I am working with Celia Kellett at BBC Radio Nottingham on an idea to present most of the books of the Bible, one a week, during 2011 as part of the celebrations of the King James Bible.The plan is to read some verses from the book, to give a one-and-a-half minute summary, to hear a human interest story which relates, and then include a short discussion making the connections.
Here are the key verses and summary for the prophet Hosea to be broadcast this Sunday 10th April from around 8.20 am:
Verses: Hosea 1.2–3 and 11.1–4, 8
When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son…
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms…
I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.
Hosea is a shocking book. Like Amos, Elijah and Elisha, Hosea is speaking to the northern kingdom of Israel, following the split from Judah in the south. But he speaks in the most shocking way—or rather records God doing so.
‘Go and take a prostitute for your wife’ command Gods. So Hosea marries Gomer, who as predicted proves unfaithful. They have two children, and God tells Hosea to call them ‘Not pitied’ and ‘Not my people’ to symbolise the breakdown of relation. It seems to modern ears like a shocking misuse of a relationship to teach a lesson. But within this is something more shocking still.
Belief in God, says Hosea, is not just a Sunday hobby, but like the intimacy of love within marriage. And in the ancient world, to abandon your marriage partner was not just personal betrayal, it threatened the whole fabric of society. Despite this, the devotion of God’s people is like the morning mist, quickly burnt up by the hot middle eastern sun.
Like the frustrated parent of a teenager who has stayed out late, Hosea is caught between proclaiming the anger and the love of Israel’s God. But in the end, love wins. Out of the tumbling profusion of images, a final, shocking one emerges—God’s compassion is stirred, his love for his people is like the cords of human kindness. God’s people are, to him, as a small child to a compassionate father, one he loves with utmost tenderness. And, the New Testament tells us, this divine compassion finds its fullest expression in the person of Jesus.
[The photograph was taken by A K M Adam of a window in Princeton University Chapel. Curiously, it attributes to Hosea the quotation by Jesus of the Greek (LXX) version, rather than the Hebrew original from Hosea 6.6 which talks of ‘loving faithfulness’ (Heb hesed) rather than ‘mercy’]