Hosea is an often neglected yet important book of the Old Testament that sheds great insight into God’s relationship with His people. While the actions God requested of Hosea seem strange at first glance, they are a picture of the extent by which God woos His people to stay faithful to their marital vows in relation to our status as the bride. In his helpful commentary on Hosea as part of the Fortress Press Hermeneia series, Hans Walter Wolff investigates that relationship as well as many other important elements that should be noted when reading and studying Hosea.
The Hermeneia series is one I had heard of for some time yet have only recently engaged in my studies on various books of the Bible. My first experience with this series was the commentary on the Song of Songs which I found very helpful. Wolff’s commentary on Hosea was equally as valuable and I found the approach of this series to be scholarly yet accessible as well as engaging the relevant issues of the book and text without being too in-depth in the analysis.
All solid commentaries should begin with a quality introduction to the book being addressed and Wolff provides such an introduction. He explores the time period in which Hosea ministered, known details about the prophet himself, linguistic elements of the book to include the genre of prophetic speech, matters of theological importance, and the transmission of Hosea’s prophetic message. With this as a background, the reader of this commentary has a better understanding of what was transpiring during that period of Israel’s history, who the messenger of God was, what he was relaying from God to the people and why, as well as grasping the overarching theological message found in Hosea.
Given that God called Hosea to demonstrate via marriage to a prostitute as a reflection of how Israel was behaving towards their own relationship with God, I was immediately interested in how Wolff exegeted the concept of betrothal that is the root of the marriage process by which God’s people are in relationship with Him. The process of betrothal is certainly one that is not in vogue these days although the resurgence of courtship somewhat reflects how betrothal works. In short, betrothal is a staged marriage process by which a bride is selected by the father of the groom. Upon selection of the bride for the bridegroom, a ceremony takes place whereby the bride and bridegroom are considered as a married couple without the physical marital benefits of marriage. Preceding the consummation of the marriage at the final stage of this process, the bride and bridegroom are to remain faithful to one another. When we find God declaring that Israel has prostituted herself after other gods, this is a sign of God’s people not being faithful to their betrothal marriage vows.
In Hosea 2:20 God declares “I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.” This declaration by God speaks of a future day when Israel will return to a place of faithfulness to her God. Wolff rightly notes in regards to this important passage that “The description of this day of salvation does not point first of all to the new conditions of life, but rather to the proclaimed new confession of Israel.” He further notes “this saying announces that Israel will not just respect Yahweh somewhat reluctantly, since he is its legal lord, but it knows itself to be placed in a completely new, loving relationship with him.” Of further interest is the polemical nature of the term Lord which as noted by Wolff, “is the same Hebrew word that denotes the Canaanite god, Baal. This undertone is intentional. It presupposes the existence of a syncretism in which Yahweh was worshiped as Baal.”
This excellent commentary by Wolff really strikes to the heart of the message of Hosea. Israel was literally whoring herself after other gods, after other Baals. These gods have become lord in their life in place of Yahweh. God, as He often did in the prophetic books, promised renewal of relationship between Himself and His people, a time when they would forsake those Baals and renew their marriage vows with their God that were declared at Mt. Sinai when they said “All that you have said we will do.”
As a result of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God’s chastised them by removing them from the land of promise. Restoration was promised at a future time. Wolff aptly notes how this entire episode is a reflection of a future Restorer, namely Jesus Christ who would come to provide the means by which we can be restored in relationship to God. This is noted in Hosea 13:9 where God declares “Israel, thou hast plunged thyself into misfortune, but in me alone is thy salvation.” I fully appreciated how Wolff consistently brings such statements back to the cross. He correctly states “Jesus of Nazareth did not come to establish safety and security but rather to call to discipleship and faith. The New Testament community proclaimed that the whole world can find life in him, but he who shuns him is headed for death.” Israel did their fair bit of shunning but God proved faithful to His promises and provided a way of restoration through the cross for His people. Wolff does a tremendous job of relating how the message of Hosea is relevant for us today.
I highly recommend this commentary for all believers. Hosea is a book replete with relational language that points to our own proclivity to stray from our Bridegroom. Wolff rightly notes this repeated message found in Hosea and urges the reader to make the needed connections between that time and ours and to stay faithful to our Lord and Savior as we await his return. As such, this is a helpful commentary on Hosea that brings to life this excellent Old Testament book.
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