What images might you use to describe what God is like? Sometimes we compare him to a judge, a teacher, or a policeman - and so we try hard to obey God because we fear the punishment if we fail. But how does God describe himself?
Up to this point in Hosea, the image has been of a loving husband with an unfaithful wife. Now the Lord switches to another familiar image: the father of a wayward son. The father's passion for his child expresses itself both in the tender language with which he recalls the past (vs 1-4) and also in the frustration he feels regarding the son's present conduct and its consequences (v 8). There is deep anguish in the heart of God.
Hurt by rejection
If we're honest, we don't often think of God this way when we have erred. We're more likely to be hiding in the bushes like Adam and Eve, hoping the Lord won't notice our sin. Or we come to God in fear, expecting some kind of cosmic beating!
In reality, our Father is hurt when we reject him by preferring to live our own way; it pains him to watch as we suffer the consequences of our sin.
'Our Father .' As Jesus taught us, so we have prayed. Jesus, of course, had, and has, a special relationship with God the Father, but he invited his followers, as his friends, into that relationship. As they would have recognised, steeped as they were in the Hebrew Scriptures, this was in tune with the way God spoke of his chosen nation as his children. Today's passage is one example, a beautiful, touching and complex exploration of that relationship. It begins with the defining memory of God's liberating action in Exodus - a verse, incidentally, echoed in Matthew's telling of the Christmas story (Matthew 2:14,15). As we remember from the Exodus story, the gratitude didn't last (Exodus 16:1-3).
The same is true of Hosea's listeners. Why the constant disobedience and idolatry? Sometimes sin can take on the features of an addiction; at other times it can just seem too normal to notice. Who were the Baalim, and why were they so seductive? At one level, they can easily be confused with God himself. The actual word means 'Lord' or 'master' in a number of Semitic languages; and so it might imply a generic idea of God, stripped of the personal, as well as the fertility gods of the neighbouring tribes.
There is another related point, brought into focus by Cooper and Goldingay's experiment described in Wednesday's note. They note 'in 11.9 Yahweh claims that he is not "a man", 'ish. Commentators have either assumed or stated that the text really means that Yahweh is not human, 'adam. Gomer's perspective has made us take seriously the text's actual words at this point and link it to Yahweh's wanting to be Israel's "man" her 'ish, rather than her master.'1 So, our relationship with God - figured as our father or husband, creator and sustainer - is so much more than the impoverishing worship of a fertility figure, who might be appeased enough to send the rain or help us conceive.
1 See Philip R Davies, First Person: Essays in Biblical Autobiography, Continuum, 2002
Over on Alt today, and every day during Advent, we're retelling the Christmas story with a series of Bible-based animations, designed by Jon Birch and narrated by Russell Boulter. We think they're great, and we hope you agree! Why not take a look now?
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