Thoughts on Hosea

I still don’t have internet at home, which is hampering my blogging activity somewhat. But I’m hunkered down at work this afternoon trying to make all of the necessary cyber connections before I go back into my own beautiful and unconnected wilderness.

So here are some thought’s on this coming Sunday’s Lectionary passage from Hosea. You can find the entire sermon here, and a related Call to Worship here.

– – –

It seems that Hosea can’t quite decide if God is punishing or saving the people: “God has torn us to pieces, but will heal us.” “Will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent?” “All my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger.”

According to Hosea, the people of Israel are sinners in the hands of an ambivalent God; a God who cannot decide whether to punish or save. A God at once angry and full of compassion. It’s a confusing book to read if you are looking for theological answers about God’s response to sin. . . .

I have to be honest with you about this book. I find the whole “marry a whore” thing terribly troublesome in terms of the attitude it presents toward women in general and the dehumanization of Hosea’s wife, Gomer, in particular. I find the words about God destroying people quite troubling. Hosea would probably be one of my least favorite books in the Bible . . . except for one day in Dr. Koch’s seminary class.

Dr. Koch was my New Testament professor at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He had also been my Dad’s New Testament professor at Eastern. He was not a particularly dynamic or emotional man. I began entertaining myself in his class by making a list of odd, quaint words and phrases he would use like: sticky wicket, fly in the ointment, and penchant.

I can’t tell you why we were talking about Hosea in New Testament class. But I distinctly remember this slight, gray-haired man telling us about the prophet. How he married a prostitute and loved her. Just the way God loved and continues to love God’s people despite our unfaithfulness, despite our sin. And as he talked about the message of Hosea, he had tears in his eyes.

I’ve had a soft spot for the old guys ever since–both Dr. Koch and Hosea.

While Dr. Koch’s tearful account of the message of Hosea was oversimplified, while it neglected a lot of the complicated and troubling aspects of the prophet’s life and message, I think he latched on to the central image from the prophet: God as parent.

We heard this lovely metaphor from the eleventh chapter of Hosea:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.”

This metaphor of God as loving parent cannot, of course, answer all of our theological questions or iron out all of the sticky wickets we run into when we think about our sin and God’s response to it. Still, I think it is a helpful metaphor. Good, loving parents respond to their children’s disobedience, or sin, in different ways at different times. Sometimes they do punish their children–with the hope of helping the child avoid more serious consequences in the future. Sometimes they let their children suffer natural consequences. And sometimes they swoop in and shield the child from consequences that seem too harsh, too hard.

And so perhaps God also punishes and allows consequences and shields us.

I still think Hosea is a troublesome, conflicted book. Yet in the midst of the theological chaos, two truths seems clear:

1) Human beings sin–we hurt each other; we damage our relationship with God.

2) God loves us deeply. Anyway. Always.

Thanks be to God.


Weekly Worship Piece

These radiant fall colors are one way that God bends down to nourish me.

Our disciple for the week is Mary Magdalene! I’m not preaching, but I did write a call to worship, based on Hosea 11:3-4:

Holy One,
Teach us to walk on your path.
Gather us in your arms.
Heal our bodies and heal our spirits.
Lead us with cords of kindness
and encircle us with bands of love.
During this time of worship,
Lift us toward your Divine face.
Bend down to nourish us for the coming journey.

And for those of you on lectionary, here’s a call based on Psalm 34.


I will admit that I was a bit skeptical going into the Mennonite Women’s retreat this past Friday evening. In my experience, women’s retreats are kind of like that little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. You remember the rhyme? When she was good, she was very very good; but when she was bad, she was horrid.

I am happy to report that this retreat, put on by Laurelville and Mennonite Women USA, was far from horrid. There was passionate preaching by Meghan Good. Authentic worship leading by Tonya Keim Bartel. So many women shared their gifts to create this retreat. I thank each of them.

Our focus for the weekend was the book of Hosea. We were told over and over again that God loves us passionately. That God pursues us. That we are God’s beloved and that God longs to be our beloved. This is a good, holy, important message. I expect to carry it with me. I expect it to give me hope and strength and renewed passion for life and ministry.

Yet even beyond this message, what I rejoiced in this weekend was the company of women. The company of faithful, gifted, prayerful women.

Our supposedly enlightened culture constantly pushes women to see ourselves as being in competition with other women. From beauty pageants and dating games to “Good Housekeeping” and super mom blogs. We’re supposed to be the most beautiful. Or the best mom. Or the most organized. Or at least the funniest. I read recently that most teenage girls start to feel depressed and inferior within about three minutes of reading a “beauty” magazine. I imagine it’s the same for grown women.

What a privilege to be in a group of women for an entire weekend and not feel that I was in competition with anyone for anything. We all sang. We all danced. We all shared wisdom around the table. Most of us made art of one sort or another. And I just kept hearing the word “beautiful.” The singing was beautiful. The dancing was beautiful. The words were beautiful. The art was beautiful. Not because we were a bunch of American Idol contestants or professional artists, but because we knew each other. We knew the inner beauty from which the music, dancing, words, and art flowed.

Throughout the entire weekend, the only comment I even heard about physical appearance was from a lovely older woman with stunning white hair. “I love your auburn hair,” she told me. “My hair used to be that color when I was young.”

This is the journal I made during the retreat. (Thanks, Tonya!)

Within about 20 minutes of getting home this afternoon, I found myself alone in the house. Everyone has run off in different directions. The dog is not even barking. This quiet house is a gift from God as I transition from “retreat” mode back into “real life” mode. (You retreat-lovers know what I mean.)

In this quiet, God is revealing to me the truth that, while I will not have a retreat setting every weekend, I will have the friendship and prayers of many wonderful women as I continue on the path. And I can choose to surround myself with women (and men, I really like men too) of faith and prayer and love. I can refuse to compete as a writer or mother or preacher. (Beauty competitions have never been my thing anyway.)

I pray that you have a space in your life where you can rest in your belovedness. A space where you are not in competition. A space where you are not expected to be someone besides who God created you to be. If there is a person in your life who lets you be in that space, consider scheduling a lunch date with her (or him).

And may the peace of Christ be with you.