Tuesday of Week 14 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13

Hosea is in a very different mood today from yesterday. He makes a scathing attack on the idolatrous practices of the Northern Kingdom (referred to here also as ‘Israel‘, ‘Samaria’ and ‘Ephraim’), when they set up kings without the Lord’s approval.

This passage refers to the dynastic upheavals of Israel’s declining days. Between the death of Jeroboam II and the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians, a matter of some 25 years, there were four separate dynasties on the throne and as many murdered kings. In fact, after Jeroboam II there were five kings in 13 years and three of them took power violently. They were certainly not God’s choice.

Worse still, they melted down their silver and gold to make false gods, a move that could only bring the downfall of the people. “Cast away, your calf, O Samaria!”. Jeroboam I (930-909 BC) had set up golden calves in the shrines of Bethel and Dan and told the people, “These are your gods”. “But not your God,” says Hosea. “Get rid of them!” is the Lord’s command.

The prophet then quotes a proverb that we still hear today: “When they sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind.” One evil leads to something much worse. And another: “The stalk of grain that forms no ear can yield no flour.” Another familiar proverb about the results of doing evil. In the Hebrew there is a play on the similar-sounding words for ‘stalk’ and ‘flour’.

Israel sowed the wind of idolatry and reaped the whirlwind of Assyria. And, even if it did produce flour, it would be devoured by the stranger, namely, the Assyrians. Israel will be swallowed up and, among the nations, become of no value. The idolatry of the people, their turning their backs to their God in favour of idols will lead to the disaster of the Assyrian invasion and their deportation into exile.

They made many altars to appease Baal but only committed even greater sins in doing so.

Meanwhile the very ordinances of God are seen now as something foreign. They go through the motions of offering sacrifices and eating the sacrifice as a sign of participation and unity but God knows their hearts are far from him. Some of the sacrifices were partly eaten by the offerer and priests as a sign of the sacrifice’s union with the god. There was no such union, of course, nor could there be with man-made idols.

God is mindful of their guilt because of their idolatrous practices and recourse to impotent gods. They shall be punished by “returning to Egypt”. To go back “to Egypt” was to go back into foreign bondage as was the case before the Exodus. Now the slavery and bondage is under the Assyrian ruler who will carry them off into exile.

We might ask ourselves two questions today, arising out of these readings:

How sincere is my offering of myself to God and to Jesus when I celebrate the Eucharist? Is my daily life truly an expression of what I am doing in the church?

Secondly, what are the gods in my life? And do they impede service of my Creator God?

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