The Trouble with Hosea

Hosea 1:2-10 and 11:1-11
July 24 and 31, 2016
Pentecost 10 and 11

The book of Hosea is an extended rant by a God who is mad with love for a covenant partner, mad with hurt for that partner’s unfaithfulness, just plain mad at human stupidity and arrogance.

God doesn’t just use words, though there are a lot of words in the book. God makes Hosea do crazy and heartbreaking things. God makes Hosea give his own flesh to show God’s wounds.

The book of Hosea is erotic, both sexual and sensual. Chapter 1 is about Hosea and Gomer, the prophet and the apparently unredeemed prostitute. She bears three children for purely prophetic purposes. It seems Hosea fathers the firstborn.
It’s not clear who begets the second and third children. In Chapter 3, God orders Hosea to fall in love with another unfaithful partner. In fact, Hosea buys her, and tries to enforce celibacy on her! Neither the practical nor the prophetic purpose of that is clear.

By Chapter 11 it seems God is looking for a new way to communicate and argue with the people. No longer the heartbroken, dishonoured husband incarnated in Hosea. God is now a frustrated, forsaken mother whose breasts still ache from nursing her ungrateful children.

In the midst of this lovesickness are some of the most poignant words in scripture (11:8-9). ‘I want to hate you, but I can’t.’ Why not? Those last words were my paraphrase. Here’s the text: “for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” The footnote in my Bible says the meaning of that last word is uncertain. Maybe it means hurt, or woundedness, or heartbreak, womb ache. Maybe it means murderous rage. Maybe all of the above.

God loves us because that’s who God is. It has nothing to do with who we are, what we might become, or anything we can give back to God to prove we’re worthy of love or know we need forgiveness. We like to imagine God has a heart, maybe is a heart. We also have to admit we break that heart. Maybe it’s permanently broken. Maybe that’s who God is, too.

In this strange book God takes on the role of a partner who is treated worse than dirt, but won’t break the covenant of marriage. God speaks like a parent who will not let go of her children, even if they won’t return her calls or open her letters in the homes they’ve made far away from her.

How do we preach this? All those words about whores and whoredom might scare away summer visitors. I encourage preachers to give at least one sermon to Hosea. Talk about love and faithfulness. Talk about forgiveness. Talk about heartbreak, and hope that never dies, even when pain lives on with it.

Maybe there will be someone in your summer congregation who really believes God is so mad at her that God has given up on her. She needs to hear that’s not so. Maybe someone will get the message that it’s OK to hate what someone he loves has done, but he can go on loving with all the love he has left. Maybe someone will come, convinced by experience that God doesn’t love at all, and hear about God’s love in a new key. So tell the story.

The book of Hosea ends, in Chapter 14, with words of invitation and promise. God has every right, and all the right weapons, to punish and destroy the people. Instead, God speaks as a gardener, promising new life, beauty, and the fruit of faithfulness. God is done ranting, and just wants to work the soil.

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About Laurence DeWolfe

Rev. Dr. Laurence DeWolfe is minister at Glenview, Toronto.