Hosea on Israel’s relationship with the Almighty

In an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks posted this week (April 16th 2015), he makes some references to the prophet Hosea. In reading this article I was again reminded of the many references in the Tanakh that declare that HaShem never really left His Chosen People, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but rather separated Himself from them at times, arguably as part of His loving discipline.

Hosea makes it very clear that the the ‘betrothal’, the marriage relationship between YHVH and Israel is an eternal one, that YHVH is and will always be the Husband of Israel.

Here are some excerpts from the article that help clarify this point:

“The inner history of humanity is in part the history of the idea of love. And at some stage a new idea makes its appearance in biblical Israel. We can trace it best in a highly suggestive passage in the book of one of the great prophets of the Bible, Hosea.

Hosea lived in the eighth century BCE. The kingdom had been divided since the death of Solomon.  The northern kingdom in particular, where Hosea lived, had lapsed after a period of peace and prosperity into lawlessness, idolatry and chaos. Between 747 and 732 BCE there were no less than five kings, the result of a series of intrigues and bloody struggles for power. The people, too, had become lax:
“There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder” (Hos. 4: 1-2).

Like other prophets, Hosea knew that Israel’s destiny depended on its sense of mission. Faithful to God, it was able to do extraordinary things: survive in the face of empires, and generate a society unique in the ancient world, of the equal dignity of all as fellow citizens under the sovereignty of the Creator of heaven and earth. Faithless, however, it was just one more minor power in the ancient Near East, whose chances of survival against larger political predators were minimal.

What makes the book of Hosea remarkable is the episode with which it begins.  God tells the prophet to marry a prostitute, and see what it feels like to have a love betrayed. Only then will Hosea have a glimpse into God’s sense of betrayal by the people of Israel.

Having liberated them from slavery and brought them into their land, God saw them forget the past, forsake the covenant, and worship strange gods.

Yet He cannot abandon them despite the fact that they have abandoned Him.

It is a powerful passage, conveying the astonishing assertion that more than the Jewish people love God, God loves the Jewish people.

The history of Israel is a love story between the faithful God and his often faithless people. Though God is sometimes angry, He cannot but forgive.

He will take them on a kind of second honeymoon, and they will renew their marriage vows:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her . . .
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will know the Lord.” (Hosea 2: 16-22)”

It is possible that that reference to ‘leading her (Israel) into the desert’ is a reference to the exiles that Israel has experienced. Yet, all these exiles were only temporary for those who were found faithful. The faithful returned from Assyria, they returned from Babylon, and they have in the last 60+ years returned, and are returning, from the final exile to the ‘four corners’ of the earth[1].

Rabbi Sacks goes on to say:

“… One verse in the midst of this prophecy deserves the closest scrutiny. It contains two complex metaphors that must be unraveled strand by strand:

“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call Me ‘my husband’ [ishi];
you will no longer call Me ‘my master’ [
baali]. (Hosea 2: 18)

This is a double pun. Baal, in biblical Hebrew, meant ‘a husband’, but in a highly specific sense – namely, ‘master, owner, possessor, controller.’ It signalled physical, legal and economic dominance.

It was also the name of the Canaanite god – whose prophets Elijah challenged in the famous confrontation at Mount Carmel. Baal (often portrayed as a bull) was the god of the storm, who defeated Mot, the god of sterility and death. Baal was the rain that impregnated the earth and made it fertile. The religion of Baal is the worship of god-as-power.

Hosea contrasts this kind of relationship with the other Hebrew word for husband, ish. Here he is recalling the words of the first man to the first woman:

“This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman [ishah], Because she was taken from Man [ish].” (Gen. 2: 23)

Here the male-female relationship is predicated on something quite other than power and dominance, ownership and control.

Man and woman confront one another in sameness and difference. Each is an image of the other, yet each is separate and distinct.

The only relationship able to bind them together without the use of force is marriage-as-covenant – a bond of mutual loyalty and love in which each makes a pledge to the other to serve one another.

Not only is this a radical way of reconceptualizing the relationship between man and woman. It is also, implies Hosea, the way we should think of the relationship between human beings and God.

God reaches out to humanity not as power – the storm, the thunder, the rain – but as love, and not an abstract, philosophical love but a deep and abiding passion that survives all the disappointments and betrayals.

Israel may not always behave lovingly toward God, says Hosea, but God loves Israel and will never cease to do so.”[2]

The Tanakh repeatedly states that Israel shall be restored to the Land, to Eretz Israel, not because they necessarily deserve to be, but because this return, and re-establishment of their ‘betrothal’ to their Husband, is for His Name’s sake. 

The Almighty declares His sovereignty and His eternal love by returning His People to the Land of Israel.

Today this understanding carries little favour in the Hellenistic Christian world which embraces Replacement Theology. I have a chapter on this issue in my book ‘Doctrinal Pitfalls of Hellensim’ – see http://www.amazon.com/Doctrinal-Pitfalls-Hellenism-Studies-Greek-ebook/dp/B00DO17CK8/

 

 

 

[1] see my article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ – http://goo.gl/hwBeoO

[2] – quoted from “http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/16788#.VTGfkGSqqkp

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From Joseph, through Judah: Foretelling Messiah

The ability to recognize our sin, to take responsibility for it and to repent is at the core of what is meant by the idea of a Messiah.” 

 “… the courage to admit guilt, to take responsibility, to change. This is the lesson that the Messiah will one day teach the world. Man controls his destiny. No matter what mistakes he has made, man can fix them.” –  Rabbi Ari Kahn [1]

The Messiah is a prophet, a prophet who has/will declare perfectly the will of the Almighty and teach us of His Ways, as per Psalm 119.

Therefore, the Messiah will show us

  • what true repentance is;
  • what it means to be truly and fully obedient to the Almighty;
  • to truly ‘forgive those who trespass against us’’;
  • to speak into the world in an attempt to heal it (Tikkun HaOlam); and
  • to demonstrate to the point of accepting death that ‘no greater love hath a man than to lay down his life for his friends’.

For more on the Messiah from a Hebraic Perspective listen to our Podcasts – Part 1 and Part 2

This weeks Torah Portion (Genesis 37-40) contains so much wisdom and is so heavy with prophetic vision and typology.

There is a well known Jewish saying: ““the actions of the forefathers serve as a portent (a sign or warning) for their descendants.” That is, we can learn so much about both how to live today and about what is coming tomorrow, from studying the narratives of the Hebrew/Jewish patriarchs.

This Torah portion begins with: And Jacob settled in the land in which his father dwelled.” – Gen 37:1

Today, Jacob’s children have again settled in the land in which his father dwelled.

The next verse reads:These are the generations of Jacob; Joseph was seventeen years old ...” – Gen 37:2

Note how immediately Joseph is brought into the picture. Joseph’s whole life is such a strong ‘type’ of Messiah. That is, there is so much of his life that acts as a sign to the future coming of Messiah [2].

Notice also in the very next verse that Jacob is now referred to by his name Israel.

“Israel loved Joseph more than any of his sons …– Gen 37:3

Perhaps this indicates that the love that Jacob/Israel has for his son Joseph is a national love, a love that all Israel should share, a yearning not just for the leadership and wisdom of Joseph to return to lead the people, through Messiah, but a love for their brother, for their neighbour and for their God, so powerfully declared through the example of Joseph [3].

But much goes wrong first!

Much time and heartache and loss occurs between the birth and exile of Joseph, and the redemption of Israel’s family through this same Joseph.

The favourite son is scorned by his brothers. He is handed over to the pagans and endures much suffering. But ultimately he rises up to stand at the right hand of the highest authority in the land.

Ultimately, his position of great authority, acting as the principal agent of the King (the Pharaoh of Egypt) will bring redemption and salvation to his brothers who rejected him, and to his entire family (as well as to many Gentiles – Egyptians).

Note that there is an intriguing break in the narrative though.

The last verse of Genesis 37 informs us that Joseph has been sold into slavery in Egypt.

 “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” – Gen 37:36

Then in the first verse of Genesis 39 (NOT 38), the story of Joseph in Egypt and his rise to great authority and ultimate redemption is begun.

“Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.” – Gen 39:1[4]

So what is ‘in the gap’? The story of Judah and his illicit union with Tamar, which produces the line of King David and the King Messiah.

Why is this story placed here as an insert, as a pause in the narrative of Joseph, the great ‘type of Messiah’?

Perhaps as a ‘portent’, as a sign for the future, so that we may consider what it may be telling us.

The son of Israel, chosen by HaShem as a Messiah (an ‘anointed one’) to bring the redemption and shalom is rejected by his brothers and ‘disappears’ from view for a time. While he is ‘away’ in a ‘far land’, Jacob grieves for his loss and much tension and conflict arises between the brothers, especially against Judah. Ultimately they all leave the Land of Israel to ‘find’ their Messiah, their savior Joseph dressed and disguised as an Egyptian (Gentile), and through his efforts they find salvation from the famine and are ultimately returned to the Land.

At the end of the Genesis 38 and the story of Judah we read of his repentance.

It is then that the story returns to focus of Joseph and we read of the redemption of the people of Israel; the restoration of Jacob/Israel with his son Joseph, the restoration of Joseph’s brothers with Joseph and finally the  return of all Israel to the Land of Israel.

We also see during this time that Joseph is involved in the Gentile world, that the Gentile world is greatly blessed by his involvement, his leadership and example.

Could this narrative be a further ‘sign’ that after the last great exile and dispersion from the Land of Israel (a direct result of the prophetic fiat of God through Moses on the plains of Moab – see Deut 29-30), the Jewish people will return and their Messiah will be revealed to them. Jacob/Israel will learn that he was not dead, that he has been given great authority and that when the time is right he will bring full restoration and real shalom to Israel and all the nations of the earth!

May Messiah come speedily!

For more on the return to israel in these present/last days see my article: ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’.

Paul Herring
December 2012

[3] And of course through the example of Yeshua (Jesus), who a number of famous Rabbi’s and Professors have called the greatest ethical teacher ever. This was certainly the view of Prof. Joseph Klausner, of Hebrew University (retired in 1949) who was an historian of the Second Temple period.

[4] For a great article of this fascinating story I strongly recommend the article ‘The Light of Messiah’ by Rabbi Ari Kahn at Aish.com – see http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/48914512.html