Archive for the ‘Hosea 3’ Category

Judah’s History of Sin: The Not-Safe-For-Work Version   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART IX

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Ezekiel 16:1-63

Ezekiel 20:1-44

Ezekiel 23:1-49

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This project of reading the Book of Ezekiel is part of a larger project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order.  I know already, based on this larger project alone, that the Hebrew prophetic books are repetitive.  For example, idolatry is, metaphorically, sexual–prostitution and/or adultery.  This metaphorical prostitution is, functionally, pagan temple prostitution, common in the ancient Near East into New Testament times (from Genesis 38:15 to 1 Corinthians 6:15f).  Also, much of the language of this sexual metaphor is Not Safe for Work (NSFW) and replete with shaming.

The Bible is not G-rated.

Ezekiel 16 is not G-rated.  It uses the marital metaphor, also present in Isaiah 8:5-8; Isaiah 49-54; Isaiah 66:7-14; Jeremiah 2-3; Hosea 1-3; Zephaniah 3:14-20.

Robert Alter provides perhaps the most memorable synopsis of Ezekiel 16:

Among the themes of Ezekiel’s prophecies, the most striking expression of neurosis is his troubled relation to the female body.  Real and symbolic bodies become entangled with each other.  In biblical poetry, a nation, and Israel in particular, is quite often represented as a woman.  God’s covenant with Israel–see Jeremiah 1–is imagined as a marriage, and so the bride Israel’s dalliance with pagan gods is figured as adultery or whoring.  This is a common trope in biblical literature, but the way Ezekiel articulates it is both startling and unsettling.

The most vivid instance of this psychological twist in Ezekiel is the extended allegory of whoring Israel in chapter 16.  The allegory here follows the birth of the nation in Canaan–represented with stark physicality in the image of the infant girl naked and wallowing in the blood of afterbirth, then looked after by a solicitous God–to her sexual maturity and her betrayal of God through idolatry.  The focus throughout is on Israel as a female sexual body.  Thus, the prophet notes (as does no other biblical writer) the ripening of the breasts and the sprouting of pubic hair.  The mature personification of the nation is a beautiful woman, her beauty enhanced by the splendid attire God gives her (this is probably a reference to national grandeur and to the Temple).  Yet, insatiably lascivious, she uses her charms to entice strangers to her bed:  “you spilled out your whoring” (given the verb used and the unusual form of the noun, this could be a reference to vaginal secretions) “upon every passerby.”  Israel as a woman is even accused of harboring a special fondness for large phalluses:  “you played the whore with the Egyptians, your big-membered neighbors.”  She is, the prophet says, a whore who asks for no payment for her services.  “You befouled your beauty,” he inveighs, “and spread your legs for every passerby.”  All this concern with female promiscuity is correlative with Ezekiel’s general preoccupation with purity and impurity.

It is of course possible to link each of these sexual details with the allegory of an idolatrous nation betraying its faith.  But such explicitness and such vehemence about sex are unique in the Bible.  The compelling inference is that this was a prophet morbidly fixated on the female body and seething with fervid misogyny.  What happens in the prophecy in chapter 16 is that the metaphor of the lubricious woman takes over the foreground, virtually displacing the allegorical referent.  Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.

The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019), 1051

Corinne L. Carvalho comments:

In Israel, spouses were not equal partners; women were legally and socially subservient to their husbands.  Betrothal and marriage were contractual arrangements by which a woman became the exclusive “property” of her husband, even before the actual marriage.  In practical terms, this meant that her husband was her sole sexual partner from the moment of betrothal.  Since men could have more than one wife, adultery occurred only when it involved a married woman; it was a crime, punishable by death, against the sole property rights of a wronged husband (Lev 18:20; 20:10; Deut 22:22).

Ezekiel 16 plays on these elements of marriage.  God is the one who owns Jerusalem, and Jerusalem owes him her exclusive allegiance and fidelity.  Anything less gives him the legal right to punish her.  Ezekiel 16 uses hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric to achieve a shocking literary effect.  Here, the author utilizes a common metaphor, the city as God’s wife, in ways that border on pornography.  (Modern translations tone down the sexually explicit language of the Hebrew texts.)  It is an image to provoke a response.

–in Daniel Durken, ed., The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), 1431

Ezekiel 16 concludes on a sexually graphic metaphor of future restoration (verses 59-63).  After all, to “know” is frequently a euphemism for sexual intimacy.

And I Myself will establish the covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD.

–Ezekiel 16:62, Robert Alter, 2019

Consider the following verse, O reader:

Thus you shall remember and feel shame, and you shall be too abashed to open your mouth again, when I have forgiven you, for all that you did–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 16:63, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

I feel too abashed after reading Ezekiel 16.

My library contains a variety of editions and versions of the Bible.  The Children’s Living Bible (1972) is one of these.  The artwork depicts a smiling Jesus holding lost-and-found sheep, smiling at children wearing attire from 1972, and generally smiling.  The volume also includes Ezekiel 16.  I imagine a child reading Ezekiel 16 and asking a horrified parent about the contents of that chapter.  I also imagine that parent’s horror that the tyke was reading a volume that included the term, “son of a bitch” (1 Samuel 20:30).  Just wait for Ezekiel 23!

Ezekiel 20 continues the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  The text dwells on the sabbath.  This suggests that the sabbath had become important, as a substitute for the Temple, during the Babylonian Exile.  The sabbath is foundational in the covenant.  The sabbath is also a sign of a free person in the context of liberation from slavery in Egypt.  And to keep the sabbath is to emulate God, the creator and original keeper of the sabbath.

God, as depicted in Ezekiel 20, is not worthy of emulation, respect, love, and awe:

  1. God, according to 20:9, 14, 22, and 44, acts selfishly, to preserve the divine reputation.
  2. God gave the people “laws that were not good and rules by which they could not live (20:25) then promised to destroy the people as punishment for obeying the bad laws and disobeying the impossible rules (20:26).

Chapter 20 exists in the shadow of Ezekiel 18–about individual moral accountability to God.  The verdict on the people of Judah, in the yet-future context of the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) is damning.

Ezekiel 20 concludes on a note of future restoration, but not for the sake of the covenant people:

Then, O House of Israel, you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for My name’s sake–not in accordance with your evil ways and corrupt acts–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 20:44, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

I wonder how many agnostics and atheists grew up devout, with this understanding of God, or one close to it.  That theology may explain their current spiritual status as they properly reject that understanding of God yet go too far and remain out of balance.

Ezekiel 23 returns to the imagery of idolatry as harlotry.  It also returns to the category of Not Safe for Work.  (What was it with Ezekiel and sex?)  Break out the plain brown wrappers again, O reader!  The text speaks of the Babylonian Exile as punishment for persistent, collective, and unrepentant idolatry.

Some G-rated details (There are some.) require explanation:

  1. Samaria, the capital of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, is, metaphorically, Oholeh, “her tent.”  One may recall that, in the theology of the Hebrew Bible, the Presence of God dwelt in a text then in the Temple.  We read of the fall of the Kingdom of Israel and of the causes of that collapse.
  2. Jerusalem, the capital of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, is, metaphorically, Oholibah, “my tent is in her.”
  3. Ezekiel 23 condemns the kingdoms’ foreign alliances.  This is an old Hebrew prophetic theme, albeit one other prophets presented in less graphic terms.

I try to maintain a spiritual and theological equilibrium.  The God of Ezekiel 16, 20, and 23 is a self-absorbed, abusive, and misogynistic monster.  This is not my God-concept.  Neither is the God of my faith anything like a cosmic teddy bear or a warm fuzzy.  No, the God of my faith holds judgment and mercy in balance.  I do not pretend to know where that balance is or where it should be.  The God of my faith also loves all people and models selflessness.  Neither is the God of my faith a misogynist or any kind of -phobe or bad -ist.  The model for the God of my faith is Jesus of Nazareth, God Incarnate.  I read stories of Jesus having harsh words for those who deserved them and compassion for the desperate.  I understand Jesus as being stable, unlike Ezekiel, apparently.

Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.

–Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary (2019), 1051

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 8:  THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CORNELIUS HILL, ONEIDA CHIEF AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ARIALDUS OF MILAN, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC DEACON AND MARTYR, 1066

THE FEAST OF HUGH THOMSON KERR, SR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND LITURGIST; AND HIS SON, HUGH THOMSON KERR, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES MOFFATT, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND BIBLE TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE GEORGIAN, ABBOT; AND SAINTS EUTHYMIUS OF ATHOS AND GEORGE OF THE BLACK MOUNTAIN, ABBOTS AND TRANSLATORS

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Divine Judgment on Philistia, Phoenicia, Moab, Aram, Ethiopia, and Egypt, with Warnings Against Alliances with Egypt and Ethiopia   3 comments

Above:  Map of the Assyrian Empire

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART XII

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Isaiah 14:28-20:6; 23:1-18; 30:1-26; 31:1-9

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INTRODUCTION

Some of this material may have originated with Isaiah ben Amoz, but other material (if not all of it) came from a later time.  The First Isaiah (Chapters 1-23, 28-33) part of the Book of Isaiah came to exist in its final form of the Babylonian Exile.  The editing of the older material and the addition of old material created a multi-layered collection of texts.

I acknowledge this historical and literary reality without reservation.  I also focus on meanings.  Contexts–especially historical ones–are crucial for establishing a text’s original meaning.  One needs to do this before interpreting a text for today as effectively as possible.  Unfortunately, determining original historical context is not always possible in First Isaiah.  Still, I do the best I can.

If prophetic denunciations of Tyre/Philistia, Moab, and Aram/Damascus (Isaiah 14:28-17:14) seem familiar to you, O reader, you may be thinking of Amos 1:3-5; 1:9-10; and 2:1-3.

PHILISTIA

Isaiah 14:28 establishes a temporal marker:

In the year that King Ahaz died….

As I have written in previous posts in this series of posts about Hebrew prophetic books, establishing a coherent and consistent chronology on the Gregorian Calendar and the B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E. scale for the period from King Azariah/Uzziah of Judah and King Hezekiah of Judah is notoriously difficult.  If one consults three study Bibles, one may find three different sets of years for the reign of the same monarch.  Although study Bibles disagree about when King Ahaz began to reign, they agree that he died in or about 715 B.C.E.

Circa 715 B.C.E., Philistine cities, Assyrian vassals, were trying to forge a regional united front against the Assyrian Empire.  That empire had already swallowed up Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel in 720 and 722 .C.E., respectively.  The Kingdom of Judah, under King Hezekiah, did not join this alliance.  Circa 715 B.C.E., the Assyrian Empire was experiencing a period of temporary decline.

Do not rejoice, Philistia, not one of you,

that the rod which struck you is broken;….

–Isaiah 14:29a, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The rod was not broken, after all.  The Assyrian Empire had a resurgence of power, and the anti-Assyrian rebellion failed.

Anyway, the snake in Isaiah 29:b is a call back to the seraphim (poisonous snakes) from Numbers 21:1-9 and Deuteronomy 8:15, and alluded to in Isaiah 6:1-13.

Philistia’s hopes of throwing off the Assyrian yoke were in vain.

PHOENICIA (TYRE AND SIDON)

The Phoenicians (who deserve much credit for the alphabet in which I write this post) were seagoing merchants.  In fact, in the Bible, the association between Phoenicians and merchants was so strong that, in some texts, “Phoenicians” may refer to merchants, not ethnic-cultural Phoenicians.  Anyway, many Phoenician merchants were fabulously wealthy.

Isaiah 23:1-18 may be either a prophecy or a text written after the failed Phoenician rebellion against the Assyrian Empire in 701 B.C.E.  The text is, in any case, a mock lament.  The text criticizes Phoenicians for relying on their wealth and being arrogant, not relying on YHWH.  We read the Tyre, supposedly inviolable, fell.  We may legitimately consider this as a warning that Jerusalem, also supposedly inviolable, could fall, too.

It did, in 586. B.C.E.

MOAB

The temporal origin of Isaiah 15:1-16:13 is uncertain.  It may date to a time after Isaiah ben Amoz and refer to mourning after Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian military activity.  A similar text, a dirge for events circa 650 B.C.E., exists in Jeremiah 48.  There are also thematic connections with Numbers 21:27-30.

Moab, to the east of the Dead Sea, was where Jordan is today.  Moab was a traditional enemy of the Jewish people.  The (united) Kingdom of Israel controlled Moab.  The (northern) Kingdom of Israel fought off Moabite resistance to its control until the reign (851-842 B.C.E.) of King Joram (Jehoram) of Israel.  Then Moab regained its independence.  Circa 735 B.C.E., Moab became a vassal state of the Assyrian Empire.  In the middle of the seventh century B.C.E., Moab, as an autonomous state, ceased to exist.  Moab traded Assyrian domination for Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian domination in 609 B.C.E.  The last Moabite king’s reign ended circa 600 B.C.E. (Jeremiah 27:3).

Isaiah 16 encourages the Kings of Judah, part-Moabite (Ruth 1-4), to welcome Moabite refugees.

Isaiah 16 also includes some references that careful, attentive readers of the early prophets (Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah) should find familiar.  Verse 7 refers to raisin cakes offered to false gods (Hosea 3:1).  The royal government of Judah had a divine mandate to act justly, consistent with the Law of Moses (verses 1-5).  We read another condemnation of collective and official “haughtiness, pride, and arrogance” before God (verse 6).  And the remnant of Moab will be “very small and weak,” we read in verse 14.  The Moabite remnant contrasts with the Judean remnant.

E. D. Grohman wrote:

Archaeological exploration has shown that Moab was largely depopulated from ca. the beginning of the sixth century, and in many sites from ca. the eighth century.  From the sixth century on, nomads wandered through the land until political and economic facts made sedentary life possible again in the last centuries B.C.

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible:  An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, K-Q (1962), 418

ARAM/DAMASCUS

Aram (where Syria is today) was the main rival to the Assyrian Empire during the prophetic careers of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, and during the beginning of the prophetic career of First Isaiah.  After the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.), both the Kingdom of Aram and the (northern) Kingdom of Israel lost territory to the Assyrian Empire and became vassal states of that empire.  The Assyrian Empire conquered Israel in 722 B.C.E. and Aram in 720 B.C.E.

Truly, you have forgotten the God who saves you,

the Rock, your refuge, you have not remembered.

–Isaiah 17:10a, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

I will return to that theme before the end of this post.

ETHIOPIA AND EGYPT–REALLY CUSH/NUBIA

Modern place names do not always correspond to ancient place names.  The references to Ethiopia in Isaiah 18:1-7 and 20:1-6 are to Cush (where the Sudan is today).  On maps of the Roman Empire, the label is Nubia.

A Cushite/Nubian dynasty (the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty of Egypt) controlled Egypt at the time, so references to “Ethiopia” included Egypt.  That dynasty had invited the Kingdom of Judah to join its coalition against the Assyrian Empire circa 715 B.C.E.  Egypt/Cush/Nubia had replaced Aram as the main rival to the Assyrian Empire.  Judah, under King Hezekiah, did join this alliance, much to divine disapproval (Isaiah 30:1-5; 31:1-9).  Judean participation in this alliance was apparently an example of rebellion against God (Isaiah 28:14-22; 29:15-26; 30:6-7).  God was prepared to act against the Assyrian Empire, but not yet (Isaiah 18:1-7).

Isaiah 19 refers to the Cushite/Nubian conquest of Egypt and asserts divine sovereignty over Egypt:

The idols of Egypt tremble before him,

the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them.

Verse 1b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The theological-geopolitical agenda in the Egyptian/Cushite/Nubian material was to rely only on God, not on powerful neighbors that did not have Judah’s best interests at heart.  Trusting in God was the only way to maintain independence.  Empires rose and fell, but God would never fall.  And God was waiting to be gracious to Judah (Isaiah 30:18f).

For this said the Lord GOD,

the Holy One of Israel:

By waiting and by calm you shall be saved,

in quiet and trust shall be your strength.

But this you did not will.

–Isaiah 30:15, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

CONCLUSION

These passages reflect a particular geopolitical and historical set of circumstances.  As with the Law of Moses, one ought to be careful not to mistake examples bound by circumstances for timeless principles do exist.

If one expects me to extrapolate these readings into a condemnation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.) or the United Nations (U.N.), for example, I will disappoint such a person.  I live in the United States of America, not equivalent to any ancient kingdom, empire, or city-state.  I do not accept American Exceptionalism either, so I may disappoint another group of readers.  The same rules and moral standards that apply to other nation-states in 2021 also apply to the United States of America.

One timeless principle germane in this post is the imperative of trusting in God more than in people.  This applies both collectively and individually.  God is forever; people have relatively short lifespans.  Nation-states come and go.  Administrations come and go, also.  Even the most capable and benevolent leaders are imperfect.  They can still function as instruments of God, of course.  May they do so.  And may they know that they are “like grass.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST AND MARTYR, 166/167

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS, 309

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ROBINSON, MARMADUKE STEPHENSON, AND MARY DYER, BRITISH QUAKER MARTYRS IN BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, 1659 AND 1660

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God’s Case Against Israel, Part I: Bad Habits   Leave a comment

Above:  Cattle (Hosea 4:16)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HOSEA, PART IV

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Hosea 4:1-5:7

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The heading for Hosea 4:1-9:17 in The Oxford Study Bible, Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha (1992) is,

God’s case against Israel.

This is a legal case, given the language of accusation and reproof, which carries the connotation of hauling someone into court.  This language carries over from Hosea 2:2/2:4 (depending on versification),:

“To court, take your mother to court!….”

The Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019)

Then we got theological whiplash by changing the tone in Chapter 3 and switching back to judgment in Chapter 4.

Chapter 4 begins:

Hear the word of the LORD,

O people of Israel!

For the LORD has a case

Against the inhabitants of this land,

Because there is no honesty and no goodness

And no obedience to God in the land.

–Hosea 4:1-2, TANAKH: The Holy Scriptures (1985)

As I survey translations, I notice a variety of word choices in lieu of honesty, goodness, and obedience to God.

  1. The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) offers, in order, fidelity, loyalty, and knowledge of God.
  2. The Revised English Bible (1989) offers, in order, good faith, loyalty, and acknowledgment of God.
  3. The New Revised Standard Version (1989) offers, in order, faithfulness, loyalty, and knowledge of God.
  4. Robert Alter’s The Hebrew Bible (2019) offers, in order, truth, trust, and knowledge of the LORD.

I will unpack the three terms, in order.

  1. Truth/faithfulness/good faith/honesty refers to the trustworthiness expected of a judge, as in Exodus 18:21.
  2. Trust/loyalty/goodness refers to fidelity in human relationships, as in 1 Samuel 20:15.
  3. Knowledge of God/obedience to God/acknowledgment of God refers to marital intimacy.  The metaphors of marriage, sexual fidelity, and divorce are prominent in the Book of Hosea.

In other words, the covenantal relationship between God and Isaiah was broken.  Israel had broken it.

The priesthood was corrupt, too.  Some priests were devout and honest, of course, but corruption was rife.

Exegetes whose writings I have consulted disagree with each other about the alien or bastard children in 5:7.

  1. These offspring may be alien because of Israelite intermarriage with foreigners.
  2. But, O reader, do not forget the pervasive metaphors of marriage and divorce in the Book of Hosea.  We read that God has “cast off” Israel for sustained, collective infidelity to the divine covenant.
  3. The most likely explanation is that both answers apply.

The heart of 4:1-5:7 may reside in 5:4a:

Their habits do not let them

Turn back to their God;….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Alternative translations of the Hebrew word translated as “habits” include:

  1. Deeds (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989),
  2. Misdeeds (The Revised English Bible, 1989), and
  3. Acts (Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 2019).

Each of these translations has something to recommend it.  Yet I prefer “habits.”

Habitual behavior of the population had broken the covenant.

Human beings are creatures of habits.  May we, therefore, learn and nurture good habits, both individually and collectively.

I write this post at a particular moment, therefore certain issues occupy my mind.  The COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives needlessly around the world.  Whether to get vaccinated with a proven vaccine is, in the minds of many people with the option to get vaccinated, a politically partisan issue.  Public health policy, which should be just a matter of following science and saving lives, has become a matter of cynical politics for certain elected officials.  Varieties of hatred, often wrapped in Christian rhetoric, are on the rise.  Authoritarianism and objectively-inaccurate conspiracy theories are increasingly popular with most of those who identify with one of the two major political parties in the United States of America.  And speaking the objective truth about reality, as some members of that party do, is risky, if one hops to retain one’s leadership position within that party.

Bad habits separate individuals from each other.  Bad habits separate individuals, cultures, and societies from God.  Bad habits harm the whole.  Whatever I do, for example, affects others.  This is a statement of mutuality.  We all stand before God, completely dependent on grace.  In that context, each person is responsible to and for all other people.

Society is people.  Society shapes its members.  Those members also influence society.  When enough people change their minds, societal consensus shifts.

Their habits do not let them

Turn back to their God;….

This need not apply to any group, although it does.  Members of any such group can change their habits, therefore, their fates.  They can.  Will they?  Will we?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JUNIA AND ANDRONICUS, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Israel as God’s Promiscuous Wife   Leave a comment

Above:  A Jewish Wedding Ring

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HOSEA, PART III

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Hosea 2:2-3:5 (Anglican, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox)

Hosea 2:4-3:5 (Jewish and Roman Catholic)

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The insertion of 1:10-2:1/2:1-3 (depending on versification) interrupts the flow from 1:9 to 2:2/2:4 (depending on versification) and gives me theological whiplash.

Rebuke your mother, rebuke her–

For she is not My wife

And I am not her husband–….

–Hosea 2:4, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The covenantal relationship between God and Israel was broken at the beginning of the Book of Hosea.  It remained broken in 2:2/2:4-2:13/2:15.

The Hebrew word TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) renders as “rebuke” has other translations in English.  These include:

  1. “Accuse” (The New American Bible–Revised Edition, 2011),
  2. “Call to account” (The Revised English Bible, 1989),
  3. “Plead with” (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989),
  4. “Bring a case against” (Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 2019),
  5. “Denounce” (The Jerusalem Bible, 1966), and
  6. “Take to court” (The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985; and The Revised New Jerusalem Bible, 2019).

All of these translations are accurate; the germane Hebrew word means both “reprove” and “take to court.”

The imagery of 2:2/2:4-2:13/2:15 is harsh.  It is the imagery of sexual shaming, the punishment for promiscuity, as in Ezekiel 16.  God, metaphorically Israel’s husband, metaphorically divorces and sexually shames the unfaithful wife.  The wife–Israel–becomes infertile, adding to her disgrace.  Her lovers are idols.  They cannot provide for, feed, and clothe her.  Only God can provide for, feed, and clothe Israel, but she continues to spurn Him.  Israel, having made her bed, so to speak, must lie in it.

If the reading ended there, the news would be hopeless.  Yet we come to Hosea 2:14/2:16-3:5.  God will take Israel back.  Mercy will follow judgment.  The words Ishi and Baali both mean “husband.”  Baali, of course, sounds like Baal (“lord”), as in “the Baals” (2:17/2:19) and “Baal Peor.”  The Hebrew wordplay points to the abandonment of idolatry and the renewal of the covenantal relationship (2:18/2:20f).

Hosea 3:1-5 offers a metaphor different from that in 1:2f.  The adulterous woman, perhaps Gomer, has been offering raisin cakes to the Canaanite fertility goddess Astarte.  (In a form of Hebrew folk religion, Astarte was YHWH’s wife.)  This woman, a metaphor for Israel, must abstain from sexual relations, even with her husband, during a period of purification and separation.  She must, simply put, perform penance.  At the end of this penitential time of purification and separation, God will restore the nation and renew the covenant.  Hosea 3:1-5 is probably a subsequent, Judean addition to the Book of Hosea, given 3:4-5.  Also, 3:1-5 is prose surrounded by poetry.

Without ignoring or minimizing the extremely difficult language and imagery of 2:2/2:4-2:13/2:15, I focus on an idea with practical implications.  Sometimes divine punishment and judgment consist of God stepping back and allowing our metaphorical chickens to come home to roost.  Sometimes divine judgment and punishment have more to do with what God does not do rather than with God does.  Sometimes God really is absent and distant.  Yet, as 2:14/2:16-3:5 remind us, God also shows mercy.

The editing of the Book of Hosea, with the benefit of hindsight and in the context of hopes for a better future, produced a final version of that book that repeatedly swings back and forth between divine judgment and mercy.  The condemnations, punishment, and mercy, in the final version, applied to the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, and the returned community after the Babylonian Exile.  The Book of Hosea’s concluding note (Chapter 14) was one of extravagant divine mercy mixed with the knowledge that some would still reject God and the covenant, even then.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance in the final version of the Book of Hosea.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS MAKEMIE, FATHER OF AMERICAN PRESBYTERIANISM AND ADVOCATE FOR RELIGIOUS TOLERATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT CARTHAGE THE YOUNGER, IRISH ABBOT-BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA DOMENICA MAZARELLO, COFOUNDRESS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF MARY HELP OF CHRISTIANS

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEODORE I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINTS VICTOR THE MARTYR AND CORONA OF DAMASCUS, MARTYRS IN SYRIA, 165

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Clinging to the Faithfulness of God   1 comment

Preaching of St. John the Baptist

Above:  The Preaching of St. John the Baptist, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1566

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

 Loving God, by tender words and covenant promise

you have joined us to yourself forever,

and you invite us to respond to your love with faithfulness.

By your Spirit may we live with you and with one another

in justice, mercy, and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 62:1-5

Psalm 45:6-17

John 3:22-36

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Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever,

a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your reign;

you love righteousness and hate iniquity.

–Psalm 45:6-7a, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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I have no idea who is speaking in John 3:31-36.  Father Raymond E. Brown’s Anchor Bible volume on John 1-12 (538 pages long!) claims that Jesus is the speaker and offers much textual evidence for that assertion.  John 3:31-36, Brown writes, is an isolated discourse of Jesus which the Evangelist placed behind the scene with St. John the Baptist to interpret it.  Brown might be correct.  Or the speaker might be St. John the Baptist, for there is thematic consistency in 3:22-30 and 3:31-36.  On a third hand, 3:31-36 might be in the voice of the Evangelist, addressing the audience directly.  I leave that dispute to New Testament scholars, for this is a devotional weblog.

Regardless of the identity of the speaker, John 3:31-36 exists in a theological context of living in exile in one’s homeland.  So does Isaiah 62:1-5, for life in the homeland after the Babylonian Exile was far from the idealized scenes some canonical texts predicted.  Judea was a backwater province in one empire after another for successive centuries, except for the period of the Hasmonean theocracy.

Yet the hopes for a bright future persisted.  Was Jesus the one to inaugurate that future?  Was the Messiah a political-military figure?  Many thought so, although Palestinian Jews were not of one mind regarding the nature of Messiahship, much less whether there would be a Messiah.  And Jesus became caught up in politics, which was intertwined with economics and religion.  The Roman Empire crucified him, so certain imperial authorities must have thought of him as a threat to law and order.

The throne of David remained vacant after exiles began to return to their ancestral homeland.  The revival of the Davidic Dynasty, as predicted in Hosea 3:5, never happened.  The Roman Empire crucified Jesus, but God resurrected him.  Nevertheless, the Roman Empire remained in power.  Hoped-for happy futures remain unrealized dreams of better times.  Yet we must, if we are to persevere faithfully, trust that God will remain faithful.  Perhaps we have misunderstood.  Maybe we are simply impatient.  But God is faithful and reliable.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF DANIEL MARCH, SR., U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST AND PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, POET, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILLIAN OF TREVESTE, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANES THE CHRONICLER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-3-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Restoration VI: Forgiveness and Restoration   1 comment

Hosea

Above:  Hosea

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

 Loving God, by tender words and covenant promise

you have joined us to yourself forever,

and you invite us to respond to your love with faithfulness.

By your Spirit may we live with you and with one another

in justice, mercy, and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 37

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The Assigned Readings:

Hosea 3:1-5

Psalm 45:6-17

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11

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Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever,

a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your reign;

you love righteousness and hate iniquity.

–Psalm 45:6-7a, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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St. Paul the Apostle had visited Corinth and had a difficult experience with the church there–or rather, with certain members of the church there.  Then he wrote a scolding letter (Chapters 10-13 of 2 Corinthians, a book with a non-chronological organization).  Afterward, to avoid causing more pain, the Apostle stayed away.  His absence was, according to some, evidence of the Apostle’s vacillating nature.  (Some people seem to thrive on criticizing others!)  St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1 and 2, explaining his rationale for staying away and announcing that he had forgiven the ringleader of the critics.  The Apostle also encouraged his allies to forgive that person.  The dispute had injured the body (to use a Pauline metaphor for the church), so continuing the unhappiness would make a bad situation worse.

Forgiveness is a difficult grace to bestow on the offender and on oneself much of the time.  I know this difficulty firsthand and wonder why letting go of a burden as great as a grudge is frequently so hard.  I have arrived at no satisfactory answer, but I do know that a grudge hurts the person who holds it.

The reading from Hosea is ambiguous regarding the identity of Hosea’s platonic female friend yet the metaphor is clear:  that human relationship is like God’s relationship with Israel.  Difficult times will occur, but restoration will become the new reality.  Israel will

thrill over the LORD and over His bounty in the days to come.

–Hosea 3:5b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The restoration of offenders can be a sensitive subject, for forgiveness seems to deny justice.  Sometimes, I agree, offenders must face the consequences of their actions.  Yet, much of the time, radical forgiveness is the best way into the future for the community, the society, the nation-state, and the individual.  (I think especially of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Republic of South Africa.)  Taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth might curtail otherwise unrestrained vengeance, but should anyone seek revenge?  Does not the quest for vengeance reveal the seeker’s protestation of righteousness to be a lie?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF DANIEL MARCH, SR., U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST AND PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, POET, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILLIAN OF TREVESTE, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANES THE CHRONICLER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/devotion-for-monday-after-proper-3-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Judgment, Mercy, and Ethical Living, Part II   1 comment

Ruins of the Temple of Apollo, Corinth

Above:  Ruins of the Temple of Apollo, Corinth

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Loving God, by tender words and covenant promise you have joined us to yourself forever,

and you invite us to respond to your love with faithfulness.

By your Spirit may we live with you and with one another in justice, mercy, and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 25

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The Assigned Readings:

Hosea 3:1-5 (Monday)

Hosea 14:1-9 (Tuesday)

Isaiah 62:1-5 (Wednesday)

Psalm 45:6-17 (All Days)

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11 (Monday)

2 Corinthians 11:1-15 (Tuesday)

John 3:22-36 (Wednesday)

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Your throne is God’s throne, for ever;

the sceptre of your kingdom is the sceptre of righteousness.

You love righteousness and hate iniquity;

therefore God, your God, has anointed you

with the oil of gladness above your fellows.

–Psalm 45:6-7, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The readings for these three days, taken together, use marriage metaphors for the relationship between God and Israel and the relationship between God and an individual.  Idolatry is akin to sexual promiscuity, for example.  That metaphor works well, for there were pagan temple prostitutes.

Idolatry and social injustice are a pair in many Old Testament writings, for the Bible has much to say about how we ought to treat others, especially those who have less power or money than we do.  Thus Psalm 45, a royal wedding song, becomes, in part, a meditation on justice.  Also, as St. Paul the Apostle reminds us by words and example, nobody has the right to place an undue burden upon anyone or cause another person grief improperly.

May we recall and act upon Hosea 14:1-9, which states that, although God judges and disciplines, God also shows extravagant mercy.  May we forgive ourselves for our faults.  May we forgive others for their failings.  And may we, by grace, do all the above and recall that there is hope for us all in divine mercy.  Such grace calls for a positive response, does it not?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 4, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH MOHR, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARBARA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF DAMASCUS, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CALABRIA, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE POOR SERVANTS AND THE POOR WOMEN SERVANTS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-the-eighth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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