Reading through Hosea last week for our parish bible study I was struck anew by the significance of the marriage imagery.
Clearly, marriage is a central image as far as understanding Hosea goes, and not just any marriage: “When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness”…So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son,” (1:2-3).
Indeed, marriage is a central image throughout both Old and New Testament. The Bible begins with marriage in Genesis:
“So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it,” (1:27-28).
“But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man…For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” (2:20b-22, 24).
It ends with a great wedding feast in Revelation:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give [the Lord God Almighty] glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready,” (19:7).
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (21:1-2, 5).
In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he writes at one point to wives and husbands (5:22ff) regarding the sort of sacrificial love that ought to define their relationships. Paul points back to Genesis quoting 2:24 (5:31, “For this reason…”). And yet, just here, Paul confronts us with a great mystery: “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church,” (5:32).
There were a few occasions while reading through Hosea that my mind leaped back to Genesis and the account of the Fall there in ch.3, as well as to various points of Israel’s sordid history. For example, consider some of the language that is used to describe Israel’s sin in Hosea: “They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval,” (8:4); “My people are determined to turn from me,” (11:7). The language of “unfaithfulness” that permeates the book gets at the same idea. The point is that Israel’s sin had to do with a turning from their God, forsaking his ways for their own ways apart from him.
Was this not the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden? Not a simple act of disobedience but the assertion of the self apart from God. The creature forgetting their creaturely dependence upon (and loving responsibility to) their Creator. The chasm of creation (to borrow a phrase from Ephraim Radner), that is the distinction and separation between Creator and creation, is exaggerated by sin.
A second instance when my mind went to Genesis: “Though Ephraim built many altars for sin offerings, these have become altars for sinning,” (8:11); “Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen,” (13:2).
Was this not the created destiny of Adam and Eve, only here disfigured and unrecognizable? Were not Adam and Eve, and all human creatures through them, placed in the garden as priests to tend it and work it and offer it all back to their Creator in thanksgiving so that God might be all in all? Is this not the priestly offering of love that human creatures were created to participate in? Yet, what is the LORD’s charge against Israel through Hosea? The altars that were built for sacrifice have become altars for sinning. The human hands which were meant to work the garden and offer it back to God have become twisted up and now take the earth and form it into idols. Priestly hands became whorish hands. Hands meant to offer became hands that take and hold.
And, of course, the result is what? A lack of fruitfulness: “Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit. Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring,” (9:16).
Eve is born from Adam’s side. So too the church is born from the side of Jesus Christ (“One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” John 19:34). Eve was created out of Adam’s side. A distinction. A separation, but a separation for the sake of a union (“one flesh”). And, union for the sake of fruitfulness (“increase in number”). So too with Christ and the church: a separation, an initial movement away, for the sake of a union, a second movement towards. And this union for the sake of life.
This is the gospel, that in Jesus Christ God has come near to that which is totally other than himself, has sacrificially given himself in love to that which is totally other, has taken upon himself that which is alien to him (i.e. human flesh) so that that which is other might be united to him. And why? For the sake of life. Real life. Eternal life.
God has said no to unfaithful Israel. He has cast them off. God has said no to us. He has cast us off. But how? How has God said no to Israel and to us? How has he cast both them and us off? Is God’s ‘no’ to unfaithful Israel not God’s ‘yes’ to Israel? Has God not cast off Israel in her unfaithfulness precisely in his embrace of Israel in her unfaithfulness (ex. Hosea)? And has not all of this happened in the very person and work of the living Jesus Christ? And has this living and reigning Jesus not grasped us by the wrists and pulled us up out of the pit of despair along with him? Indeed he has!
May we return to the LORD as Hosea exhorted Israel (14:1ff), that we might be united with him in love for the sake of life (14:8, “fruitfulness”).