Letters on a Page
Thinking/praying about the historical, theological and literary contexts of biblical passages is pretty darn important if your hope is to grow in love for God.
Well, have you ever thought why it is that God decided to make the primary medium of His Self-disclosure to us to be through specific details and letters on a page (yes, pixels on a screen) rather than numbers or code of some kind? Or that He even chose to have a Book at all?
Perhaps God chose words because they convey thoughts and personal information which, in turn, hold potential to convey emotion and therefore form relationships?
Numbers can’t do that.
Whatever the reason, I figure that it’s good to start a study by recognising that words forming different styles of literature, as part of this, history and theological motif, are a big deal to God and packed full of meaning.
So, coming to study Hosea needs thought in each of these areas to really delve into its ‘riches’ (Col.3:16), otherwise it’s like buying a top-of-the-range DSLR camera for thousands of pounds and then only using it for selfies!
Hosea’s History (1:1)
The historical context that this prophecy lands in is circa 760-725 BC – let’s say 800 years before Jesus’ birth. It spanned the reign of 4 Kings of Judah – Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah – and of Jeroboam II as King of Israel.
Because the Bible tells us that Hosea’s prophetic office spanned the reigns of Uzziah through to Hezekiah, we know that Hosea’s ministry was significant, effectively lasting 45 years! (This should in itself help us to empathise with Hosea as a young man on honeymoon, as a Father and head of his household through to being a Grandfather with stories and scars to show).
Hosea’s prophecy landed in a period of dramatic change for the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Both kingdoms were experiencing immense prosperity and growth, politically and economically, and the corresponding spiritual decline is a massive part of the story in which the prophecy was announced. (It’s like the cyclical principal in the book of Judges of being blessed by God, forgetting God, displeasing God, judgment announced in grace, repentance, blessings, forgetfulness…you get the idea).
Concurrent with this was the wider Assyrian Empire that was also in huge decline following the death of mighty Adad-nirai III (783 B.C.) which made the taking of new territory possible at that time by Israel and Judah.
Having an understanding of even a few of these historical contexts sheds light on the book of Hosea, unlocking both major and more subtle shades of revelation of the Father’s heart!
Hosea’s Literary Style
Hosea writes using a chiastic structure which, basically, means using repetition to emphasise a point or a theme. Think about it like the way we would emphasise something in bold or by using italics or by changing the font size.
A chiastic structure arranges sentences like this, for example:
A, B and C are then repeated in C, B and A, like a sandwich. ([A] It was a sunny day. [B] The dogs wanted to go for a walk. [C] We picked up our Wellington Boots and left the house. [C] We picked up our Wellington Boots and left the house [B] The dogs wanted to go for a walk. [A] It was a sunny day). The ‘meat of the sandwich’ would be [C].
As I said in the first intro post a few days ago, the book of Hosea is ‘God revealing His mind’ (and His heart) to a man and then to a Nation. Honestly guys, the book is a beautifully written mix of prose and poetry, metaphor and simile and a whole bunch of other inter-twining poetic devices as well!
God’s people are plagued by ‘God amnesia’: every previous holy memory between God and man is spoilt by the betrayal and crisis of their covenant
The main ‘theology’ of the book is this: Israel has committed spiritual adultery with her Husband, Yahweh, by abandoning covenant with Him and by entering into idolatrous relationships with other Nations and gods.
God’s people are plagued by ‘God amnesia’: Every previous holy memory between God and man is spoilt by the betrayal and crisis of their covenant. Humanity is the adulterous protagonist and is therefore required to repent in order to avoid the judgment of God – a polar opposite scene compared to when God first brought His people out of slavery and into a beautiful betrothal of covenant flowing with milk and honey. God is both deeply aggrieved but also lovingly patient.
We’re going to get stuck in to chapters 1-3!