Here are items from last Sunday’s church activities:
A. It was Good Shepherd’s Sunday, and the pastor was preaching about Psalm 23. One point that he made was that the valley of the shadow of death was extremely deep darkness. In the midst of the deepest darkness, God is with the Psalmist and comforts him. Another point that the pastor made was that, when v. 6 says that goodness and mercy shall follow the Psalmist, the Hebrew word translated “follow” (rdph) actually means to chase, or to pursue. God’s love not only follows us but chases us, as is evident in Jesus’s death on the cross. Later that day, I came home and read from C.S. Lewis’s Miracles, and Lewis was arguing that many like pantheism over traditional theism because the impersonal pantheistic “God” leaves people alone rather than pursuing them.
B. The Sunday school class was about Hosea 10:8 and its interpretation in the New Testament. The pastor first interpreted Hosea 10:1-8. One observation that he made was that Hosea 10:1 affirms that the Northern Israelites prospered but bore fruit for themselves. Sin, as Luther said, is turning inward. The Northern Israelites were bearing fruit solely for themselves but not for God. The pastor also observed that Hosea 10:5 refers to the Northern Israelite sanctuary at Bethel, the site of one of Jeroboam’s calves, as “Beth-Aven,” which means “house of vanity” or “house of nothingness.” The point is that God is not present at that worship site: nobody is home, so worship there is futile. Holladay actually says that “aven” can mean “wickedness,” not just vanity, but I like the concept that idolatry is a flat-out waste of time. Third, the pastor commented on Hosea 10:7, which, in the KJV, likens the king of Samaria to the foam on the water. The pastor contrasted that to God’s promise that Abraham’s seed would be like the sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17; 32:12). Sand is permanent, whereas foam vanishes away. Other translations actually render that verse to say that the king of Samaria will be like a stick that God throws on the water. They translate as “stick” what the KJV renders as “foam.” Holladay goes with “twig broken off,” but the only verse that he cites for this Hebrew word is Hosea 10:7.
C. A student astutely noted that there were over a hundred years between the Assyrian destruction of Northern Israel and the fall of Jerusalem. Would not one expect the Southern Judahites to learn from the example of the Northerners and to repent rather than continuing in their refusal to worship God alone? The pastor replied that, indeed, one might expect the ruins of Samaria to serve as a lesson to the Judahites. Perhaps, deep down, that did remind them that there is a God, and they are not him. But the pastor said that the Judahites probably dismissed the Northerners and had a sense of superiority over them, seeing the Northerners as the wayward younger brother who didn’t even have the right sanctuary.
D. Jesus quotes Hosea 10:8 in Luke 23:30. Women are weeping for Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, and Jesus tells them to weep, not for him, but for themselves and their children, for there will come a time when they will prefer to have the mountains fall upon them than to experience God’s wrath. That part about the mountains is from Hosea 10:8. The pastor said that Jesus was likening Israel of his day to the Northern Israelites, the wicked younger brother of the Old Testament. Indeed, as far as the Gospels are concerned, there are parallels between the Jewish religious establishment of the first century and what Hosea says about the Northern Israelites. The Northern Israelites bore fruit for themselves but not for God. Similarly, there were Pharisees who loved money (Luke 16:14), and Jesus affirmed that Israel of his day was not bearing fruit for God (Luke 16:3-9). The Northern Israelites worshiped at a sanctuary of vanity, where nobody was home. Similarly, Jesus told the Pharisees that they worshiped God in vain through their human-devised commandments (Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7), and he lamented that Jerusalem failed to recognize him as the visitation of God (Luke 19:44). The pastor also said that the women weeping for Jesus, whom Jesus rebuked, were not Jesus’s followers but rather were professional mourners, of the sort that appear in the story of Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5:38.