The Lord’s Faithless Beloved

Lorenzo Jessica Belmont Merchant of Venice

Israel is a luxuriant vine
whose fruit matches its growth.
The more abundant his fruit,
the more altars he built;
The more productive his land,
the more sacred pillars he set up. (Hosea 10:1)

Israel: beautiful, luscious, verdant, fruitful, and unfaithful. As green and flowery as Israel grows, just so does she stray. She offers pagan sacrifices to strange gods.

The prophet Hosea’s words remind me of the exchange between the young lovers Lorenzo and Jessica at the beginning of Act V in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. They have just arrived safely in Belmont, after fleeing Venice in the middle of the night to escape Jessica’s disapproving father…

Lorenzo. The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees
And they did make no noise, in such a night
Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls
And sigh’d his soul toward the Grecian tents,
Where Cressid lay that night.

Jessica. In such a night
Did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew, etc.

Lorenzo. In such a night
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
Upon the wild sea banks and waft her love
To come again to Carthage.

Jessica. In such a night
Medea gather’d the enchanted herbs, etc.

Lorenzo. In such a night
Did Jessica steal from her wealthy father
And with an unthrift love did run from Venice
As far as Belmont.

Jessica. In such a night
Did young Lorenzo swear he loved her well,
Stealing her soul with many vows of faith
And ne’er a true one.

Hosea’s book outlines the pained struggle of God’s faithful love. He perseveres in perfect fidelity and unflagging ardor. Yet He loves a faithless strumpet. Us.

He threatens. For our sake. To help His beloved find a way to reform. He threatens terrible punishments.

But He can’t stop loving. He loves us practically in spite of Himself, because He sees that we don’t deserve it, that we are beneath Him, that we won’t love Him back like we should.

But He keeps loving us anyway. No matter what we do, He never stops.

Numbers, Hosea, and the Non-Contradictory Contradiction of Sabbath Sacrifice

The Pharisees accused Christ’s disciples of breaking the Sabbath by “reaping” grain on the day of rest.

The Lord’s rebuttal makes two points. The second point follows what might at first seem like an odd, if not self-contradictory, line of reasoning. The conclusion exonerates the disciples completely. They are innocent men.

The Lord first establishes their innocence on the basis of their being hungry. According to the precedent of King David himself, hunger trumped legal considerations.

Christ could have left it at that. St. Mark, in fact, only recorded this first point which the Lord made. But Matthew gives us the second point, the one that seems so mystifying.

The Law of Moses not only allows, but in fact requires priests in the Temple to double their labor on the day of rest, since an extra sacrifice is ordered for the Sabbath.

Then Jesus cites the words of the prophet Hosea. The Lord declares that He does not desire the sacrifice of burnt offerings.

Okay.

But we can resolve this apparent contradiction by the other assertion that Christ made: “There is something greater than the Temple here.”

In the Temple, priests offered sacrifices to please God. Jews who loved God made pilgrimages to the Temple and offered animals to the priests to sacrifice. To say you are greater than the Temple is to say that you yourself constitute a pleasing offering to God.

A presumptuous thing to say? Certainly would be presumptuous for any humble sinner to say this. Would that I could claim to be a Temple where a pleasing sacrifice is offered to God! But, alas, I am selfish and disobedient, so my soul does not emit a pleasing aroma to heaven.

But the innocent Lamb, Who was never anything other than a Temple of perfect love and obedience, Who offered at every moment of His pilgrim life the sacrifice of undivided devotion: He could claim to be greater than the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Lord did not, in fact, contradict Himself in this second point. God desires mercy. Whose mercy? Well, first and foremost, His own. Mercy begins with God. He was the first to be aggrieved, so He must be the first to forgive. In fact, even before the first act of injustice, the Creator had already shown His infinite mercy by making us out of nothing for no benefit of His, but only for our benefit.

This infinite mercy of God is the perfect sacrifice of His Son. The Son offered Himself on the cross, in an odor of infinite sweetness, not for His sake, but for ours.

We sinners have no worthy sacrifice of our own to offer. We do much better to worry about begging pardon of those we have aggrieved and forgiving and forgetting the offenses we have suffered.

But that doesn’t mean that there is no more Temple, no more priests, no more holy bread, and no more Lord’s Day. No. The Temple is in heaven–and here on earth, wherever people believe in Jesus. The priests offer Christ’s Body and Blood, which is the bread by which we live forever. And the Lord’s Day is the eternal Sabbath that will never end.

Don’t Go for the Silver

NCAA tournament. Yawn. As far as I am concerned, the interesting part of the basketball season ended this past weekend.

Except that the Hoyas play a team from Nashville this afternoon, just a couple short weeks after the 150th anniversary of the fall of Nashville.

The prophet Hosea outlines a dialogue between God and us. The Lord calls out and helps us realize that He wills our health and happiness. He wills us to become beautiful in a way that is greater than what our imaginations can come up with.

Is this not the perennial trap into which we fall? We human beings scrap and fight and sweat blood to win the silver or the bronze. We forget that the gold medal even exists. We do not even imagine ourselves as God sees us.

I’m going to work hard and bust my butt and grow as tall as a fern. I’ll show ‘em; I will pull out all the stops, and my game will flow as smooth and sweet as a can of Red Bull. I will work on myself, and win people over, and my reputation will fill this town like the smell of new tires!

…And here is the Lord saying, Please, get over yourself. Take a chill. Come to me. Kneel down. Be quiet, and just listen, just co-operate. I have a plan to make you taller than a redwood, better tasting than $200 cab sav, and sweeter smelling than Riviera rose water. I made you in the first place. I know best how beautiful you can be.