Fulness, Faithlessness and Family Dysfunction
Some families of the Bible are shockingly dysfunctional...
The Old Testament from the first recorded family torn apart by murder gives us vivid and ugly pictures of families facing adultery, incest, rape, and estrangement. But perhaps the most tragic of all the Biblical family dramas is tucked in just before the end of the Old Testament, in the oft-ignored book of Hosea.
The situation is difficult even to imagine. God asked a faithful young brother to give up the plans he had for his own life and accept the stunning pain and embarrassment of an unfaithful wife and illegitimate children. But somehow, Hosea was a man who could take this on. He was willing to live God’s plan and share God’s pain if that was the way to reach God’s people.
Because, of course, Hosea’s family was to be an enacted parable. It was a living picture of God’s love, despite Israel’s unfaithfulness. Hosea 2 presents a poem that begins to describe Hosea’s relationship troubles. But before too long, the reader realizes it is giving important insight into God’s marriage to Israel. Along the way, the poem highlights some powerful lessons for our families today and how we, too, are affected by faithlessness and striving for the “fulness of bread.”
The bride in the poem had a very specific reason for her infidelity: the wealth she believed her lovers would give her. This emphasis on specific material things comes up again a few verses later, when God states, “She did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold.” (2:8).
The punishment God threatens is again related to the bride’s desire for goods. “Therefore, I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness.” (2:9). Finally, at the end of the poem is a list of material things that describe the benefits of reconciliation. “The earth will respond to the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil.” (2:22).
There must be a point to these repeated lists of physical goods in a story about marital and spiritual unfaithfulness. Somehow all the stuff–and who was providing it–was an important part of the story God told through Hosea.
This result is not surprising, considering the Bible’s words used to describe the bride’s sin. The Hebrew word for adultery, referenced several times in this story, is used for both marital unfaithfulness and idolatry (Strong’s #5003). But the word used most often in the book of Hosea comes from a completely different Hebrew root (Strong’s #2181).
This word carries the specific meaning of prostitution and implies the idea of being well-fed. The motive for the wife’s sexual sin was the material things she perceived she would gain beyond what her husband could provide for her.
This idea is intriguing on a number of levels. God–the husband in the poem–cared for His bride’s needs. He not only gave her enough to eat, but He also “lavished on her silver and gold.” (2:8).
But she could not see it! In her eyes, she could not trust her husband to provide for her, so she took matters into her own hands. And the result was infidelity, a shattered marriage, and a broken family.
It is a decidedly uncomfortable picture: given plenty, lacking faith and desiring more. But, if we are honest with ourselves, it is a picture many believers today can relate to. However much or little we have, it can be tremendously difficult to trust that God will meet our needs.
We all have our own personal ways of getting our needs met when we feel deprived.
It is far too easy to begin thinking in this decadent society that the things we have been given just aren’t enough. In theory, we can acknowledge God has lavished His gifts on us like He “lavished on her silver and gold.” But yet, we can still privately feel God is not providing “enough.” Enough sleep, enough time, enough help, enough love and companionship when we’re single, enough money to pay bills, enough corn and wine and wool and linen and olive oil…
This niggling feeling of dissatisfaction tempts us to act unfaithful towards God in various ways. No, we don’t act out as dramatically as Gomer did. Thankfully most of us have little to no experience with literal prostitution. But we all have our own personal ways of getting our needs met when we feel deprived. And they can be almost as destructive to ourselves and our families as the bride’s prostitution in Hosea.
It is a bit frightening how such a shocking, family-shattering story can stem from simply not recognizing God’s provision in our lives. But it is no coincidence that this focus on materialism and idolatry comes up concerning both the harlotry of Hosea’s wife and the sin of Sodom. Instead of inspiring gratefulness, too often, the fulness of bread has exactly the opposite effect.
Hosea records about Israel: “But when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore, they forgot me.” (Hos 13:6, ESV). The blessings we have already been given simply cause us to desire more. So, we turn to sources apart from God to provide for our needs and only end up more unhappy and unthankful. And the vicious cycle of grasping and striving continues.
There is a poignant passage in Deuteronomy that speaks to this problem:
It is a stark choice, just as applicable in our age of plenty as it was to ancient Israel. Will we and our families serve God now with thankfulness and joy? Or will we follow Hosea’s Israel and lose it all in service to something else or in the work of our hands. (Hos 14:3).
Thankfulness does not come naturally to us humans. Surrounded by affluence and the fulness of bread, our natural tendency is to reflect on what we don’t have rather than find gratitude for what we do. The habits of thankfulness must be constantly retaught to our children and ourselves. Left to our own devices, we complain easily about our ecclesia, family, health, finances, and government. It takes diligent effort to train ourselves to become people of gratitude.
Many of us have heard the old prayer, “For what we are about to receive, may the LORD make us truly thankful.” There is a certain recognition that we need divine help to become people of thankfulness. We often cannot muster up gratitude on our own. So, we pray for God to change our hearts this way, as in many others.
And we create habits for ourselves and our families to teach and reinforce gratitude. Of course, it is easy to remind someone else to stop complaining and be thankful for what they have. What is harder is modeling true gratitude, especially in the face of our problems and unmet needs. Yet this is the perspective we must learn.
Because, in these days of Sodom, when so many of us do have fulness of bread, we have the same choice as Israel did so long ago. We can either “serve the LORD your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity,” or “in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the LORD sends against you.”
(Denver Ecclesia, CO)
1 All Scriptural citations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the English Standard Version