05 December 2010

Dec 5

Reference links:
Old Testament

It's time to jump back in time as we start the minor prophets. Today we start with Hosea.

Background info, from our usual source,
Active during the last turbulent years of the northern kingdom, Hosea is the only native prophet of Israel whose oracles have been preserved in book form. Providing a unique view of late Israelite society and religion, Hosea uses the metaphor of an unhappy marriage to illustrate Yahweh's relationship with Israel. Comparing his people to an unfaithful mate, the prophet urges a national return to Yahweh's loving embrace, a reaffirmation of the bond that alone can save Israel from disaster. The first part describes Hosea's marriage; the second enumerate Israel's crimes and punishments; and the third gives a brief epilogue promising future repentance and reconciliation.
Wikipedia adds the following bit of temporal context:
Hosea prophesied during a dark and melancholic era of Israel's history, the period of the Northern Kingdom's decline and fall in the 8th century BC.
In today's reading, Hosea receives a message telling him to marry a prostitute. This marriage will  illustrate how Israel has turned to other gods. He marries Gomer, a prostitute, and the children she bears are given names that are also symbolic of Israel's relationship with God.

  • Jezreel is named after the valley where King Jehu committed murders. This child symbolizes the ending of Israel's independence.
  • Lo-ruhamah means "not loved", and that little girl represents God's lack of love for the people of Israel.
  • Lo-ammi means "not my people". This little boy represents how the people of Israel are no longer God's people.
These images of ruin and sadness are contrasted with a future period of redemption when Israel and Judah are unified once again.

The analogy is interesting, but what I find more interesting is Hosea's terrible treatment of his family. If some prophet actually behaved this way, he is a despicable person. He is manipulating lives to make a point. The words of the reading give us little reason to suppose that he perceives his wife and children as more than tools.

Continuing on, the birth of the children is followed by a poem which describes God's divorce from Israel and eventual redemption. After that, Hosea redeems his own wife. He buys her back and has her abstain from sexual relations to symbolize that Israel will go a long time without a king. 

I wonder how Gomer, the wife, felt about all this. I wonder if Hosea actually cared about her. Even if he did, no one deserves to have their life and children treated as an extended metaphor. I suppose we are supposed to conclude from the fact that God loved Israel that Hosea also loved Gomer, but it sure does not seem like it from the Biblical description of their relationship.

New Testament

In today's reading, the author tells us that the children of God are those who accept that Jesus was the messiah. Only these people can win the battle against the world.

The author of John then describes the basis on which he believes:
And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross—not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony. So we have these three witnesses— the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree. Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God.
The argument from internal testimony is problematic.

First, there is no way to verify that the testimony comes from God. A key factor in determining the reliability of a human testimony is being able to identify the source of the testimony. If the validity of a testimony depends on someone being who they say they are, then the fact that they claim to be that person will not, on its own, be sufficient to support that testimony.

It's also worth nothing that human testimonies, even from verified sources, are not generally accepted in isolation. They must be corroborated by external evidence or independent testimonies. A testimony without corroborating evidence is generally considered lower quality or even unreliable.

The author implies that strong feeling can be used to determine truth:
All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son.
However, strong feeling can only be used to determine subjective truths (opinions of beauty or taste or internal emotional state). Strong feeling has a terrible track record of distinguishing objective truths. To stick within the realm of religion, Muslims have strong emotional verification that the Quran is the true holy book. Christians have the same feeling about the OT and NT scriptures. Both of them cannot be right. Feelings, no matter how strong, cannot provide adequate justification for belief.

For more on the inadequacy of feelings for determining objective truths see this post introducing a series on logic and the many good books on the working of the brain such as Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide.

Psalms and Proverbs

A medley of proverbs against flattery and sin and for caring for the poor and wisdom.