When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”
So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the LORD said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.”
When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.”
Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”
As you, therefore, have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.
Writing sermons is not a glamorous activity, and I never understand people who claim it is. I preach the Lectionary, which means that I have four or five texts to pick from each week, and I decide what will be the best one to base a service around. The sermon is, after all, only part of the service. If the Spirit hasn’t shown up by the twenty-minute mark of a service, I don’t expect that the Spirit will be there by the time I’m done talking either. That is why, once the scripture is selected, I don’t read it or look at it until it is time to write the sermon. I approach the research and the time I take to put together as something Spirit-led, as something I don’t want to have too much of a prepared response to.
Now, many of you will at this point wonder why I’m talking about the method I use to write a sermon and why I haven’t started actually preaching yet. Well, that is because today’s sermon was especially Spirit-led, because it is on a text I don’t much like. Hosea is a book which is used so often to excuse the bad behavior of people, especially the bad behavior of husbands toward their wives. As someone who has been on the receiving end of physical and emotional abuse in a relationship, I find the way that God speaks in Hosea very disturbing. God tells a prophet to marry a woman – not out of love, not out of compatibility, but as an object lesson. God tells him to name his children after negative emotions and as though they are just illustrations in a story.
For this reason many commentators have suggested that Gomer and her children don’t exist. They are just a story used to make a point. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the text to suggest this is the case. We read this story and we are led to believe that God had a man marry a woman to make a point. That God had a prophet punish a woman simply to make a point.
That is disturbing. It should lodge in our hearts as something that isn’t quite right. God is not in the habit of toying with people. God is loving, God is all-merciful, and even in wrath, we are led to believe that God is looking out for people’s good. Even this text takes a moment for God to say, “Yes, I will punish you, but there is still hope for some of you.” Even the text acknowledges this language seems out of place for God. Yet, we cannot look to it and say, “Well God didn’t really say this.” Or, “God didn’t really do this.” To do so would be to ignore something just because it is not agreeable to us, and the text does not let us do that.
What the text is doing, or rather, what the text is not doing, is creating a guide for how we as human beings deal with one another. This is not God saying, “Israel is like an adulterous woman, and I’m going to treat Israel like one.” God does not support the abuse of any person, and to say that God is looking to Israel and saying, “I only hurt you because I love you,” is to cast God as a monster. Instead, we need to look at what was going on in Israel at the time, what would lead God to use this particular image, in this particular way.
The reasons we are told of in this text are that Israel has violated the covenant in several ways. Firstly, they have committed war crimes against their enemies. The bloodiness of their campaigns against their enemies has disgusted God. Like when Cain killed Abel, blood is crying up from the ground and God is disgraced by the violence of humanity. Secondly, they have begun worshipping other Gods. Usually, we think of this as the Israelites leaving God to worship new deities, but it was more complicated than that. Oftentimes, the Israelites would put other Gods with the God of Israel. Ba’al was the God that their God sent ahead of him to bring the harvest, Asherah was the Goddess who would cause them to grow. The Israelites thought they were keeping the covenant so long as the Gods were lower on the list than the God of Israel, such was their interpretation of, “You shall have no other Gods before me.”
Both these issues tie into Israel’s chief sin at this time, namely that they are oppressing the poor and the needy. The farmers in the fields were no longer growing food they could use for food, they were not tending cattle like they used to. The King and the rulers had demanded that they grow crops that grew quickly and could be sold for high profit. Olive trees, barley, and other cash crops were planted and then taken from the people. They kept none of the profit and were expected to give up all they had so that the rich in the country could grow richer and so that the rulers could pay off their debts without digging into their own coffers.
The rich and powerful of Israel are those who are represented by Gomer. These are the sorts of people who could take as many wives as they wanted, and who would treat them as objects even beyond what was common for the time. The Kings of Israel and the elite would collect wives as a show of force, again degrading the quality of human life. The way that they had taken crops they were now taking people, especially from the poor. This evil was not new to this generation, but it was a high point of it. This generation in the time of Hosea embodied the warning of Samuel centuries before, “[Your rulers] will take your sons as soldiers will take your daughters as slaves, and they will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards”
What God is doing in picking the image of Gomer is saying to the rulers of Israel, “I want you to understand that I see what you’re doing. I am going to treat you the same way you treated the needy. You are going to be cast out like you cast out your wives, you will go hungry in the same way you starved the poor, you will no longer be called my people because you refused to regard to needy as you people.” It is the same lesson as we learn of in Matthew 25. God knows us by how we take care of the oppressed – not by how much money we have, not how holy you are, but how well you react to the love you are given by giving it to others.
How timely a passage we are given. In a moment of our history where the rich and powerful are constantly exposed for the evil, they are committing. In the past few years, people are being outed for the evil that they have done in secret. Secret racism, years of abuse that has been covered up – not just in the government, not just in the private sector, but even within the church, are all being exposed because people are now willing to stand up and make it known the way that they have been done wrong.
The lesson of Hosea is that God has no patience for the abuse of those who cannot defend themselves. In fact, most of the lesson of Scripture will tell us this. Matthew 25 – God knows us by how we care for the least of these. Luke 12 – A fool saves up money, but a wise man gives to the poor. Luke 16 – the rich man who lives a life of comfort is damned while the poor man who suffered is saved. Most relevant to this text, John 8 – The woman that is dragged naked into the streets, the one who is called a whore and is threatened with violence. She alone is given the grace of God, and all those who stood against her are sent away empty.
We of the church are recipients of unique gifts. We hold the keys to Heaven and Hell as heirs to Peter. In carrying the Gospel into the world we are tasked not just with the salvation of people’s souls, but the preservation of their flesh. We are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and speak to the outcast even when it is means we have to make a sacrifice. Maybe we give the coat we’re wearing because we have more at home. Maybe we give the twenty dollars we were going to use for lunch out away. Maybe we talk to someone that people might get the wrong idea about. We have to take risks as Christians because the only thing that is unacceptable in the life of faith is to sit comfortably while others suffer. The one thing which strikes out against all the work of the Gospel is to take the light we are given and shut it up in bank accounts, in church pews, in closets.
The Christian stands as someone who is, “More than [a] conquerer.” We are given authority over demons, principalities, powers, all manner of spiritual evils. We are given the words of life, and oftentimes we are given material goods alongside them. We have a choice – either we take on the fullness of God’s gift, and commit ourselves to the identity which we claimed in baptism – or we sit quietly and wait for the world to burn and take us with it. In the mouth of the Christian, there can be no hateful word, the hands of the Christian are not to do harm but to heal wounds, the thoughts of a Christian are to be toward the good things of God and not on the degradation of others.
When we neglect the work of God we become like the rulers of Israel. We stand idly by while innocents are massacred – while Yemenese children starve to death in ruined cities and while the homeless die en mass from exposure. We bow down to God’s other than the one we know in Christ – Gods of money, of power, Gods in Washington and Charleston, Gods on TV screens and in our radios, on Youtube and Snapchat. In all things we commit atrocities, if not through the active participation in them then by quietly sitting by while they are committed.
In Deuteronomy God, through Moses, stood before the people of Israel. He said to them, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.” How often have we committed evil under the sky? How often have we walked the earth as a people who curse and not bless, who love death more than life? When we commit ourselves to follow Christ’s example we set down a narrow path, and it is one that many cannot go one faithfully. The stakes are too high not to. So we must treat people, all people, as we wish to be treated – Heaven and Earth will testify against us if we don’t – and God has made it clear, “I will treat you as you treat the least of these. The call which sounds out from Hosea is the entreaty which is extended to us by Paul. Choose the path of life, choose the path of blessing, choose to be good to those around you, love the foreigner, bless and do not curse. That is what it is to live into our identity as Christians, to go beyond a saved people and to become a sanctified people. We are told in the Epistle today that we are to grow as God has given growth, and I pray we will do so. Growth is a sign of life, and we must earnestly pray to participate in life – not just a comfortable life, or a happy one, but an abundant one. Seek the life abundant, never settle for anything else. – Amen.