Criswell Theological Review 7.1 (1993) 15-38
[Copyright © 1993 by
digitally prepared for use at
THE PROPHETIC DENUNCIATION OF
RELIGION IN HOSEA 4-7
M. DANIEL CARROLL R.
El Seminario Teologico Centroamericano
Defining the Approach
The issue of religion is central to any understanding of the background
and message of the Book of Hosea. In this prophetic text both the per-
sonal life of the prophet, as well as national religious life, have drawn
scholarly interest. The most celebrated interpretative problem, of course,
concerns the first three chapters and the relationship of the prophet with
Gomer (and, some would argue, with another woman in chap. 3), and the
connection of this narrative to Canaanite religious practice.l
In years past, certain scholars also highlighted the harsh critique
of ritual in 6:6 (cf. 4:1-2, 15; 5:5; 8:13; 9:4; 12:11) and other prophetic
texts (e.g., Amos 4:4-5; 5:4-5, 21-26); ethical monotheism was claimed
1 For recent detailed surveys of scholarly opinions, see, e.g., R K. Harrison, Intro-
duction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969) 861-68; R E. Clements,
Understanding the Book of Hosea, Rev Exp 72 (1975) 408-12; G. I. Davies, Hosea (Old
"The Marriage Motif in Israelite Religion in Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor
Frank Moore Cross,
eds. P. D. Miller, Jr., P. Hanson, S. D. McBride (
tress, 1987) 421-28. H. L. Ginsberg, following Kaufmann, believes that chaps. 1-3 come
from another prophet and refer to the Baal worship of the ninth-century under Ahab:
chaps. 4ff. would reflect later struggles within Yahwism (“Hosea, Book of,” Encyclopaedia
offered a materialist reading of these chapters and concludes that they are a metaphoric
description of the political economy: the wife alludes to the warrior elite and the children
to the peasant classes ("Agricultural Intensification as Promiscuity in the Book of Hosea;
unpublished paper, Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, 1993; for a sum-
mary, see AAR/SBL Abstracts 1993, 137).
16 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
to be the unique and lasting contribution of those who spoke for Yah-
weh. Accordingly, textbooks on prophetism sometimes have dedicated
space to clarifying that the prophets did not desire the eradication of
all formal religion, but rather exhorted the people to live out their
faith in mercy and justice and not to limit belief in God to mere exter-
nal religious rites.2
Recent research into the nature of religion in eighth-century Pal-
estine and the analysis of the textual data of Hosea have moved beyond
simply attempting to establish the practice of certain non-Yahwistic rit-
uals, such as cultic prostitution,3 to a broader investigation of mono-
to widespread syncretism, popular as well as official, throughout the
monarchical period. New approaches posit a contested and difficult rise
of monotheism, which would contrast with the biblical picture of the
revelation of a
single deity at the very beginning of
Lang, for instance, postulates that the prophet Hosea is an important
figure in the development and eventual success of what he labels the
2 E.g., J. Lindblom, Prophecy in
60 (Interestingly, some of the concerns of Wellhausen and Duhm have been raised again
Barton in Oracles of God: Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in
American Liberation Theology, J. P. Miranda defends the strict anti-cultus stance that a
first reading of certain prophetic passages might suggest: according to his critical recon-
struction, God can only be found in interhuman justice (Marx and the Bible: A Critique
of the Philosophy of Oppression, trans. J. Eagleson [Maryknoll: Orbis, 1974] 44-67; cf.
J. Pixley," dExige el Dios verdadero sacrificios cruentos?,” Revista de interpretaciOn biblica
latinoamericana 2  109-31). On the other hand, some suggest a close tie between
Hosea and the cult. H. W. Wolff has proposed that Hosea was a member of a Levitical circle
in Hosea (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974) xxii-xxiii (cf. R R Wilson, Prophecy and Society
ceived widespread acceptance.
3 See below, n. 37.
4 For a helpful introduction to issues involved in the larger debate, see D L. Petersen,
Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Brevard S. Childs, eds. G. M. Tucker, D L. Petersen, R. R.
growth and official imposition of monotheism and who provide helpful bibliography, al-
though defending different reconstructions, include M S. Smith, The Early History of God:
the Other Deities in Ancient
O. Keel and C. Uehlinger, Gottinnen, Gotter und Gottessymbole. Neue Erkenntnisse zur
Religionsgeschichte Kanaans und
phischer Quellen (Freiberg: Herder, 1992); and various essays in part one of Ancient
Israelite Religion, 3-299. A helpful survey of the archaeological data, which does not deal
directly with the thorny issue of development, is found in R. S. Hess, "Yahweh and his
Asherah? Epigraphic Evidence for Religious Pluralism in Old Testament Times" in One
Lord in a World of Religious Pluralism, eds. A D Clarke and B. W. Winter (
bridge: Tyndale House, 1991) 5-33.
M. Daniel Carroll R: THE DENUNCIATION OF RELIGION 17
"Yahweh-alone movement."5 Some scholars, accordingly, would also
question the objectivity of the presentation of the nature of Canaanite
religion in OT texts, as these are now evaluated as evidence of this con-
certed effort to give an aggressively negative view of a competing faith.
This article, however, does not try to tackle the complex task of trying
either to define precisely what were the elements of Canaanite religion
that the prophet Hosea found distasteful, or to locate his ministry and
message within the current debate on monotheism.
In addition to this issue of uncertainty in the establishing of a pre-
cise religious setting for the background of the Book of Hosea, is the
problem of ascertaining clear historical referents. The lack of explicit
historical information and the fact that the title (1:1) suggest a ministry
decades sometimes can make confident identification of
tual particulars difficult.6
The following discussion of chaps. 4-7 takes a more literary ap-
proach to the final form of this prophetic text.7 The goal is to try to
understand the world within the text, instead of focusing on the rela-
tionship of the biblical data to eighth-century
which lies behind the text. Space will not permit a detailed reading,
which would involve a careful investigation of the poetics of the book--
that is, elements such as detailed structural analysis, style, figurative
5 B. Lang, "The Yahweh-alone Movement and the Making of Jewish Monotheism;
Monotheism and the Prophetic Minority (The Social World of Biblical Antiquity Series 1;
Hosea include G. I. Emmerson's attempt to differentiate the prophet's original religious cri-
tique from the one embodied in the present form of the text, which is claimed to be the
work of Judaean redactors (Hosea, An Israelite Prophet in Judaean Perspective [
JSOT, 1984] chap. 3); W. I. Toews analyzes Hosea's critique within the larger framework of
reforms of Jeroboam I (Monarchy and Religious Institution under Jeroboam I
Scholars Press, 1993] 151-72).
6 Note, e.g., the comments by F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Hosea (Garden City:
Doubleday, 1980) 313. Their reluctance to specify historical details with absolute certainty
goes beyond just facile identification of historical referents (names, places and events) to
include avoiding speculation about possible cultic or social settings of the prophetic oracles
(72-74, 313-17), which is a major concern of the form critical approach utilized by com-
mentators such as Wolff and Mays. Attempts to coordinate oracles with particular moments
in the prophet's ministry abound. For a recent effort, see Davies, Hosea, 30-37. Another
issue is how the book itself portrays
Hosea and Salvation History (Berlin: Walter de Groyter, 1990) 117-30.
7 The phrase "the final form of the text" distinguishes our approach from others that
concentrate on sorting out what are considered to be original from later material (For a
defense of the canonical form, see Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament 868-72,
conservative commentaries such as D. A. Hubbard, Hosea [
InterVarsity, 1990] 31-34; cf. Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 52-76, 316f.). Some evan-
gelicals would defend the integrity of the text on theological grounds. Elsewhere I argue
for taking the prophetic text (in that case, Amos) as literature for methodological and
18 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
language, point of view, plot, and characterization.8 Rather, some atten-
tion will be paid to the shape of these four chapters and to how that might
contribute to the highlighting of thematic aspects of the prophetic mes-
sage. In other words, this presentation combines a literary with a topical
The issue to be explored is the nature of Yahweh religion within
the world of the text of Hosea 4-7. Several questions spark the reading
these chapters. For example, what is the nature of
in these chapters? What is Yahweh himself perceived to be like in this
religious world? Why does the prophet condemn this religion which
claims to worship Yahweh? Who are those most responsible for prac-
ticing and propagating this kind of belief in Yahweh?
pastoral reasons (M. D Carroll R, Contexts for Amos: Prophetic Poetics in Latin Ameri-
different kinds of reading strategies deal with the final form of the biblical text. Note the
helpful methodological discussions by D. J. A. Clines ("Reading Esther from Left to Right:
Contemporary Strategies for Reading a Biblical Text") and M. G. Brett ("Four or Five
Things to do With Texts: A Taxonomy of Interpretive Interests") in The Bible in Three Di-
mensions: Essays in Celebration of Forty Years of Biblical Studies in the University of
77, respectively. For recent surveys of critical approaches, see G. A. Yee, Composition and
Tadition in the Book of Hosea: A Redactional
Critical Investigation (
Press, 1987) 1-25, and Davies, Hosea, 93-106. Finally, it should be emphasized that this
is a reading of Hosea alone. No effort will be made to pursue the fruitful insights gener-
ated by intertextual readings; cf. D N. Fewell, ed., Reading Between Texts: Intertextuality
and the Hebrew Bible (Louisville: WestminsterlJohn Knox, 1992). For an example of such
an approach to the Book of Hosea, see the essay in the same volume by D Krause, "A
Blessing Cursed: The Prophet's Prayer for Barren Womb and Dry Breasts in Hosea 9,”
8 For a general bibliography for these features, see Carroll R, Contexts for Amos,
178-80. For some poetic details in this particular prophetic text, note, e.g., R. B, Chisolm,
Jr., "Wordplay in the Eighth-Gentury Prophets," BS 144 (1987) 44-52; P. A. Krueger,
"Prophetic Imagery: On Metaphors and Similes in the Book Hosea," JNSL 14 (1988)
143-51; P. J. Botha, "The Communicative Function of Comparison in Hosea," Old Testa-
ment Essays 6 (1993) 57-71; Davies, Hosea (OTG), 107-115; 1: Jemielity, Satire and the
Hebrew Prophets (Louisville: Westminster/ John Knox, 1992) 84-116; H. Fisch, Poetry
Purpose: Biblical Poetics and Interpretation (
Press, 1988) 136-57. P. R House has touched on characterization and plot in the book of
Hosea, but within the larger literary framework of the Book of the Twelve (The Unity
the prophetic text, which some literary readings suggest, should not ignore supposed re-
dactional development Note, e.g., Yee, Composition and Tradition in the book of Hosea
(cf. D. Carr, "Reaching for Unity in Isaiah," JSOT 57  61-80). H. Marks connects
his views on the literariness of each of the Twelve with observations concerning per-
ceived redactional layers and the possible canonical markers of the final compilers
Twelve Prophets," The Literary Guide to the Bible, eds. R. Alter
M. Daniel Carroll R.: THE DENUNCIATION OF RELIGION 19
In the discussion, Hosea 4-7 is divided into three principle parts.
These chapters open with 4:1-3, which offers an introduction to what fol-
4:4-5:7 describes the worship in
trary to the divine demands; and, lastly,
politics and foreign policy and their relationship to Israelite religion.
Introductory Accusation and Judgment (4:1-3)
Most commentators consider this passage to be the introduction
which sets the tone and lists the basic violations deserving of judgment
which will be developed in the following chapters.9 The theological
framework for this pericope is the Mosaic Covenant,10 whether in a
formal sense as a covenant lawsuit11 or simply in a broader manner of
an Indictment because of covenant violation.12
4:1 opens the accusation by mentioning the lack of three key cove-
nantal qualities: tm,x< ('emet), ds,H, (hesed), and tfaDa (da'at). The first has
translated in the versions as "good faith" (
(NASB, NIV, NRSV). This term is related to the concept of truth and car-
ries the notions of constancy, reliability, and integrity in word and deed.
Yahweh himself is the standard by which this faithfulness is measured
( [MT = ]).13 The second term, dsH, appears in the versions as
9 E.g., for Andersen and Freedman, 4: 1-3 is the introduction to chaps. 4-7 (Hosea,
331); for D. A. Hubbard it introduces chaps. 4-11 (Hosea, 95-96); for J. L. Mays these
verses introduce chaps. 4-14 (Hosea [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969] 61).
10 For an extensive exposition of the notion of covenant in Hosea, see W. Bruegge-
mann, Hosea: Tradition for Crisis (Atlanta: John Knox, 1968). Besides commentaries such
as D. Stuart, Hosea-Jonah (Waco: Word, 1987), which makes extensive use of covenant
theology, also note J. Bright, Covenant and Promise: The Prophetic Understanding of the
ets, Vol. I: The Assyrian Period, trans. M. Kohl (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) 90-93;
J. Day, "Pre-Deuteronomic Allusions to the Covenant in Hosea and Psalm lxxviii; VT 36
(1986) 1-12. Those not supporting a well developed covenant background for the proph-
ets include D. J. McCarthy, Old Testament Covenant: A Survey of Current Opinion
John Knox, 1972) 35-40, 78f.; R E. Clements, Prophecy and Tradition (
Basil Blackwell, 1978) 8-23. Cf. the discussion on recent developments in covenant stud-
ies in K. Kitchen, "The Fall and Rise of Covenant, Law and Treaty; Tyn Bul 40 (1989)
11 Bright, Covenant and Promise 89-90; K. Nielsen, Yahweh as Prosecutor and
Judge: An Investigation of the Prophetic Lawsuit (Rib Pattern), (Sheffield: JSOT, 1978)
32-34; Mays, Hosea, 61; Wolff, Hosea, 66; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 7&-75 (Stuart extends the
lawsuit to the end of the chapter). Note, however, M. De Roche, "Yahweh's RIB against
JBL 102 (1983) 563-74.
12 Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 331; Hubbard, Hosea, 96.
13 See A Jepsen, "Nmx," Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 1: 292-323; W. C. Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand
20 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
"mutual trust" (
(NRSV). A reciprocal relationship is presupposed, and this bond is to be
made manifest in actions. In the context of the prophets, this relationship
is the covenant: Yahweh has committed himself to a particular people,
and they are called to reflect this love and grace concretely with one an-
other in the community.14 The last quality that is mentioned is tfd or
"knowledge."15 In the context of the book, this knowledge certainly does
refer to a certain theological content, such as the traditions of the Patri-
archs (12:3-4, 12 [MT = 12:4-5, 13]), of the Exodus (-15 [MT = -
17]; 11:1-4; 12:9, 13 [MT = , 14]; 13:4) and of the Wilderness (;
13:5) and the teachings of the Torah (4:6; 8:1, 12). But the term includes
as well an understanding of Yahweh's covenantal demands which is to
be reflected in obedience and moral conduct. Hence, the NIV translates
the phrase Myhlx tfd here as "acknowledgement of God."
The list of five charges that follow in 4:2a offer an application of the
three sins of omission in 4:1 within human relationships.16 Although
the knowledge of God is a more general concept, the lack of faithfulness
(tm,x<) probably could be taken as fleshed out in cursing and lying, and
the absence of steadfast love (ds,H,) in murder, stealing, and adultery.
Each of these five corresponds to one of the Ten Commandments.17 The
last line of this verse is very problematic,18 but it is possible that the
Rapids: Zondervan, 1983) 222-34. tmx and dsH often appear in hendiadys, but the fact
that these terms appear as part of a list of three and each is prefixed by the conjunction
+ negative particle would suggest that here they be considered separately.
N. Glueck, Hesed
in the Bible, trans. (
1967); H.-J. Zobel, "dsH," Theological Dictionary of the
Old Testament (
Eerdmans, 1986) 5.44-64; Davies, Hosea (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) 94-97; B. C.
Birch, Let Justice Roll Down: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Christian Life (Louis-
15 See J. Bergman and G. J. Botterweck, "fdy," Theological Dictionary of the Old
Testament, 5.444-81; H. B. Huffmon, 'The Treaty Background of Hebrew YADA'";
BASOR 181 (1966) 131-77; Daniels, Hosea and Salvation History, 111-16.
16 Some commentators hold that the last term, "knowledge," summarizes and is the
basis of the preceding two. See Glueck, Hesed in the Bible, 57; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 75;
C. E Keil, The Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) X: 74f.; W: R. Harper,
Amos and Hosea (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1979) 250.
17 For details, note especially Brueggemann, Hosea, 38-43; Hubbard, Hosea, 97.
Cf. Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics, 17f.
18 The three primary options concerning the difficult vcrp are to consider it as: (1)
the finite verb for the preceding five infinitive absolutes (Wolff, Hosea, 68; Mays, Hosea,
65; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 72; Davies, Hosea, 116; NRSV); (2) connected with the following
clause describing the bloodshed (Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 338f.; Hubbard, Hosea,
98); (3) a separate item with its own meaning (T. McComiskey, The Minor Prophets: An
& Expositional Commentary, I: Hosea, Joel, and Amos [
1992] 57; Keil, The Minor Prophets,
75; Harper, Amos and Hosea, 250;
We take this last option.
M. Daniel Carroll R.: THE DENUNCIATION OF RELIGION 21
reference is to two acts of cruel violence, making a total of seven viola-
tions. Thus the indictment is poetically
emphasized, as the sins of
add up to a perfect number; their wickedness is complete.19 Several of
these seven sins will be mentioned again in the following two major
sections. They will be evident in cultic deviation and in the degrading
activities of the people's worship (4:4-5:7), and then both in the refusal
to trust him in national political affairs and in the struggles for power
and influence (5:8-7:16).
If the discussion of 4:1-3 thus far has summarized the reasons for
the denunciation (the "what" and the "why" in 4:1-2), there still remain
to be identified the "who" and "where"--that is, those that practice and
are responsible for the sin and the place of the sin and of the coming
is a call to the "sons of
the land; and 4:3a announces chastisement on "all who dwell in it."
This thematic inclusio in this introductory pericope helps to emphasize
that the whole population stands guilty before Yahweh. The transgres-
sors are not limited to certain groups; all in one way or another are
involved in the conduct condemned by the prophet. Yet, even if the
society as a whole is in rebellion against God and its members sin
against one another, might there not be some who are held particularly
accountable before the divine tribunal for the paths that the nation has
chosen to pursue? The following oracles will develop the tension be-
tween universal guilt and more circumscribed responsibility.
The mention of "the land" in 4:3aa also forms an inclusio with its
double use in v 1. It is the land of the covenant that will suffer the effects
of the covenant curses.20 The vocabulary of judgment reaches cosmic
dimensions in the last line of v 3 to emphasize the awful devastation
through his prophet (cf. Isa 24:1ff., 33:8-9).21 If future blessing beyond
20 For a theology of the land and the importance of obedience for blessing there, see
especially W. Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical
Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977) 90-129. Unlike Brueggemann, however, I believe that
the guilt cannot be limited almost exclusively to the leadership. Also note P. D. Miller, Jr.,
Judgment and the Prophets: A Stylistic and Theological Analysis (
Scholars Press, 1982) 9-11; and D. I. Block's discussion of the relationship between a deity
and the land and its people against the background of the Ancient Near East, The Gods
Nations: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern National Theology (
Theological Society, 1988). For the specification of the corresponding covenant curses and
blessings here and elsewhere, note especially Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, xxxi-xlii and ad loc.
Not all take the verbs in 4:3 as future. Those who understand a reference to the present
state of affairs include Keil, The Minor Prophets, 75f.; Harper, Amos and Hosea, 251 (cf.
NASB, NIV; NRSV). Note Wolff's arguments for assuming the future, Hosea, 65f.
21 For the idea of a cosmic dimension, the reversal of creation itself, which would
go beyond the idea of simply the rhetorical use of such vocabulary, see M. Deroche, "The
Reversal of Creation in Hosea," VT 31 (1981) 400-409; Hubbard, Hosea, 98.
22 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the judgment will mean the restoration of blessing and prosperity (cf.
-23 [MT = -25]; 11:8-11; 14:4-8 [MT = 14:5-9]), the judgment
itself will bring drought and terrible loss of life. Though not made ex-
plicit in this verse, these references to the abrogation of rain and fer-
tility could very well be an indirect attack on other deities and the belief
in their power in nature by the nation (cf. 2:3,5-13 [MT = 2:5, 7-15]).
In sum, through its vocabulary and literary devices, this opening
pericope announces the accusations of Yahweh against his people and
its proclamation of the end of the nation actually is pronouncing the
end of a world--that is, of this people and this land. Transgression
against the deity and thus against others in the covenant community
tice taken so seriously in the world of this prophetic text. Why is the
prophetic decree so all-consuming?
At this point a digression will prove helpful. Although the focus of
this article is textual and literary, insight into the prophetic complaint
can be gained by appealing to the theoretical perspectives of the social
sciences.22 From this perspective, religion is understood as a system of
beliefs, traditions, symbols, and rituals that work together to explain to a
people how nature, life, and death function and why things are the way
they are. This religious system provides an intelligible order for individ-
ual and social relationships, helps locate social identity, and gives tran-
scendental reasons for disasters and success in every human sphere.
Religion, in other words, helps to establish and to maintain what people
would consider to be the "natural order" of things.
The sociology of knowledge would label this assumed natural order
of existence the "social construction of reality"--that is, the shared fab-
ric which is society, where a language, socially defined roles and be-
havior, certain institutions, and a complex set of beliefs are held in
common. This humanly crafted "world" is held together and legitimated
in part by religion: this social world is believed to have been estab-
lished by divine decree, to be blessed by divine grace, and to be pro-
tected by divine promise. Participation in religious rites is understood as
a means of assuring the deity's favor and succor, of securing the main-
tenance of the way life "truly is" and "should be." Moreover, the reli-
gious establishment of temple and priesthood are a constant visible
22 For what follows regarding the use of other disciplines, see the discussion and
bibliography in Carroll R, Contexts for Amos, 48-91, 122-35. The theoretical issues
there are then applied to the book of Amos and modern
Hosea, see Davies, Hosea (OTG), 58-62. Cf. G. V. Smith, "The Application of Principles
from the Sociology of Knowledge for Understanding the Setting, Tradition and The-
ology of the Prophets," JETS 32 (1989) 145-57; and the different social science frame-
work for R S. Hendel, "Worldmaking in Ancient Israel," JSOT 56 (1992) 3-18.
M. Daniel Carroll R: THE DENUNCIATION OF RELIGION 23
reminder of the supposed correctness and divine approval of this soci-
ety and its worldview.
This religious world, though, is not monolithic. To begin with, an
official theology, cult, and religious personnel support and sanction the
status quo for the society's leadership and institutions. At a popular
level, however, faith might embrace this official religion as well as
move beyond it and hold to beliefs and superstitions from other sources,
which are accepted on the basis of experiences, folklore, and commu-
This picture of religious life accords well with the phenomena
attacked by the classical prophets. On the one hand, they decry how
officials do not question the sad state of affairs in
social construction of reality; they censure rival prophets who claim to
speak for Yahweh, yet proclaim nothing that would criticize national
life and how politics are pursued. The traditions of the mighty acts of
God, the classical prophets claim, are manipulated to convince the
people and the government of continued and unfailing divine help.
What is more, political and economic alliances with surrounding nations
or empires demonstrate an inadequate perception of the power of Yah-
weh and also lead to the acceptance and support of other deities and
their cults. In other words, the official religion has offered a distorted
Yahweh faith and does not even limit worship to Yahweh as the only
cult centers and is actively involved in the official ceremonies and rit-
uals, but also follows after other deities and celebrates at other cult cen-
ters without fear of condemnation from the religious establishment.
What the classical prophets announce is the coming destruction of
the social world that claims to be Yahweh's. The prophets are not just
saying that certain aspects of national life must come to an end, but that
national life itself is to be no more. Yahweh will need to begin all over
again in the future, beyond the judgment. There will be no reform or
revolution to transform the present order; the prophetic hope is of a new
and different social construction of reality, of another "world" of justice,
holiness, and proper worship. Brueggemann has coined the phrase "the
prophetic imagination" to describe how these spokespersons judged re-
ality differently than the regimes of their day. They declared the guilt of
the leadership and the terrible inadequacies of national worship, while
at the same time offering a vision of hope of a new world beyond the im-
minent disaster of the divine visitation.23
23 For bibliographic details of some of Brueggemann's works dealing with the imag-
ination and an interaction with his construct, see Carroll R., Contexts for Amos 140-43.
24 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Ultimately, what is at stake in the prophetic mind is the very nature
Yahweh himself. It is not that
they do not believe in Yahweh. The issue, rather, is what sort of Yahweh
do they believe in and what kind of Lord is worshipped in the cult The
canonical texts continually emphasize that the Yahweh of the prophets
is not the Yahweh of the temples and of the masses. The Yahweh of the
prophets is neither some sort of appendage to daily realities nor a god to
be fashioned according to human designs. It is because Yahweh is the
sovereign Lord, who demands to be at the very heart of individual life
and national existence, that the prophets do not separate religious cri-
tique from the denunciation of social and political evil. The "worlds" of
been found deserving of severe punishment.
The Book of Hosea, therefore, asserts that the issue of religion is
evaluate religion is to get at the heart of
understanding and to touch the basis of national survival. 4:1-3 intro-
duces the primary concerns of Yahweh and declares his judgment. What
follows in chaps. 4-7 are more details regarding primarily the sins of
almost exclusively the prophetic accusations. Little is said regarding the
judgment or future hope, aspects of the divine message expounded
more fully elsewhere in the book.
The Perversion of Worship (4:4-5:7)
The section of Hosea that extends from 4:4 to 5:7 provides the divine
prophetic condemnation of the worship of the nation of
tention here will be directed primarily at 4:4-10, which serves both to
layout the basis of the nature and guilt of this worship and to announce
the judgment that awaits the veneration that Yahweh so deplores.
4:4-10 is a notoriously difficult passage to interpret Textual prob-
lems abound, and changes in pronouns make it hard to specify who is
coming under the ire of Yahweh.24 Most commentators believe that these
verses refer to the priesthood (in the person of a particular individual
Most recently, his concept of imagination is developed in idem, Texts Under Negotia-
tion: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993). Even if one
might not agree with some of Brueggemann's commitments and convictions, his notion
of the imagination is helpful and full of fresh and challenging insights.
24 H. Fisch holds that the complexity and apparent incoherence in the language of
the Book of Hosea voice the passions of the "covenantal discourse" of a God, who in his
holiness hates the state of the nation but who at the same time desperately loves his
chosen people (Poetry with a Purpose, 138f.).
M. Daniel Carroll R.: THE DENUNCIATION OF RELIGION 25
like the high priest or the priests in general)25 and will suggest textual
emendations to support a consistent interpretation along these lines.26
The Masoretic Text, however, can point to the people throughout.27
The first thing that is important to notice are the lexical links that
4:4-10 have with 4:1-3. Key terms reappear: "accuse, bring charges'" (the
root: byri [rib]; 4:1, 4 [twice]), "knowledge" (tfaDa; 4:1, 6), and "break out,
increase" (CrP [prs]; 4:2, 10). These verses can be taken, therefore, as going
into more detail regarding the accusations against the people mentioned
in the introduction. At the same time, however, the lexical continuity is
the vehicle for expressing a sharp contrast through a wordplay. This
between the actions and character of Yahweh and
declares that none can question ("contend,” the root byri) the divine accu-
sation (Yahweh's byri of 4:1), as Yahweh's evaluation of the state of the
nation is just.28 The people also are "like those who contend (the root byri)
with a priest" (NASB, NIV). On the one hand, these words could mean that
tives (cf. Deut -13). On the other hand, why use this phrase if the
priests themselves will come under divine scrutiny later for several kinds
of sin? The point is to focus on the contentious character of the people,
not on the character of the priests of the official cult. The literary irony of
the choice of "priest" will become more apparent in the course of the
The passage continues, saying that the people will "stumble" con-
tinually ("day and night" can be taken as a merism to denote "all the
time") in their sin (v 5; cf. 5:5; 14:1, 9 [MT = 14:2, 10]) accompanied by
25 Note the commentaries by Harper, Mays, Wolff, Andersen and Freedman, Stuart,
Hubbard and Davies. Because of the change to the third person plural pronoun in 4:7,
Andersen and Freedman hold that 4:7-10 refer to the children of the priests (Hosea,
354, 358); Hubbard agrees (Hosea, 101). The difficulty in interpretation is also evident in
the Targum, which sees references to both the people (4:4-7, 9-10) and the priests (4:8).
See The Targum of the Minor Prophets, eds. K. J. Cathcart, M. Maher, M. McNamara
(Edinburgh: or & or Clark, 1989) 14.36f.
26 The two most important emendations are at 4:4b, which is changed to read "with
priest, is my contention" (cf.
becomes "they exchange" (cf. NIV, NRSV). Note BHS and especially the discussions in
Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 344-50 and 355-58, respectively.
27 For this interpretation, see the commentaries by Keil and McComiskey ad loc, as
well as M. Deroche, "Structure and Meaning in Hosea IV 4-10; VT 33 (1983) 185-98.
28 Some have suggested that Yahweh's (or the prophet's) discourse in 4:4a is a
response to a complaint or an objection by a priest in the style of Amos 7:10-17. For An-
dersen and Freedman (Hosea, 345f.) and Davies (Hosea, 117), 4:4a could be the words of
priest; for Mays (Hosea, 67), Stuart (Hosea-Jonah, 77), and
19), all of the verse is from the deity; Hubbard suggests that either view is possible (Hosea,
99f.). Of course, this point of view is intimately linked to the interpretation of 4:4-10 as
an indictment of the priesthood.
26 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
some of the prophets, who ideally were to be an example of holiness and
truth.29 Once again, one encounters the unexpected, but in reverse.
Whereas in 4:4 the reader at first glance wonders why the character of
the nation is connected with the wayward priests, here the mention of
the prophets does not seem to cohere with the other allusions to proph-
ets in the book, which are positive (6:5; 9:7-9; , 13 [MT = , 14]):
the supposed divine spokesperson accompanies the people in both guilt
and judgment. The literary effect is to communicate a world turned
and full of contradictions.
yet will participate in their cult; prophets (perhaps just some of them?)
can proclaim Yahweh's message, while joining in sin. The power of the
passage is grounded in the incoherence and the opposing images: this is
a world bound for self-destruction, not only divine judgment.
This negative description of 4:4-5a is born out by the following
series of pictures; the multiplication of accusations cannot but under-
line the waywardness of the people. 4:5b-6 demonstrate a structure
of alternating indictment and punishment in which the repetition of
the verbs suggests a close correspondence between sin and chastise-
ment.30 The list marks its beginning and close with Yahweh's actions
5b I will destroy your mother 6a my people are destroyed
6ba you rejected knowledge 6bb I will reject you
6ca you ignored the Torah 6cb I also will ignore your
In addition to this structure, which shows graphically how the na-
tion is deserving of punishment, the content of these lines also proves
(v 6): knowledge is lacking, even rejected, and the Torah is ignored. The
use of "mother" (v 5b; observe the parallelism between "I will destroy
your mother" and "my people are destroyed") and "children" (v 6cb) to
refer to the nation.31 "Mother" and "children" form an inclusio to this se-
quence, serving as a reminder of the powerful image of fami1y through-
29 Because of the contrast with other references to the prophets, Wolff (Hosea, 77f.)
and Davies (Hosea, 118) see this phrase as a later gloss. Commentators who do not excise
the reference postulate that the criticism was directed at cult prophets (e.g., cf. Jer 2:8,
5:31, , ).
30 Cf. Miller, Sin and Judgment in the Prophets, 12-14. Miller, however, takes 4:4-6
to be speaking of the priesthood.
31 Some who see 4:4-10 as referring to the priesthood will suggest that, along
with the direct condemnation, the mention of the mother and children would imply a
judgment upon three generations (cf. Amos 7:17; 1 Sam 2:27ff.). Note Mays, Hosea, 68f.;
M. Daniel Carroll R: THE DENUNCIATION OF RELIGION 27
[MT = 2:4, 7]; cf. Isa 50:1), where the nation is chastened and put aside
for a time. The mention of children also turns the reader back to those
same chapters in which the names of the children of the prophet and
reflect the fate of
contrast to the character and fate of this mother and children at this time
Yahweh in the future will restore her and her children (, -23
[MT = 2:1,16-25]). Yahweh is a loving parent
who yearns to bring
his child/children, back to himself (11:1-4, 8-11; 14:7-8 [MT = 14:8-9]).
4:6 also declares that
Exod 19:6, Isa 61 :5-6) among the nations is being rescinded. Once again
the term "priest" is utilized, and the literary play adds to the irony: the
people, who are like those who contend with a priest (v 4), will them-
selves no longer be Yahweh's priest. The rejection of tfaDa, with all that
refer to the concept of
weh at the sanctuaries and during the holy days to offer sacrifices. The
Book of Hosea is replete with divine accusations against false worship
both at historic cult centers and the high places and Yahweh's rejection
The next pericope, 4:7-10, emphasizes the nation's lusting after
sin.32 Prosperity33 did not yield gratitude to Yahweh, but rather the
multiplication of sin (4:7a), its devouring ("feed on") and craving (4:8).
Thus Yahweh will humiliate the people, by exchanging their glory as
a successful nation for the shame of judgment (4:7b),34 and will punish
according to the measure of their evil deeds (4:9b). The last verse serves
as a transition to later prophetic words. reintroduces the theme of
Wolff, Hosea, 78;
metaphor, although from a feminist perspective, see G. A Yee, “Hosea,” in The Women's
Bible Commentary, eds. C. A Newsom and S. H. Ringe
Knox, 1992) 198-202.
32 Deroche suggests that 4:7-10 have a chiastic structure ("Structure, Rhetoric, and
Meaning in Hosea IV 4-10, 195).
33 Those assuming 4:4-10 to speak of the priesthood take the “increase” in several
ways. E.g., Wolff (Hosea, 80f.) and Hubbard (Hosea, 102) see a reference to the increase in
the number of priests; Andersen and Freedman to their pride (Hosea, 354); Stuart to their
wealth (Hosea-Jonah, 78f.).
also that at v 6 the singular MT “priest” is altered in NIV to the plural, again injecting an
interpretation into the translation).
34 For the textual change proposed by BHS and several commentators, see above
n 26. If “increase” refers to national prosperity, then "glory” probably should be taken as
its parallel (cf. Keil, The Minor Prophets, 78; and McComiskey, The Minor Prophets, 63).
takes the term to mean
Hosea IV 4-10; 196).4:7 is by rabbinic tradition a tiqqune sopherim, a scribal change
from “my glory” to "their glory.”
28 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
three chapters. The next section (-19) will return to the description
of the nations following after other gods instead of maintaining loyalty
to Yahweh alone, and other oracles will also use the metaphor for the
political arena (e.g., 7:4).
At the same time, it is important to notice three theoretical links
between these verses and the preceding pericope (4:4-6), which dem-
onstrate that the nation continues in view. To begin with, there is the
the taking away of
as the recipient of glory in 4:7. Second, the punishment corresponds to
the sin. In 4:5b-6 this is expressed by an alternating structure, in 4:9b by
the two statements about suffering the just consequences of the sinful
"ways" and "deeds." Third, "priest" is used yet once more, here in the pro-
verbial comparative phrase "like people, like priest" (4:9). Still another
facet of the word play is added: the people, whose nature is to contest
priests and who no longer merit the privilege of serving as priest before
God, also set the pattern for the punishment of the priests, as the latter
are involved in the same sort of transgressions and are incorporated into
the same fate (notice that it is not the other way around). This juxtapo-
sition of people and priest in prophetic condemnation also appears at 5:1
In sum, 4:4-10 is a message directed at the entire nation. In God's
These verses paint a dark picture of the heart of the people. The sin
which particularly deserves punishment is described in -19 and
A quick look at -19 reveals several items that are worthy of
judgment. Structurally it should be noticed that -14 are marked by
an inclusio which describes the people's lack of understanding (cf. 4:1,
6).35 Within this set of verses the prophetic word condemns several wor-
ship practices which reflect and perpetuate this blindness. The refer-
ence to drink that dulls the mind () should probably be understood
in a cultic context (cf. 2:8, 9, 22 [MT = , 11, 24]; 7:14; 9:1-2); the people
consult idols of wood (4:12; cf. Isa 44:8-20; Jer 2:2-3:9; Deut 18:9-22)
and offer sacrifices at non-Yahwistic cult centers (). But who is being
worshipped at these places? Chapter two specifically mentions follow-
ing after the Baals, but does this signify that the veneration of other
deities was limited to the hilltop groves or simply that these were the
only gods worshipped there? Is some sort of Yahweh also adored at the
high places along with other deities? The text is neither clear nor specific.
35 Note, e.g., J. R Lundbom, "Poetic Structure and Prophetic Rhetoric in Hosea," VT
29 (1979) 300-308.
M. Daniel Carroll R: THE DENUNCIATION OF RELIGION 29
whoredom" (, NRSV).36 In other words, this blameworthy ritualis-
tic activity is more than a passing phenomenon. Its hold goes much
deeper; it has seductively captured the heart and mind of the nation.
But, whereas vv 11 and 12 could very well be a metaphoric description
of the nation deserting the proper worship of Yahweh and seeking out
other deities or adoring Yahweh in an improper fashion, 4:13-14 do ap-
pear to be an account of some sort of sexual perversion within the cult.
Opinions differ over exactly what is being referred to, whether sacred
prostitution, a bridal initiation rite, general debauchery, or a combina-
tion of these activities.37 Whatever the precise charge, perversion is tied
in with worship, and both female and male take part.38
This picture of deplorable worship continues in -19. Drinking
is referred to again (v 18); the harlotry language reappears (vv 15, 19);
the term "spirit" is utilized once more to describe the grip of the false
v 17 connect back to the objects of v 12. The inability and unwillingness
to follow the guidance of the Yahweh of the prophet and appreciate his
nurture is underscored in by the sharply sarcastic comparison of
36 Whereas the Hvr, ("spirit") in is usually taken to refer simply to the strong
influence of idolatry upon the nation, Andersen and Freedman see other deities in the
verse (Hosea, 365-67; 650). Hubbard does not go that far, but does use the phrase "de-
monic power" both at and 5:4 (Hosea, 105, 115, respectively).
37 See the discussion and references in H. M Barstad, The Religious Polemics of
Studies in the Preaching of Am 2, 7B-8; 4,1-13;
5,1-27; 6,4-7; 8,14 (
Brill, 1984) 17-36. Barstad does not believe that cultic prostitution was practiced in the an-
cient Near East and suggests that Hos is a metaphoric description of worshipping
other gods (cf. Toews, Monarchy and Religious Institution under Jeroboam 1; 162-65).
Commentators who do hold to the practice of cultic prostitution include: Harper (Amos
and Hosea, 261f.), Mays (Hosea, 74f.), Stuart (Hosea-Jonah. 82f.), Hubbard (Hosea, 81f.),
Andersen and Freedman (Hosea, 157-69,370-72). Cf. Marvin H. Pope, Song of Songs (Gar-
den City: Doubleday, 1977) 210-29; Phillip J. King, Amos, Hosea, Micah--An Archaeo-
logical Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1988) 88-107. Wolff has proposed the
idea of a bridal initiation rite (Hosea, 14-15, 86-87) and is followed by Koch (The Proph-
ets, 80,83-85), and Hubbard (Hosea, 106). For a combination of these options, see Davies,
Hosea (OTG), 48-50.
38 Some who understand chap. 4 as speaking of the priesthood take those men-
tioned in -14 to be the family members of the priesthood (Wolff, Hosea, 86-88; An-
dersen and Freedman, Hosea, 369f.; Hubbard, Hosea, 106).
39 Hvr, can mean both "wind" (8:7; 12:1 [Heb 12:2]; ) and "spirit" (as in ;
cf. 5:4). This could be a double entendre, which describes the power of the wind/spirit.
Our reading, in light of the proximity to and 5:4, is to understand the term here to
be another reference to the "spirit of whoredom" (cf. Mays, Hosea, 79; Hubbard, Hosea,
111). Not all commentators would agree, however. E.g., Andersen and Freedman see an
allusion to a deity (Hosea, 376, 650). Stuart takes the reference to be to literal destruction
(Hosea-Jonah. 86; cf. Keil, The Minor Prophets, 84), McComiskey to the flow of events be-
yond the nation's control (The Minor Prophets, 73).
30 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
will describe the nation as a dove (7:11f., ) and as a donkey (8:9).
Each of these metaphors gives a different nuance to the character of
that the nation cannot and will not heed its shepherd.
What is particularly striking is the mention of two historic shrines
in (though note the ironic change of
evil") in the midst of this diatribe against
prophetic word commands
wistic holy places and forbids the people to make traditional oaths.
What actually is being communicated? Is this a denunciation of these
cultic centers per se? Is the problem that the kind of worship decried
in the preceding verses is also evident at these sites? Or, is it that the
veneration at the high places disqualifies the people from being able
to go to the Yahwistic centers? On the other hand, what is the Yahweh
worshipped at Gilgal and
religious establishment and/or one of the people's making? How do
these differ from each other and how does each match up with the god
of the prophet? Questions abound and serve to complicate even more
the picture of religious faith and practice in this textual world.
Although the entire nation is the target in -19, could there be
those who are most directly responsible for this state of affairs? 5:1-7
could provide the answer. The opening verse to this pericope mentions
groups: the priests, the people ("house of
litical bureaucracy of the monarchy ("house of the king"). Because 5:1
other important sites in
Tabor,41 some commentators see that this pericope is directed at the na-
tional leadership, especially the religious functionaries. This view could
find support in that cultic activities are listed in vv 6 and 7.42 However,
though 5:1 does cite the leadership, this section seems to have a broader
take "house of
85; Harper, Amos and Hosea, 268; Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 384; McComiskey,
The Minor Prophets, 95; Davies, Hosea, 137), others both
Hosea, 112). Our reading accepts the former point of view. Mays (Hosea, 80f.), Wolff
(Hosea, 97f.), and Stuart (Hosea-Jonah, 91) would see the phrase as another reference to
41 The first line of 5:2 is an interpretative crux. Many commentators would emend
the text to create a triple accusation and a third place name (Shittim; cf. ; Num 25)
to parallel the three indictments of 5:1 (cf. NRSV). Those suggesting the changes in-
clude Harper (Amos and Hosea, 269), Wolff (Hosea, 98), Mays (Hosea, 81), Stuart
(Hosea-Jonah, 90-92), and Yair Mazor, "Hosea 5.1-3: Between Compositional Rhetoric
and Rhetorical Composition," JSOT 45 (1989) 115-26. Our reading retains the MT See
Andersen and Freedman, Hosea. 386-88.
42 E.g., Hubbard, Hosea, 112.
M. Daniel Carroll R: THE DENUNCIATION OF RELIGION 31
scope. Not only is the nation referred to in 5:1, a number of words and
the earlier descriptions of
example, the reference to prostitution (v 3; -15, 18), "their deeds"
(v 4; 4:9), "do not acknowledge Yahweh" (v 4; 4:1; cf. ,14), "spirit of
whoredom" (v 4: ), "stumble" (v 5; 4:5), and "children" (v 7; 4:6). As
in 4:9, others in 5:1- 7 are mentioned and incorporated into the broader
population's sin and judgment.
5:1- 7 once again demonstrates that a lack of religious zeal is not the
problem. These verses imply worship at Yahweh cult centers, because of
the mention of Mizpah and Tabor (5:1) and because the nation is pic-
tured as bringing animals for sacrifice (5:6) and celebrating the New
Moon festival (5:7).43 Even so, the stiff-necked and self-indulgent nature
of the religious activity emphasized by the character traits alluded to in
the previous paragraph make communion with Yahweh based upon
repentance impossible ("return,” bUw [sub]; 5:4a). The prophetic invec-
tive, as in -19, is full of irony: Yahweh
"knows" the depth of
sin (5:3), though the nation refuses to "acknowledge" him (5:4); they
"seek" him at the sanctuaries, but he has withdrawn himself from them
(5:6); their cult symbolizes unfaithfulness, thus the New Moon will
destroy crop yields and not be a celebration of divine blessing (5:7).
4:4-5:7; therefore, is a sustained attack on religious activity in Is-
rael (with the occasional remark for
reconstruction is difficult, several impressions stand out. To begin with,
this is a very religiously active people. The nation goes to a variety of
sanctuaries, both those linked with the historical traditions (; 5:1,6)
as the high places (). In addition, the activity is varied:
offers sacrifices (, 14; 5:6) and consults different cult articles ().
Yet, this worship is censured, as it is based on blind ignorance (4:6, 11,
14, 16; 5:4) and characterized by debauchery (-14, 18). Their efforts
are considered to be mere harlotry, the forsaking of Yahweh to follow
after other gods and customs (-12, 15, 17; 5:4).
But, understanding the divine object of all this religiosity is more
difficult. Earlier chapters give notice that the nation venerates other
deities and mentions idols, but other issues surface. How, for in-
stance, do these beliefs affect faith in Yahweh, at both official and popu-
lar levels? Is Yahweh worshipped solely at the sanctuaries, or also at the
high places? At the very least, it can be said that the nation does not ap-
pear to see any contradiction of faith in worshipping various deities and
43 5:7b has been interpreted in various ways, and several have suggested emenda-
tions (e.g., Wolff, Hosea, 95, who
follows LXX; cf.
tators understand Yahweh to be the subject (Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 396-98;
Davies, Hosea, 144-45), a more natural grammatical reading is for New Moon (wdH) to
be the subject.
32 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
feels that Yahweh will be pleased with their offerings. The Yahweh of
the prophet, however, brooks no rivals and thus announces judgment.
Sometimes this word of chastisement is vague (4:5, 9, 14; 5:2), but in one
verse Yahweh declares that he will withdraw and not meet them at the
cult centers (5:6). On two occasions he says that punishment will affect
provisions and crops (; 5:7), thus repeating the message in chap. 2
of a judgment of want that challenges the pretensions of the baals (2:8-
13, 22 [MT = -15, 24]). Whatever the various theologies of the na-
tion, changing the people's comprehension to a truer picture of Yahweh
seems practically impossible. The spirit of whoredom has dug deep
roots (, 19; 5:4); Yahweh can only reject this incorrigible and per-
verse religious farce and depart.
Religion and Politics (5:8-7:16)
The long section that begins at 5:8 with a change in imagery and
a series of imperatives and extends through chap. 7 redirects attention
from the practice of worship to the political arena. Religion, however,
is still a central concern, as demonstrated, for instance, by the well-
known divine demand in 6:6 for an ethical faith. Religion signifies more
than cultic activity; it encompasses the interweaving of that activity and
theology into different spheres of national existence.
Even though the general scholarly consensus is that the first set of
verses of this section (5:8-15) has as its historical background the events
surrounding the Syro-Ephraimite War of 734-732 B.C.,44 the particular
allusions can be difficult to confidently identify. 5:8-11 are often under-
stood as a
reference to a counter-attack on
aftermath,45 and (also 7:8-13) would point to appeals to the super-
exact historical setting, it is clear that the national political leaders and
e.g., H. Donner, "The Separate States of
Judaean History, eds. J. H. Hayes and J. M. Miller (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977) 422-
32, and J.
M. Miller and J. H. Hayes, A History of Ancient
Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 99-101; Hubbard, Hosea, 118-20, Davies, Hosea, 145-48. Andersen
and Freedman are more cautious Hosea, 401-05.
45 When taken in the context of the Syro-Ephraimite War, the moving of the
stones (cf. Deut ,
could refer to
prophets: The Conflict and its Background (Atlanta: Scholars, 1988) 34-37. For a con-
trary opinion regarding this historical reconstruction, see P. M. Arnold, "Hosea and the
Sin of Gibeah," CBQ 51 (1989) 447-60.
46 Commentators usually take bry jlm (also at 10:6) as a title for the Assyrian mon-
"the great king" (cf.
M. Daniel Carroll R.: THE DENUNCIATION OF RELIGION 33
the people look to other empires, not Yahweh, when facing this major
crisis. No matter what they might espouse about Yahweh, the experience
of the alliances reveal a lack of faith and a limited view of God. In a
savior. On the other hand, the turning to others exposes the nation to the
the superpowers and puts
pires' plans and ambitions.47 The disfavor of Yahweh is vividly por-
trayed by two metaphors of judgment: He is like putrefaction to both
his people who have sought help elsewhere (; cf. 13:7-8). Later, the
metaphor of judgment will change: Yahweh is a hunter who entraps the
The natural flow of these initial verses to 6:6 suggests an inter-
between Yahweh and
nation responds (6:1-3), and Yahweh replies (6:4-6).48 Catchwords
"return,”6:1a, 5:15a), JrF (trp, "tear to pieces; 6:1b, 5:14b), and xpr
(rp', "heal;" 6:1b,
5:13c). Yahweh has brought suffering to
and then returns to his place until they repent, so they issue a call to
Yahweh. The mimicry of Yahweh's vocabulary by
6:1-3 can give the impression that the nation sincerely does desire, or
at least is open, to respond to Yahweh's demands.49 A more careful
reading, however, yields a different interpretation.
To begin with, it is important to place 6:1-3 within the broader con-
text of the world of the book. This is a religious nation that worships
proper name ("King Jareb," NASB [cf. LXX]) or as a name with special prophetic
significance ("king of Yareb" with Yareb meaning "let him contend,” McComiskey, The
Minor Prophets, 85).
47 J. L. Sicre, Los dioses olvidados. Poder y riqueza en los profetas preexilicos
(Madrid: Cristiandad, 1979) 34-50; M. C. Lind, "Hosea 5:8-6:6," Int 38 (1984) 398-403.
Also note the different contributions to the discussion of Israelite faith and intema-
tional relations by N. K. Gottwald, All the Kingdoms of the Earth: Israelite Prophecy
and International Relations in the Ancient Near East (New York: Harper & Row, 1964)
Religious Institution in
48 Though some identify 6:1-3 as the prophet's speech (e.g., McComiskey, The Mi-
nor Prophets, 88; Davies, Hosea, 150-52, 160), most commentators see these as repre-
senting the nation's words. LXX makes this latter option clear by adding le<gontej to
to introduce 6:1-3.
49 So Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 416; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 107; McComiskey,
The Minor Prophets, 88; Davies, Hosea, 150-52; J. Wingaards, "Death and Resurrection
in Covenantal Context (Hos VI 2)," VT 17 (1967) 226-39. Mays (Hosea, 94) and Wolff
(Hosea, 117) believe that these lines are drawn from a liturgy of repentance and are a
later addition by redactors.
34 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Yahweh, that has priests who fulfill cultic obligations, and that cele-
brates traditional feast days. The mere fact,
mouths proper jargon is no proof of a true commitment to change. These
lines also do not contain any hint of repentance (contrast especially
14:1-3 [MT = 14:2-4]). Other oracles in chaps. 4-7 stridently declare
Yahweh (4:1, 6; cf. , 14); their seeking is only cultic (4;15, 5:6-7), so
any confidence that restoration automatically will follow in the manner
of nature's rain cycles (6:2-3) is misplaced; and their return to him (6:1)
is impossible because of rebellion (5:4; -7:2; , 14-16; cf. 11:7).
Therefore, 6:1-3 are consistent with the picture of a religious people
who claim Yahweh as their own but who have strayed far from his
demands and ideals.
The ambivalence of Yahweh's reaction in 6:4 reflects the tension
between the desire to accept the people's religious gesture and his re-
alization of its emptiness.50 Yahweh's frustration is rhetorically empha-
sized by the double question of v 4 (cf..11:8), and the divine displeasure
is marked by the ironic words which follow. Drawing upon the earlier
nature's rains (6:3), Yahweh compares
mist and dew (6:4; cf. 13;3, 14:5 [MT = 14:6]). While they expect him to
go forth (xcy, [ys']) and appear as the dawn (6:3), he declares that his
piercing judgment,51 as it had done in the past through the prophets,
goes forth (xcy) like the light (6:5). And, instead of the self-assured
recourse to ritual, he desires the covenant qualities ds,H, and tfaDa (6:6)
that is, those virtues which introduce chaps. 4-7.
The desire for mercy and acknowledgment of God in 6:6 cannot be
limited to individual ethics. 5:8-7:16 locate this requirement within the
political sphere, and this at two levels: 5:8-15 and 7:8-13 refer partic-
ularly to international relations, whereas 6:9-7:7 allude to problems
suggests a view of Yahweh within this political framework, possibly as
the national deity at the official cult. There is then at least a formal turn-
ing to Yahweh at the cult in time of national need. The words of the
people, though, betray a theology that could reflect belief in the effica-
ciousness of traditional ritual and doctrinal formulas, rather than a sub-
stantial trusting in Yahweh. In other words, religion and Yahweh
himself are placed at the service of the state and the status quo.
The denunciation continues in 6:7-7:7. Differences in interpreta-
tion arise over the nature of the crimes mentioned in 6:7-11a,52 but
50 Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose, 149-57.
51 Reading "my judgment" with LXX for MT "your judgments." See the commen-
taries and versions.
52 Important interpretative issues in 6:7-9 include (a) the meaning of Mdxk
(k'dm) in 6:7; (b) the question as to the meaning of the reference to "covenant" in 6:7; and
M. Daniel Carroll R: THE DENUNCIATION OF RELIGION 35
whatever their exact details, it is clear that violence reigns and that the
priests are somehow involved. Lexical links to 5:1-7 suggest that the in-
volvement of the religious hierarchy in the rebellion alluded to there is
given greater explanation here in chap. 6. Space will only permit the
listing of some of these connections. Note, for example: "deal falsely"
(dgB [bgd]; 6:7; 5:7), the explicit condemnation of the priests (6:9; 5:1),
the mention of a sanctuary (Shechem, 6:9; 5:1), the defilement of
Ephraim-Israel (; 5:3), the metaphor of harlotry (; 5:4), and the
juxtaposition of Israel-Ephraim-Judah (-11a; 5:5). These literary
observations signal the interweaving of various spheres of national life
within this textual world. Religion is not an isolated area of existence,
sanctuaries are places of both worship and intrigue, and religious per-
sonnel are not piously removed from the harsh realities of the struggles
of greed and power.
The priests also could very well be involved in the political violence
that is described in 6:11b-7:7. There are similarities in vocabulary and
ideas between 7:1-2 and 6:7-9, and the third person plural verbs and
suffixes in this passage might continue the accusation of the preceding
pericope.53 7:3-7 appear to refer to a plot to assassinate the king and re-
move his princes,54 and the passion of the protagonists of the coup is viv-
idly depicted with the metaphor of a heated oven.55 The denunciation
(c) whether these verses refer to three separate crimes at the three places mentioned or
to three episodes of a single atrocity. Concerning (a): most commentators read Mdxk as
Mdxb--i.e., as reference to a place called Adam (Josh ). Harper, though, reads "like
men" (Amos and Hosea, 288), and McComiskey ''as Adam" and understands the phrase
as an allusion to Genesis 2-3 (Minor Prophets, 95; cf. idem, The Covenants of Promise:
of Old Testament Covenants [
The Minor Prophets, 99f.). (b) see the references in supra, n. 10. (c) Most see three sepa-
rate sins in 6:7-9. Andersen and Freedman (Hosea, 438f.) and Hubbard (Hosea, 128f.)
relate these lines to the conspiracy against the throne in 7:3-7. If 6:9 is a separate crime,
perhaps the allusion is to priestly violence against any opposition to their status and role
(Mays, Hosea, 101; Wolff, Hosea, 122; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 111f.).
53 Note Nvx ylfp (p'ly 'wn "doers of evil," 6:8) and rqw vlfp (p'lw sqr "they do false-
hood; 7:1); dvdg (gdwd "robber") in 6:9, 7:1. In addition, if 6:7-11a refer to the coup in
the mention of
in Pekah's conspiracy (2 Kgs ). Cf. Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 447f.; Hubbard,
Hosea, 129, 132. Most commentators speak in a more vague way of "conspirators."
54 The scenario of 7:3-7 is most often taken as the coup of Hoshea against Pekah
(2 Kgs ), though some would also consider Pekah's revolt (2 Kgs ) a possibility.
"The day of our king" of 7:5 is vague and has been understood as a reference to the
royal coronation, the anniversary of the king's birthday, or the day of his death. "All their
kings have fallen" in 7:7 could be more general and include all or some of the coups of
final decades of
55 See S. M. Paul, "The Image of the Oven and the Cake in Hosea Vii 4-10," VT 18
(1968) 114-20 and the commentaries. There is disagreement on some details and their
meaning. E.g., Is the baker part of the metaphor or an allusion to a particular official?
36 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
tumultuous scene explains in part the text's aversion to
monarchy.56 What is of concern here, however, is not a decision regard-
ing Hosea's evaluation of the institution of the monarchy, but rather the
relationship of politics to faith and religious practice.
On the one hand, the cult functionaries take part in the political vio-
lence. They lead the people in the religious ceremonies and in the con-
fessions of faith at the sanctuaries, but do not themselves practice mercy
or exhibit the knowledge of God.. Their involvement in the intrigue
results in the sanctuaries and traditional centers being included in the
prophetic condemnation. On the other hand, 6:7-7:7 confirm the nation's
refusal to truly seek Yahweh in the midst of political turmoil and
upheaval. 7:7 ends with "and none of them calls upon me." This refusal
is repeated in within the broader context of international politics.
In -16, when the people do callout, it is in some sort of entreaty to
another deity.57 This final accusation at the end of this section is an echo
of 6:4-6: Yahweh would wish for repentance and trust, instead of the
inappropriate cries of
16 also returns to scenes of more popular belief and practice described
in earlier chapters.
Religion, therefore, is tied in with politics and foreign policy. If 4:4-
condemned primarily the rituals of
popular), 5:8-7:16 concentrate on the nation's incorrect perception of
Yahweh's relationship to national decision making and politics. The dis-
cussion has demonstrated that the shared vocabulary and themes under-
score that these two major sections of chaps. 4-7 hit at different elements
of a large picture of religious life and understanding. Two other links are
56 For discussions on the book's evaluation of the monarchy, see for instance,
A Caquot, "Osee et la Royaute," RevQ 7 (1960) 123-46; J. A. Soggin, "Profezia e Rivo-
luzione Nell'Antico Testamento: L'opera di Elia e di Eliseo nella valutazione di Osea,"
Protestantesimo 25 (1970) 1-14; M. A Cohen, "The Prophets as Revolutionaries: A
Sociopolitical Analysis,” BAR 5 (1979) 12-19; Emmerson, Hosea, 105-13; Davies, Hosea
(OTG), 62-65; L McComiskey, "Prophetic Irony in Hosea 1:4: A Study of the Collocation
lf lqp and its Implications for the Fall of Jehu's Dynasty; JSOT 58 (1993) 93-101. The
basic options are: opposition to the institution of the monarchy, antipathy to the turbu-
lent politics of the North but not to the monarchy as such, and support of a Davidic dy-
nasty instead of the Northern monarchy. J. Pixley contextualizes the topic to Latin
pretacion biblica latinoamericana 1 (1988) 67-86.
57 The difficult lf xl vbvwy (yswbw l' 'l) of 7:16a has been taken in several ways,
interpretations communicate in their own way the condemnation of
religious rebellion. E.g., BHS, Harper (Amos and Hosea, 307), and Davies (Hosea, 192)
suggest emending to "to Baal," Wolff (Hosea, 108) to "not to me"; Andersen and Freed-
man (Hosea, 477f.) and Hubbard (Hosea, 142) understand lf xl as an epithet ("no god")
for Baal; Keil (The Minor Prophets, 110) and McComiskey (The Minor Prophets, 116)
take lf as "upward" ("they do not turn upward," i.e., to Yahweh).
M. Daniel Carroll R.: THE DENUNCIATION OF RELIGION 37
telling. First, the arrogance of
5:5 reappears verbatim in . Unsuccessful cultic seeking (wqb [bqs,
5:6-7) immediately follows these words in 5:5; , though, says there
is no seeking (wqb). This is not a contradiction. Both statements are true:
desires and preconceived theology, but the Yahweh of the prophet
rejects this manipulative ritual and erroneous faith. Second, clearly
picks up the vocabulary of 5:3. This coupling reveals that the spirit of
harlotry is also to be found in politics (5:8-7:16) and not only in cultic
The accusations and condemnation are both particular and broad.
Though certain groups, such as the priests and the political leaders are
singled out in 5:8-7:16, it is evident that the nation stands condemned.
appears in parallel to "
in -14 and 6:4, 10-11 is juxtaposed to the
used repeatedly in chapter 7 (7:2, 4, 7, 10), and at least in 7:7b most
probably refers to the entire nation; and the descriptions of stubborn-
ness and sin echo other passages in the book. The references to the
() also show that the prophetic word is directed at the entire nation.
That is, although 5:8-7:16 focuses on the leadership more clearly and
consistently than 4:4-5:7, in both sections the tension between general
and more circumscribed guilt and responsibility remains. The leader-
ship is held especially accountable for the sin and resulting disasters,
but the people are accused because they too participate in and support
this social construction of reality. This world stands condemned to de-
struction. Yahweh himself has made them ill and exposed their internal
rot and silliness (5;12-13; 7:8-11); they will be devoured and carried off
(5:14; 7:9, 12-13, 16). This world which presents itself as Yahweh's and
which comes to offer him worship can no longer continue.
This brief perusal of Hosea 4-7 has attempted to demonstrate the
breadth of the comprehensive prophetic condemnation of religion in
the textual world of this prophetic book. What is denounced is an
incorrect view of God that is manifest in the cultic centers and feasts
(4:4-5:7), as well as fleshed out in national politics and international
relations (5:8-7:16). This misconstrual of the nature of Yahweh and
the perverse consequences are visible in all the interconnected facets
try to distinguish between
Hubbard on 6:10-11 (Hosea, 130).
38 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
"world," which is the complex socio-political, cultic and cultural entity
be Yahweh's, yet for Yahweh, all is harlotry, hypocrisy, and defilement.
The entire nation, and especially the religious and political leadership,
stand charged before the prophetic tribunal as worthy of divine chas-
tisement, even abandonment by the covenant God.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: firstname.lastname@example.org