Religious Post

It Was I Who Taught Ephraim to Walk

Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

August 4, 2019

Hosea 11:1-11                                                 Luke 12:13-21                                     Psalm 107

Hosea prophesies in a time when Israel is under threat of attack.  Assyria is about to sweep down over Israel and destroy the Kingdom.  Hosea prophesies about this, and blames the imminent destruction of Israel on their worship of Baal and other gods of Canaan.  Yahweh was the God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  And Yahweh was the God who held their whole society together.

Our passage from Hosea 11 is interesting.  It shows a very loving, caring God.  Some passages, maybe many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures depict God as vengeful and punishing.  This reading from Hosea is different.  It depicts God as a nurturing parent.

God tells the Israelites, “To them I was like one who lifts/a little child to the cheek” (Hosea 11:4).  This is a tender, nurturing image of God.  Every parent knows what Hosea is talking about.  Every parent has lifted up a baby and kissed him or her on the cheek.  Or maybe held the baby up over their head.  This is a God who cuddled the Israelites as a parent cuddles their children.

God tells the Israelites that it was God who taught them to walk.  I remember when my brother was learning to walk.  How we held his little arms to steady him while he staggered in his infant steps.  This is what God did for the Israelites, “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,/taking them by the arms” (Hosea 11:3).

In a very real way, God taught the Israelites to walk.  Worshipping Yahweh meant following all Yahweh’s laws.  The Israelites didn’t just believe in Yahweh as they would any other God.  Believing in Yahweh meant accepting Yahweh’s ways, following Yahweh’s laws, obeying Yahweh’s commands.

When the Israelites escaped from slavery in Egypt, they were essentially a mob.  There were Israelites and other races all fleeing slavery.  But they were not in a city.  They had no king.  They had no social structure.  They were simply a mob fleeing slavery.  So the challenge of Moses, of God, was to organize this mob, wandering in the desert, into a society.  So we think of Moses as the Lawgiver.  Moses ascended Mount Sinai and heard God speak.  God told Moses the laws that would become the basis of Israelite society.

Turning away from God meant turning away from God’s laws.  As Israelite society became wealthy and as corruption set in, they found it more convenient to worship the gods of the neighboring tribes.  So Hosea accuses the Israelites of worshipping Baal, the storm god of the Canaanites, and other Canaanite gods and goddesses.  The Israelites thought that if they sacrificed to these gods, they would be protected by the god or goddess’ powers.  Then they wouldn’t have to follow Yahweh’s laws of justice, love, and compassion.  The Israelites could enjoy their wealth, exploit the poor and weak, and sin if Yahweh wasn’t their God any more.

And that’s what Hosea accuses them of doing.

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed (Hosea 4:1-2).

Notice how Hosea’s accusation follows the 10 Commandments.  False witness, murder, stealing, adultery, and although Hosea doesn’t say it here, making graven images and having other gods before Yahweh.  Hosea points out that worshipping Baal is tied up with breaking God’s laws.

The same is true for us.  Believing in God isn’t the end of religion.  It’s just the start.  If there is a God, then all God’s laws matter in our lives.  We can’t just believe in God and then do whatever we want.  Jesus says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  What does Jesus say for us to do?  Hosea, the Hebrew prophet tells us in words that Jesus echoes in the New Testament.  In our Hosea reading, we are told to be faithful, to love, to acknowledge God.  Then he points us to the 10 Commandments: No other Gods, truth telling, no murder, no stealing, faithfulness to our partners.  That is what Jesus tells us to do,

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” . . . If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”   “Which ones?” he inquired.  Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 19:16-19).

Following those laws will lead to eternal life.  And they will also lead to a good life here on earth.

This brings in the New Testament story we heard this morning.  A man exerts a lot of energy building big barns to store his abundant crops.  He plans to store his produce so he can live a life of ease in retirement, eat drink and be merry.  However, when the barns are done, he dies and never gets a chance to live his retirement dream.

We look forward to eternal happiness in heaven.  We can think sometimes that because we belong to this church, we are among the chosen.  Yet these ideas can work against us.  Looking forward to eternal life and priding ourselves on our religion takes our minds off the present.  The man in the New Testament story was expending all his energy building barns with his mind on the future.  But his future never came.

That story tells us to attend to our present.  Our eternity isn’t in the future.  It’s the way we are living now.  Are we living a live of peace?  Are we living a caring life?  Are we loving toward others?

If we are, we will be living a present life that is holy and blessed.  We will be in our eternal peace and joy.  We can be distracted by worries, by anxieties, by trivial pastimes.  That line in T. S. Eliot, “Distracted from distraction by distraction.”  Rather than anticipating our eternal joy, I suggest we attend to our present.  How are we filling time?  Is it blessed?  Is it peaceful?  Is it joyful?  If not, we need to ask ourselves if we are getting in the way of our own peace of mind.  It is true that in the next life, our feelings of spiritual joy will be more manifest than they are now.  But our life here and now can still approach the peace and tranquility of eternity.  How are we living in the present is the question that Luke asks us to consider.

At Paulhaven, a teen asked me, “What if religion is a scam?”  She was asking, not asserting that it was.  And she hadn’t thought it through very thoroughly.  But she didn’t want to be duped and wondered if this was all just a scam.  I replied that even if religion is a scam, what better way is there to live.  Isn’t a life of love, being true, honest, caring, humble, and peaceful—isn’t that a good way to go through life?

We will feel the results of our spirituality.  If we remove our blocks, our sins, and seek peace we will find it.  That will be a good way to live, even if religion is a scam.  But religion isn’t a scam.  There is a God.  And if we love God and follow God’s laws we will be blessed now, and forever.

 

 

 

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