Thursday, March 05, 2009

40FP(6): Hosea 4.1-6

This needs to be from the RSV translation:

1 Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel; for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land.
2 Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.
4 Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest.
5 You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night, and I will destroy your mother.
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

Why is this a favourite passage?

I first discovered this text when I was an undergraduate, attending a lecture on Hosea, and I still use the Bible that I had that day where I marked the page 'eco'! It has become a text laden with personal meaning for me, which sums up my vocation, in so far as I can perceive it accurately.

Verses 1&2: in Scripture, so far as I can tell, there is a direct link between believing in God and behaving well - the two are different descriptions of the same thing, the life of righteousness. This is the context for the Psalmist saying 'The fool says in his heart there is no God' - he goes on to explain what is meant by this when he says that there is nobody who does good, no not one. To believe in God simply IS to be righteous; conversely where there is a lack of righteousness - swearing, lying, adultery etc - then the real knowledge of God is absent.
Verse 3: this failure of relationship, this breaking apart from God, manifests itself in global symptoms of disorder, especially ecological ones, building upon the human violence of the previous verse. This is how I see the ecological crisis we are living in (and where I have something in common with the more barking fundamentalist elements of pre-trib rapture in the US) in that I see the world as being in God's hands and not in ours. We are not able to put everything right with the world - but if we turn back to God, then God will put it right (the symptoms will be relieved).
Verse 4: the root of the problem lies with the religious class; they have failed in their duty to share the living faith, and have become distracted with the perks of the job (spelled out later on in Hosea 4). "With you is my contention O priest" - a totally different translation to the NIV and one that captures this intent. What the 'right' translation is I shall leave to those better qualified; from my point of view, though, this was the text as I originally discovered it, and it is this translation which sunk its claws into me.
Verses 5&6: the priestly class will share in the bad consequences that follow from falling away from God and living unrighteously. In particular they will be rejected as priests - presumably by God, but also, as I read it, by the people themselves. The people will turn away from the worldly priesthood, and will seek the living God wherever they can find him. This is how I interpret the decline in church attendance; Western Christianity in general, the Church of England in particular, has lost its way, has forgotten what it is here for, has been suborned by the worldly state, domesticated and castrated, kept on as a cute housepet that's useful for ornamental functions.

Woe to you O Christian!

Woe to you who seek the living God! - for you shall find Him!

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