The Hollow Promises
Hosea continues proclaiming God’s case against Israel for her religious and political sins. The unfaithful priests promoted false worship and worldly pursuits. While Jehu (Jeroboam II’s grandfather) had largely removed Baal worship from Israel, the golden calves at Dan and Bethel remained, so Bethel (“House of God”) could rightly be called Beth-aven (“House of Evil”). Politically, Israel had trusted foreign powers rather than God, and this misguided trust backfired when Israel failed to pay tributes. God calls Israel to earnestly seek Him after her affliction.
While Assyria’s friendship and protection is transitory, God’s love is eternal. God uses Assyria’s treachery as judgment, but its purpose is to call Israel to repentance and restoration. The judgment and restoration of Israel model the gospel. Sin results in exile, a metaphorical death of the nation, while repentance/faith leads to a divinely empowered return, a figurative resurrection. The promise of revival after two days and raising up on the third day points to Jesus’ resurrection from the grave.
The Hebrew word for raise (qum) can be translated as establish or stand, so one might take the prophecy to simply mean that God will establish Israel in the land. However, there are good reasons to see it as a reference to resurrection. First, the two notions are not mutually exclusive, as God’s reestablishment of Israel in the land after exile pictures resurrection. Additionally, the two- and three-day literary movement is poetic parallelism, so that raise parallels revive. Finally, qum (raise) is the only Hebrew word used for resurrection, and Jesus uses similar terminology about His resurrection in John’s Gospel. While it would be an overstatement to claim Hosea clearly predicts Jesus’ resurrection, we can see in this formula of Israel’s exile/return a type of Christ’s death/resurrection.
God laments Israel’s spiritual fickleness. The progression of God’s pronouncement followed by judgment is intentional because embedded in the proclamation of judgment is a call to repentance and an implied offer of grace. This offer led Jonah to flee God’s call to Nineveh, and it is found in Hosea’s words here. Before God executes judgment through Assyria’s army, Israel could return in heartfelt faith. Hosea does not say sacrifices and burnt offerings are not important, but rather notes that perfunctory obedience without faith, love and knowledge of God is problematic.
Hosea continues to outline the sins of Israel (and Judah) with specific charges and spiritual defilement. The reference to Adam may carry a double meaning. On one hand, it ties the sins of God’s people to their original forebear. Just as Adam broke trust with God in the Garden, Israel has been unfaithful to God, despite being in the Promised Land. On the other hand, the verse can also be translated, “As dirt, you have walked upon My covenant,” indicating the disdain with which Israel has treated God’s word.
The locations named indicate the widespread nature of Israel’s sin. Sin has persisted through Israel’s existence, from its inception when Shechem was the seat of government, to Hosea’s day with Israel’s capital at Samaria. All the people live in sin, and God’s judgment justly abides upon them.
By Stefana Dan Laing
Associate professor at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama