Sunday, April 14, 2019

Church Write-Up: Hosea 13:14

The LCMS Bible study this morning looked at Hosea 13:11-14. I will post Hosea 13:9-16 for reference, then I will mention items from the study. After that, I will say what I got out of the church service.

9 O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.
10 I will be thy king: where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities? and thy judges of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes?
11 I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.
12 The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hid.
13 The sorrows of a travailing woman shall come upon him: he is an unwise son; for he should not stay long in the place of the breaking forth of children.
14 I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.
15 Though he be fruitful among his brethren, an east wind shall come, the wind of the LORD shall come up from the wilderness, and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up: he shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels.
16 Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up. (KJV)

A. Vv. 9-11 refer to Israel’s request for a king in I Samuel 8, but they also concern the rapid succession of kings in Northern Israel when Hosea prophesied. Hosea prophesied during a time of political instability. Hosea in vv. 9-11 seems to echo the concern of I Samuel 8 that Israel looks to her kings for security rather than trusting and revering God as her king. Israel’s trust of her kings is not panning out well, as is evidenced by the political instability.

B. The pastor said that, in a sense, Israel’s request for a king was idolatrous, yet God worked that out for good by giving Israel David, from whom came the Messiah. That brought to mind my reading of I Samuel 8 earlier this week. In I Samuel 8:7-8, God says to Samuel: “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee” (KJV). God does appear to liken Israel’s request for a king to idolatry. Was God equating the request to idolatry? Would that imply that God condoned idolatry (Israel having a king) for centuries and even brought good out of it? I had a similar thought when I was contemplating Matthew 5:31-32 last week. In Matthew 5:31-32, Jesus says that divorce and remarriage, except in cases of fornication, is adultery. Does that mean that God permitted adultery during the centuries that God allowed divorce and remarriage?

C. Returning to Hosea 13, the pastor interpreted v. 12 to mean that God is storing up Northern Israel’s sin rather than forgetting about it: God will punish it eventually, even if Israel may not feel that she is suffering God’s punishment right now. The sin is stored up, waiting to be punished. Hosea here echoes Deuteronomy 32:34-35, which states that God stores up Israel’s sin and her feet will slip in due time. The pastor argued that Paul in Romans 3:25 takes this thought in a Jesus-direction. Romans 3:25-26 states that God “put forward [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus” (NRSV). According to the pastor, Paul acknowledged that God stored up humanity’s sin and saved the punishment for later, but God ultimately punishes, not humanity, but Jesus in its place. Christians may still suffer the consequences of their sins, but their suffering will not separate them from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

D. V. 14 has been translated in different ways, and I encountered even more interpretations after I came home and checked out commentaries. The pastor prefers what the KJV has: Israel is unwilling to be born (repent), so God will step in and do for Israel what she cannot do for herself. God affirms that God will ransom and redeem her from the grave. Repentance will be hidden from God’s eyes, meaning that God will not change God’s mind about redeeming Israel: God will do it, period. Other translations, however, treat v. 14 as a reaffirmation of God’s judgment. God asks if he will redeem Israel from death, implying that the answer is “no,” and God then states that compassion for Israel is hidden from his eyes. The commentaries that I read seemed to mix the two extremes: God wants to redeem Israel or has a record of redeeming Israel in the past, but God refuses now to have compassion on Israel because she will not repent.

E. Which interpretation of v. 14 makes most sense, in my mind? This is difficult to answer. V. 9 appears to affirm that God is Israel’s helper, which would coincide with the KJV and the pastor’s interpretation: that v. 14 depicts God as generously stepping forward to redeem Israel. The thing is, v. 9 can be translated in ways that do not depict God as Israel’s helper but rather the opposite: “I will destroy you, O Israel; who can help you?” (NRSV). Against the pastor’s interpretation of v. 14 is that the immediately following verses, vv. 15-16, reaffirm judgment; as the pastor said, Assyria is likened to the east wind, which comes from the desert and dries up all life. The pastor interprets the end of v. 14 to mean that God will not repent from his goal to redeem of Israel from the grave, whereas other translations hold that God will not have compassion towards Israel. My problem with the pastor’s interpretation is that n-ch-m often has pathos, connoting not just a change of mind but sadness or regret. Why would God need to say that God will not be saddened about redeeming Israel? Of course God would not be saddened about redeeming Israel: God is only punishing Israel reluctantly. Interpreting n-ch-m in v. 14 as a regretful or sad repentance makes little sense, in my opinion. The view that v. 14 reaffirms judgment also has problems, though. Why is God even bringing up the scenario of redeeming Israel from the grave? Simply to deny that God will do so? Why bring redemption up, only to knock it down? It looks unnecessary to the passage. The “mixture” interpretation sits best with me: God desires to redeem Israel, as he has been her historical helper, but God reluctantly decides not to do so because of her refusal to repent.

F. Hosea 13:14 does not make much sense in the Septuagint. NETS has: “I shall rescue them from the hand of Hades and shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where is your sentence? O Hades, where is your goad? Comfort is hidden from my eyes.” Here, God affirms that he shall redeem Israel from death, then he goes on to say that comfort is hidden from his eyes. Is God unhappy about redeeming Israel from death? Maybe commentators have offered explanations as to what the LXX means here.

G. Hosea 13:14 is quoted in I Corinthians 15:55, as Paul quotes it to taunt death that Jesus has defeated it. Death was believed to swallow everything up, but Christ through his resurrection has swallowed death up. A good question would be how Christians can view Paul’s treatment of Hosea 13:14, in light of the debate over whether Hosea 13:14 affirms redemption or judgment. The pastor’s interpretation, of course, holds that I Corinthians 15:55 is consistent with the original meaning of Hosea 13:14, while going beyond it: Hosea 13:14 is about God redeeming Israel from the grave, whereas I Corinthians 15:55 goes further than that and affirms that God in Christ has defeated death, period. On the other hand, if Hosea 13:14 reaffirms judgment, then it can be a foil for Christ’s redemption. A student in the class was suggesting this: Hosea 13 does not leave Israel with much hope, but Christ brings hope because Christ has defeated death.

H. The pastor said at the beginning that there was a time when critical scholars posited thirteen authors of the Book of Hosea. He says that has been discarded because there are intact manuscripts dating as early as the fourth century B.C.E. The pastor said that Hosea wrote the book that bears his name years after he orally spoke the prophecies. He did so as his prophecies came back to him in memory through divine inspiration. I could not find anything about the dates of the earliest surviving Hosea manuscripts. Even if they were complete, that would not disprove that the Book of Hosea was written by different people, for source criticism is not really based on text criticism: rather, source criticism is based on tensions within a book that may point to multiple authorship. The book could have come together centuries before its earliest surviving manuscript. Looking at different commentaries (i.e., Word, Anchor Bible) and other scholarly sources (i.e., Anchor Bible Dictionary), though, I notice that there are debates. Some scholars do posit stages of the Book of Hosea (i.e., a northern stage, a Judahite stage) or later additions, whereas others are more willing to believe that the “later additions” are not that at all but are original to Hosea himself. What is more, because Hosea appears rather unintelligible or elliptical, many scholars view that as a sign of its authenticity: it is unintelligible or elliptical because it comes from Northern Israel, whose Hebrew differs in areas from the Hebrew to which we are accustomed (i.e., Judahite). See here for a discussion.

I. In the church service, the pastor asked if we would have accepted Jesus as a suffering Messiah had we lived in the first century C.E. They did not have their smart-phones telling them what Scriptures were relevant as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Rather, they had in mind David and Solomon, and they hoped Jesus would inaugurate a glorious reign like theirs.

J. The pastor criticized Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. People want to be seen as nice and to see themselves as nice. This idol is shot down when disaster comes, and people wonder how it can happen to them, when they are so nice. Yet, God meets us when we have reached the end of our rope. This reminded me of how tragic life can be. The pastor told a story about a church he pastored decades ago. The church secretary of fifteen years fell asleep at the wheel of her car and was killed. The next Sunday, the Scripture text was Isaiah 25:8, which affirms that death shall be swallowed up. The church did not include that passage as a deliberate response to the secretary’s death. Rather, that was the passage that was scheduled to read on that Sunday. The pastor sees that as God’s comfort and provision in that shocking and difficult time.

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