As a church, we are currently making our way through the Old Testament book of Hosea. Each week our sermons are delving into a different section of this minor prophet. And oh boy has it been challenging. The language used is shocking, controversial, political, violent and possibly offensive.
It’s hard to read. It’s hard to listen too. But it’s there.
Chapter 2 is particularly challenging. Hosea is laying out the claim that Gomer his wife has been unfaithful. He lists her crimes and her potential punishments in the worst and most offensive manner. The language is sexually and emotionally explicit, it’s aggressive and violent and it is all directed towards Gomer.
If you have joined us for the sermon series you will know there is a bigger picture. Gomer represents Israel and their marriage is a metaphor for God’s relationship to the whole of Israel. So the words are not directed at just women or unfaithful women. They are for both sexes, for all of us to stop and listen too. I think that’s partly why the words are so shocking. They are meant to be. There is a message here for all of us and it is worth stopping and trying to figure it out. It’s also helpful that it’s shocking. We have to be careful that the culturally linked anger does not unconsciously shape our thinking about how we see women.
But all that being said, the words are about Gomer, they are about a woman (note: there are other verses directed towards men eg. 4.14). The illustration used is the woman in disgrace and the punishment is all directed towards her. You can be fully aware of the bigger picture and still be shocked at this. Still, be shocked at how God and women are portrayed.
In the effort to keep this blog short and easy to read there are some big sweeping statements that need to be understood.
- God has made men and women equal, different but equal. Neither sex is a perfect representation of God. We are both made in his image and together make up the body.
- God is the same yesterday, today and forever. That means the God of the Old Testament is the same in the New Testament and vice versa. One informs the other.
- God loves, honours and respects women. He calls us into leadership and into a dramatic and upfront place in his Kingdom.
So knowing these things how can we read the book of Hosea?
I have recently come across this helpful analogy. At the opticians and you are asked to read the bottom line of the letter chart (the Snellen chart) if you struggle the optician puts lenses in front of you until you can. Those lenses can make things clearer but they can also make things a lot worse. So we need to check what lenses we are using when we read scripture.
When reading the bible the lens of ‘context’ is always needed. I believe the bible is the inspired word of God. But I also believe we can lose and miss some meaning because of translation issues but also misunderstanding context. A lot of issues people have with the Bible’s teachings or portrayal of women can be understood and explained with a greater knowledge of context. This particular passage is full of imagery pointing back to Egypt, to farming and idol worship towards Baal. If it was written today different analogies and imagery would be used. As 21st century readers we can miss this, we don’t possess this lens, we don’t have the contextual knowledge to help understand all that’s going on.
Lack of familiarity with the original languages can also lead to further difficulties. Surface level readings of scripture can be dangerous. If we read scripture with the wrong lens we can cast doubt on God’s character and we can also use scripture to justify behaviour that is unjustifiable.
So often we lack the lens of contextual knowledge but we do have the lens of the New Testament. We know the end of the story. We have jumped to the back of the book and have read the ending. Jesus comes, he treats women like no one has before and he offers both men and women grace.
Look at Jesus’ interaction with an adulterous woman in John 8. No condemnation from Jesus and due to his challenge, no condemnation from those around her. Instead, forgiveness, she was set free but also asked to leave her life of sin. God hasn’t forgotten about sin, about guilt, judgement and justice. Jesus was the answer, he is always the answer. He took what Gomer, Israel and all of us deserve.
We have to read this passage using the lens of Jesus. We have to read the passage with the knowledge that not only was Gomer bought back but Jesus paid the price for all of us.
I struggle with the language used toward Gomer. I find it hard to read. But I also believe it’s not enough to throw it out, to skip over because it’s uncomfortable. It’s also not enough to change my opinion of God’s character or how God sees me. I passionately believe God is for women, for me. That is the lens I am going to choose to use to read all of scripture. I go back to those initial bullet points. God has made us equal, God is the same and God loves and honours women.
All the sermons from the Hosea series can be found on our website https://stjames.churchinsight.com/Media/AllMedia.aspx