Israel as God’s Promiscuous Wife   Leave a comment

Above:  A Jewish Wedding Ring

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HOSEA, PART III

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Hosea 2:2-3:5 (Anglican, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox)

Hosea 2:4-3:5 (Jewish and Roman Catholic)

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The insertion of 1:10-2:1/2:1-3 (depending on versification) interrupts the flow from 1:9 to 2:2/2:4 (depending on versification) and gives me theological whiplash.

Rebuke your mother, rebuke her–

For she is not My wife

And I am not her husband–….

–Hosea 2:4, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The covenantal relationship between God and Israel was broken at the beginning of the Book of Hosea.  It remained broken in 2:2/2:4-2:13/2:15.

The Hebrew word TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) renders as “rebuke” has other translations in English.  These include:

  1. “Accuse” (The New American Bible–Revised Edition, 2011),
  2. “Call to account” (The Revised English Bible, 1989),
  3. “Plead with” (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989),
  4. “Bring a case against” (Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 2019),
  5. “Denounce” (The Jerusalem Bible, 1966), and
  6. “Take to court” (The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985; and The Revised New Jerusalem Bible, 2019).

All of these translations are accurate; the germane Hebrew word means both “reprove” and “take to court.”

The imagery of 2:2/2:4-2:13/2:15 is harsh.  It is the imagery of sexual shaming, the punishment for promiscuity, as in Ezekiel 16.  God, metaphorically Israel’s husband, metaphorically divorces and sexually shames the unfaithful wife.  The wife–Israel–becomes infertile, adding to her disgrace.  Her lovers are idols.  They cannot provide for, feed, and clothe her.  Only God can provide for, feed, and clothe Israel, but she continues to spurn Him.  Israel, having made her bed, so to speak, must lie in it.

If the reading ended there, the news would be hopeless.  Yet we come to Hosea 2:14/2:16-3:5.  God will take Israel back.  Mercy will follow judgment.  The words Ishi and Baali both mean “husband.”  Baali, of course, sounds like Baal (“lord”), as in “the Baals” (2:17/2:19) and “Baal Peor.”  The Hebrew wordplay points to the abandonment of idolatry and the renewal of the covenantal relationship (2:18/2:20f).

Hosea 3:1-5 offers a metaphor different from that in 1:2f.  The adulterous woman, perhaps Gomer, has been offering raisin cakes to the Canaanite fertility goddess Astarte.  (In a form of Hebrew folk religion, Astarte was YHWH’s wife.)  This woman, a metaphor for Israel, must abstain from sexual relations, even with her husband, during a period of purification and separation.  She must, simply put, perform penance.  At the end of this penitential time of purification and separation, God will restore the nation and renew the covenant.  Hosea 3:1-5 is probably a subsequent, Judean addition to the Book of Hosea, given 3:4-5.  Also, 3:1-5 is prose surrounded by poetry.

Without ignoring or minimizing the extremely difficult language and imagery of 2:2/2:4-2:13/2:15, I focus on an idea with practical implications.  Sometimes divine punishment and judgment consist of God stepping back and allowing our metaphorical chickens to come home to roost.  Sometimes divine judgment and punishment have more to do with what God does not do rather than with God does.  Sometimes God really is absent and distant.  Yet, as 2:14/2:16-3:5 remind us, God also shows mercy.

The editing of the Book of Hosea, with the benefit of hindsight and in the context of hopes for a better future, produced a final version of that book that repeatedly swings back and forth between divine judgment and mercy.  The condemnations, punishment, and mercy, in the final version, applied to the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, and the returned community after the Babylonian Exile.  The Book of Hosea’s concluding note (Chapter 14) was one of extravagant divine mercy mixed with the knowledge that some would still reject God and the covenant, even then.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance in the final version of the Book of Hosea.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS MAKEMIE, FATHER OF AMERICAN PRESBYTERIANISM AND ADVOCATE FOR RELIGIOUS TOLERATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT CARTHAGE THE YOUNGER, IRISH ABBOT-BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA DOMENICA MAZARELLO, COFOUNDRESS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF MARY HELP OF CHRISTIANS

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEODORE I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINTS VICTOR THE MARTYR AND CORONA OF DAMASCUS, MARTYRS IN SYRIA, 165

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