Thursday, December 23, 2021

Mining the Minors: Hosea (7)

Mining the Minors and Immanuel Can’s usual Thursday post have swapped spots this week. I’m sure you can guess why.

As I noted in the fifth instalment in this series, the latter verses of Hosea 2 — in my English translation at least — divide nicely into three sections, each of which conveniently begins with the word “therefore”. These divisions are not completely arbitrary. They reflect three movements in God’s program for idolatrous Israel, a program to which Israel must respond either positively or negatively. I also noted that the English translators of the ESV signal the intentionality of these movements with the words “I will”.

The first movement in verses 6-8 gives us two of God’s “I wills” and one of Israel’s.

Hosea 2:6-7 — Lovers on the Run

“Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them.”

Down on Her Luck

Here Israel is pictured as an unfaithful wife down on her luck and on the make. Her lovers, and therefore her source of income from prostitution, have been hidden from her. Moreover, it is God, her “husband” by analogy, who has done this to her.

Let’s think about that for a bit. Can Israel’s foreign gods (which were not gods in reality, but demons) really be said to have deserted her and, if so, what might that have looked like? Can we find biblical evidence that a comparable event took place in Israel’s history?

We certainly can, and it comes from a speech made outside the walls of Jerusalem to the besieged citizens of Judea only a few years after the fall of Samaria by an emissary from the king of Assyria. Isaiah records that the Rabshakeh called out this challenge: “Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim?” And here is the relevant bit: “Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?

Now, some historians assert that in addition to being a major Canaanite deity and the primary object of Israel’s affections, Baal was also worshiped by the Assyrians, but this hardly matters to the Rabshakeh’s argument, which is basically that the gods on the Assyrian side were superior to the gods on Israel’s side, as the evidence of history seemed to suggest. Like most fair weather friends, Baal loves winners.

Israel had gone after foreign gods, and her foreign gods had utterly failed to deliver her. She had pursued her lovers and not overtaken them. She sought them and when she needed them, they had gone missing. The Rabshakeh cited this as evidence that Judah’s God could not deliver Jerusalem either, but of course he was wrong.

The People of My Wrath

Moreover, in scripture God claims ultimate responsibility for what Assyria did to Israel. He was the one who had hedged up Israel’s way with thorns and built a wall against her. He was the one who defeated her Canaanite “gods”. The book of Chronicles records this about the first Assyrian invasion, in which the Transjordan tribes were taken captive: “So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he took them into exile.”

Isaiah confirms God was behind the Assyrian invasion, saying, “Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.”

So the Rabshakeh was wrong. It was not that Assyria’s gods triumphed over Israel’s, it was that Israel’s God was (at least temporarily) on the side of Assyria.

Hosea 2:7-8 — Fake Repentance

“Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’ And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.”

It Was I

When push came to shove, Israel found no help in foreign gods. The nation had attributed its affluence and success under Jeroboam II to the gods of the Hittites, when in fact it was YHWH who had continued to graciously provide protection and support for Israel even in the days of her idolatrous treachery. “She did not know that it was I.” This is explicitly spelled out for us in 2 Kings.

The siege of Samaria lasted three years, long enough for Israel to cry out repeatedly to Baal, Asherah, or any of their other “lovers”, and to realize that no help was coming. The historical books of the Old Testament do not mention it, but it is not unreasonable to suppose there may have been a movement among the Israelites in Samaria to consider whether YHWH might be able to deliver them where the Hittite gods could not. Certainly Hosea suggests this thought crossed their minds: “I will go and return to my first husband.”

It Was Better for Me Than Now

It is not completely clear whether “my first husband” suggests that Israel and/or Gomer, who symbolized the nation, had in fact remarried. The translators of the NIV render this as “I will go back to my husband as at first”, which may well be the intended sense. In any case, we are dealing with figurative language. As with all parables, it is usually wise not to press the details too far.

The problem with Israel’s desire to return to the worship of YHWH was that this was not genuine repentance, and God could not honor it as such. It was simply a desire for a change of circumstances, however that might be accomplished. It was not faith; more like purchasing the cheapest lottery ticket available. Hebrews reminds us not that God is a rewarder of those who seek reward, but a rewarder of those who seek him. Knowing Israel’s change of heart was not based on anything of substance, God had already declared, “You are not my people, and I am not your God.” There was no going back on that.

So Israel announces her first “I will.” God replies, “No, you won’t.”

That is generally how it goes. “I will” hasn’t worked out all that well for Satan either.

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