The relationship between God and Israel is punctuated with judgment and mercy

The First Reading for this Sunday, July 28 (The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost ) is from Hosea 1:2-10.

There is an alternate reading from Genesis 18:20-32 and we will look at that next.

The prophet Hosea prophesied in the Northern Kingdom – Israel – which he refers to as Ephraim, its largest tribe, or Samaria, its capital, from around 750 – 720 BCE. It was a time of political and religious unrest due to the expansionist ambitions of the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III whose reign began in 747 BCE.  Actually, Hosea’s prophecies came towards the end of the Northern Kingdom which was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE.

Hosea is also one of the first of the “writing prophets” whose prophecies were written down after they were preached. There are, therefore, some prophecies in the book, about Judah, the southern kingdom which were probably adapted from the scripts.

There is also what appears to be Hosea’s  biographical information woven into the prophecies as metaphorical illustrations. Thus, there is uncertainty as to whether his marriage to a prostitute named Gomer, his children whom he might not have fathered, his separation from her and subsequent reunion is real biography or metaphors which illustrate the relationship between God and His people, Israel.

As instructed by God, Hosea names his first son Jezreel, “for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel” (verse 4). In 2 Kings 9:7 God instructed Jehu “to destroy the house of Ahab” to avenge the blood of the prophets killed by Ahab’s wife, Jezebel. Jehu, then the commander of Ahab’s army, carried out a massacre in a coup, in the Valley of Jezreel, in 842 BCE. A century later, as we see in Hosea’s text, God is promising to punish Jehu for carrying out God’s instructions! There has been quite a discussion regarding this apparent contradiction. (For a detailed discussion see  The Disposition of Jehu: 2Kings vs. Hosea)

 

There was tremendous prosperity during the Jehu dynasty but the economic prosperity was marked by social travesties against the poor. Similarly, religious worship was diverted from the God of Israel to idols. Jeroboam II was at the end of Jehu’s dynasty, and Hosea’s prophecies pointed at him.

What comes out so powerfully in this First Reading is not just the indictment against Israel, its apostasy and social injustices – and impending consequences in the destruction of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE – but also the promise of restoration and reconciliation. Verse 10 reads, “Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God”.

Hosea’s second child was named Lo-ruhamah, which means, “I will have no pity” and the third was named Lo-ammi, or “not my people”. Verse 10 therefore a reversal. Mercy, compassion and restoration, after punishment and banishment.

Indeed, this is a theme and a picture that are repeated again and again in the relationship between God and Israel.

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