The prophet Hosea lived approximately 769-697 BCE and his focused message from God relates primarily with Israel’s worship practices – especially their relationship with the Canaanite gods. These worship practices were not innocent in nature. It’s not like they showed up at a different temple and sat through a sermon on some foreign god and then went on their way. Rather, the Canaanite religion was a fertility religion in which “sexual activity at outdoor shrines to encourage the gods to grant productive crops, livestock, and families” was a key feature. (Source: Lutheran Study Bible, pg. 1447).
That doesn’t match up well with following Yahweh. Such worship practices were seen as something on par with adultery against Yahweh. Which is why the very beginning of the book of Hosea starts this way: “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.’” (Hosea 1:2)
Worship of other gods was considered an act of infidelity. Idolatry is not just putting something else first in place of God. It is uniting oneself with that thing in a false relationship, replacing the closeness and vulnerability that is shared with God. Idolatry is not something to be taken lightly in the Hebrew scriptures. And yet, the scriptures give us story after story of Israel’s infidelity and idolatry. But before we point fingers at Israel of the ancient past, we should be really careful to avoid thinking that we are somehow superior and don’t fall for such things. While our society doesn’t come out and promote literal gods and idols, there are plenty of these things abounding that demand our attention, loyalty, and sacrifice. The only question is what we are sacrificing to these false gods and idols.
And while it may seem like humanity is hopelessly addicted to false gods and idols, there is Good News. The passage for Sunday reassures us. God speaks through the prophet Hosea to remind his hearers of God’s compassion in spite of Israel’s (and our) ingratitude.
God speaks words of family relationship through Hosea talking about the long view and the importance of the ties between Yahweh and Israel. God speaks of caring for and parenting Israel from early on citing first steps, feedings, cuddling, and more. God the parent of Israel yearns deeply for God’s child expressing this in ways that only a parent could: “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hosea 11:8)
Questions for reflection:
It’s not pleasant to think about how we “cheat” on God with other gods and idols. These are opportunities to confess our weakness towards these shiny objects that grab our attention and our hearts. The deeper question for us to reflect on is why? What is the hole within us that we are seeking to fill? And what promises are we listening to from elsewhere that we think will fill those holes in our lives? In spite of this, God is faithful to and with us. How does God turn you back, to listen, to change, to seek God?