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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Scripture Reading: Hosea 13:14—14:1–9
Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
     Shall I redeem them from Death?
O Death, where are your plagues?
     O Sheol, where is your destruction?
     Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Although he may flourish among rushes,
     the east wind shall come, a blast from the Lord,
     rising from the wilderness;
and his fountain shall dry up,
     his spring shall be parched.
It shall strip his treasury
     of every precious thing.
Samaria shall bear her guilt,
     because she has rebelled against her God;
they shall fall by the sword,
     their little ones shall be dashed in pieces,
     and their pregnant women ripped open.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
     for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you
     and return to the Lord;
say to him,
     “Take away all guilt;
accept that which is good,
     and we will offer
     the fruit of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
     we will not ride upon horses;
we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
     to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”

I will heal their disloyalty;
     I will love them freely,
     for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
     he shall blossom like the lily,
     he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
His shoots shall spread out;
     his beauty shall be like the olive tree,
     and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,
     they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine,
     their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
     It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
     your faithfulness comes from me.
Those who are wise understand these things;
     those who are discerning know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right,
     and the upright walk in them,
     but transgressors stumble in them. (NRSV)

The writers of the Old Testament had a flair for the dramatic that is certainly unmatched today, even by Hollywood. As Presbyterians, we think of the Lord as a gentle hand, guiding us in the right direction. In the case of this scripture piece, we discover something much different. This is a vengeful and angry Lord, who takes out that vengeance and anger on the Israelites for straying from the Lord’s direction—primarily by their creating metal idols and worshiping false gods, such as Baal. The Lord has made the rules, and the punishment for the Israelites is terrifying. 

Reading this in a contemporary context, the text is clearly troubling. You know the Lord is serious when God threatens that “they will fall by the sword, their little ones will be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women will be ripped open” (Hosea 13:16). How can we even begin to grapple with and understand this text?

We live in a society that constantly asserts that we are our own agents for our faith journey, regardless of wherever that takes us. The Lord is simply one of many equal options we have to choose from. We are free to have no faith or mix-and-match as we please. In contrast, this text seemingly confronts us to choose the Lord—or else. 

However, on further reflection, we discover a Lord that is forgiving of our mistakes and our foolishness during our faith journey. In Hosea 14:8, the Lord states, “It is I who answer and look after you. I am like a luxuriant cypress; from me comes your fruit.” Those who are wise will understand that fact and walk in the way of the Lord. 

Dear Lord, we ask for your understanding and forgiveness as we struggle through our faith journey with all the doubts and missteps that that will invariably be a part of that journey. Amen.

Written by Mark Warner, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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