Complaining about my condition, never acknowledging my contrition? Wednesday, 14th week in ordinary time – Hosea 10: 1-7
Hosea chapter 10 must be read along with chapter 9. Hosea is a prophet with no filter. He comes with no disclaimer or warning that this text may not be suitable for some audiences. There is a no holds bar policy for this prophet who speaks God’s word to his own people of the Northern Kingdom, referred in this book by several names; Ephraim, Israel or Samaria.
“You have played the whore, you have loved a prostitutes pay” (9:1). “They will get a miscarrying womb and dry breasts”(9:14) “Their root will be dried up and they shall bear no fruit” (9:16). ‘Even thought they give birth, God says he will kill the cherished offspring of their womb’. (9:16).Hosea does not mince words even though he himself is denounced as ‘a fool’ and as a man with a ‘mad spirit’ (9:7). Hosea sees himself as a sentinel for God over that of the beliefs of his countrymen for they have corrupted themselves. This is no misguided nationalistic prophet with a jingoistic agenda but a hard hitting man of God who fears but God alone.
In Hosea we see a true servant of God for even though we would have liked this prophet of God to be more ‘godlike’ and tone down the rhetoric, he chooses to condemn the godless rather than be given human certifications of approval.
Today’s reading reiterates the failure of Israel as a spiritual nation even though it flourished materially under King Jeroboam II and had grown to be a prosperous country. The prophet acknowledges that as a nation they are a ‘luxuriant wine that bears fruit’; indicating the wealth it had acquired. But the wealth that Israel acquired was used to build altars to the pagan god Baal. Ironically, they had received from the hand of Yahweh, the true God, but directed their thanksgiving to Baal, the false God. In this there is a glaring lesson for us who receive not by our merit but by God’s grace and yet it is to men that we direct our thanksgiving making humans our gods.
Hosea declares the people of Israel to be people with insincere hearts that are divided between the LORD and Baal and for this they must bear the punishment determined for them by Yahweh. Their many altars which they built with their wealth will now be destroyed but the Assyrians. Yet we are told that instead of true repentance they utter ‘mere words’ and attempt to buy themselves the mercy of God by offering ‘empty oaths and covenants’; as if God could be bought by some trifle chain of gold or two candles. Their now desperate pleas for help from Yahweh will not find any sympathy for they have always treated God not as a steering wheel but as a spare tyre and now they ‘cry’ to him for they need a replacement for their flat tyre. Like rats deserting a sinking ship they desert King Hoshea too, he who was the last of the northern kings. For them, he is labelled useless, unable to do anything, as they are led into captivity. In all of this, you hear words of despair not cries of repentance. They describe their condition not express their contrition. The have learnt nothing continuing to be a stiff necked people.
Ironically they still pine for the calf worshipping days at the shrine of Bethaven. Bethaven which means the house of vanity is a clear indication of the sin they choose to embrace. They rather worship at the altar of vanity than be children of humility. Even now they mourn for their ‘idolatrous priests’. They choose to be ‘people of a calf’ rather than children of Yahweh. For this reason, Hosea prophecies that not only will they be taken into captivity but so will their ‘graven images’.
The teaching of today is crystal clear. God demands our undivided loyalty. The Gospel of Matthew 6:24 reminds us that no one can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. God demands our attention, our time, our energy that we may be devoted to him alone.