The Prodigal Woman

Scripture Focus: Hosea 2.7-8
7 She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
     she will look for them but not find them.
 Then she will say,
     ‘I will go back to my husband as at first,
     for then I was better off than now.’
 8 She has not acknowledged that I was the one
     who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,
 who lavished on her the silver and gold—
     which they used for Baal.

Luke 15.17-18
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 

Reflection: The Prodigal Woman
By Erin Newton

As a writer, I struggle with doubt: “How can I say anything that is new?” The teacher in Ecclesiastes would say, “Yeah. There is nothing new under the sun.” Despite this reality, the Bible often reminds me that some good truths are worth repeating.

Many times in the Old Testament we see themes and stories that find a similar counterpart in the New Testament. We see similar tales of watery depths stilled at creation (Genesis 1.2, 9-10) and at the hush of the waves from the voice of Jesus (Luke 8.24-25). There are temptations in the deserts of Egypt and Israel (Exodus 16.1-3; Matthew 4.1-4). In fact, Jesus often responds to questions, “You’ve heard it said…” implying that some truths are worth telling again.

The prophets’ messages were not random, ground-breaking new realities for the people. They spoke messages that reminded people of the truth they already knew. The call to repentance is an ancient word that still speaks today.

The prophet Hosea uses the image of a wayward spouse to speak about the unfaithfulness of Israel. His message compares the divine-human relationship to a marriage. What is expected in such a relationship? Loyalty, love, commitment, and exclusivity. 

Through this analogy, Israel is revealed as disloyal, unloving, uncommitted, and corrupt. The object of her wayward affection is Baal, the god of her neighbors—a deity depicted as a violent storm god engaged in wars for power. She is compelled by her lust and forgets where her substance and beauty come from.

“Well, good thing I would never be a harlot! Never would I worship an idol!” We convince ourselves that we are too sophisticated to be compared to a scandalous woman involved in idolatry.

But Jesus takes the same message and reconfigures the image. No longer is it a spousal relationship. It is father and son. It is not a woman financially dependent on a man but a son who is already destined to receive a future inheritance. It is not Baal who tempts but greed.

This story hits a little closer to home. It sounds like our own testimonies.

Both the woman and the son follow their passions instead of the Provider. Yet both are received within the arms of the one who has always loved them.

God always loved Israel. The father never stopped loving his son. Christ forever loves you.
There is always room to tell this same story—our story—one more time. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
My soul thirsts for the strong, living God and all that is within me cries out to him. 

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Hosea 2 (Listen 3:48
Matthew 7 (Listen 3:31)

Read more about A Chiaroscuro Parable
Like a Rembrandt chiaroscuro painting, with exaggerated lights and darks, Hosea shows the darkness of sin and the bright, hopeful gleams of God’s love

Read more about Trouble and Hope
How does trouble turn into hope? How does the punishment of disobedience become a beacon of mercy in the wilderness?

Trouble and Hope

Scripture Focus: Joshua 7.25-26
25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.”

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

Hosea 2.14-15
14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

Reflection: Trouble and Hope
By Erin Newton

The memorial stones marking Achan’s death were called “The Valley of Achor” or fully translated, “The Valley of Trouble.” The name was fitting. Trouble came to Israel through Achan. One man’s sin caused the downfall of the community.

Joshua describes Achan’s sin as coveting and stealing. After Jericho, he took items destined to be devoted to God. Implied sins include pride and deceit. It was pride that led Achan to assume authority over what belonged to God. It was deceitfulness that caused Achan to avoid confessing until the very end.

Now just a pile of stones, thrown by the betrayed community and commanded by the betrayed God, Achan’s memorial would serve as a warning to Israel. The justice of God was not something to be overlooked. The warnings about disobedience were important.

God as a wrathful, vengeful deity is a typical assumption when reading the Old Testament. Some people reduce the testaments to the opposing picture of God: wrath in the Old, mercy in the New. This conclusion, however, neglects the fuller picture of God from Genesis to Malachi.

In Joshua, one sinful man is led into the wilderness as punishment. In Hosea, God leads the sinful people into the wilderness as a pathway of hope. The Valley of Achor reveals a more comprehensive view of God’s character: justice and mercy. Two sides of the same God.

Faced with this complex tension of two opposing characteristics, we tend to downplay one for the sake of the other. Our minds struggle to grasp how God can be completely just and completely merciful. It is a dichotomy we will never fully grasp.

How does trouble turn into hope? How does the punishment of disobedience become a beacon of mercy in the wilderness?

Justice and mercy converged on the cross. Like the punishment heaped upon Achan, the weight of our guilt was cast upon the body of Christ. But this monument of justice suddenly becomes a crimson beacon of hope. The justice required after the first Adam is covered by the mercy of the second Adam.

Whereby one man’s sin caused the downfall of humanity, the one Son of God caused the redemption of all creation.

We are not so different from Achan. Our sin would have us trudge into the wilderness to endure justice. But we are also like Israel, we are lured into the wilderness with a promise of restoration and mercy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Seven times a day do I praise you, because of your righteous judgments.
Great peace have they who love your law: for them there is no stumbling block. — Psalm 119.165

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 7 (Listen 4:58)
Colossians 4 (Listen  2:21)

Read more about Distrust of God and Fraud
It is the unbelief and contempt of heaven, which make men risk it for the poor commodities of this world.

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A Chiaroscuro Parable

Scripture Focus: Hosea 2.19-20, 23
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.
23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.”
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,[j]’ ‘You are my people’;
and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

Reflection: A Chiaroscuro Parable
By John Tillman

Hosea makes his life a living parable of God’s relationship with the Jewish people and every single choice sends a harsh message. 

The harshness of Hosea’s messages serves to emphasize two things. Like a Rembrandt chiaroscuro painting, with exaggerated lights and darks, Hosea shows the darkness of our abject failure and sin and the bright, hopeful gleams of God’s love pushing back our darkness to reveal beauty and forgiveness.

Some of the dark moments are the names Hosea gives his children, Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi. The names get gradually worse as does the meaning they imply. 

Jezreel was a place name. It was a beautiful place. However, it had become known for bloodshed rather than beauty. Many different political slaughters had soaked this ground in the blood of God’s children. James Limburg, in his commentary on Hosea, points out that naming a child “Jezreel” might be similar to naming a child today “Auschwitz” or “Hiroshima.” Lo-ruhamah literally means “without compassion” or “without mercy”. Lo-Ammi implies Hosea is not the father.

Jezreel pointed to the fall and failure of Israel’s kings and to the injustice and vindictive violence that had seized Israel. Lo-ruhamah indicated the loss of God’s compassion and willingness to intervene on their behalf. Lo-Ammi indicated a future without God’s presence. This, for Israel, meant losing their very identity as a people. If God left them they could echo Moses’s plea, “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33.15-16)

We are a beautiful plain, like Jezreel, ruined by violence and bloodshed.
We are ill-behaved children whose parent, out of love, defended us for too long from consequences. It is this love that God withdraws from us allowing our suffering.
We are rebels disowned and disinherited after breaking God’s heart with our self-destructive behavior.

The names of Hosea’s children (or Gomer’s children, since Hosea implies that they may be children of adulterous relationships) seem harsh yet God makes it clear that his purpose is to lovingly reverse the meanings of these names.

Hosea’s second chapter contains poetic lines indicating that God will still pursue his people with love. He will still work to turn us back. He will still heal us when we return. He will reverse the meanings of our names, making us beautiful, making us loved, and making us his own again.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise. — Psalm 106.47

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Hosea 2  (Listen – 3:48)
Psalm 119:97-120 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Restoring Relationship
Regardless of how the Israelites have sinned or been unfaithful, God is strong enough to overcome their sin and restore their relationship.

Read more about Taking Sin Seriously
Jesus doesn’t “let the woman go.” He sends her out. Jesus, instead of taking the woman’s life, redeems it. He buys it for his own.