A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sin Is Serious Business: A Lectionary Reflection on Hosea 1:2-10

Hosea 1:2-10

The twenty-first century West is not much into sin. We only make mistakes. We are so concerned with self-esteem and not being shamed that it is not fashionable to call certain behaviors "sin." I suppose one could say that it has become a sin to refer to something as sin.

But God takes sin seriously. How could God not do so; God loves us so much he cares how we behave; he cares how we deal with others. Love and holiness are intertwined.


God takes the sin of Israel so seriously, he is about to resort to an outrageous symbolic act to make his point. He calls the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute-- a woman who will violate the marriage covenant by committing adultery-- "for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord" (1:2). God's people have been unfaithful to their covenant with God breaking divine law and worshiping other deities. They have committed spiritual adultery against God.

Hosea and his wife, Gomer, have three children. Is Hosea really the father of these children? We are left to wonder; but their names signify the great sin of God's people against the Lord.

The first child is to be named Jezreel. The name means "God sows," Jezreel was a rich and fertile land. It was beautiful, scenic country, but its image was marred by the violence committed there. King Jehu killed the kings of the northern and southern kingdoms at Jezreel and displayed the heads of King Ahab's sons. Queen Jezebel died horribly there and Jehu also killed many Baal worshipers in their temple and then destroyed it (2 Kings 9-10). As James Limburg notes, "To name a child Jezreel might be like naming a child today, "Auschwitz" or "Hiroshima."

The second child born to Gomer, a daughter, was named Lo-ruhamah, which means "no compassion." Compassion or mercy (ruhamah) is a quality frequently ascribed to God in the Old Testament (e.g. Numbers 6:24-26; Psalm 51:1-2; Isaiah 30:18; Micah 7:18), but Israel's spiritual adultery has continued for too long and God's patience and compassion have run dry. God says to Hosea, "I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them" (1:6).

The third child born to Gomer and Hosea is to be named, Lo-ammi-- "not my people." How often God refers to Israel as "his people" and God as "their God" (Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12). But just as adultery is the one sin that can nullify a marriage covenant, so Israel's spiritual whoredom threatens to end the covenant with God. Sin is serious business and has serious consequences. Of these three aptly named children James Limburg writes,
There is a terrifying progression in the sequence of these names. The first announced a future when Israel would have to live without a king, the second a future without God's compassion, and the third a future without God.
Some today in the twenty-first century West no doubt think the stark comparison, this drastic symbolic act Hosea is commanded to undertake is over the top, but Gary Smith puts the comparison into the right context.
Hosea boldly compares sin to adultery in order to demonstrate how terribly destructive it is to a person's relationship with God. Sin is not a minor incidental mistake that an be winked at, as if it really does not matter. Sin is a devastating affront to the exclusive love commitment one makes to God. Sin is a forsaking of loyalty to one person.... The Israelites are sinners who flagrantly commit vile acts of prostitution.
I'm not OK and you're not OK. There is something wrong with us. Yes, it is true that we human beings have been made in the image of God, but that image is distorted. We are not what we should be. For a while now it has been fashionable not to use the word "sin" too much. We don't sin anymore. We make mistakes. Viewing my shortcomings as mistakes sounds less ominous, and using such verbiage allows me to believe that the problem with me is not me; it's a few bad decisions I make here and there, as if those decisions really do not indicate the problem with me.

Perhaps the word "sin" does not sound as bad once the Bible refers to it as "prostitution."

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