Just gimme that old time religion. I mean really old time religion. Like Old Testament old time religion. I really do like the Old Testament prophets. I like them because they are obscure and subversive and eccentric, and anything or anyone who is obscure, subversive and eccentric is immediately in my good books.
Here is the reading from the prophet Hosea for today:
…With their silver and gold they made
idols for themselves, to their own destruction.
Cast away your calf, O Samaria!
my wrath is kindled against them;
How long will they be unable to attain
innocence in Israel?
The work of an artisan,
no god at all,
Destined for the flames?
such is the calf of Samaria!
When they sow the wind,
they shall reap the whirlwind;
The stalk of grain that forms no ear
can yield no flour;
Even if it could,
strangers would swallow it.
To understand this passage you have to understand the religion of the pagan cultures surrounding the Hebrews. Theirs was an agrarian, herding culture. Their livestock was therefore the measure of their wealth. If you were a farmer ok. If you had sheep and goats even better. If you had cattle you were on top of the food chain. You were the wealthy ones. This explains why they made a golden calf to worship. They were worshipping the gods who promised them all the words that begin with “P”: prosperity, power, protection, pride, and pleasure. This is what the “calf of Samaria” represents.
Furthermore, the Samaritans–as you’ll remember from the parable of the Good Samaritan–were despised by the orthodox Jews. The Samaritans were considered a breakaway Jewish group–a group of heretics and schismatics. Remember the quarrel the Samaritan woman at the well tried to pick with Jesus? “We worship God on this mountain, but you worship him in Jerusalem…” So, they weren’t terribly wicked people. They were religious people. Probably nice, decent respectable people–people who decided they would make up their own religion.
The Samaritans, with their golden calf therefore represent the false religions who follow the way of the world and the god of this world. Now what I like about the prophets is that once you understand what they were really getting down on you see that their message is just as relevant as it has ever been.
If only I could pick up the prophet Hosea and transport him to our time. He’d have the same message still: We don’t worship golden calves…or do we? If you consider that the calf was the currency of it’s day and the golden calf was the epitome of wealth and all that goes with wealth, why we’re just the same. We worship wealth. We’ll sacrifice everything (our souls included) in order to get rich and stay rich. Think how we bow down in worship of gold, investments, property, security, prosperity and power. It’s just the same, and where do you find fine temples built to the gods of America? Where do you find gold fittings and marble walls, great towers of wealth and magnificence and power? These kind of buildings used to be churches and cathedrals. Now in America they are the offices of banks, brokerage firms and insurance companies.
How curious a co-incidence that when the stock market is good we call it a “bull market”–and in front of the New York Stock Exchange is errr…the bull pictured above.