Summary: Our relationship with God can require a strained relationship with others when we take sin seriously and need to avoid it.
I was watching an old movie on television and I heard a line that I’d missed before. The villain of this comedy was talking on the phone and said something like: “Sure, I know what kind of low-down person would sue his own mother, but we’re not talking about me!” It caught me off-guard and I had quite a laugh. Yes, that villain was the kind of low-life who would sue his own mother.
But the fourth verse of Hosea 2 (in the Hebrew) or second verse in the English catches us off-guard in a different way. The Hebrew verb that is used twice in the command form here means to bring litigation against someone, to take a person to court. So, Hosea is literally commanding someone to take a mother to court. And he isn’t doing it for laughs like the line in the movie. He’s using shock value to show all of Israel how sinful she is.
“Sue your mother! Sue her
Because she isn’t [really] my wife
And I am not [really] [her] husband.
Let her rid her face of marks of prostitution,
And signs of her adultery from between her breasts.”
And you know what really hits me? In the context, it sounds like this is Hosea continuing to use his children as object lessons. It sounds like he starts out telling his children to take their mother to court right out in front of everyone in order to get the attention of the Israelites as a larger audience. Then, by the time we segue into verse 5 in the Hebrew (3 in the English), it becomes clear that he isn’t really speaking of Gomer. Gomer isn’t likely to become a wilderness. And though Gomer might have had access to wool, flax, olive oil and wine, it is highly unlikely that she raised them all. And Gomer doesn’t have New Moon feasts, Sabbaths, and festivals all by herself. By verse 15 in the Hebrew (13 in the English), we get it. “The very words of Yahweh.”
Of course, the Israelites who were listening to Hosea must have gotten it by then. Together, they combine to become the “mother” practicing adultery and they are the “wife” that Yahweh is divorcing because she isn’t acting like a wife. Her fertile lands will become a wasteland and God will take away her economic abundance. Why? Israel had chased after Baal as a fertility god to bring them offspring (to work the fields and provide for them in old age) and prosperity (in their agrarian culture).
Isn’t it ironic? Most people commit adultery because they want their lovers to give them something that their spouse isn’t giving them (or they don’t perceive the spouse as giving them). But the lovers can never provide for them the dependability and sustainability they need in a relationship.
In the same way, I see even God’s people of today as courting lovers other than God and settling for something other than a sustaining relationship. When Israel said that she was going to court her lovers (Hebrew 7, English 5) who give her bread, water, wool, flax, oil, and wine, she wasn’t that different than those of us who have one standard for church and another standard for business. We have one vocabulary for church and another for business. We have one ethic for church and another for business. We espouse compassion at church, but practice ruthlessness in the office. And when we act in this way, we are courting another lover. We call this lover, Success. Israel called this lover, Baal.