Bible Study About Children
Part I: Hosea–A Biblical Book for Child Care Workers!
Hosea is a seldom-read, fourteen-chapter Minor Prophet that remains a remarkably relevant book. Those who work with hurting children will find the painful images and harsh descriptions all too familiar. Contemporary foster parents, today’s case workers, and those who serve the church’s most vulnerable children walk in Hosea’s footsteps. They hear what he heard. They wince at what he saw. They cry at what made him sad.
Context Parallels Our Own
Written to people who benefited from a half-century of economic expansion, government stability, and world peace, the people of Hosea’s day lived in a time remarkably similar to the life Americans have enjoyed for the last half-century. Unfortunately, their culture drifted into the same injustices faced in our time: Israel developed into a two-class society of the rich and poor, the nice side of town and the ghetto. Much of the population seemed obsessed with a popular, sexually-charged, imported religion. Attendance at religious events hit record levels, but worshipers paid scant attention to the God of Scripture. The social, religious and cultural observations one might draw from the Hosea’s eighth century B.C. world echo the way in which many Christians see their contemporary society.
Why Hosea Used Children
In order to get the people’s attention, to crack open their lives of denial, and to convey to them the intent of the Biblical God, Hosea used children. Jesus brought a child into the midst of the disciples to illustrate innocence and blessing. Hosea used children to tell the people of how their lives offended God and to provide insight into an increasingly dark future.
Understanding How Hosea, the Book, Unfolds
Hosea’s work revolves around two personal stories. From a close reading, we might recreate the stories in this way: In chapters 1-3, Hosea marries an adulterous woman named Gomer. After their son is born, she has two more children apparently by other men. Gomer returns to a life of promiscuity leaving Hosea to raise the kids. Finally, Hosea brings Gomer home. In chapter 11, Hosea finds himself a single parent with rebellious teenagers. After recalling tender moments from their childhood, Hosea anguishes over how to discipline them.
The prophet’s personal stories reflect God’s experience with Israel. As chapters 1-3 unfold, Hosea the husband becomes God the spouse seeking the return of his adulterous wife, Israel. In chapter 11, the story quickly turns to God as a father agonizing over the discipline he must impose on his wayward child, Israel.
The Old Testament prophet, Hosea, knew all about pain. We imagine that he could remember the moment when he found out the second and third children were not his. He recalled the day he found his wife with a neighbor man. Despite all his efforts and his love, she still moved out of his house, but never out of his heart.
Hosea uses the pain of life’s most intimate relationships to reveal God’s agony when humans reject his offer of relationship. By using the pain of children, Hosea hopes to blast through their massive denial and lead Israel back into a relationship with God. Despite his gallant effort of using some of life’s most painful images, few responded to Hosea’s invitation. In his own time, many would consider Hosea a failure since few changed after his preaching and he was unable to call the people to repentance.
What Hosea Says About Children
Although Hosea is not primarily about young people, there is considerable material in the book about them. Consider these insights into hurting children:
Adult Decisions Hurt Children. Key text: Hosea 1. Hosea’s three children bore revolting names given to them by God’s command in order to spread the message of the consequences of adult decisions. The effect of their names would be like naming a child “Ugly” or “Stupid.” Even without such revolting names, these children faced a stormy future. God hoped that such drastic names might prompt real change in Israelite society, a transformation that might give Hosea’s three children the hope of living in peace.
Children Live in a Painful World That They Did Not Create. Key text: Hosea 9. Throughout Hosea, the prophet announces that God will discipline the nation for its sins. The consequences of their wicked ways would fall most heavily on their children. The punishment comes because of the sins of the parents, but the children bear the pain of the consequences. In that context, God reveals “I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:6). Just as Israel had intentionally rejected God despite the consequences for their own offspring, God must block the children out of his mind as he acts in tough love.
Chapter 9 deals with the “days of punishment” (9:7). Birth rates will drop, infant mortality will rise, and civilian deaths will involve large numbers of children (9:11-13). Obituaries will include an uncommon number of young people (9:14). Hosea’s words are not easy to hear, even more difficult to imagine, but reflect the ever-present consequences of a world gone mad with sin. Children did not create this world, but they endure the pain.
Rebellious Children Means Tough Love. Key text: Hosea 11. Just as parents agonize over invoking a policy of tough love on a wayward child, so Hosea describes how God ponders when and how to punish his disobedient people: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! …My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim” (Hosea 11:8-9). Hosea’s description of God reveals how the divine mind wavers between sending the discipline and giving them more time. Finally, God acts out of a deep love for his people. Just as a parent reluctantly invokes a policy of tough love, so God seeks their ultimate good through discipline.
God is the Only Hope for the World’s Hurting Children. Key text: Hosea 14. Hosea imagines a day when adult hearts respond to the invitation of God. So inept in matters of faith, Hosea gives them the words to say and the actions to do as they return to God. They are to ask for forgiveness, confess their sins, admit that they cannot live life on their own, reject all human alternatives and refuse all false gods. Then Hosea tells them one more thing to say, one final admission: They are to admit that God is the only hope for the world’s hurting children: “In you the orphan finds mercy” (Hos 14:3).
In a world before video, Hosea uses words that describe misery, pain, slaughter, and destruction. No contemporary film maker can out do the revolting images of Hosea. The close reader of Hosea sees war orphans, children who witness what no youngster should ever see, nine and ten year olds heading households, and young hands scavenging for food. Then in his final words, he describes new life that begins with the mercy of the Almighty falling on those left parentless in the painful consequences of their wicked lifestyles.
Articles to Use in Raising Biblical Awareness About Vulnerable Children.
The following short essays further develop the reflections on children in Hosea. Each piece is intended to stand on its own and can be used in printed material advocating for today’s hurting children.
Part II: It’s Got You Written All Over It
She hated her name. When she was little, she didn’t understand. But when she learned the whole story, her name became a burden. Some think it has a pretty sound: Lo-Ruhamah, accent on the last syllable. Children often dislike the names their parents give them, but Lo-Ruhamah had more reason than most.
Her name preached a sermon about her parents. Lo-Ruhamah’s mother had multiple sexual partners, seldom remained faithful to any one, and often disappeared from her life for long periods of time. Lo-Ruhamah lived with her step father, Hosea, who also had a name that preached a sermon.
But her name also described the shortcomings of her nation. Her name was meant to announce again and again the most negative aspect of the world where she grew up.
Not Loved. That’s what Lo-Ruhamah meant. Not that she grew up entirely unlovable or without love, although her mother’s promiscuity hung like a cloud over her life, but rather this little girl’s name pointed to a family and national disgrace.
Her story unfolds in the first chapters of Hosea. Gomer lived an adulterous life. Hosea tried to hold the family together even raising two of the children Gomer had to other men including Lo-Ruhamah.
In fact, all three of Hosea’s children had ugly names. Every trip to the market, each time he summoned them to supper, whenever they were called on in class, their names conjured up negative images, announced bad news, and reminded people of pain they tried to forget.
Most parents use more positive names, but parents still pass on to their children pain that they created. Lo-Ruhamah’s name had the sins of her parents and her nation written all over it. Children still grow up with the sins of their parents written on their lives. She’s a child of divorce. His father is an alcoholic. Son of an ex-con, child of the ghetto, foster child, infected with HIV at birth, illegitimate—the list goes on of how children live in the shadow of the sins of their parents and their nation.
We have many unanswered questions about this little girl who briefly walks across a couple of Old Testament chapters, but her name tells us that God knows all about how children grow up down stream from the pollution their parents and culture dump into the rivers of life. Incredibly this little girl’s name reveals how much God himself struggles with that polluted flow, how much he seeks to purify and clean even when we keep soiling it with our lives.
All who work on behalf of our world’s hurting children
can find hope in little Lo-Ruhamah, hope in the fact that God knows and that God works to stop the hurt. He even asks Hosea to give this child a negative name to make it clear to all adults the pain and anguish they bring on children’s lives. Through this child’s name he hoped to convince people to live a different way so that their children would have a brighter future. They did not listen.
Despite their refusal, God did not give up. In fact, his dedication to rescue humanity from its continual decisions that put the next generation at risk is reflected in the name he gave his prophet, Hosea. Every time people called out the prophet’s name, they announced God’s great dream and intention for all people including the sadly named little girl.
Hosea means salvation.
Part III: A Terrible Prayer
Hosea started to pray, and then stopped. “Give them, O LORD—.” What he wanted to ask was so horrible. His prayer (Hosea 9:14) seemed so unacceptable. How could he ask God to do what he was about to ask?
“Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.”
There he prayed it. I want you to send miscarriages to Israel. Make it so Israel’s mothers can’t nurse. Increase the premature births. Raise the infant mortality rate. “Give them, O LORD—.”
Hosea spoke out of deep compassion. He wished for less pain. He spoke on behalf of children. He knew that the consequences of North Israel’s wicked society would fall most heavily on the children. Dedicated to sounding the alarm, the people regarded him as a fool. He preached and nobody came forward. Seldom has there been a preacher so unsuccessful as Hosea.
So his prayer. “Give them, O LORD—.”
It was the only way out of inflicting pain on the little ones. Ask God to spare them the pain of living through what was about to come. Let them die before they are born. Let them die in their mother’s arms while they still have a mother. Dark days prompted Hosea’s dark prayer.
Knowing Hosea, he likely prayed this prayer in a public forum. He didn’t like spreading doom. He was not a bitter old man. He was a prophet, one who warned, who spoke out on behalf of those who could not speak out for themselves.
His prayer was a sermon. Listen to my prayer, people. Do you really want me to pray this prayer? I don’t think so. Yet this prayer is more godly than the lives you live.
Maybe Hosea’s prayer is for our time, too. Maybe this prayer sermon needs preached in some of our churches. Perhaps this prayer should be on more Sunday night power point presentations to jar some of us out of our denial. But it’s so ugly. It’s so negative.
So is ignoring the children.
Part IV: A Forgotten God Remembers
God said it. He was talking about the Israel of the eighth century B.C. They lived in Samaria and Bethel and Gilgal. It’s a line so brief, most people likely miss it. Three words that give a glimpse into God’s heart. What did God say?
“They forgot me” (Hosea 13:6).
The Power who freed them from slavery, delivered them from oppressive domination, provided them a fruitful land, presented them with instruction for living, chose them out of all the nations on the earth, loved them, blessed them, and cared for them.
“They forgot me.”
There’s a related line in Hosea that might equally be missed. We remember the awful names Hosea gives to his children. We quote the line about there being no knowledge of God in the land. We love God’s clearly stated hope: I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings. But there’s one line we might miss.
“In you the orphan finds mercy” (Hosea 14:3). Our first thought might be that Hosea never says anything about orphans and that it seems out of place in the last chapter. We might read over it because the line seems to contribute little to the central themes of the book. But think again.
The one who was forgotten remembered the ones who were forgotten.
Hosea 13 describes the three year siege of Samaria. We imagine the shortages, the daily casualty reports, the death wagons in the streets, the disease. Most of us dare not read what really happened at such times anticipated in Deuteronomy 28:52-57
(don’t read it if you are at all squeamish).
Hosea 13 has orphans written all over it. Fathers dead from battle. Mothers taken by disease. Uncles among the captured. Older sister raped and mutilated. Somehow the enemy army entering the city for the final sweep cared little for the little ones.
The one who was forgotten remembered the ones who were forgotten. “In you the orphan finds mercy.”
The line is consistent with the heart of God who made care of orphans the core of real religion. The line fits with the notice in the Old Testament that God serves as the father of the fatherless. The words we read over are the reason Proverbs has to remind us to speak for those who have no voice (Prov 31:8).
Despite his own agony at being forgotten by his people, God did not forget the vulnerable children.
Have we forgotten the hurting children of our world?
Part V: Abandoned Children and Attachment Disorders
It was an international adoption. The abandoned boy came to the attention of a single parent in a neighboring nation. The paperwork was the easy part. The problems started when the youngster seemed unable to respond to the tenderness of his adopted father.
He taught him to walk, caught him when he fell, spoke to him with tenderness, wrapped him in bonds of love, but the boy did not respond. The child never acknowledged the affection of his adopted father and seemed intent on taking up the values and concerns that his father most abhorred. The harder the father tried to express his love, the more the boy rebelled.
Those who work with abandoned children commonly encounter attachment disorders, the difficulties that uncared for children have in responding to compassion. What may be uncommon about this particular story is its source.
The child’s name was Israel. Abandoned in Egypt, they cried out. God, the Father, responded to their cries and made Israel his son. The new father showed the child how to walk in the living room of Sinai, but young Israel seemed unable to fully comprehend the love that was offered and the beneficial instruction he had received. So he rebelled against his adopted father.
Hosea may tell the story out of his own anguish of being stepfather to teenage children of his promiscuous wife, Gomer. Jesus may have Hosea’s words in mind when he told about the Prodigal Son. Hosea’s touching words are in chapter 11 of his book where he finally cries out “How can I give you up….How can I hand you over?”
Hosea has two points in mind: First, we never give up on children because God never gives up on us. That takes attachment disorders out of the social work manual and frames them with the love of God. We have yet to meet a child who has more resistance to the adoptive parent than Israel had to the love of God.
Second, we never give up because we celebrate the smallest victories that love has over injustice. Hosea’s last chapter dreams of restless Israel taking root in the deep soil of God’s love just as we dream of the unsettled child at last finding home in the love we offer. At times, God seems to have planted and replanted the seedling Israel so many times that the soil would be worn out with the shoveling, but God takes each brief glimpse of growth as reason to go on.
The whole premise of Hosea’s book may be illogical: to go on loving those who seldom respond to that love. In that premise, a whole host of child care workers and foster or adoptive parents find hope, and like God, reason to go on.