Saturday, December 11, 2021

Mining the Minors: Hosea (5)

Like many features of modern Bibles, chapter divisions are not inspired. The Spirit of God was not their author. They were added by the then-Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 1227 and first appeared in the Wycliffe English Bible of 1382. Generally speaking, they make scripture easier to navigate and we should probably be grateful for them.

At very least, most of us are so used to them that we can’t imagine reading the Bible any other way than chapter by chapter.

Thought Flow and Chapter Breaks

Thought flow in scripture is very important, so much is made of the occasional bad break introduced by Stephen Langton and his assistants. It is good to know that we are free to ignore chapter divisions when they are unhelpful. But there are also many good breaks dictated by obvious distinctions in subject matter. One of those instances is Hosea 2. The beginning and ending of the chapter are well placed.

In Hosea 1, we have the prophet’s family history and the God-given meanings of the names of his wife’s children. In chapter 3, we get more history. In between, God speaks at length about Israel’s coming judgment and restoration in symbolic language, comparing the nation’s religious infidelity to that of Hosea’s prostitute wife.

Emerging Patterns in English and Hebrew

Before we get into the specifics of the chapter, it may be useful to do a quick overview. In both English and Hebrew Bibles, an abundance of patterns emerge, some of which are imposed on the text by translation. Others exist naturally, and are obviously more important.

The English reader with any interest in pattern recognition picks up immediately that there are three initial “Therefores” in the chapter, which nicely divide God’s response to Israel into three convenient chunks of text. You may also note the prevalence of the expression “I will”. God says it 24 times and Israel twice (at least in the ESV). In English, the chapter is a contest of wills that God will inevitably win. You may have had that experience too. I know I have.

If we look beyond the English translation, however, we may find ourselves a little bit disappointed to find that none of these “I wills” or “therefores” reflect literal renderings of the Hebrew. There are no “matching word tags” that correspond one-for-one to underlying Hebrew expressions. That means dividing up the chapter on the basis of these artifacts of the translation process is probably not the most faithful way to observe the thought flow of the chapter.

The Significance of Repetition

Now, again, that doesn’t mean the translators were wrong to build us a nice, convenient chapter structure in English. In fact, by attaching an opening “I will” to each Hebrew verb, they were emphasizing the intentionality that is obviously there in the original. And 24 is not a magic number, but it is pretty close to the number of intentional statements found in the Hebrew. God is going to do these things to Israel, and there is no getting around it. The very repetition of similar thoughts tells us this.

One example of this reinforcement device is found in verse 6: “I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths.” It’s basically two ways of saying the same thing with different images, a wall and a hedge. Israel will be prevented from finding her lovers, the Baals, whom she intends to pursue. She expresses her will, but God wills otherwise.

We know what repetition signifies in scripture. Joseph gives us a clue way back in Genesis when he interprets Pharaoh’s dream. He says, “The doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.” Repetition in scripture signifies certainty. When God says something twice, it’s important to listen. If it’s a threat of judgment, prick your ears up. If it’s a promise of restoration, take all the confidence in the world in it; God will not be moved from his purposes.

The Structure of Hosea 2

In any case, rather than getting caught up in the “therefores” and “I wills” in the English version of the passage, we might instead recognize that the frequent repetition of ideas for reinforcement allows us to observe fourteen distinct groupings in the Hebrew structure of the passage, seven of which have to do with God’s judgment and seven of which have to do with restoration.

So then, the 24 intentional statements that provoked the translators to use “I will” to commence them may be considered as follows:

Seven Certain Judgments

  1. Disinheritance of Israel’s children:
    I will have no mercy on her children (v4)
  2. Frustration of Israel’s intentions:
    I will hedge up her way with thorns (v6)
    I will build a wall against her (v6)
  3. Rescission of the benefits of the relationship:
    I will take back my grain and wine (v9)
    I will take away my wool and flax (v9)
  4. Public humiliation:
    I will uncover her lewdness (v10)
  5. An end to celebration:
    I will put an end to her mirth (v11)
  6. Destruction of property:
    I will lay waste her vines and fig trees (v12)
    I will make them a forest (v12)
  7. Reckoning:
    I will punish her for the feast days (v13)

Seven Certain Acts of Restoration

  1. Initiation by God:
    I will allure her (v14)
  2. The return of wedding gifts:
    I will give her her vineyards (v15)
  3. Cleansing:
    I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth (v17)
  4. Protection and safety:
    I will make for [Israel] a covenant with nature (v18)
    I will abolish war (v18)
    I will make you lie down in safety (v18)
  5. Celebration of the marriage covenant:
    I will betroth you to me forever (v19)
    I will betroth you to me in righteousness, justice, love and mercy (v19)
    I will betroth you to me in faithfulness (v20)
  6. Communication:
    I will answer (v21)
    I will answer the heavens (v21)
  7. Reversal of the children’s names:
    I will sow her for myself in the land (v23)
    I will have mercy on No Mercy (v23)
    I will say to Not My People, “You are my people.” (v23)

It seems to me that dividing up the passage in this way more accurately reflects its underlying Hebrew structure and gives us a way to analyze its thought flow that is closer to the Holy Spirit’s original intention.

As always, your mileage may vary.

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