Saturday, January 08, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (9)

The book of Hosea is full of references to “days”. These are not twenty-four hour periods, but eras of varying duration notable for specific features.

In chapter 1, Hosea prophesies of a day then future and now past, when Israel’s strength would be broken in the valley of Jezreel and its people dispersed among the nations, and another, much more distant day in which Israel and Judah will finally be reunited. In chapter 2 there are the “days of the Baals”, the “days of Israel’s youth”, and the “day” when the nation came out of Egypt.

Then there are three references in the last few verses of chapter 2 to a coming era of restoration, peace, safety and blessing, characterized by righteousness, justice, love and mercy. Our English translators consistently label it “that day”, though the language used about it strongly suggests this day will be at least 1,000 years in duration. Needless to say, the events which set it apart from all other days in Israel’s history have yet to take place.

Hosea 2:14-15 — A Door of Hope

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.”

The Valley of Achor

Last week we saw that Israel would attempt to return to YHWH on her own terms. This faux repentance was rejected, and God set her aside. When the northern kingdom is finally restored, it will not be on her terms but on God’s, and not at her initiative, but at his. Having been severely chastised for her unfaithfulness, and having experienced the consequences of her choices over the ensuing centuries, she will now be won back by his love and restored to her position by his grace.

The Valley of Achor is where Achan and his family famously met their end. Greed is idolatry, and Achan paid the ultimate price for the same sin that ran rampant in the Israel of Hosea’s day. Achor means “trouble” of a serious sort. There is some disagreement as to precisely where the valley is located, but it seems to have run north-south near the border of the divided kingdom, and may have been a natural route for those crossing from one nation to the other. So the sense may be that “trouble” will become “hope”, division will become unity, and the idolatry issue will have been dealt with as conclusively as Achan’s sin. Hosea has already spoken in chapter 1 of a coming reunification of Israel and Judah under “one head”, so this is not a new idea.

In the Wilderness

Israel’s “youth” in Egypt was hardly a time of sinless perfection, but it can at least be said that when God called his people of out Egypt, Israel did not refuse the invitation. In this coming day, the descendants of the dispersed northern tribes will respond to another gracious initiative by God. This is the only occasion in our Bibles where the Hebrew pāṯâ is translated “allure”; the words “persuade” and “entice” are more commonly used. God is announcing to his people that the time for humiliation, punishment and rejection is over.

The reference to bringing Israel into the wilderness would surely have reminded Hosea’s original audience of the Exodus. It was in the wilderness at Sinai where God spoke to the nation the first time and where their covenant was established. Just as Israel was brought out of Egypt to possess the land, so Israel’s descendants will be brought out of the nations to return home where, as we will see, there is also a reference to a covenant involved, and the reestablishment of Israel’s relationship with its God. Other prophets describe these same events. Ezekiel speaks not just of the return of Judah, but of the “whole house of Israel”, and he goes on to describe this same reunification process as Hosea.

Hosea 2:16-20 — A Renewed Relationship

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.”

Love and Knowledge

It was not outrageous for a wife in ancient times to refer to her husband as “Lord” — in fact, Sarah is commended for this very thing. But the word “Baal” means “Lord” (yet another double-entendre in Hosea). Given the nation’s history of Baal worship and conflating Baal with YHWH, baali is not an appropriate way for a restored people to describe their God, Lord and Master though he is. He goes on to say “they [the Baals] will be remembered (better: “mentioned”) by name no more.” The very word will be stricken from Israel’s vocabulary. (There is no such negative New Testament association with the word “Lord”; Christians may use it freely.)

This new bond is to be based on love rather than fear, on the intimacy of relationship rather than mere rules — “you shall know the Lord” — and its genuineness will be evidenced by all the qualities so lacking throughout Israel’s history: righteousness, justice, love, mercy and faithfulness. It is God who initiates these things, but we should not be surprised to find a truly repentant Israel responding in kind.

It is also permanent (“I will betroth you to me forever”). If nothing else told us this restoration of Israel to blessing foretold by Hosea has yet to occur, this statement certainly would. The Roman destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 and the subsequent dispersion of Jews around the world eliminated the possibility of any past fulfillment of these words.

A Covenant with the Beasts

“I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground.” Here we are entering into territory that is unmistakably millennial. In this restored Israel, even the wildlife will enter into the spirit of this new era. This is more of an ordinance than a covenant, but there is plenty of precedent in scripture for covenants made by unilateral declaration.

Some commentators take these creatures figuratively, as symbolic of enemies from other nations, but this seems unlikely. Earlier in the chapter, Israel was warned that the “beasts of the field” would devour her vines and fig trees. This proliferation of wildlife after the fall of Samaria occurred literally, not figuratively, and even the Assyrians believed it was the judgment of God. Ezekiel uses similar language to describe this period, and Isaiah portrays an idyllic situation in which the wolf dwells with the lamb and “the nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra” (Hosea’s “creeping things of the ground”). If we take Isaiah literally, there is no compelling reason to take Hosea figuratively.

Abolishing the Bow

It would also be redundant to make the beasts into human enemies, since he goes on to say, “I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety.” This too has an unmistakably millennial tone to it. Isaiah says, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks”, and Zechariah says, “The battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations.” War will be a thing of the past.

Hosea 2:21-23 — The Husband Answers

“And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’ ”

Here I think we are referring back to verse 16. Israel will call YHWH “my husband”, and YHWH will answer her with numerous affirmations first, second and third-hand. God will pour out his blessings on the nation. The earth will bring forth its grain, wine and oil when God responds to the affections of his people. This is not mere providence; it is “showers of blessing” and love in action.

But there is a verbal affirmation of this re-established relationship as well: the symbolic names of Hosea’s children are all inverted to reinforce God’s change of heart toward Israel. “Jezreel”, which had symbolized the scattering of the people among the nations, now speaks of an Israel firmly planted in its own land, “sown” rather than scattered. “No Mercy” becomes the object of God’s mercy, and “Not My People” gets a permanent name change.

This then is the day of restoration for Israel: the millennial reign of Christ.

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