Sunday, 9 October 2011

Facing the Consequences - Righteousness, Justice, Steadfast Love and Mercy - Hosea

This week I took a group of prospective parents around Pittville School.

They remarked, as have all the parents I have taken round in recent years, on the atmosphere of calm that pervades the school. Ten years ago when I started as a Governor it was not like that. Thanks to a very effective discipline policy, honed and developed over the years discipline is very strong.

It’s a system called Behaviour for Learning.

It is built around rewards and NOT punishment, but ‘consequences’.

Youngsters have built into them the notion that there is a consequence to wrong doing that they have to face.

I had offered to take parents round on Thursday as well, but that wasn’t possible as about half the school were at Drayton Manor Park – they were all those who had kept a clean sheet through the whole year.

That’s a pretty good record.

The writers of the Bible use a language of judgement, punishment and the wrath of God. What they are talking about, however, we would understand as ‘consequences’.

There is a framework within which God wants us to order our individual lives, our relationships, our family life and society at large. Break that pattern and we will face the consequences.

Understand the language of punishment, judgement and the wrath of God in that way and so much of the Bible makes such sense.

So much of it is about analysing carefully what’s gone wrong in individual lives, in relationships, in families and in society at large. And then identifying what needs to be done.

That’s the business the Prophets are in.

Prophets speak truth to power.

It’s such a shame that our English translations muddy the waters of the Hebrew sequence of books.

Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings – the four books of the former prophets are balanced in the Hebrew Scriptures by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve – the four books of the latter prophets.

Lamentations is not one of the Hebrew Prophetic Books, neither is the Book of Daniel.

The earliest of the twelve prophets who inspired the Book of the Twelve was Amos, from the South, but speaking truth to power in the Northern Kingdom.

The mantle of the prophets is taken up by Hosea after Amos. Hosea stands as the first of the Book of the Twelve.

You can intertwine the former prophets especially in II Kings and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and at least six of the latter prophets – you make sense of the prophetic books by setting them against the background of the story that unfolds in II Kings.

Hosea’s work of prophecy spans the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, all Kings of Judah, but it is set in the Northern Kingdom initially when Jeroboam, son of Jehoash was king of Israel.

That’s the time of Amoz.

It’s a time of prosperity – but a time also of deceit and treachery, where the King disobeys God and abandons the ways of God. II Kings 14:23-25

Hosea speaks against a backdrop of prosperity, but prosperity that is marred by treachery –

Amos 2:8

Of that northern kingdom of Israel, under Jeroboam, Amos is quite clear: She would never acknowledge that I am the one who gave her the corn, the wine, the olive oil andall the silver and gold that she used in the worship of Baal.

The People of Israel were like a grapevine that was full of grapes. The more prosperous they were, the more altars they built. The more productive their land was, the more beautiful they made the sacred stone pillars of worship. The people whose hearts are deceitful must now suffer for their sins, for God will break down their altars and destroy their sacred pillars. 10:1f

But Amos’s words reach beyond Jeroboam – “Hosea also lived through the turbulent time that followed Jeroboam’s reign, in which kings succeeded each toerh rapidly, often by intrigue and murder (2 Kings 15). The dynasty of Jehu came to an end with the short reign of Jeroboam’s son in 746-5 (2 Kings 15:8-12). This is recalled in Hosea 1:4 which refers to events recorded in 2 Kings 9-10.

Here Hosea proclaims punishment on the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel.

The last king of Israel, Hoshea, also came to the thone by conspiracy andmurder (2 Kings 15:30). Hosea’s comments in Hosea 7:7 and 8:4 probably reflect this. Gordon McConville Exploring the OT Volume 4: The Prophets p 135)

In the heat of their anger they murdered their rulers. Their kings have been assassinated one after another, but no one prays to me for help 7:7

My people chose kings, but they did it on their own. They appointed leaders, but without my approval. They took their silver and gold and made idols — for their own destruction.

What’s happening as all of this is taking place is going to prove calamitous for the northern Kingdom of Isrrael.

One of the great ancient empires is on the rise. Assyria is going from strength to strength. Their armies are amassing in this period. The threat is growing day by day. There is already something of an inevitability of the collapse of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

What Hosea has to say and the book that is associated with Hosea reflects this whole time.

He undertakes an analysis of the times and all that is wrong. He challenges first Jeroboam IInd and then those who in quick succession follow him. And he challenges the people.

It’s the same kind of indictment that Amos levels at the people.

There is a pattern.

It’s fascinating that in these books of the prophets there is a pattern.

One the hand, there is condemnation of the wrongs that are going on and of the way the rulers and the people abandon God’s ways of righteousness and justice.

But then there is a shaft of light in the midst of the darkness. A hope that God will remain with his people and restore and renew and revive them.

There is very much a rhythm to the Prophets that we can tune into.

If politics is about shaping the society you live in then what the proiphets have to say is intensely political.

Last week I found myself quoting Desmond Tutu. This moning he was on the radio, being interviewed about his powerful criticism of the ANC in South Africa. How can you turn on those you have supported he was asked? In his response he went straight to the Bible – and said this is where I take my stand and always have done. The Bible I read he says is on the side of the disposed, the poor, wherever they may be.

It was powerful stuff from Desmond Tutu. And this is where you see why he takes the stand he does.

Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Book of the Twelve are all about ordering society, how people live together. And time again we are confronted with the justice of God.

Nowhere is that more evident than here in the Book of the Prophet Hosea.

There is something tragic and yet moving in his personal story which is told in chapters 1-3. It involves marriage, divorce and marriage again. Exactly to whom and why and what is going on is the subject of debate among those who study these things. But one thing can be sure there is sadness and there is hope in his personal experience.

It is that personal experience that he then draws on in speaking of all that has gone wrong among the people of that Northern Kingdom.

And what he has to say comes to the fore in the most moving of ways in the second chapter.

This chapter encapsulates the rhythm of these Prophets.

In the first part of the chapter there is condemnation – awful consequences follow on from the abandonment of God’s ways of righteousness.

My children, plead with your mother — though she is no longer a wife to me, and I am no longer her husband. Plead with her to stop her adultery and prostitution. 3 If she does not, I will strip her as naked as she was on the day she was born. I will make her like a dry and barren land, and she will die of thirst. 4-5 I will not show mercy to her children; they are the children of a shameless prostitute.
2.4-5 the children of a shameless prostitute; or as shameless as their mother, a prostitute.
She herself said, “I will go to my lovers — they give me food and water, wool and linen, olive oil and wine.”
6 So I am going to fence her in with thorn bushes and build a wall to block her way. 7 She will run after her lovers but will not catch them. She will look for them but will not find them. Then she will say, “I am going back to my first husband — I was better off then than I am now.”
8 She would never acknowledge that I am the one who gave her the corn, the wine, the olive oil, and all the silver and gold that she used in the worship of Baal. 9 So at harvest time I will take back my gifts of corn and wine, and will take away the wool and the linen I gave her for clothing. 10 I will strip her naked in front of her lovers, and no one will be able to save her from my power. 11 I will put an end to all her festivities — her annual and monthly festivals and her Sabbath celebrations — all her religious meetings. 12 I will destroy her grapevines and her fig trees, which she said her lovers gave her for serving them. I will turn her vineyards and orchards into a wilderness; wild animals will destroy them. 13 I will punish her for the times that she forgot me when she burnt incense to Baal and put on her jewellery to go chasing after her lovers. The LORD has spoken.

The second part of the chapter then has the hope of restoration.

This is one of the finest statements of that covenant relationship that God has with his people and that he promises to restore. It is a wonderful vision.


So I am going to take her into the desert again; there I will win her back with words of love. 15 I will give back to her the vineyards she had and make Trouble Valley a door of hope. She will respond to me there as she did when she was young, when she came from Egypt.
2.15: Josh 7.24-26
16 Then once again she will call me her husband — she will no longer call me her Baal.
2.16 BAAL: This title of the Canaanite god means “Lord”; another meaning of the word is “husband”.
17 I will never let her speak the name of Baal again.
18 At that time I will make a covenant with all the wild animals and birds, so that they will not harm my people. I will also remove all weapons of war from the land, all swords and bows, and will let my people live in peace and safety.
19 Israel, I will make you my wife;
I will be true and faithful;
I will show you constant love and mercy
and make you mine for ever.
20 I will keep my promise and make you mine,
and you will acknowledge me as LORD.
21-22 At that time I will answer the prayers of my people Israel.
2.21-22 ISRAEL: The Hebrew text here refers to Israel as Jezreel (see 1.4, 11).
I will make rain fall on the earth,
and the earth will produce corn and grapes and olives.
23 I will establish my people in the land and make them prosper.
2.23: Rom 9.25; 1 Pet 2.10
I will show love to those who were called “Unloved”,
and to those who were called “Not-my-People”
I will say, “You are my people,”
and they will answer, “You are our God.”


Verses 19 and 20 go to the heart of the matter.

19 Israel, I will make you my wife;
I will be true and faithful;
I will show you constant love and mercy
and make you mine for ever.
20 I will keep my promise and make you mine,
and you will acknowledge me as LORD.

I will take you for my wife
In righteousness and in justice
In steadfast love, and in mercy
I will take you for my wife in faithfulness;
And you shall know the Lord.

NRSV

What is new and wonderful in Hosea is the way he links Justice and Righteousness. with steadfast love and mercy.

We sometimes do Jesus an injustice when we think of him as Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

He didn’t get called a Prophet, one who speaks truth to power for nothing.

Look at what he has to say when the 70 return from their mission and you find there the very same pattern that you find in the Prophets.

There is intense analysis of what is wrong in his day and he outlines the consequences of what will follow on when people abandon God’s ways of righteousness and justice.

“How terrible it will be for you, Chorazin! How terrible for you too, Bethsaida! If the miracles which were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, the people there would long ago have sat down, put on sackcloth, and sprinkled ashes on themselves, to show that they had turned from their sins!
10.13: Is 23.1-18; Ezek 26.1—28.26; Joel 3.4-8; Amos 1.9-10; Zech 9.2-4
14 God will show more mercy on Judgement Day to Tyre and Sidon than to you. 15 And as for you, Capernaum! Did you want to lift yourself up to heaven? You will be thrown down to hell!”
10.15: Is 14.13-15
16 Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
10.16: Mt 10.40; Mk 9.37; Lk 9.48; Jn 13.20

But then comes a real hope as the 70 return. And there is great joy. Because great things are happening. The kingdom is being proclaimed, people are being healed

The 72
10.17 72; some manuscripts have 70 (see verse 1).
men came back in great joy. “Lord,” they said, “even the demons obeyed us when we gave them a command in your name!”
18 Jesus answered them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Listen! I have given you authority, so that you can walk on snakes and scorpions and overcome all the power of the Enemy, and nothing will hurt you.
10.19: Ps 91.13
20 But don't be glad because the evil spirits obey you; rather be glad because your names are written in heaven.”

Then Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit – this is the promise

22 “My Father has given me all things. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
10.22: Jn 3.35, 10.15

And then comes a very telling comment –

23 Then Jesus turned to the disciples and said to them privately, “How fortunate you are to see the things you see! 24 I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, but they could not, and to hear what you hear, but they did not.”

Jesus recognises and echoes the rhythm of the prophets. But he is the one in whom the prophets are being fulfilled.

How many prophets and kings desired to see what those 70 had themselves seen – but they did not see it, and to hear what they hear, but did not hear it.

Jesus it is who shapes for us a way of being under God’s rule that looks to righteousness and justice, to steadfast love and mercy … and like Hosea he calls us to a life of faithfulness as we shape all we do according to his word.

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