Therefore, the land mourns and all who dwell in it waste away; the animals of the field, the birds of the air, and even the fish of the sea are taken away. Hosea 4:3 (Dearman, NICOT)
Mourns – God designed His creation with one thing in mind: response. Everything God did established the opportunity for responding to His calling. He called the heavens into existence and they responded by distinguishing the day from the night. He called to the seas and they responded by teaming with life. He called to the land and it responded by being fruitful. And He called to Man as steward. You know that story.
A creation that was designed to respond agonizes when it cannot fulfill its purpose. When chaos and disobedience inhibit the full productivity of creation, everything suffers. Human beings experience precisely the same malaise, frustration and discouragement when they are compelled to perform tasks that are not in concert with their design. Just put a natural problem-solver in a company where everything is running smoothly. Watch out! Before too long, the problem-solver will make something break down so that he can feel fulfilled fixing it.
Hosea tells us that this general curse of the fallen world is not the result of a design flaw. This curse comes directly from disobedience. Hosea provides the list: no faithfulness, no hesed, no knowledge of God, swearing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery. These actions by human beings perpetuate the curse on the land. The land never wanted to exist under such terrible conditions. It mourns (the Hebrew is ‘aval). That’s funeral language. Something has died or is about to die. Tragedy upon tragedy. It takes very little reflection on the present state of the world to realize that Hosea is right on target.
Hosea helps us see something in the Genesis story that we might have missed. Genesis 3:17-18 is God’s declaration of the consequences of disobedience. Adam is not cursed. The ground is cursed. Of course, ha’adamah (the ground) is intimately connected to Adam since he comes from the ground. Adam’s source is cursed. The substance of his existence, the foundation he needs to survive, is damaged. Now it will resist Adam. Now it will be dysfunctional. This much is pretty obvious (the peshat – surface – reading). But let’s look a bit deeper. As a result of this tragedy, thistles and thorns will become part of the landscape of Man’s effort. On the surface, this could mean that before Adam’s sin there were no nasty plants like thistles and thorns. But I don’t think that makes much sense. Would I give up roses so that I would never encounter a thorn? Would I endanger mice and birds by removing the thistle seeds they eat to survive? Did God create thistles and thorns after He rested on the seventh day? Thistle is the Hebrew word darda’. Thorn is qots. Both designate undesirable, uneatable, useless plants for Adam. Perhaps that’s the real imagery. The ground produces things that get in the way of human fulfillment. It is certainly not the case that thistles and thorns have no purpose at all. They serve all kinds of purposes. It’s just that they don’t serve the purposes of men very well.
But maybe we need to look even deeper. God creates by His breath. He speaks and it comes to be. The world is the spoken word, manifested in tangible form. When a curse is spoken over the land, that curse is barbed breathing. It brings sorrow, toil and eventually death. Thistles and thorns are merely the symptoms of words that prick. Their presence is a constant reminder that God’s word is a two-edged sword. It blesses and curses. It blesses those who align themselves with the divine order embedded in His word and it curses those who refuse to align themselves with the grain of the universe. God doesn’t have to create anything new for this to happen. It is already built into the way the world works. All God has to do is allow the inherent consequences of our actions to proceed unabated. We bring about the manifestation of the cursing side of the sword by uttering words that oppose God. We activate the embedded opposition to God’s ordered blessings. We speak chaos (words of disobedience) and chaos comes forth.
Both God and Man create with words. God creates order, harmony and purpose. Man unleashes disorder, confusion and chaos. Both kinds of speaking have enormous consequences for the rest of creation. All the more reason to watch your tongue, right?
Today, will you speak God’s words after Him bringing order to your world or will you speak your own words, activating thistles and thorns?
Topical Index: mourns, ‘aval, thistle, thorn, words, Hosea 4:3