When Hosea prophesied at the sunset of the northern kingdom of Israel, he cast a vision for the people’s future by recalling their past with God.
It’s been all downhill since Jeroboam II: king after king after knife to the back. “They devour their rulers. All their kings have fallen” (Hosea 7:7).
The ground was laid with Jehu, who, though commissioned by the prophet Elisha, went beyond God’s mandate by his massacre at Jezreel (2 Kings 9; Hosea 1:4).
Now the rulers of Israel have limped along between shifting alliances — first Egypt, then Assyria, then Syria (Hosea 7:11; 2 Kings 16:5). Their religion has gone feral too — especially since Ahab, with Bethel as an alternative to the Jerusalem temple, and Baal and Asherah worshiped alongside the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (1 Kings 12:28-29; 16:31-32).
They’ll follow whoever will get them the goods, and if that means kissing calves and ritual prostitution under oak, poplar and terebinth, so be it (Hosea 13:2; 4:13).
Hosea’s life is a sign of God’s life with Israel. God calls Hosea to take a “wife of whoredom” (Hosea 1:2). Gomer is faithless, Hosea steadfast, just as it is between Israel and God.
Though the Israelites sacrificed to Baal and Asherah for food and fertility, it was in fact God who provided them with their grain, wine, oil, silver and gold (Hosea 2:8).
Israel was a dabbler in deities, spiritually promiscuous. The people had an on-again, off-again fling with the God who saved them out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1).
But that won’t do, for the God of Israel is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5).
In Hosea’s bright metaphors, God is like maggots, like a lion, like a she-bear robbed of her cubs, like a husband inflamed with jealous rage (Hosea 5:12; 13:7; 13:8; 2:3).
Yet however much holy mystery shrugs off Hosea’s supple language, one constant remains: God’s steadfast love. Though the prophet warns of judgment, God always relents (11:8-9; 12:10-14).
Until he doesn’t. The king of Assyria came and besieged and conquered Israel, carrying off much of the population and resettling the land with people who did not know the ways of God (2 Kings 17).
The center of God’s kingdom project shifted definitively south to Judah. From there an ancient/ future Son would be called out of Egypt to teach a new global, polyglot people the meaning of “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” (Hosea 11:2, 6:6; Matt. 2:15, 9:13).
In all of this, the prophet Hosea understood his life as offering a glimpse into God’s character and calling.
What was God up to in that strange and troubled time? What was God’s guidance, God’s hope?
In Hosea’s faithful love for Gomer, his compassion for his children, his hurt and desire and longing, he discerned something of God’s walk with his people.
What about you? Can you, in contemporary writer Frederick Buechner’s words, “listen to your life?” In these days of solitude and screens, we all too easily become those who Henry David Thoreau observed constantly checking their (e)mail but who haven’t heard from themselves in a long while.
What is God stirring in you? What consolation is God granting you? How do your loves and your hurts, your desires and your longings, plant clues in your soul to God’s walk with you?
What I’ve discovered is that while I’m an introvert and the silence and lack of public activities hasn’t bothered me much, I’ve missed eating with friends. I miss gathered worship.
Above all, in the flashbulb photo-bleaching of its absence, I sense just how dearly I ache for Communion. None of this is surprising. But it’s something. Maybe it is God tearing open the covering of my heart (Hosea 13:8).
Brad Roth is pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kan., and author of God’s Country: Faith, Hope and the Future of the Rural Church (Herald Press). He blogs at DoxologyProject.com.