. . . these recent events present us with what someone called “a molten moment”, an opportunity to make faith relevant when the world feels off its chain.
Hosea 11 is a remarkable passage in the Hebrew Bible, actually it is remarkable in the whole body of scriptures. That it comes from the burdened pen of a person married to a prostitute and who worries himself sick about this woman who refuses to abandon her profession; and though she bears three children (whether or not any of them is in fact Hosea’s is anyone’s guess) she apparently takes little or no responsibility for their care. From this agonizing family situation Hosea tells us that God feels about Israel just as Hosea feels about Gomer, namely, rejected, abandoned, and humiliated. Hosea gives us a feel for God’s tender and very real love and pain. Despite pain, God will redeem. God will heal. And God will bring to new life.”
We’ve been inundated by reports on the violent atrocities inflicted on the people of Paris. We’ve heard a lot less about the similar terrorist attacks which left 43 dead in Beirut, 26 dead in Baghdad and three homes destroyed in Ramallah. We would be remiss to fail to mention the 459 non combatants, including 100 children killed by U.S. air strikes. The awakening of Russia by the bombing of it’s commercial airline spreads the pain and abhorrence of these inhumane acts. Amateur theologians will rail at God saying “How could God let such things happen?” It is one of many miscarriages of theology that leads to people leaving the church. It’s not God’s job to stop such things. Defying evil is humanity’s job.
We are some how wired to blame god, the man upstairs, for what God hasn’t done and we also credit some generic god for what God has actually done. We have grown up monotheists – the idea of a twenty first century equivalent of Baal is, well, outside our network. It’s not new. The other side of our temptation is that there are times when we credit God for stepping in and saving one individual or group over another – one child dies of a disease while another survives. Given these recent events present us with what someone called “a molten moment”, an opportunity to make faith relevant when the world feels off its chain. The thing is, this false poignancy is what our Hosea passage addresses.
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Hoses 11:1-11When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. 3Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4I 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. 5They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. 7My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.
The Most High, the god on whom he people call isn’t Yahweh as we are tempted to think but in a better translation we learn that it is in fact Baal.
Then Hosea continues with some very tender words: 8How 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?
“How can I give you up, Ephraim?” God asks. Calling Israel Ephraim was like calling a person the way a grandparent might with deep affection, recalling from what the grandchild had been called in its youth. Ephraim was, according to Jewish tradition, a selfless and humble second child of Jacob who because of his gentleness was elevated over his brother. God doesn’t use the adult name Israel but Ephraim. Admah and Zeboiim were cities destroyed at the time of Sodom and Gomorrah – an end for which God did not wish for Israel, excuse me, Ephraim.
My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, (the Hebrew text says “I am no male” )the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. 10They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west. 11They 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.
Hosea is convinced that those things that Baal is believed by many to have done and to be doing for Israel have in fact been done by God. “It was I who taught Ephraim (a euphemism for Israel, the northern kingdom) to walk; I lifted him into my arms, but they did not know that I healed them” (11:3). It was God who trained the young Israel to walk in the right way. And when they fell and hurt themselves, it was God who offered healing, not the non-existent Baal. It was God who put a bandaid on their skinned knee and kissed their owee. Indeed, claims Hosea, whatever Baal is supposed to have done, Yahweh was the real actor.
“I guided them with human cords, with belts of love. I was for them like those who loosen the yokes on their jaws; I then knelt down to them and fed them” (11:4). The extreme intimacy of these metaphors is not to be missed. YHWH is a parent, teaching Israel to take its first steps, picking them up in great divine arms, healing them when they fall. YHWH encircles them as they grow with cords and belts of protection, yet loosely applied so that Israel may easily eat the food YHWH offers. There are touch and taste and smell here as the divine parent plays the appropriate role and Israel grows up safely and protected. Yet, as 11:2 says, Israel rejected YHWH’s teaching and loving, choosing instead the supposed succor of the Baals.
Rejected, abandoned, humiliated yet God, Oh Hosea says it better: My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9I 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. Do you hear the good news in that?
When Christians think about God’s willingness to suffer on behalf of sinful humans, we often think about Jesus’ crucifixion, as we should. But Hosea 11:1-9 helps us realize that the cross is not a new development in the life of God, it represents who God fundamentally is. The cross is a climactic moment, but one that is situated along an already existent trajectory. In Christ God does not become a suffering God, rather, God exercises God’s deep longing to be among God’s people, a longing that motivated the construction of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:8-9). God’s willingness to suffer on behalf of creation, however, is supremely seen in Christ, who takes into himself not only sinful human rage but also divine wrath. But instead his compassion grows warm and tender.
I want to share with you a prayer written by another minister for this time
Creator of the Universe, Holy Dreamer, God of Love and Life, You have given us life, you have given us a rule of life, you have shared with us your hope an plan for life. But we have so often chosen another path. You call us to be people of peace. We choose violence. You call us to be people of justice, where all have what is needed forlife. We choose a way where some have abundance, others lack basics. You call us to treat each other with love. We choose to blow each other up and shoot and kill and maim. This weekend, as happens far far too often, the world weeps. Acts of terror and horror rocked our newsfeeds. Followed by blame and finger-pointing, political posturing and rhetoric born of fear and assumptions. And once again we are forced to admit that this world you have created is not only broken, but that it continues to break into smaller pieces. What do we do? What do we say when there are no words? If we are honest it is at times like this when we wonder “when will you unleash your anger?” or more honestly “why don’t you unleash your anger and strike down those who do such things?” (assuming of course that we could direct you as to who should be struck down). Surely you would be guiltless if you allowed these faithless, errant children to face the consequences of their choices. But you don’t. Which is probably a good thing. You choose mercy, you choose grace, you choose hope. You say that out of love you can not destroy your children who wander astray. Instead of destruction you offer an invitation. Asking us to return to the rule of life you lay before us. And wondering when we will come home and share in the depth of life. As we weep and gnash our teeth. As we try to understand. As we point fingers and ask how to prevent this happening again. Help us. Help us look at the whole picture, seeing all the horror, not just the horror that strikes closest to home. Help us see how the choices made by “us” and “them” might interact. Help us follow the trails of our past actions, and help us think seriously where our present and future actions might lead. Help us see beyond the fear and horror. Help us avoid the demonization of our neighbours. And help us find the path that leads to the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, where the wolf will lie down with the lamb and they will not hurt or destroy on the holy mountain. This we pray in the name of Jesus, the Christ, the Prince of Peace, who taught us to love our neighbours and our enemies. Amen.