Hosea 12

A bit of a confusing chapter as Israel, the nation, is personified (“he” did this or that) and referred to metaphorically as Jacob and Ephraim. Too many names!

It’s tracing the history of Israel to give an ultimately hopeful message, but one that includes due punishment for their deceit, and requires their repentance.

They are compared to Jacob, who did always strike me as a morally ambiguous patriarch. There is the story of him cheating Esau out of his inheritance. And his favouritism of Joseph (…Or was it his prophetic awareness of Joseph’s significance?).

And Jacob was the reason Israel wound up in Egypt in the first place, before Moses led them out.

There are abiding images of him wrestling all night with the angel of God, and having the vision of the staircase that led to God, and there receiving promises of blessings.

Israel in Hosea’s time can also be a blessed deceiver, but only by being sent away, repenting and being bought back, a pattern built into the founding of their nation. It’s unfair, from a few different perspectives, but so is all grace.

Never beyond the reach of grace, always a good time to repent.

Amen to that, as I enter day whatever of lockdown. Daisy out of quarantine today. She can leave her room properly now.

Hosea 11

It’s just how things are. God is truth. Truth gives things an inherent nature. The truth will out, it cannot be denied. Well not forever.

God made us capable of rebellion. In this chapter there are sweet images of God leading Israel with chords of love. Bonds of kindness. The gentlest control imaginable, purely motivated by our best interests.

Easy to refuse. Israel want to go back to Egypt; they can. The Assyrians what to conquer Israel. They can. Neither is good for Israel, neither is God’s ideal. Israel won’t acknowledge their creator. And God is torn at the fair outcome of rebellion: destruction.

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?

    How can I hand you over, Israel?

…My heart is changed within me;

    all my compassion is aroused.”

Verse 8

God will call them back from Egypt. Call them back from Assyria. His son will come out of Egypt, as Jesus did.

Because of Jesus we understand that God suffers pain. We see how Christ’s incarnation is like the image of a parent with a small child given here, stooping down to lift us up, and hold us to his cheek. The immortal author of light and love experiences pain and death. It was always going to be part of God’s story.

Why a pandemic? It’s just how things are. The Governor of Florida and the premier of Brazil, a few politicians have tried the King Canute approach of denying realty.

But they face the inevitable, soaring mortality rates, regardless. And across the world, we value human life. We try to reduce the death rates, his instinctual.

It talks here about the people not being aware of all that God does for them in love. But the potential is there,because they have a moral dimension. Maybe he wrote rebellion in our hearts, and sadness into our minds, so we could know what love is.

God wrote pain into his own story and ours, death into his own story and ours, because we are a creation in his image. It is the nature of things, it is truth.

Hosea 10

A chapter promising, warning, Israel of coming destruction. Their particular combination of idols, political alliances and a hollow show of ritual, the deception of it, makes God angry.

It’s anything but God. They won’t accept that their prosperity comes from God. They look anywhere else to trust for their success. It’s pride I suppose.

The only way God can show he is God is to take it away.

A had a nice exchange with Mark our pastor, who is clearly going a bit stir crazy not being able to minister to as many people as he was, because of the virus lockdown. He’d put a post on Facebook denying that the pandemic is a direct punishment from God for specific sin. It doesn’t work any more like it does in the old testament.

So I shared with him some of the blankness I have been feeling here. If you can’t draw lines to punishment, where can you draw them? Does it all mean nothing? He teased that a sermon is in the works.

Certainly the “anything but God” pride is still evident all round the place. That hasn’t changed one bit.

I’m in a quiet place emotionally. I’m pessimistic about continuing when my three month contract is up in early June. I’m one of 7 very capable “content specialists” in my team. Not very special, not much for me to do as far as I can tell.

I’m still furious with my boss Rod for making me redundant. He did it so that the events team could have extra resources because they were so busy. All the events are now cancelled. I’m way less likely to get a job with the state of the economy. He couldn’t have known how the virus situation would develop, but he could have been more kind, well before I was made redundant. Roles switched, I would not have done it to him.

But enough venting. I will await my rector’s online sermon with interest.

Daniel overview

It’s about scale, about the kingdoms and evil of this world having more grip, for a longer period, and with more power, than we could imagine. But also it’s point is to emphasise the larger scale of hope. That God’s presence and his plan, the now and the future, are stronger.

It’s set when things were about as bad as they could be for Israel. Daniel is a talented Israelite marked for success in Babylon, who have destroyed and pillaged Jerusalem’s temple. The assumption is that he will lose his Jewish identity and faith, as a symbol of it being vanquished in general.

So he and his other Jewish friends don’t, a model of encouragement and God’s protection. In three stories the theme recurs in the book: his refusal to eat unclean food in the palace, the fiery furnace and the lions den. God is present honouring those choices. In the fiery furnace, God walks around in human form, a striking incarnation.

There is also the battle of earthly Kings and God. Nebuchadnezzar is depicted as a gleefully impossible narcissist until the fiery furnace experience, and then a dream and it’s fulfillment of his complete madness so he became like a beast. He accepts God’s dominion and praises God.

His son sees the writing on the wall (“your days are numbered”) at a feast devoted to desecrating the artefacts plundered from the temple, but will not acknowledge God and is assassinated that night.

So there are concrete stories of God’s presence and dominion despite Israel’s low state in the book. But dreams and visions weave through too. And they are bleak as well as exalting. The hard times of evil kingdoms will last much longer than the exile, and be far worse than Babylon.

BUT God’s victory will be total, and a “son of man” will be present with us, and then prove to be God, leading the way to glorious resurrection of the dead for all God’s people to be with God of forever.

God promises to be present now and in the future and forever, as he has been in the past; despite things seeming impossible and getting dramatically worse.

This prophetic book is not at all about Israel’s sin. It has inspiring examples of people trusting in God, and of kingly pride being broken. It’s full of promises that the oppressive rule of powerful nations and men are no match for God. It’s one of the most deeply weird, in the reading, but the most optimistic of the prophets.

I’m summarising it a long time after I read it. The are no biographical notes at all, it records simply my impressions of what the book tells me about God without relating it to my life at all. It was 2016, second year of working at Fredon constructions. Good money, secure job. Boring 9-5.

2020, two redundancies, drought, fires and global pandemic since then, I’m feeling it a lot more. I liked how I summarised it in chapter 12. Daniel just wanted Jerusalem and the temple back, but has to struggle with how inadequate that dream was andhow much worse the world could be even if it came true. But also how much bigger God’s plans and love are. I clinging to that promise right now.

God is stronger.

Events in Daniels life

1 During exile, Daniel is a jew in Babylon, in service of the King. He refuses the food on religious grounds, living on water and veggies
2. Daniel interprets the king’s dream, a career masterstroke on many levels by God
3  The burning fiery furnace – the Jewish men didn’t know God would save them, they just knew bowing to another God was wrong
4 written by the King, about his madness and hearing God’s voice.
5 the next King has words from God written on a wall at a feast, aging Daniel is bought in to read them: “your days are numbered”
6 Another King, another salvation, from the lions den

Daniel’s dreams and visions

7 Daniel has a stunning dream of the son of man and the final destruction of the evil one. He finds it disturbing
8 A vision of empires rising and falling, a long term thing that still teaches us to trust that God is in control
9 Daniel reads Jeremiah and prays movingly for return from exile, but is disturbed by a larger, confusing vision of God’s plans
10 Daniel has a gleaming vision of God in the form of a man, again talk of future politics
11 a vision of the future persecution of the Jews by two rival Kings.
12 A truly stunning conclusion to the vision of these three chapters, predicting the return from exile but also the larger heavenly plan of God to resurrect the dead to be with him forever. A revolutionary concept in old testament writing.

Hosea 9

A chapter of firey prophesy of judgement, but done with a poetic sadness and regret.

Hosea has no “cut through”, the people are prosperous and busy. His message is of coming disaster. They won’t hear of it.

It’s interesting to see in this unfolding COVID-19 pandemic different reactions to the truth. Doctors predict the spread and the measures that can slow it enough that the hospital system won’t get overwhelmed.

You can literally see in the death rates per million of population differences in the ability of various countries to accept the truth and act on it.

And it comes down to an individual level, a personal decision to abide by the truth, or even if you aren’t convinced, a sense of responsibility to the majority to go with the program.

Hosea gets desperate at one point and writes in a double take… He starts “Give them Lord….” But then says “what will you give them?” He’s going from projecting his anger as a wish list to God, to actually seeking God’s will. He settles on low fertility, an irony because the false gods they worship are fertility Gods.

He’s saying god is in charge of fertility, and the merciful thing would be not to bring children into the destruction and dislocation that is rapidly coming to them.

We aren’t quite there yet with the virus, but a work colleague who is going on maternity leave was on a walk and told by police not to be outside, at risk of a $2000 fine the other day!

God wants good things for us, Jesus broke evil and death, so we can have abundant blessing, but that truth is not accepted over the false promises of greed and selfishness.

The “gospel” of sensible medical precautions falls on paths, stony ground, gets pecked away by birds, and some falls on fertile ground and takes root. Just like Jesus’ gospel. There are consequences.

Hosea 8

A chapter of “you’re gonna get it”. It’s where the phrase “sow the wind, reap the whirlwind” comes from. And that is a summary of the content.

Which gives a moral to the suffering of the Israelites that our current pandemic doesn’t have. I feel theologically numb to it. I googled and the first link was pretty good, a new York Times article Where Is God in a Pandemic?

…the overall confusion for believers is encapsulated in what is called the “inconsistent triad,” which can be summarized as follows: God is all powerful, therefore God can prevent suffering. But God does not prevent suffering. Therefore, God is either not all powerful or not all loving

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/22/opinion/coronavirus-religion.html

The answer it turns out is that the author doesn’t know God’s purpose in this pandemic. Best answer he can give. He’s still rather follow Jesus than not, and so would I. But Hosea makes a provocative contrast.

Kelly noted the other day the irony that this plague had meant that Passover was cancelled.

So we wait it out, and I don’t take it as retribution for our sins.

Hosea 7

Israel is hot like an oven… Like an overheated economy, but it’s rejection of God is overheated too. It’s described as burned by the idol worshipping culture The king gets drunk and, inflamed by the wine, joins in on it with abandon.

They are compared to a loaf that no one turned over, so burned on one side and not cooked at all on God’s side.

It’s still a thing, where your worldly side is overdone and your spiritual side is barely cooked at all.

Then they are compared to a dove. The dove is senseless and easily misled, and the comparison shows the worldliness up for hollowness. It’s not sophisticated, it’s naive.

Grace is missing. God longs to forgive them, but their sin is ever before him. This phrase turns up a lot of in the old testament, and I never thought about it much. But in this passage it spells out how it is when God can’t forget their sin.

This is the consequence of their sacrifices being empty. Ours can’t be, because Jesus is our lamb.

And grace is not unknown in the O.T. David wrote that God not only proved his sin, but also removed it from him as far as the East is from the West.

But these people are crying out to their false gods, ritually cutting themselves for gods they should know to be false, to seek a good harvest, all the while the empty sacrifices to the Lord continue.

God can’t forget their sin. Jesus’ incarnation is the ultimate expression of God’s longing to do so.

I still know what it is to be inflamed with wine and abandon God. Salvos view alcohol as a thing that can enslave us. And we are free, why do that?

Cheap grace is better than no grace, but it’s still bad.

It’s hard to know how these prophesies land for me. I read them feeling like a bystander to their connection of sin and punishment.

We have disasters of biblical proportions going off all the time at the moment. This virus pandemic in 2020 is certainly cooling the oven. But I resist drawing a simple line between sin and flu, which Jeremiah, Hosea, Ezekiel and the gang wouldn’t have hesitated to do.

Hmmm.

I continue to resist. But I need a better theology of judgement and “acts of God”.

Hosea 6

A friend of mine who is a salvation army officer told me a story about preaching while dealing with her son discovering he was going blind. She described the experience as her own words sounding to her like “blah blah blah”.

This is a beautiful chapter.

By the way, it’s striking how much is prophesy is poetry. Very little prose. Advertising copy counts as poetry these days I suppose, but it’s not the go-to form for press conferences. Trump, funnily enough, talks in a poetic kind of way: not factually accurate, but full of resonance and emotional truth for his supporters. He is always a salesman. And God must always “sell” his message of love to us, because we have skeptical hearts.

First section is a picture and promise of god’s love. Short term, healing, restoring, reviving. Described as a three day process, that people have said parallels Easter.

Then living in god’s presence, compared to the sun rising and seasonal rains in winter and in spring.

Beautiful. Then a section on the emptiness of Israel. It is despairing. Their love for god is like morning mist or disappearing dew compared to the constancy of the seasons in the previous passages. They fall back into the prostitution of other god’s so fast.

That is why God must use the cutting words of the prophets. Priests are likened to bandits, lying in wait to trap travelers. Key verse:

I desire mercy, not sacrifice,

    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

V6

Which leads me back to my friend, who was sufficiently spooked by the experience of preaching her hollow sermon that she stepped back from teaching for a while.

The externals are meaningless if the inside is hollow. The pandemic is exhausting my brain. And I’m still a sinner, as it turns out. But God can forgive if I stay alive to the Spirit. Stay alive.

I pray about my response, focus. Don’t obsess on information to the extent that it overwhelms my mind. Stay in the moment with the Lord and with those around me.

And lord, keep the vulnerable safe.

Hosea 5

I’ve stumbled in writing about this chapter, which describes god’s judgement like a lion attack. There’s no where to hide from god’s judgement.

The realisation is sinking in that there is no avoiding this pandemic. I should diarise my journey through this dramatic moment in world history. For many, it is judgement day, timewise… Their time is up.

It’s a lot to process. I’m thankful that daisy is coming home from her holiday in Japan, world travel is going down to a trickle.

I’ve started the three month contract at work. The working conditions in my new team are good, positive vibe. It might be a hard time for job searching, with business shrinking all over. Well see what comes, it is the least of my worries right now.

Preserve us Father through this crisis. I keep thinking about vulnerable people I love, keep them safe.

Show us how to care for one another, increase our thoughtfulness and compassion, it’s easy to become self focussed during times of upheaval.

Reassure me of your love, father God.

Hosea 4

Aboriginal people at work were explaining totems to me. You don’t eat your totem. To my friend’s mob, kangaroos were sacred. So as well as being a complex tapestry of different languages and countries, this culture saw Australia as a tapestry of different animal sanctuaries.

That blew my mind a bit. It’s abundance thinking, recognising that, as long as you don’t get greedy, the regenerative machine of God’s creation will provide enough for all forever. A practical way of ensuring God’s will is done on earth as in heaven: God gave us all these animals. If you respect that gift enough to never kill all of any one kind, you’ll have them forever. And that is personally expressed through being bought up having an empathic affinity with a particular animal.

Today’s passage is about the corruption and greed of all Israel. God won’t allow them to point fingers at each other. You’re all equally bad, the passage says.

It explains God’s choice of prostitution to make the point, because the religious practises they had adopted in defiance of God’s revelation literally involved a lot of prostitution. Their spirituality and their economy was built on it. Sacred and secular, almost everyone complicit in this deep corruption of their society.

I say almost everyone, because the prophesy will not allow the double standard of victim blaming:

“I will not punish your daughters

    when they turn to prostitution,

nor your daughters-in-law

    when they commit adultery,

because the men themselves consort with harlots”

V14

Very clear that Hosea’s story was not about “slut shaming” Gomer, wife and prostitute, but exposing the exploitative patriarchy she was born into.

I thought: our society isn’t as bad as that. There is a lot of good. We aren’t as corrupt as Israel was. And I don’t know the answer. But I’ll tell you, greed is on the up and up.

Look at toilet paper. When the history of the 2020 pandemic is told, the ridiculous toilet paper crisis in Australia may be forgotten.

But you can’t find it anywhere. Most Australians seemingly decided that the way to stock up for the possibility of 2 weeks of quarantine was to buy about a years worth of toilet paper, so the shops are currently empty of it.

This is not abundance thinking, it’s selfish greed, admittedly fuelled by panic. But the toilet paper thing seems like a prophetic symbol worthy of the old testament in a world where inequality is dramatically rising, and political movements based on xenophobia keep winning elections.

God promises that the world does have enough for everybody, if we can just be less greedy. But still, greed is rampant.

And sexual exploitation is in this weird place. It’s more harshly condemned than ever in my lifetime, via #metoo and the demarginalising of all kinds of sexual preferences. But at the same time the internet swirls with unprecedented access to it. But I suppose no weirder than the contradiction of Hosea’s marriage. Plus ca change..

So our spiritual health is patchy perhaps, but not great, not at all.

Prophesy is about being God’s presence. WWJD. We’re good for toilet paper.