Saturday, December 18, 2021

Mining the Minors: Hosea (6)

When Canada rejected Stephen Harper as Prime Minister in favor of a candidate whose most identifiable features were his last name and haircut, I was completely unsurprised.

At the time I often lunched in a semi-trendy midtown cafĂ© frequented by liberal-leaning twenty-somethings. It’s a small place; even if you are not inclined to eavesdrop, the tables are wedged in so tightly that you can hardly fail to pick up the broad strokes of any animated conversation in the room. Back in 2015, day after day, patron after patron, the subject was politics and nothing but. Young Canadian urbanites hungered for an abrupt swing to the left, and they were determined to make it happen.

And so they did. The country has yet to recover.

The Leaders We Deserve

But the lead-up to that November’s federal election taught me something: we have inferior leadership because, by and large, we are inferior thinkers with inferior ideas and desires. We get the representatives we deserve. Our institutions are full of self-centered people cutting corners because they think it will get them ahead. Compounding the problem, institutional rot accelerates the corruption of individuals, confronting them with endless temptations and unrelenting peer pressure. The micro affects the macro, and vice versa.

As Hebrews puts it, God found fault with the people. When a nation goes rotten, it’s because it is full of individuals gone rotten. Funnily enough, that doesn’t happen in reverse. Holiness doesn’t spread like gangrene. It takes a whole lot more work.

This principle was also in play in the Israel of Hosea’s day. It seems to be universal.

Hosea 2:1-5 — God’s Complaint and Warning

“Say to your brothers, ‘You are my people,’ and to your sisters, ‘You have received mercy.’

Plead with your mother, plead — for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband — that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst.

“Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom. For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’ ”

Adultery and Idolatry

Adultery is used repeatedly to symbolize idolatry in the prophetic scriptures. There’s an almost homophonic quality to the two words in English that doesn’t exist in Hebrew; regardless, the parallels between the two sins are immediately obvious. Like the idolater, the adulterer breaks a covenant and a trust, violates flesh and spirit, tells lies, self-justifies and constructs for himself a false reality. Though his act usually begins in secret, inevitably it impacts both family and society. Like the adulterer, the idolater “can’t help it”. He is swept away by his passions. The adulterer’s financial resources inevitably gravitate toward the object of his lust, just as the idolater inevitably becomes part of the mammon-infrastructure that maintains and exalts the worship of his false god.

In ancient Israel, the descent into idolatry was even accompanied by sexual debasement; physical unfaithfulness mirroring the spiritual. Male and female cult prostitutes were an integral part of the pagan religious system.

If a more apt illustration of the vileness of idolatry exists for God to have chosen, I can’t think what it might be.

From Illustration to Application

With chapter 2 we move from illustration to application. The prophet and his profligate wife have a family of three, all named to teach spiritual lessons. The puns which are the children’s names will be used repeatedly throughout the book. These five persons serve as a living illustration of Israel’s adulterous behavior and its consequences. Hosea depicts the endlessly gracious and patient YHWH. Gomer depicts the dissolute, faithless and self-absorbed nation of Israel. The three children named for various aspects of God’s coming judgment also stand for Israelites as individuals. They are the “children” of the mother nation.

As Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea in accordance with her nature, so Israel was nationally unfaithful. But nations are made up of individuals, and these individuals had been tainted by their mother’s unfaithfulness, just as children who grow up in the households of hardened sinners nearly always take on the traits of their parents. You don’t grow good fruit on a bad tree, and adulterous mothers don’t raise holy children. Prostitutes and adulteresses have no ability to pass on what they themselves do not understand or value. Women of Ashdod raise children who speak the language of Ashdod and cannot speak the language of Judah. It’s inevitable.

So, in addressing Hosea’s eldest son, God is really addressing individual Israelites in view of his promises, appealing to them to recognize their calling and react against the culture of their day. It’s a “Behold I stand at the door and knock” kind of moment.

Say to Your Brothers

“Say to your brothers, ‘You are my people,’ and to your sisters, ‘You have received mercy.’ ”

In English this is an awkward segue from the end of chapter 1, and may leave us wondering whether the speech is directed at Hosea’s children or at the people to whom they were a message. In chapter 1 God is instructing Hosea. In chapter 2, I believe he may switch to speaking to the individuals in the Israelite remnant directly. That those symbolized by Jezreel (whose name means both “God scatters” and “God sows”) are commanded to address their fellow Israelites rather than Jezreel being commanded to address his siblings is evident from the pluralization of brother to “brothers” and “sister” to “sisters” — which, by a ratio of 23:3, is the preferred rendering of the major Bible translations. (Gomer only had one other son and a single daughter at this point.)

So the appeal is perhaps something like this, “You few, who understand the solemn promise of God’s eventual restoration, will you not appeal to your fellow Israelites in view of God’s grace, to tell them what he will do for them — a blessing so certain we may as well consider it already accomplished?”

Of course, we know already that in Hosea’s day the response of brothers and sisters, sadly, would not be a favorable one. However, a day will come when that gracious call will be heard and acknowledged.

Plead With Your Mother

Next comes another negotiating job: “Plead with your mother, plead.” The individual believer in Israel is to encourage national repentance. God is unwilling to do so directly as for all practical purposes the “marriage” relationship is already severed: “She is not my wife, and I am not her husband.” Despite God’s loving care and provision, Israel had strayed and found herself other lovers. (We will later see that Hosea’s wife had done the same.) Israel sought the Baals rather than acknowledging her husband and her marriage vows. Yet she might still hear one of her children if only they would plead with her to give up her idols and false gods.

So God pleads with the nation to “put away whoring from her face” and “adultery from between her breasts” — the lascivious, alluring flutter of the eyelashes, the false modesty and the inappropriate overemphasis of her sexual assets that signal a woman on the make. One can always tell when a woman is advertising … and apparently gestures of flirtation have spiritual equivalents.

A Warning of Disinheritance

But with this plea comes a warning of disinheritance: “… lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst.” God cannot continue to indefinitely bless those who reject him. Unlike the days of Jonah, when Israel was harassed and helpless before Syrian and Assyrian alike, the reign of Jeroboam II was a time of comparative affluence; a time when territories like Damascus and Hamath were being retaken that had previously been lost to invasion. God was blessing Israel and using Jeroboam II to do it, despite the fact that he “did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin”, meaning the golden calf idols which triggered Israel’s departure from the true worship of YHWH.

But because it was experiencing blessing in response to the worship of foreign gods, Israel drew the conclusion it was on the right track. “I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.” In its affluence, Israel attributed the material blessing of its generation to the Baals rather than to YHWH.

Like the old expression, they didn’t recognize which side their bread was buttered on. God could not let this go on forever. A time of reckoning must come.

Children of Whoredom

Back to our starting point. Bad societies produce bad people, and bad people produce bad societies. Which is chicken and which is egg? It can be either way. During the reign of David, despite generally godly rule, the people were doing evil (“the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel”), so God used David’s error as an opportunity to discipline them, and 70,000 men died in a pestilence. Contrast this with the sin of Jeroboam, who “made Israel to sin”. This latter case was top-down evil, rather than grassroots-up.

In any case, unless God intervenes in some manner, the default assumptions of each generation of increasingly wicked children are those of their wicked parents. So God is justified in saying, “Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom.” These are not innocent babes in arms; true to their spiritual genetics, they fully display their mother’s character. This is the case with the vast majority in any dissolute culture: the “righteous Lots” are few and far between, and are often imported rather than local.

Bear in mind these “children of whoredom” on whom God would have no mercy for a period of over two millennia lived in a nation to whom God had promised his undying love. What sort of mercy can we expect him to have on our own nations when we provoke him with our rank godlessness?

Photo courtesy GoToVan from Vancouver, Canada, CC BY 2.0

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