Hosea’s family: biography, allegory, parable, or something else?

Minor Prophet Slides_HOSEA.png

One of the key interpretive issues in the book of Hosea is whether the account of Hosea’s family – his marriage to Gomer and three children – in chapters 1 and 3 is based in true events from the prophet’s life or whether it is a prophetic parable or allegory with a teaching purpose yet not based in real-life events.

James Luther Mays, in his commentary on Hosea writes, “Disagreement about the nature of this family narrative is as old as the interpretation of the early Church Fathers” (Mays, Hosea 23).

Claude Mariottini, with whom I studied the book of Hosea in seminary, catalogs the different views on Hosea’s family life, and the proponents of each view, as follows:

  • Inconclusive – The prophetic symbolism behind the marriage makes reconstruction impossible (Gerhard von Rad)
  • Historical – The marriage is an actual experience in the life of the prophet: Gomer was a prostitute before marriage (C. Hassell Bullock and James D. Newsome)
  • Proleptic – Gomer lapsed into prostitution after marriage (Walter Harrelson)
  • Cult functionary – Hosea married a sacred prostitute (Theodore H. Robinson)
  • Idolatry – Gomer’s harlotry was spiritual unfaithfulness to God (Robert H. Pfeiffer)
  • Gomer was not Hosea’s wife but only a concubine (Thomas Aquinas)
  • Literary device – Hosea’s marriage was only a literary device to convey a message (Hugo Gressman)
  • Vision – This marriage never occurred, but was only a vision or dream of the prophet (Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg)
  • Parable – The marriage is only a parable to illustrate the sins of Israel (Jerome and John Calvin)
  • Allegory – The marriage is only an allegory invented by Hosea to illustrate the love of God (various Jewish rabbis)
  • Drama – The marriage of Hosea was a stage play (Yehezkel Kaufmann)

With all of these various views presented, the case could be made that at one level it makes no difference to the interpretation of Hosea which view we hold. However, I find James Luther Mays illuminating here. He writes:

Is the story an allegory whose only reality is the meaning, or do the marriage and births represent actual episodes in the life of Hosea? The majority of recent commentators agree that the latter is correct….The story reports the real. And yet it is not, indeed cannot be, approached as though it were biography. The interest is not in Hosea and the experiences of his life, and perhaps it was the recognition of this which led to the allegorical approach before prophetic symbolism was properly understood. There is a severe concentration on the divine word through the prophet’s family life….The narrative is kerygmatic, not biographical….The details of Hosea’s family life are hidden behind the word-function of the narrative.

As Mays suggest, Hosea’s prophecies in chapters 1 and 3 brings together real-life events, while presenting those events through a theological lens so that a specific message from God might be communicated.

Hosea, part 1 [God in the Ruins]

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our series, “God in the Ruins: The Message of the Minor Prophets.” My wife, Kelly, and I co-preached a message on the first three chapters of the prophet Hosea.

Hosea is an interesting book of the Bible, and one of the longest of these shorter prophetic books. Hosea spoke during the time of the divided kingdom, primarily addressing the northern kingdom of Israel from about 750-724 BC.

You can watch our message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

I’m also including below a chart that I pulled together related to the kings of Israel that overlap with the ministry of Hosea.

King Dates bc References
Jeroboam II 786-746 2 Kings 14:23-29
Zechariah 746-745 2 Kings 15:8-12
Shallum 745 2 Kings 15:13-16
Menahem 752-738 2 Kings 15:17-22
Pekahiah 738-737 2 Kings 15:23-26
Pekah
(may have co-ruled Gilead since 752)
737-732 2 Kings 15:27-31
Hoshea 732-724 2 Kings 17:1-6
Fall of Samaria 722 2 Kings 17:7-23

Read More »

A Prayer for the Church from Hosea 1-3

Almighty God,
Our Creator and the Lover of our Souls,
You have called us to Yourself
by Your grace and truth
that we might know You, live for You,
and show You to the world.
We admit that we often fall into temptation and sin,
losing our way like an adulterous spouse,
straying in our hearts from You and Your love.
Thank You that, like a dedicated spouse and an ever-faithful lover,
You continue to pursue us.
Come now, Lord, and forgive us,
heal us,
transform us
and restore us through Your steadfast love.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

The Weekend Wanderer: 11 January 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

114587“After Soleimani’s Death, Iran’s Christians Brace for ‘Tsunami of Disaster and Opportunity'” – Last week, most of the international attention was on the events and rising tensions between the US and Iran. One of the questions that rose in my mind immediately was, “What does this mean for the astounding movement of God, brining many Persian-background people to Christ both inside and outside Iran?” Well, it seems from this report by Christianity Today, it brings both potential disaster and opportunity. I hope you will join me both in reading this article and praying for our brothers and sisters.

 

journal-fountain-pen“In-Depth Answers to Ten Big Questions About Spiritual Formation” – When I first surrendered my life to Christ, I pored over Scripture and any writer I could find who helped me understand the life with God better. I was so hungry for God that anything someone else recommended would immediately become a part of my discipleship practice or reading.  I encountered Christ through the charismatic movement and so one influential stream of my spiritual life was charismatic Christianity. However, I grew up in a Presbyterian church so another one of the influential streams of my spiritual life was very Word-centered. Sometimes, these streams seemed to run in opposite directions, but when they converged it was a beautiful thing. It was Richard Foster, and those working with him with Renovaré, who first helped me see how valuable it could be to have different streams of Christian tradition come together in our lives as part of an overall spiritual formation trajectory with God. This article hosted at Dallas Willard’s website talks about the nature of spiritual formation in the Christian life around ten big questions we grapple with on that topic. Some of this may seem a bit dated, but it is still helpful in considering what is important in our growth with the Triune God.

 

Notre Dame“Notre Dame Cathedral ‘not saved yet’ and still at risk of collapse” – One of the biggest stories of last year in terms of architecture and church life was the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in April 2019, as well as the billions of euros pledged to rebuilt it. This past week, however, the French general, Jean-Louis Georgelin,  assigned to oversee the task of rebuilding said, “The cathedral is still in a state of peril.”

 

114509“United Methodist Church Announces Proposal to Split Over Gay Marriage” – Another monumental story in religion around the world came in March 2019, when the global gathering of the United Methodist Church, in a highly conflicted vote, affirmed the traditional view of marriage. Since that vote, discussions have arisen to part ways between the more progressive western church and the more traditional church in the rest of the world. This past week, plans emerged for a mutually agreed upon parting of ways that has widespread support from all parties, at least preliminarily, with more details to emerge on January 13. So long to the “United” Methodist Church as fault lines emerge in various denominational bodies over these sorts of issues.

 

Lois Irene Evans“Funeral of Lois Evans, wife of Tony Evans, set for their Dallas church” – Lois Evans, wife of Bible teacher and pastor Tony Evans, passed away on December 30 after being diagnosed with biliary cancer. Lois Evans was married to Tony Evans for 49 years and was the founder of Pastors’ Wives Ministry, author of many books, and leader of Christian ministry in various settings. The celebration of Lois’ home-going is viewable online here, including many moving tributes and worship led by Kirk Franklin.

 

rabbi-chaim-rottenberg“Rabbi who survived machete attack has a unifying message” – From CNN: “The New York rabbi who survived an attack at his home during Hanukkah urged people to put aside differences and ‘work side by side to eradicate hatred.’ Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, leader of Congregation Netzach Yisroel, made his first public comments since the December 28 attack during a celebration on the seventh day of Hanukkah in the hamlet of Monsey. Five people were injured, including his son.”

 

Music: Donny McClurkin with Richard Smallwood, “Total Praise,” from Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Stepping Forward into 2020 with Dedication and Praise

Emmaus RoadThis week, I am sharing some spiritual practices for reflecting on the previous year and stepping forward into the new year.

Stepping Forward with Dedication

Related to this focus on God is a dedication of our lives from the inside out. Psalm 86 is a one of my favorite psalms. Verse 11 has become particularly important for me.

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
(Psalm 86:11)

That phrase about God giving us “an undivided heart” is a powerful picture of what it means to live with focus on God and dedication of life. It means that the center of our being – our heart; the place from which our life flows – is dedicated to God entirely. There is a unity – an integrity – to it.

Francois Fenelon describes that in this way:

What God asks of us is a will which is no longer divided between him and any creature. It is a will pliant in his hands…which wants without reserve whatever he wants and which never wants under any pretext anything which he does not want.[1]

The New Testament describes this a life given over to God with the word “discipleship.” Discipleship has God as its focus, and gathers our desires around God in such a way that our everyday living is ordered by God through the power of the Holy Spirit. We live dedicated to God from the inside out, both in our desires and in our decisions.

Dallas Willard says:

The priorities and intentions – the heart or inner attitudes – of disciples are forever the same. In the heart of a disciple there is a desire, and there is decision or settled intent. The disciple of Christ desires above all else to be like him…[and there is] the decision to devote oneself to becoming like Christ.[2]

So we enter into this year not only with focus upon God, but also with our whole lives dedicated to God.  We want an undivided heart – a life that has integrity in the fullest sense – both in the form of our desires and our decisions as disciples of Jesus.

So we can ask ourselves, “How will I order my life as a disciple of Christ this year? How will I bring my desires to God as part of my discipleship? How will I make decisions this year that reflection my discipleship to Christ? Is there any area of my life that is held back from Christ, such as time, finances, relationships, work?

Jesus said this: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).

Moving Forward with Praise

The final word of the psalms, as seen in Psalm 150, is praise. Psalm 150 provides the capstone of the entire structure of the psalms. It is a psalm of high praise.

Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
(Psalm 150:1-2, 6)

As we head into the year, we remember that this is more than the passing of time, more than the setting of priorities or establishing of resolutions, and more than the lament, confession, or thanksgiving. All of life, according to Scripture, is worship. We live in the daily presence of the Living God and He is worthy of praise. The end of our days, according to the book of Revelation, will rise up in the heavenly scenes of worship in the presence of God.

Julian of Norwich says,

All of the strength that may come through prayer comes from the goodness of God, for he is the goodness of everything. For the highest form of prayer is to the goodness of God. It comes down to us to meet our humblest needs. It gives life to our souls and makes them live and grow in grace and virtues. It is near in nature and swift in grace, for it is the same grace which our souls seek and always will.[3]

The sum total of our life is a response of worship to God. As the calendar turns from December 31, 2019, to January 1, 2020, we continue to respond to the ultimate goodness of God with a life of worship.

And so, perhaps the end of the year can be more than just a celebration of an apple sliding down a pole in Times Square or a thronging party with friends and family. None of this is bad, but might we remember there is something more: worship of the Eternal Creator who has made us for Himself.

So, what are your plans for the New Year? In the midst of all that is happening as we count down the days and hours into the new year, let me suggest setting aside some space and time in our lives to look back and step forward.

 


[1] Francois Fénelon, “A Will No Longer Divided,” in Devotional Classics, ed. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), 49.

[2] Dallas Willard, “The Cost of Nondiscipleship,” Devotional Classics, 15.

[3] Julian of Norwich, “The Highest Form of Prayer,” in Devotional Classics, 77.

Stepping Forward into 2020 with Focus

Emmaus RoadThis week, I am sharing some spiritual practices for reflecting on the previous year and stepping forward into the new year.

Stepping Forward with Focus

Just as we look back at the previous year gone by with thanksgiving, lament, and repentance, it is important to step forward into the coming year in a personally engaged and meaningful way.

First, let me encourage us to step forward into the new year with focus. Psalm 63 is a beloved psalm reflecting both our need for God and the power of right focus upon God.

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)

The psalmist is apparently in a difficult time, an important moment, but it is clear that the psalmist is stepping forward into that moment with focus on God.

Some will say that the most important thing we can do is to put “first things first.” As we step into this year, there is nothing more important – nothing that should more truly be a first thing – than God Himself. Our focus must be on Him.

Jesus also emphasized this when He said:

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

Entering into the new year, we must consider how to keep our focus on God. We need to consider what it looks like to prioritize relationship with God in the midst of all the relationships in our lives. We want to establish some specific ways to do that this year that more than a resolution, but is a prioritization of the Living God in our live.

A good question to ask ourselves is: what is one thing I will do to prioritize life with God this year?