Sunday, August 29, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #34 "I Will Betroth Thee unto Me in Righteousness"

Hosea 1-3; 11; 13-14


A basic fast and testimony meeting phrase we often hear is, "I love my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ."  Compare that factual statement to the testimony of Nauvoo pioneer Sarah Leavitt: 

"To write my love of God above, it would drain the ocean, though the sea was ink, and the earth paper and every stick a pen and every man a scribe."

Although the simple sentence in fast and testimony meeting may be as sincere as Sarah's poetic statement, the symbolism in Sarah's testimony carries her deep and poignant feelings for the Lord straight into our hearts.  It has been so moving to so many people that it is engraved on a statue of her likeness in Santa Clara, Utah.


In most countries, a host of emotions, feelings, memories, and convictions run very deeply connected with the national flag and its colors.  In the United States, any serious contender for a national public office will always use the colors red, white, and blue on his or her campaign signs and flyers.  When we see those colors, we automatically link the candidate with the values the American people cherish: honor, patriotism, integrity, even intelligence.  Often wavy lines, stripes, or stars will be included in the design, to give us the impression of an American flag.  Imagine seeing a campaign sign in pink and yellow.  We would think, "Is this person for real?"  We would not take him or her seriously because of the lack of meaningful symbolism.

Similarly, symbols in scriptures carry messages of their own, which are deeper than mere words.  In ancient times, they put across a point very efficiently and effectively, with a wealth of emotion and meaning.  If we know how to view them in the way the ancients did, they can help us to love the Lord and understand His ways more clearly than straightforward text would do.


During the time of the prophet Hosea, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah were the kings of Judah in the south, and Jeroboam was ruling the Northern Kingdom (Hosea 1:1). (The footnotes in Hosea which link the prophecies and testimony of Hosea with these kings and their actions are found in 1:7a; 8:5a; and 11:12a.) The prophets of the southern kingdom (Judah) were Isaiah and Micah. The prophets of the northern kingdom (Israel) were Jonah, Hosea, and Amos (Institute Manual).


The book of Hosea is a story, a metaphor.  It's highly unlikely that Hosea actually married a harlot.  As a respected prophet and teacher of the Law, Hosea would have been known to be a just and righteous man, and his family would have to have been circumspect.  (Sidney Sperry, Institute Manual, p. 104; however, some scholars disagree and claim the marriage was literal.)  The idea of a prophet marrying a prostitute in the metaphor was so preposterous as to hit the Israelites right between the eyes with a 2x4; it was shocking symbolism that brought with it a powerful message.

The first three chapters of Hosea each state the problem of Israel's unfaithfulness shown in the symbol of the harlot-wife, and the solution of the Lord's mercy. Chapters 4-12 elaborate extensively upon the wickedness of the children of Israel, despite all the Lord does for them. Chapter 13 describes the harshness to which the Lord will resort for the saving of His people. In Chapter 14 finally comes the relief of the repentance of Israel in the latter days.


Names always carry meaning in the Bible, and most especially in this story in which all of the people except Hosea (in my opinion) were not real, but names only. 

The name Hosea means "Jehovah saves" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 1331). Hosea's name carries the hope and meaning of the entire story of the book, as well as the plan of salvation.  Hosea is a type of Jesus Christ.

The name of the figurative wife of Hosea is Gomer, which means "to complete, to end, vanishing."  She is a woman who brings the possibility of ending the entire civilization.  She is the wayward Israel.

Her adulterous relationships with idols bring about the births of three illegitimate children.  These children represent the consequences of the sin of idolatry, especially for those who knew better and turned their backs on the Lord.  The first was named Jezreel (1:4-5), referring to the lush valley that was the scene of many bloody battles, including the prophecied battle of Armageddan.  The meaning of the name Jezreel is "God shall sow," referring to the scattering of Israel, the loss of their land inheritance. 

The second child was named Lo-ruhamah, which means "no mercy" (1:6).  The Lord's Atonement cannot apply for those who do not call upon Him: in this case, the kingdom of Israel.  Yet immediately He states that He will save the house of Judah, without battle or horsemen (1:7).  This refers to the stand-off between King Hezekiah and King Sennecherib of Assyria in 2 Kings 19.  Why was the kingdom of Judah saved?  Because they repented and returned to the Lord, cleansing His temple and restoring His covenants.  The options of being saved are presented to us (neither of which is perfect righteousness on our part): either 1) sin and receive no mercy (1:6), or 2) sin and repent and be saved by the Lord (1:7).

The third child was named Lo-ammi, the logical younger brother of "no mercy" (1:8-9).  It means, "These are not my children."  These three children demonstrate that the self-destructive behavior of the Israelites will scatter them out of the promised land and into the path of destruction (Jezreel), shut them out of the power of the Atonement (Lo-ruhamah), and remove them from the household of God (Lo-ammi).  But, once again, the next sentence begins with yet.  " that place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God."  They will eventually be gathered and reunited with the Lord (1:10-11).

Thus this first brief chapter of the book of Hosea summarizes the whole story, and that story symbolizes the plan of salvation.  What is our place in the story?  Well, unfortunately, we are the House of Israel; we are the adulterous wife.

(Meanings of the names of the children are found in the footnotes of the Bible, and in the Institute Manual, p. 105.  The meaning of Gomer's name is found here and here.) (Hosea 1:3-9)


Not only did Gomer wander before Hosea married her, but she continued to wander (or "go a-whoring") after the marriage.  The husband did wonderful things for her, but she was mistaken and believed that her adulterous lovers provided all of these riches (2:5).  The lovers are the foreign nations from whom Israel frantically sought politcal aid, and the idols of those nations, from which Israel desperately sought fertility for themselves, for their crops, and for their animals.  Looking at those around them who were mighty, who were wealthy, they yielded to the temptation to try what seemed to be working for the others, with no long-range faith in the Lord.  Similarly, we today seek safety in riches, happiness in leisure, and joy in seeking after idols of our own making--whatever is superceding God in our lives.

Gomer's husband offered her abundant lovingkindness and mercies (2:19), but she did not reciprocate (5:1).  In these verses, "lovingkindness" and "mercy" are both translated from the same Hebrew word, chesed or hesed.  There is no English equivalent for this word; therefore, translators go back and forth between several English words, trying to find the best one to fit the context, when an entire paragraph is actually necessary to convey the meaning.  Chesed has to do with a covenant relationship between two parties--in this case, God and Israel.  It includes a love that is unconditional in both attitude and action.  Chesed has high overtones of loyalty and steadfastness.  There is an incomprehensible paradox in the word, in that the Lord requires the utmost loyalty and righteousness, and yet his mercy is even greater, and is always available for the repentant.  Another term might be "rescuing kindness": love with an aiding action.  The New Testament equivalent is "grace."  (Norman Snaith, A Theological Word Book of the Bible; Harper-Collins Study Bible; and Amy Hardison, Covenants, Prophecies, and Hymns of the Old Testament: The 30th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, p. 25)  On a daily basis the Lord extends to us His "tender mercies" and yet we fail to acknowledge His hand.

Other places in which we find the word chesed are 6:4 (goodness), 6:6 (mercy), 10:12 (mercy), and 12:6 (mercy).  The unfaithful wife lacks chesed.  Her "goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away" (6:4).  In the harsh, dry land of Israel, with rare rain and fleeting dew only available in the spring, this symbol was strong.  She seems to make a change, but her sincerity quickly evaporates.

Another key quality the wife lacks is translated as "knowledge of God."  More than just knowing about God, it is worshiping Him in a way that acknowledges that He is in charge, that He can be trusted, and that we depend upon Him.  Like chesed, it also has to do with both attitude and action.  It is deep faith fed by strong testimony.  This phrase is found in 2:8, 2:20, 4:6, and 6:6.


The husband has a plan to redeem his wife from the terrible consequences of her actions.  He was a most wonderful, loving husband from the beginning.  He married this woman, despite her history of running around, and he treated her well.  She cast aside that faith and trust.  This caused her to suffer terrible consequences, and her husband also suffered, but her actions did not change his character.  He continued to love, he continued to want their union, he continued being concerned with her well-being.

A human husband might not be able to solve this relationship problem, but the husband here is Hosea, symbolic of Jehovah, and Jehovah does have the power to do that.    He will not take away His wife's agency, even though as Her husband-master He could, but He will manipulate Her situation to make her more likely to want to reunite with Him, and to want to do the things that would truly make them both happy: While things appear to be going well, and the idols appear to the wife to be doing all their good works, the Lord will send an east wind (13:15).  This term, "east wind," occurs frequently in the scriptures, and almost always in a similar situation.  It is a symbol of the Lord's instrument of judgment (Alonzo Glaskill, "Making Sense of Gospel Symbols," talk on CD). 

The faithful husband will use "the Valley of Achor for a door of hope" (2:14-15).  What a beautiful promise!  The Valley of Achor is a rich valley north of the Jezreel Valley.  It is the route out of the wilderness into the heart of the land.  The word Achor means "trouble."  So the husband will use the route of trouble to bring Israel back to him, as the Lord often uses trials as a means of encouraging us to return to or to strengthen our relationship with him.

And it will work!  After the trouble which will reunite them by causing the woman to rely upon her husband, she will no longer look upon him as an owner to be resisted, but as a dear lover to be cherished.  Baali refers to a husband in the sense of a master; it is from the same root as the idol Baal.  Israel had been seeing Jehovah as a master like their idols, and worshipping him in the same way.  Ishi is the term for a husband who is close and loving, one who is filled with chesed (2:16).


The metaphor of Hosea and the prostitute-wife should bring great hope to any sinner, no matter how vile, who would like to return to the Lord.  The marriage relationship is common to every culture, and makes a powerful symbol.  Hosea wanted the wife back who had done the worst things imaginable to their marriage relationship.  She had treated him like dirt, and brought him nothing but grief.  She was ungrateful, unfaithful, and wicked.  But he loved her in spite of all that. 

Christ, also, loves every person, no matter what abominable idol that person has replaced Him with, no matter how that person has trampled on His love and trust.  As the most perfect, loving, and forgiving marriage partner that ever was, He is willing to go to any lengths to reopen the door to that relationship, despite the fact that the sinner does not deserve it.

If He could succeed with Gomer (Israel), He can succeed with anyone.  In the end, Israel will realize, "Asshur [Assyria] will not save us; we will not ride upon horses [rely upon battle as a means of being saved]: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands [idols], Ye are our gods: for in thee [Jehovah] the fatherless findeth mercy" (14:3). 

And when Israel recognizes this, the Lord will answer, "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.  I will be as the dew unto Israel [water that appears without man's labor]: he shall grow as the lily [effortlessly, as a wildflower], and cast forth his roots as Lebanon" (14:4-6).  The cedars of Lebanon were famous as the great, tall trees whose wood was strong enough for all manner of building projects.  They were used in the building of Solomon's temple.  The roots of the cedar tree will grow three times as deep as the height of the branches, making the tree extremely stable, and very unlikely to be felled by any storm.  In addition, the root of the word Lebanon is "white," which adds the symbol of purity, of having been cleansed from sin.


We in the last days, surrounded by the creations of our own hands, are always one step away from making them into idols, and becoming as Gomer.  To avoid falling into this sorry state, we would be wise to follow the counsel of President Eyring  from the October 2007 General Conference, "O Remember, Remember", and keep a written record of the Lord's chesed or "tender mercies" in our lives, so that, unlike Gomer, we have a knowledge of the Lord: we recognize the source of our blessings, and the extent of God's involvement in our daily lives.

In the words of Elder Bednar, "We should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord's tender mercies. The simpleness, the sweetness, and the constancy of the tender mercies of the Lord will do much to fortify and protect us in the troubled times in which we do now and will yet live" (April 2005 General Conference). Even when, as in the case of Gomer, the trouble is of our own making, the Lord is ever filled with chesed, and ready to make the way for our return to the safety of the covenant relationship.


For more detail on the specific symbols used in Hosea, refer to the Institute Manual.


Anonymous said...

OK have SAVED MY BACON with your lesson post here. I seriously did not know how to present this lesson.... but I love your insights. I now have confidence that I can present this material. Thanks for sharing!!!

Anonymous said...

Nancy has SAVED MY BACON for most of the last 4 years. Some times I have use her entire lesson, but most of the time to augment each lesson. Thanks so much Sister Nancy Jensen. May the Lord always bless you and your family for so unselfishly sharing your gift with so many!

Anonymous said...

I did not know how to present this lesson and even where to start. then I read your comments and it all fell in place. thank you so much for your insight and for sharing your knowledge and extra details as well as historical facts that help with the background. These extra gems are what make the lessons so enlightening.