At the end of the month I am subbing for a rabbi friend of mine at a college in Oakland on the topic of the 8th century BCE prophet, Hosea. I thought I’d explore him with you this morning because of his relevance to the tone of present day discourse. His book is tiny compared to the giants of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. Those guys wrote a lot and it’s easy to forget there were minor writing prophets as well. Hosea preached in the Northern Kingdom of Israel after the promised land was split into two separate kingdoms. The cause of the split was lack of leadership and the insensitivity of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son after the death of his powerful and charismatic father. When he became king he taxed the Northern Tribes up the wazoo and they had had enough. So the people of the North took the name Israel and formed their own kingdom. So there!

Where's the soul, dude?

Well a couple of things were missing up North. No Jerusalem as a capitol and no Temple. It’s tough to be the chosen ones of G-d when G-d lives in Jerusalem and you don’t. To make this experiment work, they established a capitol in Samaria and religious centers (yes 2 of them) at Bethel and Dan. I think you can see where this may not have been a spiffy idea for these northern folk. Eventually they will pay a heavy price when the Assyrians invade later on. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the people of the Northern Kingdom thought they were G-d’s favorite people and made sure that everyone knew that. Into this steps Hosea. He observed that the religious practices were “all show and no soul.” The gave lip service to G-d and no more. When this is the case the dominoes will begin to fall. Religious formalism leads to compromise, selfish ambition and lack of integrity in one’s personal activities and dealings. What follows is dishonesty and corruption. Defeat and collapse is just around the corner for these folks. Sounds like doom and gloom.

There’s a ton of things Hosea could have harangued the people about but he focused on the phoniness and hollowness of their worship. They were supposed to be consecrated to G-d and dedicated to the covenant. This has been a message of prophets for millennia, be true; be authentic. Talk the talk, but walk the walk or bad things will happen. He called Israel the unfaithful wife to G-d’s compassionate husband. Did Hosea know something about this? Oh yeah he did. His wife, Gomer, slept around quite a bit and not all the time with her husband. Yet in spite of this Hosea did not have her stoned, quite the opposite, he forgave her and showed her compassion. The pain that he felt was used as a comparison of the pain that G-d felt when his chosen bride, Israel, turned away and became less than an authentic human being.

There is much more to the story than what I have written here (and the lecture at the end of the month will have a powerpoint to wow the college students), but the above are some of the main points in his life. What can we learn from Hosea? Compassion shows its true worth through pain. When we are in pain we can show real compassion to others in pain just as G-d showed Israel from time to time. The self-proclaimed ‘righteous’ in our society are probably not so righteous after all. Is it all show and no soul or substance? Is it all to mask a pain, this loud shouting and finger pointing and name calling? Has the level of discourse become so toxic as to mask the real pain in people’s lives? Where is the soul? Where is the authenticity? What is behind the mask of righteousness and anger? Is it pain? And how can we name this pain so we can have a decent conversation? These are the questions for today.

And so it goes….