From Individuality to Mutuality

Scripture Focus: Hosea 3.1-3
1 The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” 
2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.” 

Hosea 4.14
14 “I will not punish your daughters 
when they turn to prostitution, 
nor your daughters-in-law 
when they commit adultery, 
because the men themselves consort with harlots 
and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes— 
a people without understanding will come to ruin! 

Reflection: From Individuality to Mutuality
By John Tillman

It is sometimes difficult for us to understand the metaphor of faithfulness God is employing in Hosea’s story. How could we? Adultery is barely problematic in our culture.

We care about adultery when it happens to us or someone we love. We make a legal fuss about it. We sing vengeful songs about it. Collectively, however, we’ve basically come to expect and accept adultery. When both partners have remained faithful, we find it remarkable, unusual, worthy of celebration. 

It makes some Christians feel better to blame promiscuity and infidelity on “our culture” and the “sexual revolution,” but it’s not true. Rampant infidelity might feel new but people are only doing more openly today what they did in secret before. Sexual exploitation began with Cain’s descendant, Lamech, and never slowed down.

Like Lamech, today’s sexual priorities are individual satisfaction. “What I want, what I feel, what I desire, trumps all. If that means that you or I must betray and leave wife or husband, so be it. It is my right to sate my appetites, no matter what they are, no matter the cost.”

Gomer chased sexual appetites. Like many who have done so, she came to ruin (Hosea 4.14), finding only loneliness, abuse, and bondage. What Hosea offered Gomer, and what God offers us, is a loving relationship of mutuality to replace transactional relationships of selfish benefit.

Sexual exploitation pushes down the weak. God puts genders on equal ground again. He refuses to treat the women resorting to prostitution differently than the men abusing them. Hosea promises to behave towards his wife in the same way he expects her to behave towards him. It’s not a one-way street. 

Like the crowd in John 8.1-11, many voices accuse women of sexual wrongs while giving a pass to men. Righteousness is used to keep at a distance those we call “sinners.” 

Hosea uses righteousness differently. Instead of separating himself from Gomer, he goes to her. Instead of treating her as beneath him, damaged, or as a slave, he lifts her up, restores her, and sets her free. It is no accident that this is exactly how Jesus treats us in our sins. In Hebrew, Jesus and Hosea have names with the same shade of meaning. Both names tell us that God saves. Jesus is our Hosea, our “savior.” Jesus breaks the curse of Eden, restoring the possibility of mutuality, respect, and love.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8
– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Hosea 3-4Listen – 2:53)
Psalm 132-134(Listen -1:42)

Read more about A Chiaroscuro Parable
The names of Hosea’s children seem harsh yet God makes it clear that his purpose is to lovingly reverse the meanings of these names.

Read more about The Sins Behind Sexual Sins
Many times sexual sins are a symptom of other sins such as greed, selfishness, inequality, and oppression.

After the Whirlwind—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Hosea 8.2-4, 7
2 Israel cries out to me, 
‘Our God, we acknowledge you!’ 
3 But Israel has rejected what is good; 
an enemy will pursue him. 
4 They set up kings without my consent; 
they choose princes without my approval. 
With their silver and gold 
they make idols for themselves 
to their own destruction. 

7 “They sow the wind 
and reap the whirlwind. 

Psalm 125.3-5
3 The scepter of the wicked will not remain 
over the land allotted to the righteous, 
for then the righteous might use 
their hands to do evil. 
4 LORD, do good to those who are good, 
to those who are upright in heart. 
5 But those who turn to crooked ways 
the LORD will banish with the evildoers. 
Peace be on Israel. 

Reflection: After the Whirlwind—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

I am writing this devotional on Thursday evening October 29th based not on political events (whatever may occur) but on our readings in Hosea. We have been in this section of the Bible for every election week since 2012 when we started following this reading plan.

Not only is this reading plan nothing new, contentiousness in politics is nothing new to the world or to people of faith. The Athenians thought their fellow Greeks in Sparta to be embarrassingly immature in their voting practices. Whereas Athenians (and most Greeks and Romans) voted by show of hands or by secret ballot, the Spartans rejected these. Sparta preferred to vote by which side shouted the loudest. 

Tomorrow’s vote in the United States concludes a Spartan-like election. Shouting is the new norm, even if our actual votes are by secret ballot. 

With the validity of the United States election process being attacked, from within and from without, many fear that careless, vitriolic words from leaders may inspire physical violence that could erupt from either side of our fractured political spectrum. The outcome itself may be delayed longer than impatient partisans will be willing to wait.

To paraphrase Hosea, we have sown the wind with our violent rhetoric and we may reap the whirlwind of violent outcomes.

This week, we will pray for repentance, patience, peace, and faith using the scriptures from our reading plan. We will pray through the closing chapters of Hosea, beginning today in Hosea’s eighth chapter. 

We pray that in every nation, Christians will repent of any political idols we cling to. Our faith in them will only reap the whirlwind. May we place our trust instead in our true and only king.

After the Whirlwind
Oh God, we confess we have sowed the wind
Of idolatry
Of violent words

We fear reaping the whirlwind
Of violence
Of suffering
Of humiliation

Forgive us for rejecting what is good
Forgive us for dehumanizing our brothers and sisters
Forgive us for demanding
Our freedom
Our lusts
Our way

Help us, Lord, to remember
To repent
To soften 
To turn back to you
May we not waste away, crops lost to the storm
May you have mercy on us, redeem us, and replant us
After the whirlwind

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9

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

Today’s Readings
Hosea 8  (Listen – 1:58)
Psalm 123-125 (Listen – 1:52)

Read more about The Language of a Good Neighbor
Where machine-gun-like blasts of vitriol cut through the airwaves, it is only a matter of time before actual bullets fly.

Read more about Killing With our Hearts
We rush to soften Christ’s teaching about violent thoughts and words because we are unwilling to let go of them.

The Sins Behind Sexual Sins

Scripture Focus: Hosea 4.1-3
1 Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
2 There is only cursing,[c] lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away.

Reflection: The Sins Behind Sexual Sins
By John Tillman

Gomer’s sexual sins of prostitution and adultery were not just an analogy for idolatry. The people of God were metaphorically and literally committing adultery and participating in prostitution as part of worshiping Ba’al. However, idolatry doesn’t have to involve sexual sin to cause similar damage.

When we read about sexual sins in the Bible, we need to take care not to automatically think of sexual sin as the only sin involved. Sometimes sexual sin is also a symptom or a tool of other sins.

The entire point of worshiping a fertility god or goddess in an agrarian economy is financial blessing. The sin behind the sexual sin was a desire to manipulate the economy. The blessing to be expected from Ba’al was a higher ROI.

Sex to gain power is a sin of lust, but it is a lust for power not for flesh. Sex in exchange for money or influence, likewise, is a sinful means to a sinful end. Sex to display power, such as rape or sexual harrasment and abuse, is a sin of domination and control.

People commit today the exact same kind of sins as the Israelites who worshiped Ba’al in pursuit of better crops. When we are willing to kiss any ring, shake any hand, or endorse any person in order to gain power, get elected, make a deal, cut out a competitor, or monopolize an earning opportunity we are prostituting ourselves in lust whether or not there is sex involved. The Israelites attributed their profits and success to their efforts in worshiping Ba’al. We attribute our success to our “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.” It is the same sin of idolatry with a different object.
Many times sexual sins are a symptom of other sins such as greed, selfishness, inequality, and oppression. Prostitution, adultery and other sexual sins rise with poverty rates because the sins of greed and oppression create the circumstances under which women resort to prostitution and men seek dominance and control.

May we confess and weep over all our lusts, not just lusts of the flesh.
May we weep for our greed.
May we cry to be delivered from selfishness.
May we ache for healing for our addiction to power.
May we humble ourselves in repentance from our pride.
And, yes, may we turn in faithfulness toward a biblical sexual ethic that divorces sex from the abuses of sin.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
For you Name’s sake, O Lord, forgive my sin, for it is great. — Psalm 25.10

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

Today’s Readings
Hosea 3-4  (Listen – 3:53)
Psalm 119:121-144 (Listen – 15:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
Hosea 5-6  (Listen – 3:44), Psalm 119:145-176 (Listen – 15:14)
Hosea 7  (Listen – 2:19), Psalm 120-122 (Listen – 2:12)

Read more about Lamenting Materialism :: A Guided Prayer
Today, Ba’al wouldn’t be a rain god, he’d be Gordon Gekko. Or Bernie Madoff. Or Jordan Belafort.

Read more about Prayers God Hates
The sin at the top of God’s list isn’t adultery or any sexual sin…it is systemic oppression of the most vulnerable members of society.