Ephraim was a trained heifer that loved to thresh, and I spared her fair neck; but I will make Ephraim break the ground; Judah must plough; Jacob must harrow for himself Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your power and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle when mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great wickedness. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off.
Even a cursory reading of Hosea – he of the wandering wife and the children with colourful names – may lead you to side with Private Fraser in proclaiming ‘we’re doomed’.
Hosea is very zealous for the Lord and he doesn’t hold back in his descriptions of his times. Iniquity, idolatry, immorality, all arising from dalliances with other religions’ fertility cults and ill – judged alliances with foreign powers. There will be wailing and trembling and desolation.
Hosea diagnoses the root of the problem: Israel’s unfaithfulness to the God of the covenant. Marriage is the vehicle used to illustrate the breakdown of this relationship. Israel is the adulterous partner and under serious judgement, but God will heal and love when / if the nation returns. For this reader, some of the language and threats meted out to the unfaithful one, make for uncomfortable reading. The overall message is believed to be one of healing and loving, but the book contains several of those images of God that we would rather were not in the Bible and one would have to perform exegetical gymnastics to make some verses look good.
We have, however, some light and hope today in agricultural images. Our verses speak of crops and rain and fruitfulness – properties much valued by the cult of Ba’al with whom Israel was flirting. ‘Our God goes further than mere rain and food’ says Hosea. ‘Our God rains righteousness’. Prepare yourself by sowing and breaking up your fallow ground so you may reap steadfast love.
In this Advent time, as we prepare to meet our God, we take heart that even the zealous Hosea, much troubled by sin, was able to understand that at the heart of all creation is a loving, forgiving, faithful God. A God whose righteousness wills the wellbeing of the world, right and loving relationship and the health of creation.
Our God rains righteousness and when his reign is fully established steadfast love, mercy, faithfulness and justice will be the order of the day.
Frère Roger of Taizé says ‘All God can do is love’. Strangely, we often feel more at home with a God of judgement, a God whose love is peppered with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.
Maybe Advent will be the time when we will glimpse more of the loving God who comes to us again and again to make a home with us.
Gracious God, whose plans for creation are healing and wholeness, may we walk today in the light of your love, with gentle eyes and generous hearts, so that our doings and dealings may be in full harmony with what you will for the world. Amen
The Rev’d Ros Lyle is a retired minister and member of Muswell Hill URC.