Saturday, June 18, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (32)

Why are the prophets so obscure at times?

Peter tells us they did not always understand how and when the the words they received from God would be realized. And if the men who spoke these words had to labor to put the pieces together, we should not be surprised if we have to do the same with prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled today. That’s one reason.

A second reason is that the Jewish concept of fulfillment is quite different from what we Westerners might think it ought to be, as I have discussed at greater length here and here. That frustrates the Western mindset, which tends to look for a mathematical-type correspondence between prophecy and fulfillment, but bear in mind that the huge number of Jewish converts to Christianity from Pentecost onward were habituated to interpreting the scriptures on many different levels. When Matthew and others made reference to fulfilled prophecies, they were simply using the language of their day acceptable to all religious Jews. The apostles encountered plenty of objections to Jesus of Nazareth being the Christ. What they did not encounter was any objection to the way either they or the Lord used the Old Testament. Their method of interpretation was perfectly orthodox in its day.

Revealing and Concealing

A third reason was that in the prophetic word, God was simultaneously revealing and concealing his plans and purposes concerning the Lord Jesus: revealing to his servants and concealing from his enemies. Prophecy is written in code, if you like, which is not an unusual strategy when you are sending messages through enemy lines. Paul brings this to our attention when he refers to “a secret and hidden wisdom of God”. Why secret and hidden? Paul tells us flat out that had God explicitly revealed his plans for Messiah to the world, then the rulers of this age would not have crucified the Lord of glory. They would have behaved differently. So we observe that God does not always overpower his enemies; sometimes he simply out-thinks them.

This being the case, we should not expect the normal rules of Bible interpretation to apply in every case to the hints, pictures and coded references of Old Testament prophecy. They often mean one thing in their original contexts and another as employed by the apostles and writers of the New Testament. For some readers, that takes a little getting used to.

Our next verse in Hosea is one of the best possible examples of a fulfillment that doesn’t sound like one.

Hosea 11:1-2 — Out of Egypt

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.”

This Was to Fulfill ...

Matthew writes, “And he [Joseph] rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ ” Most Christians are more familiar with the fulfillment than the original prophecy, and rightly so.

The Greek word translated “fulfill” in Matthew simply means to “fill up” or “complete”. “Fulfill” makes a reasonable English substitute, so long as we are not expecting every prophetic reference in the Old Testament to be obviously about Messiah, and so long as we don’t erroneously convince ourselves that “fulfilled” means “exhausted”. Many of the things the Lord Jesus told his disciples were written about him do not announce themselves with neon signs, as we can see from a quick examination of the context of Hosea’s original prophecy about the son from Egypt. In Hosea, the son is clearly the nation, not Messiah, and the prophet goes on to describe this original “son’s” apostasy and idolatry, things we would never associate with Messiah.

My Son

The main takeaway in Matthew is that the Lord Jesus and Israel are being compared with regard to sonship. Israel was the son who apostatized and failed in his mission. The Lord Jesus was the Son in whom the Father was well pleased. But by bringing Messiah out of Egypt, God was signaling the fact that in Christ, he would receive everything he had always wanted from Israel ... and exceedingly abundantly more. The hint at this in Hosea was probably entirely lost on the prophet.

In its original context, then, the line concerns a “son” or nation that was called and “went away”. In complete contrast, the Lord Jesus could say, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Unlike Israel, who kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols, the Lord Jesus was wholly devoted to the service of his Father. In the end, he offered himself, a flawless sacrifice, to the one true God.

But in order to fulfill all that God had wanted from Israel, God’s son, the Lord Jesus walked the same path as his nation from the very beginning. So, out of Egypt he came.

Hosea 11:3-4 — Bands, Cords and Yokes

“Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.”

Relationship and Role

There are two distinct images here. Ephraim is first compared to a child, which is fitting because God calls him “my son”. That first metaphor conveys relationship. But the nation is also compared to a farm animal of some sort. You don’t put a yoke on a child, nor do you usually lead a child with cords or bands. You lift up a child by the arms, but probably not an ox. This second metaphor has to do with the role Israel was to have in producing a harvest for God, as discussed last week. There was work to be done.

Both metaphors stress the love of God for his people. Like a father, he taught Ephraim to walk. Like a farmer who values and understands his animals, he eased the yoke on their jaws and bent down to feed them and care for them. It was with kindness and love that he treated them.

Israel in Its Youth

The book of Judges depicts Israel in its youth. Over and over we read that the people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and that he gave them into the hands of other nations to discipline them and bring them to repentance. In chapter 3 it is the Mesopotamians and Moabites, in chapter 4 the Canaanites, in chapter 6 the Midianites, and so on. Each time Israel cried out to the Lord, and each time he sent a judge to deliver them. He became to them as one who eased the yoke on their jaws.

And yet for all the love God showed to his people, “they did not know”. They failed to recognize that God was behind their deliverance, to appreciate his tenderness toward them, to give thanks for the many times he healed them, or to learn any lasting lessons from their experiences.

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