Hosea 3 and God’s unfolding revelation
I recently had a brief conversation on Facebook with some XA disciples, in which one of them referenced my teachings on how to interpret the Bible. He quoted my teachings, saying, “It can never mean what it never meant.” It was gratifying to know that someone was listening and that he still remembers! But, it also revealed my own growth as a biblical scholar and theologian, since I no longer agree with what I used to teach! (This enables me to give grace to politicians who change their views – though I have no plans to extend that grace to anyone who is currently running for office!)
The quote was saying that, when one is interpreting the Bible, the meaning of the text for the original audience is THE meaning. So, when Jesus told the parable of the lost coin, he was talking about a lost coin and not about Syrian refugees or Taylor Swift's latest boyfriend. Whatever the text meant to the original audience is still, by far, the best place to start in interpreting the Bible. BUT, the conversation doesn’t end there. As such, I feel the need to write my old friends back and explain that I don't hold as strongly to that as I used to. The reason is that I’ve grown in my understanding of Biblical Theology and the firm belief that the later books in the Bible reveal and explain God’s plan, intentionally, with greater clarity than the earlier books. So, even though we can see salvation by grace in Genesis, we see it much clearer in Ephesians. And once we’ve read Ephesians, we will forever see Genesis in a different light. The amazing aspect of this is that God knew, all along, that the day would come when Ephesians would influence what I see in Genesis. He knew that! In fact, when Jesus preached, he knew that his audience was made up of first century farmers and fishermen – but he also knew that I would one day read the same sermon. God was preaching to them in their time and to me in this time at the same time. Therefore, limiting the text to the incomplete perspective of the original audience unnecessarily limits God's "unfolding revelation."
I realized early on (even as I was teaching the limited methodology) that such a limited perspective of interpretation completely negated the possibility of prophecy. So, I changed the quote to say, “It can never mean what it never meant … except for prophecy.” Unfortunately, that limits God, too, for the entire Bible is prophecy. It's like when movies or video games put in "Easter eggs." Those are fun little clues that reveal that there is a unified author often telling apparently disconnected stories. Pixar movies are full of references to other Pixar movies; e.g., in the dentist’s office of Finding Nemo, there is a Buzz Lightyear doll on the floor and a little boy is reading an “Incredibles” comic book. Also, in nearly every Pixar movie, the same Toyota Pizza truck can be seen and the number A113 is in all of them. In a similar way, God has put parts of the N.T. in the O.T. -- not to mention that Jesus is the subject of all of it.
With that in mind, we come to my own devotional reading from a couple of days ago. It is Hosea 3:1-5: "The Lord said to me, “Go, show love to your wife again, even though she loves another man and continually commits adultery. Likewise, the Lord loves the Israelites although they turn to other gods and love to offer raisin cakes to idols.” 3:2 So I paid fifteen shekels of silver and about seven bushels of barley to purchase her. 3:3 Then I told her, “You must live with me many days; you must not commit adultery or have sexual intercourse with another man, and I also will wait for you.” 3:4 For the Israelites must live many days without a king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred fertility pillar, without ephod or idols. 3:5 Afterward, the Israelites will turn and seek the Lord their God and their Davidic king. Then they will submit to the Lord in fear and receive his blessings in the future. (NET)"
From my N.T. perspective, I see 3 things:
1. V 1-2: Hosea had to pay a "redemption" price to get his wife back. Somehow, in her sin and idolatry, she got into debt (perhaps to a pimp or maybe she was in jail for a DUI -- it's easy to get into debt when you live without boundaries) and Hosea had to pay the price to set her free. How difficult it must have been for him to have to pay for her, knowing full well that she was guilty. This makes me think of Jesus, paying the price for us, out of his love for us, knowing full well what shameful harlots we are. You could say that Jesus isn’t in the text, but I would beg to differ. God commanded Hosea to return to his unfaithful wife as an example of God’s love for His people. God planned this out intentionally. It is not coincidental that Hosea had to pay a redemption price for his unfaithful wife and we cannot overlook that God paid a very costly redemption price for us. He who orchestrated this story did so as a prequel to the even more tragic story to come.
2. V 3-4: Hosea withheld having times of intimacy with his wife as an illustration that a time would come when God's presence would not be with His people. They would not have a King or a priest--before a Davidic King would come. I look at this and see the 400 years without prophecy, before Jesus (the Davidic king and Priest in the order of Melchizedek) came. It would be very unlikely that the original audience would have had the same interpretation, since they lacked the information that we currently have.
3. V 5: After this long time without God's intimate presence, there would come a new time of intimacy in which the previous rebellious people would become God seekers. A Davidic King will reign over them and they will willingly submit to the Lord. This is clearly (from my N.T. perspective) referring to Jesus and the character transforming ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is, again, unlikely that the original audience could have foreseen this fulfillment. What is very likely is that the original audience could only see the general outline that God would not reject them forever and that the Davidic dynasty would not be wiped out. All of that is true, but we now know how it came to be fulfilled.
So, proper biblical interpretation recognizes the interpretation of the original audience (as much as we can surmise it) and also brings clarity to it with an awareness of, and insights from, God's unfolding revelation.