It seemed like a good idea today to talk and think about the book of Hosea. We heard a bit of it just a minute or so ago as our Old Testament reading. We don’t hear from Hosea much but it’s a fascinating book, and Hosea was a fascinating man. I realised when I read it that I knew nothing at all about Hosea so I hope you don’t mind learning just a little bit with me.
There is an old story from the east that sets the stage for talking about Hosea. There are several versions of this story, but the shortest one goes like this:
Once upon a time, the great river had a huge flood. A large scorpion was trapped on the upper branches of a dead tree, and the waters were gradually rising over the tree and the scorpion seemed doomed. A monk was passing by the river, saw what was going on, and, grabbing onto a bush at the edge of the path he reached over to pick up the scorpion and carry it to safety. The Scorpion stung the monk. Still, the monk tried again and again – and each time he was stung. A little later, a passer-by saw the monk, weak from venom, hand swollen, but still trying to rescue the scorpion. “Give it up old man,” the passer-by shouted, “or you’ll both drown.” “Then so it will be,” the monk shouted back, “It is the scorpion’s nature to sting, but it is my nature to save.”
Keep that in mind.
Back to the Bible and the story of Hosea – it’s a great story. What happens is that God sets out to do something very interesting. He sets out to show the prophet Hosea and, through him, all of Israel a little bit of what it is like to be God. He wants Hosea to share the life of God. That sounds like a good deal at first, but it quickly loses its charm.
The first thing God does is to command Hosea to marry a prostitute – apparently a very popular and, well, famous prostitute which Hosea does. He is then told to be good to her, which he is. Now, God says, you can begin to get the picture.
However, Gomer, that’s Hosea’s wife’s name, is not particularly inspired by all of this matrimonial devotion and general goodness welling up from Hosea. Before very long, Gomer leaves Hosea, and resumes her previous lifestyle with great publicity and enthusiasm. She makes Hosea and their children look like fools “This” God says to Hosea and to all of Israel “Is what it’s like to be me.” Are you enjoying it?
Guess what comes next? Right. God tells Hosea to take Gomer back, and Hosea does. He very publicly takes her back – even though everybody knows the whole story. Now, why does he do this – why does God have him do this? Think about that, it’s a good question. It’s certainly not because Gomer deserves it – deserving has nothing to do with it. Also, Gomer doesn’t have some secret virtue that taking her back will reveal (It doesn’t make her a better person). Finally, it’s not because Hosea will somehow win friends and influence people and prosper in his business if he takes her back. None of that matters. Hosea is to take Gomer back because that’s what it’s like to be God.
That’s who God is and that’s what God does. And nobody could have guessed, nobody could have worked that out all by himself. The only way that Israel could know that this is the way God is, is if Hosea showed them. And the only way the rest of the world could know that God acts like this was if Israel showed them. That was the whole point.
Israel treated God the way Gomer treated Hosea – badly. God treated Israel the way Hosea treated Gomer. There is a word for it in Hebrew – the word is ‘HESED’. The Hebrew word is translated as – mercy, covenant faithfulness, kindness, loving kindness, steadfast love – it’s all the same word. It’s a good word for what it’s like to be God. For it’s the nature of God to deal with us mercifully, with loving kindness.
This business of ‘hesed’, loving kindness, is not just about how God acts.
It’s about God acting to us constantly with loving kindness and God’s command to us that we act to other people the way he acts to us. God wants us to treat one another, even (and especially) the worst of one another, the way God treats us.
Deserving has nothing to do with this; bringing out the best in other people has nothing to do with this, being fair has nothing to do with this, winning friends and influencing people has nothing to do with this. None of that matters. What matters is acting like God acts – because God wants us to and we decide to do it.
It is the nature of the scorpion to sting. It is the nature of God to reach out to us with steadfast love. It is of our nature to choose. We really don’t have any excuses. And the question is not about who other people are. The question is about who we are.
Remember, God treats us the way Hosea treated Gomer. The only way that the world around us, the only way a world desperately without mercy, can ever know that this is the way God is, is if we show them. Otherwise the world will never know. We know what God wants. This is about our identity, but it’s also about our mission. We are the only way the world will know.
And it is our nature to choose.
I hope that might have given you the urge to go and read that story or some of the other short books in the Bible for yourselves and that maybe it is food for thought. It certainly made me think.