Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hosea 1:1-7:16


The Blue Letter Bible canonical reading plan rushes us through the book of Hosea in 2 days. The prophet Hosea was active in the northern kingdom, Israel, in the mid-8th century BCE reign of King Jeroboam. He also refers to the nation as "Ephraim" (for its largest tribe) and "Samaria" (for its capital city). Hosea is critical of Israel's corruption, idolatry, and foreign alliances. There are hints in the text that Hosea may have been a Levitical priest.

The Hebrew Bible's worldview is primarily Judahite. Though Hosea was a northerner his oracles, with their criticisms of Israel's worship sites and practices, and their support of the davidic dynasty, fits well in the Hebrew canon.

In the first chapter we learn that Hosea's marriage was bad by any standard, ancient or modern. At God's command, he has married Gomer,  a "wife of whoredom" (NRSV). She was not necessarily a prostitute, however, and the NIV's less literal translation, "adulterous woman," may better reflect the meaning of that phrase. Gomer is unfaithful. In the world of the Old Testament this reflected shamefully on Hosea who failed to control his own household. The assumptions of a patriarchal culture underpin the whole of this book.

If Hosea has chosen his spouse badly, he also picks lousy names for his children although, technically, he can blame God for this, too. His first son is named Jezreel after the place where Jeroboam's grandfather Jehu slaughtered the Judahite king Ahab along with his family and friends (2 Kings 9-10). Even though Ahab was Judah's worst, evilest, most idolatrous king, YHWH is going to repay the house of Jehu for the slaughter.

Hosea's daughter is named "Unloved" (Lo Ruhamah) and his second son is called "Not mine"  (Lo-Ammi). Okay, technically Lo-Ammi means "Not my people." It's still a lousy name to hang on a kid.

Of course, Hosea's pathetic marriage and his children's crummy names are a metaphor for God's relationship to Israel. Israel has been adulterous, that is, idolatrous, worshiping other gods and making alliances with foreign kings. In chapter 2 Gomer and Israel are so conflated that it is sometimes hard to dope out just whom is being addressed. In verse 3 the idolatrous/adulterous wife is threatened with public shaming. In verses 14-23 the cuckolded husband seeks to win her back. In verse 16 the wife is told that she will no longer call her husband my "master." In Hebrew that would be my "Baal," a title by which wives did address their husbands and Israel did refer to YHWH. Baal, however, was also the name of a Canaanite storm deity.

In chapter 3 Hosea goes to bring his wife back. There is some question as to whether or not this means Gomer or a new wife. The problem is that Hosea pays for this wife. A bride price for a new bride would have been customary but who would Hosea have paid to bring Gomer back? Had she gotten herself into financial straits? Sold herself as a slave? It's not entirely clear. Still, as a metaphor for YHWH's love redeeming faithless Israel, it makes most sense for the bride to be Gomer.

Chapter 4 is a courtroom scene in which YHWH brings charges against Israel. The priests who serve at Israel's shrines in Gilgal and Bethel are particularly targeted. They have indulged in syncretism and idolatry. Their misconduct has even led to the employment shrine prostitutes (v. 14). Hosea calls Bethel, which means "house of God," Beth Aven, meaning house of iniquity, or delusion, or destruction, or something like that.

In chapter 5 Hosea addresses all of Israel but the royal house comes in for particular attention for its alliances with Assyria. Verse 14 says that Judah, too, will be judged. This seems almost to be an afterthought. I find myself wondering if it was added by a later hand.

Chapter 6 opens with a speech by some human agent (Hosea himself?) who urges Israel to repent (vv. 1-3). Next YHWH speaks words of condemnation directly to Israel. Once again Judah is mentions as an apparent afterthought (v. 11a). Verse 11b seems to properly belong with chapter 7.

The oracle in chapter 7 seems to say that everyone, great and small, is implicit in Israel's wrongdoing. Corruption is rampant. The nation is by turns loyal to Egypt and Assyria but not YHWH. The image in verse 8 of a "flat cake" not turned over seems to mean something like "Israel is half-baked."

Next: Hosea 8-14

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