‘Shame and Honour’
Contemporary lessons from the marriage of Hosea
One of the prophetic books in the Bible is that of Hosea. One of the significant incidents in the book is the marriage of the prophet with Gomer (a prostitute). One of the interpretations is that there is an analogy of action. Gomer’s act of prostitution is compared with Israel’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh.
I happened to read an interesting article by Joshua Moon who applies the concept of Honor and Shame to interpret the marriage of Hosea with Gomer. Honor and Shame are considered important aspects in many of the societies and cultures, and equally in the ancient Hebraic culture. (Even today, it is important in many of the cultures. One example is that marriage outside a certain group is not appreciated in some cultures). The main principle followed is that we should choose our actions in such a way that it increases honor and reduces shame.
In the Old Testament, prostitution or sexual promiscuity is considered a major sin. It is a shameful event. But the shame is not limited to the person, but it is for the entire family. It is a shameful affair for the husband or the father. Another crucial aspect is that they are not taken by priests as wives because such a marriage involves great shame. You could also read in the letters of St Paul that the presbyters and the leaders should be people with clean records. Such shameful associations (one example is marriage with a prostitute) was never accepted.
(Before I go further, I should make a small digression and speak about a possible critique. Yes, ancient society was patriarchal and laws were not equal for men and women. A woman and a man in adultery were treated differently. The sad reality is that the situation is not much different today. I am not entering into this discussion because the sin of woman is not the major point here according to the interpretation of Joshua Moon).
If you place yourself in that historical context, you can imagine how shameful it is for a prophet to marry Gomer. Probably it becomes difficult for Hosea to exercise his prophetic ministry credibly after this marriage. Many scholars have pointed out that it is almost impossible that Yahweh could ask Hosea to do something like this. But Moon would say, that is exactly the point.
Yahweh’s acceptance (embrace) of a sinful Israel definitely gives a shameful status to Yahweh. It is probably a beautiful expression of the aspect that God embraces the sinner, not the sin. The question of justice and conversion is definitely present in the book of prophets. But the image of God shown through this book is very counter-intuitive to many minds. Yahweh is embracing Israel with all its shame, even carrying the shame to himself. Embracing is different from trying to convert or correct the other, though it has some similarities. Though Jesus event can also be interpreted in similar lines, I am not doing it here.
Yahweh is associated with honor and Israel with shame. Their association brings shame to Yahweh (you should read this in their historical context, especially of shame and honor, else you miss the point). In many ways, they are like the two sides of a coin (or polar opposite). One party is ready for the association (covenant) despite the shame.
Think about our own polarized world. Different groups (right and left, conservative and liberal, pro-life and pro-choice, etc) think they have the truth and the other has a faulty line. I don’t want to make the judgment on who is right and who is wrong. Both are free to consider the other as wrong.
Association with the faulty other is definitely a matter of shame (this is not an analogy, but a reality). But an option is to follow the example of Yahweh (or Hosea). Embrace the other which may bring shame (as you believe so). You can continue to detest the sin of the other. That process of embrace can be a help in bringing a lot of healing and unity. It may open new avenues. I don’t know where it leads, but it can lead to pastures that are greener than today.
I am grateful to Joshua Moon for his article. Feel free to share your thoughts and responses (or reactions)