai and Hagar. Again, the overarching theme of Hosea is God’s relationship with Israel, but it is not only God speaking of Israel but also Hosea speaking of Gomer in 2:3 when he says “I will make her like desert, I will turn her into a parched land,” and in 2:12 when he says “I will ruin her vines and her fig trees.” Deserts are a symbol of infertility, vines and fig trees a symbol of fertility.  I’m not exactly sure how Hosea would make Gomer infertile (as God could make Israel infertile), but the imagery is very clear:  the female character, whether it is Gomer or Israel, is not the one in control of her own fertility, her own sexuality.

Conversely, only when the male character (again, God – as God was considered masculine at the time – or Hosea) decides to reconcile with the female character, is any sexual expression allowed.  As mentioned in my first post about Hosea, the “door of hope” in chapter two is a euphemism for vagina, and “sing as in the days of her youth” means orgasm.  These sexual references are only allowed under the full control of the male character.  Indeed, Gomer is mute and nameless in the short chapter of today’s blogpost.  She is bought, as a slave, and told how to conduct herself sexually.  I’m a big fan of monogamous relationships, and again, it’s important to remember that this whole marriage is an allegory. But even given those constraints, it is telling that Hosea, a man, is the one who decides when Gomer will be monogamous or not.  She doesn’t even get to answer, even in meek agreement, in this chapter.  Hosea’s domination of her sexuality is complete.

Secondly, I see Gomer as a necessary metaphorical stop on our journey to a redemptive God.  I read a handful of articles on Gomer in preparation for this post, and the one that most informed this idea was this article by Pulitzer prize winning author and religious scholar Jack Miles.  To paraphrase, Miles says that there is a journey in the Old Testament from “God as Master” to “God as Father.” That transition to “God as Father” is even more fully completed in the New Testament.  In a nutshell, I think it was a theologically murky time when these prophets were writing – not much different than today, in that respect.  They were trying to figure out their relationship, indeed, humankind’s relationship, with God.  And the journey to that understanding almost always goes from a punitive God to a redemptive God – or from that of a master to a father.

We can find metaphorical aspects of a loving God in any loving and intimate relationship.  I think we see an early, and therefore a little wonky, attempt at creating a metaphor for a loving relationship between God and humanity in Hosea’s marriage to Gomer.  Hosea was burdened by the biases of his time, which again, at their base aren’t all that different than many biases we may encounter today: sexism, xenophobia, probably a rigid belief that his truth was the only truth in God.  As such, his marriage to Gomer, real or visionary, comes across to the modern reader as unequal, controlling, and quite frankly unenviable, especially if you’re on the Gomer side of it.  But there is strong possibility here, and that is why I think Hosea chose the metaphor of marriage as a metaphor for Israel’s, and our, relationship with God.  You don’t have to dig very deep to say that, while imperfect, Hosea and Gomer’s marriage is also a relationship with aspects of forgiveness, acceptance, and mutual enjoyment.  I know I just used this as a metaphor for sexual control, but Hosea does give Gomer that metaphorical orgasm in the desert, people.  Not all husbands – then or now – are that in tune to female pleasure.  That verse could have just as easily read something about only Hosea’s own sexual fulfillment.  He also redeems her from slavery and gives her the protection of his house, two things that may not be as necessary and valuable to the female population at large in modern, first-world countries, but back then was a big deal.

I think Hosea and Gomer illustrate something really beautiful about the Bible and it’s authors:  our fallibility.  Yes, I think the Bible is divinely inspired, but it was recorded (and re-recorded, and re-recorded, untold number of times), by imperfect people.  It is easy for past generations to cast judgment on Gomer the prostitute.  It is easy for more recent generations to cast judgement on Hosea the male chauvinist.  But who are we to do so?  Who are we to cast the first stone? I certainly hope that I have benefited from some collective spiritual growth in the past twenty-some centuries since Hosea was prophesying, but I’m not perfect. What is important is that we also see God’s working in the Bible, indeed, in all things.  It wasn’t God who made the marriage between Hosea and Gomer an unequal one.  That, again, was how society functioned at the time.  What God did do was open the door to all those positive aspects: forgiveness, acceptance, mutual enjoyment.  What we can do is continue to act in and promote the qualities we so desire in our own relationship with God.  And that, above all, is love.  Will we get it wrong from time to time? Of course.  Scholars of future centuries will probably look back at our own religious leaders, even the forward-thinking ones, with raised eyebrows.  But if we keep God, and love, in our hearts, we are already on the right path.  We may have far to go, just like Hosea and Gomer, but we’re getting there, one step at a time.