Saturday, March 19, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (19)

When Adam fell, he took with him our entire unfortunate race. When Adam died, we all died with him. When Adam transgressed, transgressing became part of how I experience being human.

Adam did not intend to become a murderer. The real murderer was the serpent. All the same, it was through Adam that Satan carried out his murderous plans, and he made Adam an unwitting party to the genocide of his entire race.

In scripture as in modern law, murder need not be a hands-on business.

Back in Hosea, this whole business of Adam’s transgression and its consequences is about to make a relatively rare Old Testament appearance.

Hosea 6:7-9 — A Comparison with Theological Baggage

“But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy.”

Like Adam

There is more at stake in this passing reference to Adam’s transgression of a covenant than may first appear. Whole theological systems turn on the existence or non-existence of an Adamic covenant, and scholars debate the issue in granular detail. There is no possible way to unpack all that baggage in a blog post, and I won’t even try.

What we can say is that the word “covenant” is not used in the Eden account. That in itself is hardly determinative: depending on how you define “covenant”, you can find all the necessary elements in the Genesis narrative provided you are a little bit creative. For our purposes here, let’s keep it very simple and define a biblical covenant as an agreement between God and man that includes obligations and consequences. There are lots of different covenants in scripture (and no end of disagreement among Bible students about the actual number), but all possess at least these two core elements (and other more debatable commonalities).

Obligations and Consequences

Despite the absence of the word “covenant” in the first few chapters of Genesis, it can easily be seen that the relationship God first established with mankind through its federal head included both obligations and consequences. The solitary obligation involved in this covenant was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequence of meeting the obligation through obedience to God’s command was dominion over all other living things, which was lost to us when Adam transgressed. The consequence of failing to meet the obligation through disobedience was death.

Now, a covenant may be agreed upon between two parties or a covenant may be imposed unilaterally. This one looks imposed to me. While the nation of Israel entered into their covenant with God voluntarily, saying, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded”, we do not read in Genesis that Adam anywhere said, “That sounds like a good deal, Lord. We’ll take it.” That doesn’t make an Adamic covenant any less binding, and the fact of its imposition does not make it an ungracious initiative on God’s part. All God’s covenants were conceived in love, and the first was no exception.

In this sense it may be said that in eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree, Adam did not just transgress a command but also a covenant.

The Original Transgression

Christians who speak of an Adamic covenant often include in it the post-Fall provisions of Genesis 3:16-19, but that so-called “second part” is not what Adam transgressed. Adam forfeited his dominion and ours by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The full consequences of that transgression had yet to be revealed at the time he committed it, but that does not mean they were appended to the covenant after the fact. To me it seems they were always implicit in the original arrangement. You can sum them up in the word “death”. They are “because you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

I include all this background because this single verse in Hosea is scripture’s only explicit reference to an Adamic covenant. Two other passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah speak of an “everlasting covenant” and a “covenant with the day and the night”. While both can be interpreted as referring to God’s original design, I do not think either is part of the Adamic covenant of which we are speaking. Further, since “Adam” and “man” are the same word in Hebrew, there is yet another school of thought that argues Hosea 6:7 means something like “But like men, they transgressed the covenant.” That’s a more general statement, and may not refer to original sin at all.

In Adam All Die

All this has little to do with our study of Hosea, but it helps us understand the larger biblical significance of what may seem merely a passing comment. For our purposes it is enough to point out that the Lord is simply saying Israel’s faithlessness and idolatry are violations of its covenant with God, just as Adam’s was in his day. They are not trivial. In Adam all die. Israel was demonstrating conclusively that they were very much children of Adam. Also, like Adam, who was cast out of the Garden, Israel would be cast out of the place of blessing into a foreign land. Both sin and judgment are comparable.

The next two statements may well continue the terms of this comparison with Adam: “Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood” and “As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy.” Some writers believe the priests were actually waiting on the road to Shechem for Israelites on their way to Jerusalem to worship the true God, and putting them to death for it. If this seems an unusual occupation for priests, we have the New Testament example of a Pharisee who hunted down Christians for the religious authorities of his day.

Blood and Murder

But remember, murder need not be hands-on, and “blood” and “murder” in Hosea and elsewhere need not be taken literally, so I find this first interpretation unlikely. Blood often speaks of guilt for sins committed at one or more generational removes, and there are those in scripture who incurred bloodguilt without personally performing the act of murder. Ahab was asked “Have you killed and also taken possession?” even though he was probably pouting on his bed when Jezebel had Naboth put to death in her husband’s name. Ahab was judged for a crime he had set in motion as if he had actually performed the murder.

Those who introduce innocents to various forms of wickedness are effectively marching them to their deaths. Just as the sin of Jeroboam corrupted every subsequent generation of Israelites, every Levite in the city of Gilead who taught or modeled the worship of Baal had blood on his hands. Every Israelite priest who trekked off to Shechem to offer sacrifices to false gods committed the same sort of villainy as a murderous bandit. He was a destroyer, using his authority and his association with YHWH to lead God’s people into the kind of sin that necessitates God step in and judge sooner rather than later.

In this too the priests and Levites were very much like Adam, whose sin tainted and corrupted all the generations to follow. It’s a reminder that the choices we make may have bigger consequences for others than we care to think about or admit. God-given leadership of any kind is a grave responsibility.

Hosea 6:10-11 — Defilement and Appointment

“In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed when I restore the fortunes of my people.”

Israel is Defiled

This echoes a thought first expressed in 5:3. Under the Law of Moses there were plenty of ways to become defiled or ceremonially unclean: touching a carcase, sexual relations, coming into contact with someone else’s “biologicals”, childbearing, living in a moldy house, contracting leprosy and so on. Leviticus spells all these possibilities out chapter after chapter.

Some of these temporary defilements were necessary things like childbearing or sexual relations. Others could be accidental, like the discovery that your house had an outbreak of mold. But there were also stern warnings to priests about making themselves deliberately unclean. The priest’s relationship to God demanded a higher standard.

All forms of defilement required isolation in order that the uncleanness not be spread around. But in Hosea’s day Israel no longer cared about the niceties of the law: they deliberately defiled themselves in their worship of foreign gods. The word “whoredom” contains the idea of lewdness; not just sinning, but reveling in sin and showing your wickedness off in public.

A Harvest Appointed

In scripture a harvest can be a time of prosperity and hope or a time in which angelic reapers metaphorically separate wheat from chaff. For the remnant of Israel and Judah, there is a gathering-in to look forward to, but for those who are Israelites in name only, there can be nothing good to anticipate. Judah too will experience this purification process in a future day.

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