Nov 10th | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | Hosea 11:1-9
One of the simple truths about life is that the older you get the more you learn. At least we hope that is one of the benefits of aging. There is little that is worse than a person who refuses to learn anything new, considering the remarkable gifts God has given us and the amazing times in which we live.
Parenting changes the way you look at things. (This is the moment when my children begin to squirm. “Where he’s going with this?”) Having children and all that entails has changed the way I see things and understand things. Now, I’ve worked with children and young people for over forty years and have been approached by their parents for advice. It’s not that the advice I gave was “bad” advice. It’s just that when those same situations appeared in my own life that I found the advice terribly difficult to follow.
So, this time around, in dealing with the prophecy of Hosea, I see things differently than I saw them pre-parenthood. Especially when we read the words of the eleventh chapter of Hosea, we hear the voice of a frustrated - and perhaps even disappointed - parent of a rebellious and disobedient child.
An overview of Hosea’s prophecy might be helpful. The book bears the name of the prophet and is the first of the prophets labeled “minor” prophets - not because their work was unimportant, but because their works are shorter in length than the other prophets. In the Jewish canon, these books are called “the Book of the Twelve.” The setting in time for the prophecy is during the reigns of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Jeroboam.
The overarching theme of the prophecy is the peoples’ unfaithfulness to God. To put the situation in the starkest of terms, Hosea is told by God to marry a woman named Gomer - whose reputation for unfaithfulness and infidelity was common knowledge. It was as though God was saying to Hosea, “walk a mile in my shoes, won’t you?” Hosea was to experience for himself what God was experiencing with his wayward and adulteress people.
Because the people, you see, had gone off after other gods and went chasing after idols. The Baals show up again - the family of Canaanite gods who keep appearing in the story of God’s people. In general, the Baals were seen as gods of fertility, rainfall, growing seasons, and harvests. The Baals were “providers” and, as such, took away from God the honor and gratitude that God deserved and served to diminish and misdirect the people’s attention and devotion to God.
For that reason, God calls on Hosea to cry out to the people and call them back to the ways of Adonai - the Lord.
In our passage for the day, God speaks through the prophet.
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them, the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols. (Hosea 11:1-2)
Can you remember a time when - either as a parent or as a child - when you were calling for a child, or heard your name being called, and ran in the opposite direction? Welcome to God’s world!
God then says,
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk… (Hosea 11:3)
And so we begin to hear, in God’s voice, the sound of unsettledness - frustrated to be sure, but still loving this wayward and defiant child. Parents will sometimes say something to the effect of, “I am sorry for the day when I taught you how to walk,” as the child runs away. Welcome to God’s world!
Then, with the anguish of a parent betrayed, God speaks,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11:3b-4)
Speaking like a mother - using feminine images - God speaks of the broken heart of a disappointed and saddened mother.
Understandably, God’s first inclination is wrath.
They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all. (Hosea 11:5-7)
“Let them stew in their own juices,” God says. “See if I will do anything to bail them out this time.”
And who could blame God? Walk all over someone that many times and they are perfectly justified in cutting the cord. Right? God would be perfectly within God’s rights to just wash the divine hands of this ungrateful and two-timing lot. Ever been that mad as a parent? Ever make a parent that angry and hurt?
And then, in conversation with the Divine Self, God takes up the other side of the argument.
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.
They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion;
when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west.
They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria;
and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.
God cannot cut the cord that ties God to the people. God cannot disown the people or be unconcerned about their welfare. God cannot divorce his unfaithful spouse. God cannot stop loving - even when others have apparently stopped loving God.
And there is the good news.
God cannot and will not give us up. God cannot and will not hand us over. God cannot and does not act in anger toward us. Even if God “roars like a lion,” God will not turn on us and devour us.
In the book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis gives us a scene where Susan and Mr. Beaver are talking about Aslan. Mr. Beaver says, “Aslan is a lion - the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”...”Safe?” said Mr Beaver ...”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Perhaps Mr. Beaver had read Hosea. Certainly C.S. Lewis had. God may be like a lion. But God will not harm us. God may not be safe. But God is good.
Frankly, I don’t care what your family and friends have told you. I don’t care what other churches and other Christians have told you. I don’t even care what you’ve told yourself for years and years and years.
God cannot and will not give you up. God cannot and will not abandon you. God cannot and will not act in wrath or anger toward you. Other people might. Dear ones might. Friends may turn and walk away. But, “nothing in all creation will be able to separate you from the love of God…”
God possesses “a heart of invincible love.” God’s love is unshakable, indestructible, and indomitable. God’s love is everlasting, imperishable, and eternal.
Jewish songwriter, Shir Yaakov, composed these words to one of his songs.
We are embraced by arms that find us
even when we are hidden from ourselves.
We are touched by fingers that soothe us
even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us
even when we are too embittered to hear.
We are loved by an unending love.
We are supported by hands that uplift us
even in the midst of a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us
even when we are too weak for meeting.
We are loved by an unending love.
Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled,
ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;
ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;
We are loved by an unending love.
“A heart of invincible love.” This is the love of God. This is the love we are called to share with each other and with our neighbors.
For now and evermore. Amen.