From the editor: October 17, 2014
Good News & the Prohpet Hosea
Today, October 17, is the feast day of the Prophet Hosea in the Orthodox Church. His life was a living Word of God to Israel, that is, to the Northern Kingdom. He was the last prophet to warn Israel before the Assyrian onslaught (ca. 722) and has been sometimes called "the death-bed prophet," as in someone who preaches God's word one last time to those facing their demise, in this case, Israel. The times of affluence were about to end forever.
Here we have a text that is over 2,700 years old with power to pierce the heart of anyone with the ears to ear it. In chapter 11 we read, "When Israel was a child, I loved him. . . I taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up in my arms . . . I led them with the cords of kindness, with the bands of love." Still, punishment is called for, and yet, "How can I give you up, O Ephraim? . . . My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger . . . for I am God and not man." (ESV)
The Voice here is that of the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, who looks down the road for the son's return and would run to meet him. It's not where we begin, but where we end up. Israel, degenerate after a period of affluence, is poised for destruction. It is the fruit of its own moral laxity and perverseness, for the moral order of things does not permit such falling away without a downside, without dire consequences.
Yet another force is at play, and that is this mercy and love of God for fallen Man. It takes but a turning back to God for the power of his grace to be known. "Come let us return the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; and the third day he will raise us up." (6:1-2) He has torn us in the Fall and struck us down in that we became mortal; in our flesh we bear all the marks of that fall: through sin came death.
And so we come via Hosea to the death-bed not only of Israel but of Man and every man. We pray in our church for "a good Christian end," and for those who have yet to repent we hold out this hope to the very end. Thus ministering to the dying is paramount, for it may take the process of dying for some to finally confess that we do not control our destinies, that we have sinned, that we are subject to mortality and need the grace of God to become whole. We have already reaped what we have sown in part through our inescapable mortality, but the love of God is stronger than death.
The duty of the church, the people of God, is to bring Good News to those facing death, which means all mankind, including the prisoner on death row, the terminal cancer patient, the dying drug abuser, or even worse—Lutheran Pastor Henry Gerecke preached the Gospel as prison chaplain to high-ranking Nazi prisoners being tried at Nuremberg. Some of them repented and received Holy Communion before their executions. (Told in the book Mission at Nuremberg.)
Hosea was Israel's death-bed prophet; Gerecke Nuremberg's death-row evangelist. Even at the last breath, at the eleventh hour, we may yet rise and return to the Father. Yet it is better to do it now, every day, because we have no guarantee, we have no say over another tomorrow. Today is the day of salvation.
"O death, where is thy victory? O death where is thy sting?" writes St. Paul—quoting the Hosea, the death-bed prophet.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
—James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James