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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Hosea Sees Only Self-serving Misleaders

In the previous post, I pointed out that the prophet had identified the priests and king as the cause and core of Israel’s sins, the target of divine judgment.  This argument emerged in the opening four chapters, and was summarized by the opening words of chapter 5.

Hear this, O priests!
  Give heed, O house of Israel!
Listen, O house of the king!
  For the judgment pertains to you;
for you have been a snare at Mizpah,
  and a net spread upon Tabor,
and a pit dug deep in Shittim;
  but I will punish all of them.

The misleaders are laying traps for the people.  They are the tempters.  They strategize as hunters who set up snares, who spread nets and lie in wait, who dig pits and cover them with brush.  God is fed up with their scheming.

Now Hosea extends the condemnation to Judah as well.  Israel and Judah are two of a kind.  Although Judah may not have done all the same things, the sins of both kingdoms are alike.  Both are led by people who live in contradiction to God’s laws.  They both act like adulterous lovers.  The deeper they go into their sinfulness, the more they found themselves facing external oppressors, harmed and injured by their own plans, and growing more rotten as each day passes.  Assyria, the hoped-for protector, has its own designs on the future of Israel and of Judah.

Chapter 6 opens with the voice of Israel saying, “Let us return to the Lord.”  Admitting that their hardships and judgment may originate in God, they are hoping that showing more faithfulness may lead to healing.  They admit they do not know God as they should.  Have they been listening to what Hosea has said?  Do they admit they have failed in helping the people know God?  Don’t get your hopes up.

Hosea responds in the voice of God, saying, “Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early.”  Even their proposed repentance is self-serving.  They just want to get relief from their mess.  They are still strategizing.  They are trying to hedge their bets.  Maybe if they play nice with God, they can get back on their feet, get their edge back, get their mojo working again.  God will have none of it.  Much like Isaiah or Amos, Hosea says that the empty practice of temple rituals, pretended worship, is of no value to God.  One of the most famous lines of the entire Hosea oracle appears in chapter 6:  “For I desire love and not sacrifice, knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Hosea then begins to list the sins of Israel and Judah.  These sins, he says, go all the way back to Adam, but they are multiplying in this time.  The priests and king have broken the covenant and turned to other protectors, other gods, other laws.  They have been faithless in their dealings.  Negotiating in bad faith is just another way to call someone a liar.  Such people never meant to do what they promised.  It is the way of a colonizing power with the indigenous people:  say whatever it takes to gain an advantage, then stab them in the back at the end.  They were faithless toward God, trying to manipulate God to do them favors.  They were faithless in their leadership duties, twisting their official power for personal gain.  All around there was evildoing.  Faithlessness implies the promise of good with covert scheming to undermine it.  Evildoing implies overt and direct harm toward others.

Things were so bad that the cities were “tracked with blood.”  Tracking blood means that pools are on the ground to be stepped in and spread as the violent evildoers run away.  Priests and royal courtiers are in the midst of this evil.  Priests lie in wait like robbers, using their power to demand payment, sucking up the livelihoods of people who long to draw near to God.  They are like murderers.  Their crimes are monstrous.  Using the façade of the Temple cultus, they have created systems and structures of organized crime.  The royal family and courtiers have done the same.  Rather than being servants to the people, they are serving other interests.  They sneak around on their responsibilities to line their pockets and solidify their political power.

Chapter 7 continues to provide a laundry list of sinfulness.  Again, Israel’s king and court deal falsely.  They do not protect the people.  Inside the city, thieves break into homes with impunity.  Outside the city, bandits raid the people in the countryside.  The King, it is implied, may even get a cut of this widespread criminal activity.  Gild the palm of the security apparatus, and the gold finds its way to the top, thus making the king glad.  Royal officials enjoy all their treachery.  It is the game of power, fun for all who play.  They are so corrupted and debauched that their duties are dissipated in drunkenness.  They drink until they are sick.  They get drunk and behave badly.  It is no wonder that the dynasties of the Northern Kingdom continue to end with bloody coups d’etat.  Their evil is so intense it is like a hot oven that burns all day.

Blinded by their self-serving actions, they turn to foreign alliances for protection and hope.  They can’t see that by trusting in God they would find a path to peace.  Instead, these who have behaved as hunters scheming to trap their own people will soon become trapped in the snares and nets of Assyria.  Their actions are senselessly setting themselves up for destruction.  They look silly going from one alliance to another like a weakling, a bird that will easily be ensnared or entrapped.  They reject the ways of God, but they can’t even tell the truth about who God is or what God expects.  Desperate, they whine, cry, cut themselves, shout with rage, but still rebel against God.  As the likelihood of an advancing imperial army draws ever nearer, they still cannot shut up their corrupt, raging, rebellious gibberish.

There is a right way for people to live together.  It involves serving one another and seeking common good.  When leaders and powerful people of Israel or any society turn away from their calling to become self-serving, it gets bad for everyone.  When a wealthy elite gains ever more wealth and power, a reckoning cannot be far away.  Hosea was doing his dead-level best to get the leaders of Israel to turn things around.  The response was not promising.

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