Jump for Joy

I was briefly a mascot of a Christian rock band called Frolic like a Heifer. They would sheepishly admit that they got their name from Jeremiah 50:11, which described the judgment on Babylon (in that context, frolicking like a heifer was not a good thing). At a couple of their concerts, while the band played, I came out in a cow costume and danced around. One time,  I almost died an ironic death.

It was at the Baptist Student Union near the University of Hawaii campus. The concert was part of a year-end party. In the middle of my dancing shenanigans, I grabbed myself a burger so I could eat it while dancing around in a cow costume. I thought it was funny, a cow eating a burger. But in the middle of some killer dance moves, I almost choked. The burger lodged in my throat. I gasped for air.

SPOILER ALERT: I didn’t die that day.

The burger dislodged and I was saved from an embarrassing end. I would not get awarded a Darwin Award for choking on a burger while dressed as a cow. Everything was okay and we all had a great time, frolicking like a heifer.

In the Bible, joy and warnings of judgment are often intertwined. Consider another dancing cow passage:

Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the LORD Almighty. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction. (Malachi 4:1-6).

The great and fearsome Day of the Lord will come. The wicked will burn like stubble in a fire and will be trampled underfoot.  The ominous threat of judgment chars the air. But not for all. The sun of righteousness will rise, healing in its rays, and cows will dance. Elijah, a voice crying in the wilderness, will turn the hearts of children to their parents and parents’ hearts to their children, averting the land’s total destruction.

We don’t much like talking about judgment (it’s so judgy!), but Advent reminds us of both joy and judgment. Without judgment, there is no justice and the arc of the moral universe bends toward chaos. Without the promise of joy—healing, wholeness and repaired relationships—we are without hope. Judgment calls us to set right whatever is wrong in our lives. The promise of joy makes us want to.

The thing is, we are all complicit in so much. Human flourishing and our standard of living in the modern West, have contributed to human suffering, injustice and environmental destruction. Where were your shoes made? Who made them? Or the tablet you are reading this on? For the most part, we don’t know, and when we do know, we try not to think about it.  Each of us is a dancing cow, choking on a burger. We are happy and oblivious to our own destruction.

The promise of joy in the passage above is that when the dreadful day of the Lord comes, the Elijah will come and prepare the way, leading us to repair our broken relationships—children and parents, parents and children. With relational wholeness, on the Day of the Lord, we will frolick like well-fed calves. We will jump for joy.

 

Reading the Prophets of the Apocalypse: a book review

Evangelicals have a history of misinterpreting the apocalypse. Some of us mine the ancient texts for clues to our march toward destruction. Some of us throw up our hands and prefer to speak of the eschaton in general terms.

9780825427619Kregel Academic has these helpful exegetical handbooks which walk pastors and students through a genre of Scripture with some suggestions for digging deep into the text—studying, interpreting and proclaiming. I have reviewed a previous volume of the Old Testament Exegetical Handbooks before in a related domain,(Interpreting the Prophetic Books, 2014). But Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature is different because there is no apocalypse section of the Old Testament but  it is in parts of the prophetic books and extrabiblical literature. Richard Taylor highlights where apocalyptic appears in the Prophets (especially the latter half of Daniel and Joel but also passages in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Malachi) and other Apocalyptic literature (e.g. The Book of Enoch, Jubilees, 4th Ezra, 2nd Baruch, the Testament of Moses, etc).

Taylor is the senior professor of Old Testament at Bethel Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His research interests include Aramaic studies and Syriac literature. He is well acquainted with these texts and the thought world of the Ancient Near East.

As with the other Kregel handbooks, Taylor walks readers through the exegetical process necessary for understanding and teaching . Chapters one through three provide background, orienting us to apocalyptic literature. Chapter one discusses what apocalyptic  is, what are its distinctives, and what we know and don’t know about the Jewish communities which produced it. Chapter two examines major apocalyptic themes in biblical and extrabiblical sources and discusses the characteristics of the literature in more detail (e.g. literary expression, revelatory content, dreams and visions, symbolism, pseudonymous authorship). We see in the apocalyptic literature a developed angelology, dualism, cataclysmic, Divine Judgment and eschatological hope. Chapter three discusses preparing for interpretation (such as understanding metaphor and knowing what linguistic resources and secondary literature are helpful).

Chapters four through six describe the exegetical process, and how to preach from these texts, respectively. Taylor focus is on helping exegetes come with the right orientation toward the text. So he helps us attend to the genre and metaphorical language, to look for interpretive clues and a focus on the macrostructure instead of minutia. He also warns us of the pitfalls of ignorance, misplaced certainty, our tendency to manipulate certain details (to make our current experience fit the text, or read the signs of the times)(128-131) In chapter five Taylor walks through an exegetical and homiletic outline for Daniel 7. The final chapter examines sample texts, Daniel 8 and Joel 2:28-3, discussing difficulties, structure, and application.

As with the Prophets volume, this book is great for students and working preachers. I have used the Kregel Prophets volume in my own personal study and in communicating about the text. This resource helpfully augments that.  I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review

Joel: An Introduction

The book of Joel is an enigma, smothered in mystery, wrapped in a tortilla and served to someone, somewhere. Maybe not a tortilla, but some sort of flatbread. Maybe no wrapping at all.

Its superscription identifies the book’s contents as, “The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel” (Joel 1:1). However, it does not give us any historical indicators or points of reference. Joel’s name is a combination of the Divine names YHWH and Elohim, his father’s name means ‘youth of El.’ This is loaded with symbolism for ‘a prophet of the LORD.’ But at least in the superscription, we are given no indication if Joel prophesied to the Northern or Southern Kingdom (later references in the book and mentions of the temple indicate Judah).

This lack of historical indicators and the vagueness of the prophet’s origin make it difficult to know when this book was written. Scholarly opinion ranges from the early monarchy to the post-exilic period. An early date points to references to the temple (Joel 1:9, 13,14,16; 3:18). A late date points to the fact that there are no references to any monarchs, north or south. The early part of the book describes a locust plague  (1:1-2:27), the latter part of the book (2:28-3:21) is apocalyptic with a post-exilic flavor. So some critical scholarship questions the overall unity of the book. I don’t have a firm opinion on the date of Joel either way. I do think there are strong thematic links between the first and second halves of the book. The whole enchilada is meant to be read together regardless of the different tastes of its ingredients (thus, wrapped in a tortilla).

This lack of specific historical indicators serves us well as contemporary readers. When we read of the ecological crisis brought on by an army of locust and the ravages of war, we can enter into Joel’s metaphor. We can identify in our own personal and corporate lives, ‘the years the locust have eaten’ (Joel 2:25). When we read its apocalyptic promise of renewal, restoration, vindication, and God’s spirit poured on all flesh, we are filled with the hope of God’s work in our own contexts. As Christians, we read Joel’s promises through the lens of Jesus—the Word-made-flesh who inaugurated the coming of God’s kingdom, and Pentecost (cf. Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2), but we press forward toward the day when God’s kingdom comes in fullness and his justice reigns on the earth.

So as we look at Joel, pay attention to the ways in which the crises of Ancient Israel mirror our own economic and ecological context. These three short chapters have something to teach us.


References

Fuhr, Jr., Richard Alan & Gary Yates, The Message of the Twelve. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2016.

Garrett, Duane A. Hosea, Joel. Vol. 19A. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.

Stuart, Douglas. Hosea–Jonah. Vol. 31. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.

Lessons of a Good God (Hosea)

Hosea was a bad husband who publically shamed his spouse and a bad dad who saddled his children with awful names. He did all this to make vivid the message he had for a bad people, with bad leaders practicing bad religion. The final decades of Israel were marked by violence as new leaders deposed previous dynasties. They put their trust in trans-national partnerships with Egypt and Assyria. And the people followed the gods of the nations. Their idolatry was adultery, they forsook YHWH and their covenant relationship with Him. They forgot that was God that brought them into the land and gave it to them as a gift. Their practice of false religion and fertility rites (9:1-6) would not stave off famine and exile. Times of economic prosperity had led them away from their  God (10:1-2).

Because of Israel’s idolatrous heart, they were under God’s judgment. They sowed to the wind and would reap the whirlwind (8:7). Israel would be swallowed up by the nations they trusted, carried off to Assyria (8:8-9).  Hosea hoped that his people would turn their hearts back to God but they didn’t. The result was that perverted justice and coming judgment:

Sow righteousness for yourselves,
    reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
    for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
    and showers his righteousness on you.
 But you have planted wickedness,
    you have reaped evil,
    you have eaten the fruit of deception.
Because you have depended on your own strength
    and on your many warriors,
the roar of battle will rise against your people,
    so that all your fortresses will be devastated—
as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle,
    when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children.
 So will it happen to you, Bethel,
    because your wickedness is great.
When that day dawns,
    the king of Israel will be completely destroyed. (Hosea 10:12-15)

God’s judgment hangs like a cloud over the prophets’ writings. But judgment was never the final point. Revealing badness was always a secondary concern for the prophet. The primary prophetic task was to reveal knowledge of God (daath Elohim), His goodness, and turn the hearts of people back to Him. Using the analogy of marriage, Hosea reveals God’s heart—the love he had for his people.
Throughout his book, Hosea describes the Lord in heart language. When he speaks of the knowledge of God (cf. Hosea 6:6), he is describing the intimate sharing between He and his people (like the intimate knowing which marriage partners possess of one another). “The general sympathy which Hosea requires of man is solidarity, an emotional identification with God” (Abraham Heschel, The Prophets Vol. 1, New York: Harper & Colon, 1962, p60). So emotive language describes God with emotive language: “When Israel was a child  I loved him. .. (Hosea 11:1). Hear the yearning of God in this passage and the promise of restoration:
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
    How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
    all my compassion is aroused.
 I will not carry out my fierce anger,
    nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
    the Holy One among you.
    I will not come against their cities.
They will follow the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
    his children will come trembling from the west. (Hosea 11:8-10)

It isn’t just a prophets purpose, it the Father’s longing for his people to return to Him. He loves and longs for his people. God loves his people and even though they spurned and rejected Him, and like an adulteress chased after other lovers, God longed for their return to Him.  So while Hosea 12-13, like much of the book, describes Israel’s sin and God’s judgement for their adultery it ends with the promise of future blessing.
 I will heal their waywardness
    and love them freely,
    for my anger has turned away from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
    he will blossom like a lily.
Like a cedar of Lebanon
    he will send down his roots;
    his young shoots will grow.
His splendor will be like an olive tree,
    his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.
People will dwell again in his shade;
    they will flourish like the grain,
they will blossom like the vine—
    Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.
Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
    I will answer him and care for him.
I am like a flourishing juniper;
    your fruitfulness comes from me.” (Hosea 14:4-8).
The wayward and rejected Israel is promised that God would  heal them, love them freely, That his anger toward them would cease, and he would renew his Covenant love and blessing.
When we consider our own context, Hosea has a lot to teach us. As a prophet of God he spoke God’s truth. He told his nation of their wandering heart, idolatry and their failure to follow God. And yet as God’s prophet he told the whole truth. Beyond their national apostasy stood a loving God, longing to restore his people who had good things in store for them. God who would not be angry forever and would restore, and renew covenant life with Him.
So whatever your read is of America’s social and political landscape—its decadence, the pandering to special interest and oligarchy, our tenuous relationships with other nation states, the winking at injustice when it suits our interests,  the hypocrisy of leadership, the need to drain the swamp, the subversion of Christian values, the lies of the media, the treatment of the vulnerable, and the violence or whatever other ways we’ve sown to the wind and reaped the whirlwind—God’s good news for us is this: He loves us with a faithful love and longs to turn hearts back to him. His anger doesn’t burn forever and he will restore those who turn to Him.
Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
    Who is discerning? Let them understand.
The ways of the Lord are right;
    the righteous walk in them,
    but the rebellious stumble in them. (Hosea 14:9)

Lessons For Bad Leaders (Hosea 6-8)

Hosea recounted what went wrong in Israelite society: bad leadership, idolatry, lies, institutionalized violence, and policies which enabled foreign encroachment. Hos. 1:1 tells us Hosea ministered during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 BC), but he continued to prophesy during decades of decline, before the nation’s fell to Assyria (722 BC). After Jeroboam’s reign, four of the six remaining kings were assassinated by conspirators (2 Kings 15:10, 14, 25, 30); ¹  yet Hosea remained vague about the realpolitik. Like God’s prophets before and after him, his words were non-partisan, critiquing all who failed to live in the LORD.

Hosea’s context is vastly different from contemporary North America; nevertheless, there may be hints about where our leaders have also missed God’s heart. I write this in the wake of Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as our 45th president. What sort of president he will be, remains to be seen, but the missteps of Ancient Israel warn us of possible pitfalls. Part of Hosea’s agenda was to call the unfaithful leaders of Israel back to the covenant love of God. Hosea warns God’s people—Israel and us—to turn or burn, and reap the whirlwind:

Turn . . .

u_turn

Hosea begins this section, imploring his people to return to God :

   Come, let us return to the LORD;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know, let us press on to know the LORD;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”(Hosea 6:1-3, NRSV).
These verses describe Israel’s future restoration (with a strong Christological resonance of resurrection) and God’s abiding faithfulness. God wanted Israel to return to him with their whole heart. His presence remained with them and His appearing  was certain. He cared for his creation, watering it with springtime rains. Though Israel was an object of God’s wrath, if they turned to Him, He would heal them and bind up the wounds that His punishment had inflicted. Because of the faithfulness of God, Hosea spoke expectation and hope.
But this picture stands in radical contrast with the ephemeral faithfulness of Israel which evaporated like morning dew (6:4). Instead of being God’s priests mediating His presence to the nations (4:6), Israel betrayed their covenant relationship with Him(6:7). The cities of Gilead and Shechem were characterized by violence and lies (6:9) because adulterous Israel forgot their God (6:10). Their apostasy had put them on the road to ruin(6:11)2
The goal of Hosea’s prophecy was not simply to predict and pronounce judgement. The point was to dissuade Israel from the wide way of destruction and call their hearts back to God. Hosea didn’t mince words about their political and spiritual condition; He wanted them to return to the Lord.

. . .or Burn . . .

flammableicon_01_224px

Israel was full of iniquity—lying and stealing (Hosea 7:1-2).  God’s anger burned against the nation and its leaders. Hosea gave three images of Israel’s spiritual and political state.  The first image describes  Israel as burning like a hot, baker’s oven:

They delight the king with their wickedness,
the princes with their lies.
They are all adulterers,
burning like an oven
whose fire the baker need not stir
from the kneading of the dough till it rises.
On the day of the festival of our king
the princes become inflamed with wine,
and he joins hands with the mockers.
Their hearts are like an oven;
they approach him with intrigue.
Their passion smolders all night;
in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven;
they devour their rulers.
All their kings fall,
and none of them calls on me.-Hosea 7:3–7(NIV).
The burning  passions of the royal court, led to decadence and adultery. The ruling elites chased pleasure and failed to execute their duties (e.g. the baker lets the oven fires rage, neglecting his duties). The hot-oven-raging-flame may also describe the outbreak of usurping violence as Israelite kings deposed of one another in rapid succession (7:16).
Secondly, Hosea describes Israel as half-baked:
 Ephraim3 mixes himself with the peoples;
Ephraim is a cake not turned.
Foreigners devour his strength,
but he does not know it;
gray hairs are sprinkled upon him,
but he does not know it. Ho 7:8–9 (NRSV).
Have you ever failed to flip a pancake in time and burnt one side of it? This is the image: a half-baked and burnt cake, because the person responsible for it (the baker) didn’t flip it over in time. This is leadership derelict in its duty. Instead of watching over the nation and taking responsibility for citizen’s wellbeing, the king and his leaders allowed its people to suffer harm. Such unvigilant leadership allowed foreigners to devoured Israel’s strength by overrunning it and consuming its resources. The unburnt side of the cake was covered in gray hairs—not like a crown of glory or anything but a fuzzy grey mold 4 The baker, negligent in its duty was unaware that his wares spoiled; however despite the damage done by her neglectful leaders, Israel did not return to their God (Hosea. 7:10).
With third image, Hosea switches the metaphor from the culinary to the avian. He describes Israel as a silly dove chasing Egypt and Assyria for help(7:11). Israel’s adultery was not just a religious promiscuity, they were guilty of political adultery as well. They sought the aid of foreign nations instead of calling on God (who they rejected and slandered). Kings and people in power who tried to curry Egyptian and Assyrian favor. In doing this, Israel’s leaders sow the seeds of their own destruction: derision in the land of Egypt (7:16), and exile at the hands of Assyria lay in their future.

. . .and Reap the Whirlwind.

tornadosign

Chapter 8 describes the enemy coming against this ‘silly dove’ like an eagle (8:1). Israel was in trouble, but they  rejected ‘the good,'(vs. 2) and their appointed leaders were illegitimate usurpers (3). Instead of worshiping Yahweh, they constructed a calf—a caricature of the One True God (4-6).  Wickedness, bad leadership and idolatry. Their attempts to stave off destruction reaped for them a whirlwind:

For they sow to the wind,
and they reap the whirlwind.
The standing grain has no heads;
it yields no grain.
Should it yield strangers have swallowed them up. (Hosea 4:7).

Israel followed the fertility rites of the surrounding cultures and lost their crops. They trusted foreigners but strangers gobbled up their material resources. Bad leaders let it all happen.

The rest of chapter 8 describes a loss of status for Israel. They were God’s chosen people, but they were swallowed up and became just one among the nations (8:8). They forgot their maker ( Judah did too) and the consuming fire of Divine wrath was coming (8:16).

💔

Israel had failed to seek God, their bad leaders had led them astray and failed to protect them from foreign encroachment. But remember this section began  with a plea to return to the Lord and the promise of a future restoration.

When we consider our own context, I wonder what, if any, corollaries we see between ancient Israel and twenty-first century America. Do we trust our own strength and our ability to create transnational coalitions? Are our leaders elitist and neglectful of the people’s well-being? Are we as a nation characterized by lies and violence? Do we, as a nation, worship at the wrong altar?

Too often, the answer to each the above questions has been yes. At the changing of the guard, with the pendulum in full swing it remains to be seen how we shall answer these questions in the age of Trump. But lets hope with Hosea for a restoration of relationship between God and his people.


1. Richard Allan Fuhr and Gary Yates, The Message of the Twelve, Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016, 77.
2. Duane A. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, vol. 19A, The New American Commentary, Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997, 165. Judah too, is named in this prophetic indictment.
3. Ephraim in the passage is a metonym for Israel
4. Garrett, 170.

Lessons for a Bad People (Hos. 4-5)

Abraham Heschel observed, “The striking surprise is that prophets of Israel were tolerated at all by their people. To the patriots, they seemed pernicious; to the pious multitude, blasphemous; to the men in authority seditious” (The Prophets: An Introduction, 19). Hosea’s message was not a popular one. The  prophet had hard words for Israel. He had to tell them they were wrong.  After the third chapter, Hosea never mentions his wife’s adultery and prostitution again, though adultery and prostitution remain his major theme. He focuses his prophetic critique on Israel’s adultery—their unfaithfulness to God.

Chapter four opens with this charge against the Israelites:

Hear the word of the LORD,  people of Israel,
for the LORD has a case
against the inhabitants of the land:
There is no truth,  no faithful love,
and no knowledge of God  in the land! -Hos 4:1 (HCSB)
A three part charge: (1) no  truth, (2) no love, (3) no knowledge of God in the land. The next two chapters, “Chapters four and five evoke courtroom imagery as evidence of these charges set forth.” (Richard Alan Fuhr, Jr. & Gary Yates, The Message of the Twelve, 73). Hosea describes Israel’s guilt—they were a bad people; however we can’t listen to Hosea’s declamation dispassionately. We too are implicated in Hosea’s threefold charge.

אֱמֶת

emet-truth, trustworthiness, and faithfulness. There was a lack of truthfulness in Israel. The people abandoned the truth and failed to act truthfully.  “There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery” Ho 4:2. The princes of Judah (the leaders of the Southern Kingdom) are also guilty of the same lies as the Northern Kingdom in moving the boundary markers (cf. Hos. 5:10).  The truth is short-shrifted as Israel chooses to chase the lie of idolatry.

What about us? Wouldn’t the prophet indict us as well? We are only a decade past the types of predatory sub-prime lending that led to a global economic collapse and the 2016 US election ended with the Electoral College disagreeing with the Washington Post about which major candidate’s lies were most significant. We decry fake news but we are each skilled at finding media outlets which gives us our preferred version of events. Untruth rules the age. Most of us are more worried about being taken in then we are about trustworthiness, and while “truth in advertising” may be the law of the land, doesn’t that sound more like a punchline?

חֶסֶד

hesed-faithful love:  The Hebrew word hesed is a covenant word. It is variously translated as loyalty, loving-kindness, faithfulness (or faithful love, as above), graciousness, goodness and mercy. This is the word used throughout the Old Testament to describe the relationship that Yahweh has with His people. Sally Lloyd-Jones’s The Jesus Storybook Bible gives one of the greatest descriptions of  hesed, “a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” (JSB,36).

But despite God’s covenantal commitment to his people, there was no hesed in Israel—no faithful, covenant love for God. When Hosea uses the language of adultery, he is describing  Israel’s broken covenant in chasing after other gods. Because Ancient Near East religions utilized temple prostitutes in their worship, Hosea’s language is a metaphorical description of Israel’s spiritual idolatry, and a literal fact. Baal worship involved “participating in Canaanite fertility rites and worship” (Fuhr & Yates, 74). Israel broke their relationship with God by chasing foreign gods and wanton sex:

    My people consult a piece of wood,
and their divining rod gives them oracles.
For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray,
and they have played the whore, forsaking their God.
They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains,
and make offerings upon the hills,
under oak, poplar, and terebinth,
because their shade is good.
    Therefore your daughters play the whore,
and your daughters-in-law commit adultery.
I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore,
nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery;
for the men themselves go aside with whores,
and sacrifice with temple prostitutes;
thus a people without understanding comes to ruin. ( Ho 4:12–14 NRSV).
Again:
    17Ephraim is joined to idols—
let him alone.
18When their drinking is ended, they indulge in sexual orgies;
they love lewdness more than their glory.
19A wind has wrapped them in its wings,
and they shall be ashamed because of their altars. (Ho 4:17–19, NRSV).
Also:
    Their deeds do not permit them
to return to their God.
For the spirit of whoredom is within them,
and they do not know the LORD. (Ho 5:4, NRSV).

Sex and religious ritual may no longer be intertwined to the same degree in our Post-Enlightenment age; but we too have forsaken our relationship with God to chase idols. This is, in Hosea’s phrase, the spirit of whoredom. It manifests itself in three ways (at least!):

  1. Alternative spiritualities– Dissatisfied with what we encounter in churches, we chase new spiritual options. For some this means choosing another religion, for many it means a choose-your-own-religion spiritualism. We blend aspects of Eastern religion, humanism, New-Age-mysticism and therapeutic pop-psychology. We end up rejecting a relationship with the God of the Bible, for some nebulous god of our own making.
  2. Materialism- Believing what we see, touch and feel, and feeling angry about injustice done in the name of religion, we deny the reality of anything that can’t be measured. We declare the supernatural a farce. We stand on evidentialist grounds (and we know that there are angles all around).  We no longer have a relationship with God, because, for all practical purposes, we live like He doesn’t exist.
  3. Whatever gets us through the night- Good old American individualism and pragmatism encourages us to find whatever it is that works for ourselves. Certainly consumerism feeds into this (retail therapy!). As does the pursuit of all kinds of pleasure, and our self-medicating strategies of distraction. If we think of God at all, it is not because we love and honor Him. We want to know what He can do for us.

Whatever causes us to sever our connection to the Triune God is adultery/idolatry. Hosea could name the god that Israel chased (Baal). Our gods are called Legion for they are many.

דַּעַת

da‘at-knowledge: “There is no knowledge of God in the Land.” They do not know the LORD (Hosea 5:4b). Israel was ignorant and lacking in a basic understanding of God:

    My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6, NRSV).
Ignorance is not bliss. Israel was supposed to represent the LORD to the nations, declaring to all peoples the goodness and greatness of God. They could not mediate God’s presence to the world because they no longer knew who this God was.
Coming to terms with our own ignorance and lack of knowledge may be the most difficult charge for us to grasp; Yet where there is no truth, and no love, there is no knowledge of the Other.

❇❇❇❇


What is the lesson Hosea had for his bad people? Heschel writes, “The words of the prophet are stern, sour, stinging. But behind his austerity is love and compassion for mankind” (Heschel, 12). On Hosea in particular, he writes,”It is Hosea who flashes glimpses into the inner life of God as He ponders His relationship to Israel. In parables and in lyrical outbursts the decisive motive behind God’s strategy in history is declared. The decisive motive is love” (Ibid, 47). Hosea writes to make vivid God’s broken heart for Israel (and us) and call us to return to him. The charge has been spoken and our guilt laid bare. Yet this accusation is not meant to compound our sense of alienation. It is spoken with restorative intent:

    I will return again to my place
until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.
In their distress they will beg my favor:
Come, let us return to the LORD;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and he will bind us up. Hosea 5:15–6:1, NRSV.
The word for Israel and for us is love.

Lessons From a Bad Dad: Hosea 1

There are bad dads and then there are bad dads. Some fathers subject their kids to cruel disciplines to teach them a lesson. Hosea was cruel to his kids to teach his country a lesson. He named his kids awful things, so his country would know how bad things had gotten. He was a very bad dad. Okay, so God was the one who told Hosea what to name his kids, but this fact makes me glad I am neither a prophet or the son of a prophet. If you don’t know the story, here are the details from Hosea 1:

When God first spoke to Hosea, he told him to find a prostitute for a wife (more about this in a later post). He married Gomer, daughter of Diblaim and together they had three children. The first was a son. Hosea called him Jezreel and God’s behest. The name was a double entendre. It referenced the valley of Jezreel, the place where Jeroboam II’s great grandfather, Jehu, deposed the previous royal family, the house of Omri. Evil queen Jezebel’s body was torn to shreds by dogs at Jezreel, the king and the rest of the family were massacred,  just as the prophet Elijah foretold (2 Kings 9). This was God’s judgement on Israel’s kings for leading the Israelites into Baal worship. When Hosea named his son Jezreel, he was warning Jeroboam. A similar judgement would await him if he and his family didn’t repent of their own idolatry and wicked dealings. The name Jezreel also means YHWH scatters (or sows). It foretold future judgment—a nation scattered to the wind and carried into exile by the Assyrian army.

The next time Gomer got pregnant, she gave birth to a bouncing baby girl. God told Hosea to name her Lo-Ruhamah, meaning Not-Shown-Mercy or Unloved. Knowing Gomer’s history, Hosea’s friends may have wondered if the name indicated the child was not really his; yet the reason for the name Lo-Ruhamah wasn’t personal but theological. The Lord would “no longer show mercy on Israel or forgive them.” The child, in name, became the embodiment of Israel’s broken relationship with God. When Gomer weaned her daughter, she became pregnant again with another boy. Hosea called him, “Lo-Ammi”—Not my people. So, Hosea named his kids after a national Massacre (like calling your first born Wounded Knee), Unloved and Not Mine!

I don’t know how Hosea’s kids turned out, but eventually these younger two get a name upgrade: “Say to your brother, Ammi, and to your sister, Ruhamah”(Ho 2:1, NRSV), meaning ‘my people’ and ‘loved one.’ The older son, Jezreel hears how his name, YHWH sows, will come to describe God himself re-sowing Israel.   The scattered will be gathered, the unloved will be shown mercy and will be valued, a rejected people will find themselves back in their Lord’s embrace.

Still, Hosea and Gomer’s three children spent the first several years of their lives enduring constant negative messaging from their father (and Heavenly Father?). This is significant time for early childhood development. Healthy attachment sets children on the path toward future success. Did Massacre, Unloved and Not Mine experience the love of their parents? Did Hosea hug and nurture his sons and whisper to them how much he loved them? Did he tell his little girl she could become anything she wanted to be? Did he swell with pride at every developmental milestone? And smile as they mispronounced words and laugh at their nonsense rhymes? When his children grew, did they feel their father understood and respected them? Did Hosea’s stern demeanor soften as he aged? Or did his prophetic austerity make him always enigma to them?

We don’t have enough information to know what kind of father Hosea really was. We only know he named his kids horrid things as an object lesson (I’ve been a pastor and I know how easy it is to carelessly turn your kids into object lessons).  My guess was he really was a bad dad, the way we all were when we first became fathers. He, like us, was human, and thus a mess of contradictions. Thankfully the final word Hosea hears God declare over his children speak of restoration, hope, return, renewal, love, life.

Hosea’s names for his kids shock us today.  I don’t think the names were any less of a shock in his own time. Hosea wanted to make vivid for his compatriots the reality of God’s judgement and their brokenness and alienation from God. Does Hosea’s kids’ names make vivid our own sins too? Will it shake us to repentance? Can we learn from this bad dad?

What is our Jezreel? In what ways do our leaders repeat sin and unhealthy patterns of the past?  Manifest Destiny and the American Militarism? The idolatry of consumerism? How are we cut off from God’s mercy? How do we fail to trust God, and continually reject Him by our actions? In what ways are we not God’s people?