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A hermitudinal view of...stuff...



The following is an excerpt from a paper I wrote last Spring for Dr. Wellum's Systematic Theology III class. Some of you have already read the paper; if so, read on at the risk of feeling a delightful case of déjà vu. For those of you who've not read it, be aware that this excerpt will deviate from the genres of writing usually associated with my blog. Furthermore, please note that while this paper is academic (and unfortunately, far less exhaustive than the syllabus allowed) in nature, it deals with a portion of Scripture, the book of the prophet Hosea, that is exceedingly shocking and strange. I do note in the excerpt that the story of Hosea's marriage is "not for the faint of heart." In thinking over the pain the LORD allowed Hosea to share in, however, I've come to think that it is perhaps precisely God's purpose to cause our deviant hearts to faint in the light of His long-suffering love.

The God of the Old Testament is sometimes unfairly cast in a strange and austere light. The Levitical offerings, demands of the law, and massive, seemingly useless violence and bloodshed do much to paint Yahweh in an unfavorable color. Many aspects of God’s laws and ways are misconstrued, because they are not viewed in the context of the entirety of Scripture. The book of Isaiah the prophet is an excellent example. Although Isaiah is unique in his consistent depiction of God as "The Holy One of Israel," it is a title that captures much of the Old Testament's apparent sentiment of a God who, despite being Israel's Creator and Savior, is nevertheless separate from and higher than His creation. In short, the depiction of God throughout much of the Old Testament may seem one-sided and distant.

The story of the prophet Hosea helps to remedy this misrepresentation. God employs His prophet’s marital life to share the depths and desires of His own heart in a truly remarkable way: a command to Hosea to marry a whore, a prostitute. This historical, non-allegorical drama portrays a story of painful, unrequited marital love in Hosea’s relations with his bride. Yet, the story does not end there. God uses Hosea’s horrid marriage to Gomer to paint a poignant and pithy pictorial of an even greater and more painful love: God’s long-suffering love for His people. God’s message is of such importance that He interferes painfully in His prophet’s marital life! Concerning God’s call upon Hosea to marry a whore, Derek Kidner says, “It would be hard…to find a more shattering first demand than was made of Hosea.” We can therefore conclude that Hosea was serving as a depiction of Christ in His relation with His bride, the church, and as such, nothing less than “shattering” would suffice.

God’s marriage to Israel as depicted in Hosea chapters 1 – 3 is not for the faint of heart, and appropriately, Hosea’s real yet metaphorical marriage does not pull any punches. It is probable that Gomer was already a whore when Hosea took her in marriage, and what is more, the specific Hebrew word used to describe Gomer’s whoredom indicates that she was not merely a cult-prostitute, which would have lessened the harshness of the characterization.

After their marital status is confirmed, Gomer bears to Hosea a son, whom God has Hosea name “Jezreel.” This name, although uncommon for 8th century Israel, would have nevertheless held deep significance for Hosea’s listeners. Through this first child, God was pointing toward the flagrant murder and idolatry that drew Israel away from God. The second child, named “Lo-ruhamah,” or “Not-Pitied,” signifies a judgment still to come. The third child, named “Lo-ammi,” or “Not-My-People,” signifies the ever-growing distance between God and His people. For Hosea, this child’s very name had a double entendre that brought with it an extra measure of pain, as “Not-My-People” served as a constant reminder Hosea that Gomer’s third child was not his own. Why this assertion? Kidner points out the distinction that unlike the first child, both the second and third children were products of Gomer’s promiscuity, as can be concluded from the difference between verse 3 and verses 6 and 8. Even the children of Gomer were a portent of the unfaithfulness of God’s chosen people!

The closing of Hosea 1 and verse 1 of Hosea 2 brings an astounding change of tune. God reaffirms the Abrahamic covenant of Genesis 22:14, and speaks of a rejoining of not only the Northern Kingdom of Israel with the Southern Kingdom of Judah, but also Samaritans and Gentiles. How do these keep in line with the idea of a marriage covenant? They serve to underline the notion that God simply refuses to go back on His marriage covenant with His people.

In the remainder of Hosea 2, the infidelity of God’s people is starkly juxtaposed with His faithfulness. God is pleading with His unfaithful wife in verses 2 - 4, decisively showing that He has taken up the position of the jilted husband. This view is supported by Isaiah 50:1, which also picks up on this perspective of God as husband.

A key portion of the marriage depiction is taken up once again in verses 19 and 20, speaking of God’s marriage betrothal. The Israelite custom of a bridegroom giving a bride-price to the bride’s father can be seen here, and the imagery points unmistakably toward Christ. Kidner, in speaking of this betrothal, deems that it “clothes the New Covenant in wedding garb.” Furthermore, as a betrothal gift to her, Christ brings forth and bestows justice, lovingkindness, compassion, and faithfulness. All of these are realized only and fully in the believer’s union with Christ, and stand in vivid contrast to the harlotry that Christ saves His bride from.

Hosea 3 returns to the prophet’s story in the first person. At this point, it can be clearly inferred from the story that Gomer is no longer even making a shallow attempt at keeping her marriage fidelity intact. God commands Hosea once again to go and love his wife, this wife of his who was still engaged in promiscuous activities. She was no longer just a harlot, but an adulteress as well. Some parallels may have been drawn between the unfaithful wife and the prodigal son of Luke 15, yet here they end, for while the prodigal son went back after realizing his wayward ways, the unfaithful wife shows a deeper need for grace by having Hosea come to redeem her.

It is worth noting that it was God who had to rekindle Hosea’s love for Gomer, for this heightens the sense that Hosea was bound to undergo an incredibly painful process, which could be likened to the painful peeling away of a scab upon a healing wound. This is no accident! Hosea is allowed by God to share in much the same sufferings that He Himself felt at the hand of His chosen people.Such a sharing further mirrors Christ’s purchasing work of His bride upon the cross, for Hosea himself must go and buy back his bride. The manner of Hosea’s redemption of Gomer is uncertain, as the text does not indicate from whom it was she was bought back, or why she was being held as she was. Furthermore, the mixed nature of his payment, which combined silver and barley rather than just one or the other, is indicative of the modest means the prophet had at his disposal.

The suffering Hosea undergoes and the purchase that he makes for Gomer is still seen as but an echo of Christ’s suffering for and the purchase of His bride, the church. Nevertheless, Hosea’s story serves as a key foreshadowing of the eternal marital covenant that is between Christ and the church.

posted by Bolo | 6:46 PM
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