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A Theology of HOSEA

A Theology of HOSEA David Niblack One challenge in developing a biblical theology of Hosea

A Theology of HOSEA

David Niblack

One challenge in developing a biblical theology of Hosea is that the book is neither a singular discourse nor narrative, but includes both genres that form a unique harmony between the prophet’s life and words. In addition, a theology of Hosea must start with the key perspective that the prophetic message is a message from God to man, and not from man about God. For this reason there is a mysterious—and perhaps even turbulent element that refuses to be easily condensed into categories. Perhaps the locution, “thus saith the LORD” does not make a statement of authority, but of hermeneutics. God—even though in His grace speaks to man; does not necessarily speak as a man. Many of the commentators have proposed that the theology of Hosea is an exposé of the love of YHWH for His people. While this love is a key theme, I will argue that Hosea goes farther than explaining God’s love, in that he seeks to give new distinctions to the meaning of a true knowledge of YHWH Himself within the covenantal community in Israel. There was an end to all the requirements of God upon his covenant people: covenant obedience, faith, fear, love, trust served to open to the people of God a true understanding of God. The book of Hosea does this on three levels: by showing the negative absence of this knowledge in the people’s disobedience, by exhorting them towards a true knowledge, and lastly by explaining the object of such knowledge—a God of both anger and love. This paper will survey these three themes: Hosea’s indictment and illustration of the covenantal disobedience in the land, his exhortation to return to true knowing of God, and then some distinctions of what this God is like; namely his contrasting love and justice.

A disobedient people

Most scholars agree that the book of Hosea is divided into two clear sections; the first section is a biographical account of the events in the life of Hosea, and the second section contains the words and

messages of the prophet himself. The biographical unit serves as a demonstration and an analogy of the message that YHWH wants to communicate to his people. Such actions were not uncommon for the OT

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A Theology of HOSEA

prophets, as can be seen in Isaiah (8: 1-4), Ezekiel (4, 5) and Jeremiah (ch. 16). The biographical portion of Hosea is focused on his marriage to a “wife of harloty” In light of the creation mandate and order for marriage, finding perfect expression in faithful monogamy this is an unsettling command from God. It is important to see this from a biblical theology perspective. The first question is not “what is God systematically teaching about marriage”; but rather, “what is God communicating to his people about Himself” in the context in which they live. This opening example is a pertinent illustration of the tendency to systematize and read prophetic books as if there were random systematic articles instead of a snapshot of a developing history of the people of God.

The marriage of Hosea to Gomer is a loaded theological metaphor that is intended to strike the audience in Israel with a wallop of force. In commanding Hosea to marry a harlot, God is using the prophet’s life to

focus the lens on His covenant that has been drastically dishonored.

traditions the motif of harlotry applied mostly to the specific violation of individual persons. In Hosea the

scope of the harlotry has widen to include the covenant people of God (Brueggemann 51).

the metaphor is given beneath the looming shadow of impending judgment. Hosea himself will live through the devastation of the Northern Kingdom that starts at the hand of Shalmaneser V, and is finished by Sargon II. This illustration of the adulterous wife a graphic “wake-up” call to the people of the northern kingdom that are soon to be judged.

While it is true that in the older

The force of

Hosea’s marriage is not an indictment of abstract sin, but rather points clearly back to the Mosaic covenant God made at Sinai. Gomer’s immorality echoes of the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 31: 16:

The LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold… this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.”

The context of Deuteronomy is significant. They are the closing words that God gives to Moses before he

In the discourse that follows His words, God foretells of the

judgments that he will send down upon His people. The command of God to take a wife of harlotry in Hosea is not just an eccentric illustration. Rather, it is a powerful and direct reference to the words of

leaves the people to die on the mountain.

God at the closing of the Deuteronomic covenant.

the close of Deuteronomy to the Israelites of Hosea’s time.

It dramatically applies the judgment foretold by God at

The opening chapters strongly indicate that the book of Hosea needs too be framed within the context of

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A Theology of HOSEA

the Deuteronomic covenant. The fact that Hosea is a prophet does not mean that his principal role is

prophesying the future; rather he is rather looking back at the Torah and calling the people back to its

standard. Hosea looks back more than it does forward.

the key theme of the ruptured lifestyle of the people from the covenant that God established in Deuteronomy. To understand the critical relationship between the Deuteronomic covenant and the central theme of Hosea, it will be helpful to lay out some of the relationships. Brueggemann points out in his commentary:

The forward vision of Hosea is only build upon

Deuteronomy

Hosea

forward vision of Hosea is only build upon Deuteronomy Hosea While there is insufficient space to

While there is insufficient space to develop each of these relating themes, it is important to read Hosea within the covenantal standard of Deuteronomy as a historical and ethical background. It is as if Hosea is a preacher that holding the scroll up and pointing his finger to the passages that are being widely ignored throughout Israel. Hosea’s apologetic for judgment not only rooted in his role as prophet, but more fundamentally in the predictions in the Torah.

Concerning the marriage itself, the most viable position is that God did command Hosea to marry an immoral woman. The woman bore Hosea one son and then bore his two additional children that were possibly fathered by Hosea (1: 2-9). She abandons Hosea and falls into poverty and disgrace until Hosea buys her back and restores her to himself. Garret (page 39) offers a creative interpretation of the theological significance of the marriage dynamics. The wife and the children do not simply represent the whole of Israel, he argues, but rather the wife figure represents the “leadership, institutions, and culture” of Israel, while the children are the individual men and women of that culture (page 39). While it is important to see a distinction between the wife and the children, it is probable that the distinction is an emphasis

simply on the corporate people of Israel and individuals that would be hearing the message of Hosea. The naming of the children of Hosea is clearly negative; and both names indicate judgment. The meaning of the name of the first child “Jezreel” it not found in the literal meaning of the name in Hebrew ( may God sow)

but is a direct reference to the historical event at Jezreel that signified the massive and overt bloodshed

The daughter that was born was to be named “Lo-Ruhamah” and the literal meaning

carried out by Jehu.

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A Theology of HOSEA

of the word is “unloved.”

Hosea shocking parable of the disobedience of the people is designed to point out that the sin of the people was that they did not have a true understanding of God. Hosea begins his stinging message to Israel with these words:

“…the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land,

“Because there is no faithfulness or kindness, or knowledge of God in the land”

The prostitution of the northern kingdom was that they did not know God. This knowledge of God was a knowledge produced in faithfulness and kindness and the people had abandoned this lifestyle.

It is about knowing God: Hosea’s theology of theology.

The message of Hosea moves from an exposing of the sin of Israel to an exhortation to return to God. On the surface it is an exhortation to return to covenant obedience. But Hosea goes further—and explains the purpose of the covenant itself which is to lead the people to a full knowledge of God.

The final theme draws on the previous themes of disobedience and warning/hope.

that true obedience to the covenant involves a true knowledge of God. The negative reflection of this command is seen in verses 4:1, 4:6, 5:4, 7:9-10, 8: 1-2, where the people are judged for their lack of true understanding of God. The exhortations throughout the book of Hosea can be summarized by his calling the people back to obedience, and ultimately a true knowledge of God:

Hosea distinguishes

Hosea 6: 3: "So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth."

Hosea 6:6: “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Notice the strong connection back to the exodus narrative and the Deteronomic covenant. The following

verse is God’s goal for the Exodus: a relationship between God and his people where they will truly know Him.

Exodus 6: 7: 'Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

The theme is reinforced in Deuteronomy, when the purpose of the exodus is given to the people:

Deuteronomy 4: 35 "To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides

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A Theology of HOSEA

Him.

These two are a sampling of a host of references (d 4:35, 39; 7:9 9:3, 6; 29:6, 31:13, ex 9:14, 33:12-13) that show that the covenant of God was designed to produce a true knowledge of Himself. Hosea is keenly aware of this theme of God’s self-revelation. His theology focuses on this aspect- by reminding the people and urging them back to this understanding of God.

The final theme is the theme of love that is developed in Hosea. Despite the disobedience of the people in seeking to know God, the love of YHWH supersedes even the broken obligations of the covenant. The anguish and depth of the love of YHWH is depicted is unparalleled when seen together with the image of Gomer harlotry. However, this should not cause the reader to glaze over the judgmental nature of the book. The theology Hosea draws of God is one of wrath and love—joined in a mysterious union around

a broken covenant. God’s judgment is sure—and his condemnations are real and should be feared.

However, even God love eventually triumphs. This triumph of God’s love is not focused on the individuals

that Hosea addresses, but on the broader context of the covenant people of God. God will be faithful to his covenant, but he will at the same time punish sin and rebellion against himself. How these come

together in the context of Hosea reflects the important truth that God’s people will be both the subjects of his judgment and his mercy. It is hard for the modern reader to hold these two themes in tension, and it is almost as if the two themes are in competition with one another and the last chapters of the book provide

a disappointing conclusion to the turbulent emotions that Hosea has proclaimed from God upon his

people. However, this is a key theme in itself—not the singular theme of love contrasted with judgment, but both of them together responding towards God’s people. God does not sacrifice his justice at the price of his love, and does not belittle his love at the cost of his justice. Hosea is a powerful image—an image of prostitute Israel who will be brought back into communion with God in the future, framed by the

dark strokes of the real wrath that God holds against his people. Three distinctive of the theology of God’s love in Hosea are as follows:

1. God’s love in seen not so much in emotional terms but in covenantal terms. There is nothing in the Israelites that can stand as a merit or a worth to receive God’s love, rather it is a love that flows from God’s free pleasure to honor his broken covenant.

2. The covenant does not mean that God owes his love to Israel. The love of God in Hosea drastically supersedes his covenantal obligations to Israel and the obedience of Israel drastically undermines their covenantal obligations to God. The contrast is not accidental; surely God shows

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A Theology of HOSEA

the worth of his justice and his love in His message to His people.

3. The love of God disciplines his people to draw them into its fullness. The motif in chapter 6, “He has torn us to pieces, but He will heal us, He has injured us, but he will bind up our wounds” demonstrates the disciplining character of God towards His people.

4. The love in Hosea is always pointing back to his acts in history that demonstrated God’s love. The love grounded in history. The crisis of Hosea was not simple the people in front of him, rather it was a long tradition that had slowly slipped into crisis. The no longer knew God, they no longer looked back and remembered his acts in history, and hence they no longer knew of His love.

Conclusion:

I have argued that there are (at least!) three central themes in developing a theology of Hosea. First, is that covenantal disobedience of the people, in which Hosea looks back and rebukes the people in light of the Deuteronomic covenant. Secondly, Hosea urges that to return to the covenant is not enough; rather one must do that with the goal of returning to the purpose of the covenant, which was to elicit a true

knowledge of God.

disobedience. The love of God does not pacify all his judgments, but it does supersede them and will

remain faithful to his covenantal promises despite the rampant waywardness.

Finally, Hosea’s theology explains the dimensions of the love of God in the face of

A key marker for this process is the foundation of the covenantal agreement in Deuteronomy and the

prophets are spokesmen who call the people, not to some new and abstract revelation or vision, but rather

to the fundament truths that formed the very fabric of Israel’s community of faith since its conception.

Main themes:

Great personal involvementcommunity of faith since its conception. Main themes: The dilemma of the prophet articulated the dilemma

The dilemma of the prophet articulated the dilemma of Godits conception. Main themes: Great personal involvement Foundational theme: “Lack of the knowledge of God” The

Foundational theme: “Lack of the knowledge of God” The marriage implies relational aspects of this loss of knowledge?The dilemma of the prophet articulated the dilemma of God Crux of iddictement in 2: 5-8,

Crux of iddictement in 2: 5-8, and redeeming hope in 2: 20. (the knowledge of God)implies relational aspects of this loss of knowledge? Handbook on the prophets – Robert B. Chismolm

2: 5-8, and redeeming hope in 2: 20. (the knowledge of God) Handbook on the prophets

Handbook on the prophets – Robert B. Chismolm Jr. 2002, Baker Grand Rapids.

Hosea is a “loose anthology of speeches rather than a tightly structured collection”

Connections between Hosea and Deuteronomy: 6:4, H, 9: 17. D 8 :14, H 4:6, 2:13, 13:6, D 8:17, h 12:8,

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oracles are based” WORD commentary, pg 7

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“which the exception of Job, not other OT book contains as high a proportion of textual problems as does Hosea”

Three main categories: Evidences, curses and blessings (Stuart page 17)

“They [the prophets] invent no types of curses or blessings, the simple make references either literally or allusively as inspired to do so, to what is already incorporated in the Sinai covenant.” (Stuart, XXXiii)

“The covenant may be spoken of as broken, the relationship never except in Hosea 1: 9, immediately restored in 2: 1-3” Campbell, Anthony. Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History. 2000, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis. Page 398

Garrett, Duane A. 1997The New American Commentary- New International Version. “Hosea, Joel”Broadman and Holman.

© 2005 David Niblack