Thursday, August 21, 2014

Reading Through Hosea

My two year reading cycle through the Bible twice and throughHosea Chart the New American Commentary series once will come to an end at the end of this month with a quick read through the Minor Prophets. Of course, this begins with Hosea. Hosea is sort of a “scandalous” book as it portrays the prophet, and God, as a cheated husband with Israel playing the role of the cheating wife. God is seen with the conflicting passions, both the pain and the romance, of the husband that is both deeply in love and angry with his unfaithful wife at the same time. God and Hosea, who are suffering in the same way, alternate speaking/acting both in judgment (in order to get the wayward wife and her children to return to him) and then in joyful restoration of the relationship.

The quotes below are all from the New American Commentary, Hosea by Duane Garrett. By the way, I thought that Garrett’s contributions to this commentary set we by far the best in the Old Testament. I used his commentary on the wisdom books for my exegesis in wisdom literature class.

God has divorced Israel just as Hosea has divorced Gomer, but in both cases grace triumphs over righteous jealousy and the demands of the law. Like the cross itself, Hosea’s action is a stumbling block. A man does not normally take back a woman who has behaved the way Gomer did. But we must acknowledge this as a revelation of grace through suffering.

Hosea’s sad story is important in another equally paradoxical way. One would think that having married an immoral woman, and then having the marriage collapse because of the wife’s gross infidelity, would be enough to disqualify anyone from claiming the role of God’s spokesman. But the opposite is true. Hosea offers his private tragedies as his credentials for serving as God’s spokesman. Hosea 1.1, 49–50.

Modern readers of Hosea need to ask whether their culture, including that subculture that identifies itself as Christian, is leading toward or away from God. Hosea 2.2, 76.

Christians would do well to consider what demands the hopes of the future make upon the present. If the unity of all believers and the removal of all evil will characterize the consummated kingdom of God (Rev 7:9; 22:15), it is surely the case that we should seek to attain those ideals, however imperfectly, in the church today. Hosea 2.17, 92.

The first three chapters of Hosea tell the story of God’s command to Hosea to marry an immoral woman who will give him three children. She then turns back to prostitution and and becomes so poor she is sold into slavery. God then leads Hosea to find her, redeem her and return her to her position as a wife. This picture of grace is exactly what God did for Israel and what he does for the church and all creation. God deeply loves sinners and desires to restore the relationship.

We could rightly describe these three elements—integrity, compassion, and the knowledge of God—as describing the meaning of the Christian faith. All of Hosea’s accusations sprang from the fact that these were lacking in his people. Hosea 4.1, 111.

The Bible holds two truths in tension: first, that repentance is always a possibility, and second, that corruption can so enslave a soul that repentance becomes a practical impossibility. This verse focuses on the latter truth. Hosea 5.4, 145.

After the conquests the distinction between the two kingdoms will have no significance. Once again it will simply be the children of Israel who return to God. Put another way, killing Israel is the means of offering salvation to the Israelites. Hosea 5.15, 155.

Israel was lacking the three important elements that are required in all relationships: relational knowledge, faithful love and truthfulness. Nevertheless God’s offer of reconciliation and relationship was open to them if they would change their ways and return to God.

Returning to Yahweh is a major theme of the book. The structure of this short song develops a basic theme of the Bible, that repentance necessarily precedes reception of divine favor. Hosea 6.1-2, 158.

Hosea is not a religious reactionary who simply desires to stamp out social sins and impose religious duty on people. To the contrary, he desires that his reader acquire the loving and compassionate heart that comes from a transformational life with God. Hosea 6.6, 161.

Sin is adultery, prostitution. All sin breaks faith with God and is unfaithfulness to our spiritual husband who is always faithful to us, Jesus Christ. Yet God desires a true return to relationship with him that transforms us.

Thus those who forsake the good find themselves chased by something or someone hostile to them and to what is good for them. Hosea 8.3, 182.

The principles of Baal had been accepted as orthodox and indeed as the genuine expression of the Israelite faith. For modern readers the lesson is that we need to beware of how easy it is to substitute culture and prevalent opinions for true Christianity. It is possible to regard true examples of Christian spirituality as alien. Hosea 8.12, 187.

One might suppose that the “glory” that will depart from Israel is their wealth and power or even their children, but context implies that it is Yahweh himself...In effect, they (Israel) have been returned to their original status as outsiders and wanderers. Hosea 9.11,17, 200, 203

Living by grace is not natural and we tend to substitute other ways of living (which are all idolatry) even as we think we are worshipping God. The Israelites tried to syncretize the worship of God with that of Baal. We tend to substitute human principles (moral therapeutic deism perhaps) from our own cultures for the culture God calls us to. Sadly the judgment that comes is often what we “want,” God leaves our lives, and his blessing and protection which we thought to keep goes with him.

The real issue is not, Did Hosea intend this verse to be read messianically? but What did Hosea understand to be the nature of prophecy? In answer to this question, we must assert that Hosea, like all biblical prophets, saw prophecy not so much as the making of specific, individual predictions (which are actually quite rare among the writing prophets), but as the application of the Word of God to historical situations... Thus prophecy gives us not so much specific predictions but types or patterns by which God works in the world. Hosea 11.1, 221–222.

For Hosea the lesson is that Jacob the supplanter, the one who struggled for everything, was transformed into Israel the suppliant, the recipient of grace... Jacob’s machinations and battles for survival represented his old life, his life without grace, whereas his reception of the promises at Bethel represented his new life. Hosea 12.2-5, 238–239.

Jesus recapitulated the history of Israel, but he did it right. They were supposed to be the image of God that brought all creation into contact with God. Israel failed, but Jesus succeeded. We also will succeed when we do it Jesus’ way.

Both national and personal resurrection legitimately arise from the idea that God can restore that which has died... The purpose of the strategy is to maintain the certainty of salvation in the ultimate plan of God while yet confronting Israel with the reality of their doom in a manner that does not allow for rationalistic evasion. Hosea 13.14, 265.

Repentance is essential to Hosea’s theology. It is of the essence of knowing God, since no restoration is possible without repentance. Sin, moreover, stands in opposition to repentance. A facile understanding of justification by faith that has no place for repentance is alien to Hosea (and, for that matter, to Paul and Jesus). Hosea 14.1-3, 270.

The possibility of resurrection makes salvation sure no matter what happens in this life. In fact, God can allow his people to be deeply hurt in this life, or even be martyred; and it’s ok because, as Paul said these terrible trials are somewhat inconvenient annoyances compared to the surpassing glory of the resurrection life in the kingdom of God.

The text invites the reader to a way of life; it is a path that leads to understanding and to God. In the final analysis, therefore, the key to interpretation is not intelligence but submission. The enigmas of Hosea, like those of Jesus, are stumbling blocks that only anger and finally destroy those who “rebel” against God’s rule. The righteous, however, find life in these same words. Hosea 14.9, 282.

You will never understand Hosea unless you are willing to submit to God’s way of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. God’s ways are only understood by doing dangerous things like loving our enemies, choosing to desire the best for those who have hurt us and reaching out to those the world tells us can’t be saved. Wisdom is to choose grace and obedience – life.

No comments: