sexta-feira, 12 de agosto de 2011

The Prophet Hosea

I. Literary Features

Hosea was a master literary craftsman. His prophetic style is so elevated that it is often difficult to distinguish between his prose and poetry. Andersen and Freedman conclude that chapters 1-3 are basically written in prose narrative, while chapters 4-14 are typical of poetry.1 As a rule of thumb such an estimate is largely helpful, but it must be pointed out that “most of the prophets were poets and their oracles were delivered and have been preserved in poetic form.”2 Indeed, “one may expect that all of the major genres with the exception of some types of instructional accounts will take on the heightened speech, literary richness, and urgency of tone and message that so characterized poetry.”3 Nevertheless, it is true that chapters 1-3 due bear marks much more characteristic of prose. For example, these chapters are distinctly more narrative in style and the oracles embedded in them are brought together as clusters within the narrative. The narrative itself is arranged in chiastic structure around the marriage theme (see Outline).

Indeed, the marriage theme is a prominent one not only in chapters 1-3 but in various places in Hosea’s prophecy. For example, God is portrayed as a jealous husband (2:2-13) due to the infidelity of his wife Israel (as symbolized by Gomer). Israel has played the harlot by flirting with pagan idolatry (e.g., 4:10-18; 5:3-4; 6:10; 7:4; 8:4-6, 9; 9:1, 10, 15; 10:5; 11:2, 7; 12:11) as well as in its unwise political alliances and unrighteous social immorality. Yet God is also portrayed as a faithful and loving husband who longs for and is willing to forgive Israel (2:14-3:5; 9:1; 14:4).

The marriage theme is also closely allied to that of the covenant. Even though God had redeemed his people out of Egypt and brought them into covenant relationship with him (11:4; 12:9; 13:4), they have violated that covenant repeatedly (e.g., 6:7; 8:11-14). Israel’s sole hope lay in the fact that God’s covenant loyalty and redemptive love for them remained (2:18-23; 3:1-5; 8:1-14; 13:16).

Due to Israel’s violation of her fidelity to God and his covenant with them, there was need of repentance. Repentance, therefore, becomes a prominent theme in Hosea (e.g., 2:14; 3:5; 5:6; 6:6-7; 7:8-10; 14:4) as well as the need for Israel to practice righteousness (10:12; 12:6; 14:9).

The themes of violation of covenant and need of repentance are closely associated with that of judgment. Judgment oracles make up a great deal of Hosea’s speeches. Thus Hosea condemns Israel’s practice of idolatry (e.g., 3:4; 4:7-13, 15-18; 5:11; 8:4-6; 9:1; 10:5, 8; 11:2, 7; 13:2; 14:8) and denounces the priests who have led the people astray (4:4-9; 5:1; 6:9; 10:5). Likewise Israel’s prophets (4:5; 6:5; 9:7-8; 12:10-13) and leaders from royal house to prominent members of society come in for their share of denunciation (5:1, 10; 7:3-7, 16; 8:4; 9:15; 10:7; 12:7).

Accordingly, all society is corrupt is in danger of God’s judgment (4:1-6, 14; 5:4-5; 6:8-10; 7:1-14; 8:1; 9:1-3, 7, 15-17; 10:1-2, 9, 13-14; 11:12; 12:8, 14; 13:1-3, 12-13, 16; 14:1).4

Hosea also uses imagery drawn from the agrarian and animal worlds such as the procedures of sowing and reaping (2:3; 8:7; 10:12, 13), and threshing and harvest (2:6, 8-9, 11, 22-23; 6:11; 9:2). Hosea also speaks of vine, vineyard, and wine (2:9, 12; 9:2, 4, 10; 10:1; 14:7). Other images reflect the animal world. Israel is likened to a stubborn, trained heifer (4:16; 10:11), a wild donkey in heat (8:9-10), or a senseless dove (7:11) in her political alliances. Such unions are sapping her strength and Israel is not realizing it. Indeed, her condition is like that of a person who is growing gray but does not recognize the fact (7:9).

Israel is therefore advised and warned that God will deal with them like a ravenous lion (5:14-15) or a stalking leopard or angry bear robbed of its cubs (13:7-8). In a dramatic turn of imagery with regard to a future day a forgiving and loving God is likened to a lion roaring for its young to come to him, while the Israelites are compared to doves or birds returning to their nests (11:10-11).

This underscores the fact that although Hosea’s prophecies display a rich mine of images and literary features (e.g., 6:4; 9:5; 11:8; 12:11; 13:10, 14; 14:9), his most characteristic trait is his frequent employment of metaphor and simile.5 As Johnson observes, “Indeed, a thorough treatment of all of these items would practically amount to a commentary on the whole book.”6 His use of metaphor is indeed striking.7 For example, God is portrayed both as a ferocious lion (5:14) and a healing physician (6:1).

He was Israel’s provider during the period of their wilderness wanderings (13:5). Although Israel was God’s heifer trained to do plowing, yet the yoke she must bear is her coming captivity (10:11). God is the divine farmer who will reap a total harvest (= the coming judgment, 6:11). Hosea himself is God’s watchman over Israel, yet his way is made dangerous because of the traps along the pathway of his service laid for him by his adversaries (9:8).

Hosea’s similes are equally bold and well drawn. Thus because of Israel’s unfaithfulness and harlotry, she will be exposed like a newborn infant and her land will become like a desert (2:3). Israel’s failure to heed God’s word is likened to the stubbornness of a heifer (4:16). In her foreign policy she is like a silly dove flitting back and forth to Egypt and Assyria (7:11). Such a policy has made Israel to resemble “a flat cake not turned over” (7:8). Rather than trusting God, Israel has wandered over to Assyria like a wild and willful donkey (8:9). How different her present status than when God first brought her into covenant relationship. Then she showed great promise, for it was like finding grapes in the wilderness or early fruit on a fig tree (9:10). Alas, all that she now values will disappear like a bird flying away (9:11).

Israel is now not only spiritually but morally corrupt. Israelite society is so plagued by legal disputes that it resembles “poisonous weeds in the furrows of a plowed field” (10:11). Spiritually and morally bankrupt, Israel will fall to the Assyrians and her king will be carried away like a twig caught in water’s current (10:7). Israel is facing a swift and imminent judgment. Her sudden disaster is pictured in four similes: morning mist and early dew, which quickly disappears with the heat of the day, chaff blown away from the threshing floor by the wind, and smoke pouring out through a window (13:3).

At times Hosea also portrays Judah’s tenuous condition with picturesque similes. No less than Israel is Judah’s faithfulness to God—it is as short lived as the morning mist and the dew of the dawn (6:4). Moreover, Judah’s land-grabbing leadership is compared to those who seize adjacent property by moving boundary stones (5:10).

Therefore, God will deal with both kingdoms by leaving them to their fate. Rather than preserving his people, his judgment will be like the destructive forces of moth and rotting wood (5:12). As noted previously, God is pictured also in a more active sense. In his superintending judgment God is likened to ravenous and voracious animals (5:14; 13:7-8). Yet in a future day his call to them to return from exile will be like that of a lion roaring for his pride (11:10).

A man of such literary skill could be expected to write a well-structured product. And such indeed is the case. Two major divisions in the book are recognized by nearly all expositors (chs. 1-3, 4-14). The first division centers upon Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, itself symbolic of God’s relation to Israel. The second contains a collection of prophetic oracles dealing with the infidelity of God’s people and their need of repentance as well as the Lord’s faithfulness and love despite the need for his judgment against his people. An opening superscription (1:1) and a closing subscription (14:9) enclose the entire prophecy.

Thematic and verbal associations are observable in both sections. Thus chapters 1-3 are structured chiastically with a rebuke of Israel’s infidelity forming the center of the chiasmus (2:14-23 [HB 2:16-25]). Chapters 4-14 fall into three distinct subdivisions, each climaxed or concluding with the prophet’s advice to his people followed by statements regarding the Lord’s continuing burden for his people (6:1-7:16; 10:12-11:11; 11:12-14:8 [HB 12:1-14:9]). The first two subdivisions are introduced by imperatives: “Hear the word of the LORD” (4:1); “Sound the alarm” (8:1), while the third subdivision is initiated by a statement of God’s charge against Israel (11:12 [HB 12:1]).8

I I. The resultant outline can be shown as follows:

Superscription (1:1)

I. A portrayal of unfaithful Israel (1:2-3:5)

A. Rejection—Symbolized in Hosea’s marriage (1:2-9)

B. Restoration—On the basis of the covenant (1:10-2:1)

C. Rebuke—Due to Israel’s infidelity (2:2-13)

B'. Renewal—Based on the covenant (2:14-23)

A'. Reconciliation—Symbolized by Hosea’s marriage (3:1-5)

I I. Perspectives on unfaithful Israel (4:1-14:8)

A. Opening complaints against Israel (4:1-7:16)

1. A threefold indictment (4:1-19)

2. Three guilty parties (5:1-7)

3. A threefold alarm (5:8-15)

4. Prophetic advice (6:1-3)

5. Divine concern for unfaithful Israel (6:4-7:16)

B. Further charges against unfaithful Israel (8:1-11:11)

1. The lesson on the broken covenant (8:1-14)

2. Prophetic reaction: Israel is doomed (9:1-9)

3. The lesson on the unprofitable plants (9:10-17)

4. Prophetic reaction: Israel is a wayward vine (10:1-8)

5. Prophetic advice: Israel is a trained heifer (10:9-15)

6. Divine and Prophetic compassion for Israel (11:1-11)

C. Concluding considerations re unfaithful Israel (11:12-14:8)

1. Her deceitful politics (11:12-12:1)

2. Prophetic reaction: Israel’s deceitful record (12:2-6)

3. Her deceitful practices (12:7-11)

4. Prophetic reaction God’s dealings with deceitful Israel (12:12-14)

5. Her deceitful pride (13:1-16)

6. Prophetic advice (14:1-3)

7. Divine consolation (14:4-8)

 Subscription (14:9)

I I I. Theological Context

Hosea’s theological perspective begins with the opening verses. Israel’s spiritual harlotry will bring God’s certain judgment of exile to the nation (1:1-9). Yet the overriding theological truth is that of God’s love. The Lord’s great unfathomable love will one day result in Israel’s forgiveness and restoration in a new exodus event that will bring his people back home (1:10-11). These themes with deep significance resound throughout the book.

Israel’s sin is termed harlotry and Israel is depicted as a harlot (cf. 1:2 with 2:1-13; 3:1; 4:10-18; 5:4; 6:10; 7:6; 9:1). Her sinfulness is that of infidelity against Yahweh her Redeemer expressed in the worship of idols (4:1, 17-18; 5:7; 8:5-6; 9:10) and the pursuit of sinful practices associated with them (4:14; 9:15; 10:5-6; 12:11; 13:2; 14:8). Because Israel has broken its covenant with God (6:7; 8:1, 11-14; 10:1-3; 12:14; 13:16), God’s judgment must come, for Yahweh is a God of justice (4:19; 5:5, 8-12, 14; 6:4-5; 7:12-16; 8:12-14; 9:3-9, 17; 10:7-10, 14-15; 11:5-6; 13:5-9, 15-16). Moreover, Israel has repeatedly violated the terms of the law. Thus Stuart rightly points out, “Understanding the message of the book of Hosea depends upon understanding the Sinai covenant. The book contains a series of blessings and curses announced for Israel by God through Hosea. Each blessing or curse is based upon a corresponding type in the Mosaic law.”29

As noted under Themes, Hosea has much to say concerning genuine repentance and God’s forgiveness as well (e.g., 2:18-20; 6:1-3; 10:12; 12:6; 14:1-4). Such is based upon the fact that Yahweh is Israel’s only Redeemer. It is he who will one day return a repentant and forgiven people to the land (11:1-4; 12:9; 13:4-6, 14) and initiate a new covenant with them (2:18-23; 3:5). For despite Israel’s propensity to sin, Yahweh is a God of love. His undying faithfulness (11:12) and love for his people will ultimately triumph to his glory and for their good (11:6-11; 14:4-7). Tucked here and there within the book is a hint of God’s means of carrying all of this out—a new leader, a longed-for and needed Messiah (1:10-11; 3:5). For his love is but an aspect of that basic quality among his attributes—his holiness (11:9, 12). Ultimately Israel must realize that there is only one God and they belong to him (2:23; 12:9)

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