Location in Hosea

Read through Hosea a few times, and you’ll soon pick up on how frequently Hosea’s prophecies are rooted in particular places. There are about 34 references to 20 different places in the book—a fairly dense concentration for a book of only 14 chapters! Some of them are familiar because of references in other biblical books, but others are fairly obscure to us, and we can only guess to their import by looking at the kinds of things Hosea has to say about them.

What’s interesting to me is the effect of rooting these poetic poems, which could be simply abstractions, in the concrete world of these specific places. Often that means the poem is bound to a narrative, or even a set of narratives, that comes with the location. All of this works throughout Hosea to give the book a sharp historical focus and feel, even if the specific force is lost on us as readers separated by a great distance. What’s important is to pick up on the sense of place in the poetry. When you read the book as a whole, and get beyond the strange archaic place names, the continuing cadence of places helps pull the poetry out of the sky, planting it firmly on the earth.

Here’s a list of all the places that show up in Hosea, with some brief references to what makes some of them significant. This list doesn’t include Israel, Ephraim, Judah, Assyria, or Egypt, since they are all significant enough either as places or players in the drama that I want to give them their own space. Continue reading “Location in Hosea”

Names—A Sermon on Hosea 1

At the market, a man picks vegetables, tying to decide between the vegetables. He thumps a melon, scans the cucumbers, and inspects the onions. He notices a cute little girl playing with her brother near his basket and smiles at them. He turns to their parents who are standing nearby and, in the chatty way that people sometimes talk at the market, asks a normal question: “Your kids are beautiful. What are their names?”

The parents expression darkens—the mother turns away, finding something else to do. The father’s eyes narrow, and he steps closer. Pointing straight at the little girl, he says, “We call her ‘unloved’. Unloved.” Not knowing how to respond, the man shuffles his feet a bit, and finally says, “And the boy?”

“Not mine.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought…”

“No, that’s his name.  His name is ‘not-mine.’ ”

Hosea is a shocking story. It does not allow for passive bland reading, and I assure you it does not consist of passive, bland writing. It opens with the story of Hosea’s family—a family whose very existence could not but shock literally everyone who met them. The book of Hosea consists mostly prophetic poetry. Not the poetry which many of us have in mind—the dry tedious metered verses we labored to understand as school kids. This is the kind of poetry that Walter Brueggemann describes as “shattering, evocative speech that breaks fixed conclusions and presses us always toward new, dangerous, imaginative possibilities.” (Finally Comes the Poet, 6) Hosea is full of wrecking-ball language, the kind that comes to destroy the peace of the present for the sake of the future.

The book opens with a narrative, but the story is just as disturbing as the poetry that follows. In fact, we might think of the story as a setting for three brief, super dense poems—the names of the children. After all, even within the story, it’s the word—the word from the Lord—that really matters. Continue reading “Names—A Sermon on Hosea 1”