The Power of a Name
It is a most difficult thing to name a child. Giving them names that they will have their entire lives is a significant responsibility. We want the names to have meaning, but we want the name to be pronounced properly when people read it and we want it to be something they don't rush to change on their 18th birthday! What a story about names we have in our Scripture today! This text is every child's nightmare! In reality, it was the nightmare of a nation.
Our text today is a reversal of normal circumstances. The serious matter of naming a child has been interrupted by a matter even more serious -- the future of the nation. While naming a child is normally a time of rejoicing, we see a different picture presented in this story in Hosea.
In Hosea 1:2-10, we read of the Lord's judgment against Israel. The prophet is told in no uncertain terms that he is to find a wife. Well, it’s a bit more specific than that, isn’t it?
2 When the Lord first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.” (NLTse)
Undoubtedly, when Hosea took on the prophet’s mantle, this was not a desired part of the job description! “I want you to be my prophet” the Lord says, “oh and by the way...” No, just as we are uncomfortable hearing the vocabulary of this text today, surely the godly prophet Hosea would have been morally shattered that this is what God would call him to do. We are reminded of God appearing to the Apostle Peter in a vision and telling him to eat unclean food. . .food that had been associated with sin all his life (Acts 10:9-16). . . what a thing for God to ask someone! And yet, there are times when this is exactly what God calls the leaders of His people to do.
1. Baby #1: Jezreel
The children's names given in this story really contain the outline of the prophecy that Hosea delivered to Israel. His first son was to be named Jezreel, which means "God sows." That's simple enough and could even have some positive connotations. We know there was at least one other with that name, a Judahite. His name is in a genealogy and we know nothing of him except his name and his lineage. But Jezreel was the location of several bloody incidents in the history of Israel. The Lord makes is clear in this His words to Hosea that this was at the heart of the naming. It was in Jezreel that Jehu killed the kings of both Israel and Judah. We read another instance 2 Kings, Jehu requested all the kings sons to be executed and the text reads: "they took the king's sons and killed them, seventy persons; they put their heads in baskets and sent them to him at Jezreel" (2 Kings 10:7).
The nation had gone astray and had left the Lord behind. When judgement arrives, it arrives first for those in leadership. God has assigned leaders to show His people His truth and way. It can happen that the people do not listen to their leaders, but in such cases, those of us in leadership must fall on our faces pleading for mercy on the people and true repentance in their hearts. We see this example in Moses and indeed all great leaders in the past. Leaders must lead and they must do so from a position of humility before the Lord. Jehu was zealous for the Lord, but it is a short trip from zealous for the Lord to just being zealous and then becoming a man of violence. Zeal is good when submitted to the Lord. But it can quickly flip around so that we are no longer listening to the Lord for direction. Angry leaders leave a wasteland of destruction. When God visits the nation, his first stop is with those who are in charge. This is a great responsibility for leaders, in the nation and in the church. Pray for your leaders that God would keep us on track with his will and purposes. Pray that we would be so committed to doing his will that we would stand out as men and women of faith, of action and of humility.
The name Jezreel indicates a terrifying message of judgement to the leaders of the Nation. All the people would hear this and be very concerned. We can almost hear them saying: "Whew, I'm glad it's them and not me" But the Lord is not done with his message. We are not sure about the time table, but we know that time between child 2 and 3 was anywhere from 1-3 years, so it is reasonable to see the same time-frame here.
2. Baby #2: Lo-Ruhamah
The second child, a daughter, was to be named Lo-Ruhamah. In Hebrew, the word "lo" (לֹ֣א) means 'no' and Ruhama (רֻחָ֑מָה) means 'compassion'. The child's name was therefore: "no compassion" or "no pity." The idea of "compassionate protection" nicely captures the idea here. Ruhammah is built on the word for 'womb' -- that place of protection where an unborn child develops and is nurtured within its mother before birth. When the underlying term is used throughout the Hebrew Bible, we see the emotional power of the idea. Often it goes together with "growing warm" (כמר) (cf., Gen 43:30; 1Kgs 3:26; Hosea 11:8) or it is used as a contrast to anger. In Psalm 77:9 we read:
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (NRSV)
Throughout the history of Israel the central belief about the nature of God had been that of compassion (Exod 34:6; Deut 4:31; Ps 86:15; Joel 2:13). In fact, God's compassion was the basis of His relationship with Israel.
When we consider the first name: "Jezreel", this second naming would have significantly elevated the sense of doom to the Nation. God's visit to the Leaders was not His only stop! The people were next on his visitation list. But here, the word is clear -- there will be no compassion during the visit. It will be a visitation of judgement on the people even as it was the leaders. God will not take away the guilt of the people; they were rushing toward judgement and crying out for divine compassion would be a wasted plea. There would be Lo-Ruhamah -- no compassion - and they will become an unforgiven people.
3. Baby #3: Lo-Ammi
The third child was a boy. Once again we see the prophetic name in relation to the judgement of Israel. We see that familiar word "Lo" (not) connected this time to the word "Ammi" which means "my people". If the primary characteristic of God for Israel was "ruhamah" compassion, then the characteristic mark of the people of Israel is that they were God's Covenant people. When God rescued Israel from Egypt the message of Moses was this: "This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me." (Ex 8:1). Throughout the Old Testament this refrain is repeated:
I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.
Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people.
You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
Hosea was bringing a message to Israel which amounted to a meltdown of Israel's entire theological worldview. What was Israel assurance had been stripped away. The promise that had given the great heroes of the past courage to push forward was lost. God said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9). God with us, He will be our God, We will be his People. This is the ultimate expression of self-identity for Israel, and yet, the words of the prophet are clear: Jezreel -- I remember the sins of your leaders; Lo-Ruhamah - expect no compassion when I visit you; and finally, Lo-Ammi -- not my people -- the covenant was revoked you will be judged based on your actions. The people wanted to have their independance from God's ways, now they would experience ultimate independance from God -- and it was not going to be pretty.
And here we are today. A people not unlike Israel. A people that can be sometimes hot, sometimes cold. A people with divided hearts by times and hopes for mercy and grace, hopes for covenant love separate from the holy judgement of our lives. A covenant is a wonderful thing, but not as a magic shield from God's holy standards. We, just like Israel, are called to follow the ways of God. Jesus never said, ask me into your hearts and then just go live your life. No, Jesus said, "pick up your cross and follow me." It's not a life of ease. It's a life of love, it's a life of joy, it's a life of blessing beyond description, but it is not a life of ease. It is not a wide paved road, it is a narrow way with rocks and hills and dangers on the path. You can't coast on a rocky road, you press forward or you stand still. God calls us to have faith in Jesus Christ, yes, but he calls us to follow him. If we have areas of our lives that need forgiveness and reformation -- we need to address that. We need to seek forgiveness, sure, but we need accountability friendships, we need a clear life-plan so our walk with God in 2008 will be deeper and producing more fruit than in 2007. The message of this text to us today is just this: God cares about how we live our lives; God remembers unrepented sin; God's compassionate character and the covenant itself can be set aside because of constant rebellion. But there is more.
The judgement is not final. God is not capricious; his judgement comes to refine and to bring us to repentance. One generation grumbles in the desert and the next enters the promised land. One might is lost in sin but the next finds true faith, renewal of the Covenant, and hope for the future. We read this in the verses 10 & 11 (Heb = 2:1-2) the future children and their name...
Future Children - Beney El-Chay
Sons of the Living God! A word of hope, but not for this generation, says Hosea. This generation made its proverbial bed and now they were to sleep in it. But the judgement was not permanent. A season of rejection -- Lo-Ruhama, and Lo-Ammi -- would one day become ultimate acceptance.
This is our hope today. The final word of God to us is compassion and covenant kindness. God holds out this promise to each of us here today: if we turn from our way and follow his way, we will be called Beney-el-chay -- children of the living God; our brother will be Ammi (my people) and our sister Ruhama (compassion) and our King is Jesus Christ -- the Saviour of Israel! -- God calls us today to embrace him in faith and to follow him on that narrow and challanging path so that we will experience ultimate meaning and ultimate joy.