Thursday, October 11, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Hosea 1-3 and John 6:1-21

Introductory Information for Hosea: Hosea was a contemporary of Amos (8th c. BC), and lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His ministry began under the reign of Jeroboam II. He probably lived to see the destruction of the northern kingdom.

According to Lawrence Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament, the prophet Hosea “is unique among the prophets whose words have come down to us since he alone represents the thinking of a purely northern prophet.” His message is similar to Amos’ in that he lists the violations of justice, oppression of poor, and broken commandments that have alienated God from his beloved people over the years since the time of David; but there are differences too: “Hosea brings out the compassion of Yahweh and his sorrow at having to punish Israel for its sins . . .He really hopes that Israel will return to the Sinai covenant, and he uses many images taken from the desert wanderings to recall people’s memory to Yahweh” (320). He also uses legal language to exhort Israel to live up to its covenant agreement.

“For the first time, God’s relationship with Israel is described in terms of marriage, a figure most boldly chosen and passionately expressed by a prophet at once affectionate and fiery” (1135). The ruling classes are mostly to blame for the situation: the kings have degraded the nation; and the priests are leading the people to ruin. He thinks the “worship of Yahweh at Bethel is idolatrous worship; Yahweh is coupled with Baal and Astarte in the licentious rites of the high places” (1135). Yahweh is jealous and punishment is sure to come. But Yahweh is a god who “punishes only to save” (1135). He will welcome the people back when they repent.

The book is very influential with later prophets. “The wedding imagery of God’s love for his people is taken up by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the second part of Isaiah and the Song of Songs. The New Testament and the early Christian community apply it to the union between Christ and his Church. Christian mysticism has extended the application to the individual soul” (1135).

Hosea 1 – The call of Hosea is framed in a striking way – shocking to modern readers perhaps since “his wife” – probably just a figure of the unfaithful people Hosea is trying to shame – is introduced as a whore. Yahweh says to him, “’Go, marry a whore, and get children with a whore, for the country itself has become nothing but a whore by abandoning Yahweh’” (1:2).

He marries a woman named Gomer and they three children: Their names are Jezreel, “Unloved” and “Not-My-People.” Jezreel was a city associated with a terrible crime of murder against the royal family of Israel by Jehu and his assumption of the throne; “Unloved” represents the Lord’s refusal to love the people of Israel because they are so unfaithful to Him, and “Not-My-People” also represents this same divide.

But despite the harshness of the images Hosea uses as “figures” of the terrible spiritual decay in Israel, Hosea injects a promise of change in the future. “’You are not my people,’ but the day is coming when [God] will say to them, ‘You are the children of the living God!’ The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited. The will choose for themselves a single leader, and once again they will grow and prosper in their land” (1:10-11).

Hosea 2  - These children of the unfaithful wife are told to denounce their mother for her unfaithfulness. Hosea speaks his message in the context of this bad “marriage” but what he seems to be saying is that the leaders of the nation – those from whom the children are learning nothing but things that separate them from the love of their father – are deceived about where the good fruits of life flow from. They have brought idolatry into the religion of the northern kingdom, and God will make them pay. “I mean to make her [unfaithful spouse] for all the days when she burnt offerings to the Baals and decked herself with rings and necklaces to court her lovers, forgetting me. It is Yahweh who is speaking” (2:15).

But this will not be forever. One day “she will say, ‘I will go back to my first husband, I was happier then than I am today’.” When that day comes, “I will betroth you to myself forever, betroth you with integrity and justice, with tenderness and love”(2:21). And to the children of this troubled marriage will be seen differently. They will be loved again and people who truly belong to their Father.

Hosea 3 – God will take back his faithless wife and test her again. She will have to patiently wait during a time of uncertainty – compared by Hosea to a time in the future when the people of Israel will have to wait without a king and without the traditional worship they have known. But eventually they will “come back; they will seek Yahweh their God and David their king; they will come trembling to Yahweh, come for his good things in those days to come” (3:5).

And in the future “the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted.” They will be called “sons of the living God” and they will be one people, not two kingdoms.

John 6:1-21 - Jesus goes to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd follows him because of the signs he has performed. He goes up a mountain and sits down there with disciples. It is near the feast of Passover. Jesus asks Philip where they can get bread to fee the people; he says this just to test him it says, for he actually knows what he intends to do. Philip answers that it would be very costly to buy food for everyone there. Andrew tells Jesus they only have five loaves and two fish.

But Jesus sits them all on "the grass" - all 5000 of them. Jesus distributes the loaves and fishes until everyone id satisfied. The "fragments" are then collected, twelve baskets full. When the people realize what he has done they say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world” (6:14). I love these stories of Jesus feeding so many with so little. To me it represents just how little of God's touch people really need to feel His presence and nourishment in their lives.

Jesus withdraws to the mountain again when he realizes they intend to try and make him a king. That evening, the disciples get into a boat and start across the Sea without Jesus. The sea is rough.  When they are out about 3-4 miles, they see him approaching them on the water. They are terrified. He says, “It is I; do not be afraid” (6:20). They arrive immediately on the other side.

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