Thursday, December 14, 2006
Advent: Hosea 1-2
My grand hope of reading and blogging about the prophets thus far has been thwarted by real life events. The semester is now over (there is still a research paper of which I've been granted an extension). But it's time to start. So here we are with the book of Hosea.

A first question I have: Why Hosea? The 12 so-called "Minor Prophets" were considered at one stage of the canon one complete book, instead of the twelve individuals books currently in the Protestant books. And they aren't in chronological order. The oldest, in terms of historical events, is Amos. So why this order? And why Hosea first? What's so special about this book of Hosea? You never get another chance to make a first impression. Does what starts here have implications or set the stage for the whole Twelve?

If the books of 1 & 2 Kings are like the front page news, and 1 & 2 Chronicles are the editorial section, then the Twelve represent the letters to the editor. Or maybe letters from the Editor.

The list of kings in the intro to Hosea place the prophet and his message some 200 years after the ten northern tribes (Israel) separate from the two southern tribes (Judah). It's a good 700-750 years before Jesus. Most of Hosea's message to Israel is during the reign of Jeroboam II. It's a time of financial security and military success and political expansion not seen since the days of Solomon. It's also a time of spiritual bankruptcy. This is the last generation

This is when Hosea comes on the scene.

When Yahweh first spoke through Hosea, Yahweh said to Hosea, "Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking Yahweh" (1:2).

When you write a story, the most important parts are the beginning and the end. So this is how the story of the Twelve begins. Whoredom. Infidelity. Adultery. Unfaithfulness. Promiscuity. Intercourse for pay. Is there a more graphic picture for violation between the trust and intimacy between two people? I imagine this isn't what Hosea signed up for when he went to seminary.

We see in the first chapters of Hosea a ton of family language. The wife who is a prositute. Three offspring with symbolic names. Watch chapter 2 and we see the introduction of what specifically Israel has done: worship the Baals, Phoenician deities that are not Yahweh. The adulterous imagery is related to a nation that is unfaithful, that has turned its back on its god. There's some witty wordplay going on here. The Hebrew word "baal" functions not only as the proper name of a deity, but also as the word for "master", "owner", or "husband." Unfortunately, for us, in this ancient Near Eastern cultural, there is much overlap in these social roles. It is not the only word in Hebrew for husband, and this is key to the contrast in 2:16:

On that day, says Yahweh, you will call me "My husband [Heb: 'ish]," and no longer will you call me, "My Baal."

There is no dynamic love to a "Baal." No passion. Only dutiful servitude. Heartless work. We might do well to translate the proper name "Baal" in the Old Testament narrative as "The Pimp."

There is irrational, emotional pathos to the book of Hosea. There's something about the story of a broken relationship between a man and woman that pulls at our heart strings. Maybe this is the point to get our attention that maybe the broken relationship between Yahweh and His people should pull our heartstrings, too.

Interestingly, Paul quotes 1:10 in Romans 9:25-26 in the midst of his crucial argument in Romans chapters 9-11 about what Christians are supposed to do about Jews. And I wonder, too, about bride imagery in Revelation 21 and 22. Perhaps before we can rightly understand what it means to be the Bride of Christ, we must also understand what it means to be the Whore of Israel.

This is how the Twelve begin.

posted by Peter at 10:14 PM
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