Good morning. We’re in a series called Prophetic Living and I’ll share from one of the prophets in the Bible, a book called Hosea. A quick Bible overview. Old Testament is made up for 39 books. It’s really a library rather than one book. It’s ordered loosely according to genre, Genesis being the origin accounts, then some law texts, and then we’ve got some history books, then some poetry which is often called wisdom books, like the psalms and proverbs, and then the rest are the Prophets. There are “major” prophets and “minor” prophets, not because Isaiah was so majorly cool but cause the book is long. Hosea is one of the minor prophets. 14 chapters. A quick tell-it-like-it-is. When I finally read this book in seminary, cause I never once read it before then although I grew up Christian, I was floored by the content, and since then have always wanted to preach on it. So when we decided to do a series on Prophetic Living, I was like, this is my time! To talk about a very weird book!
It’s a book that isn’t often mentioned in Sunday School, you’ll see why. And you know what, prophetic living can be kind of weird, as we’ve heard about that other Prophet Ezekiel past few weeks. He weird for sure. And that’s an aspect of prophetic living, kind of weird, out of the box. It can sometimes look very different from what’s normally accepted. And I think that’s kind of cool.
So let me read the text for us and see what this peculiar book might have, anything, to say to us today.
2 When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” 3 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
4 Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. 5 In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.”
6 Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them. 7 Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, the Lord their God, will save them.”
8 After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. 9 Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God.[b]
10 “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ 11 The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.[c]
You see why we don’t read this in Sunday School. Go marry a promiscuous woman. And in fact, there are a lot of parts of the Bible we don’t read for kids, but for adults either. I mean, talk about biblical marriage, there’s this one, and Abraham with his wife Sarah and Hagar the maidservant who bore him a son. And many other marriages in the Bible that is FAR from our culture and tradition, or norms of our days, or even their days frankly.
So let me say a few things right off the bat about this text. First of all, it’s a story and it’s a metaphor. It’s set in a time long ago with ancient cultural context. It’s also provocative. So I just want to say that, if any of this is triggering or offensive to you for any reason, a difficult topic, please feel free to step out and take care of yourself. You know your needs best. And also maybe try to allow the metaphor, locked in its particular time, to pass through to unearth the meaning behind the metaphor. We ARE going to do some initial critique of the genre, and that is a PART of reading Bible texts with integrity. So, let’s give ourselves, both me and yourself some grace and mercy through this process of discovering an ancient text. I’m going to take us through the thinking process of this text, so it’ll take us a few detours to get to the core message of Hosea. Stay with me, this is the good work of delving into the text and doing it justice. Like a love confession letter(or email) from your crush, you don’t just read it once and get it, you study every word and layers in meaning! I’ll talk about the metaphor, the problem that the metaphor is referring to, and Hosea’s hope and vision. The metaphor, the problem, and the hope
So, the metaphor. The medium sometimes is not the message. The metaphor is that Hosea is to marry a promiscuous woman to illustrate God’s loving relationship with the unfaithful Kingdom of Israel. It’s meant it to be provocative. Sometimes prophetic messages come off kind of blunt and out there. It’s also an ancient setting in which cultural understanding of marriage, covenant relationship, and gender roles are set in a specific society, different from our own, most likely a patriarchal one, meaning one where the male gender has power and female doesn’t. And so to allude God as the loving husband and the unfaithful Israel to an adulterous wife, such metaphor is comprehensible language and even effective. Partly because the meant audience for the writing was for men, the powers of the Israel who was leading the country astray. But for us, those who get to eavesdrop on the conversation between prophet Hosea and the people of Israel set in 8th century BCE, there are many things that we have different assumptions and standards about. For one thing, the ancient metaphor doesn’t take into account the harm in always aligning the Divine/God with “he” pronoun and the nation, the human beings, or the wrong ones as “she”. I believe the message of Hosea can withstand modern feminist critique, to not only see the simple metaphor, but we must be able to see THROUGH the metaphor, and be able to critique the medium that has caused harm in seeing the female gender as the tainted one and male as the saviors. The text itself is more rich and complex than that. We should not take it at face value and give it the time and effort to do some digging.
Here’s a way to look at it. The prophet writings were a certain GENRE of writing. It’s part autobiographical, historical, interweaved with conversations of God with the prophet, and the prophet with the people. We HAVE to keep the GENRE in mind, because when we are not aware of the specific genre, we totally miss the message. For example, [SLIDE] The Onion is a news source that is meant to be a satire. They report on things like, “Man To Undergo Extensive Interrogation By Coworkers About Where He Got Falafel” with quotes like, ““It’s only a matter of moments before they’re surrounding my desk, ordering me to tell them everything I know about how long the line was and cross-examining me about what other dishes were available.” It’s random. It’s funny. But if you didn’t know the genre, you’d be like, that’s news? Knowing the genre is important when reading something on the internet. It’s also important when reading the Bible. Whenever you read the Bible, ask yourself, what’s the genre here?
The prophet writings are a specific kind of writing. It wasn’t written to give you marriage advice. It’s a metaphor. This sermon isn’t telling you who to marry. Please don’t take the Bible literally like that. In fact, on that note, let me say for the record, sometimes churches often provide people with cultural or moral or ethical standards as a biblical teaching or Christian tenet, and what the Prophets show us, is God’s plan is bigger than human plans. Like this story. Marrying a promiscuous woman, I’m sure would not have been a godly advice to young men in their temple. Marriage is so deeply interwoven with cultural expectations of its time and place.
Here’s an example. Marriage expectations is the bread and butter of Korean dramas. They’re a bit like american soap opera or telenovela, but it’s like this whole genre called Korean dramas. It’s actually huge in asia, my chinese mother in laws knows Korean phrases from watching them, and you can even find them on netflix. Usual story goes like this. A girl and boy somehow falls in love. But there’s a problem. The boy is from a poor family, or the girl grew up without parents and she’s an orphan, or the boy is younger, oh no!, or the girl has a career, she can’t have babies! And the families just lose it when they find out they’re dating, they try to pay each other off to break up, and humiliate their boyfriend or girlfriend. Drama.
The beginning of this text says that God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute. (side note, the specific word translated is actually not prostitute more accurately, promiscuous, although many bible translate it so because the metaphor of Israel being a prostitute is definitely there, but the word prostitute is never actually connected to the wife. clarity.) And name his children, Lo-ruhamah–’Not Loved’ and Lo-ammi–’Not My People’. That must’ve been hard names for them to live with! And the rest of the book is series of conversation between God and Hosea, and Hosea to his wife, and God to the people of Israel, and Hosea to the people as the prophet, and it is often confusing who’s saying what to whom. This is often the case in all of the Prophet books. It’s part autobiography, part oracle, part preaching, mixed in with their personal conversation, and feelings, with God and then it being God’s mouthpiece and intention. It’s unclear. But that’s often how life is sometimes right? God speaking through our lives, sometimes in moments of such clarity, God said this, and sometimes in the muddy mix of of our emotions, Is this how God feels? We ask ourselves this as we move about our days, God what are you trying to show me. How are you using me and my life to be a witness. What good story of yours are you telling through my life?
So the metaphor was his own personal story and experience, his marriage, his children. And it’s being used to illustrate the problem. So what is the problem? The rest of the book, Hosea expands on this marriage metaphor to call out the people of Israel. It’s an autobiographical social commentary. So what was happening?
Little history. It’s late 8th century BCE. Around 930 BCE the united monarchy has split into two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south. I feel like I’m explaining Game of Thrones right now, “king of the north!” but actually it’s kind of helpful in imagining it in that genre. Hosea, though it doesn’t say clearly in the text, is probably from the north from the way he talks about all the narratives that were popular in the north and mentioning of mostly northern cities. During the 8th century the Israel and Judah were experiencing some booming of economy and flourishing unlike any other time in their history. They had political stability and independence, partly due to neighboring super powers like the Assyrians, who had been colonizing surrounding nations, were kind of taking a break with their own problems like disease outbreak and such. And in fact, Israel and Judah were expanding and colonizing their neighbors with this newfound strength and stability. And with imperialism, colonizing, they enjoyed more trade, goods, which then bore more hunger for power and exploitation of foreigners and peasants. And then surplus of power that began to tip over to greed causing greater disparity among the rich and the poor. This is common history, right? A history of most nations and powers, the rise and fall, the struggle of the rich and the poor.
What we know is that very soon, a little later, in 722 BCE, all this goes down the drain, with the great fall of Samaria, the capital of Northern Kingdom of Israel. Assyria gets over disease outbreaks and starts destroying their neighboring cities again. We know this through other sources and the Bible. And Hosea lived just before that, and didn’t know this. But, he saw it coming. I think that’s why we allude the word Prophets to those who foretell, but it’s not just that, it’s actually more like those who really have a keen sense of the current state of the nation that they can “predict” what’s going to happen to the country. There were economists who saw the housing market crash of 2008, but we don’t call them prophets. But they knew. They saw it coming. And Hosea, saw the destruction of Israel coming and used it to warn the people to turn their ways.
He masterfully interweaves his conversations with his wife, the anger, the struggle, the feeling of betrayal, to illustrate God’s disapproval of Israel’s actions. Some, I wonder if they were God’s venting, or his own. They are pretty harsh words. And like a good Korean drama or an epic HBO show, things are well, let me read a few lines. Chapter 2, “I will leave her to die of thirst as in a dry and barren wilderness. I will not love her children… I will strip her naked in public… no one will be able to rescue her from my hands…” DRAMA. This is kind of why I stopped watching Game of Thrones in season 3, cause it’s like too much violence and rape, like why. And this is also why some people stop reading the Bible cause too much violence and rape and genocide. You know, human history. It’s ugly. And it’s a literary artistic choice too though. Hosea goes back and forth from one chapter on God’s judgement and fury, to the next chapter, having said all that, End of Chapter 2, “but then I will win her back once again…speak tenderly to her….You will call me ‘husband’ instead of master” (Side note, fun fact! Husband is the metaphor being used in juxtaposition to Master, because the word Master, which is baal, is the same word used for the foreign god Baal. The one true God, loving husband, the false idol god, the taskmaster. It was a pun!) And it does kind of make God sound bipolar. Maybe Hosea was bipolar, or I don’t know, he’s going through a lot right now you know? And it goes on like this pretty much rest of the book, utilizing other metaphors in addition to the marriage one like farming, religion, or parental. Chapter 4, “Israel is stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. So should the Lord feed her like a lamb in a lush pasture? No. Leave Israel alone.” Chapter 6, “I want you to show love or show mercy, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me, more than I want burnt offerings.” Chapter 11, “I myself taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand. But he doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him. I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love, I lifted the yoke from his neck and I myself stooped to feed him.”
These metaphors are pointing out how Israel is breaking the covenant relationship with God, unfaithful and disobeying, saying that they are worshiping idols. Hint: It’s not just about religion. Especially in that time, the separation of religious and secular concerns were not as distinct. So, what is the offense to God? What does unfaithfulness to God look like? As he said in chapter 6, it’s not about the sacrifices or burnt offerings.
Chapter 5: “The court officials in Judah have become like removers of boundary landmarks; upon them I will pour out my fury like water.” Why was removing boundary landmarks such a crime? Cause it was about territory, property, and the court officials who determine them unjustly.
Chapter 9: “you love shares on every threshing floor of grain. Threshing floor and wine vats shall not benefit them, and the new wine shall fail them. They shall not sit in possession in the land of Yahweh; but they shall return to Egypt, and in Assyria they shall eat unclean food.”
It was about grain, agriculture, and wine, trade goods, and possession of land, and political ties to Egypt and Assyria the other superpowers that were also exploiting other nations.
Chapter 10: “since you trusted in your chariots and in the abundance of your warriors, an uproar shall rise amidst your cities, and all the fortifications shall be destroyed, like the destruction of Beth-arbel by Shalman on the day of battle” and this is really extreme, I’m sorry but it’s in the Bible, “mothers were dashed into pieces with children,”. Chapter 13 has even worse that I don’t want to read. It was about military, about walls, about wars and murders of women and children.
Prophets studies scholar Rodney R. Hutton puts it this way, “To accuse Israel of religious infidelity was not simply a pedantic concern about correct religion. I was fundamentally a political concern about foreign alliances and the sort of pressures such alliances exerted on Israel’s core religious and social values…Hosea rehearses a long litany of social injustices, all of which result from the fact that, “there is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land. There is swearing, lyding, killing, stealing, and committing adultery. They break all bounds and murder follows murder (in reference to the ten commandments) (4:1-2). Clearly, one cannot distinguish between religious and secular concerns, between matters of worshiping the correct god and worshiping God correctly. For Hosea the two go together and offenses again God have universal and cosmic effects: “Therefor the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air; and even the fish of the sea are taken away” (4:3).”
This was their sin. This was their rebellion against God. As is the case for all of the prophets. They were calling out for the repentance and turning away from their ways. Their ways of militaristic power expansion, land accumulation and exploitation of the poor. The marketplace. The economy. The politics. The unfair trades of good, about farming, about water, about children, about life. To be devoted to God and to do justice is one of the same.
I briefly mentioned the Canaanite god of fertility earlier, Baal, who was also known as the Lord of Rain and Dew, one who provided the climate for abundance of crops. That’s why worshipping Baal was ‘falling in love’ with potential of grain, wine, oil, success, wealth, power. –This was Hosea’s warning and message to the people of Israel. So what. What does that matter to us? Only that, I don’t know if you noticed, but the possible parallels to our days of grasp for power and money.
Let’s bring it to conclusion. Having said all this, What is Hosea’s expectation or hope for the future of Israel? The hope. Having angrily vented to the people of Israel and dishing out judgements of what they deserve, what does God do? God says, in verse 7 of today’s text, “Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, the Lord their God, will save them.” Assyrians are coming. And you think you need to get your power up. no, that’s not how you will save yourself. You won’t. I will save you. The back and forth of judgement and devotion, it always ends the same, I will bring you back. I will allure you. I will love. I will heal. I will do it. It is God who acts.
Prophets were a warning to the people. A moral ethical call to people. And one we should listen to, to the prophets of our days. But the ultimate message is the same. It’s not that you need to clean up your act, but I love you. I will show you my love that you can’t help but turn back to me no matter how far you’ve gone.
Hosea’s difficult marriage was what he was going through. He also was seeing the injustice of his nation. He was trying to make a sense of both, and through his life experience and his place in history, he felt, saw, sensed, and heard, not only God’s frustration (resonating with his own frustration with his wife and his country), but more so, God revealed to him love and compassion for him, and for his wife and for his people.
How is God showing God’s love through a difficult time in your life? This one was through his marriage. And some hold up that metaphor to be the ultimate experience of God’s holy love. But a good marriage is not the only example of God’s goodness. This example is an example of a failed marriage. A marriage that would’ve brought shame to Hosea and his family. God used shame and turned it upside down saying, even there, I will work. I will reveal. And I think of our modern days. That marital status has actually been a source of much shame for so many people and our generation. Those who are in difficult marriages. Those who are at the brink of marriages falling apart. Those who have been married before but no longer. Those who seek to be married but haven’t found one. Those who have no interest in marriage. If God used Hosea’s marital status as an illustration of God’s love, I wonder, how could God use EACH of our marital status, married, single, divorced, seperated, widowed, choose to not marry, etc, in all various stories and states of our lives, that might be seen as unconventional. how does God use the drama of your life, to reveal God’s faithful love?
I was a part of a conference in Los Angeles, while I was traveling last few weeks, where they had a panel of LGBTQIA+ stories. the story that stood out to me was the person identifying as asexual whose pronouns were they/them/their, meaning that they prefer to not be called she or he gender. They started to explain a little bit about their identity and life as an asexual person. They said, “please don’t say things like, “the friend zone” or “only friends” because it demeans friendship relationship,” because that’s mainly what kind of relationship they live on because they are not interested in romantic ones. They said, “people who are in traditional families with children, and please don’t call that NORMAL, be inclusive of people who are not married into your family.” As they shared, they kind of drew this picture of deep community that isn’t bound by nucleus families but a bond and connection that goes beyond culturally accepted familial lines. They were paining a picture of a kind of a church that I’d envision. A kind of heaven.
Cultural NORMS have wedged people into lives or expectation of lives that they can’t live upto or want to live up to. Hosea marrying a promiscuous woman was provocative and yet the whole book was actually trying to portray the deep love and beauty of such marriage that ended up this way unfortunately, and yet, this is the reality as is and love covers it. I know that people feel shame for being single, older and single. I know that as a married person I have a certain privilege that keeps me blind to their experiences. I know a little cause I got married mid 30’s, GASP so late. But GASP’s are the stuff of God’s toolbox that God paints the most beautiful pictures with.
Prophetic living can be counterintuitive because sometimes what looks like failure to men is glory in God. 1 Cor 1:27 says, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” As seen on the cross by Jesus. What seeming “failures” in your life is God using to show God’s love for you? And how can we honor such stories that might been unordinary, out of the box, out of tradition, out of the norm, maybe even provocative, for some even offensive, to see those stories as God’s stories of God’s good and faithful love being played out through their lives? Can we? May we live that provocative prophetic lives boldly, knowing that in it and through all stories, God is faithful, God is loving, God chases after us and wants to make us whole, not despite of but THROUGH that very story. Maye it be so. Amen.