15-10-7 The Prophetic Experience And Prophetic Consciousness
But how did the prophets get like this? Their own spirituality obviously played a part in it; but further, Jeremiah speaks of how he came to see Israel for who they were: “The Lord made it known to me and I knew; then thou didst show me their evil deeds” (Jer. 11:8). Ezekiel was shown “what the house of Israel is doing in the dark” (Ez. 8:12). To pass through human life with this level of sensitivity must’ve been so hard. Psychologically and nervously, the stress would’ve been awful. It seems to me that the prophets had to be somehow psychologically strengthened by God to endure living that sensitively in this crass and unfeeling world- hence God made Ezekiel and Jeremiah as a wall and “iron pillar” to Israel, hardened their faces, so that they wouldn’t be “dismayed at [the] looks” of those who watched them with anger and consternation (Jer. 1:18; 15:20; Ez. 2:4-6; 3:8,9,27). This psychological strengthening was not aimed at making them insensitive, but rather in strengthening them to live sensitively to sin in a sinful world without cracking up. And He will do the same for us, too.
This psychological strengthening was absolutely necessary- for no human being can live in a constant state of inspiration without breaking. The composer Tchaikovsky commented: “If that condition of mind and soul, which we call inspiration, lasted long without intermission, no artist could survive it. The strings would break and the instruments be shattered into fragments” (4). The whole tremendous experience of having God’s mind in them, sharing His perspective, seeing the world through His eyes, made the prophets appear crazy to others. There’s a marked emphasis upon the fact that they were perceived as madmen (e.g. Jer. 29:24,26; Hos. 9:7; 2 Kings 9:11). For us to walk down a street for even ten minutes, feeling and perceiving and knowing the sin of every person in those rooms and houses and yards, feeling the weeping of God over each of them… would send us crazy. And yet God strengthened the prophets, and there’s no reason to think that He will not as it were strengthen us in our sensitivity too.
The prophets weren’t fax machines, computer hardware that prints out whatever message comes into it. There was a personal identification between them and the word they spoke. And that, as now, is what gives human words authenticity and power- when it is apparent that the person and his words are one. Their emotions were God’s; Ezekiel even lost his wife in order for him to be able to enter more into how God felt. This was an exhausting task. No wonder they needed this psychological strengthening. The prophets weren’t merely informing men ahead of time that God’s judgments were coming; rather were they sharing with the people the Divine pathos, His feelings and sense of tragic rejection. The prophets were therefore not mere fax machines; their own feelings were involved in the act of transmission of God’s feelings to men through words. Even despite the special psychological strengthening which they received, sometimes the whole prophetic experience seemed too much for them, as it does for us: “Therefore I said, Look away from me… do not labour to comfort me for the ruin of my people” (Is. 22:4). The prophets believed their message, to the point that it overcame them with grief that men wouldn’t heed them. Is this how we feel at the rejection of our message? Is our testimony to Jesus really in the spirit of these prophets…? Can we identify with Micah when he lamented and wailed, going stripped and naked, because of the import of what he was prophesying, and human rejection of it (Mic. 1:8,12)?
The voice of the prophets didn't go entirely unheeded. A tiny minority responded. Isaiah had his school of disciples, referred to in Isaiah 8. The books of the prophets were presumably written up (under inspiration) by their disciples, and the biographical sections added by them. So the very existence of the books of the prophets itself indicates they had some converts who hung on and valued their every word. And yet despite this, the prophets felt lonely men, despite the converts they made- Micah felt like a tree left alone, naked and bare at the end of Summer (Mic. 7:1). Jeremiah “sat alone” (Jer. 15:17). Not only was their perspective on human sinfulness so very different to that of their audience. They preached a message which was counter-cultural and attacked the very bases of the assumptions which lay at the core of individual and social life in Israel. They appeared to back Israel’s enemies. Their message was therefore rejected. Jeremiah lamented: “For twenty three years… the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened” (Jer. 25:3-7). The prophets saw the love of God, but saw too how Israel spurned it and refused to understand it. It must’ve been a tragic and awful experience. The very essence of God’s Name was that He has a perpetual and passionate love for His people; but they didn’t believe it, nor were they even very interested (5). The prophets spoke of the amazing grace and eternal love of God for Israel, how His wrath endured but for a moment (Is. 57:16; Jer. 18:23); and yet Israel asked: “Will he be angry for ever?” (Jer. 3:5). It was more than frustrating for the prophets; they shared God’s feelings of having poured out so great a love, to see it ignored and disregarded, no time to look at it, too busy sowing my seeds, weeding my garden, having coffee… Jeremiah mourned Israel’s lack of spiritual sensitivity and failure to live up to their potential- they had eyes, but didn’t see (Jer. 5:23), they were God’s servant, but a blind one; His messenger, but unable to hear any message (Is. 42:19). So the prophets weren't satisfied just because a minority responded to their message of God's love. They were hearbroken because the majority rejected it. I suspect we tend to think that 1 response in 1000 is good, 1 in 10,000 isn’t bad. But what about the other 999, or 9,999, who receive our tracts, hit our websites, hear our witness- and don’t respond? Is our witness in the spirit of the prophets? Are we happy that the tiny minority respond, and don’t spare a thought for the tragedy of the majority who don’t? Not only their tragedy, but the tragedy for God? Don’t forget the vast amount of faith involved in the prophets’ preaching- for only very rarely did prophets do miracles to authenticate their word (6). Therefore they’d have been perceived as just ranting on in an obnoxious way. They weren’t taken seriously; and yet the prophet felt that the Lord was roaring from Zion through his prophetic words (Am. 1:2; Joel 3:16). This essential loneliness and rejection of the prophets by the majority was a significant part of their spirit.
And yet, and here’s the paradoxical nature of the spirit of prophecy, the prophetic experience wasn’t merely negative. Micah realized that the apparently negative message he had would actually “do good to him who walks uprightly” (Mic. 2:7). Jeremiah found God’s words to be the joy and delight of his heart (Jer. 15:16). And of course, the prophets did enjoy some response. Isaiah had his “sons”, his school of disciples who heeded him; Jeremiah had his few faithful friends; and there always was a righteous remnant whom the prophets had converted. All the prophets have the feature of strangely mixing declarations of fierce judgment with prophesies of God’s grace, of His final acceptance of Israel. Some of the finest descriptions of God’s coming Kingdom on earth, based around Jerusalem and the land of Israel, are to be found wedged between the most angry predictions of God’s wrath and judgment against His people. This in itself reflects the ‘two minds’ of God toward His people, and the resulting tension within the prophet’s personality too; the ‘struggle’ between law and grace, between justice and mercy. Hosea especially mixes such prophecies, e.g. that God will “slay her with thirst”, rend her like a lion, with declarations that God passionately loves Israel as a mother, a lover who’ll forgive anything, a husband… The wrath of God, His grief at sin and being rejected, is intertwined with His amazing grace and love. That the extent of God’s anger arises from the degree of His love is perhaps reflected in the way the Hebrew words for “lover” and “hater” are so closely related- oheb and oyeb. Hos. 2:9 appears to make a word play based around this. The gravity and emotional enormity of each ‘side’ of the total equation, the huge tension of the equilibrium that keeps them in perfect balance in God’s character and words, was reflected in the prophets personally; and it will be in us too. The result of this is that the anger of both God and His prophets becomes understandable as more an expression of His and their sorrow, the hurtness of their love, even their weariness. God says that He has “had enough” of Israel, even saying “I am weary to bear” them (Is. 1:11-15). Is. 43:24 specifically speaks of God’s weariness with His people- and this too was part of the prophets’ spirit. And yet shining through all that is God’s hopefulness for His people, and His grace: “The Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore will He exalt Himself [in judgment] to show mercy to you” (Is. 30:18). This wasn’t an angry God hitting back at a rebellious people; this is the God of Israel looking at judgment only as a way to reveal His grace and mercy in the longer term.
All the same, the tension within God is apparent. Hosea’s the clearest on this. God wants nothing more to do with His adulterous people; and then He pleads with them to come back to Him, breaking His own law, that a put away woman can’t return to her first husband. “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?... mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together” (Hos. 11:8). And Jeremiah has more of the same: “How can I pardon you… shall I avenge myself on a nation such as this? Shall I not punish them for these things?” (Jer. 5:7-9,28,29). God reveals Himself as oscillating between punishing and redeeming, judging sin and overlooking it. God is open to changing His stated plans (e.g. to destroy Nineveh within forty days, to destroy Israel and make of Moses a new nation). He isn’t like the Allah of Islam, who conducts a monologue with his followers; the one true God of Israel earnestly seeks dialogue with His people, and as such He enters into all the contradictory feelings and internal debates which dialogue involves. ‘God loves the sinner and hates the sin’ has always seemed to me problematic, logically and practically. Love is in the end a personal thing; in the end love and hate are appropriate to persons, not abstractions. And the person can’t so easily be separated from their actions. Ultimately, it is persons who will be saved or condemned. The prophets reveal both the wrath and love of God towards His people, in the same way as a parent or partner can feel both wrath and love towards their beloved.
These oscillations of feelings, the sharp opposition between judgment and mercy, were felt equally by the prophets, who were breathing in God’s spirit. Consider all the other oppositions and paradoxes which there were in the prophetic experience:
- Speaking for God against Israel, when they themselves were members of Israel
- Appearing to be on the side of their own peoples’ enemies
- Holding an understanding of Israel’s God that was contradictory to Israel’s own understanding of their God
- Understanding why judgment should come, and yet like Habakkuk crying out with the question “Why?” (Hab. 1:2-4). After twice approaching God with this question, and each time being given fresh insights into the awful nature of the judgment to come as a response, Habakkuk ends up with a trembling body and lips that ‘quivered at the sound’… and yet, at the very same time, feels that he still “will rejoice in the Lord” (Hab. 3:16,18). What a torn man he was.
- We’ve seen that the prophetic experience made them feel married to God. But the prophets were also Israelites, and they felt like this: “We have all become like one who is unclean… we all fade like a leaf… our iniquities take us away” (Is. 64:6, and note Daniel’s prayer of confession of Israel’s sins in Dan. 9, where he feels as if he too has sinned with them). At times, the prophets are paralleled with Israel- Jeremiah was a “prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5), and yet this was Israel’s role (Is. 49:2). Both the prophets and Israel are described as “the servant of the Lord”. But God and Israel were in the process of divorce, as they knew. The prophets were both on God’s side, and Israel’s. They were torn men. Just as God Himself was. He appeared “like a man confused” (Jer. 14:9).
- At times pleading with God to change the word which they themselves had pronounced and knew to be justified. Is. 62:1-7; 51:9 even appears to be Isaiah’s challenge to the Lord to not let His judgment remain on Zion- Isaiah will not keep silent, nor will his fellow prophets, until God acts. He begs God to not restrain Himself, and to take note of the desolation caused (Is. 63:15; 64:8-12)
- The prophets appeal for their people to repent to avert God’s judgments; and yet they proclaim a message of grace, that because “I have swept away your transgressions [therefore] Return [repent] to me, for I have redeemed you” (Is. 44:22). The fact of God’s forgiveness leads to repentance- by grace. And yet the prophets also appeal for Israel to repent so that they might be forgiven.
- Seeing the world through the eyes of both God and man- Jeremiah said that God’s wrath was his wrath, “I am full of the wrath of God” (Jer. 6:11), and yet he stood before God “to turn away thy wrath from them” (Jer. 18:20).
- Sometimes wishing to abandon their very own people (Jer. 19:1), just as God felt at times
- Oscillating between anger and grace
- The very prophetic call was “to pluck up and break down… to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:10)
- Being betrayed and hated by their own people, and yet feeling such pain for the judgment to come upon them- despite being so badly treated by Judah and his own family, Jeremiah was still struck with pain at the thought of their judgment: “My anguish! My anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly…” (Jer. 4:19-21)
- Giving visions of impending judgment, and then, within moments, visions of Israel’s blessed latter end
These contradictions, paradoxes, oppositions, call them what you will, were felt deeply within the prophet’s personality. The bi-polarity resulted in some of them exhibiting bi-polar emotions- e.g. Jeremiah one moment is cursing the day of his birth, the next, he is ecstatically joyful. The phenomena of depressed, bi-polar believers was once something I felt awkward about, even ashamed of. But now, it makes sense to me. Research into the bi-polar condition is still limited. But what has been established is that it is the presence in the person of seriously conflicting loyalties, emotions, persuasions, even belief systems, which has something to do with it. In some ways, it’s more of a condition, a state of being, than a disorder. It doesn’t surprise me that Jeremiah appears to have acted in a bi-polar manner. God can have multiple relationships with people simultaneously, feeling joy at one event and deep sorrow at another event, even though the events are happening at the same time. He also sees to the end of history. His nature allows such multiple feelings without any disorder. But for a mere man on earth, invited to share in the inner council of God, the experience of these things was and is deeply destabilizing. Yes, God made men like Jeremiah a brazen wall, hardened their faces… and yet all the same, the experience of all this would’ve led to a certain element of emotional bi-polarity. Perhaps this opens some kind of window into understanding the emotional and psychological experience of the believer, especially those involved in preaching.
15-10-8 Hosea: Case Study
I’ve written elsewhere about the love of God in and through Hosea (7); here I’ll try to not repeat what I’ve said elsewhere. Hosea’s love for Gomer was an image of God’s love for Israel. But he wasn’t merely acting a role; his feelings throughout the book are genuinely his feelings and actual experience. Therefore we can conclude that he really did passionately love Gomer. He was a spiritual man, and yet he fell so deeply for this very unspiritual woman, doubtless aware that she wasn’t really worthy of him, knowing in himself that likely she wouldn’t reciprocate his love and would betray him. And yet he went ahead and did it, a spiritual man marrying an unspiritual and immoral woman, because a) he must’ve been a very passionate man and b) quite simply, because he loved her with a love that was so great, a deathless love, love that would go to the death if it could for her, but circumstances didn’t thus arise, and he went on living, but with that passion of love for her. Now every part of this mentality reflects that of God. He knew, for He knows all things, that Israel would betray Him, just as Samson knew Delilah would, yet still he trusted in her and loved her. And yet God still went ahead, because He is passionate, and because He is love itself for Israel. And this God is our God…
It seems to me that the statement that God told Hosea to go marry a promiscuous woman was perhaps (and I’m not at all dogmatic about this) not made in so many words. The book of Hosea is Hosea’s inspired write up of his life. As his life and self-understanding unravelled, he realized that his passionate attraction to that faithless woman was in fact a command from God, and he realized more strongly that his marriage had in fact been a parable of God’s love for Israel. It was perhaps with hindsight that he reflected that effectively, God had asked him to love Gomer with the love of God towards Israel (Hos. 3:1). Perhaps this is why God isn’t recorded as telling Hosea to marry Gomer, but, to marry a promiscuous woman.
Throughout the book, Hosea clearly speaks on God’s behalf, even though he at times speaks in the first person. It’s hard at times to realize whether Hosea is talking about his own marriage, or about God’s feelings to Israel. And that’s understandable, given the view of inspiration we have been discussing. The feelings of Hosea were God’s feelings; He was inspired with the spirit / mind / attitude of God Himself. Thus in Hos. 2:4-25 we appear to have a monologue in which Hosea speaks to his wife and kids; but he speaks to them as if it’s God speaking. So close was his identity with God’s feelings as a result of the pain of his failed marriage and family life. The way Hosea redeems his wife, partly in cash and partly in kind, suggests he wasn’t wealthy- he gave absolutely all he could scrape together for that worthless woman. And this was the cost to God, even His feelings, in redeeming His people- ultimately, through the blood of His own Son. And think of how Hosea accepts the children Gomer produced as his children- when they were the children of her whoredom. Presumably she went to the idol shrines and was a prostitute. She describes them as what she received from her lovers (Hos. 1:14). And the idols of Israel are described by Hosea as their lovers, with whom they were unfaithful to Yahweh (Hos. 2:7-15; 8:9; 9:10). It all fits together. Gomer got pregnant with the idol worshippers, she was unfaithful to Hosea by sleeping with them, just as Israel were doing the same to Yahweh by worshipping those idols. No wonder Hosea came to know the heart of God through his experience with Gomer. He knew, it seems, ahead of time, that Gomer was a wife who was going to become adulterous. Adultery of course implies that she wasn’t adulterous at the time of marriage. Additionally, Andersen and Freedman argue on grammatical grounds that “a wife of whoredoms” in Hos. 1:2 means a wife who would become adulterous (8). No young man would surely marry a woman whom he knew would be adulterous later on. And yet perhaps in a way Hosea is saying that he did know this, but, his love for her was so strong, he married her. Just like God, when He met idol-worshipping Israel in the wilderness. They carried through the desert their god Remphan and the tabernacle of Moloch with them, as well as Yahweh’s tabernacle. And yet it was there that Yahweh, the God who knows the future and the destiny and spiritual path of every man, fell in love with them and spread His skirt over them in love and delight and betrothal (Ez. 16,23). Just as Hosea did. For he married Gomer bat Diblaim (Hos. 1:3)- which was apparently the name for a temple prostitute (9). Note how Hos. 3:1 refers to the dibla, the raisin cakes used in the Baal cult, from which the word Diblaim comes. Hosea knowingly married a temple prostitute, just as God married Israel, in the hope that their intense love and covenant relationship would reform her and make her responsive to their love.
It’s hard to understand what was happening in Hos. 3:1- it appears Hosea attempted to force through to realization his fantasy about re-marrying Gomer and starting over, he redeemed her again to himself for marriage. But still she went astray from him. Another suggestion is that Hos. 3:1 actually speaks of a second wife, who according to the analogy of Ez. 23, might have represented Judah. In this case we see the extreme love of Hosea, and God; having gone through all that heart break over Gomer, he was still so full of love that he was prepared to risk all yet again in another relationship. Note that when God tells Hosea to “go yet” and marry this woman, He uses ‘Yahweh’ about Himself, rather than speaking in the first person: “Go yet, love a woman… according to the love of Yahweh toward the children of Israel” (Hos. 3:1). Perhaps this was in order to demonstrate the grace and passionate love so inherent within God’s very Name.
There was a tremendous sensitivity in Hosea to both God and to the sin of His people, honed and developed by his own relationship with Gomer. At the start of Hosea’s prophecy, Israel were prosperous. They worshipped Yahweh, and assumed He was with them. And yet Hosea discounts their worship of Yahweh as being effectively idolatry. Time and again Hosea accuses Israel of idolatry, using words to describe their idolatry which are word plays on language associated with Yahweh. He speaks of their kabod [glory] (Hos. 9:11; 10:5)- a word usually used about the glory of Yahweh. They worshipped lo’al (Hos. 7:16)- and he uses al to refer to Yahweh in Hos. 11:7. They worshipped sor (Hos. 9:13)- the same consonants as sur, the “rock” of Yahweh (Dt. 32:31). He calls Yahweh qados (Hos. 11:9), but they worshipped qedosim (Hos. 12:1). We tend to assume that Hosea’s denunciation of idolatry meant that Israel worshipped both Yahweh and various other images and idols of their pagan gods. But that seems to be an over-simplification. Archaeologists have actually not found much evidence of such gods. Summarizing much research, Cogan concludes: “There is no evidence of Assyrian interference in the Israelite cult prior to the 720 BCE annexation of Samaria [after Hosea’s time]… Israel was free of any cultic obligation” (10). And yet, Hosea speaks for all the world as if there were shrines etc. to other gods all over the place. My conclusion is that the idols, shrines etc. to which Hosea refers were therefore actually understood by Israel as a form of Yahweh worship. But he points out to them that actually, their worship of Yahweh is a form of idolatry. And all this has relevance to us. For actually things like daily Bible reading, attending church, going through the formalities of a religion, can become a form of fetishism rather than parts of the dynamic, Spirit filled life which they ought to be a vital part of. Worshipping Yahweh in the “high places”, i.e. the pagan shrines, was Israel’s besetting sin. It’s rather like the way they turned the bronze snake of the wilderness into an idol. They, like us, never simply turned their back on the true Way. Rather did they mix it with the way of the flesh, the way of the world, and pronounced that as in fact Yahweh worship. And it was all this which Hosea was so deeply sensitive to, as demonstrated by the careful word plays he made, in order to demonstrate that their worship of Yahweh was in fact idol worship.
Another example of Hosea’s sensitivity is his prophecy that the blood of Jezreel would be visited upon the house of Jehu (Hos. 1:4). At Jezreel, Jehu had killed Ahab’s family in a quite literal bloodbath. And God had commented that because Jehu had done this and thus fulfilled His word, Jehu’s family would reign for the next four generations (2 Kings 10:30). So why, then, does Hosea start talking about punishing the house of Jehu for what they did to the house of Ahab? Jehu became proud about the manner in which he had been the channel for God’s purpose to be fulfilled, inviting others to come and behold his “zeal for the Lord” (2 Kings 10:16). Jehu and his children showed themselves to not really be spiritually minded, and yet they prided themselves in having physically done God’s will. And because of this, Hosea talks in such angry terms about retribution for what they had done; the house of Jehu’s act of obedience to God actually became something his family had to be punished for, because they had done it in a proud spirit. We see this all the time around us. Men and women who clearly are instruments in God’s hand, like the Assyrians were, doing His will… but being proud about it and becoming exalted in their own eyes because of it. And Hosea is so sensitive to the awfulness of this, he goes ballistic about it.
The Vital Importance Of Human Behaviour
Hosea 4 described a law suit (Heb. 4:1 Heb.) between God and the inhabitants of the land- and it’s over lack of integrity, mercy and knowledge of God. These things are paralleled in the law suit with murder, stealing and adultery- things which most people would shrug at are considered by Him to be criminal matters. To seek human help rather than Divine appears a mere common failure. But Hosea uses the same Hebrew words to describe his wife’s desertion [“she walked / departed from me”, Hos. 2:7,15] as he does to describe the embassage to Assyria as departing / walking there (Hos. 7:11). To seek human help in distress is to be unfaithful to our God. And yet when health fails, a lump appears, the car won’t start, we lose our job… to whom do we instinctively turn? Here is the huge relevance of all this to 21st century humanity, who have striven to insure and protect themselves against calamity to an unprecedented extent.
Our instinctive tendency is to rely upon human strength in time of trouble, to take the insurance policies of the world, to do what seems the humanly sensible thing to do, to take humanly wise precautions. If a person does that and also proclaims a trust in God, we tend to think that’s fair enough. But Hosea absolutely lambasts Israel for trusting in political alliances. He calls them a silly dove, fluttering between Assyria and Egypt. Hosea seriously advocated a national defence policy of total trust upon Yahweh, and nothing else. What he was suggesting was against every human instinct. But the spirit of the prophets was to live and proclaim life to be lived in a counter-instinctive way, to do what seems humanly foolish, because of our faith. We have ample opportunity to show that spirit of the prophets, in a society which increasingly seeks to insure and re-insure itself against every possible ‘act of God’. Yet Hosea went even beyond all this- he spoke of how Israel would be left “without a king” (Hos. 3:4), and that the ruling dynasty would be overthrown. This would’ve been seen as seditious and revolutionary, a desire to overthrow the King.
The deathless love of Hosea for Gomer, the very intensity and height of it, in itself highlights the tragedy of God. That His love, yes, the passion and longing of God Himself, was rejected by His people. There are some reasons to think that the book of Hosea was rewritten (under inspiration) during the captivity. Isaiah had explained (Is. 54:7) that although God and Israel had departed from each other, they would come together again by Israel being regathered- i.e. by their return from Babylon to the land. And perhaps Hosea was rewritten at the same time, as an appeal for the Jews to ‘return’ to their God, i.e. to return to Judah. And yet, so tragically, whilst they all avowed their allegiance to Yahweh, generously supported the few who did return… the majority of the Jews didn’t return to their God. They chose the soft life in Babylon, where they remained. It’s why the close of the book of Esther is so sad- the Jews are there in prosperity and popularity in Babylon, no longer weeping by the rivers of Babylon.
Consider how Hosea names his child [if indeed he was the father of it], ‘Not my people’. Consider his hurt, to reject a child from his family. This was God’s hurt. God, like Hosea, had no other children, no other people. For God to say to Israel ‘You are not My people’ would leave God without a people, as it were alone in the earth. Hosea shared the tragic loneliness of God.
God At Stake
For Hebrew men like Hosea, the chastity of virgins and the faithfulness of wives were the most important thing in their personal lives (cp. Dt. 22:13-30). And so, the point is being made, God values our faithfulness supremely. The man had a deep sense of shame before the whole world if the woman he trusted betrayed him (Jer. 2:37). The shame of God over Israel was before the whole cosmos, not just some village in Palestine. No wonder Jeremiah wept at the thought of what was being done to God in this way (Jer. 8:22-9:3). The image of the unfaithful wife played deeply on male fears of female sexuality. Hosea was a Hebrew male. And they all feared their women in one way- that she might be unfaithful to him. And this was and is the fear of God for our sin, our unfaithfulness. The Jews who first heard Hosea and others would've been led into taking sympathy with the man, agreeing that the punishment for the woman was appropriate to her sin (Jer. 2:30-37; 13:20-27). And yet of course the point was that it was they who were the woman in all this. We’ve all seen jealous men in relationships, querying every guy who calls their home number, wanting to know whom the wife’s been out with… and on a far higher and altogether not petty level, this is the kind of God with whom we are in relationship. The men of Old Testament times feared their woman’s unfaithfulness as it placed his whole honour and status as a man at stake. Hos. 2:7,12 reveals Hosea’s hurt and anger that his wife considered other men to be the providers of her food and needs; for this was his honour, to provide for his wife, and for other men not to do that. And so we could say that in our unfaithfulness, in our turning to other supports other than Him… no less that God Himself is at stake. God is at stake. That’s how he sees it. That’s how much He’s risked Himself for us, when He could have never even gotten involved with us. No less than God Himself is at stake. And perhaps I need to stop writing and you need to stop reading for a moment, to reflect on the tragedy of that.
It's not only that God's essential 'Godhood' was at stake. Just as Hosea's great love for Gomer made him so obviously and tragically vulnerable, so God's love for us on this tiny planet has done the same for Him. A great lover is the most vulnerable of persons to hurt and depression. The tragedy of unrequited love is awful, biting in its tragedy. And the love of God, so infinitely above the dearest of human love, makes Him a vulnerable and potentially tragic figure, just as Hosea was. And yet Hosea's hope and fantasy will ultimately come true for God. The most broken of relationships, that between God and Israel, the deepest betrayal... will one day soon be gloriously resolved in a new world. And we are playing our parts towards that end; for if nothing else, we are called to be God's faithful Israel, His duteous wife...
The Baal Cult: An Insult To God's Godhood And Hosea's Manhood
By allowing her lovers to provide her food and clothing, she was insulting her husband Hosea (Hos. 2:7). Our lack of faith that God really will provide, our seeking of those things from others apart from Him, is a similar insult to Him at the most essential level of His being and our relationship. The parallel in the God / Israel relationship is clear. The Baal cult was a fertility cult. The idea was that be sleeping with the temple prostitutes, Baal would provide fertility in family life and also good harvests and fullness of bread. Yet Yahweh was the giver of bread to Israel (Ex. 16:29 cp. Dt. 8:18; Ps. 136:25; Ps. 146:7). For Israel to trust Baal for these things was a denial of Him. Hos. 2:18 implies that Israel even called Yahweh “my Baal”. And so when Gomer participated in these fertility rituals, she was living out the very picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness to their God.
According to Ex. 21:10,11, a husband should provide for his wife food, clothing and sex. The ancient Near Eastern cultures generally felt that in the case of divorce, a husband could recover everything from his wife, on the basis that they had never become part of her property, as she had not been a faithful wife. This could be the idea behind the Hebrew of Hos. 2:11: “I will take back the grain to myself”, along with “my grain… my must… my wool… my flax” [i.e. material for her clothes]. Gomer had taken these things from her lovers, and thus she declared herself not to be Hosea’s wife. Israel had ‘taken’ these things from the Baal fertility cult, and thus declared themselves not to be Yahweh’s wife. And if we trust in our own strength to provide these things- our jobs, salaries, investments, pensions, families- we are effectively denying our relationship with God. He has promised to provide the basics- and this we need to accept in faith.
Israel’s mixture of Yahweh worship with Baal worship is demonstrated by the reference to their being “lovers of raisin cakes” (Hos. 3:1). According to 2 Sam. 6:19, these cakes appear to have been part of the legitimate worship of Yahweh- and yet in Song 2:5 they are referred to as an aphrodisiac. There was a heady mix of Yahweh worship with participation in the sexual rituals of the Baal cult. It was this mixture which was so abhorrent to God- and time and again, in essence, we likewise mix flesh and spirit. A brother may express the most awful hatred and spite in ‘upholding the faith’ against one whom he perceives as apostate- and thus show the same mixture of flesh and spirit. A sister may indulge in gossip, kidding herself it’s all for the cause of Christian love and concern… and the examples multiply, hour by hour, in daily Christian experience. We see it again in Hos. 3:4- the people were using “cult pillars… ephods” in their Baal worship. The patriarchs set up pillars in faith; and an ephod was part of Yahweh worship. But yet again, the same external things were used in a wrong context with wrong motives. Excavations of the Elephantine community reveal that the Jews mixed Yahweh and Baal worship to such an extent that they believed that Yahweh , like Baal, had a consort called Anat. Inscriptions from Quntillet Ajrud show the names Yahweh and Baal mixed together, including one which appears to speak of “Yahweh and his asherah”. Ez. 16:21 and Ez. 23:39 are quite specific about this anyway- Israel offered sacrifice to idols in Yahweh’s own temple.
Reflecting The Struggle Of God
The passion and love of God leads Him time and again to apparently contradict Himself. He says that He will cast Judah out of their land, they would go to Babylon and serve other gods there, “where I will not show you favour” (Jer. 16:13). But actually Esther and her people were shown favour there [s.w. Esther 4:8; Esther 8:5]. God was gracious [s.w. ‘show favour’] to those in exile (Is. 30:18,9; Am. 5:15; Mal. 1:9). But Jer. 16 goes on to state that God would not ever hide His eyes / face from the iniquity they had committed, i.e. the reason why they were in captivity (Jer. 16:17). But actually He did do just that- He hid His eyes from the sin of Judah and the sin of the exiles (Is. 65:16); the hiding of His face from them was in fact not permanent but for a brief moment (Is. 54:8). God then outlines a plan- He will recompense their sin double, and this would lead them back to Him (Jer. 16:18). But this was to be an unrepeatable, once-for-all program that would “cause them to know mine hand… and they shall now that my name is The Lord” (Jer. 16:21). This double recompensing of Judah’s sin happened in the exile in Babylon (Is. 40:2), and therefore the joyful news was proclaimed to Zion in Is. 40 that now the Messianic Kingdom could begin. But there wasn’t much interest nor response to the call to return to Judah in order to share in it. The exile didn’t cause God’s people to repent nor to know His Name. It wasn’t the once-for-all program which He intended. Now none of this makes God out to be somehow not serious or unreliable. Rather is it all an indication of His passion and how deeply He wishes His plans of redemption for us to work out. He’s not ashamed to as it were humiliate Himself, lay Himself open to petty critics, in His passion for us. Thus God was so [apparently] sure that the exile would bring about Judah’s repentance and return to Him: “Thy lovers shall go into captivity: surely then shalt thou be ashamed and confounded for all thy wickedness” (Jer. 22:22). But actually the very opposite happened. It’s rather like “They will reverence my son” (Mt. 21:37)- when actually they crucified Him.
We have commented elsewhere how sometimes God speaks as if He has rejected Israel, and other times as if they will eternally be His people. Such is the extent of His passionate feelings for them. And the Son of God entered into this- He said that no man would eat fruit of the tree of Israel for ever (Mk. 11:14), when in fact Israel one day will fill the face of the earth with fruit (Is. 27:6). We too, in the spirit of the prophets, are to enter into these feelings of God. God’s threats to punish His people and His desire to forgive them don’t somehow cancel each other out as in an equation. They exist within the mind of God in a terrible tension. He cries out through Hosea of how His many ‘repentings’ are “kindled together” as He struggles within Himself to give up His people as He has threatened (Hos. 11:8). And this struggle was reflected within the emotions and through the speeches / writings / poetry of Hosea. Hosea’s speeches have an air of turbulence and struggle about them, which reflected the spirit / mind of the God who inspired him. The very way he was told to marry, in marked contrast to Jeremiah who was told not to marry (Jer. 16), perhaps indicates the duality of God’s feelings toward Israel- a desire to marry them and yet not to do so. The extent of God's wrath with Israel, and His harsh, angry language against her, was an outcome of His love for her. "For the wrath of God is the love of God", wrote Emil Brunner long ago. It's like when we see a child run out in front of a car and narrowly escape death; the mother is angry and shouts at the child. Whilst we the unlookers breathe a prayer of thanks to God in much calmer terms. And this may help explain to us what appears the harder side of God at times. Hos. 2:11 speaks of God uncovering Israel’s “nakedness”- used in Gen. 9:22,23 as a euphemism for her genitals. This uncovering of her nakedness is parallel with exposing her lewdness (Hos. 2:12). This will be the shame of the rejected at the day of judgment; and it’s why any personal game plan that depends upon looking good to our brethren when we’re rotten in God’s sight will end in the most acute shame ultimately. But the promises and prophecies and even fantasies of Israel's future glory always occur within a few verses of such outpourings of wrath. The prophets are full of this, and Hosea especially, following the feelings of Hosea toward Gomer.
Let’s remember that God’s own law was pretty clear about adultery. The adulterous woman was to be punished with death- for one act of adultery. Even if she repented. And in any case, it was a defiling abomination [according to the Mosaic Law] to remarry a divorced wife. But here in Hosea, Hosea doesn’t keep the law. He lets his wife commit multiple acts of adultery, and he still loves her and pleads with her- even though he was a man in love with God’s law. And this reflects the turmoil of God in dealing with human sin, and His sinful people. Hosea outlines his plan in Hosea 2. He will hamper her movements so she can’t find her lovers; if she does find them, he will take away her food and clothing, so she appreciates his generosity to her; and if she still doesn’t return, he will expose her naked and shamed in front of her lovers. But there’s no evidence Hosea ever did that. He just… loved her, was angry with her as an expression of that love, loved her yet more, yet more… And this perhaps too reflects God’s mind- devising and declaring judgments for Israel, which are themselves far less than what He has earlier stated in His own law, and yet the power of His love means He somehow keeps bearing with His people. Even in the context of speaking of His marriage to Israel, God says that He will punish them "as women that break wedlock are judged" (Ez. 26:38; 23:45). And yet, He didn't. His love was too great, His passion for them too strong; and He even shamed Himself by doing what His own law forbad, the remarriage to a divorced and defiled wife. Perhaps all love involves a degree of paradox and self-contradiction; and a jealous, Almighty God in love was no different. This, to me, is why some Bible verses indicate God has forsaken Israel; and others imply He hasn’t and never will. Somehow, even right now, the Jews you meet… are loved still by their God. And he still fantasizes, in a way, over their return to Him. Imagine His utter joy when even one of them does in fact turn to Him! That alone motivates me to preach to Israel today.
In Hos. 2:16-23 we appear to have a fantasy of Hosea about his family. After nostalgic dreaming about the early days of their relationship, Hosea fantasizes about once again wooing Gomer, becoming betrothed to her, marrying her in some sort of outdoors wedding ceremony in which the animals and physical creation witness the vows and enter the joy, entering a new covenant with her, and renaming their children from ‘Not my people’ to ‘My people’. As the children were to be renamed, Lo-ammi becoming Ammi, so the valley of Achor would become a door of hope (Hos. 2:17), and Jezreel, scene of Israel’s rebellions, would become the place of joyful reconciliation between God and His people. The valley of Achor had previously been a block to Israel’s entry to the land; now it becomes the entrance to it. In that awful place, God wanted to stage an outdoor wedding ceremony with His re-married people. Is. 65:10 mentions Achor as a place of special blessing in the Kingdom of God on earth- it’s as if God’s grace rejoices in inverting things, pouring out His richest blessing upon the places of our darkest failures. And we in daily life, in the interactions we have with others, are asked to reflect this same kind of grace.
This fantasy was and is the fantasy of God for His people. For doesn’t love involve an element of fantasy, imagination, wild hope? If God loves His people with passion, is it so inappropriate that He should have such fantasy about them? And this God is our God! Although He may appear silent, our response to the new covenant must give Him great joy, although this doesn’t cancel out the sorrow and tragedy of all His other rejected love. It makes me for one want to preach the harder to persuade men and women of His love. Let’s remember that the events in Hosea’s life, according to the information in Hos. 1:1, occurred over a span of at least 30, and perhaps even 50 years. His love for Gomer was the love of a lifetime, the hope and pain of a lifetime. And this in its turn reflects the long term love of the eternal God for His people. Hosea’s fantasy for Gomer was unbounded. He fantasized of how when she returned to him with all her heart, with the children renamed, actually the whole of creation would join with him and her in some sort of ceremony of renewal (Hos. 2:16-23). The heavens would echo back the earth’s joy. The wonderful thing is that this will happen when finally the Lord Jesus returns and Israel returns to their God. His fantasy was also God’s. And God’s fantasy for His people will in the end come true. And yet the whole language of Israel's rejection and then a new covenant being made between God and her is in essence marriage language. Jer. 31 speaks of how Rachel weaps for her slain children, but also as a virgin takes her tambourine in hand and dances, entering a new covenant with her ba'al, her Lord, her husband, who has obliterated the memory of all her sins in a way that only a Divine being could do (Jer. 31). Women in love are stereotypically associated with emotions of giddiness, hysteria, excitement, joy... and this is the language applied to weeping Rachel, weeping over the children God had taken from her. And yet... according to the New Testament quotations and expositions of Jer. 31, this is the very same 'new covenant' into which we enter in baptism. This is God's joy over us, and it should be ours over Him.
The hopefulness and fantasy of God for Israel comes out in His statements that Israel definitely will repent “As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is [note the present tense] the house of Israel ashamed” (Jer. 2:26). This was God’s fantasy for His people. There’s another in Jer. 3:22: “Return, ye backsliding children. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God”. This latter sentence is God’s fantasy about Israel, imagining them saying those words. How bitter was His disappointment therefore- and how great His delight in those of us who in our weakness do come unto Him and recognize Him meaningfully as our God. Indeed the whole of Jer. 3:22-25 is full of God fantasizing about the sort of words Israel would say upon their repentance, and how they would take responsibility for their sins rather than blame them on their fathers (Jer. 3:25). This apparent certainty that Israel would repent and thus obviate the threatened judgments must have conflicted within the thinking of the Father- with His certainty that all was already too late for them. Hence passages like Hos. 11:8 speaks of the burning pain within the thought processes of God Almighty.
Hosea spoke in God’s Name. He would’ve known how that Name was a memorial of the characteristics of God, His pity, mercy, forgiveness etc. as outlined in Ex. 33:19. And yet Hosea uses those very words in saying that now, God will not have mercy, pity or forgiveness toward Israel (Hos. 1:6). But Hosea spoke in the Name of Yahweh; and predicted that the Yahweh who had been their elohim from the land of Egypt, would still be their God (Hos. 12:9). In this we see Hosea’s personal involvement in the tension of God; for he spoke in God’s Name, with all that Name implied. And we too carry that Name, having been baptized into it. And we speak in that Name to this world, bearing within us the same conflict between the reality of future judgment, and the earnest grace of God to save this world.
(1) Abraham Heschel, God In Search Of Man (New York: Farrar, 1955).
(2) Abraham Heschel, Man Is Not Alone (New York: Noonday Press, 1951) p. 241.
(3) James Muilenburg, The Way Of Israel (New York: Harper, 1961) p.89.
(4) Rosa Newmarch, The Life And Letters Of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (New York: Vienna House, 1973 ed.) pp. 274,275.
(5) It has been argued that the very name of God, YHWH, is related to the Hebrew root hwy, passionate love. He is the one who was and is and will be the passionate one. See S.D. Goitein, Vetus Testamentum Vol. 6 pp. 1-9. Whether or not this is the case linguistically, the declaration of God’s Name in Ex. 33:19 defines the Name as primarily concerning God’s grace and mercy.
(6) Martin Buber, The Prophetic Faith (New York: Macmillan, 1969) p.138.
(8) F. Andersen and D.N. Freedman, Hosea (London: Doubleday, 2004 ed.) p. 159.
(9) H.W. Wolff, Confrontations with Prophets (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), p. 17.
(10) M. Cogan, Imperialism And Religion: Assyria, Judah and Israel in the Eighth and Seventh Centuries BCE (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1974) pp. 103,104.
Prophecy, Post Modernism And Inspiration: A Response by John Stibbs
Tchaikovsky's view of inspiration [the manic phase of bipolar?] it would seem is what was called by post modernists the modernist myth of the 'great artist' or in his case the 'great composer', as a conduit from the divine...buying into the idea that such prodigious talent could only come from God [but who often needs a muse to get him in the 'mood']. In post modernism there is no such thing at least in the visual arts [because there is no 'divine']...all can be attributed to the exteriors of things or 'its', i.e. 'mind' or even consciousness itself is directly attributed to or is a result of chemical and / or electrical processes. All folks are equal and what is needed to be an artist can be taught, thus we are all just artisans and the concepts are of literal signs, the meta narrative having been deconstructed in semiotics, no narrative therefore is more important than another ['flatland']...except the meta narrative of post modernism itself of course! But for musicians its different it seems as there is still a recognition of talent because, I would suggest, it is performance based, [and all are not equal in that way at least] though it is no longer seen as from the divine.
Inspiration of the Biblical kind I would suggest is not so much a man, or woman, being the conduit of the divine as is or has been supposed by what is essentially modernist religious fundamentalism [Christian scientific rationalism]. It was from this that there arose the notion that every word is God breathed or attributed to some kind of magical possession by divine ethereal disembodied spirit, like some kind of channelling from the 'spirit world'. These it seems were rationalisations of the unknown encountered in heightened or altered states of awareness within the consciousness level of the culture and described in available terms which were culturally bound and values system laden. What the consciousness of post modernism has allowed is for us to deconstruct the myth and to know that it is part of the world or cosmos that we know not some kind of fiat from another world inhabited by 'spirit-beings' such as angels and of whom God is the king. It is in fact a state of mind or level of consciousness that is quite common and is experienced by creative minds such as Tchaikovsky and others, but is not related to survival or existence of the individual or group. Albert Einstein [a spiritually mature man] is another whose concepts in science came as 'a blinding flash' of inspiration or in other words what has come to be known as 'peak experiences' of an altered state of conscious attained by a natural kind of meditative frame of mind somewhat similar to the manic phase of bi polar or that of a savant [whose brain chemistry or make-up 'allowed' such 'focus'], and try as he might he could never recreate to the same extent again because he failed to see where it came from. Many men and women in the past have achieved altered states of consciousness by using mind altering drugs, or experiences [meditation, yoga etc in the east] as a matter of course often not of their doing... many poets, artists, writers etc. used drugs prescribed by doctors, Vincent van Gogh is a case in point, as is the poet Browning and many others even Newton. Just as an aside here- Sufism for instance uses dance and music to attain an altered state of consciousness..not unlike an hypnotic trance. Anyway, the point is that in the past these 'peak experiences' could only be described [in the West at least] in the language of the times... the whole process of 'cultural' development is not unlike the individual maturation process, each stage or step may answer previous questions but opens up the awareness to more questions in a seemingly endless quest for 'truth'. This post modern 'flatland' of external processes i.e. the view that internal processes are an outcome of chemical or electrical processes, is boring and more importantly doesn't really explain everything, the truth of such science is relative... it just poses more existential questions of a 'higher level' of consciousness. But to people on one certain level of consciousness there is no recognition of any 'higher' level only the levels through which one has already come. This is not unlike the maturation process which evolves through a process of differentiation and identification. So it's no wonder that prophecy, and the Revelation is a good example [because it 'comes' from a higher level of consciousness which expresses a much wider worldview], has to be lived through and only understood in retrospect... though if we meditate on it we may be able to glimpse a part of this 'truth' which is relative to us as we have great difficulty thinking beyond the level of consciousness in which we are now living. This is not unlike Newtonian mechanics as compared with quantum mechanics, which truth may also be superceded. We know that quantum works in the real world, but we don't fully understand why. But I think we are now on the cusp of a new much wider, inclusive and compassionate level of consciousness hence all the turmoil in the heavens and upon the earth.
<Previous Contents Next>