Thought for the week - 31 July
The eleventh chapter of the book of the prophet Hosea, part of which is the alternative 0ld Testament reading for today is one of the most beautiful and profound passages in the whole of the Bible, the prophet tells of the personal love of God for his first-born child Israel.
The prophet Hosea, speaking from his own deep experience of estrangement from his wife Gomer, paints a touching picture of God as the Father who grieves for his wayward son, and ponders what action to take against him. Israel is his special son, the one whom he called or brought out of Egypt. "When Israel was a boy, I loved him; I called my son out of Egypt;"
The bringing out from Egypt and the covenant made between them and God on Sinai was the decisive event in Israel's history that she constantly looked back looked back to. Hosea in this passage imagines God also looking back to that time when he brought his beloved out of slavery into freedom in the promised land. The strange irony is that it was in the freedom of the promised land to which God had brought Israel that they began to practice idolatry, turning to the false god's, or Baalim, making burnt offerings before carved images.
And now we hear the pathos in the Father's voice as he grieves for his wayward son, as he recollects how it was he who taught him to walk, leading him with the bonds of love, and how it was he who had caressed him and fed him.
"It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who had taken them in my arms; but they did not know that I harnessed them in leading strings and led them with bonds of love - that I had lifted them like a child to my cheek, that I had bent down to feed them."
The sorrow now gives way to anger, as the hurt Father lashes out through the tears.
"Back they shall go to Egypt, the Assyrian shall be their king; for they have refused to return to me. The sword shall be swung over their blood-spattered altars and put an end to their prattling priests and devour my people in return for all their schemings, bent on rebellion as they are. Though they call on their high god, even then he will not reninstate them."
The irony here is that the high god they are calling upon, Baal, is powerless to save them from the threat of Assyria. Only the father they have forsaken can do that, and he it is who is contemplating handing them over into the power of Assyria.
Such is the picture of God that Hosea paints, of a God who like the prophet himself, feels the keenest hurt in the rebellion of his people. But the analogy ends there. God is not like the human father who tells his son never to darken his door again. "For I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst." Whilst it is indeed open to God to destroy his beloved son, to let loose his fury upon him, he will not do so. Such emotions are the emotions of fallen and sinful humanity, not of God. God cannot, nor will not forsake his beloved. "How can I give you up, Ephraim, how surrender you, Israel... for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst."
"For I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst."
Whilst we might forsake God, he does not forsake us. Whilst we might be faithless, he is faithful. Whilst we might rebel against him, he is constant and true. Whilst we might be separated from him because of our sin, he is the Holy One in our midst. The Holy One in our midst who loves us tenderly as a father loves his only child.