December 8

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible

Reading schedule

John 16:25-33; Revelation 5; Job 33:1-11; Hosea 3-4

Some see in Hosea’s purchase of Gomer a disparaging view of women as property to be bought and sold. The precise meaning here is unclear, but the focus of the passage is on the cost to Hosea (emotional, but also financial) of restoring his marriage. One interpretation is that Gomer was treated as property, but it is also possible that she had fallen into debt, leading to her becoming a prostitute or even a slave. Hosea then would have had no option but to purchase her out of her debt. Either way, her adultery brought her into a situation where she needed someone to redeem her. In spite of her unfaithfulness to Hosea, and the pain this must have caused him, he chose to love her sacrificially. At the same time, he put some conditions on the restoration. Gomer had to accept the need to remain faithful, as she should have done in the first place. All of this is provided to exemplify how God is seeking to restore Israel’s relationship to him (Hosea 3:5).

Hosea 4 begins an extended section detailing the charges against Israel. The list of unethical behaviour includes lying, stealing, violence and murder. The moral problems can, like Gomer’s, be traced to infidelity and adultery: Israel has been unfaithful to God and prostituted itself with other gods. But under the behaviour is a deeper issue: faithfulness and love are lacking, as is acknowledgment of God (Hosea 4:1). They have chosen empty sacrifices over knowing God (Hosea 6:6).

The Jewish scholar, Abraham Heschel in his book The Prophets, has examined the Hebrew terms used throughout Hosea for knowing or acknowledging God. The more common Hebrew term, yada, has a broader range of meaning than the English verb to know. The Hebrew term includes much more than intellectual knowledge of someone, but includes emotional attachment, even to the point of referring to sexual intimacy (Genesis 4:1).

Hosea coins another phrase, daath elohim, to capture the essence of what lies behind the moral life. The phrase is used twice (Hosea 4:1; 6:6), in both cases referring to something missing in Israel. Usually translated ‘knowledge of God’, Heschel describes is at something much deeper, more akin to the attachment that should exist between a married couple. The phrase includes knowledge of what is right, but also an inner desire and commitment to be ethical because of an emotional solidarity with God.

Just as spouses should be committed in their whole being to do right by one another, knowledge of God captures a similar commitment to know and empathise with God about ethical issues. God complains that such knowledge, and faithfulness and love, are missing from Israel, which is leading to its destruction. God looks for his people to know his ways, but also feel what he feels, such as when we have compassion on those who hurt, or desire justice where injustice reigns. The biblical view is that ethics is about much more than knowing right and wrong, but includes a sensitivity to what concerns God so that we can empathise with what affects him on all levels of our being.

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