This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #31.
Reference: Hosea 9:1-17
Today, again, God continues his litany of offenses committed by Israel against him. This time, however, he goes into a bit more detail about what their punishment will look like. The title of the chapter explains it pretty well: “Exile without Worship.”
At first this seems like a pretty lame punishment. Isn’t that kind of like telling a kid who won’t eat his dinner, “If you’re not going to eat your dinner, I’m not going to give you dinner”? You won’t worship me, you won’t stay true to the covenant you made with me? Then I won’t let you worship me.
Well, yes. And that’s the point. Because eventually, the kid is going to REALLY WANT to eat. Because eating is an engrained part of his daily routine, it’s good for him, it’s necessary for his survival, and without it things will be much worse. Eventually, he’ll come back and start eating again because he’ll realize that he needs to.
The same is true for the worship. Exile is bad enough. Imagine if you were suddenly kicked out of your home and forced to live somewhere else. That sounds pretty rough and disconcerting (depending on the quality of your home, I suppose). Then imagine not being able to just move down the road or across town (where you would still be familiar with the people and places), but being forced to move to Pakistan. A totally different culture with totally different traditions, food, language, etc. That might sound like an exciting summer vacation, but remember: this isn’t vacation. You had no time to prepare, you are being forced there, and almost all of your property is being taken away, and you will not be returning for the foreseeable future. No family, no friends, no connections, no familiarity, no nothing. Things. Were. Rough.
In a situation like that, people often relied on their religion (and even today rely on their beliefs). Now take out worship. They’re simply not allowed to practice their religion, even if they want to. They literally have nothing. Their primary connection to one another was their tribes—now broken into different pagan practices by their own choosing (that’s the part where they broke the covenant) and not able to practice Judaism and bring those tribes back together—they don’t even have that anymore.
Like food, worship is really, really good for us. Part of it is because we’re relational beings, and worship is the lifeline of our relationship with God. Part of it is because it’s important to acknowledge reality (including the reality that we are not the End-All-Be-All of the world). Part of it is that it brings us together as a community. Part of it is that it increases our virtue, our willingness and ability to trust, and our peacefulness. All of that is taken away. Exiled and robbed of that.
Suddenly, people really wished they could worship God again.
Like the little boy who wouldn’t eat his dinner, the Israelites wouldn’t worship their God. They had made a promise to him, committed themselves to him (hear, as spouses at their wedding), and they were flat-out turning their backs on that promise. When God says “Then you’re just not going to be able to worship me, then,” their reaction is likely something along the lines of, “FINE. WE DON’T WANT TO” (just like that little boy who didn’t want to eat in the first place). But when they realize they not only need it, but they really do want it, they’re no longer able to have it. (“It” being food in the case of the young boy and worship in the case of the Israelites.)
Then it’s suddenly clear how this is a punishment. It’s a rather constructive one—it gets the point across and teaches them how critical worship is in their lives and how God is literally their lifeline. Just as he said before, he would punish Israel in such a way that would make her sincerely want to come back and repent, because that’s what she needs to do for her own good, anyway. Amazing. It’s like God keeps his promises or something.