in June, I began a little "mini-series" on the first prophets
of Israel, beginning with Elijah, who though not actually the very
first prophet, is often considered the father of the prophetic tradition
as a spokesperson for God. As apart from, and often opposed to,
the King. After Elijah came Elisha, and then Amos,
who we looked at a couple weeks ago. He was the first prophet
for whom we have a book that carries his name (the book of Amos, the
first of the classical prophets).
Today I want to look at Hosea, who
followed Amos (probably by a decade or so), in Northern Israel, in the
time when Israel was divided into two nations -- Israel in the North and
Judah in the South (with the capital in Jerusalem).
Hosea was actually the last of the
prophets to appear in that Northern nation, and we'll come back to that
in just a moment. What I wanted to point out for now is to not be
confused with the order in which the prophets occur in your Bible,
because they're not in chronological order. In fact, the prophetic
books of the Bible are more arranged by order of length than they are by
So Amos is the first, Hosea second,
then comes Micah and Isaiah, who were active in the Southern kingdom of
Judah. Hosea, I think, is one of the more fascinating of these
prophets to study for several notable reasons:
First of all, the book of Hosea
contains more biographical information than perhaps any of the others,
save for perhaps Jeremiah.
Secondly, the life of Hosea,
narrated in the first three chapters of the book, is inseparable from
the message of Hosea. They're very closely intertwined.
Third, of all the prophets,
Hosea (I think) is probably the most creative, the most imaginative when
it comes to describing God. He speaks of God as a farmer, as a
berry-picker, as a bird catcher, as a physician, a lion, a mother bear
robbed of her cubs, as a citrus tree, as the spring-time rain. And
perhaps the most bizarre, he compares God to that of maggots and dry
rot! I kid you not, you can look it up yourself, chapter 5, verse
12 (hopefully that'll get you to open your Bibles J).
Fourth, the structure of the
book of Hosea is very illustrative. There is the word of doom
(judgment), followed by a word of hope. Then more doom, and then
hope. And then doom. And then hope. And that in itself
tells us something -- that the authentic message of God never ends in
doom. There is always hope.
Fifth, the message of Hosea,
paradoxically, is the last message to Israel that survives.
Shortly after the ministry of Hosea, Assyria comes in and defeats the
nation, carries off the people of Israel. They are what we refer
to now as the 10 lost tribes of Israel. They disappear from the
face of history.
And so it's the editors of the South,
Judah (Jerusalem), who preserve the message of Hosea (as well as that of
Amos), presumably so that the remaining descendents of Abraham and Sarah
(the Hebrew people) might learn from these prophets and from the
mistakes of their Northern relations.
So with that in mind, let's review that
story of Hosea and his message and then reflect a little bit on why that
matters for us today.
[Editors note: Dan did
not read the passage from the Bible, but it is included below for
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.’ 3So he went and took Gomer
daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
4 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. 5On that day I will break the bow
of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.’
6 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.
7But 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.’
8 When she had
weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. 9Then the Lord said,
‘Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your
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.’
First of all, the story. Rather
than read it, I'd like to just tell it to you, perhaps in the way that
it was cast down orally from generation to generation before it was
composed in its written form. The story goes something like this:
Hosea, a godly, devout
man, came of age to be married. God said to him:
"Hosea, I don't want you to marry just any woman, I want you to
marry someone special". Hosea said "That sounds great,
God! Every man wants to marry someone special".
"Yes, Hosea, I
want you to truly have a special wife".
"Well God, will
she be pretty?"
"Oh, yes Hosea,
all the men will find her very attractive".
"And God, will she
bring me lots of children?"
"Yes, Hosea, she
will bring you lots of children from lots of men who find her very
"Hosea, I want you
to marry a prostitute".
Hosea, a harlot. A promiscuous woman. I want you to marry
God. I mean, come on, is this some kind of divine humor?"
"No, Hosea, it's a
divine marriage. You will be the faithful husband and you will
have a faithless wife".
"Uh, God, whatever
happened to family values? You know, one man, one woman?"
"Oh, that's right,
thanks for reminding me, Hosea, you shall have a family. You
will have three children. You won't be there father,
biologically speaking, but don't worry -- DNA tests for paternity
won't come yet for another 2,700 years. So no one else will
know, it'll just be between me and you. And, I've got all of
their names picked out for you -- great names, if I do say so
"Well, great, God,
I can hardly wait to hear them".
"So here you go,
Hosea. The first child you will name Jezreel".
You mean the name of that town where Jezebel was thrown off of the
tower and splattered on the sidewalk and the dogs licked up her
blood?! That place where Jehu massacred the seventy sons of
Ahab? That Jezreel?"
"Yeah, Hosea, that
"Well, God, I
think I'd rather name my children something like 'Abu Ghraib' or
"Well, those are
good names, but they might work later, not now".
"God, you said
three children, so who comes next?"
"Ah, the next one
is better yet, Hosea. You shall name your second child -- you
ready? -- 'Not Pity'".
What kind of name is that?"
"It's the perfect
name, Hosea. Don't you see -- my people are faithless like your
wife. They shall end up like Jezreel, and I will have no pity on
"You call this a
divine marriage, God?".
"You bet, and I'm
saving the best for last".
"Oh, God, I can
hardly wait. I suppose you'll want my last child to be something
like, oh, 'Not My People'".
"Oh, that's a
great idea, Hosea. Actually, I was going to name them the
"Huskies" -- same thing J.
But I like 'Not My People' better".
your children to dinner -- "Bloody Massacre, Not Pity, Not My
People, time for dinner!". What will your neighbors
"Yeah, God, that's
what's got me worried -- what will my neighbors think?".
"Don't worry about
that, Hosea, they'll think you're nuts. But they won't forget,
either. There will come a day -- a day of judgment -- and they
will remember. And they will say 'You know, maybe that Hosea
wasn't so crazy after all. Maybe he was trying to tell us
something about how we abandoned God, and now God has abandoned us'.
"Oh, God, you
wouldn't really do that, would you?"
I told you I was saving the best for last".
"Well, God, after
Jezreel, Not Pity, and Not My People, I'm not sure I want to hear
"Hosea, I want you
to go then and to find your wife and to catch her in adultery".
"Don't tell me,
God, I know how this is going to end. She gets what she deserves
-- we'll stone her to death".
"No, Hosea, not
quite. It's not what she deserves, she will get what I
desire. You will reclaim your unfaithful wife and you will love
"Now, God, not
really, you've got to be kidding now".
Hosea. For in so doing, you will reveal my unending love for my
people. And 'Not Pity' shall be pitied. And 'Not My
People' will be my people again".
"God, I've got to
tell you, this is one crazy marriage".
"No, Hosea, it's a
That's the story of Hosea and Gomer,
word for word, right out of your Bible J.
Well, I forget, you have the revised version in the pews, its been
shortened a little bit. But if you read it, and I encourage you to
do so, I think you'll pretty much find that that's the story that is
It's a great story, it's a powerful
story. I do want to make one disclaimer, a troubling aspect of the
story. Why is it that women so often in Biblical stories come out
on the short end? You know, Adam and Eve both eat from the tree of
knowledge, but who gets the blame? Two people caught in adultery
-- by definition it takes two to tango -- and which one gets dragged
before Jesus to be stoned? Where's the man? You see, the
truth of the matter is there is a bias against women inherent in much of
the Bible. And so Hosea is pure and spotless -- the knight in
shining armor -- while Gomer is presented as this vile creature as if
prostitution were solely a female crime in which men have no part.
Hello. Before you pass judgment
on unfaithful Gomer, consider there were two types of prostitution in
ancient societies. There is cultic prostitution, in which enslaved
women were placed in service of male-dominated fertility cults.
And there's economic prostitution, in which impoverished women are
placed in service of a male-dominated society.
We are not told which is the case for
Gomer, but regardless, Gomer is as much a victim here as she is a
perpetrator. Perhaps more so.
Of course the truth of Hosea is not
that he had this peculiar marriage, but that his marriage was a metaphor
for the unfaithfulness of the nation. And the details of that
unfaithfulness are described in the succeeding chapters which provide
the bulk of the message -- the oracles of Hosea, beginning in chapter
Like Amos before him, Hosea is critical
of those who abuse their power and wealth and take advantage of the
vulnerable. Unlike Amos, it's not about economic or distributive
justice as much as it is about the lack of faithfulness of the nation,
as illustrated by this marriage. And the lack of knowledge of God,
which results in (Hosea says): swearing, lying, stealing,
adultery, and murder. And that's just the first two verses of the
Whereas Amos blames the government and
the economic elite for the injustices against the people, Hosea blames
the rulers for relying on military alliances for their protection,
rather than God (does that sound relevant today?). And the
greatest blame for Israel's faithlessness and ignorance of God, Hosea
places on the church. The religious establishment of his day.
We read in that oracle in chapter four:
Yet let no one contend,
and let none accuse,
for with you is my contention, O priest.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
Then in the next oracle:
Hear this, O priests!
Give heed, O house of Israel!
Listen, O house of the king!
For the judgment pertains to you;
Note that order: Priest, house of
Israel, King. It's very clear: political leaders come after
the religious leaders, who bear the greatest responsibility for the
failures of the nation.
And thus for Hosea, the solution is not
better government, it's better religion.
The only scripture Jesus quotes two
times is Hosea 6:6: "For I desire steadfast love, not
sacrifice. The knowledge of God, rather than burnt
And this is the truly radical,
hard-to-hear message of Hosea that is relevant in every age and never
more so than this: that all the problems we see around us -- it's
not up to someone else to fix, it's not up to the government to
fix. It's up to us.
Remember the first page of the U.S.
Constitution -- call it to mind, I bet you can see it. Three bold
words at the top of the page. What does it say? "We the
people". We are the ones responsible. We are the ones
The message of Hosea, you see, is
precisely that -- we are responsible for the way things are. We
are the ones called to make a difference.
Joan Chittister, a Catholic theologian,
popular author and preacher, sums it up powerfully in an article we read
on Tuesday morning in our Sojourners peace with justice group. In
that article, she makes a couple of historical references of which I'm
not familiar, but you'll get the gist of it. She says:
"Hosea lived in a
period and a place where the priests of the Temple themselves had
become tamed and fattened on the spoils of the system. The
temple had gone political. It was the word of the King, not the
word of God, that mattered. It was sacrifice, cult, and culture
that mattered, not insight, wisdom, and the justice of the Jewish
Tsedakah (righteousness). It was the practice of religion, not
the righteousness of religion, that counted now.
And who doesn't know
that it is no small thing to see a church go political. To
discover that pastors prefer full collections to full homilies.
To find out that ministers preach the civil religion more than they do
the Christian religion. To come face to face with the fact that
it is the political church that puts the flag of the country in the
sanctuary, and the yellow ribbons on the crucifix in the
cathedral. It is the political church that buys its tax-exempt
status with silence, and holds prayers breakfasts instead of protests
while civil rights legislation is eroding away.
It is a totally
politicized church that cedes the teaching of the just war theory to
the Commander in Chief of the country while a physician, a mother,
goes to jail for having a conscience about it and teaches more about
conscience in one fell swoop than the church did in six months.
But there is no Hosea
now. There's only you and I. And the message to a
domesticated church is yet unheard, and unjust wars go on being
whatever the cost to sojourners everywhere, we have no choice.
We must go on.
Sounds like something that could have
been written last week. Dr. Chittister preached that message in
the summer of 1991. Such are the words of prophets -- they ring
Finally, this is the eternal truth from
Hosea that is the ultimate source of our hope: in the climactic
passage of the book, and one of my favorites of all scripture (Hosea
11), God reveals (through the prophet) the depths of divine love:
When Israel was a
child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
3Yet it was I who taught Ephraim [Another
name for Israel] to
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
4I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
8How can I give you up,
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah (Sodom)?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim (Gomorrah)?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion [remember
the Hebrew word for compassion comes from "womb"] grows
warm and tender.
9I will not execute my
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
This very definite, positive, feminine
image for God replaces and supplants the negative portrayal of the
faithless Gomer, with this faithful, maternal God, who, as James Weldon
Johnson proclaims in his great poem about creation "bends over her
people like a mammy bending over her baby".
This is the God, Hosea tells us, who
will not, can not, give up on her people. It is the knowledge of
this loving God that literally can change, must change, how we relate to
At the conclusion of his book God's
Politics (I apologize to those reading the book -- I'm going to read the
end of it, close your ears if you don't want to hear), Jim Wallis tells
the story of Lisa Sullivan. A very dynamic, energetic, hope-filled
young African-American woman that was part of the Sojourners community
in Washington D.C. She died at the age of 40 from a rare heart
He tells how Lisa would get angry when
anyone would say "Where are the leaders? Where is the Martin
Luther King of today to lead us?" And she would reply
"We are the ones we have been waiting for".
So, concludes Wallis:
"Lisa's words are the commission I want to use to conclude this
book. It's a calling the prophets knew and a lesson learned by
every person of faith and conscience who has been used to build
movements of spiritual and social change. It's a calling that is
quite consistent with the virtue of humility because it's not about
taking ourselves too seriously but rather about taking the commission
seriously. It's a commission that can only be fulfilled by very
human means. People, who because of faith and hope, believe that
the world can be changed. And it is that very belief that changes
And if not us, who will it be?
After all, we are the ones we have been waiting for".
Hosea could not have said it better.