The Rev. Elizabeth Gleich is the associate pastor of the Congregational Church of Middlebury, UCC, in Vermont. She was formerly an associate pastor in Glastonbury, CT.
Scripture: Hosea 1:2-10 (NRSV)
When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.’ So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
And the Lord said to him, ‘Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.’
She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.’
When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said, ‘Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.’
Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’, it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’
Reflection: Content Warning: Domestic Abuse
When I was in college taking my first New Testament course, I got into a heated verbal exchange with one of my classmates who disagreed with me that some texts in the bible should simply be ripped up. The particular text in question was 1 Timothy 2:11-15, in which the author writes that women should keep silent, not speak or teach with authority, and will be saved only by childbearing. Describing it even now gets my heart racing. Nothing in this text, I argued, was redeemable, good, or divinely inspired in any way, and thus, it should be thrown out. Both my peer and my professor offered alternative, less heretical approaches to my methods, but it did not change my mind. Not only did my understanding of God and the teachings of Gospel not align with the text in 1 Timothy, it has been used to justify women’s oppression in church and society for centuries.
The Hebrew Scriptures text for this Sunday’s lectionary, Hosea 1:2-10, is another one of those texts that I would choose to toss out altogether. Now, I am aware that this hermeneutical approach is controversial to most people of faith, but let me explain. The entire book of Hosea is a text that has done violence to so many vulnerable women over the centuries, and to put it quite bluntly: God is not an abusive husband.
Hosea was written at a time when Israelites were under rule in the politically tumultuous northern kingdom of Israel. Not only were things politically unstable, the prophet Hosea railed against what he saw as Israelites worshipping Canaanite gods, namely Baal. As a response to this reality, the prophet Hosea compares Israel to an unfaithful wife and God to a humiliated and jealous husband. The book has three parts: the first part focuses on this husband-wife metaphor, as is in our text from the first chapter, and it describes the bitter marriage of Hosea to his “promiscuous wife,” Gomer. Hosea imagines his marriage to Gomer as analogous to the Israelites “adulterous” worship of Canaanite deities. It tells of Hosea’s public humiliation (“I will trip her naked and expose her”) of Gomer and then their eventual reconciliation. This problematic depiction is meant to be a metaphor for God punishing, then reuniting with his “wife,” Israel. The second section contains the bulk of Hosea’s ranting against Israel’s cult and politics, and the third section describes the “repentant” Gomer who returns to her husband, who “lovingly” takes her back.
In this book, the metaphor of God as jealous husband and Israel as a promiscuous wife is obviously problematic. Of course, the particular historical period in which this text was written had its own cultural ideas about marriage and women, but nevertheless it still presents theological problems for us today. It pushes the metaphor to its limit; the description God as an abusive and scorned husband who legitimately punishes his “wife” for breach of covenant is one that is always and forever wrong. After all, we cannot say this is a 3000 old problem, for we know one in four women experience severe intimate partner physical violence in their lifetime.
Our scriptures are often used as a “handbook for behavior,” and this a book, I argue, that should never have made it into our scriptural canon. Not only is this not who I know God to be, but it also isn’t a model for the just kind of relationships that God calls us to have with each other and with our Creator. The God that I serve and preach is one of relationships based on mutuality, empowerment, and relationality, not relationships based on retribution, physical violence, and abuse.
In God’s name, let us advocate for justice for all people, especially women, and let us recognize our complicity in the systems that disempower the vulnerable.
 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Infographic based on data from the national intimate partner and sexual violence survey (nisvs): 2010-2012 state report. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS-infographic-2016.pdf
Liberative God, let us believe women and prophets that tell the truth of your empowering justice and reject those that don’t. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prayers of Intercession:
- For the Rev. Alice O'Donovan and Cass Crewdson as Alice recovers from surgery and Cass cares for her
- For the Rev. Edwin Ayala, former interim pastor at Bloomfield Congregational Church, who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer
- For those grieving or suffering after a man set fire to a Japanese anime studio, killing 33 and injuring dozens more
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the staff, volunteers, and campers at Silver Lake Conference Center as they begin week five
- For emergency personnel who responded to those in need throughout the recent heat wave
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches
In Your Prayers:
United Congregational Church of Tolland UCC
Center Congregational UCC
United Congregational Church Torrington
Trumbull Congregational Church
Unity Hill UCC
This Week in History:
July 24, 1969 (50 years ago) The Apollo 11 Mission ends with the safe return of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins as they splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. The mission was the first successful landing of astronauts on the moon.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”