Hosea 3-7

We talked last week about the context of Hosea. What were his times?

They were times of great prosperity for Israel. The kings had taken advantage of the temporary weakness of the nations around them not only to expand their economy but to increase their borders. It was a moment of peace – not through treaties or diplomacy but due to the absence of threats from natural enemies and those who had bothered them for centuries – Assyria, Babylon, the Edomites and Midianites. Those nations were, for the moment, struggling with their own internal disputes and problems. It was an ideal time for Israel. It was a time that people believed they were living blessed lives. Worship attendance was up. Giving was up. Interest rates were down. Gas was cheap. The economy was good and whatever problems there were could be ignored or explained away. No one was looking for a prophet with a negative message. After all, things had not been this good for years. Let’s just enjoy our prosperity and well-earned security.

Why does God always send people like Hosea to upset things? Why not leave well enough alone? If everything is good enough for many of us, why focus on a few of the harmless flaws in life? After all, nothing is ever perfect. There are always trade-offs for the greater good. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing and not get distracted by a few superficial blemishes.

4 Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
2 There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away.

The people have accommodated themselves to the corruption in their society. There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. Everything that is required for a society to function has disappeared. Even nature is affected.

No faithfulness means there is no trust. You know the saying, “Trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback.” It takes years to build trust and just moments to destroy it. What happens when there is no trust and every transaction has to be backed up with legal documentation? When no one can trust the word of another person because circumstances change and agreements change with them. When information is manipulated to take advantage of people being overwhelmed with conflicting sources and stories. When advertising is not only designed to feature the best aspects of a product but blatantly misrepresents and over promises . When trust – the very basis of all our relationships – is not only rare but non-existent. When those whose role has been to tell the truth are now the most responsible for encouraging lies and misinformation. Think about how much of our life is built on being able to trust and what life becomes when nothing is trustworthy and everything needs to have a second or even third opinion. How much of your life could be consumed by checking out every story or account you hear to know whether or not it is true – or even partially true? It’s like playing permanent “whack-a-mole” isn’t it?

In 1913, J.P. Morgan appeared before a hearing of a congressional subcommittee formed to probe growing Wall Street power.When asked if commercial credit was based primarily on money or property, Morgan replied, “No, sir, the first thing is character. Character dictates trust, and without trust, a man could not get money from me for all the bonds in Christendom”.

Without character there is no trust. Without faithfulness there is no character. Without faithfulness or character we are lost.

Hannah Arendt wrote:

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

That is a world without faithfulness.

But it was also a world without love. Hosea is not talking about romantic love or the kind of sentimental Valentine love we experience. He is talking about love that lasts and love that grows deeper over time.

When I was younger I laughed at the romanticism and naïveté of Robert Browning’s poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” but now I know he was right.

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who said, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”

It is the love that never fails even when it is tested to the limits by the faithlessness and deceit of others. It is the love that persists when you are betrayed, abandoned and passed over for the love of something or someone else. It is the love that knows the worst and continues to hope. It is love that is not defined by circumstances or even common sense. It is what the Old Testament calls hesed and the New Testament calls agape. We cannot produce it. It is a gift. We cannot outrun or escape it. It is in eternal pursuit of us. We cannot imitate or copy it. It is the love that holds the world together and when it finally leaves the world in the last days everything will unravel. It is the invisible and solitary binding power of God.

And it was a society that had ceased to acknowledge God. Yes, it was a society, like ours, with God’s name being attached to every cause and used to justify every act of violence and treason. But, it was a name that had been so abused and distorted that it had lost all meaning. There was no substance to it. Religion continued on its own. Rituals were observed. Rites were practiced but there was no reality. The name of God was blasphemed not just by cursing but by being used to justify what brought dishonor and disgrace to his name. God’s name had become a tool of wickedness. Something to put on a banner along with a verse. All the holiness of God’s name had been drained from it and it had become simply a slogan. Yes, it was a society that had a use for God’s name and God’s endorsement but they did not acknowledge God as ruler – only as an endorser of their cause or their chosen ruler.

It was not only their lack of acknowledging God but their lack of knowledge and understanding. “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge,” Hosea writes in 4:6. There is a type of knowledge that only “puffs up” as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 8. It is knowledge that creates arrogance and a sense of superiority. It is knowledge that separates those “in the know” from those who are not. It creates – even among Christians – a special class of people who are proud of what they have learned even if they fail to practice love, compassion and mercy. It is knowledge that eventually tears down and destroys while Paul says it is charity and love that builds up. Hosea is saying that people have become ignorant about God. They have been fed a diet of food with no nutrition and their knowledge of God is simply the pablum the priests feed them. Remember the great passage from The Grand Inquisitor?

Christ returns to earth and the people who have no knowledge of Christ after years of indoctrination and lack of teaching recognize him at once:

“He comes silently and unannounced; yet all—how strange—yea, all recognize Him, at once! The population rushes towards Him as if propelled by some irresistible force; it surrounds, throngs, and presses around, it follows Him…. Silently, and with a smile of boundless compassion upon His lips, He crosses the dense crowd, and moves softly on. The Sun of Love burns in His heart, and warm rays of Light, Wisdom and Power beam forth from His eyes, and pour down their waves upon the swarming multitudes of the rabble assembled around, making their hearts vibrate with returning love.”

And that threatens everything the Grand Inquisitor has created built on his beliefs about the people – the people who not only do not know but have no need to know. All they desire is bread and circuses – certainty and distraction.

“In our sight and for our purpose the weak and the lowly are the more dear to us. True, they are vicious and rebellious, but we will force them into obedience, and it is they who will admire us the most. They will regard us as gods, and feel grateful to those who have consented to lead the masses and bear their burden of freedom by ruling over them—so terrible will that freedom at last appear to men! Then we will tell them that it is in obedience to Thy will and in Thy name that we rule over them. We will deceive them once more and lie to them once again—for never, never more will we allow Thee to come among us. In this deception we will find our suffering, for we must needs lie eternally, and never cease to lie!”

And so the Grand Inquisitor burns Christ at the stake the next morning because the people knowing Him is too dangerous. Let them talk about God but keep them from knowing Christ.

It was a society where the religious leaders who were ordained to lead the people into righteousness had simply sold their souls to the pursuit of power and being accepted as part of the inner circle. Instead of leading the people into righteousness they had endorsed their wickedness and even encouraged their delusions. “The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.”

It was a society that had been infiltrated not only by unfaithfulness and loss of trust but had been infused with a spirit of prostitution. In other words, the very air they breathed was filled with the acceptance of infidelity. God could have used another word to describe it. He could have called it loss of trust or failure to acknowledge God or even a wandering from the paths of righteousness and disobeying the Law but he uses a sexual term. A term that describes the most intimate relationship possible. It is not only a violation of trust but a violation of marriage. A violation of the very soul of a people.

Today, there is a movement to reclassify prostitution as sex working. In fact, there is a national organization dedicated to redefining prostitution as just another form of work.

We are a national organization that defends the human rights of sex workers by destigmatizing and decriminalizing people in the sex trades through free legal services, education, research, and policy advocacy. We aim to create a sexually liberated world where all workers have the autonomy and power to fully enjoy their human rights. The term “sex worker” recognizes that sex work is work. Prostitution, on the other hand, has connotations of criminality and immorality. Many people who sell sexual services prefer the term “sex worker” and find “prostitute” demeaning and stigmatizing, which contributes to their exclusion from health, legal, and social services.

Sex workers sell sexual services in order to earn a livelihood. The vast majority of sex workers choose to do sex work because it is the best option they have.
Many sex workers struggle with poverty and destitution and have few other options for work. Others find that sex work offers better pay and more flexible working conditions than other jobs. And some pursue sex work to explore and express their sexuality. Sex workers, like most workers, have diverse feelings about their work. Some sex workers dislike their work but find that it is their best or only option to make a living. Some are agnostic about their work but find that it offers flexibility or good pay. And some enjoy the work and find it all around rewarding or fun. Regardless of what sex workers think about their work, they deserve workplace health and safety and human rights.

There is nothing in there about unfaithfulness or degradation. Nothing about betrayal of love or infidelity. It is simply about work and the necessity of providing a living. In the same way the Israelites wanted to remove the stigma of prostituting themselves by saying they were simply doing what was practical and necessary for personal and national survival. They were not prostituting themselves. They were simply engaged in something that had its unpleasant aspects but overall was the way to get things done. They needed rain, crops and fertility. After all, how could they bring their offerings to the Temple if there were no crops? How could they be fruitful and multiply if there were no children. How could they enjoy the basics of life without rain? Yes, it might not be exactly what God intended but even God must recognize some things are simply necessary. It’s the way the world is. To think otherwise is naive. We need to get rid of the stigma of corruption, unfaithfulness and lovelessness. In the end, people need lies. They need what works more than idealism.

It is a society without any fundamental Truth. It believes all things and still, as Hannah Arendt wrote, it believes nothing. It has learned to accommodate itself to everything and nothing being true. There are three marks of this way of thinking today. First, there is the belief that all truth is relative. You have your truth and I have mine. It’s all a matter of perspective. Then there is the cynical view that there is no truth at all. Truth simply does not exist for anyone. Everything is false. Everything is a lie. The third option is the one that frightens me the most. It is the truth that is declared to be and forced on people whether it is true or not.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote: “Violence does not necessarily take people by the throat and strangle them. Usually it demands no more than an ultimate allegiance from its subjects. They are required merely to become accomplices in its lies.”

And when the Lie becomes the Truth for enough people there will be violence. That is the word of Hosea. “There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.” In Chapter 7 he writes, “They delight the king with their wickedness, the princes with their lies. They are all adulterers, burning like an oven..Their hearts are like an oven..Their passion smolders all night; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.”

That is what Hosea knew. The lie might smolder invisibly for a time but it would eventually break out into flames and violence. It is against that spirit of faithlessness, lies, corruption, prostitution and deceit that Hosea preaches the word of God.

We would be foolish to believe it was only for a time long lost in history. The principles of darkness are ever present and we, as the Church, are given the task to resist. We are those commanded to acknowledge God, love without fail, remain faithful, hold up understanding and fight the great Lie with God’s Truth.

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