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 . . .

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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 . . .

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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 Husband: Hosea 2-3

We already knew that Gomer was a bad wife. Hosea told us. A lot.  The words he lobbed at her in the first three chapters of the book bearing his name included things like: promiscuous, adulteress, harlot, unfaithful. He let her know how, and how often, she failed at their marriage. But was Hosea a good husband? Was he the faultless party stuck in a faulty relationship? We are accustomed to thinking of the prophets as the good guys of the Bible. They are, of course, but they were also human. If Hosea wasn’t bad, out right, he definitely was a hard guy to be married to.

Ancient Israel was a patriarchal society. Women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as the men of that culture. One of the main problems with patriarchy is that it emphasizes that men bear God’s image, while forgetting that women, are also mutual image bearers (Gen. 1:27). Did Hosea ever see the Divine flicker in Gomer’s eyes? Perhaps; however, his prophetic poems compared his love for her to God’s love for Israel. Gomer, fickle and unfaithful was merely the mirror of Israel—a people who abandoned the LORD by chasing lesser gods. Hosea casts himself as an Analogy of Divine Being, and his wife,  as a stunted and fallen people.  How would you like to be married to that?

Did Hosea forgive Gomer for her past? Did he shame her throughout their marriage? Was he paranoid whenever she left the house? Was he jealous whenever she spoke to another man?  Hosea’s love for Gomer did reflect God’s love, but only through a glass darkly. Anytime God is created in man’s image (i.e. anthropomorphism), the analogy  breaks down somewhere. Hosea’s love for Gomer was only a shadow of  strong covenant love of Yahweh, not a detailed exposition of it.

An altogether, human Hosea was bound together with Gomer and their children within a family system. Therapist Lynn Hoffman defined a system as “any entity the parts of which co-vary interdependently with one another, and which maintain equilibrium in an error-activated way” (cited in The Family Crucible by Augustus Napier &  Carl Whitaker, Quill, 1978, p 47). In other words, the prophet and his wife, as co-participants in their family system, each bore some responsibility for their broken marriage. Gomer cheated on Hosea, but an emotional distance and lack of intimacy between them preceded any act of infidelity. There were ways in which Hosea’s love was not divine. He failed her too.  If their relationship could be restored, Hosea, and not just Gomer, would need to do the heart work.

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Hosea was a jilted lover. He was angry and hurt by Gomer’s behavior. His reactions are understandable.  Hosea 2 relays the dissolution of his marriage, his  anger and heartbreak. This was a wounded man:

Say to your brother, Ammi, and to your sister, Ruhamah.

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,
or I will strip her naked
    and expose her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness,
    and turn her into a parched land,
    and kill her with thirst. (Hosea 2:1-3)

These verses, and the next several, tell how Gomer betrayed him, and how he would make her pay.  Hosea spoke these words to their children. Triangulation occurs when “two parents are emotionally estranged from another, and they overinvolve their children in their emotional distress (84, The Family Crucible). Hosea draws his kids into a triangle (another bad dad moment?), then in his next breath he says, “I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery. Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace” (Hos. 2:4-5a). Hurt prophets hurt.

Hosea was a wounded animal lashing out. He was bitter and vindictive as he recounted how he would thwart Gomer and make her pay for her unfaithfulness. A bad wife was cast out by the just indignation of this (also bad?)husband.

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The first prophetic word the Lord said to Hosea was, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea 2 expresses a double entendre containing God’s judgement on Israel for their sins. Hosea’s relationship to Gomer embodied a nation’s spiritual condition. What began as a diatribe against his wife became the word of the Lord against Israel:

I will punish her for the festival days of the Baals,
    when she offered incense to them
and decked herself with her ring and jewelry,
    and went after her lovers,
    and forgot me, says the Lord. (Hos. 2:13)

Yet if judgment and rejection were the final word, the book of Hosea would be depressing. Anger and sorrow are swallowed up by hope as Hosea describes Israel’s future—a restored relationship with God:

“In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked. In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.

“In that day I will respond,” declares the Lord— “I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, and they will respond to Jezreel. I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ ”(Hosea 2:16-23).

Hosea 3 describes how God calls Hosea to reconcile with his wife. Recalling His first word to Hosea, the Lord said, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”(Hos 3:1, NIV). Hosea pays six ounces of silver and a butt-load of barley to get her back. He calls her to faithfulness, and pledges to her his own. Gomer must remain chaste for a season, the way Israel herself will be chastened by war and exile, but in the end,  God’s goodness awaits (Hosea 3:4-5).

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Prophets make vivid God’s heart. If Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was a mere sham act for effect, then it really didn’t image God’s love. Hosea was far from perfect, but he came to love well. Abraham Heschel writes:

It seems absurd to assume that the prophet’s marriage was performed for effect, as a mere demonstration, as an action intended for public information. We must not reduce the fullness of an act to its operational meaning. We cannot adequately understand a person by the impressions he produces in other people.  A person is not a puppet, and martyrdom is not a masquerade. One thing is clear: the primarily given and immediate spiritual datum in the story of the marriage is the prophet’s experience. The event stirred and shocked the life of Hosea regardless of its effect upon public opinion. It concerned him personally at the deepest level and had a meaning of highest significance for his own life.

As time went by, Hosea became aware of the fact that his personal fate was a mirror for divine pathos, that his sorrow echoed the sorrow of God. In this fellow suffering as an act of sympathy with the divine pathos, the prophet probably saw the meaning of the marriage which he had contracted at the divine behest (The Prophets: An Introduction, Vol. 1, 55-56).

Hosea 3 doesn’t  actually name Gomer and the prophet doesn’t mention her adultery again in the rest of the book, though he continued to speak about Israel’s adulterous heart. Maybe they lived happily ever after? Perhaps the point had been made, and Hosea (and the Lord?) saw no further need to subject his family system to further shame. In reflecting on Heschel’s words, I wonder if Hosea’s increasing circumspection about expressing family matters in public is that as he came to understand more fully the love and sorrow of God, he grew more loving towards Gomer. So instead of public shame, he protected her honor. Maybe, just maybe, this bad husband began in earnest to image the love of God to her.

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?

Hosea: An Introduction

Jeroboam II was king in Israel. His  purpose as leader was to “Make The Northern Kingdom Great Again!™” His own name hearkened back to Jeroboam, the leader who had wrested control of the ten tribes from the oppression from Solomon’s son, Rehoboam  (1 Kings 12).  Like all the northern leaders, the book of Kings describes Jeroboam II as evil. Listen to his-reign-adapted-refrain, “He did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin” (2 Kings 14:24). But in terms of his aim at Making Israel Great Again™ he was a great success. It is too bad his restoration project never took him beyond the flawed leadership of his nation’s past.

Jeroboam II reigned for 41 years (though some of his reign may be a co-regency with his father Joash). He was able to restore, through war, land which had previously been taken from it—territory from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of Arabah (2 Kings 14:25). Jeroboam’s success came because God saw Israel’s suffering, and saved them by through his hand (2 Kings 14:26-27). It was still some decades before the nation of Israel would succumb to Assyrian might and Jeroboam II’s reign was a prosperous one.

Enter the prophet.

hosea
18th Century  Russian Icon of Hosea, source: Wikimedia commons

Hosea son of Beeri, father of three and married to  a prostitute, arose sometime in Jeroboam II’s reign and called the nation to task for their sin. What were Israel’s sins? Unlike his contemporary Amos, Hosea did not single out the rich for their oppression of the poor (Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, 13).  Hosea issues sweeping allegations against the entire nation; however while it is possible to distinguish the sins of Israel from those of the common man, the state—its institutions and political and religious leaders—are explicitly critiqued in Hosea’s condemnations. He exposes the violence of kings, the lack of knowledge of God, idolatry, and Israel’s dishonest dealings.

Prophets warn of judgement, but as Abraham Heschel notes, doom and destruction are never the point. “The words of the prophet are stern, sour, stinging. But behind this austerity is love and compassion for mankind” (The Prophets Vol. 1 , 12):

The prominent theme is exhortation, not mere prediction. While it is true that foretelling is an important ingredient and may serve as a sign for the prophet’s authority, his essential task is to declare the word of God to the here and now; to disclose the future in order to illumine what is involved in the present. (ibid.)

In other words, the prophets articulated judgement, but the hope was that their words lead to the people’s repentance. As we’ll see, hope has the final word in Hosea’s presentation.

What does Hosea have to teach us?

He is a voice from the past with a troubled family life. He comes across as a jerk. He married a prostitute to teach the nation a lesson and then shamed her for being a prostitute. He purposely named his kids awful things which caused them to be made fun of on the playground. Total jerkface.

And yet, Hosea exposed the lies of the culture. He spoke truth to power and exposed the dangers of systemic violence, injustice and idolatry. We, like Hosea, have a leader committed to making our nation great again.™ Perhaps the parallels end there. But if we too are a nation marked by violence, idolatry, injustice and exceptionalism, then the prophet has a lot to teach us. . .

Interpreting the Sticky Pages: a book review

The prophets don’t get the air play that the rest of Scripture does. Isaiah gets rolled out for the holidays, Daniel is featured at at every End Times conference, Jeremiah is selectively quoted, but by and large the prophetic literature is left untouched. No ‘Book of the Twelve’ on a Sunday morning because the church does not serve Minors!  Those who do try to delve into the prophets are often left confused about historical context. genre, and application.

Gary Smith is a Old Testament scholar and commentator who has dug deeply and discovered the treasures that await us in the Prophets. In Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook (part of Kregel’s ‘Handbooks For Old Testament Exegesis’ series) Smith walks us through the process of interpreting the prophets well. The book is designed especially for students who are working with biblical languages, but the working pastor whose Hebrew is gone with the ruach, will find this a fairly accessible guide.

Smith begins in chapter one by discussing the nature of prophetic literature. Distinctive features include the temporal categories in prophecy (prophecies describing present events, prophecies about a future era, and the apocalyptic/symbolic). Smith also describes the genres of prophecies and the poetic parallelism within the prophetic literature. Chapter two explores the primary themes of each book. Chapter three identifies the things you will need for interpreting the prophets wisely. These include knowing the historical setting of each book (and Smith provides a brief overview of the pre-exilic prophets of Israel and Judah, the exilic prophets and post-exiilic), prophecy in the Ancient Near East context, awareness of text critical issues, and the best commentaries and resources at your disposal.

Chapter four is where the fun starts. Smith discusses various interpretive issues related to the prophetic literature. Including: are prophecies literary or metaphorical? Are they limited by context? Are they conditional or unconditional? Are they about the near or the far future? How the New Testament authors interpret the prophets and is their method legitimate for us? Chapters five and six describe the exegetical process for interpreting the prophets. Chapter five walks through how to ‘proclaim the text’ (interpreting with an eye for the central principle and application). Chapter six lays out a method which integrates all the earlier chapters.

I don’t expect exegetical handbooks to be exciting reading. There is too much method and too little metaphor, by the nature of the format. However I found Smith’s discuss of themes, historical backgrounds and interpretive issues to be highly interesting. I will likely refer back to this book the next time I preach or teach on the prophets. That will likely be when I roll out Isaiah for the holidays. Oh and other times to, because I really like the prophets. I think it is sad that we don’t aquatint ourselves with them more. Maybe with Smith’s guide we will. I give it four stars.

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

God Where Are You? a book review

In the face of mass tragedy and terror in a post 9/11 world, we wonder where God is. But this is not a new question. Significant figures throughout history have struggled to see where God’s hand was at work and what it means to trust him. These include the prophets and patriarchs.

Bianchi is the founder and prior of the ecumenical monastic, Bose Community in Italy (founded in 1965, just after Vatican II).  He is a perceptive spiritual writer ( I have previously read and highly recommend his Echoes of the Word). In God Where Are You? Practical Answers to Spiritual QuestionsEncho explores several Old Testament saints. His treatment of each of these patriarchs and prophets yield fruitful insights into the spiritual life:

  • Abraham was called to go to the land that God would show him. Abraham’s faith in God in going is a model for us. Especially because Abraham is given a promise that will not be fulfilled in his lifetime (i.e. possession of the land, become a great nation, etc.). Even in his reception of a promised offspring, Isaac, he models for us a spirit of relinquishment of all he holds dear. So the father of our faith (and the Jewish faith) faces circumstances and ordeals that make faith in God difficult.
  • Jacob was the deceiver who cheated his brother out of his brother out of his birthright and inheritance. Despite his scoundrel nature, he was a child of promise.  Two events changed Jacobs life forever. The first was his dream of a ladder from heaven to earth while he was on lam. The second happened when he returns home many years later and wrestles with God at the ford of Jabbok. The second event was the culmination of a lifetime of struggling with God, but it is through the struggling that Jacob (and we) discover that a new life is possible.
  • Moses is a man who saw God’s glory and is physically transformed by the time he spends with God on the mountain. He is privileged  to hear God–YHWH, I AM Who I AM–and he is commissioned to lead God’s people out of slavery to the promised land. He is commssioned by God, but also struggles with God, interceding for the people when they stand under His judgment. IT is through Moses’ struggle with God, he learns to think of others as better than himself. He leads the Israelites to the cusp of the promised land, though he himself would not enter.
  • Elijah fearful and depressed longing to die, meets God in the silence on Mount Horeb.
  • Isaiah‘s call underscores how our encounters with God call us to be obedient servants of His word.

Ultimately these ancient encounters reveal that life with God has never been easy but that God has revealed himself to us in the midst of his people (129) and in the person of Jesus Christ and in those who live in him (133). In Jesus we find we are not just on our search for God, but God is searching for us.

Bianchi’s prose is simple and unadorned, but he speaks deep things. He is well read in Jewish and Christian spirituality and synthesizes their wisdom. I didn’t agree with his interpretation at ever turn. But I was challenged and think his reputation as a Christian writer is justified (Rowan Williams writes the forward and calls Bianchi one of the most significant Christian voices in Europe). Currently, I would give this book four stars, but I already want to read it again, so it may grow on me. ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Paraclete Press for the purposes of this review.