Lent, Time of Divine Love
With the help of the prophet Hosea we have just considered the feelings of paternal love of God, experienced by Israel during the forty years’ wilderness. This love of the prophet shows us another facet, the spousal, whose affairs the desert is the scenario.
Through the images of his failed and then healed marriage, Hosea describes the Covenant stipulated in the desert in an intimately ,personal and loving bond : God is the bridegroom and his people the unfaithful spouse. As in the marriage bond, the two pre-eminent quality of the alliance are: the bond of love and the firm loyalty , but after entering the promised land, the people have repeatedly departed from their God, turning to the pagan idols. The sin of apostasy is often made by the Prophet with the image of prostitution:
…. how Israel has acted like a prostitute (Hosea 1.2)
The Israelites are stubborn like a stubborn heifer. How then can the Lord pasture them like lambs in a meadow? Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone! Even when their drinks are gone, they continue their prostitution; their rulers dearly love shameful ways. (Hosea 4.16 to 18)
The great sin of Israel is the idolatry, which is to seek the joy out of his God. But God is not resigned to losing his beloved and still recall her with loving care, which are equally expression and threats of punishment (Hosea 11.5-6, 2,14). Even the correction and the threat of punishment are moved by love, because, as in any genuine love, they are aimed at the well being: after the punishment God will forgive. Not merciless vengeance but correction, because God is not a man. What the Groom really want is the restoration of the love of Israel to Him:
“How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
To carry out his plan of love with his wife, was needed a new sojourn in the desert, to let her rediscover the love with which God had once surrounded her:
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;…
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you inrighteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.:
Reconciliation goes through the desert. Israel been there before , despite his infidelity, experienced the wonders of the ‘tender love of a Father (manna, quail, water from the rock). The miraculous food and water and, above all, the gift of the Alliance marks the period of the desert as the engagement period, the idyll between God and his people. After adultery, in the divine plan the desert is once again the time of engagement, because it is in that place of silence and solitude that He reveals Himself in a new way, in that place conducive to prayer and to listening He can speak to the heart of the beloved and operate an inner renewal. He himself will circumcise the heart of Israel, so that he can love his Creator with all his might:
The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deut 30.6)
God will give him a new heart, a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone (Ezekiel 26:25), a heart capable of knowing (Jer 24.7) and love Him again. The glorious days of the exodus are repeated and the Alliance is intensified takes on the character of wedlock, the tests will end and it will be ensured between God and his wife a definitive union:
I will espouse you forever, I shall betroth you in righteousness and in justice, in love and tenderness, I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord (2:21-22)
There is a great theological wealth in these last verses: they describe the rich dowry that the groom brings to the bride. The hands of this adulterous are empty, because she has nothing good in it, but God Himself will refill them with fine pearls: letting return that moral rectitude that produces peace and well-being (‘right’), the ability to observe the full divine precepts of the law (‘justice’); donating the bowels of goodness and grace (‘goodwill’); reliability in relations, who had lost (‘loyalty’). In this way, she will know the Lord in an intimate and rewardingexperience. (CONTINUED)
Bible Teacher and professor of Hebrew Bible and S. Writing at the ISSR Rimini is the author of several essays and books, among whic are included: Witnesses of the Risen.
Paths of Lucan pneumatology, Pazzini, Verucchio (RN) 2007
Commentary to exegetical-theological “Wisdom Books” in The Bible VVV, S. Paul, Cinisello Balsamo 2009;
Introduction, translation and commentary on Joel, S. Paul (NVAT), Alba 2011;
Introduction, translation and commentary on Amos, S. Paul (NVAT), Alba 2012