July 28, 2013 Michael Carlin
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was a film from 1967. It was a comedy/drama of sorts starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sydney Poitier and Katharine Houghton. It focused on the controversial subject of interracial marriage, the marriage of Sydney Poitier, a black man to Katharine Houghton, a white woman, an act which was illegal in 17 states at the time the film was being made. When the movie opened in 1967, I’m sure there was a level of shock and awe that accompanied it. At least shock and awe was the expression from both sets of parents at the idea of an interracial marriage. When God asked Hosea to take for himself a wife, a wife of whoredom, it would have had a similar impact. This would have been shocking. In fact it would have been considered scandalous. God’s intent was to catch the attention of those who were listening. The problem however, was nobody was really listening.
Through Abraham, God had set apart a nation, of all the nations within the world to have a special relationship with himself. This nation would know God intimately. They would know his name and he would reveal himself to them through promise. The promise took on the form of a covenant in which God alone was responsible for fulfilling. He took a couple and through that couple created a people. Under his care that people grew and prospered. So much so that the nation they existed within became threatened and chose to subjugate them. As God heard their cries, with power he delivered them from Egypt and placed them in a land that he had promised to their forefathers. This event, this exodus from Egypt was to be the defining factor of their relationship with God. It was to be the event that they remembered for all of history. Their role was obedience. To remember their God. Their obedience would set them apart from their neighbors and it would reveal the heart of their God by showing a concern for the widow, the orphan, the immigrant and the poor in their midst. The problem was as they grew old within the land that God has placed them in, they forgot their God and what he had done for them. They soon became like all the other nations surrounding them and they turned away from their God. So God raised up prophets in their midst. Individuals that would warn and exhort them when they forgot who they were. Unfortunately it would take more than words to help them remember. It was only after those warnings became reality, and Israel found herself in foreign lands that she remembered the words of the prophets, and then she remembered her God. This double message of judgment and promise became the foundation for Israel’s memory while she was in exile. And it was out of this memory that God once more revealed himself, this time in the flesh. And now the promise was being fully realized. That which Israel could not do herself, remember and reveal the heart of her God, God did himself. God fulfilled his covenant promises through Jesus Christ. And now the promise that God had made to Abraham was finally being realized. We need to keep this perspective in mind when we approach the prophets, and our passage for this morning out of Hosea is no different.
The passage that we read this morning from the book of Hosea can be a challenging passage. God is deeply in love with Israel and yet he is about to pronounce judgment upon her. The language used all throughout the book of Hosea is covenantal language. When you hear Hosea’s words, they should cause you to remember. His message should bring to mind promises that had already been made. So let’s look at this morning’s text a little more closely. The judgment begins with “the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” What an odd phrase. Wasn’t it Israel that had turned from the Lord? How does the Land fit into this judgment? Well Israel is about to be sent into exile by the Assyrians, which means they are about to be removed from the Land. The Promised Land. Remember Gen 15, God and Abraham are having a conversation, Abraham continues to be concerned about being childless, and God establishes a covenant with Abraham. God asks Abraham to bring him a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove and a pear tree, no a young pigeon. And he makes a promise through the symbol of these animals, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of”… and then what follows is a long list of the lands current inhabitants. The land was part of the covenant. It was a gift from God to Israel. And there were laws established about the maintenance and distribution of that Land. The land was supposed to be given a year of rest every 7th year. It was proclaimed the year of Jubilee. There was also a provision for individuals who had lost their portion of that land because of hard times. Every 50th year the land was to be returned to its original owner. Land was meant to be kept within the family and within the tribe. Land was passed from fathers to sons, and when there were no sons special consideration was made for daughters. I find that odd in an age when women did not have many rights. I don’t know that we can fully grasp this idea of land. How many of us know someone who grew up on the land that their fathers owned, and that their father’s father owned. It was that long ago that this was our reality, but no longer today. We move around, purchasing and selling property and homes without any consideration of who owned it prior to us. For Israel, which was an agricultural society, the land sustained them. For us, Giant Eagle or maybe the local farmers market is what sustains us. Not the land. This Old Testament perspective of land is profoundly different from our modern perspective. Land was a part of the covenant, and now in Hosea we are being told that Israel will soon be removed from the land.
Hosea moves on from this brief allusion to the land, to the naming of his children. His first son is to be called Jezreel. Now, in naming his first son Jezreel, God is doing several things. First he is punishing the house of Jehu. Back in 2nd Kings, at the direction of Elisha, Jehu is anointed King over Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Jehu is commissioned to strike down the house of Ahab in Jezreel. But in his zeal he gets a little carried away and slaughters people beyond the house of Ahab. He ends up slaughtering Ahab’s friends, Ahab’s leaders and Ahab’s priests along with Ahaziah (Achaziah), the king of Judah, the Southern Kingdom and some of Ahaziah’s relatives. He then went on to kill the prophets of Baal that Jezebel had established. In essence Jehu was slaughtering people left and right. What I find interesting back in 2nd Kings, is that in light of all Jehu’s zeal for God, Jehu fell into the sins of Jeroboam, which included the worship of the golden calves that Jeroboam set up in Bethel and in Dan. So in naming his first son Jezreel, Hosea is reminding us of all that was associated with Jezreel, the bloodshed and the zeal against Baal, and the continued idolatry associated with Jeroboam. So God is going to punish the house of Jehu, and he will bring an end to the house of Israel.
Hosea’s next child, a daughter, is called Lo-ruhama. For God states that he will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. In case you were confused after the explanation of Jezreel’s name, we now come to find out that God will no longer have mercy on Israel. God’s patience has run out. And finally, after Jezreel and Lo-ruhama, Gomer gives birth to another son, Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God. Ok, enough. Don’t you feel like you just want to scream out, Hosea, stop having kids! The question that comes to mind is can Israel survive Hosea’s raising of a family. It’s at this point that I have to stop and try to reconcile my understanding of covenant, with the judgment that is coming upon Israel. When I was with you as an intern, I can remember Cathy talking about covenant. The covenant God had made with Abraham was established and fulfilled by God, and God alone. In Gen 15, it was God who walked between the split animals, not Abraham. This Abrahamic covenant, unlike a contract, began and ended with God. So what is going on here in Hosea? How can God be breaking the covenant? There is a scene in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner towards the end of the movie, where Joanna’s father is sitting with her fiancé John’s mother. So we have Spencer Tracy and Beah Richards sitting together talking about why this marriage can’t work. Well John’s mother poses a question to Joanna’s father, to Spencer Tracy, which changes everything. She asks, “What happens to men when they grow old? Why do they forget everything?” This is the issue. Israel has grown old and has forgotten everything. She has forgotten her God, and all that he had done for her. Deuteronomy, chapter 6 might shed some light for us on our text in Hosea.
In Deuteronomy Moses is commanding Israel to remember and to observe all that he has just instructed, the ten commandments. After outlining the commandments he states, “Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you arise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Remember, remember, remember. For, “When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods, that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant – and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, because the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God. The anger of the Lord your God would be kindled against you and he would destroy you from the face of the earth.”
Hosea is the result of Israel growing old and forgetting. God is declaring ‘I am removing you from the land I have given you.’ I am putting an end to the dynasty of Jehu and the house of Israel. I will no longer forgive nor have mercy on the house of Israel, for you are not my people and I am not your God, all because you have forgotten who I am. When you continue to read through the prophet Hosea’s writings, you find out that Israel attributes their wealth and prosperity to others. So the warning is that God will remove Israel from the land. He will send them into exile. He will hem Israel in and separate her from her other lovers, but not to destroy her like the warning in Deuteronomy declares. Hosea is calling Israel to remember, from the place of exile. He is saying, ‘go, open your bibles and re-read Deuteronomy.’ It is all in there. But instead of God destroying you from the face of the earth, I want you to know, He is in love with you. So much so that he is about to send you into exile, so that you will turn and remember who it was that covenanted with you. That important place within Israel’s salvation history, the wilderness, will once again be her experience.
You see our passage for this morning concludes with verse 10, “Yet,” and this is a big yet, in spite of all the language of judgment, “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.’” Hosea, using shock and awe, is trying to get the attention of Israel, so that he can tell them in spite of themselves, God is being faithful to his covenant. He will not let them forget. He will not let them derail his plans. They will grow to be as numerous as the sand of the seashore, and they will once again inherit the land that he set aside for them. But more than that the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom will be reunited, and through them one leader will be appointed. You see, there is a part of the covenant that needs to be remembered which is that one day all families of the earth shall be blessed through Israel. One day a messiah will come. One day God will make himself known not merely to Israel, but to the entire world. God will take on the form of a man and in his life, death and resurrection he will not merely restore Israel but the totality of creation. At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess, He is Lord.
This is the shock and awe of Hosea. The God of Israel is a God who is passionately in Love with his people. He is a jealous God, because he is so deeply in love. So much so that he willingly endured the pain of an adulterous people, so that he might take on the humiliation of the cross. While Hosea’s marriage might have been scandalous, Paul confesses that the true scandal is found at the cross. “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” God so loved his creation that he was willing to die, so that we might live. Only the living God would do such a thing. This is the God we worship when we gather together. This is the God that we remember and we observe as we live into his heart through the power of His Holy Spirit. Can we handle a God which is this alive?