The Covenants in Hosea (1)

A Draft from the book ‘The Words of the Covenant’

Hosea (active c. 755-725 B.C.) is best known for his on/off relationship with the harlot Gomer and the message God entailed in it.  Hosea had married Gomer and she (predictably) committed adultery and was put away by the prophet.  But then the prophet was told to take her back!  What was the meaning of this story?

Upon the naming of his third child with Gomer we read this:

Then God said: “Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your God.  “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, `You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, `You are sons of the living God.’

Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel! – Hosea 1:9-11

Here is a paradox.  God seems to be all through with Israel (“you are not My people”[1]).  And yet the very next assertion is taken from familiar words found in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 22:17; 32:12), with the accompanying promise that Israel will yet see God’s blessing.  This theme of punishment followed by blessing occurs many times in the prophets (cf. Jer. 46:28).  Verse 11 foretells the future unification of the sundered kingdoms (cf. Ezek. 37).

Vital to the understanding of the first chapters of this book is the answer to the question of whether the woman whom the prophet marries in chapter 3 is Gomer or someone else.[2]  If it is indeed Gomer then it illustrates chapter 2 (on which see below) as well as the note of final grace and forgiveness which is prominent in the book.  Just as Gomer was married to Hosea and committed adultery against him but is taken back, so Israel was married to God, divorced but then re-married to Him (see 2:19-20).  In prophetic terms chapter 3 pictures God’s intention to stick to His covenant with Israel until the end, even though He will “put them away”, yet, at long last He will save the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.[3]

Hosea 2 is sandwiched between the episodes of the prophet and his promiscuous wife which illustrate it.  It could be viewed as an expansion on 1:9-11.  The first half of the chapter envisages Israel as chasing after her various paramours but unsuccessfully.  God, her husband, will “hedge up her way” (2:6) so that finally she will come to her senses and return to Him (2:7).  This returning will come after punishment because Israel forgot the Lord (2:9-13).  But then the mood turns to one of comfort and blessing.  The about-face in verse 14 is quite attention-grabbing.  From the people’s willful neglect of their covenant Lord we might expect a full stop and a brand new idea.  But this is precisely what we do not get.  Instead it is God Himself who displays astonishing grace in promising to win His people back.[4]  It is God who will restore Israel.  He will save her.  Even the Valley of Achor, that notorious place of trouble, will become a theater of singing and hope (2:15).  Hosea references the Exodus which held special significance for the identity of the nation.  He then promises that “in that day”, some future day, the relationship between Him and Israel will be like that of a husband (Ishi) and wife (2:16).  This closest of all relationships is chosen by God and is found in other prophets (e.g. Isa. 54:5).  When one considers the message being communicated by the early chapters of Hosea, that of the marriage to and putting away of a prostitute and then the voluntary remarrying of the same woman, it speaks volumes of Yahweh’s respect for His covenants.[5]

The closing verses of chapter two are very expressive.  Within them one encounters God promising to “allure” Israel back to Himself so that His people call Him “Husband.”  Covenant is about relationship, and here we see the depth of the relationship that God wants, and intends to have, with Israel.  Who can read verses nineteen and twenty and not sense the great longing of God for the reconciliation and “betrothal” that these verses talk about?  That special connection will require an environment suitable for its expression, and so after they have renounced the false lords (baalim) of the past (2:16-17), the natural world will be adapted to provide a setting beautiful, peaceful, and productive.

In that day I will make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
With the birds of the air,
And with the creeping things of the ground.
Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth,
To make them lie down safely – Hosea 2:18

Now the Lord brings in the animal kingdom utilizing the creation language of Genesis 1.  The verse is a less well known companion to the famous “the wolf will lie down with the lamb” passage in Isaiah 11.  The peace in the natural world will be extended to the human world, where it is predicted that the weapons of war will be destroyed and people will live safely.

The “covenant” that will be made is a peace covenant encompassing the entire Creation Project.  The only covenant that has been made with the natural world is the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9:12.

The covenant with Noah is not said to be with the inanimate world, but the poetic preamble in Genesis 8:22 does mention “seedtime and harvest”, and these are included in the prophets’ portrayal of the future earth, as we read in Hosea 2:22, “The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil; they shall answer Jezreel[6]”  Therefore, even on the basis of this passage, along with what we have read already in Amos 9:13 it is plausible to think of the consummated kingdom as not only encapsulating the covenants with Abraham and David, but aspects of the Noahic covenant also.  And this would certainly not surprise us if we think of God’s covenant program in terms of what I have called the Creation Project.  As I hope to show, even the stage-setting Noahic covenant is comprehended within the sphere of influence that will eventually be exercised by the New covenant.

The riddance of “bow and sword” will come up again, as will the blessings of productivity and peace among the wild animals; not to mention the important note of Israel lying down in safety.  In fact, these themes will be brought up again and again and again by the prophets.  One cannot create a sensible picture of Old Testament prophetic expectation without the ingredients of a future world (or at the very least Israel), where there will be no carnivorous beasts, no war, and God’s chosen people, the remnant of Israel, will dwell safely in right relationship with their God.  And it must be remembered that all this is covenantally guaranteed!

———————————————————————————–

[1] This reverses the standard covenantal language.

[2] For a brief defense of this position see Duane A. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 98-99.  Most evangelical interpreters identify the “adulterous woman” of 3:1 with Gomer.

[3] We might add here that the Bible refers to marriage as a covenant in Malachi 2:14, while two verse later God states that He “hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16).

[4] By “His people” I mean the Remnant which is a recurring theme in Scripture (e.g. Isa. 4)

[5] What this also indicates is the theological link between the character of God and the covenants that He involves Himself with.  By choosing such a radical scenario as found in the illustrations in Hosea 1 and 3 God is in effect telling us that He is “all in” with regard to His covenant commitments (See Jer. 3:14).

[6] “Jezreel” (“God sows”) is the name given to Hosea’s son by Yahweh (Hos. 1:4), and is a place both of judgment (Hos. 1:5) and blessing (Hos.1:11).  Hosea 2:22 refers to 1:11 as can be seen from a comparison of 1:10 with 2:23.  The city of Jezreel came to prominence particularly under the reigns of Omri and Ahab.  The Valley of Jezreel (sometimes called the Valley of Megiddo), was a fertile stretch of great strategic importance.

 

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5 comments

  1. Thank you!

    This book (coming soon I hope) is exactly what I have been waiting for. The juxtaposition of judgment/blessing in the prophets exalts God’s holiness and faithfulness. God righteously condemns the wickedness of His covenant people and then lovingly promises them millennial and eternal kingdom blessings as He remains ever faithful to His covenants with Israel. The LORD (Yahweh) expresses deep emotions like a spurned lover (husband), and as a deserted Father, as He deals with His continually sinning people. They flaunt and callously display their sin before His face and He reacts to them with judgment and then almost immediately in many passages with promised blessings. As participants in the new covenant, we who are redeemed though belief in the cross-work and resurrection of Christ, can take great comfort in that although we often act in similar ways as the Israelites, God also keeps His new covenant promises to us.

    Thanks again Paul. If it is possible, without giving up too many pages of your upcoming publication, please delight us again with more of these excellent excerpts.

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