The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Hosea (6)

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

The Dynamics of Life with God and as his People - Hosea (6)

Lent 4

          I hope you can see from the soundings we have taken in Hosea so far how rich and supple its thought and dynamics are. And how appropriate it is that the editors of this collection of prophetic books put it at the head of the collection as an introduction.
          The template Hosea presents is one of repeated overtures by God to the people, repeated (partial) responses by the people followed by relapses into idolatry and disloyalty, followed by further overtures from God and less than faithful responses by the people, ending with a promise by God to do what the people cannot or will not do for themselves, forgive and restore them by grace and out of love for them.
          Hosea seems to lack a tight structure instead opening with the memorable scene of God commanding the prophet to marry a prostitute (or a woman who would become one). Either way the pathos of the image pervades the relationship between God and his people throughout the rest of book even though Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is not mentioned after ch.3. What follows is a series of alternating scenes of judgment and salvation which are intended to characterize the God-Israel relationship throughout its duration. The chart below is one way to portray this structure (Robert Chisholm, Interpreting the Minor Prophets, 22):


          We’ve already looked at some of the particulars of God’s judgment and salvation of the people. Here I want us to reflect a bit on this macrostructure of Hosea and what that means for us as God’s people today.

          First, the marriage imagery sets a master-image for all of scripture. The Old Testament looks forward to God’s marriage to his people while in the New Testament it is Christ who is the bridegroom and the church his bride, indeed in the last vision of the book of Revelation the New Jerusalem is so described (21:2).     

          This helps us remember who this God is with whom we have to do. Earlier I mentioned the “God with a Scowl” who seems to be the default deity many imagine as the true God. Rather, the God with whom we have to do is the bridegroom passionately seeking his intended who has strayed and betrayed him but whom he still dearly loves and hopes to win back to himself. Simply put, God is for us, not against us! And will do all that can be done to reunite us with him. That’s the love and passion that drives our God.

          Just as marriage, even, or especially, the best of them, requires work and endurance. All of our marriages or close relationships have their fair share of failures that need dealing with and forgiveness and mercy to make such dealing with failure possible. The recurring bouts of judgment and salvation Hosea records insists that such failure and forgiveness are the ligaments which hold together and promote the growth of the body of marriage (Eph.4:13). Obviously the judging and forgiving in this relationship goes only one-way (though we may in fact have times when we feel we need to “forgive” God!), the pervasiveness and persistence of God’s outreach to the people in spite of everything testifies to the utter necessity of such dynamics in any healthy relationship.

          In other words, perfection is not possible (at least from our side). We should not be surprised, then, when we hurt one another, even in the church. But nor should we believe we can ignore or deny such hurt without grievous harm to the relationship. We then easily slip into passive-aggressive responses, silence, or even overt violence. We can do the same with God, especially since God is perfect, and we may be even more motivated to hide or deny or failures. But that’s only if we believe God is the vengeful condemning deity our culture often promotes.

           We need to hear the good news of God’s love for us as clearly and deeply as we can if this is to be avoided. Karl Barth says it memorably well: 

“[Man’s] legal status as a sinner is rejected in every form. Man is no longer seriously regarded by God as a sinner. Whatever he may be, whatever there is to be said of him, whatever he has to reproach himself with, God no longer takes him seriously as a sinner. He has died to sin; there on the Cross of Golgotha…We are no longer addressed and regarded by God as sinners…We are acquitted gratis, sola gratia, by God’s own entering in for us. (Dogmatics in Outline, 22)
This is who we are in Christ, which is the reality about us. Doubts about God’s love and goodness are insinuations of the evil one or our own unredeemed imaginings but not from God. Even in judgment God’s discipline is of his love (though it may occasionally take us a while to realize it).
          This marriage relationship takes time, both for God and for us. Time is medium in which relationships are made, healed, remade, and finally fulfilled. God has entered time himself in Jesus Christ and in time he works out his relationship with us. This means all time is hallowed by his presence with us. Every moment is thus fraught with significance and possibility for us. Wasting, or “killing” time takes on a more serious air.
          Finally, any marriage or close relationship takes two. Relationship is at the heart of God’s life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Relationship is at the heart of God’s life with us and this world. Relationship is the heart of our lives. Relationship, then, is the center of our world and its life.
          This is critical because too often in our western theological tradition it has been law, guilt, and sin (considered as breaking the law) that has been primary. But in the Bible it is relationships, broken relationships, healed and restored relationships that are primary. They are what drive both God and humanity in this thing we call the biblical story.

          Hos.11:1-11 give us an overview of all this. The asymmetrical Divine-human relationship we noticed earlier in this series dominates this passage. The divine I dominates (17x). The human “they” plays it part, responding poorly and faithlessly to God’s acts toward and for them (11:1-3). The list of the verbs for God’s activity here is astonishing: love (v.1), called (v.1), taught to walk, took them in his arms, healed (v.3), lead them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love, lift infants to cheek, bent down, fed (v.4), return them to their homes (v.11).
           Vv.8-9 reveal the interior anguish born of God’s love for this people.

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
 I will not execute my fierce anger;
    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.   

          Finally (v.11), God promises that he will unconditionally return his people home from their exile and dispersion. Exercising the power of his parental love, he will gather his people, even presumably, those who may not at the moment wish to return. The logic here is that of relationships not propositions. Every parent knows of times when their love for their children has overruled the children’s choice in order to care for them or protect them from harm. This is what is happening here. 

          These are the dynamics and varied actions that mark God’s relationship with his people and his world. These are the dynamics and actions of Lent. These are the dynamics and actions of your life and mine. These are the dynamics and actions of the heart of God. Made known to us in Jesus Christ. On the cross. At the resurrection. Ascended into heaven. Through the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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