The Book of Hosea

From a lecture by John Shelby Spong given 1/10/2005.
This was an excellent lecture. View the lecture at: (Show #9117)

Hosea is an older prophet. He's married to a young and beautiful woman with flashing eyes and dancing feet and her name is Gomer. And Hosea and Gomer are a rather attractive status couple around town. But Hosea is a lot older and Gomer is sort of a younger wife, and after a few years Hosea doesn't want to go out to all the parties, but his wife still wants to go out to all the parties, and so there's some tension in their marriage. And finally it gets to the place where Gomer goes out to these parties by herself.

And in according to the laws of that culture one night Gomer did not return. Because she was such a beautiful woman she became sort of the favorite plaything among the upper crust of the citizenry of Israel. She was sort of a high-level sex partner.

And then, as inevitably happens in the passage of time, crows feet began to appear around her eyes, and gray hair began to occur, and she began to sag in places where she had never sagged before. And she became less and less desirable to the upper crust, and so her life descended as was the plight of a woman in her circumstances, and so she descended into the plaything of anybody that would have her. And finally she got to the place where no one would have her.

And Hosea searched for his wife Gomer. And the only place he knew to search, because he understood that world, was at the slave markets, because that would be the ultimate fate of such a woman.

And one day he went to a slave market sale, and this haggard old woman with matted hair and bloodshot eyes was brought out on the slave auction block, and the crowd around there began to laugh. Who in the world would pay anything for that hag? But Hosea recognized that as his wife. And in a strange and bold act he stood up when the bidding was open and he offered the highest price that anyone would pay for the strongest young male servant. And the crowd turned in astonishment, and began to laugh and to ridicule this stupid man who made such an incredible offer. He could of had that woman for nothing! He's going to pay that kind of price? That's the only way Hosea knew how to begin to restore Gomer's dignity. And he walked up on that slave platform, and he paid the price, and he took her by the hand, and he brought her to his home, and he installed her as his wife, the head of his household.

And Hosea looked at that experience, and meditated on that, about the meaning of God. And he began to say, "You know, as I have loved my wife no matter what she did, so the holy God must love the people of this world no matter what they do. And no matter how often the people of this world," and these are Hosea's words, "go a whoring after false gods, God still loves them infinitely, and God's love still calls them back into the full dignity of their humanity."

And so it was Hosea, more than anybody else, who began to talk about the very nature of God to be love, the kind of love that takes us just as we are, and empowers us to become all that we are capable of being. And it was his own domestic crisis that led him to see that.

The love of God is present in the Jewish scriptures, and Jesus simply builds on that. And by the time you get to the new testament, the first epistle of St. John, in the fourth chapter, this apostle writes, "You want to know what God is? God is love. Do you want to know how you abide in God? You abide in love." So Jesus is in the Hosea tradition, and the love of God becomes the very definition of who God is. And if the love of God is what God is all about, the diminishment of human life in the name of God has to be a violation of everything we think God is.

So the reason I cling to this sacred book and spend my life studying it and teaching it, is that I recognize it starts with a tribal mentality, but as it journeys through history, it opens up into the wonder of the love of God. So the subtitle of this book is "Shattering the text of hatred, in search of the love of God." And that's what the Christian church has got to do if it wants to live and witness in the 21st century.

From a lecture by John Shelby Spong given 1/10/2005.
This was an excellent entertaining lecture. View the lecture at: (Show #9117) [offsite]

The book referred to in the lecture.

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