Connections 01.17.2016: The Story of Forgiveness

Connections_Jesus_JA16_350_c

Hosea 1

I’ll be honest. I was kind of hoping this was Mike Ruffin’s week to write. A bride worth waiting for and the most beautiful bride were surely easier topics than this week’s unfaithful bride. When I wrote the article for the January 3 lesson, my point was that relationships are not fairytales. I even mentioned that some relationships “are unbelievable stories of two people trudging slowly through the muck of betrayal and resolving to try to heal their marriage.” For today’s lesson, it appears that I get to focus on that particular hard story.

Sometimes when I read the Old Testament, it seems that the writers put a lot of blame on God for the terrible things they faced. God brought this plague. God destroyed that city through its enemies. God caused this child to die due to his parents’ sins. Sometimes I wonder if these kinds of writings tell us less about God than they do about human beings. We make the worst kinds of choices, and then, when we must face the consequences, we tend to say that God is punishing us through some tragedy. Perhaps that was true in Old Testament times and is sometimes true today. But I think that, more often than not, we punish ourselves through the actions we take. Like a good parent, God lets this happen in the hopes that we’ll learn a hard lesson and, if we survive, be stronger and more prepared next time.

In Hosea 1, the writer says that God told Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman and then to give their children names that reflected God’s punishment on the nation of Israel. Did God really command Hosea to wed a “wife of whoredom” and make his children into examples of the nation’s sins? Or did Hosea make choices that he eventually turned into a godly lesson for the nation? Of course, we can’t possibly know for sure, and it may be best not to read between the lines in this case.

But it seems to me that God desires us to have relationships with other people that are like the relationship God wants with us: trusting, faithful, loving, communicating, consistent, persevering, protective, and lasting. When we allow our relationships to be less than that, there are often terrible consequences—but that doesn’t mean that God is the author of those consequences.

I can think of little that is worse than betrayal by a person I trust with my entire being. It would be devastating to learn that, while I believed the best in a person, he or she was hiding something and lying all along. I would feel foolish, cheap, taken advantage of, heartbroken. It would be hard to see any worthwhile hope for the future of that relationship. How in the world do you rebuild a broken trust?

Hosea may have felt that way with Gomer. And yet somehow he was able to wade out of the muck of betrayal and sense God’s love through it all. Just look at Hosea 1:10-11. The people who felt that God could never love them again because of their sins were welcomed back as God’s people once more. If Hosea could offer that kind of forgiveness to Gomer, then how much more could God do so for a broken nation? How much more will God do so for us?

Discussion

1. Has a spouse, significant other, or close friend ever betrayed you? If so, what was that like for you? For the other person?
2. Have you ever betrayed someone who trusted you deeply? What was that like for you and for the other person?
3. What do you think of the idea that some of the writers in the Bible blamed God for actions that were simply the consequences of the people’s sins?
4. How have some of your wrong choices resulted in difficult consequences? What role do you think God played in letting you endure the results of your choices?
5. Think about your closest relationships—the ones built on a strong foundation of trust. What would happen if that foundation shattered because of your choices or the choices of the other person? How can you cultivate an atmosphere of honesty, faithfulness, and forgiveness in these relationships?

Reference Shelf

YHWH Withdraws Compassion, 1:6-7

The narrator’s voice resumes in 1:6 by recounting that Gomer conceived and bore another child, this time a daughter. The narrator introduces YHWH’s second naming formula (see 1:4), commanding the prophet to call his daughter “Lo-ruhamah.” This name means “not pitied”, and YHWH’s speech utilizes word plays to pronounce a message of judgment using the verbal root r˙m (pity): “. . . For I will no longer pity the house of Israel or spare them.” The implication is clear. YHWH has shown compassion in the past but will not continue to do so. This verse offers a subtle reminder that although the book of Hosea has just begun, the relationship between Israel and YHWH has a long history that includes numerous points at which YHWH has demonstrated compassion.

Hosea 1:7 contrasts the fate of Judah with the fate of Israel. Hosea 1:6 announces an end to YHWH’s compassion on Israel, while 1:7 proclaims YHWH’s deliverance of Israel’s neighbors to the south: “But the house of Judah I will pity, and I will save them . . . .” Much has been written about how the book of Hosea has been updated to include a message for Judah. With 1:7, the reader confronts for the first time the book’s explicit distinction between Israel, who will be judged, and Judah, who will be spared. This contrast of fates does not always appear in Hosea, but it raises important issues to bear in mind while reading texts related to Judah in Hosea and in the Book of the Twelve.

James D. Nogalski, The Book of the Twelve: Hosea–Jonah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2013) 41-42.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Connections Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email