Today’s Chocolate: Theo Orange 70% Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Hosea 7
If you follow me on Instagram (and let’s be honest, you don’t follow me on Instagram, but whatever), you know that there’s only one meal I ever actually fix, and that’s fajitas. When I need to heat things, I use the microwave, the stovetop, and my automatic rice cooker almost exclusively. The oven for the most part only sees use when I reheat my leftover french fries. And, of course, it’s an electric oven. As a result, when Hosea starts making similes comparing Israel to an oven, I–who am by no means a baker–find myself at a bit of a loss.
And that’s the thing about the Bible: even the most recent parts of it are pushing 2,000 years old, and we humans aren’t any smarter. We’re certainly more knowledgeable about many things that the Bible doesn’t even talk about; however, we’re profoundly ignorant of the ancient cultures in which the Bible was written. Its metaphors and analogies pertain to things most of us don’t really know about, like shepherding and harvesting. And rather than try to understand the Bible on its own terms, we try to update our language for our sermons and Bible studies, and we end up with “God is like an iPad.” (I, too, am guilty of this.)
Some would say the Bible is no longer relevant, but I wonder whether we’re the irrelevant ones.
Anyway, the ovens. The word “oven” appears only three times in the book of Hosea, and all three instances are in this chapter. And when something’s mentioned in threes in the Bible, that’s our cue to take notice. Remember Genesis 1:27? “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Three instances of the verb “created,” each time with God the subject and man the object.
The purpose of the oven simile is to emphasize Israel’s adultery. God maintains: “They are all adulterers, like an oven heated by the baker who ceases to stir up the fire from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened” (4). It took me a few passes through the chapter to understand what’s going on there, owing to my unfamiliarity with pre-electric ovens. But I remember fires in the fireplace from my childhood, and how my dad would poke the logs to make the fire grow. A baker, though, has to leave the fire and let the oven heat up while he’s working with the dough.
Like a fire, Israel’s evil has been burning and building. “For their hearts are like an oven as they approach their plotting; their anger smolders all night; in the morning it burns like a flaming fire” (4), Hosea explains, developing the simile. Evil catches fire and grows. And I can’t help wondering if James had Hosea’s oven in mind when he called the tongue “a fire, the very world of iniquity,” and “set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). Anger especially has the fury and energy of a fire. It even feels hot when we experience it. And if we use that anger to burn down good things, even if we’re burning them down in word only, we’re in the same bad oven as Israel in this passage.
Hosea concludes the oven simile with the broader picture. He states: “All of them are hot like an oven, and they consume their rulers; all their kings have fallen, none of them calls on Me” (7). To be honest, I can only guess at the kingdom’s political situation in Hosea’s day. At points, Hosea refers specifically to the tribe of Ephraim rather than the broader nation, and I’m not sure what the significance of the change in reference is. But a fire’s been growing, heating up the oven, and now it’s come to a head, consuming both the populace and its leaders. Israel is fuel for the fire.
So what’s getting baked? Weakness. “Ephraim mixes himself with the nations; Ephraim has become a cake not turned” (8), Hosea tells us. Again, my knowledge of baking fails me. Is Ephraim supposed to be a cake of unleavened bread, uncontaminated by yeast? What does it mean for a cake to be “turned?” I don’t know. One thing’s for sure, though, as we follow Hosea’s case through the rest of the chapter: the nation is weakening itself through alliances with foreign nations, selling its strength, crippling itself through reliance on Egypt and Assyria.
I don’t know much about ovens. But something tells me if I tried to bake bread from scratch, it’d end up just as much of a hot mess as Hosea’s Israel.