I love it when, through careful reading, we can see how a prophet helps us understand the deeper meaning of a Bible story. We get such a gem this week.
In Genesis, we encounter the story of Jacob’s dream. You remember it. Jacob arrives at a place where he takes some stones, places them at his head, and goes to sleep. He dreams of angels ascending and descending on a ladder set up on the ground, with its top reaching to heaven.
In the dream, God appears, standing over Jacob, and announces that He, the Lord of Jacob’s fathers, will grant his descendants the land upon which he is lying and through him and his seed all the families of the earth will be blessed.
Further, God promises always to guard Jacob and return him to this land.
Jacob awakens from his sleep, gratefully acknowledges God’s presence there at Beth El, and pledges in his uncertain and contingent way to be true to his part of the covenant commitment.
Hosea remembers this story and chooses to emphasize it as he implores the people of Israel centuries later. He recalls Jacob’s struggling in Rebecca’s womb with Esau as well as his striving and prevailing with an angel. And then he says: “In Beth El, he shall find Him, and there He shall speak with us. And the Lord is the God of the hosts; the Lord is His Name.”
But what’s most notable is what Hosea says next. Recall that God’s speaking, here as well as later, takes the form of establishing a sort of covenant in which God commits to bless, to guard, and to return Jacob and his seed to the land.
Hosea’s language is sparse. All of the budding covenant is distilled simply in Hosea 12:7 to this: “And you shall return by your God: keep loving kindness and justice, and hope to your God always.”
What does that mean?
Here’s my take. Hosea is teaching the essential nature of the covenant obligation that God expects of those He blesses. And, though Jacob only has a vague and immature sense of what it entails in the beginning, it’s the essence of the obligation he takes upon himself and his seed.
This obligation, according to Hosea, and in sync with all the ethical melody of the Bible, is fundamentally to keep loving-kindness and justice and hope always in our God.
Praise to God for teaching us, and to the prophet Hosea for cutting to the chase to be sure we understand.