Holy (Dis)Comfort: Listening for God’s Word in the Minor Prophets
Hosea – selected verses; Revelation 21:1-5
May 30, 2021
New Testament – Revelation 21:1-5
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth
had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’
Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’
We are very familiar with the metaphor of God as Holy Parent.
Very often, throughout history, we have referred to God as “Father”.
“Our Father, who art in heaven…”
Jesus called God “Abba”, probably best translated from the Aramaic as “Daddy”.
It is striking when you walk through the narrow lanes of the Old City of Jerusalem
and suddenly you hear a child call out, “Abba!”, “Abba!”
Then you turn to see a loving Arab father pick up his small child from the cobblestone walkway.
God is like a loving parent.
God loves and protects us like a father; God nurses and tends to us like a mother,
and as God’s children, we look to God for love, for support, for security.
We look to God to protect us, to provide for us, to show us the right way to go.
One of our congregation’s leaders meaningfully begins her prayers: “Father/Mother God…”
Shirley Guthrie, one of my theology professors at seminary encouraged us that,
even as we broaden the terms we use for God, even as we broaden our understanding of God,
we should not lose the intimate nature of calling God “Father”.
In the prophetic words of Hosea, the first of the Minor Prophets,
we discover a related familial term that runs throughout Holy Scripture, a different metaphor.
In Hosea, God is referred to as the “husband” of Israel, the husband of the nation.
Likewise, in New Testament writings, Jesus Christ would be described as the groom of the Church,
which was to be his holy bride.
Certainly, we are aware of the dated patriarchal attitudes evident within these scriptural metaphors.
They were written long ago when our understanding of the world
and of the roles of men and women was very different that it is today.
Nevertheless, we can still take to heart what the powerful metaphor of God as Holy Husband
might teach us about God’s relationship with Israel and God’s relationship with our nation today.
Communicated through the prophet Hosea,
the intimacy of this metaphor enables us to consider more intentionally
the casual, sometimes selfish ways we, as a people, may live within this relationship.
Over the next eight weeks, we will be listening for God’s Word in the Minor Prophets.
We will discover Holy Comfort from God’s Word in these prophets and also, at times,
we will no doubt discover a bit of discomfort from their messages.
These prophets are called “minor” not because their messages were minor,
but because their books are relatively short.
There are four Major and twelve Minor Prophets in the Old Testament.
The writings of the Major Prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel –
are much longer than the Minor Prophets.
Hosea is the first of our twelve Minor Prophets.
If you don’t remember anything else from this Sunday about Hosea,
all you have to remember is that Hosea had an unfaithful spouse.
If you remember that, then you’ll pretty much understand his prophecy.
Hosea was a prophet to the northern kingdom during a time of violence, anarchy, and war.
Four kings had been assassinated within fourteen years.
Can you imagine living in a time when four United States Presidents would be assassinated
within fourteen years? These are the chaotic times to which Hosea spoke.
Chaos, anarchy, and war…the northern kingdom was facing a brutal war with the Assyrians.
And Hosea attributed the war and the great suffering of the people to lack of faithfulness to God.
They had turned away from proper worship of God.
They had all but forgotten the Ten Commandments, ignoring them altogether.
Hosea claimed that many had rejected knowledge of God and the teaching of God’s ways.
Instead, they were selling themselves to false gods;
they were following unrighteous leaders, believing in false promises of security and wealth.
In order to communicate a divine message, God told Hosea to go and marry a prostitute.
God told Hosea to embody in his most personal relationship the steadfast love of God.
Her name was Gomer. Truth be told, we do not know enough about Gomer.
I am sure Gomer had her own story to tell.
What we do know is that Gomer was a prostitute, and that Hosea married her in obedience to God.
After their marriage, Gomer had three children, but it is not at all clear
whether Hosea was the biological father of any of them.
Not long after the third child was born, Gomer walked out on Hosea,
just as Israel had abandoned the Lord.
Gomer, and likewise Israel, would be judged for her unfaithfulness,
and serious consequences would come.
This is holy discomfort we discover in Hosea: there are consequences to unfaithfulness to God.
But Hosea loved Gomer, and Hosea would hold fast to his commitment to Gomer.
Eventually, Hosea would publicly welcome Gomer back into his home,
bringing some measure of shame upon himself and his family.
Likewise, God would continue to love Israel.
God would hold fast to God’s covenant with Israel, even though Israel had gone astray.
Even though Israel would face serious consequences, nevertheless,
in God’s divine compassion, Israel would never be fully abandoned.
Hear the Word of God, beginning in the fourth chapter of Hosea. (4:1-3)
O people of Israel, the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or loyalty, no knowledge of God in the land.
There is swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out.
Bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore, the land itself mourns and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.
Here, Hosea not only refers to the breaking of the Ten Commandments,
he also makes a direction connection with the suffering of creation with the unfaithfulness of the people.
Chapter 9, verse 1: Do not rejoice O Israel.
Do not exult as other nations do for you have played the whore, departing from your God.
You have loved the prostitute’s pay on all the threshing floors.
Chapter 6, verses 4-6: What shall I do with you O Ephraim? What shall I do with you O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have killed them by the words of my mouth
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.
Chapter 13, verses 4-6: I have been the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt.
You know no God but me and besides me there is no savior.
It was I who fed you in the wilderness in the land of drought.
When I fed them they were satisfied, they were satisfied in their heart.
(But) their heart (became) proud and therefore they forgot.
Chapter 8, verses 1 and 4: They have broken my covenant and transgressed my law…
They made kings, but not through me; they set up princes, but without my knowledge.
With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction.
Chapter 13, verse 10: Where now is your king that he may save you?
Where in all your cities are your rulers of whom you said, “Give me a king and rulers”?
I gave you a king in my anger and I took him away in my wrath.
Into this context of anarchy and chaos and war, God sent his prophet Hosea.
Chapter 1, verses 1-8: The word of the Lord that came to Hosea, son of Beeir…
in the days of King Jeraboam son of Joash of Israel.
When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea,
“Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom,
for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”
So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel, (meaning “God sows”)
for in a little while I will (sow) punishment on the house of Jehu…
She conceived again and bore a daughter and the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah,
(meaning “Not Pitied”) for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them…”
When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son.
Then the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, (meaning “Not my people”)
for you are not my people and I am not your God.”
Chapter 2, verse 7: And she shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them.
And she shall seek her other gods but she shall not find them, then (finally) she shall say,
I must go and return to my first husband for it was better with me then than now…
I will put an end to all her mirth, her festivals, her new moons,
her sabbaths and all her appointed festivals, I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees
of which she said, these are my pay which my lovers have given.
I will make them all a forest and the wild animals shall devour them
and I will punish her for the festival days of the Baal when she offered incense to them
and decked herself with her ring and jewelry and went after her lovers and forgot me,
says the Lord.
(But later), I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.
From there in the wilderness I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she shall respond to me as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
On that day, says the Lord, you will call me, my husband…
I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals,
with the birds of the air and the creeping things of the ground
and I will abolish the bow and the sword and war from the land
and I will make you lie down in safety.
And I will take you for my wife forever.
I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice and steadfast love and in mercy.
I will take you for my wife in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord.
Hosea ends his prophecy with these words from chapter 14, verse 9:
Those who are wise understand these things; those who are discerning know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
A marriage, the joining together of two people in a committed covenant,
is good and right and important and certainly worth our utmost efforts.
But as we all know, marriage is not always easy.
Even in the best of circumstances, marriage can be challenging.
It takes time and effort and energy to build and nurture a strong and faithful marriage.
What tends to happen in most marriages, to some degree, is what I call “the drift”.
Two people begin in a marriage so close together, one in heart and mind and soul and body,
but then the realities of life occur.
Life gets busy. Work becomes distracting.
Children bring added pressures of making huge decisions together.
The anxieties of life pull on us as individuals.
And sometimes, grief and loss will arise, and someone does not respond
as the their spouse thinks they should.
Sure enough, slowly, the drift occurs.
You are not as close as you were before.
Daily conversations begin to wane.
Weekly dinner dates get overtaken by other commitments.
Before long, you wonder if can ever get back to where you once were.
You may even wonder if the other person still loves you as they did before.
The prophecy of Hosea reminds us that our relationship with God can be similar to that of a marriage.
A young person will come home from a youth conference all lit up,
freshly married in soul to Jesus Christ.
A new member will join the church and feel a sense of reconnection
with the God they had once known more intimately.
A long time member will participate in a meaningful small group and discover renewal in faith.
We will become excited with such experiences
and we may feel closer to God than we ever have before.
We may even feel bound together with God and God’s people of the church.
And it all feels good and right and important.
But before long, temptations and daily distractions begin to pull at us.
The weight of daily life begins to drag us down.
Responsibilities of family and work, of school and hobbies and friends,
begin to chip away, and we begin to feel adrift. We begin to feel a bit of separation,
separation from God, separation from God’s people in the church.
No doubt, with the isolation of the pandemic,
many may have felt a sense of drift in their relationship with God or with the Church.
Lack of quality time together, lack of genuine sharing with one another,
can lead to a decline in the relationship, can lead to “the drift.”
The drift becomes dangerous when we no longer desire to be faithful,
when any sense of intimacy has been lost,
when trust has been eroded over time.
It was not enough for God to say through Hosea to his people:
obey the Ten Commandments and all will be well.
Hosea embodied for Israel who God was, and what God desired from the nation,
so that they might know the depth of God’s commitment.
In God, Israel would come to know a marriage partner who would not forsake her.
Even though Israel had proven that she could not be trusted,
God would be nevertheless be trustworthy.
No matter how many times Israel had been unfaithful,
God would not let go of his bride.
As the scripture says, “God’s anger is but for a moment; God’s favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
The comforting message of Hosea is that, even if your parent stops loving you,
even if your child stops loving you, even if your spouse stops loving you,
God will not stop loving you. God will always welcome you back.
Like the loving father welcoming the prodigal home,
like the faithful Hosea welcoming home the wandering Gomer, God will love us still.
Holy Comfort from God’s prophet.
The holy discomfort, as we have mentioned earlier, is that there are consequences for sin.
Though God would not fully abandon the people of Israel,
the nation would face serious consequences.
The Assyrians defeated Samaria in 721 bce, and the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom were dispersed.
While the kingdom of Judah in the south would remain until defeated by the Babylonians in 587 bce,
the kingdom of Israel was no more.
God maintained a covenant with the people, but the nation as a body was overtaken.
There were consequences for Israel’s unfaithfulness, consequences which would play out over time
until Jesus Christ was born. He was born to be the groom,
born to become the holy husband of those dispersed tribes.
He was born to be the One who would bring the people together,
who would bring all the peoples together, as God’s beloved children.
And what we discovered in the ministry of Jesus was that God intends for us
to show the same, self-giving, steadfast love for others that we were shown in Jesus Christ.
God intends for us who are forgiven…to be forgiving.
God intends for us who are loved…to be loving.
God even intends for us who have been harmed…to love our enemies.
Holy Comfort, Holy Discomfort.
Let us pray…Almighty God, you love us with a love that will never let us go.
You tolerate our faithlessness. You put up with the ways in which we turn away from you
and walk in the opposite direction.
You love us with a steadfast love, a deep, abiding love that we cannot fully fathom.
As human beings, we are fickle and selfish,
and so we are amazed with your love which never lets us go.
Like the prodigal son returning to the father,
like a wandering spouse returning to their marriage,
you welcome us home again with open arms.
You have forgiven us and you love us still.
And you call us – as individuals, and as a people, as a nation –
to love those around us just as we have been loved;
through Christ Jesus our Lord, may it be so. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church