Considering the book of Hosea
The concept of love is an important theme in the book of Hosea.
One of Israel’s problems was that her love had been misdirected. Instead of keeping her covenant vow of exclusive love towards her “first husband, ”Yahweh, the one true God (Hos 2:7), Israel in the pre-exilic period turned to other gods and nations in a misguided effort to ensure her survival. Instead of trusting in Yahweh and his provision and protection, Israel decided to act like a prostitute, chasing after lovers whom she mistakenly thought would provide her with bread, water, wool, flax, oil, and drink (Hos 2:5).
- She chased after her lovers, but forgot the Lord (Hos 2:13).
- Her love for Yahweh was as fleeting as morning mist and dew (Hos 6:4).
- She loved the Baals and other idols instead of Yahweh (Hos 2:8, 13; 9:10; 11:2; 13:1).
- This betrayal would prove to be counterproductive with God punishing Israel for her lewdness, her former lovers (Egypt and Assyria—see Hos 5:13; 7:11; 8:9; 12:1; 14:3) impotent to save her (Hos 2:10).
Contrasting with Israel’s unfaithfulness stands Yahweh’s great love for his people. At least three different metaphors are used in the book of Hosea to illustrate God’s love for Israel.
Firstly, God’s covenant relationship with Israel is like a marriage…
…and despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God still loved Israel. Yahweh’s plan was to woo Israel back after the exile, and betroth her again to himself (Hos 2:15, 19–20). It is an amazing form of love that could forgive such great unfaithfulness on the part of Israel, the wayward wife of Yahweh. In large part, the message of the book of Hosea is that “Yahweh loves the people of Israel, even though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins” (Hos 3:1). Indeed, this husband and wife relationship between Yahweh and Israel was dramatized through Hosea’s marriage and remarriage to Gomer (Hos 1:2–3; 3:1–3). Hosea’s rocky relationship with Gomer was a dramatized prophecy of the breakdown of the marriage between God and Israel as well as their future reconciliation (Hos 2:19–20; 14:4). At the time of reconciliation, the name of Baal (which means master or husband) would no longer be used of God, given its negative association with Baal the idol, but solely the term אישׁי my husband (Hos 2:16–17).
The second major metaphor of God’s love in the book of Hosea is…
…the touching metaphor of a father’s love for his son in Hos 11:1–3. God pictures himself as a father who called his child, who taught him how to walk, who cuddled and healed his son when he was sick. Yet “the more that [God] called out to [Israel], the more [he] turned away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and burning offerings to idols.”
The third major metaphor of love in the book of Hosea is…
…that of a farmer who takes care of his domestic animals. God pictures himself as a gentle farmer who leads his treasured animals, eases their yolk, and feeds them lovingly (Hos 11:4). God’s heart was deeply pained to see his people destroyed in judgment, and his compassion would spare Israel from total destruction (11:8–9).
Let us now consider….
Exodus Typology in the Book of Hosea
The book of Hosea exhibits a significant exodus typology. Typology is the phenomenon where aspects of present or future salvation history are modeled on persons, institutions, or events from past salvation history. The exodus typology of Hosea centers on the idea that Israel’s exile in Assyria is like a return to Egypt (Hos 8:13; 11:5). The background to this typology is the reality of the original exodus from Egypt (Hos 11:1; 12:9, 13). The punishment of exile, involving expulsion from the promised land, can be thought of, therefore, as being a kind of reversal of the exodus (Hos 9:3; 12:9).
Like Adam, who was brought from the wilderness into the garden (Gen 2:5–8), and then later expelled from the garden in order to return to the wilderness on account of his covenant rebellion (Gen 3:17–18, 23–24), Israel, having passed through the wilderness on the way to the promised land (Hos 13:5), would likewise leave the Holy Land to return to the wilderness on account of her covenant rebellion (Hos 2:3, 14).
But if the exile to Assyria constituted a reversal of the exodus, then God’s commitment to ultimately bring blessing upon Israel means that Israel’s future restoration can be pictured as constituting a new or second exodus (Hos 11:11). At this time of future restoration, Israel would sing like she had done previously in her youth when first rescued from Egypt (Hos 2:15; compare with Exod 15:1–21). This new exodus would mark the end of Israel’s exile from the presence of the Lord.
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Brother Coxhead has served as visiting lecturer in Hebrew and the Old Testament at the Sydney Missionary and Bible College since 2002. He’s taught Advanced Classical Hebrew regularly at the Macquarie Ancient Languages School since 2009. As a part-time lecturer at the Presbyterian Theological Centre in Sydney from 2002 to 2010, teaching the Old Testament, Romans, John’s Gospel, Biblical Hebrew, and New Testament Greek; and taught Johannine Theology and the Old Testament at the Wesley Institute in Sydney from 2010 to 2011. Steven also taught Old Testament, New Testament, and Systematic Theology in South-East Asia.
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