My Pause for Thought for BBC Radio 2, broadcast 21st March is available on-line at
It’s World Poetry Day and though there’s much wonderful poetry out there I find myself irresistibly drawn to the poetry of the biblical Book of Hosea.
Hosea has the roughest assignment of any of the Hebrew prophets. He is told to marry and told in the very next breath that his wife will be unfaithful to him. His wife will chase after other men, Hosea’s warned. God wants Hosea to experience God’s own sense of frustration with a people who have been running off after other gods.
In one verse Hosea is told to ‘Love a woman who loves another lover, like God’s love for Israel who look to other gods, and love raisin cake.’
It’s this last piece – the love of raisin cake – that seems so heartbreaking. It’s as if God is a jilted schoolboy whose girlfriend’s been snatched from him by the class heartthrob whose dad runs the sweet shop.
‘Doesn’t she know,’ says God, ‘that I gave her gold and silver that she uses for earrings and necklaces to go after other gods.’
Here God is cuckolded, lonely and miserable while the wife runs off in search of better looking models. The whole book of Hosea paints the relationship between God and Israel in these graphic poetic terms.
Of course it’s not supposed to be read as theology. It’s poetry.
Of course God doesn’t get married. Hosea, like so much of the Bible isn’t putting itself forward as a historical record. It’s as true as the claim that Wordsworth’s daffodils danced or the claim that our heart breaks when we’re hurt.
Poetic images don’t work like precise reportage. Poetry touches us, it makes us feel, makes us empathise – it’s not scientific analysis, it’s more powerful than that.
The poetic truth of the Book of Hosea is that we are too easily given to chasing after seductive false gods of gold and silver.
We are too easily led astray from truer relationships by something new that glitters prettily. The poetic images of Hosea make the point better than more rigorous language ever could.