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An Unfaithful Bride
Winter Quarter: Sacred Gifts and Holy Gatherings
Unit 2: Four Weddings and a Funeral
Sunday school lesson for the week of January 10, 2016
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson scripture: Hosea 1
Background Scripture: Hosea 1-3
Every prophet (and every preacher!) speaks in the context of current events, with the eternal purposes of God in mind. One of Sam’s professors at Seminary often said, “Preach with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.”
Hosea, one of those remarkable prophets of the Eighth Century B.C., did just that in a very special way. He used his own life experiences to proclaim the message of God to the northern Kingdom of Israel.
Remember, Israel divided following the death of Solomon. When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, insisted on using an even heavier hand in governing the nation, two Jewish nations came into existence. Jeroboam led the ten tribes of the north to form the new nation of Israel, leaving only Judah and Benjamin to form the southern kingdom of Judah.
The actions and patterns of living of the kings of Israel brought forth the strong voice of prophets speaking out against idolatry and injustice. The first of these prophets was Elijah. Ahab was the king. Ahab married a non-Jewish wife, and she introduced the worship of Baal into the country. Her name was Jezebel.
In time, the house of Ahab was violently overthrown by Jehu in a bloodbath in the Jezreel Valley. However, Jehu was no better! Yes indeed, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely! The abandonment of the worship of Yahweh and the refusal to live by the ethics of the Covenant brought forth the voices of others like Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah, in the Eighth Century. Because these men were the first to put their messages to parchment, we have their witness preserved in the Biblical books bearing their names.
By the time of Hosea, the king of Israel was Jeroboam II, the grandson of Jehu. For the reign of four kings, Israel had languished in the depths of apostasy. As in America today, a great gulf emerged between rich and poor, but, for the majority of the people, life was good, food plentiful, and the nation at peace.
People had put God in a box! They were religious in some ways, but not in the ways that mattered ultimately. Outwardly, the faith was observed with lip service, but there was no depth, and the ways of the Covenant were not practiced. In fact, a weird practice of Judaism and pagan worship co-existed side by side.
Into this intolerable situation, Hosea begins a dramatic form of preaching. We might call it “show and tell.”
First, his wife proved unfaithful. With many lovers, she became for Hosea the epitome of what the entire nation was doing in relationship to God. Whether Gomer was always a prostitute or became an unfaithful wife is irrelevant – Hosea used his personal heartbreak to speak to his people about the heartbreak of God over his chosen people and their life-style. Like Gomer, they had gone a-whoring after other “lovers” – other gods.
This sad affair was only the beginning of Hosea’s personal travail. Three children are born to Gomer. The question of paternity is not answered, but Hosea will use the names of the children to shout his message to the people. One of our friends, who is a UMC pastor from Indiana, called this naming “Biblical child abuse!” Certainly, the names were not to be carried through life with pride, but the message was loud and clear. (Remember “A Boy Named Sue”!)
The first child was named Jezreel, a reminder of that event earlier in the Valley of Jezreel – and one yet to be. As Jehu had ended Ahab’s dynasty in blood, so would the nation as a whole come to disaster in war and bloodshed.
The second child was a girl and she was named Lo-ruhamah which means “without pity.” No longer would God offer mercy and forgiveness to the northern Kingdom. Interestingly enough, the text makes very clear that the southern kingdom of Judah will receive mercy and will continue to survive after Israel is destroyed. At the time this was written, the king of Judah was Hezekiah, one of the most faithful and honest rulers in Jewish history.
Finally, Gomer gave birth to a third child, and he was named Lo-ammi, which meant “not my people.” No longer would Israelites be the chosen people of Yahweh. For far too long, the people had presumed on their special relationship to God, assuming nothing could sever their protection and success guaranteed by the Covenant God.
As today’s scripture ends, hope is offered of a better day. Disaster and destruction may dominate temporarily, but God’s ultimate purpose is not defeated. The promise of future union between Judah and Israel is stated, and the ancient promise to Abraham is re-affirmed: “the number of people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can neither be measured nor numbered…”
Where once they were called “not my people,” they will again be called “Children of the living God.” In the flow of history, God’s plan for the earth and its people is being worked out. In the midst of bad times, discerning God’s purposes may be difficult. The people of God must hold on and trust that God is the ruler yet! (See hymn “This Is My Father’s World.”)
When compared to Hosea’s time and message, parallels with our own do indeed seem to be evident. We too compartmentalize God and use religion for special occasions and when convenient. We too divorce religion from the living of faithful lives ordered by God’s justice and love to all people. We find ways to separate life from faith by justifying lifestyles and attitudes which ignore God’s inclusive love. We too presume on God’s nature of mercy and forgiveness, believing we are chosen for privilege and success, without seeing our responsibility to work for God’s rule in human affairs.
With such a sad state of affairs, the Word of the Lord comes as the fresh breeze of the Spirit to show the world another way – another path! Once again, God’s grace will have the final word where divine love, mercy and grace will prevail. Hallelujah!
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.