Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel.
When I was a child, I was convinced that prior to 1960 or so, the world itself was in black and white. It wasn't that we could only take black and white photos and video. That's ridiculous. A camera is a camera. It simply took pictures of what the world was like. No, the world itself was actually black and white and then (for reasons I couldn't possible be expected to understand as a child) the world was finally allowed to be in color. Maybe sometime in the future, we'll get to have even more colors then we do now!
That of course is absurd. The world has always been in color. Our tools have changed; our ways of measuring and understanding the world has change. But color has always just been.
I believe that God—and our understanding of God—is much the same way. God's character and values are steadfast. The Father of the heavenly lights "does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17). God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
But humans change! They change and their societies change all the time. And so do our value, ethic, and moral systems. If you took the Geneva Conventions to King David in the 1oth century BCE, he would read it (assuming you translated it to a 3,000 year old language first) and laugh at you. "What a bunch of idealistic, pie in the sky crap!" He would then kill you and cut off your hands and feet and hang you for bringing him such bad news (2 Samuel 4:12). Why? Because David belonged to an ethic system that thought that that was perfectly acceptable and, in fact, God ordained behavior.
Does that mean it actually was God ordained though?
There's this story in 2 Kings 10 about King Jehu. King Jehu heads to the city of Jezreel and brutally slaughters the rival house of Ahab and Jezebel and anyone associated with them. Why? Because Jehu believed that through him, "The Lord has done what he announced through his servant Elijah" (2 Kings 10:10). Jehu destroyed everyone associated with Ahab "according to the word of the Lord spoken to Elijah."
Okay, to Elijah says Ahab has to go. Jehu says, "I'm on it!" and starts swinging his sword.
But then we flip to the book of Hosea. And guess what Hosea declares that God is saying? "I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel" (1:4).
What happened between 2 Kings 10 and Hosea 1? Did God change God's mind? Were there two massacres at Jezreel, but we just know about the one God approved of, not the other one that apparently was naughty? Did the Father of Heavenly Lights change like a shifting shadow?
Or were Jehu and Elijah looking at God in black and white; and Hosea was starting to see God in 8-bit color?
To be perfectly clear this is what I'm saying: Jehu and Elijah (and the editors of 1 and 2 Kings) got it wrong. God certainly was against the economic oppression and pagan idolatry of Ahab and Jezebel. But God never intended for them to be massacred. That was invented by some blood-thirsty humans who took their blood-thirst, slapped God's name on it, and called it prophecy.
Hosea sees this and says, "No, that's not what God wanted!" Think about the bravery that took for Hosea—to go against what the great prophet Elijah himself had supposedly prophesied. To suggest that Elijah had put words in God's mouth.
And—what I love about Scripture—is both perspectives are placed in the Hebrew Bible for us to wrestle with and figure out, "Where is God in this?"
Here's the moral of the story (at least for me, anyway): what we thought God was like 1, 5, 50 years ago doesn't have to stick with us for our lifetimes. Just because we thought God was bloodthirsty, homophobic, white, and male doesn't mean we have to keep thinking that. And just because a long-respected prophet from long ago said that's the way God is doesn't mean we have to keep giving that prophet our attention.
Scripture encourages—no, demands—that we don't stay satisfied with the same old black and white images of God we were handed. Scripture wants us to wrestle with it, figure out the places where the saints of old just quite frankly got it all turned around and messed up. It also means that we don't just cut out the parts we don't like. That would be too easy. The Jewish community knew what they were doing when they found both 2 Kings and Hosea in their collection of sacred scrolls. The early church kept all four Gospels in the New Testament for a reason.
When we recognize that God's infinite goodness is everlasting and never-changing, then we will begin to see God popping out in color all over the place in our Bibles.
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
God revealed in perfectly in Jesus Christ,
Have mercy on me as I gaze upon you.
Forgive me for the childish ways I've viewed you,
And yet use those ways to grow me up.
Help me to see you in Your Word,
In Your creation,
In Your people,
And, by your Holy Spirit living in me,
May I speak only true things of you.
And if I am to fail,
Grant me the grace to admit my mistake,
And try to speak of You truthfully again,
For You are just to Good to not talk about.