Lectionary Text: Hosea 1:2-10
Central Message: Hosea obeys God and takes Gomer, a prostitute, as his wife. She bears children whose names are prophetic expressions of the relationship between Israel and God — Jezreel (after an outrageously bloody battlefield), Lo Ruhamah (not pitied), and Lo Ammi (not my people).
Old Testament Stream: Prophetic Ministry—Calling and Working for Justice, Righteousness and Peace
We begin two weeks with the prophet Hosea today. This week, we are introduced to his story and how his marriage and the naming of his children connect to the heart of the message he brings.
Hosea’s story is a challenging one for us.
Hosea marries a prostitute as a way of saying the nation has prostituted itself.
He gives his children horrifying names to reflect God’s rejection of the people and the reasons for it.
Jezreel was a name that had largely gone out of use because the place was considered cursed by God. The battle, led by King Jehu, was considered so bloody and outrageously unjust that God swore never to leave Jehu’s house unpunished.
Lo-Ruhamah means not-pitied, an announcement that God would have no more leniency on Israel for its past or present atrocities, nor would God do anything to prevent their coming exile and destruction. Judah (the Southern Kingdom) would be spared, but not Israel.
Finally, Lo-Ammi (not my people) signaled God’s rejection of the people. Though a day of restoration of some kind would come eventually, it would not be in their foreseeable futures.
What do we do with a prophet (or any leader) who appears to be “using” more than loving his family? How do we handle the story’s claim that God was directly behind all of this, telling Hosea to do these very things?
How do we find in this story guidance for our own baptismal vocation as prophets and disciples of Jesus?
It does need to be said that the practice of naming children to make some other point had ancient roots, all the way back to the first ancestors. Isaac (she laughed) is given his name by Abraham because Sarai laughed at the notion that she and her elderly husband could become parents at all, much less the founders of a line of offspring as numerous as the sand by the sea (Genesis 18:9-15, 21:3-7). Jacob is given his name because he was born “grabbing” his “red” (Esau) twin’s heel (Genesis 25:26). Then Jacob’s wives and their maids name their children provocatively in what seems to be something like a “birthing contest” among the four of them (Genesis 29:31-30:24). So all of the first three generations of the “founding family” had done this or been affected by it in some way.
This doesn’t mean we can or should do this now, much less with the level of harshness we see in Hosea’s namings. But it does place it within some kind of matrix of social acceptability that our current culture generally may have difficulty providing.
And in that cultural frame, perhaps we can begin to see a larger pattern at work that may have greater bearing on our own discipleship. If we are disciples to Jesus, it is him we obey, him we follow, him to whom we give all loyalty. As important as biological or adopted families may be, our allegiance to them must be relativized by our allegiance to Jesus Christ and the call of the Spirit on our lives. It is not that we are called to “do harm” to our families. It is that we are called to follow Jesus above all.
We live in a social matrix now, most of us at least, where Hosea’s actions of marrying a prostitute and “using” her and the naming of their children to deliver a message of judgment cannot but be perceived as harmful. We cannot follow this example directly and be considered as anything but monsters.
But the same devotion to God above all is still called for in our context today. And a faithful response to that call is no less expected. Jesus is Lord. Not family. Not country. Not career. Jesus. Where he leads, we are simply to follow.
By Rev. R. Wayne Calhoun, Sr.