And behold, the Lord passed by, & a great & strong wind rent the mountains & brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: & after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the eathquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: & after the fire the thin sound of silence. 1 Kings19:11 & 12

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Problem with Gomer.

Sow for yourselves righteousness,
       reap the fruit of unfailing love,
       and break up your unplowed ground;
it is time to seek the Lord,
       until he comes
       and showers righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12
Gomer.  Mention Gomer & you probably immediately think, "Oh yes, Hosea's harlot."  And everybody is so busy knowing all about Hosea acting out Israel's apostasy in his marriage they completely miss the point. I mean, it's a great story, isn't it?  We all know it ~ or think we do; the man of God allying himself to a strumpet & thundering at Israel.  And we leave it at the church door with the biscuit crumbs & used tea bags. But the story of Gomer & Hosea is more than an old testament story that has no relevance for us because all of scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness [2Timothy3:15~17]

Now I guess you know where I'm going to start.  Sorry people but this really needs to be put in context because without the context you may miss the slow slide into apostasy that brought about Israel's downfall & which has such frightening parallels for our own age.  Besides I do so love history!

Hosea ministered to the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the last decades of its existence during the 8th century, somewhere between 750 BC & 722 BC, Israel having divided into 2 kingdoms after the death of Solomon under the rule of his son Rehoboam.  Rehoboam ruled the old kingdom of Judah.  Jeroboam ruled the new kingdom of Israel but there was a problem.  Jerusalem lay in the old kingdom & the Israelites were obligated to go  down to Jerusalem for the great feasts.  You can imagine, I'm sure, Jeroboam's paranoia & insecurity at having most of his subjects packing up to trek down to Jerusalem several times a year, so Jeroboam devised a solution ~ & not one that pleased God .  Enter in the worship of Baal ~ again!

Now under Jeroboam's rule Israel flourished.  It was a powerful military state with considerable wealth [remember the Queen of Sheba travelled to see Solomon in all his glory & marveled at it & Israel was still experiencing God's favour].  It influenced International affairs.  However it was in internal disorder & with Jeroboam's death in 746 BC it erupted into civil war.  Over the next 10 years Israel was ruled by 5 different kings with tenuous claims to the throne.  Some only ruled for a matter of weeks, some for a few months, each successive ruler slaying the one who preceded him.  Utter chaos.  This was Hosea's world ~ & Amos' ~ & Jeremiah & Micah's!

Into this fevered political mix add Tiglath~Pileser III, who became ruler of Assyria in 745 BC with the stated purpose of restoring the Assyrian Empire!

This was also Gomer's world & the thing to note, because it is easy to miss in translation, is that the word for prostitute is also the word for one who has offered herself to Baal in worship.  That is, she was a temple prostitute, or perhaps, more likely, an ordinary Israelite matron who had partaken of the sexual aspects of worshipping Baal ~ as so many others did.  She was not an anomaly.  She was a perfectly ordinary Israelite woman of her time who saw nothing wrong with what she was doing.  Now, having waded through a series of commentators, I know that is not everyone's viewpoint but it is mine & I will tell you why. When we come to Daniel we run up against exactly the same thing & remember I am an English major, not a theologian!  God is absolutely consistent with His symbols!  Idolatry is a particular beef of His, starting with the commandment to have no other gods but Him, working it's way to forbidding David from building the temple because not only was he a man of war, but for his sexual sin with Bathsheba, all the way into the New Testament where He declares our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit & not to defile them!  Absolutely consistent.  If she was just a prostitute that is one thing, & she should have been stoned to death for it.  If she was a temple prostitute or one who has partaken of Baal's fertility rites, that is something else, something different & it implies far more than just the selling of her body.  It implies that she has sold herself to another god.

Now the thing with immorality is that it coarsens our sensibilities.   Abuse of love diminishes the ability to love deeply.  Over time many gentler attributes are lost & people become brazen & proud ~ & so we see with Gomer.  She is used to a variety of sexual partners & the novelty that would heighten her sexual experiences ~ & you see it all about you today.  Sex sells ~ everything from toothpaste to luxury apartments, deodorant to porches.  You see it in the trampy clothes the girls wear that are too short & too tight & highlight all their selling points ~ & make no mistake, whether they know it or not they are selling themselves in the sexual market.  You see it in the way the boys talk to the girls.  There is no respect.  Our world is very like that of 8th century Israel.  The political climate is uncertain. War lurks on the horizon. In so many churches Christianity has been compromised.  The whole face of Europe is likely to change in the next 30 years & it will become part of the wider Islamic territories.  How have we come to such a pass?  The answer is in Hosea.

As Christians, as a people who have been grafted into the root & branch of  the people of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we are in a peculiar position.  Much of what was originally directed to the Hebrew tribes also pertains to us because God does not change & His expectations & directives to His particular people are the same yesterday, today & forever.  So what Hosea has to say pertains to us, to our nations, to our churches, to our personal walks with God.

"Well", you say, "I'm not into worshipping idols".  Really?  Are you sure?  I am going to highlight some of the main themes that run through Hosea because we need to be vigilant & make sure that we ourselves are not on the wide road to destruction.

Firstly I want to point out the nature of the man who originally made these claims against Israel.  His nature tells us whether his testimony is trustworthy or not.  Hosea was a man whose walk with God was so intimate that he not only heard but clearly understood what God was saying to him.  Having heard he obeyed!  I imagine that was no easy thing given what he was asked to do.  He was asked to obey by his actions before he was called to speak out so God could speak through Hosea's life.                

Hosea is an anthology, a collection of sayings gathered together but orbiting around 2 main themes: the judgement of God & the love of God.  There are approximately 150 statements concerning Israel's sin & more than half of those deal with her idolatry though she is also upbraided for lying, murder, insincerity, ingratitude & covetousness.  The judgement of God moves inexorably from a condemnation of the Royal household, who instigated the Baal worship , to the religious leaders of the time who have failed in their responsibility as teachers, who have encouraged the apostasy & profited from it & practised the false & syncretistic rites of their times & seduced the people into the same, to the nation as a whole. 

There are consequences to this sorry state of affairs.  Hosea's first born son is named Jezreel.  Jezreel was the place recorded in 2 Kings 9~10 where the Royal House of Omi was exterminated by the House of Jehu.  It is a pronouncement of judgement on the Royal household of Israel, a warning of what is to come.  Hosea's second child, a daughter named Ruhamah [not pitied]  is a warning that God has run out of patience with His stubborn people, to the point that by the third child, Lo~Ammi [not my people] God has rejected them. 

Through Hosea God makes a pronouncement that has held true down through the ages:  My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.[4:6]  Wherever a nation has backslidden [ 4:16]  & the priests blame others while no longer being concerned with God's work [4:4] the people have become like a dove, easy to fool & stupid. [7:11]  It is frighteningly simple.  If the teachers do not teach the people become lazy & spiritually weak & flabby, unable to resist temptation when it arises, unable to tell right from wrong, unable to discern the truth, mistaking wrong for right, each doing what seems good in their own eyes.  Where there is a lack of the knowledge of God in the land a lack of faithfulness, kindness & social order follow.  Look around you today; tell me what you see.

The problem with Gomer is that she's not the point.  She never was.  We have Hosea, as the prophets tend to, ranting & raving about the people's sin & warning of the judgement to come.  If that was all then we are all without hope but there is a wonderful image in Hosea 13.  God is still telling Israel what is about to befall them & says I will meet them like a bear deprived of her cubs.  Remember God is a jealous God.  If we say we are His He has a particular & vested interest in our well being & He has all the protective instincts of an enraged mother bear who finds her cubs gone from her.    However harsh the pronouncements they are always done out of a spirit of love to bring God's people back into alignment with the will of God.    Yes, God loves us but His is not an easy wishy~washy love of the sort Hollywood is so good at dishing up for God is also Holy;  God is just ; God is righteous.  God loves us enough to want to grow us up, to develop our spiritual backbone & moral fibre.  He loves us enough to tell us the harsh truths. What we do with the truth is up to us.                                                                                                                                                        

No comments: