For my Church Write-Up today, I will start with items from the Sunday School class, which is about the Book of Hosea. Then I will talk about the LCMS worship service.
A. Hosea 5:12 states: “Therefore I am like maggots to Ephraim, and like rottenness to the house of Judah” (NRSV). The pastor said that the “rottenness” is gangrene. Northern Israel and Judah were dead spiritually, and it is on the dead that maggots and gangrene feed. The economy has been booming, so Israel has thought that she is okay in her relationship with God. But things are starting to take a downturn. Assyria is on the rise and is expanding. An earthquake occurs in Samaria in the eighth century B.C.E. The Israelites are experiencing the symptoms of their sins but do not recognize that they are sinners. The prophet is trying to get the people to realize that they need help.
B. The class discussed God’s judgment. One student said that he does not believe that God directly and actively punishes people but rather withdraws and lets them experience the consequences of their sin. The pastor replied that such a view is consistent with Hosea 5:14, in which God withdraws from Israel until she seeks him, yet v. 13 presents God as a lion who will tear Israel in pieces, which is active punishment.
C. The class then talked about whether God punishes people in the world. The pastor said the Israel experienced God’s judgment, but that God’s judgment was fully experienced by Jesus Christ on the cross. Therefore, God does not punish people here and now. People will suffer in a fallen world, but that is not God punishing them, for that is not God’s heart. The pastor mentioned how some Christians saw AIDS as God’s punishment for homosexuals, which makes no sense, since it also took the lives of numerous heterosexuals in Africa. Without a prophet to tell us, we cannot definitively say that a person’s suffering is God’s punishment for a sin. Questions arise in my mind. First of all, according to the New Testament, did Jesus’s death on the cross eliminate God’s punishment of sin? Paul expresses hope that God will repay evildoers for their sin (Romans 12:19; II Timothy 4:14). The Gospels seem to present the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. as divine punishment of Israel, and 70 C.E. is decades after the death of Jesus. Second, the idea that God has changed his M.O. does not entirely set right with me. God hates sin in the Old Testament and punishes Israel for it, but in the New Testament God lets people off the hook because God punishes someone else in their place. Does God no longer hate sin?
D. In Hosea 6:1-2, God has killed Israel but will raise her up on the third day. The pastor said that the Jews believed that the soul hung around the body for the first three days but left on the fourth day (cp. John 11:17). Elijah and Elisha raised the dead on the very day that those people died, when the soul was still around. God, however, promises to raise Israel when the soul is about to depart, when all seems lost. This will be as certain as the sun coming up and the arrival of the winter and spring rains (Hosea 6:3). Ultimately, this is fulfilled in Jesus, for God killed Jesus with God’s wrath and raised him from the dead. The pastor challenged the view that the Old Testament lacks the notion of an eschatological resurrection from the dead, for resurrection appears here in Hosea, in Ezekiel 37, and in Job 19:26. Deuteronomy 32:39, I Samuel 2:6, and Job 5:18 also affirm that God kills and makes alive. The pastor said that Hosea 6:1-2 is not merely using resurrection as a metaphor for Israel’s national restoration, but I am not clear what he meant by that. Hosea 6:1-2 appears to speak about Israel’s restoration, not a literal resurrection of dead bodies. In the handout, the pastor says that Hosea 6:1-2 at least makes clear that God is able to raise the dead.
E. After Israel returns to God in Hosea 6:1-3, God appears to question her repentance in vv. 4-6. Is God saying that her repentance is not good enough, so judgment is still coming? Or is God continuing God’s lament at Israel’s disobedience? According to the handout, scholars debate this. The pastor prefers the latter view because our repentance can never be good enough.
F. Hosea 6:4-6 states that Israel’s love for God is transient, like fog that passes away once the morning comes. In Oregon, fog lingers throughout the day, but it vanishes by morning in Israel. According to v. 5, God’s judgments go forth like the light, which could mean that, as the sun erases the fog, so does God’s judgment see through our fake and transient love for God. God wants more than sacrifice but also desires chesed: for people’s response to God’s love to be on the same level as God’s unconditional love for them.
G. Hosea 6:6 states that God desires mercy and not sacrifice, and Jesus quotes that passage in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7. Jesus was accusing the Pharisees of lacking God’s mercy in their heart, notwithstanding their scrupulous outward performance of the law. In Matthew 9:13, he exhorts them to go and learn that God desires mercy: he invites them to take to heart God’s heart for people. In Matthew 12:7, Jesus is past invitation and speaks judgment.
H. Throughout Lent, the worship service has featured a mock trial, in which a prosecutor questions witnesses to Jesus. Today’s worship service concluded that trial. The prosecutor questioned the apostle John. Before this, John made a cameo appearance in the children’s part of the service. The youth pastor asked why John refers to himself as the disciple Jesus loved. Is John saying that Jesus loved him more than he loved others? John answered “no,” but Jesus made him feel special. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to see the transfiguration as well as asked John to take care of Mary, Jesus’s mother. Yet, John said that Jesus makes everyone feel special. Jesus’s apparent favoritism to Peter, James, and John disturbs me, somewhat. I one time heard a Bible study leader suggest, however, that Jesus kept them closer to him, not because they were the best in the class, but because they were the worst in the class and thus needed more guidance.
I. John told the story about how he and James sought to be more exalted than the other disciples by sitting on Jesus’s left and right hand in the kingdom. Jesus asked them if they were willing to drink his cup (Matthew 20:22; Mark 10:38), and they misunderstood that as an invitation to be his cupbearers, rather than as a reference to suffering. The prosecutor replied by asking if they were seeking to establish an earthly kingdom.
J. The prosecutor ended by saying that he has long believed that devotion to the law is what keeps society together, but now he is questioning that. The prosecutor wonders if he can obey the law enough, and he personally hungers for more than obedience to the law, in light of John’s statement that Jesus is the bread of life who can satisfy people’s hunger (John 6). Moreover, the prosecutor has talked with people whom Jesus helped, and Jesus helped them solely out of the kindness of his heart, without them deserving it. Unlike other rabbis, whose students decided to follow them after hearing them teach in different settings, Jesus went out and proactively selected disciples, and a rag-tag bunch they were! The prosecutor concluded by saying, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”