Thursday, July 25, 2019

Family Affair


If you think Amos' dead bodies and prostitute wife were bad, welcome to Hosea. Having moved from the historical works into the prophets, the RCL Track 1 Old Testament readings have taken us into difficult texts. This Sunday, we begin the book of the prophet Hosea by meeting the prophet's own family--a wife of whoredom and children whose lives are valuable primarily because they are expressions of God's judgment against God's people.

Sometimes I am bothered by biblical texts in which God commands God's people to commit genocide against their enemies. Sometimes I am bothered by texts in which women are treated as property or sexual objects. But this passage from Hosea, in which a family becomes an instrument of the prophet's mission, hits really close to home. Would God ever sacrifice the identity of a child simply to prove a point? Would a preacher like me?

Hosea has a family. He marries a woman named Gomer, and they have four children--two sons (Jezreel and Lo-ammi) and a daughter (Lo-ruhamah). Actually, I think other translations of the Bible help us out by rendering some of those names as translations from Hebrew into English. For example, the ESV names the daughter "No Mercy" and the second son "Not My People." In other words, at God's command, Hosea names his daughter "No Mercy" as a sign to the people that God will not have mercy on them and his son "Not My People" as a sign that God is no longer their God.

What is it like to grow up with those names? "You're that prophet's kid, huh?" the kids at school must have said. "Your dad's a crazy man!"

What would lead someone to give his family so completely into his prophetic ministry? Surely Hosea knew what he was doing to his children. Surely he glimpsed the pain into which he was drafting them. Like many of the prophets, Hosea had a sharp message. Maybe he wanted his hearers to understood that his message cost him, too. Maybe he wanted the people in positions of power to see that he was also bearing the burden of his prophecy. I don't know whether that makes it right, but, as a preacher who is known to tell stories about my kids from the pulpit, I want to hope that Hosea had something bigger in mind.

On the other side of Hosea's sharp message, however, is a word of comfort. We receive an injection of hope at the end of Sunday's lesson: "Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' it shall be said to them, 'Children of the living God.'" A complete reversal of what he has already declared, Hosea reminds God's people that, even though they will not be God's people for a generation symbolized by his son's name, eventually it will be said again that they do belong to God. Maybe Hosea was so desperate for hope that he was willing to sacrifice even that which was most dear to him in order to pursue it. Then again, maybe that's just wishful thinking.

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