5 I cared for you in the wilderness,
in the land of burning heat. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)
Woo, God is angry here folx! As we’ve come up against infanticide twice in a short while, I think it’s time we talk about it. Unfortunately there’s no two ways around it: this is what happened in wars back then. Examples abound in the Bible of women and children being killed – by both the “bad” and the “good” guys.
But before we conclude that God is a baby-killing monster and all turn atheist, let’s remember two things: first, that atrocities just as bad as the ones written here are still happening today, and that they are not sanctioned by God. Though many people turn a blind eye, many others cry out in God’s name against these acts of war. Second, a lot of this is evocative symbolism. In other words, Hosea knew this imagery would get a strong response from his readers, and decided to use it. Killing the children of Samaria also becomes a metaphor for its destruction: for without children there is no future, therefore Samaria itself is destroyed through their death.
Even with these explanations, it’s not a comfortable passage to sit with, especially the Sunday before Christmas. I wish I had more for you, my friends, but all I have today is this reminder: sometimes our presence is required. It sounds simple, but it can be one of the most difficult and important things we do: Showing up, bearing witness, standing by, waiting upon. Think of going to a funeral: it’s never fun, but it means so much to the loved ones that remain, and can provide a path to closure for ourselves as well. Or visiting a sick bed: the ill know they are not forgotten and left alone in their suffering. Or even, on a much more daily level, listening to someone vent their frustrations without trying to “fix” anything. (My husband now asks me from time to time “am I supposed to just be listening right now or did you want a suggestion?”)
By the simple-yet-difficult act of showing up, we create a space for healing, for growth. Healing and growth isn’t always pretty or pleasant, but it is very necessary. The more that we can help whomever may need it, the less we will be like the wayward nations of Ephraim or Samaria described above. Judging by God’s wrath upon them – whether it was real or metaphorical – that is a good thing to be.