Saturday, June 04, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (30)

Hoshea the son of Elah was the last non-Davidic king of Israel. Its next king will rule a reunited kingdom from Jerusalem, not Samaria, and he will most assuredly be from the tribe of Judah. A repentant and restored Israel will not mind, we are assured.

Hosea’s prophecy of the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 BC bookends the latter portion of the chapter (verse 7 to the end). It starts with Samaria’s king perishing “like a twig” (ESV) and concludes with the words “At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off.”

A sobering thought. The phrase “cut off” means to be destroyed.

Hosea 10:7-8 — The Demise of the King

“Samaria’s king shall perish like a twig on the face of the waters. The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, ‘Cover us,’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us.’ ”

On the Face of the Waters

The reign of Hoshea is described for us briefly in 2 Kings. He was a conspirator and a murderer, despite which he was not quite as wicked as the kings who ruled Israel before him, which tells you how low the nation had sunk at this point. Initially he became the vassal of Assyria and sent tribute to Shalmaneser, but when he stopped paying and looked to Egypt for help, the king of Assyria imprisoned him and besieged Samaria until taking it three years later. So, of the nine years Hoshea reigned, a third were spent in jail.

Hosea’s comparison of Hoshea to something floating on the face of a mighty river or ocean is an apt one despite being a little obscure. Anything small floating in a huge body of water has no control over its course or ultimate destination, and is so comparatively insignificant it may not even be noticed. Hoshea came from no dynasty and left no family to rule in his place. He was a historical blip. The word translated “twig” is more commonly translated “wrath”. Human anger can be a powerful force, but compared to the ocean, it is of no consequence. The image may also be non-literal. The KJV translation team went with “foam”, which is so ephemeral and transitory that it may only be captured with a camera and is gone forever in a fraction of a second. I like that image. Hoshea probably did not.

The High Places Destroyed

The victorious king of Assyria would deport many of the people of Israel and resettle their territory with other subjugated peoples, but by no means all. 2 Chronicles 30 records the content of a proclamation made by King Hezekiah of Judah years after the fall of Samaria in which he refers to “the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the king of Assyria” and invites the citizens of the former northern kingdom to join Judah in celebrating Passover. The writer of Chronicles notes that some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun responded, while others scorned the king’s invitation. But it suggests a not-inconsiderable number of Israelites were left behind after the Assyrian victory, retaining their tribal identities, though with no ability to self-govern. There is at least one other reference in Chronicles to an Israelite “remnant”.

However, there are also indications the mockers and scorners had not turned away from idolatry. Nearly a century later, King Josiah of Judah would break down not just Judean but Israelite altars and Asherim throughout Ephraim, Manasseh, Simeon and Naphtali. Perhaps this is the intended fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy that “The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars.” Alternatively, perhaps these altars were demolished at the time of the Assyrian conquest and rebuilt at a later date. The word “Aven” (by way of “Beth-aven”) refers to the places of idol worship near to the golden calf at Bethel, which would be carried off to Assyria. In any case, the demolition of these altars did indeed occur within the pages of the historical books of the Bible.

They Shall Say to the Mountains …

Many prophecies of scripture have multiple fulfillments, either full or partial. This is a familiar one. The words “They shall say to the mountains, ‘Cover us’ ” and so on were quoted by the Lord Jesus on his way to the cross. He seems to have been applying Hosea’s words to both Judeans and Galileans rather than primarily to the northern kingdom, which did not exist in the same form in the first century. It is evident he was referring prophetically to a day that was then still in the future, most likely the coming Roman siege of Jerusalem. The motif occurs again in Revelation at the opening of the sixth seal. There it is neither Judah nor Israel in view, but rather the “kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free” who are calling for the mountains to fall on them. The phrase is timeless shorthand for those hardened souls who obdurately refuse to call out to God for the help they need in time of trouble. You have to be in pretty dire spiritual straits to think like this. Personally, I vastly prefer repentance to a rockslide.

In this case it is unlikely Hosea had either Judah or the kings of the earth in mind. He was probably thinking no further than a few years down the road when his people would flee from the Assyrians, taking refuge wherever they could. As promised, their idols, altars and Asherim would do nothing to help them.

Hosea 10:9-10 — Overtaken in Gibeah

“From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel; there they have continued. Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah? When I please, I will discipline them, and nations shall be gathered against them when they are bound up for their double iniquity.”

The Days of Gibeah

The expression “the days of Gibeah” first came up in chapter 9 and was likely intended to call to mind the level of general depravity that gave rise to the events of Judges 19, where the Benjamites of Gibeah behaved as abominably as the men who surrounded Lot’s house in Genesis just prior to God’s judgment of Sodom. Israel had gotten to that level of decadence, and God had not forgotten the sins of which they had never repented. Hosea describes a decline that started in the time of the Judges and from which the ten tribes had never recovered. Perhaps good kings like David and Solomon had kept God’s people outwardly in check, but their character had not been improved.

The War Against the Unjust

This phrase is translated a couple of different ways and it is not immediately obvious which line of thought is intended. The translators of the KJV and NKJV refer it to the past, rendering it “the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them”. In this case, perhaps it is a reference to the fallout from the events of Judges 19, in which the Benjamites found themselves nearly annihilated as a tribe because of their sinful obduracy, and the tribes who gathered to destroy them saw significant losses as well. Hosea could be saying, “Did you learn nothing from the past?” Several Bible versions go this route, and I like it less than the alternative, though it is certainly a possibility.

Then there is the NASB and numerous others, which make it a rhetorical question about the future: “Will the battle against the sons of injustice not overtake them in Gibeah?” In this case, Hosea may be saying something like “Isn’t it appropriate that those in the grip of the spirit of Gibeah will fall to the sword in Gibeah?” Gibeah was actually just across the border on the Judean side, but it is unlikely that an imaginary line would deter pursuing Assyrians from chasing down and destroying an Israelite army on the run. The Good News Bible is not normally a favorite of mine, but I like the simplicity and clarity of their translation even if it is not overly literal: “The people of Israel have not stopped sinning against me since the time of their sin at Gibeah. So at Gibeah war will catch up with them.” Fair enough.

When I Please

There is a reminder here that God gets around to judging sin in his own good time, and not on our schedule: “When I please, I will discipline them.” We ought to be grateful for that, as God’s schedule is invariably more gracious, longsuffering and patient than we would ever be. Paul touches on this briefly in Romans (“Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”), and Peter reminds us that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

But there is also a reminder here that nothing can hold back the judgment of God once a day of judgment is determined. When God is pleased to manifest his wrath against sin, no force in heaven or on earth can restrain him.

Gathering the Nations

“The nations shall be gathered against them.” This is an interesting statement. It should be remembered that the Assyrians of Hosea’s day were not an ethnically-homogenous entity. Assyria headed a relentlessly-expansionist empire that absorbed and repurposed the armies and great intellects of other nations, much as Babylon did later, including the Persians and Arabs of Mesopotamia, the Arameans, the neo-Hittites of Syria, the Elamites, Phoenicians, Philistines, Edomites, Medes and Manneans. The armies of Assyria found work for soldiers from these nations and more, meaning that when you fought Assyria, you fought “the nations”. Perhaps it means no more than that.

On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, prophecies often have more than one fulfillment, or more than one way of being realized. It is not unreasonable to suggest Hosea may be hinting at a future time when the earthly people of God will be disciplined by more nations than just the Assyrians, a fact asserted by other prophets.

Double Iniquity

The Amplified Bible takes a crack at explaining this that goes well beyond translation. (Hey, what do you want? It’s Amplified.) They refer to “their revolt against the Lord and their worship of idols”. That is certainly possible, and reminds us of Jeremiah: “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

It’s also possible “double iniquity” is a reference to the two golden calves, though Hosea only mentions the calf at Bethel explicitly, so this seems less likely to me.

Coffman writes: “There is no agreement whatever among scholars as to what these two transgressions were, although it is quite generally accepted that it was the rejection of the Theocracy in the enthronement of Saul that constitutes one of them. Some of the sins thought to be the other one are: (1) the establishment of the cult, (2) defection from the house of David, (3) the calves at Dan and Bethel, (4) their falling into idolatry, etc.”

All these suggestions ignore the contextual association with Gibeah, and the fact that God says the sins of Israel have continued since those days. My best guess would be the Judges 19 sin of Gibeah, which Israel fell into through mimicry of the nations, compounded by their following the same nations into idolatry.

All we can say with certainty is that God had plenty of good reasons to judge his people.

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