"The Consequences of Contempt"
July 9, 2006 Hosea 7:3-16
Outraged by Contempt
[photos] Here we see two men at the same place on the same day, just a few hours apart. It's our National War Memorial in Ottawa, on Canada Day. One man is showing great respect; the other, tremendous contempt. Can you guess which is which?
In one picture, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pays his respects by laying a wreath at a commemoration service hosted by the Governor-General and himself. In the other picture - taken about 11 pm after the fireworks and festivities - what you can't tell from this cropped version is that this single inebriated adult male is relieving his bladder pressure, right there at the same monument! What a disgrace! Such callous, uncaring disrespect for our war dead! A retired Major happened to be there with his camera, and newspapers across the country carried this picture along with that of 2 younger males. It caused outrage nationally, and renewed calls for some sort of honour guard at this important site.
Now, which picture best represents the general attitude of our society toward important institutions? The so-called "GI Generation" had a sense of duty, decorum, and one's obligation to pay one's due towards the upkeep of societal structure; but researchers observe that Baby Boomers, busters, and Gen-Xers do not feel the same obligation. Brought up on 'me-centred' media rather than the struggles of the depression and Second World War, the motto of the younger set is not so much "do your part" as it is "party hearty!" Volunteers to keep worthy organizations and causes running become harder and harder to find, because we're busier 'doing our own thing' and are reluctant to sacrifice our limited discretionary time.
Canadian culture differs even from other countries in showing respect for those who died in military service. Sergeant Russell Storring writes in a CBC column, "perhaps we also need to address the underlying issue of respect for our war dead and those who have served...Sadly, Canada's war dead are most honoured not here in Canada, but in Holland and around Europe, where those who were oppressed recognize the sacrifice paid for their freedom. You cannot walk into a war cemetery in Europe - especially in Holland - where the graves of Canadians and other Allied soldiers are not immaculately maintained. Veterans, serving soldiers and even Canadians who have no military background travelling through Europe can attest to the hospitality and sheer gratitude of millions of people who were liberated by Canadian troops. They truly know the meaning of respect and gratitude towards Canadians, and incidents such as those captured on camera in Ottawa simply are not allowed to happen."
A copy of the hometown paper (left by my parents) may illustrate other degenerating decorum and duty in a non-military vein. Graduates of Mitchell District High School recently had a reunion. Here we see 3 older men dressed in boots and ballerina outfits performing what they called a "Royal Geriatric Ballet Ensemble"! Ha ha - probably was quite funny, though hairy legs and tutus don't usually go together. It's fine to have fun; but are we losing our soul in our amusements, our silliness? Meanwhile, the adjacent inside news story features the headline, "After almost 175 years as a parish, St.Columban's Catholic church was taken down Monday." The photo shows a backhoe ripping through the brickwork, while community members and the whole of St Columban school watched. Is there any connection here between these photos, or is it just coincidence?
This week I spoke to one younger man who was angry his own church, St.Augustine, had been closed. But he added that his family hadn't actually been attending for some time. I wondered if he saw the connection. Too busy with other priorities, I guess.
Respect and contempt are pretty much opposites. Webster's Dictionary defines contempt as "the feeling one has toward something he considers worthless or vile; scorn...a showing disrespect for the dignity of a court (or legislature)." as we continue our look at the nation of Israel in the time of the prophet Hosea before its destruction in 722 BC, we see a "party hearty" atmosphere that treated traditional morality and religion, especially God's law, with contempt - without respect, worthless. It was a reversal of the earlier reform under Jehu when, as 2Kings 10(27) tells us, "They demolished the sacred stone of Baal and tore down the temple of Baal, and people have used it for a latrine to this day."
Spurning their Saviour
Please turn to Hosea 12: I want to point out v14, but let's lead in to it at v13. "The LORD used a prophet to bring Israel up from Egypt, by a prophet he cared for him. But Ephraim has bitterly provoked him to anger; his Lord will leave upon him the guilt of his bloodshed and will repay him for his contempt." See that last word? Contempt - the Hebrew word means "reproach, shame, rebuke; taunt, scorn." God had cared for Israel, but the nation spurned Him; so that guilt, that contempt was about to bring consequences.
We see this turning away from God expressed several times through Hosea's writing. 4:6, "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children." 4:16, "The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer..." 5:5, "Israel's arrogance testifies against them..." And most noticeably in chapter 7(13-16), "Woe to them, because they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, because they have rebelled against me! I long to redeem them but they speak lies against me. They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds. They gather together for grain and new wine but turn away from me. I trained them and strengthened them, but they plot evil against me. They do not turn to the Most High; they are like a faulty bow. Their leaders will fall by the sword because of their insolent words. For this they will be ridiculed in the land of Egypt." 'Insolent' is defined as "disrespectful of custom or authority; impudent." Over and over - in religion, politics, commerce, and morality, as we saw last week - Israel had turned away from God, rejecting Him and His ways in favour of more pleasurable pagan alternatives.
When the Hebrew word translated "contempt" in 12:14 is used in other parts of the Old Testament, it carries the sense of ridicule, mocking, insult - as when the Assyrian envoy blasphemes the Lord, likening Him to other conquered gods in front of Hezekiah (2Kings 19:4,16). Or when Goliath the Philistine giant strides forth boastfully in front of David and the other Hebrews, 'defying' or 'taunting' the armies of Israel (1Sam.17:10,25f,36; cf 2Sam21:21). So a contemptuous attitude is one that mocks, uses put-downs, says: "I'm the greatest - who do you think you are?! You're nothing compared to me; you don't matter, I'm the important one here!" You can see how closely contempt is related to pride, the 'respectable' sin. These days we re-frame and excuse or applaud pride as "having everything under control"; the person who "knows where they're going and isn't going to let anyone get in their way." This attitude forgets that the Lord God, Yahweh, is the One who 'makes things happen'.
When we're proud or contemptuous, even subtly, we look down our nose at others - perhaps those who are less disciplined, or more emotional. A Christian counsellor working with us through Emily's anorexia challenged me to consider whether I had an attitude of contempt - being a 'know-it-all', feeling as a pastor that I had to give the appearance of 'having it all together' in my family life, or showing disdain for people who are more emotional than myself. Contempt isn't always blatant. But the Holy Spirit still knows it's there.
Leaders Most to Blame
Through the prophet Hosea, God nails the leaders in their crucial role as being most responsible for setting the tone in society and being examples of respect and obedience to higher authority. We see this at 3 levels - leaders at home, leaders in religion, and leaders at the royal court. 4:14 talks about the home scene: "I will not punish your daughters when they turn to prostitution, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery, because the men themselves consort with harlots and sacrifice with shrine prostitutes..." The men weren't being leaders by setting an example of self-control. 4:8 focuses on the religious leaders: "They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness." Because sins prompted more offerings, the priests didn't mind the people sinning - they liked it! New Living Translation makes it more clear: "The priests get fed when the people sin and bring their sin offerings to them.So the priests are glad when the people sin!"
But the harshest criticism is reserved for political leaders - the king and his court, who were supposed to be worthy of being looked up to as examples for the whole nation. 5:10 says "Judah's leaders are like those who move boundary stones!" (Ie common crooks) 9:15, "All their leaders are rebellious." And the most detail is found in chapter 7(4-7, reading NLT), referring to the king and princes: "They are all adulterers, always aflame with lust. They are like an oven that is kept hot even while the baker is still kneading the dough.On royal holidays, the princes get drunk.The king makes a fool of himself and drinks with those who are making fun of him.Their hearts blaze like a furnace with intrigue.Their plot smolders through the night, and in the morning it flames forth like a raging fire.They kill their kings one after another, and no one cries out to me for help." Wouldn't that be a paparazzi feeding frenzy to keep the tabloids going! Such carousing and degeneration, even in the king's palace. Such lack of respect, such dissolution, so little concern for decorum or honou - small wonder there were so many assassinations. Clearly, the highest political leaders were not living a lifestyle that was worthy of much allegiance.
In our modern world where giant corporations have budgets rivalling those of small countries, immorality and fraud are not uncommon at the higher levels. This week the news reported the death of Kenneth Lay, founder of Enron, from a heart attack at the age of 64. Enron was once the 7th-largest company in the US, the 6th-largest energy company. But in May, Lay was convicted on 6 charges of fraud and conspiracy; he was due for sentencing in October, and faced up to 45 years in prison. In a separate trial, Lay was convicte of bank fraud and making false statements to banks; he faced up to 120 years on those charges. A news article notes, "Enron went bankrupt in December 2001 following revelations that it had hidden huge losses by using fraudulent partnership deals. The losses were kept off the company's balance sheet. After the losses were revealed, the company's stock plunged, wiping out billions of dollars of investors' money.Enron's collapse was the biggest case of bankruptcy in the United States up to that point.Roughly 5,600 Enron employees subsequently lost their jobs." What would it be like to be an investor whose $9000 worth of stock suddenly dropped to $100? What was it like for those thousands of employees and their families? Immorality at the highest levels of leadership can have disastrous consequences for many. Although by his death he escaped serving prison time, there is a higher court still to which this disgraced leader will have to give account.
A Sure Path to Ruin
Contempt is destructive; it comes from pride, which refuses to acknowledge God's sovereignty and worthiness. Proverbs (16:18) tells us, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." Hosea warned the people that destruction was just around the corner if they wouldn't listen; and in just about 30 years they went from a 'golden age' of booming prosperity, to bust. God says in ch.4(6,14,19), "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge...A people without understanding will come to ruin!...A whirlwind will sweep them away..." Elsewhere, Hosea prophesies, "Ephraim will be laid waste on the day of reckoning...Samaria and its king will float away like a twig on the surface of the waters...the roar of battle will rise against your people, so that all your fortresses will be devastated...the king of Israel will be completely destroyed." This must have seemed unthinkable when everything was going so well!
And in case the warning didn't grab their attention, the Lord uses a variety of startling word-pictures to illustrate His change in relationship towards them. In ch.5(12,19), "I am like a moth to Ephraim, like rot to the people of Judah...Ephraim turned to Assyria, and sent to the great king for help.But he is not able to cure you, not able to heal your sores." Other disease imagery in ch.9(16): "Ephraim is blighted..." 13:3 has a variety of disappearing motifs, "they will be like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears, like chaff swirling from a threshing floor, like smoke escaping through a window."
The Lord shows that where wickedness is concerned, He can attack like a Wild One. "For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them....So I will come upon them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk by the path. Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open. Like a lion I will devour them; a wild animal will tear them apart.[Why?]You are destroyed, O Israel, because you are against me, against your helper." (Hos 5.14; 13.7-9) Scarey stuff! Because they were so fundamentally AGAINST God, He would tear them to pieces.
But the most horrendous predictions are those in human terms. Chapters 9(13) and 13(16) warn, "Ephraim will bring out their children to the slayer...The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God.They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open." Uggh! A commentary I was reading noted the Assyrians were masters of psychological terror, sometimes skinning their captives alive. How awful! And Israel could have been spared - but they preferred their partying and idols of drink and fertility.
Repairing the Faulty Bow
It seemed to the prophet as if the whole situation, the mindset of the people, was hopelessly twisted. Turning from God, they were missing the whole point of life. 7:16 says (NLT), "They look everywhere except to heaven, to the Most High. They are like a crooked bow that always misses its target. Their leaders will be killed by their enemies because of their insolence toward me.Then the people of Egypt will laugh at them." They were like a hopelessly bent archery bow that would never hit the mark. Because they were insolent toward God and laughed at His teaching, scorning and holding Him in contempt, others would soon laugh at them.
Why were they destroyed? Because they lacked and rejected knowledge; specifically, they ignored God's law (4:6), the Bible. Ruin awaited a people without understanding (4:14b). They were stubborn like a stubborn heifer, while all the Lord wanted to do was "pasture them like lambs in a meadow" (4:16). It had to do with their heart-attitude, the fact that they weren't receptive to God at the core of their lives. They were distracted by other things. 4:17 is a terse, grave write-off: "Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!"
That should startle us into examining the idols we may have allowed to sidetrack us. Can we honestly say that the Lord is Number 1 in our lives? What else is trying to edge Him off the throne in our soul? Are we too a faulty bow, missing God's target and plan for us? Are we as resistant to His leading as a stubborn heifer?
Growing up on the farm, a couple of years I had a Holstein heifer as a 4H project, and entered her in the Mitchell Fair each fall. This meant weeks of preparation because you had to lead your calf around the ring using a halter - preferably as co-operatively as possible! At first there was a lot of resistance when you were training her - tugging and pulling and prodding. You sometimes had to step on her toes to get her to stand just so for the judging. But as the days and weeks went by, the calf got used to the routine, and eventually it became actually enjoyable as the two of you worked together as a team.
The Lord uses some of this imagery in chapter 10(11f). To understand this, you have to know that threshing would be a favourite job for a work animal because it got to eat the grain whenever it wanted as it walked around and around on the threshing floor. That was much easier, a 'plum' of a job compared to, say, ploughing. God declares, "Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh; so I will put a yoke on her fair neck. I will drive Ephraim, Judah must plow, and Jacob must break up the ground. Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you." God's training us to bear the yoke, to accept the tougher situations like plowing, to soften our heart and break up our resistant attitudes so people will detect in us not pride and resistance, but His righteousness.
Are we ready to accept God's yoke for different deployment? What is it we would find it hardest to give up if He had another assignment for us? Jesus spoke of a yoke or harness as well: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."" (Mt 11:29f) Can we yield up our frantic chasing and step into His traces?
A lot depends on the responsiveness of our heart. Don Dawson is an unemployed Ottawa man who, like many Canadians, was disgusted by the pictures at the monument. He told a reporter, "I was enraged. I was just infuriated.But after that subsided, I started to feel pretty bad. I felt pretty horrible about the whole thing. So I thought, what can I do?" Dawson decided to take on the job himself. So on Tuesday, dressed in red and holding a Royal Canadian Legion flag, Don Dawson spent hours in front of the memorial. Not exactly a military honour guard like what he'd like to see, but this one man stepped into the gap and did the one simple thing he could.
So the Lord may be asking US to 'step into the gap' in some way. Like Becky going to Rwanda for a short-term mission. Opening your home to foster children - that's going to require some adjustment! Or another woman who was abused by her father when she was a child. After she became a Christian, she realized she needed to forgive him; then, more than that, to bless him. She renewed acquaintance, tough as that was. Now, in his old age, she's taking care of his dog for him; and is now actually inviting him to move to a house in the same subdivision as herself, so she can be more available to care for him. When you've been hurt badly, that's breaking significant new ground. Let's pray.