Jared Witt - April 10, 2019
Hosea is a man who married an unfaithful woman. He did so, knowing full well that she always had been serially unfaithful and would continue to be so. He would get just as enraged as you might expect by her unfaithfulness, and that was the plan all along. But he lacked the resolve to leave her. So he was ever caught in this pathetic cycle of being cuckolded and then trying unsuccessfully, through gifts and forgiveness and grace, to win back the faithfulness of the woman whom he never had in the first place. Even worse, he would try to buy her something nice to heal the relationship, as if he were the one who needed to do the apologizing. But inevitably she would see the gift wrapping and just assume it was from one of her many other lovers.
Hosea has made his life an enacted prophecy. He is acting out what it is like to be God in relationship to people.
And by “unfaithful,” I just realized that I’ve already edited myself out of habit. You always need to be careful, talking about the Bible around children, as I have to do sometimes. But presuming that no children read my blog, or that the ones who do are impressively precocious, the text actually says, he found his wife in “whoredom.”
Disclaimer…Hosea is a very old book…Disclaimer, disclaimer…It’s main concern is not the dignity of women, nor the terrible socio-economic factors that cause them to sell their bodies…Disclaimer, disclaimer…And you’re right to be offended at face value…Disclaimer.
But as with much of the Bible, if you can temporarily suspend all that 2019 revulsion you may rightly have at this book, you might find a baby in this bathwater so beautiful that it makes you cry.
If you’ve ever heard someone muse superficially what it must be like to be God, and their musings invariably tend toward some kind of preteen reflection on superpowers, Hosea gives a very different depiction.
You want to know what it’s like? God implores us through the actions of the prophet, “Go love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress” (3:1).
The Hebrew word for “love” here, aheb, is very different from agape, which many Christians are familiar with from the Greek Christian Testament. We’re exploring a different aspect of God’s love here.
Aheb is an emotional term. To aheb someone is feel an intense and firey love for them. Those who aheb, take their hearts out of their chests and hold them out there, exposed and vulnerable, for others to do what they will, good or bad.
God does not just agape. God aheb-s. God does not love you dutifully and dispassionately. God feels, strives, hurts with a painful, yearning sort of love for you."
That might help explain the anger, the rage that is demonstrated throughout Hosea.
We see in chapter 6, that the people do periodically have their little bouts of repentance and they’ll make their little sacrifices and sounds of remorse. God knows this pattern well.
“Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early.”
Yeah, yeah. Good for them. It won’t last.
“I desire steadfast love
And not sacrifice.”
Is this a turning point for the spurned lover? Is he realizing that he doesn’t want this for the rest of his life? Is he finally growing a backbone and prepared to leave her to the bed she’s made?
Perhaps in the binary way that you and I think about relationships, those are God’s options. If someone doesn’t love you back, you can either reject him or her or be forever rejected. Those are your two options.
God thinks of a third way. We see it emerge finally in chapter 11. God will be neither cuckolded forever nor will God be shamed by the beloved. Instead, God changes the metaphor.
“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.”
I wonder if Jesus was reflecting on Hosea, when he came up with his best known Parable of the Prodigal Son?
The change in metaphor does nothing to change the one-sidedness of the relationship. Kids can be every bit as unfaithful as spouses. And if anything, the unfaithfulness of a child is even more painful.
The key difference is, of course, that spouses can be divorced. Children can’t.
Amazingly, and no doubt to the disbelieving frustration of the many friends who have tried to council him over coffee through the years, the lover’s bold rediscovery of his own dignity and self-worth results not in him tossing her wardrobe out on the front lawn. Instead, he fastens the nature of the bond even more permanently. He’s really stuck now.
Sometimes you hear people speculate on whether God can forgive us of this or that. Some people err on the side of more forgiveness. Some on the side of less. Can a bad Christian be forgiven? What about a Muslim? What about an unbeliever? Can Hitler?
Inane conversations like this totally misunderstand the nature of the problem. They picture God on a Judge’s dais calmly and distantly dulling out the appropriate sentences based on who “believed” this or who did that.
The problem is not whether God will forgive. The problem this that God can’t not forgive. It's an issue with God's character. God's constitution won't allow God to just write us off and move on. It has nothing to do with us being the pope or Hitler.
What else can the father do when the prodigal son tells him to off himself and hand over his inheritance and then absconds to a far off country to blow the old man’s life savings on booze and prostitutes? No doubt, it would be easier for the father to sever all ties, forget about him, disown him, cut his losses and move on, appreciating his one good son all the more.
But real fathers don’t have that option. They can’t not love their kid.
What do you do when you’re stuck? You gaze longingly into the distance, day after day, night after night. Your personal appearance starts to deteriorate. Years into this, your family and servants start to worry about you. You can’t help it. Any, second now, you wonder if…off in the distance…just peaking in and out through the trees…could that be?...No?...Maybe?...
The Parable of the Prodigal Son has a happy ending. But sometimes in real life, the child never comes back. What then? What do you do if the child never stops rejecting you? Never stops hating you in spite of a thousand little gifts and kindnesses with which you can never win them over no matter what you do?
You die. You take up your cross and you die for the child. It is the child himself who kills you. You won’t call down a legion of angels to defend you. You won’t touch a hair on the child’s head. You just die.
Because you’re a parent who can’t not love.
Cheers and Peace,
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