When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel*; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.” She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the LORD said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah**, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.” When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi***, for you are not my people and I am not your God.” 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 1:2-10; lectionary text for Sunday July 28, 2019
The text and I are in the kitchen together. One of us is at the sink, washing dishes. The other stands looking at the dishwasher’s back. For a moment neither of us speaks. I can no longer stay silent.
‘‘Wife of whoredom’ — really? — my God! do you hear how alienating that sounds? Who wants to spend a week with those words ringing? They’re coarse and unwelcoming. Hostile, even.’
‘’Wife of whoredom’ — of course it’s alienating. Don’t you hear what’s going on?
‘What I hear is ‘whoredom.’’
‘So then you stop listening? Because it’s offensive? Because it’s uncomfortable? No! Don’t shut your ears and refuse to hear more. And don’t assume you know what I mean and start talking over me, responding to the point you assume I’m making. It’s not about the sex. It’s not about fertility cults or harvest orgies or temple prostitution. Don’t turn away! Listen to me!’
The voice of the text had risen strident. Now it drops without losing any of its fervor, its force somehow stronger in its quietness.
‘It’s about fidelity. It’s about identity. And it’s about how brokenness is bigger than just one person, just one couple. Brokenness spreads like cancer throughout the land. We beat each other with it, blame each other for it. We forget and lose who we are meant to be.
‘Yes, the words are alienating. How else to name alienation? How else to make it plain?’
The text and I are facing each other now. Her face is worn; her voice hardly more than a whisper.
‘Read me through. Try. Hear the pain behind the anger. Think how it feels to have to name your daughter ‘not-pitied,’ your son ‘not-my-people.’ These your children whom you called as your own: ‘I will take you as my people, and I will be your God’ (Exod 6:7). These your children whom still you love. These your children who have turned away, who seek security and power and purpose elsewhere. Whose claimed identity is no longer God’s-own but …
‘… but their own.’ Now I am speaking back to the text. ‘Who live as if they have made themselves and called themselves. Who cry in the dark, nor can figure out why or what is wrong. Who do not realize how far from that way they have strayed. Because still they make the ‘right’ decisions, celebrate the ‘right’ festivals. Who respond to the promptings of the larger society — whether walking lock-step or rigidly resisting — so that its imperatives govern their way, define their lives. The system is sick, and it’s twisting us all. And worst of the sickness is that it’s unacknowledged or mis-diagnosed.’ My own voice is now a whisper, echoing that of the speaking text. ‘So it’s not about the sex. It’s about the children.
The text replies, ‘Yes. It’s about the children.’
‘Is it plea, then, rather than judgment? To name them ‘Not-pitied’ and ‘Not-my-people?’
‘Oh, child. It is both. A plea for turning and a warning of consequences. The sowing of Jezreel (‘God sows’) is judgment. The sickness must be named and the sickness must be treated.’ Her voice is warmer, now, but still firm. Her face is set — she will not relent — there’s ache and understanding in her gaze. There is love. My own eyes drop. The text presses.
‘Where do you find your worth? How do you define your worth? What is the name you’re truly living now?’ the text asks. ‘What is the true name you were meant to bear?’
Still gazing down, I feel for a moment a hand resting blessing on my head. The text speaks on, ’In place of the name ‘Not-my-people’ it shall be said, ‘Children of the living God.’’
* Jezreel means ‘God sows.’ ** Lo-ruhamah means ‘Not-pitied.’ *** Lo-Ammi means ‘Not my people.’