The Covenants in Hosea (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

The Book of Hosea continues to pour out its condemnations of the malpractices of Israel (in particular the northern tribes spoken to “synecdocheally” under the heading of the largest tribe, Ephraim), but at the end of chapter 5 there is a passage which expresses another truth that will seemingly run in tandem with God’s wooing of Israel as described in chapter 2:14f.

I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense.
Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me. (Hosea 5:15)

The scene is of God retiring from the scene until such a time as His people acknowledge the fact that they have continually sinned against Him. The theme is found earlier in Deuteronomy 30:1-6 where the prediction of worshipful obedience transcends any state of affairs known after that time.

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)

Here we have language which will much later be equated with the New covenant. Perhaps we can see this better by reading the following passage from Deuteronomy 4:

But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice (for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them. (Deuteronomy 4:29-31)

Along with a clear nod to “the covenant of your fathers,” which refers to the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,1 we see again the note of distress and then repentance, but specifically “in the latter days.” It is my belief that Hosea 5:15 is alluding to this same eschatological situation.

This note of distress and restoration is seen in later prophets like Ezekiel 43:9-11 where the prophet is told to describe the temple vision to the people once they become ashamed of their sins. Again in Jeremiah 29:11-14 there is a similar theme. It is arguable that this latter passage more properly refers to the return from Babylon than to the eschaton, and we do not oppose the interpretation. There is more going on there though, and I will try to address the eschatological undertones of the passage later when we reach Jeremiah.

The sixth chapter of Hosea continues with the same strain as chapter five ended with, and it is not easy to see why Hosea 6:1-3 is not Hosea 5:16-18! Still, the verses are as they stand are these:

Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth. (Hosea 6:1-3)

The first verse puts the words of repentance into the mouths of future Israel. There is also expectant hope because of God’s hesed or lovingkindness (an important word for Hosea). The enigmatic terminology of the “after two days” and “the third day” (which states the same thing in two ways since “after two days” is “the third day”) have been understood in many ways. But since nothing definitive can be said about the designations it is perhaps best to take the meaning as “in a short time” or “it won’t be long” and leave it at that, although it could be three literal days between the repentance of the people and God’s saving response. If the context is considered the speed of God’s revitalization of His people is contingent upon their acknowledgement of their offence. Therefore, the two or three “days” response happens quickly upon Israel’s mass repentance at the end.2 As verse three makes clear, this is no half-hearted repentance; Israel will seek out the knowledge of Yahweh (contra Hos. 4:1; 7:16) with the eagerness with which they look for the life-giving rains.

As far as the famous covenant passage in Hosea 6:7 is concerned, I have already addressed the issue earlier in this work. In summary, (a) the standard interpretation of covenant and new covenant theologians that the prophet is referring to the biblical Adam and some covenant in Eden is question-begging and indeterminate. Even if Hosea was speaking of such a covenant, the impossibility of locating the terms of the oath make it a vain effort to follow this view. (b) It is the opinion of many that the town of Adam (Josh. 3:16) is being referred to. This would require some historical defection at Adam to which Hosea is pointing. In that case the covenant he speaks of is the Mosaic covenant (as per Hos. 8:1). (c) The third alternative is to translate adam as “dirt” and interpret the prophet as saying that the people have treated the (Mosaic) covenant like dirt. As Douglas Stuart claims:

Here in Hosea [berit] “covenant” appears only for the second time. In 2:20 [in the context of marriage] the term denoted the future universal covenant. In the present passage the Mosaic covenant is clearly at issue.3

Finally, (d) The fourth view translates the Hebrew phrase as “like men” and interpret it as the sinful human bent to transgress God’s Law. Hence, in three of the four views the identity of the covenant in Hosea 6:7 is the Mosaic covenant. The notion that it looks back to a nebulous covenant in Eden seems as unnecessary as it is indeterminable.

Despite the depressing repetitiveness of their sins, there will eventually be a return and a whole restoration in fulfillment of the covenants with Israel (14:1-8).4


1 So e.g., Scot J. Hafemann, “The Covenant Relationship” in Central Themes in Biblical Theology, eds, Scot F. Hafemann & Paul R. House, 25.

2 This way of understanding Hosea 6:2 has the advantage of treating the ordinal (“the third day”) as a very short time period and not a vast stretch of history.

3 Douglas Stuart, Hosea – Jonah, 111.

4 For more comments about the identity of the covenant in Hosea 6:7 see chapter 5.

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There are 2 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

Paul, even if Covenant Theologians have artificially developed a "covenant of works," does that necessarily preclude God keeping His promises to Israel as understood originally by the original audience?

And if Adam is in view in Hosea 6:7, he is simply used as an example of disobedience.  That doesn't require that Adam violated the same type of covenant (a formal covenant with sacrifice, etc.) developed later (as, for example with Noah), but the term is simply used of the prohibition against eating a fruit.  If a covenant has to be ratified with blood, and if there was no death before the Fall, it could not have been like the other covenants.

"The Midrash Detective"

Paul Henebury's picture

Ed, I myself have thought along the lines you set out here.  In fact I wish there was a covenant in Gen. 1-3, but I cannot find one.  If we take your alternative we have to face an artificial covenant to which Hosea is making reference for rhetorical purposes.  I am not easy with that but I will allow that it is a fifth position.

Thanks brother

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

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