July 31 – Aug. 6
Hosea 11: 1 – 11
Like the parent of a naughty child, the God whom Hosea visualizes is always of two minds. He is angry with his children, in this case the people of the northern Jewish state, Israel (called “Ephraim” because mythically descendants of Ephraim, the son of Joseph). At the moment god is punishing them by allowing the Assyrians to devastate them. God reminisces about the obedient people he brought out of Egypt under Moses, how he was like a mother to them. His anger abates, and he decides he will not again destroy the Ephraimites. The word “again” may be an oddity of translation. Some scholars believe the King James version had it right: “I will not return to destroy Ephraim.” God is turning to other tasks, but will not stop what he has started: he will allow the northern nation to be taken by Assyria, which indeed it was. Hosea’s vision of god in the future calling all his tribes together in peace can be seen as a prophecy of the forming of the state of Judea after the return from the Babylonian exile.
God says the Ephraimites will return to Egypt, alluding to the fact that many of them fled before the invasion and settled in Egypt in what became a large and influential colony at Alexandria. Admah and Zeboiim were cities destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah.
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
Ecclesiastes 1: 12 – 14; 2: 18 – 23
In our time, Ecclesiastes may be the most beloved book of the Bible. It is a series of musings and observations by an old man who might well have been sitting before the fire talking to his grandchildren. The word “vanity” is important. The original Hebrew word, hebel, means vapor. So when the old man says, “all is vanity,” he means all is without substance, futile or empty.
The title “Ecclesiastes” is a Greek word, a translation of the original Hebrew title for the old man: it means something like “teacher” or “leader,” but what he says is far from a sermon or public address. There is another misleading feature in the opening verse: an editor identifies the old man as the son of David, which was taken to mean Solomon. He or someone gave support to the idea by adding a phrase to 1: 12 (included in our reading) that dubs him a former king of Israel. Consequently, many people still think they are reading Solomon’s wisdom. Highly unlikely. The old man is much less grand than a retired king. Moreover, experts on the Hebrew language say the book could not possibly have been written before approximately 33 BCE. Solomon’s rules has been dated 965 – 26 BCE.
Colossians 3: 1 – 11
Paul’s letter to his people at Colossae is written from a Roman prison (4: 2, 18) and has a melancholy tone. Referring to the symbolic death of baptism, he says “you have died.” But instead of treating the baptism as a death to sin and rebirth in innocence, as he did in Romans (6: 5 – 11), he seems to say the opposite: after baptism your life is “hidden with Christ in God,” as is returned to the womb. The rebirth will come when Christ returns in glory. Then he seems to contradict himself, addressing the members of the community as earthly people and often sinful people even though baptized. We are, however, dealing with metaphors and similes. Deciding upon the unadorned meaning is often a guessing game.
Paul urges these sinful baptized Christians to “put to death” earthly things, including fornication and greed, nasty language and lying. Such behavior is forbidden by God, and he will be angry if you persist. You can clean up your lives: you can live according to the image of the Creator because Christ is in us. At least I think that is what he means when he says “Christ is all in all.”
©Arthur H. Cash