An ethical dilemma in Hosea?


In reading through the book of Hosea, the theme, that kicks off the book, and is repeated throughout, is quite clear.

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2)

and

My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. (Hosea 4:12)

God is angered by the nation’s turning away from Him and towards idols, rejecting His call to live justly and love others (Hosea 12:6 cmp. Micah 6:8). After numerous warnings, God, through the prophet, tells the nation that He will judge them, rejecting them as His people and showing them no more compassion.

The name of each of Hosea’s children emphasize the coming judgment.

  • Jezreel represents an end to the house of Jehu & the kingdom of the house of Israel
  • Lo-ruhama represents the lack of mercy to be shown to the house of Israel
  • Lo-ammi reminds the nation that you are not my people, and I am not your God.

At the risk of missing the forest (main point) for the trees (details), there is an interesting ethical dilemma that is presented to the astute reader in the opening passages.

No matter how one chooses to define justice and morality, one would, correctly, reject any definition that included the act of commanding someone to perform an act, commending and rewarding them for carrying out that action, and then turning around and rebuking and punishing them for that same act. However, that is the situation that we find presented in the opening of Hosea.

Worse, it appears that God is the one doing this very thing – commanding an act be done and then threatening punishment and vengeance because the act was committed.

That makes the dilemma all the more troubling because the Scriptures declare that God is Just.

For the LORD our God is just in all he has done (Daniel 9:14; cmp Psalm 7:11)

Let’s take a look at the situation.

Hosea is told to name his son Jezreel. This was to illustrate to the nation of Israel that God was about to judge them and the house of Jehu for the “blood of Jezreel”.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. (Hosea 1:4)

That should make the curious reader ask – what is the “blood of Jezreel” and how does it relate to the house of Jehu?

For that we need to examine when the book was written and what was going on. The book opens telling us that Hosea, the son of Beeri, was called to be a prophet. Hosea, is living in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. The dates assigned to his reign are generally given as around 790-750 BC. This would place Hosea’s ministry as occurring prior to the Assyrian kingdom’s successful military conquest which led to the collapse of the nation of Israel in 722 BC. During the lead up to that conquest, the nations of Israel, Syria and Assyria had been in a back and forth power struggle. This helps set the context for the book.

Jeroboam II, is a ruler from the house of Jehu which included the following kings:

  • Jehu (reigned 28 years)
  • Jehoahaz (reigned 17 years)
  • Joash (reigned 16 years)
  • Jeroboam II (reigned 41 years)
  • Zachariah (reigned 6 months)

After many defeats at the hands of Syria, the house of Jehu saw prosperity and began to win some victories after Jehoahaz prayed for help (2 Kings 13:3-4; 22-23).

Then the Lord gave Israel a deliverer, so that they escaped from under the hand of the Syrians; and the children of Israel dwelt in their tents as before. (2 Kings 13:5 under Jehoahaz)

and

And Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz recaptured from the hand of Ben-Hadad, the son of Hazael, the cities which he had taken out of the hand of Jehoahaz, his father, by war. Three times Joash defeated him and recaptured the cities of Israel. (2 Kings 13:25)

and

He (Jeroboam II) restored the territory of Israel … according to the word of the Lord (2 Kings 14:25-27)

The house of Jehu began to rule, when Jehu ascended to the throne after overthrowing the house of Omri. The house of Omri included the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Ahab and Jezebel were the rulers that brought Baal worship to its height in the northern kingdom. It was during their reign that the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal took place (1 Kings 18). These rulers orchestrated the murder of Naboth so that they could steal his vineyard in Jezreel, which was why God chose to wipe them out in that location.

‘This is what the Lord has said: “Haven’t you committed murder and taken possession of the property of the deceased?”’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord has said: “In the spot where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood they will also lick up your blood—yes, yours!”’ (1 Kings 21:19)

Here is how the annihilation of the house of Omri came about (according to 2 Kings 8:25 – 9:27). Jehu is one of the commanders in the army of Israel. They have been engaged in combat with the armies of Hazael, king of Syria. The current king of Israel, Joram, has been wounded in battle and has been taken to the valley of Jezreel.

Jehu is visited by Elisha, who anoints him the next king and tells him that the Lord wants him to destroy the house of Ahab (Joram is the son of Ahab, who is the son of Omri).

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “I anoint you king over the people of the Lord, over Israel. And you shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish, and I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her.” (2 Kings 9:6-10)

That seems pretty clear. The result was the violent and bloody overthrow of king Joram (son of Ahab) and all of those in line for the throne. It also included the killing of Ahaziah, the king of Judah and the slaughter of the followers of Baal.

After Jehu has taken over the throne we read a message that the Lord gave him, likely through Elisha:

And the Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” (2 Kings 10:30)

That brings us back to Hosea. He is ministering during the reign of the third ruler since Jehu took the throne. The message he receives is that the Lord will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel.

This brings us back to the challenge; where it appears that God has asked Jehu to perform an act, commended and rewarded him for carrying out that action, and then warns that He will punish the ruling family for that same act.

How should we deal with this moral dilemma?

[to be continued]

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