I have been discussing the wrath of God in the Old Testament and have mentioned a point that here that I want to reemphasize, a point rarely observed by Bible readers (in fact I think I didn’t take much notice of it until recently). In the Bible God sometimes punishes people because they misbehave toward others – kill, exploit, oppress, and so on; other times he punishes them because they do not worship him properly or at all.
This is a difference worth considering because it goes to the heart of a fundamental matter: is God more worried about how people treat one another or about what they believe and do in relationship to him? Is it all about him, or is it all about our fellow humans?
Most Christians, I suppose, would say “both”! But it’s interesting that different parts of the Bible tend to focus on one or the other, sometimes exclusively.
I have talked, e.g., about the prophet Amos, who predicted the coming destruction of Israel because the elite among them had mistreated the poor and marginalized. Amos is one of our earliest prophets of Scripture, from the 8th century BCE. His contemporary was Hosea, whose book is another absolutely terrific and compelling work, another indictment of the people of Israel – but this time not for social and ethical iniquity but for failure to worship God properly. The people of Israel have turned to other gods, and Hosea declares they have “prostituted” themselves and will be severely punished for it.
It’s a powerful condemnation. Here is how I describe it in my book The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2018).
No prophet of scripture emphasizes the deep and profound love of God for his people, and his bitter sense of betrayal for their unfaithfulness, more than the eighth-century Hosea. Here God is portrayed as the lover of Israel, which has rejected his adoration and become a whore.