WHEN GOD BREAKS THE RULES Hosea 11:1-11 Greg Barker, Summer Ministry Intern Vienna Baptist Church Vienna, Virginia August 1, 2010 When I was four and half years old my brother was born. I‟m sure he was very cute, and much deserving of the fawning that he immediately received. In fact, years later, he would become one of my best friends. But I was four and had little interest in sharing my parents‟ attention. There is ample evidence of this on home videos of me cutting in front of my adorable two-year brother to make sure that everyone heard my dumb joke or the obnoxious noise that I had just come up with. Sure, much of the time I loved having the little munchkin around, but there were times when I had just had enough. When Ryan was less than seven weeks old he was lying on baby bean-bag. I was a busy four year old and I had places to be. If I had had the time I would have walked around him, but it just simply wasn‟t in the schedule. So I did what anyone what would have done in my situation. I got down on my hands and knees and tried to bulldoze him out of the way. Needless to say this ended poorly. Ryan was upset, I was less successful than I would have hoped in my attempt to move him, and my mom had every right to be very angry with me, but she didn‟t get on to me. She just picked up Ryan and had a chat with me about how we should treat the new baby, and who we could and could not bull doze. Much to my dismay it turned out I wasn‟t allowed to bulldoze anyone. Life is unfair. In Hosea 11 we see the same motherly love and guidance in God. In this monologue related to us by the prophet Hosea, God gives quite a revealing description of God‟s relationship to Israel. God calls Israel out of Egypt as a son and teaches him to walk. God lifts up the infant Israel to her cheek and feeds him. Feeding an infant in a time before baby formula existed necessarily fell to the hands of the mother. This image of God as the mother of Israel is further emphasized by the feminine form of the word love in verse four. Why does this matter? It matters for two reasons. The first reason that it matters that God is being portrayed here as a mother is that it serves as a reminder that we must vary the metaphors we use to describe God. If we fail to vary our metaphors we run the risk of putting God in a theological box. When we put God in a theological box and say God must be this and cannot be this, or God must do this and cannot do this we have sneaky way of replacing God with our own selves. When we do not draw from the full range of names that have been given to us, and instead only choose the ones that we like or are comfortable with, we make God in the image of humanity instead of remembering that humanity is made in the image of God. The second reason that it is important that God is portrayed as a loving mother is that the rest of the passage is dependent on God‟s motherly relation to Israel. God‟s role of the mother in this passage makes Israel God‟s son. It would seem that Israel is her adopted son, since according to verse one she “called [her] son our of Egypt.” Israel as an adopted child of God is not a new theological idea for us today or for the writer of Hosea. The allegory of Israel as an adopted child is and was a fairly common, and indeed apt, image of Israel‟s election. Nor was it new territory for a prophet to criticize Israel‟s response to its election. Hosea does this through portraying Israel as a rebellious son. The more that God called Israel, the more Israel turned to Canaanite gods. In the passage immediately preceding this, Israel is told very angrily You have ploughed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your power and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle when mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great wickedness. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off. Quite a bleak picture. In fact it seems a bit much. This is picture of God reacting very violently to what will be called her son in the very next verse. One might wonder why Israel‟s actions were met with such hostility by God. If my mom had reacted as violently to me when I creamed my brother it might have made the news. The answer is in Deuteronomy, the great collection of the laws that Moses set down for the Hebrew people based on the needs of his community and his interpretations of the ten commandments that God handed down to him on Mt. Sinai. According to Deuteronomy 21:18-21, parents who have a son who is stubborn and refuses to heed their commands, are to take him to the elders so that he may be stoned at the edge of the town by all of the men in that town. Fortunately for me and other sons, that rule is no longer enforced. This is a difficult passage, to say the least. This commandment is further translated for God‟s relationship with Israel in Deuteronomy 29. In this passage we are informed that the punishment for a city or a people that break their covenant with God is the destruction of that city or people. The cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim are cited as precedents of this punishment. It seems that this might be the route God is taking in verses five through seven. God says that Israel will be taken over by Assyria and go back to the oppression that they were subjected to in Egypt. It is clear that according to the laws that humans have put in place this is the appropriate response. But it is at this moment in the passage that we receive one of the most intimate and beautiful examples of God‟s thought process in the entire Bible. God says in verse eight and nine: 8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. God acknowledges what Israel deserves and yet refuses to give them the punishment that the law requires. The wonderful part about this passage is that Israel does nothing to earn the forgiveness or the love of God. It‟s just there, and try as they might, they can‟t get rid of it. Indeed, God‟s love is very much like that of a mother. Why does God not deliver what the law of the Hebrew people said was the just response? Why did God instead choose to act on love? Because God is “no mortal.” That is to say, God is not bound by the laws of humans just as she is not bound by the predominant metaphors we use. It is only through transcending what we expect God to do, that God draws immanently close and becomes the “Holy One in [our] midst.” Another way one might put it is that when Israel breaks its covenant with God, God does the same. When Israel breaks his side of the deal by worshiping other Gods, God breaks God‟s side of the deal by not doling out the punishment that was required of her. That is not the end of the story, though. God‟s loving response of forgiveness carries along with it the roar of the lion that brings Israel back home trembling in fear. A lion‟s roar is one of the more intimidating things you can encounter on earth, and yet it does not necessarily carry with it the wrath and anger we might expect. In fact, scientists believe that roaring, for lions, is contagious, akin to yawning amongst humans. Just like when I bulldozed my brother when I was four and my mom simply sat me down and had a talk with me, God does not give us what we deserve or even what we expect. God gives us love and forgiveness and that little extra push in the right direction. It reminds me of the scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where the children meet Aslan, the lion character who represents Christ, for the first time. They ask their friend Mr. Beaver if Aslan is safe. Mr. Beaver responds, “Safe? Don‟t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? „Course he‟s not safe. But he‟s good. He‟s the king, I tell you.” A lion is a wild, unpredictable animal capable of a lot of damage, as is God, we simply have to trust that God‟s love for us will outweigh the sense of betrayal and hurt that any mother would feel when her children turn away from her. This is no easy feet. It is difficult to remember that God loves us as much as God does, and even more difficult to believe it. There has been a lot of focus throughout the history of Christianity on sin, and at times this has led to some great things. If it weren‟t for Martin Luther‟s overwhelming sense of his own sinfulness, there might not have been a reformation. However, maybe sin has gotten too much of the lime-light. I think that sometimes there is so much focus on the depravity of humanity that we lose sight of the intense and passionate love of God that is evident in this passage. It is a wild and real love. In this passage we see God as jealous, angry, betrayed, hurt, forgiving, and passionate. This is not a stoic God sitting on a throne purveying our habits from a distance. This is an emotional God. This is a God who is utterly concerned with the wellbeing of her people. But how do we remember this love in our daily lives? The same way that Israel was supposed to remember God‟s love and devotion in this passage: “cords of human kindness.” The loving relationships that bind us to other people are the same relations that, whether we acknowledge it or not, bind us to God. God exists in our communities. All we have to do is look and we will see the face of God in our neighbors and friends. Today as we celebrate communion, we remember that our continuous breaking of God‟s covenant was met with a God who is just as apt to break our rules. Rules like God is not human, God cannot die, and death is final. All of those rules were broken in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They were broken so that we can come together as a community to celebrate the unexpected grace of a passionate and wild God.
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