Summary: Settling for answers other than God’s answers is like taking poisoned medicine for a headache.
More than 25 years ago (1982), seven residents of the Greater Chicago area made an assumption that proved fatal. They all took a dose of Extra Strength Tylenol® that had been laced with potassium cyanide. What they thought was medicine proved to be poison. This crime, still being investigated as of this very week (February 4, 2009), is still unsolved, in spite of the fact that one man went to prison for sending an extortion letter to Johnson & Johnson and is presumed to be the guilty party by many.
Imagine the horror of taking what you thought was beneficial and discovering, too late, that it was killing you! That, in a very real sense, is what Hosea shares with Israel in the latter part of Hosea 6 (verse 7) and heading into the first two verses of Hosea 7. But before we start talking about “bad medicine,” let’s turn to the Great Physician to guide our understanding of the text.
Great God of Healing, God Who uses even illness to make us stronger, give us immunity, and teach us life lessons, we turn to you in need of holy treatment today—a diagnosis of this disease of sin so that we may have it surgically removed by Your salvation and forgiveness, so that we may experience the transfusion of Your Holy Presence in our lives because of the blood of Jesus the Christ. We confess, Lord, that we have betrayed You and, like the House of Israel, created an awful thing. We thank You, Lord, that we can claim forgiveness and cleansing because of what You have done for us. Help us to follow Your Holy Spirit’s prescription for rehabilitation, even when it seems tough to do so. In the name of Jesus, the Great Physician, we pray and say, AMEN, we can build upon it.
We closed our message last week with the awareness that God wants us to be involved in a lifestyle of faith, not a ritualized, obligatory grocery list of what we think God wants (the text merely says “sacrifice,” but that’s the idea behind that powerful word). There, we saw that God’s purpose in judgment, in punishment, was to bring us back to that fabulous fellowship where we don’t have to feel obligated, but we want to be with Him.
Sadly, today’s text goes back to the sad reality of Israel. Let’s read, beginning with verse 7 (and once again, I’ll type my translation here for your comparison with the translation where you are most aware of God’s authority and where the Holy Spirit communicates to you the best) and continuing through verse 9.
v. 7 They, like Adam, broke the covenant. There, they betrayed me.
v. 8 Gilead is a city of evildoers with footprints of blood
v. 9 And those who lie in wait, men ganged together, bonded priests commit murder on the way to Shechem because they acted in wickedness.
That first verse sounds simple, but it may have different levels of meaning. The great Semitic scholar, Mitchell Dahood, has shown that “adam” (as printed here) can be short for “adamah” that means “ground.” That makes sense, doesn’t it. After all, Adam as the first human gets his name (as does all humankind) from the fact that he came from the “adamah,” the ground. The nice thing about this suggestion is that Dahood can now translate the verse and say something like “They broke the covenant and treated it like dirt.” Now, that’s a bit far-fetched, even if it’s clever.
Other scholars note that there was a city named Adam in the territory known as Gilead (only mentioned in Joshua 3:16). David Noel Freedman suggests that Hosea is drawing upon an incident that we don’t know about which literally occurred at the city of Adam, in the territory of Gilead, which would be on the way to Shechem. We’ll deal with this very likely incident when we get to verse 9. I just wanted you to know that there was a city called Adam and that it’s entirely possible that the verse reads: “They broke the covenant as at Adam.”
Of course, I personally see nothing wrong with understanding the verse to refer to Adam as the first sinner and humankind as sinners. We have all broken the covenant and we have all betrayed God. The language used here is the language of international treaties and big business deals. We’re talking “breach of contract” and “violation of treaty” here. We’re talking about actions that turn our good words and best intentions into foul lies and despicable attitudes instead of a positive and loving relationship with God, our Creator and Redeemer. And I would just interpret the verse in this way if it weren’t for verses 8 and 9. I still think Hosea wanted to show everyone’s guilt and betrayal in this verse, but I think he was building on a historical event of which his audience was aware and that he wants us to see something even worse than we’re expecting.