Q&R “What’s the Deal with Hosea’s Angry God?” Brad Jersak
I’m working through Romans right now because I want to understand Paul’s theology. I am also reading through Wright’s simple “For Everyone” commentary and John Stott’s commentary.
In all of my reading, I am trying to step outside of my human, 21st century, North American understanding of justice (and justification), instead looking at the text as God’s plan for setting the world back to the way he designed it to function, which will ultimately culminate in a new heaven and a new earth.
In reading Stott on Romans 2:6, “God will give to each person according to what He has done,” I was directed towards Hosea 12:2. I was instantly curious because you so often reference Hosea. But what I found in Hosea 12-14 was kinda scary. I was careful to read through to the end, because I wanted to see God’s ultimate plan, which is certainly revealed in Hosea 14:4 (NLT):
- The Lord says,
- “Then I will heal you of your faithlessness;
- my love will know no bounds,
- for my anger will be gone forever.”
- But what is a poor guy to do with Hosea 13:16 (NLT): The people of Samaria
- must bear the consequences of their guilt
- because they rebelled against their God.
- They will be killed by an invading army,
- their little ones dashed to death against the ground,
- their pregnant women ripped open by swords.”???
I recognize the prophetic utterance in 13:14, which Paul quotes in 1 Cor 15:55, but that verse actually ends with “I will take no pity on them”. Obviously the work of the cross ultimately contradicts this.
But the angry (I would say completely crazy, indecisive, perhaps schizophrenic) God that Hosea presents us with in these chapters is so completely different from the perfect revelation of Abba as seen on the cross. So was Hosea wrong? If so, how can I trust/quote the things that Hosea says that do reflect Abba, such as 14:4?
This is an important question that can be applied to much of the Old Testament. I think (but am willing to be corrected) that this is different from how I would approach Psalm 22, which was more of an indirect prophesy, and was in large part a poet expressing his personal feelings to God and working out his own understanding of Abba.
And Hosea is a great place to start. We are not welcome into Hosea without Jesus as our Rabbi, nor can be read it without reference to the big picture of what Hosea is doing (not just saying) himself and how this fits into the broader context of the 12 minor Prophets (capital P to indicate books, not persons) as a recognized collection.
I see these dynamics at work:
Hosea’s Dramatic Rhetorical Scheme
Big picture, Hosea is one of our clearest pictures of the radical freedom of God to forgive sin without punishment, payment, sacrifice or even repentance. How do you emphasize such unilateral mercy prior to any response? You do what Hosea does:
1. You dramatically emphasize how wicked they are. The Hebrew in chapter 1 is really blunt. There’s no justice in the land. Just corruption, abuse, exploitation and violence. The whole nation is rotten, adulterous, wayward. She’s a whore and her citizens are unwanted bastard children.
2. You dramatically emphasize the levels of retributive judgment such sins deserve. Under their covenant Law (Deuteronomy 28, for example), such sin is worthy of invasion, exile and eradication. Under the Law, their condition is hopeless–their case is beyond hope and they are without mercy.
3. This sets you up for the shocker of all shockers: What is God to do? Watch Hosea! That’s what God will do! He will take the adulterous woman back and adopt her children. He will remember them as a child and his heart will turn within him. And if they will not repent, God will! … meaning that he will trump every last law of retribution to freely show them his unconditional love, even prior to repentance. And then he will send prophets with such good news that their hearts will be turned (not just their behavior).
4. Ultimately, this series of events is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, through whom we will see that GOD IS FREE TO FORGIVE. That’s the gospel in Hosea.
Hosea’s Radical Revelation of God
Hosea describes God as they had known him through the Law and even announces his edicts from that God’s perspective.
He paints us a picture of the ugly, retributive monster-God of their understanding and even prophesies in that God’s name according to their limited Mosaic expectations.
With that image of wrath clearly before their eyes, Hosea unveils an entirely new and radically different image of God in prophetic acts that are a major advancement in the revelation of the nature of God. Hosea’s little book bridges us from Moses’ revelation to Christ’s revelation. You see the transition in those few hinge chapters of the OT.
Hosea virtually turns from the God of Moses and begins to direct his gaze at the Cross, where Christ is seen forgiving and reconciling just as Hosea has already embodied God’s love by forgiving and reconciling his woman and her children to himself.
How do we trust Hosea when so much of what he says is contradicted in the message of the Gospel?
1. By never reading it apart from the clarifying lenses of Christ as our Emmaus Road rabbi and his gospel.
2. By seeing how those ugly pictures of God fit into Hosea’s broader rhetorical-redemption scheme.
3. By seeing how even God’s judgment of the nations is subsumed in his intent to redeem the nations
Re: that last point, that’s where the 12 minor prophets come in:
Nahum prophesies destruction on Nineveh, Jonah prophesies Nineveh’s redemption. Why these contradictory judgments? They are for the people of God to overhear:
The judgments against their oppressors function to remind the Jews that they are not ultimately abandoned and that their vindication awaits.
And the redemption of their oppressors reminds them of their role as Abraham’s seed to bless the world until all the nations stream into the New Jerusalem. This also is highlighted in Isaiah.
How can both be true? Wait for it. Watch for it. There’s a Messiah coming who will fulfill these prophecies in himself.
And while the initial context of Hosea 6 may be read as the people’s cynicism, in Christ, it is fulfilled with utmost sincerity:
- “Come, let us return to the Lord.
- He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us; he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
- After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
- Let us acknowledge the Lord;
- let us press on to acknowledge him.
- As surely as the sun rises, he will appear;
- he will come to us like the winter rains,
- like the spring rains that water the earth.