Sunday, April 25, 2010

Naked Street Preaching & Other Crazy Requests

"Don't read the first few chapters as merely an allegory. Read them as a story of actual events happening between God and two very real people."

Those instructions may sound simple enough, but they weren't. It was easy to understand the text as symbolic. But to imagine that the events literally happened? Well, it was hard for me to wrap my head around God asking someone, anyone to do what was written on the page in front of me.

As I settled in to read the first three chapters, I already knew the storyline, but still, the second verse made me shake my head: "the LORD said to Hosea, 'Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD'" (Hos. 1:2).

I held out some hope that maybe the text didn't really mean what it said. But when I looked up what "wife of harlotry" meant, I found (sigh) scholars divided--and neither option provided the easy-out answer I had hoped for. Either God was asking Hosea to marry a woman who was already a harlot or who he knew would become a harlot after their marriage.

Either way? It's a lose/lose situation for Hosea. But did he quote from Exodus about the "thou shalt not commit adultery" commandment? Did he say, "I don't know if my heart can take that." No. He simply obeyed.

I have a hard time relating to characters like Hosea. I'm just not wired to be a "simply" do anything person. Even minor decisions like what faucet to buy: I want to research it, pray about it, talk about it, comparison shop--I want time to decide on my answer. It's genetic; I see in my children that same desire to defer any immediate action that this mama requests.

But not Hosea. The next verse reads, "So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son" (Hos. 1:3, my italics). And after that? She bore two other children, but this time, Scripture uses a different pronoun: "she conceived again and gave birth to a daughter...she conceived and gave birth to a son" (Hos. 1:6, 8, my italics). Not "his" but rather "a" child.

Already, it seems this wife whom God commanded Hosea to marry has played the harlot and conceived two children in adultery. And before you know it, she has abandoned Hosea and the children.

But God doesn't leave it at that--hurting husband, hurting children. No, He asks for more, telling Hosea "Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress" (Hos. 3:1). God knew that despite it all, Hosea did love Gomer. I'm not sure how, but he did. And again, Hosea obeys God, goes out, pays the price of a slave to buy her and brings her back home.

This isn't logical, to take back a woman who has hurt you before. I'm sure modern psychologists would have some "enabling" comments to make about Hosea. But man's logic wasn't what drove Hosea to obey God fully--instead, it was that he obviously feared God more than he feared man. Hosea knew she would play him for a fool in front of his entire village (and maybe more than one village). He knew she would be unfaithful. He knew she would abandon their children who would be permanently tainted by their mother's actions. And the only possible rational explanation for his actions is that he feared God.

Looking back through the prophets, this isn't the first time God has asked someone to do something completely mind-boggling in order to give the people of Israel a visual lesson about pending judgment.

Consider the prophet Isaiah: "the LORD him [Isaiah], 'Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.' And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot. Then the LORD said, 'Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt's shame'" (Is. 20:2-4).

This is the equivalent of God speaking to you today and saying, "Get naked Jennifer!! Hope you're in good shape because for the next three years, there are no shoes or shirt required for this prophecy."

You can rest assured, my response wouldn't be simple. "Uh, God, good lesson here about the nakedness symbolizing the shame coming at the hands of the Assyrians, but do we really need to use a live model? And three years!? How about one. If we use the Internet, we can reach the same number people in a third of the time?"

But again, Isaiah is just like Hosea--they don't ask questions. They just sacrifice their standing in the community, their personal lives, their everything in obedience to God.

These two events don't even begin to list the wild and crazy sacrifices God has asked people to make all throughout the Bible. But what I find interesting is that these sacrifices aren't required for everyone, but were specific to one man in one time. Yet, there are other requirements in Scripture that apply to all, like "Love the lord your God with all your heart" or "love your neighbor as yourself."

To me, this seems to be a lesson worth learning, that just like with Hosea and Isaiah, sometimes God asks us as individuals to sacrifice or do/not do something ______ (fill in the blank) even if Scripture doesn't require that sacrifice.

Perhaps He asks us to sacrifice something that is a stumbling block to others or even something that could become a stumbling block to ourselves.

The next time I think God is asking me to sacrifice something for him, my first thought might be "how crazy is that!" or "that's too embarrassing!" But I hope my next thought is "Yes, Lord. I'm willing."

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