Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Theme of Love in the Book of Hosea

The concept of love is an important theme in the book of Hosea. One of Israel’s problems was that her love had been misdirected. Instead of keeping her covenant vow of exclusive love towards her “first husband, ”Yahweh, the one true God (Hos 2:7), Israel in the pre-exilic period turned to other gods and nations in a misguided effort to ensure her survival. Instead of trusting in Yahweh and his provision and protection, Israel decided to act like a prostitute, chasing after lovers whom she mistakenly thought would provide her with bread, water, wool, flax, oil, and drink (Hos 2:5). She chased after her lovers, but forgot the Lord (Hos 2:13). Her love for Yahweh was as fleeting as morning mist and dew (Hos 6:4). She loved the Baals and other idols instead of Yahweh (Hos 2:8, 13; 9:10; 11:2; 13:1). This betrayal would prove to be counterproductive with God punishing Israel for her lewdness, her former lovers (Egypt and Assyria—see Hos 5:13; 7:11; 8:9; 12:1; 14:3) impotent to save her (Hos 2:10).

Contrasting with Israel’s unfaithfulness stands Yahweh’s great love for his people. At least three different metaphors are used in the book of Hosea to illustrate God’s love for Israel.

Firstly, God’s covenant relationship with Israel is like a marriage, and despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, God still loved Israel. Yahweh’s plan was to woo Israel back after the exile, and betroth her again to himself (Hos 2:15, 19–20). It is an amazing form of love that could forgive such great unfaithfulness on the part of Israel, the wayward wife of Yahweh. In large part, the message of the book of Hosea is that “Yahweh loves the people of Israel, even though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins” (Hos 3:1). Indeed, this husband and wife relationship between Yahweh and Israel was dramatized through Hosea’s marriage and remarriage to Gomer (Hos 1:2–3; 3:1–3). Hosea’s rocky relationship with Gomer was a dramatized prophecy of the breakdown of the marriage between God and Israel as well as their future reconciliation (Hos 2:19–20; 14:4). At the time of reconciliation, the name of Baal (which means master or husband) would no longer be used of God, given its negative association with Baal the idol, but solely the term אישׁי my husband (Hos 2:16–17).

The second major metaphor of God’s love in the book of Hosea is the touching metaphor of a father’s love for his son in Hos 11:1–3. God pictures himself as a father who called his child, who taught him how to walk, who cuddled and healed his son when he was sick. Yet “the more that [God] called out to [Israel], the more [he] turned away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and burning offerings to idols.”

The third major metaphor of love in the book of Hosea is that of a farmer who takes care of his domestic animals. God pictures himself as a gentle farmer who leads his treasured animals, eases their yolk, and feeds them lovingly (Hos 11:4). God’s heart was deeply pained to see his people destroyed in judgment, and his compassion would spare Israel from total destruction (11:8–9).

No comments: