Saturday, December 04, 2021

Mining the Minors: Hosea (4)

As previously mentioned, the book of Hosea is made up of both background historical material as well as the content of the message given by God to the nation of Israel through the prophet. These last four verses of chapter one set up the remainder of the book for us. Chapter two will take us directly into Hosea’s message.

But first, Hosea’s wife Gomer has another child to bring into the world ...

Hosea 1:8-11 — Not My People

“When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, ‘Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.’

“Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’ And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.’ ”

The Third Child

The name of Gomer’s first child Jezreel signifies punishment, defeat and scattering (literally “God sows”, the act of dispersing seed) for the northern kingdom of Israel. The name of her second child Lo-ruhama signifies God’s unwillingness to intervene and rescue Israel from its imminent punishment in the way that he would shortly rescue Judah.

Child number three was to be named Lo-ammi, or “Not My People”. Israel would no longer be called God’s. Technically, this remains true today. Christians often refer to the nation of Israel as “the chosen people”. This is only true historically and prophetically. It is not true presently.

Still, even in the midst of judgment and temporary disinheritance, God gives a series of wonderful and entirely undeserved promises to the northern kingdom in the form of four “re-”s: (1) re‑production; (2) re‑adoption; (3) re‑unification; and (4) re‑establishment.

1/ Re-production

“Like the sand of the sea” is one of those expressions that is not usually intended to be overly-literalized. Israel is described with the same sort of superlative language at the time of Joshua, and they fought and defeated Canaanite armies that were also described in similar terms. The book of Numbers tells us Israel’s army numbered a hair over 600,000 under Joshua’s command, so “like the sand of the sea” in that instance probably meant something in the range of 2.5 million or thereabouts, counting women, children and seniors. These are not numbers to sniff at, and nobody could possibly count them or even estimate them with reasonable accuracy, but they are at very least comprehensible.

However, in the case of Hosea’s use of the expression, it probably signifies a much larger number. Sargon II claimed 27,280 captives were taken from the city of Samaria alone. But Israel’s dispersion across the Assyrian Empire happened in three stages, of which the fall of Samaria was only the last. These earlier deportations are thought to have been of much greater numbers, meaning that 100,000+ Israelites were actually taken into Assyrian captivity.

That’s our starting point. If women of reproductive age represent roughly 25% of any normally-balanced population, that’s +/- 25,000 Israelite women taken captive who would be capable of reproducing, roughly 80% of which actually would. Let’s say 20,000 then. But we are more than 100 generations downstream from that. Even accounting for significant numbers of these captives marrying into the Gentile population and losing their genetic distinctiveness over generations, and even accounting for massive infant mortality numbers during plague years, wars, famines and so on, that’s still potentially a very large number.

How large? Well, there are 14.7 million people in the world who identify as Jewish. These are mostly (though not entirely) descended from the two main southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) and Levi. The northern kingdom’s tribes numbered ten. It’s not outrageous to suggest there may be tens of millions of descendants of dispersed Israelites out there in the world who do not call themselves Jews, in which case “like the sand of the sea” works out to be a pretty fair description.

What “like the sand of the sea” does not reasonably describe is the number of returnees from Babylon, which was comparatively trivial. Some more significant future promise is in view.

2/ Re-adoption

What else can we call the claim by God that these are his children? That is his plain statement through Hosea: “It shall be said of them, ‘Children of the living God.’ ” Moreover, it’s going to happen in the same place where it was said to them, “You are not my people.”

Where is that? Not Jerusalem. We cannot say with certainty where Hosea was stationed during his ministry, but since his message primarily concerns the northern kingdom, and since his family were to serve as illustrations to his intended audience, it is highly improbable he was anywhere other than within the borders of Israel preaching to Israelites. More specifically, “not my people” may refer to the end of the Israelite kingdom in the Valley of Jezreel mentioned in verse 4.

Bear in mind that this re‑adoption of which Hosea speaks is something a little different from what Paul is teaching in Romans 11. From the fact that Paul uses “Jew” and “Israel” as synonyms in Romans, it is evident he is speaking of the spiritual re-grafting of the entire reunited nation into God’s blessing once the “fullness of the Gentiles” has come in; the future restoration of national Israel as a whole. Hosea is talking specifically about the restoration to blessing of the ten tribes so long rejected by God. Put another way, Paul gives an overview of the entire national restoration process, while Hosea is referring only to one small part of it.

The “ten lost tribes” are the subject of ongoing disagreement among Christians. However, there are plenty who read these words in Hosea the same way I do:

“The Scriptures show that those who volunteered to return and rebuild a Jewish presence in Palestine came almost exclusively from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi (Nehemiah 11:3-36). We find no scriptural evidence — or other historical evidence — that any significant numbers from the other 10 tribes were included in Judah’s return to their homeland.

Therefore, the prophecies that refer to a future restoration of the lost 10 tribes cannot be considered fulfilled in the return of some of the Jewish people to Jerusalem in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Even those who did return comprised only a partial restoration of the Jews. The descendants of the rest of the exiled Jewish and Israelite families were scattered among the nations and most probably eventually lost their identity.”

I might add that neither can we consider this prophecy fulfilled spiritually in the church. Hosea is speaking of God taking back children he had disinherited, not acquiring new ones who had no previous relationship with the God of Israel.

3/ Re-unification

“The children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head.”

The words “gathered together” are not a reference to the return from Babylonian exile under Ezra and Nehemiah, which was primarily Judean, and “one head” is not a reference to the Judean governor Zerubbabel. Notwithstanding his Davidic bloodline, Zerubbabel was neither prince nor king. Moreover, Zerubbabel is almost always paired with Joshua the high priest, and thus doesn’t make a very good candidate for either the “one shepherd” of Ezekiel or the “one head” of Hosea.

Rather, Hosea anticipates a date yet future in which all Israel will be reunited. Ezekiel speaks of this same reunification project, saying, “I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.” Again, Ezekiel says, “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd.” Precisely how this will be fulfilled I am not prepared to speculate, but it should be obvious a reunification of this magnitude has never occurred. A few defectors from the northern kingdom in the days of Hezekiah returning from Babylon with the Judean majority does not count.

Ezekiel does not tell us how “my servant David” will become king. Hosea does: the reunited kingdom of Israel will appoint him. The word translated “appoint” is a very general term meaning to “set” or “put”. It’s the same word Israel used when they asked Samuel to “appoint” a king over them. This need not be thought of as some sort of democratic process, but rather as an enthusiastic acclamation of God’s choice. The first “my servant David” became king in much the same way: God anointed him; in time, the people recognized him. Under the circumstances, I do not imagine they will have much hesitation in doing so a second time.

4/ Re-establishment

“They shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.”

It seems to most commentators that there is a play on words here. I tend to agree. This is not the day described in verse 5 where God will “break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel”. Rather, “Jezreel” is probably being used here in its etymological sense, as in a day of seed-sowing. Ezekiel 48 describes a new division of the land appropriate to this future day. God is going to replant Israel in the territory Moses originally assigned to it, and bless his reunified people. (It appears the territory occupied by the Transjordan tribes outside of God’s original mandate will be ceded to others.)

The words “they shall go up from the land” are a source of minor confusion among commentators. It is not crystal clear whether this is better rendered “shall come up out of the land” or “shall go up out of the land”, meaning there is a question which land is intended. However, the reference is unambiguously to Israel and Judah reunited, not merely one or the other. Ellicott therefore takes it to refer to reunited Israel marching out from their home territory to war and the establishment of worldwide dominion. Barnes views it as “coming up” from the lands in which they were formerly dispersed. I tend to side with the former.

Regardless, context demands we view it as a triumph accomplished by the grace and mercy of God.

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