The book of Hosea is the first book of the Minor Prophets. Hosea lived in the final disastrous days of the Northern Kingdom when 6 kings reigned within 25 years. Because Hosea came from the northern tribes, he was aware of every pride and perversion of the people. Hosea spoke of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. At the same time, Hosea averred that Israel’s disloyalty to God and idol worship was spiritual adultery. Hosea identified Assyria as the source of God’s judgment on the Northern Tribes.
Hosea implored Israel to repent so that God could heal their waywardness. God wanted to love them freely and turn his anger from them. God said that if Israel repented, he would be like the dew and Israel would blossom like a lily. Dew symbolized God’s blessing on Israel, mirroring Jacob’s blessing on Joseph, e.g., “may the Lord bless his (Joseph’s) land with the precious dew from heaven above” (Deuteronomy 33:13) God was willing to use this heavenly dew to refresh and stimulate Israel to be like a pristine lily blossom.
The Hebrew word shôshân (shôwshân), translates as “lily,” and means a beautiful flower. Possibly the word shôshân was derived from shesh, the primary root for “six” the number of petals on the lily plant. The lily is the most mentioned flower in the Bible. In ancient times, supposedly the lily was dear to the heart of God and to all Israelites. Over time the lily became known as the Star of David which appears on the modern Israeli flag.
The lily described in Hosea is most likely the Lilium candidum, also known as the Madonna lily because it appeared frequently in pictures with the Virgin Mary. The origin of the L. candidum is probably the Middle East and/or Greece. In Israel, wild lilies grow in Mediterranean wood and Carmel and Upper Galilee. It can grow in semi-shade or full sun. L. candidum grows from a bulb planted just below the soil surface. Typical of plants in Mediterranean climates, this lily’s leaves die down in the very hot summer and grow up again in the rainy fall and early winter. Usually each stem has several large flowers which live for 5-6 days. The dazzlingly white corolla is funnel shaped with six pointed petals that form a symmetrical star shape. The lily fruit splits open and disperses many small seeds which can germinate in up to four weeks. Most gardeners purchase small plants or bulbs for propagation.
Symbolism: Chastity & Innocence
In Latin, Lilium means shining or pure white. In Hosea 14, the lily symbolized chastity and innocence. Chastity means abstaining from unlawful sexual intercourse. If Israel ceased prostituting themselves to idols, they would be chaste before God. They would no longer commit spiritual adultery. Innocence is freedom from guilt or sin by being unacquainted with evil. If Israel repented and returned to God, then God would restore their innocence. Their previous spiritual adultery would not have occurred. God was willing to make the degenerate Northern Kingdom chaste and innocent similar to a young man or woman who never had sex or even thought about sex.
Through Christ, God invites each of us to become chaste and innocent, no matter our sins, crimes, or idols. Chastity and innocence occurs when we have new birth by accepting Christ as our savior. We can maintain that same chastity and innocence by confessing our sins to God on an ongoing basis (1 John 1:9).
Reflection. Do you feel innocent and chaste before God? What are your idols? Are you ready to give them up for a return to God-given innocence and chastity?
Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, April 2014, narrative and photograph.