Earthy Signs of Israel’s Restoration

At the end of Hosea, God promises to restore Israel, and he declares his redemptive purposes using the earthy symbols of grain and vine:

They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
    they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
    their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon (Hos. 14:7).

The following book, Joel, reverses this earthy restoration with a promise of YHWH’s judgment:

The fields are destroyed,
    the ground mourns,
because the grain is destroyed,
    the wine dries up,
    the oil languishes (Joel 1:10).

Notice that a third earthy element, oil, is added into the mix. We could also add here the sign of water; throughout the Old Testament, water is a sign of judgment in both its excess (e.g. Genesis 6) and its lack, as well as a sign of restoration (e.g. Ezek. 47:1-12). For Israel, then, the earthy signs that they are looking for, the signs that demonstrate that YHWH has renewed them through his Messiah and Spirit, are water, oil, grain, and vine (cf. also Deut. 7:13 for the initial promise of blessing via these elements). Israel’s redemption is pictured as a redemption of the Land, and particularly of those four elements.

When Jesus comes, he comes as Israel’s Anointed – “Messiah” just means “anointed one.” He is anointed both at the beginning of his ministry in baptism and at the end of his ministry, just before his Passion, with oil (Matt. 26:6-13). In other words, Jesus embodies these restorative signs of Israel’s salvation, water and oil, in his Messianic anointing. With respect to the grain and vine, two elements crucial to Israel’s commemorative and formative Passover meal, Jesus embodies these as well, this time in the Last Supper. As he breaks the bread and takes the cup, identifying them as his body and blood, he is taking up the rich symbolism of Israel’s redemptive hope and culminating it in himself. There is now bread to eat, and there is now the fruit of the vine to drink – in Christ. We could also point to the “I AM” statements in John; Jesus is, among other things, Israel’s Bread, Light (associated with oil lamps), Living Water, and Vine.

Jesus, in other words, takes all these earthy symbols of Israel’s redemptive hope upon himself, and fulfills them. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of Israel’s hopes, including its hope of restored Land. By taking these earthy symbols on himself, Jesus is declaring that in him Israel, including the Land itself, is redeemed. All of Israel’s promises, including the Land promises, are fulfilled in the incarnate Son.

But neither Jesus nor the NT stop there with respect to these symbols. These earthy symbols are not only fulfilled in Jesus but also instituted as signs of his Kingdom. Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and King, but he does not isolate the presence of the Kingdom in his person. Instead, through pouring out his Spirit at Pentecost, Jesus spreads his Kingdom from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth via the proclamation of the gospel by his Church. And as his Spirit-filled Church expands, they bring with them signs of the Kingdom, namely the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. These two ordinances are instituted by Christ as signs of the Kingdom because they are signs of Israel’s redemption in him and therefore also signs of Israel’s restoration as YHWH’s people in Christ’s multi-ethnic church.

Jesus’ body and blood – Israel’s redeemed grain and vine – are proclaimed to us in the Supper, and therefore the Supper is a sign of Israel’s redemption. Jesus’ death and resurrection are proclaimed to us in baptism, and therefore our identification with Christ in our submergence into and reemergence out of the waters is a sign of Israel’s redemption. And as we anoint ministers, we anoint them (historically with oil) to minister the Word – the vehicle of Christ’s authority in his Church – to his people. The congregation sits under the kingship of the anointed Christ as anointed ministers proclaim his Scriptures. The Church’s symbols are therefore Israel’s symbols, and thus as the Church worships Christ they are doing so as the renewed and restored Israel, the Israel of God, because they are united to Israel’s Messiah who redeemed Israel in his own flesh.

Hosea 4 and Doctrine of Sin

            The book of Hosea is a prime example of an entire book in the Hebrew Bible that contributes to a doctrine of sin . Like other doctrines, Hosea does not give an exhaustive account of sin, but describes sin from the perspective of Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness to YHWH.[1]

Hosea 4 proves to be a good example for theological reflection on sin because of the variety of  terms and concepts used.  YHWH charges Israel with faithlessness (4:1), no love (4:1), no knowledge (4:1), forgetting the law of God (4:6), rejecting knowledge (4:6), sinning (4:7-8), and abandoning YHWH (4:10).[2]

Hosea 4:1-3 begins as an introduction to YHWH’s accusation of Israel’s unfaithfulness that takes place in 4:4-5:7. YHWH first accuses Israel of not having faithfulness, steadfast love, or knowledge of God in the land (4:1). Because Israel lacks these elements sin takes form in the land through swearing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery, and bloodshed (4:2). The consequence is then that the land itself suffers (4:3). Vv. 1-3 describe that sins consequences not only affects individual persons, families, and communities’ relationship with YHWH (v. 1) and one another (v. 2). But sin also has affects on the created order (v. 3).

Hosea 4:4 also contributes an interesting perspective to a doctrine of sin because the sin of Israel’s leaders has effects on the rest of the people of Israel.  In v. 4 YHWH makes it clear that his primary dispute is with Israel’s leaders.[3] Because the prophets and priesthood have rejected knowledge of God and his law (vv. 6b-7), YHWH’s people are destroyed for their lack of knowledge (v. 6a). The people are judged for their lack of knowledge of God due to its leadership’s rejection of that knowledge. The result is that just as God’s law has been forgotten, so YHWH will forget the children of Israel (v. 6).

Two areas that need further exploration: sins effect on the created order, sin as a lack of knowledge of YHWH, the responsibility of godly leadership has in passing along knowledge of YHWH, and the affects this has on those under that leadership. Any thoughts?

Bibliography

Boda, Mark J. A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament. Vol. 1 of Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2009.

Dumbrell, William. The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002.

Garrett, Duane A. Hosea, Joel. The New American Commentary. Vol. 19. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.


[1]          William Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002).: 171.

[2]          Mark J. Boda, A Severe Mercy: Sin and Its Remedy in the Old Testament, Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures, vol. 1, (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2009).: 297.

[3]          Duane A. Garrett, vol. 19A, Hosea, Joel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 118.