Saturday, July 09, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (35)

I candidly admit to struggling with Hosea 12: the historical references to Jacob and Moses; the back-and-forth between these and the condemnation of the nation’s present conduct; the choice of timing for what appears to be a defense of the prophetic office … let’s just say I need to think and pray about it a fair bit more before I start writing about it.

In the interest of putting chapter 12 off as long as possible, I’m going to do what I promised several months back and devote at least one post to the New Testament uses of Hosea’s prophetic word. Some of these are direct quotations; others are references and allusions.

I trust you will all put this down to cleverness rather than cowardice.

It’s also convenient timing. Hosea is quoted or repurposed eight times in the NT: once each by Matthew, John and Peter, twice by Paul and three times by the Lord Jesus. Only one of these remains for us to examine in our ongoing study of Hosea (Paul quoting from 13:14). That one might be the most interesting of all.

So then, without further ado …

Hosea in the New Testament

1/ Matthew 2:14-15 quotes Hosea 11:1

“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.’ ”

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”

This is Matthew’s commentary on Hosea, and it gives us a clue as to what the NT writers mean when they use the word “fulfilled” to refer to a prophecy or even when alluding to some historical event, in this case the Exodus. They do NOT mean that you can go back to the relevant OT quotation, apply standard methods of biblical interpretation and deduce logically that Hosea was talking about Messiah.

In The Riches of Divine Wisdom, David Gooding demonstrates that the NT writers use the verb “fulfil” in four distinct senses:

  1. Fulfilment as the fulfilling of predictions
  2. Fulfilment as the final, higher expression of basic principles
  3. Christ’s fulfilment of the Law
  4. The Christian’s fulfilment of the Law

This passage in Matthew would be a prime example of the second type of fulfilment, which Gooding describes as follows:

“This type of fulfilment comes sharply to our attention when the New Testament claims that something in the Old Testament has been fulfilled, and upon investigation that something turns out not to have been a prediction in the first place, but simply, say, a record of some past historical event, or even an Old Testament institution.”

This is definitely the case with the Exodus. Gooding continues:

“The nation as God’s son had, as God lamented through Hosea, miserably failed, and seemingly wrecked God’s purposes in calling it out of Egypt. Now all the hopes of Israel, all the purposes of God for Israel and the world, were vested in this individual, Christ, the true Israel, the Son of God. This time when God called his Son out of Egypt, he would not be frustrated by subsequent failure. Final victory was assured.”

Gooding concludes:

“The fulfilment, then, of Hosea 11:1 was the fulfilment, not of a prediction, but of a prototype.”

That is certainly the best way I have found to analyze it. We will see more of this second type of fulfilment in later examples.

2/ Matthew 9:13 quotes Hosea 6:6

“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

As pointed out in this post, “steadfast love” (as the ESV has it) refers not to feelings of affection or even loyalty, but to active benevolence. The measure of love is that it acts in obedience to God by doing good to one’s fellow man. Indeed, it could only be this way. As John puts it, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” So then, showing mercy to our brothers and sisters and steadfast love toward God are not distinct things but aspects of the same spiritual growth process.

In Hosea 6:6, the Lord laments the lack of steadfast love displayed in Israel and Judah toward their own kin. In the same passage, he describes Gilead as “tracked with blood” and full of murder and robbery, as men mistreated, stumbled, abused and even killed one another. In doing so, God says, “they dealt faithlessly with me”. As David put it, all sin is ultimately against God.

In Matthew, the Lord Jesus overhears the Pharisees asking his disciples “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”, prompting the Lord’s response as above. The effect of his answer is to say, “Because they know they need it.” Just as Israel did in Hosea’s day, the Pharisees of the first century needed to learn that how we behave toward one another out of love for God is more important than compliance with rules. If we do not love the least of our brothers and sisters, even the most diligent rule-keeping is not only useless but stands as a witness against us that we have failed to discover the basic reason law was given to men.

3/ Matthew 12:7 quotes Hosea 6:6

This is the first of two verses from Hosea that appears twice in the NT:

“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

The second time Matthew has the Lord Jesus quoting Hosea, the situation again involves critical Pharisees, who had apparently not gotten the message from three chapters earlier. This time they take offense at the Lord’s hungry disciples, who are plucking heads of grain and eating them as they pass through the fields on the Sabbath. The Lord again uses Hosea to remind them that the principle of mercy toward the needy trumps their faulty understanding of the intent of God’s Sabbath rest and exposes their petty legalism.

Neither of these uses of Hosea by the Lord are prophetic fulfilments. They simply serve as scriptural justification for the Lord’s behavior and that of his disciples. Of course, he was under no obligation to justify himself. As he would say immediately thereafter, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” God can do what he pleases with that which he has instituted. Nevertheless, Jesus graciously accommodated their ignorance, even knowing most of them would not learn the lesson he was teaching them. The Pharisees had entirely misunderstood God’s priorities.

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