The poor condition of the text of Hosea is reflected in the different English translations of the book. Take, for instance, the translation of Hosea 8:12 in the following versions:
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV):
“Though I write for him the multitude of my instructions, they are regarded as a strange thing.”
Revised Standard Version (RSV):
“Were I to write for him my laws by ten thousands, they would be regarded as a strange thing.”
New International Version (NIV):
“I wrote for them the many things of my law, but they regarded them as something alien.”
Douay-Rheims American Edition (DRA):
“I shall write to him my manifold laws, which have been accounted as foreign.”
The difference between these four translations is that the NIV and the DRA follow the Hebrew text, the Ketib, and the NRSV and the RSV follow the emendation proposed by the scribes, the Qere .
Also, notice that the NRSV and the RSV present the writing of the Torah as hypothetical. The NRSV is hypothetical in the present “Though I write” while the RSV is hypothetical in the future “Were I to write.” The NIV puts the writing in the past, “I wrote,” and the DRA places the writing in the future, “I shall write.”
The form of the Hebrew verb in Hosea 8:12 is difficult to translate into English. The verbal form is Qal Imperfect, which generally is translated with a future idea: “I will write.” However, the sense of the word in English requires a past tense meaning: “I wrote.” The reason for the past tense is that if God threatened the people by saying that he would write something in the future, a future act of God would not reflect the intent of Hosea’s words. Hosea’s words to the people of the Northern kingdom reflected a present reality in the prophet’s day: the people’s transgression of God’s Torah.
The Hebrew word for “instructions” or “laws” is “Torah.” The mention of God’s Torah implies that Hosea knew a form of written Torah. However, the text does not indicate the content of the Torah mentioned by Hosea. One possible way of understanding the content of this Torah is found in Hosea 4:2 where Hosea mentions several of the commandments found in the Decalogue:
“There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed” (Hosea 4:2).
In Hosea 4:2, the prophet mentioned cursing (3rd Commandment), lying (9th Commandment), murder (6th Commandment), stealing (8th Commandment), and adultery (7th Commandment). These references to the Decalogue in Hosea are consistent with the laws given to Israel during the establishment of the covenant between God and Israel at Sinai.
In fact, in Hosea 8:1 the word covenant appears in parallel with Torah: “Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the LORD, because they have broken my covenant, and transgressed my law.” Hosea emphasized that through the covenant, Yahweh established a relationship with Israel in which he would become their God and they would become his special people. Although Hosea does not specifically speak of the Sinai covenant, Hosea emphasized that this special relationship began at the Exodus:
“I have been Yahweh your God since your days in Egypt” (Hosea 12:10 NJB).
“I have been Yahweh your God since your days in Egypt when you knew no god but me, since you had no one else to save you” (Hosea 13:4 NJB).
“When Israel was a child I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt” (Hosea 11:1 NJB).
In his accusation against the people of Israel and against the political and religious leaders of the Northern Kingdom, Hosea accused them of abandoning the Torah (instructions or laws) of God in order to sacrifice to idols and to dedicate themselves to the worship of Baal. The reason the laws of God were a strange thing to the people was because the priests and the prophets were negligent in teaching them to the people (Hosea 4:5-6).
According to Hosea, Israel was treating the Torah of their God as though these laws were alien instructions, that is, that the Torah they had received at Sinai was the teachings of a strange God. The people considered God’s Torah as a strange thing, because, as Hosea had said, they were rebelling against God’s Torah: “They have violated my covenant and been unfaithful to my Law” (Hosea 8:1).
The Hebrew word for “strange thing” in Hosea 8:12 is zār. The word zār appears in the singular in Isaiah 43:12 and it is translated as “strange god,” and in the plural it appears in Deuteronomy 32:16 and it is translated as “strange gods.”
In the Torah, God demanded Israel to reject the worship of strange gods. Deuteronomy 32:16 says that Israel made Yahweh “jealous with strange gods, with abhorrent things they provoked him.” The unfaithfulness of Israel is revealed in the list of the strange gods they worshiped: “They sacrificed to demons, non-gods, gods that they had never known, new gods that had come up lately, which your ancestors had not feared” (Deuteronomy 32:17).
Hosea declared that Israel had no reason to rebel against God. God had written his instructions to them at the time the covenant was established at Sinai. Israel should obey the great and manifold laws of God. In addition, Israel should keep God’s laws in their minds and in their hearts. Instead, they regarded God’s law as alien and strange and made them to be laws that made no demands on them.
These words of Hosea convey a great lesson to people today. God has given us his words to be our guide in life. The Bible contains divine instructions to help us live a better life and avoid the errors that can bring pain and distress. Wise people will search the Scriptures because in them they will discover what is necessary for moral and spiritual guidance: “All Scriptures are useful for teaching, pointing out errors, correcting people, and training them for a life that has God’s approval” (2 Timothy 3:16).
The laws of God were ignored and rejected by the people of Israel. They considered God’s law as something outmoded, outdated, something that should be rejected and not followed. And this is precisely what we find today in our society. Some people believe that the Bible contains many beautiful stories and that it may even contain many truths, but they reject the idea that the teachings of the Bible should be imposed on them as binding truths or as the basis for moral decisions. To them, the teachings of the Bible belong to an ancient people, not to people who live in the 21st century. Thus, the teachings of the Bible are foreign to them. God’s Torah is a strange thing to them as it was for Israel.
Joseph Parker, in his book The People’s Bible. Vol. 17: Hosea-Malachi (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1892), p. 67 wrote some basic truths that are relevant today. He wrote:
Great dangers lie around this line of thinking. God protests that he has not written the Bible as a thing of ancient times, but that he is writing it now, writing it every day, writing it as a direct message to every soul. We lose everything when we lose the modernness of the Bible. It may be perfectly true that man cannot live by rules a thousand years old; but in the case of the Bible the rule is not a day old in any sense that divests it of immediate dignity and claim and pertinence; it is the last utterance of God; the breath with which he uttered it is still warm upon the ear of the listener.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Tags: Hosea, Hosea 8:12, Torah, Law