God’s Case Against Israel, Part I: Bad Habits   Leave a comment

Above:  Cattle (Hosea 4:16)

Image in the Public Domain




Hosea 4:1-5:7


The heading for Hosea 4:1-9:17 in The Oxford Study Bible, Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha (1992) is,

God’s case against Israel.

This is a legal case, given the language of accusation and reproof, which carries the connotation of hauling someone into court.  This language carries over from Hosea 2:2/2:4 (depending on versification),:

“To court, take your mother to court!….”

The Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019)

Then we got theological whiplash by changing the tone in Chapter 3 and switching back to judgment in Chapter 4.

Chapter 4 begins:

Hear the word of the LORD,

O people of Israel!

For the LORD has a case

Against the inhabitants of this land,

Because there is no honesty and no goodness

And no obedience to God in the land.

–Hosea 4:1-2, TANAKH: The Holy Scriptures (1985)

As I survey translations, I notice a variety of word choices in lieu of honesty, goodness, and obedience to God.

  1. The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) offers, in order, fidelity, loyalty, and knowledge of God.
  2. The Revised English Bible (1989) offers, in order, good faith, loyalty, and acknowledgment of God.
  3. The New Revised Standard Version (1989) offers, in order, faithfulness, loyalty, and knowledge of God.
  4. Robert Alter’s The Hebrew Bible (2019) offers, in order, truth, trust, and knowledge of the LORD.

I will unpack the three terms, in order.

  1. Truth/faithfulness/good faith/honesty refers to the trustworthiness expected of a judge, as in Exodus 18:21.
  2. Trust/loyalty/goodness refers to fidelity in human relationships, as in 1 Samuel 20:15.
  3. Knowledge of God/obedience to God/acknowledgment of God refers to marital intimacy.  The metaphors of marriage, sexual fidelity, and divorce are prominent in the Book of Hosea.

In other words, the covenantal relationship between God and Isaiah was broken.  Israel had broken it.

The priesthood was corrupt, too.  Some priests were devout and honest, of course, but corruption was rife.

Exegetes whose writings I have consulted disagree with each other about the alien or bastard children in 5:7.

  1. These offspring may be alien because of Israelite intermarriage with foreigners.
  2. But, O reader, do not forget the pervasive metaphors of marriage and divorce in the Book of Hosea.  We read that God has “cast off” Israel for sustained, collective infidelity to the divine covenant.
  3. The most likely explanation is that both answers apply.

The heart of 4:1-5:7 may reside in 5:4a:

Their habits do not let them

Turn back to their God;….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Alternative translations of the Hebrew word translated as “habits” include:

  1. Deeds (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989),
  2. Misdeeds (The Revised English Bible, 1989), and
  3. Acts (Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, 2019).

Each of these translations has something to recommend it.  Yet I prefer “habits.”

Habitual behavior of the population had broken the covenant.

Human beings are creatures of habits.  May we, therefore, learn and nurture good habits, both individually and collectively.

I write this post at a particular moment, therefore certain issues occupy my mind.  The COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives needlessly around the world.  Whether to get vaccinated with a proven vaccine is, in the minds of many people with the option to get vaccinated, a politically partisan issue.  Public health policy, which should be just a matter of following science and saving lives, has become a matter of cynical politics for certain elected officials.  Varieties of hatred, often wrapped in Christian rhetoric, are on the rise.  Authoritarianism and objectively-inaccurate conspiracy theories are increasingly popular with most of those who identify with one of the two major political parties in the United States of America.  And speaking the objective truth about reality, as some members of that party do, is risky, if one hops to retain one’s leadership position within that party.

Bad habits separate individuals from each other.  Bad habits separate individuals, cultures, and societies from God.  Bad habits harm the whole.  Whatever I do, for example, affects others.  This is a statement of mutuality.  We all stand before God, completely dependent on grace.  In that context, each person is responsible to and for all other people.

Society is people.  Society shapes its members.  Those members also influence society.  When enough people change their minds, societal consensus shifts.

Their habits do not let them

Turn back to their God;….

This need not apply to any group, although it does.  Members of any such group can change their habits, therefore, their fates.  They can.  Will they?  Will we?





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