Thursday, May 1, 2014

Hosea and the Heart of God: The Story of the Woman

Nathan JonesBy Nathan Jones

The more I plumb the depths of the book of Hosea from the Bible, the more of who God is is revealed to me. The very heart of God is laid bare in the pages of this prophetic book. To read the writings of this Minor Prophet is to have an encounter with God that's deep and personal. Hosea functions also like a mirror that reflects all too clearly the corruptableness of man, of which I am one, but still promises absolution to the penitent.

The lessons one can learn from reading these ancient yet relevant pages are incalculable. And yet, it's a book of the Bible that is often skipped over and thereby neglected, all to our loss. In this series, we will replace that loss with God's marvelous treasure of faith.

The Woman

She stood motionless and forlorn atop the high wooden platform. Stripped of all clothing, hands held together by a loosely tied rope and hanging limply before her, she made one last futile attempt to search her well of emotions and to no real surprise found its depths too dry to stir up any care. The indignity of the public display no longer held any horror for her, for long ago she had shed whatever dignity she once possessed.

Darkened, murky images of her life over the last few years played out in her mind's eye. Head hung low, gaze empty, staring down upon the rough hewn boards below her bare feet, she tried to remember the face and features of the man she had once known long ago as her husband. How old were her three little children now? Puzzled, she couldn't quite remember. She had left them all behind. They had offered her nothing but stress and embarrassment and poverty. Oh, the poverty! She had wanted so much more than a provincial life.

She had desires. Her beauty was widely admired and so she believed she was worthy of rich adornment in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry. She had wanted to know the joys of wine with friends at parties in the evening and with various lovers at private parties during the night. She had craved the attention and high position in society that she had believed she rightfully deserved.

There were always many, many men who could fulfill her heart's desires. A long litany of suitors cascaded across her memory, and like her abandoned husband, she could now no longer quite clearly picture. How many men had she given herself to procure these favored gifts? She could no longer remember that either. These lovers all seemed the same now, full of promises for a better life, yet each one eventually failed her, proving empty once they had gotten what they wanted out of her.

It started out so wonderfully with pleasures untold she had thought, but over time the procession turned into a nightmare. With every bit of her body she sold for fancy baubles, a piece of herself was ultimately lost. The parties and the pleasures and the hard living rapidly took their toll. She found her soul was dying on the inside as rapidly as her body was aging on the outside. Face worn and cold, eyes empty of life, hair streaked with grey, shoulders slumped, the young woman appeared decades older than her true age. To her horror, as she declined she found she had less to offer, and so too dropped the quality of her lovers. She finally resorted to paying them for just an inkling of the attentions she had once received. And then the abuses and neglect had begun.

So there she stood atop that platform—cold in both body and soul, friendless and oh so utterly lonely; face dirty and cheek bruised, long hair bedraggled, eyes bereft of the spark of life, reeking of prison stench—absolutely desolate. She remained somber, utterly crushed and defeated. And, also indebted beyond all hope of repayment.

The fat auctioneer began the call for bidding.

The Man

Across the busy market center of the capital city, hidden among the colorful merchants selling their various wares including slaves whose fortunes had found themselves indentured due to debt or capture in battle, stood a man used to being completely alone even in a bustling crowd. Head covered, cloak pulled tightly around him, the man attempted to be company only with his thoughts. For hours he'd been there—waiting, pacing, wringing his calloused hands. Strong and powerful emotions assailed him, wave after wave, until he was quite sure he could stand against them no longer. Then she was standing before him on the auction block, and his strength almost caved.

Taking in the crowd with only quick and furtive sidelong glances, the man took measure of the people around him. While some seemed more interested in the pungent smells of the exotic spices and fine textures of the fabrics the market had to offer, a greater number seemed intent on ogling the latest procession of slaves being sold to market, hoping to be titillated by some sordid, tragic story from the auctioneer. They were to be disappointed by this sad creature of a woman now brought before them, for in her worn condition, the auctioneer knew she would fare little to no value, so he barely made any effort to up-sell her.

Some knew who she was though. She had a past. He noticed cliques of women whispering and laughing to one to another, spiting bitterly without pity: "Good-for-nothing man stealer." "Adulterous!" "Her own husband couldn't control that wretch." "Deserved what she got." The watcher cringed inwardly, for painfully he knew the words were all too true.

At the booming call of the auctioneer for the first bid, the milling crowd responded only in skeptical silence. He called again, this time dropping the bid even lower, but was met only by pockets of quiet laughter. A third time the auctioneer called out the lowest possible price, but still nothing.

Gathering his fortitude, the man took down his hood and revealed his face. Eyes fixated only on the woman, voice cracked with emotion, he called out, "I bid 30 pieces of silver! But, all I have is 15. Will you, uh, take the other 15 in barley?" The words having escaped his lips, the man self-consciously believed all eyes were now boring into him. And so they were. Who would pay anything for such a treacherous and defeated creature, much less the full price set by their law for a healthy slave? It seemed like a preposterous offer.

And then, with looks of absolute shock revealing recognition, they knew. The people began to whisper one to another. "Isn't that her former husband?" He paid no attention to the unkind words that flowed around him.

The auctioneer was quick to respond, knowing he'd get no better price. "Sold!"

The woman couldn't look up—didn't dare look up—for where once was emptiness, there was now mortal fear rising up within her. As a slave she was property, and her former husband and now master had the legal right to stone her to death for her infidelities. Would he take his revenge? Her mind was a torrent of panic as the man paid the auctioneer. And now he stood before her on the auction block, all eyes hungrily watching for the drama to unfold.

Bracing herself for the inevitable blow, she instead was confounded by the sensation of a warm cloak being slipped around her slight shoulders. The man—the husband she had betrayed and abandoned time and again— now her master, lifted her trembling chin gently in his hands and tenderly spoke. "You are to live with me now for the rest of your life. You will no longer cheat on me. I forgive you, and I love you." Her eyes darted up to meet his and was utterly stunned by the warmth within them. Like a marionette whose strings are cut, she collapsed as an ocean of guilt washed away from her soul. To the stunned silence of the market crowd, the husband caught her in his strong arms, lifted her off her feet, and carried her back home.

In the second part of this series on faith in the book of Hosea, we'll discover two very different ways one can have their heart shattered.

No comments: